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Reach for the sky

Kevin Parks, unit leader for the CAF’s Lake Superior Squadron 101 and Jan Bloom stand with the Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina at its hanger at the Duluth Airport. It’s been 20 years since the Commemorative Air Force — Lake Superior Squadron 101’s PBY Catalina plane last flew. But by 2020, it may once again take to the skies The plane is one of the planes featured in the Twelve Planes of Christmas campaign this month.(Clint Austin /

Sam Gazzola

Forum News Service

DULUTH, Minn.  It’s been almost 20 years since the Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina housed at the old Duluth Air Base last flew. But by 2020, the World War II-era plane may once again take to the skies.

The Commemorative Air Force, a volunteer nonprofit, is holding its second annual 12 Planes of Christmas campaign this month in support of 12 aircraft under restoration across the country, with all donations going directly to the restoration projects. Kevin Parks, unit leader for the CAF’s Lake Superior Squadron 101, said that the campaign has been a huge help financially.

“It’s a major boost for our aircraft account,” he said. “Trying to find custom parts for this plane isn’t easy. It’s a very rare aircraft and parts aren’t cheap.”

The Catalina was originally built in 1945 for the U.S. Navy and was used mainly to search for and track Japanese fleets at night. Parks said the “Cats” really only flew for about a year before they were placed in storage. After spending time in several states, however, the Cat that now resides in Duluth has also traveled the world.

Parks said after its time with the Navy a Canadian company bought the plane and converted it to a water bomber. It was also used to fight fires in both France and Norway before the CAF purchased it in the early 1990s.

But in May 1998, a storm put the plane out of commission. The Cat was tied down outside when strong winds lifted the plane and stood it up on its tail. Then it came down and landed on its back, damaging it to the point where it could no longer fly. But Parks said that won’t happen again.

“That’s why it’s inside,” he said. “When we get it flying again it’ll stay inside the hangar.”

The CAF began restoring the plane in 2009 and their goal is to have the plane back in the sky by 2020. They’re currently working on sections of the wing, which Parks said is a big step.

“Once we get done with these big trailing edge sections, the hardest part is done,” he said. “It’ll be basically a brand new airplane by the time it gets done.”

If you’d like to see the Catalina and other historic planes, the CAF Duluth has a museum at 4931 Airport Road that is free to the public and open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Donations can be made to the 12 Planes of Christmas through the end of the month at You can also donate any time of the year at, on the Lake Superior Squadron 101 Facebook page or at the door of the museum.