The “Black Cats” of the Double Sunrise Service and other flying stories

source National Library of Australia

source National Library of Australia

Some time back I posted about the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum. I am pleased to offer this follow up, with information courtesy of Jim Thurstan, retired Qantas engineer and a member of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) located at Albion Park, NSW.

Firstly, a link back to the original story.

Lake Boga was a secret inland base and repair station for aircraft that could otherwise be exposed to Japanese attack from the north or from offshore shelling. Rathmines (mentioned below) at Lake Macquarie near Newcastle was such a target.

After I wrote the Lake Boga post Marie & Patrick Dillon advised that the Wright engine pictured there is an 18 cylinder, with 3350 cubic inch displacement, which has been partly restored, and is on loan to the museum as it is privately owned. Jim tells me that that Wright engine series was very common in the late thirties through to the fifties,  and in fact the HARS aircraft collection includes a Lockheed Super Constellation and two Lockheed Neptune aircraft which still use much the same engine.

HARS also has a flying Catalina, which visited Lake Boga on a touch and go and a full stop landing. Scroll to the end of this post for fabulous photos of it, and there are plenty more where they came from! There are six Catalina’s in Australia: the display one at Lake Boga, non-flying ones in WA and Longreach in Queensland (the home of Qantas), one at Bankstown NSW hoping to fly again (and destined for Rathmines), one at Rathmines (under restoration), and one hanging up in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Wikipedia differs slightly from this information, coming up with a total of eight: (and who are we to argue with Wikipedia?) The Catalina on display at the Powerhouse Museum is named Frigate Bird 2. It was flown around the Pacific commercially by Sir P.G. Taylor*.

(note: the below photo is a random, not of the Frigate Bird 2 nor Sir P.G.Taylor)

Catalina National Library of Australia nla.pic_vn3723491_v

More fascinating insights in to the “Golden Age of Flying Boats in Australia”, and their war history, can be found here:

The Catalina at HARS in Albion Park has been painted black in memory of the famous “Black Cats” which operated out of Perth directly to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) during WW2. The Black Cats are referred to in the above article, and much more can be found on Google. The journey, formed in 1943 to re-establish the Australia–England air link that had been cut due to the fall of Singapore in 1942, became known as “The Double Sunrise”. These Catalinas were completely defenceless, carrying no weaponry, and with all armour plating removed so that the planes were sufficiently light to make the long crossing of more than 6480 km, 3600 nautical miles, at a cruising speed of 110 knots (127mph/204kph) an hour. This gave rise to a sector time between 28 and 32 hours. That was once they got in the air that is. At times the pay load, about 400kgs, made the aircraft so overweight that take-off was a very critical operation. The weight of fuel limited the Catalina’s load to only three passengers and 69kg of diplomatic and armed forces mail. In order to remain undetected by the Japanese, when flying at night they used celestial navigation, and they also avoided using the radio, except for a very brief midnight weather bulletin in Morse code. Because of the length and path of the journey, the crew and passengers saw the sun rise twice, hence the name ‘Double Sunrise’ service. The crew list reads like a Who’s Who of Qantas in the 50’s and 60’s, and the service holds the record for the longest non-stop commercial air route, and also the record for the longest ever non-stop commercial flight – 32 hours 9 minutes. The last Double Sunrise flight departed from Sri Lanka for Perth on 17 July 1945.

The role of Flying Boats in the Second World War, which from the Australian perspective includes the RAAF Catalina flying boats in action over the Pacific, and the above-mentioned secret wartime Double Sunrise service operated by Qantas, is far too detailed and interesting for me to do justice in one post. Here is a link to a very comprehensive article with great photos. Courtesy of the Australian Government:

Jim has provided the photos of the HARS Catalina which I am sure will delight. It recently flew to Point Cook in Victoria to celebrate 100 years of our RAAF. HARS also sent their Caribou aircraft. So astute readers will have now determined that HARS boasts a Catalina, Lockheed Constellation, Lockheed Neptunes, and Caribous, all in flying condition. One of the many HARS projects is the restoration to flight of a Fokker FV 11b / 3m, a replica of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith’s (Smithy) “Southern Cross”.

The Chief Engineer for the HARS Catalina is Jim Marshall, and he provides this information, drawn from their in-house publication: details of the HARS Catalina


* In an aside from the Catalina story – Sir P.G. Taylor was big in Australian history. Among many things was his feat when flying with Smithy (Sir Charles Kingsford Smith). To save crashing into the ocean on their way back in the Southern Cross from New Zealand, he climbed out under the wing in flight on a number of occasions to transfer engine oil from a failed engine to one that was running on the other wing but about to run out of oil.

And thanks to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Albion Park, NSW, and Jim Thurstan for these fabulous photos of their restored Catalina.

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Footnote, any inconsistencies of fact are Garrulous Gwendoline’s!

25 thoughts on “The “Black Cats” of the Double Sunrise Service and other flying stories

  1. Pingback: Return of the Catalina – a Legendary Adventure | The Reluctant Retiree

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  4. Pingback: Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum – Home of the Catalina | pacificparatrooper

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    • You do know we brought it with us, don’t you? hahahaha. Seriously, I felt a bit cold for the first few days, and then acclimatised and am now in short sleeves. It is glorious, not too hot, but not cold at all – very, very pleasant.


  6. Stopped in at Lake Boga on the way to Mildura. Scenic walk by the lake, interesting houses and occupants, lovely sunsets, lots of carp to catch ….lol . The Museum was a bonus, and an interesting piece of Australian wartime history. Well worth the visit. Happy travels Gwen..xx


    • Sounds as if you had a good look around, and even time for a spot of fishing as well! Can you believe I saw carp for sale in the local fish shop recently? Ugh. We arrived safe in England. Still a long trip to get to the other side of the world, but good to catch up with friends.


  7. About the PBY Catalina…
    This is the conclusion in the review…

    This was a fun project. The biggest kit I’ve done recently was a P-61 Black Widow for my father-in-law. This was sort of an eye opener. I remember doing a B-17 and a B-36 when I was a kid, but nothing big really since then. This is a great kit of a great airplane. A beautiful airplane. It kinda gets passed by for the models of bombers and fighters. My advice: don’t pass it by. Get one and build it. You’ll be glad you did.

    September 2005


  8. Oh, you’re right, Gwen – you followed up on the flying boat aspect quite well!! This is the last you’ll be hearing about me on this. Can’t wait to tell Pierre about it again.


      • You should follow my 19 other blogs… to know how sane a person I am… and I am French-Canadian also, and my mother tongue is French.

        I always find amazing people through this world of bloggers. One is a woman whose father was a RAF pilot in the Western Desert during WWII. He then went to England to fly Hawker Typhoons. Very dangerous missions! She has been writing using her father’s logbook and old pictures. I got hooked on the blog since. The problem is that she does not post enough. Her father is still in England in 1944. The last time he lfew escort for General Eisenhower!

        Another one is GP. You know her of course. But have you read all her posts about her father and read all the comments made by her loyal readers? Addictive!

        Then there is Wayne’s Journal…
        And many more…
        And now you…


        Indeed I am poor, not very poor… just middle class being squeezed off by greedy politicians trying to make us believe they do all this for our own good.

        Sorry I wrote this.


  9. Pingback: The "Black Cats" of the Double Sunrise Service and other flying stories

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