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Historic flying boat takes shape under Duluth group's watch

Roger Conway (from left) of Esko, Tim Einbu of Lakewood Township and Shelby Holen of Superior, all members of the Commemorative Air Force Lake Superior Squadron, wait to attach a large portion of a tail section Thursday evening to a PBY-6A Catalina they are in the process of restoring. (Clint Austin /

If all goes to plan, at least part of the tail hoisted onto a vintage aircraft today in Duluth will eventually end up in the water.

That's because the World War II aircraft, known as a PBY Catalina, was made to float.

"Many aren't aware of it, but this is a boat," said Dennis Taklo, who, with the other members of Duluth's Commemorative Air Force, have been helping restore the 1945 aircraft. "They didn't even make landing gear for it until six years after the first one was built."

The PBY Catalina is historically significant as it has flown with every branch of the U.S. military, and played a key role in the most decisive victory of World War II, according to John Hosler with the Commemorative Air Force Lake Superior Squadron 101 in Duluth. Of more than 4,000 PBYs made, only 40 remain.

Duluth's Commemorative Air Force's mission is to integrate two of them stored in their hangar into one that will look like it would have looked in June 1942, before the infamous Battle of Midway, in which pilots in PBYs located the Japanese fleet, enabling the U.S. Navy to surprise the Japanese.

Raising the tail onto the plane Thursday was a major moment in the restoration, akin to work they've already completed on the engines and mechanicals, Hosler said. After several years of volunteer work, having the tail affixed to the plane puts the project at about 40 percent complete.

With the rudder, interior, instruments and cockpit glass work still remaining, the squadron needs to raise money. They will hold an event to that end called, "Winds Beneath Our Wing," from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10 at their airport hangar and museum, 4931 Airport Rd. in Hermantown. People can see the progress of the PBY restoration, listen to music by Jim Melde's Big Band, eat lunch and/or dinner,

participate in live and silent auctions and view a car show.

People who would like to volunteer to help with the restoration can call the squadron at (218) 733-0639.

"There's a million things to do that don't need specific skills," said Shelby Holen, an airline mechanic who's put in many volunteer hours.

The goal is to have the $500,000 project complete by July 4, 2014, when they plan to fly it over Duluth before landing in Lake Superior.

"CAF wants airplanes that fly," Taklo said. "It's a way to keep history alive."