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The National Naval Aviation Museum’s PB2Y made history at the end of the Pacific War.

Early on August 28, 1945, two Consolidated PB2Y-5R Coronados lay anchored 100 yards off a Saipan beach, their engines idling. Rear Admiral Forrest P. Sherman and his staff climbed aboard one of the flying boats, Bureau No. 7099, while Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief, Pacific, boarded the second, No. 7073. Then both aircraft took off and turned eastward, on a heading that would take them just offshore of Japan’s mainland.

The two admirals were en route to Tokyo Bay to attend the September 2 Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the battleship Missouri. The plane carrying Admiral Nimitz was supposed to land first on August 28, after which the admiral would make his way to the battleship South Dakota, where he stayed until he was transferred to Missouri to sign the surrender document on behalf of the United States. But the pilot of Admiral Sherman’s Coronado, Lt. Cmdr. J.A. Robertson—apparently acting on orders from his VIP passenger—touched down in Tokyo Bay moments ahead of Admiral Nimitz’s plane. That meant No. 7099 was the first U.S. Navy aircraft to land in Japan after the war’s end.

Fast forward to the spring of 2011, when a crew of specialists gingerly maneuvered Coronado 7099, now fully restored, into position on the exhibit floor of the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla. According to museum director Captain Bob Rasmussen (U.S. Navy, ret.), the behemoth’s wingspan, even with the outer wing panels off, measures 60 feet. “That was exactly the distance between the two buildings that we had to tow it through to get it into the museum building,” he explained. The next task: to fit the Coronado through a 50-footwide door opening and ease it around two columns that were only 45 feet apart. Rasmussen said that special castors had been constructed so the crews could move the aircraft around in those tight spaces.

The prototype Coronado made its maiden flight in December 1937, and Consolidated Aircraft eventually built 217 of the giant flying boats. The PB2Y represented the Navy’s next generation of patrol bombers, borrowing on its successful history with the twin-engine PBY Catalina series.

The Coronado is significantly larger than the Catalina, with a 115-foot wingspan and nearly 80-foot-long fuselage. The PB2Y’s four 1,200-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radials gave it a maximum speed of 213 mph, with a service ceiling of 20,100 feet. It weighed in at just under 41,000 pounds empty, and fully loaded tipped the scales at 68,000 pounds. Coronados had a range of almost 1,500 miles. The 5R “flag transport” version was fitted out with seating for 44 people.

Soon after the prototype XPB2Y-1 Coronado rolled out of Consolidated’s San Diego plant, flight tests revealed directional stability and control problems. Designers added two auxiliary fins to the horizontal stabilizer, but those did little to solve the problems. Eventually an entirely new tail assembly—featuring a redesigned horizontal stabilizer with a 7.5-degree dihedral, and twin rounded vertical stabilizers—resolved the control issues.

Following the surrender ceremony, Coronado 7099’s 10 crewmen thought they were headed Stateside.“Not so fast” was the Navy’s response. The crew was subsequently assigned to Seventh Fleet operations, supporting the occupation of China. Serving as a flag transport, the flying boat ferried Admiral Thomas Kinkaid and Army Air Forces Lt. Gen. George Stratemeyer around the Far East.

At one point during its Chinese assignment, the Coronado suffered severe damage when heavy seas generated by a typhoon popped rivets and opened holes on the hull. The crew rode out the storm, then applied temporary patches.

After the typhoon, 7099 was ordered back to the U.S., where it was stricken from Navy assets in August 1946. But the Coronado escaped the scrapper when it caught the eye of aviator and movie producer Howard Hughes. Though we don’t know exactly what Hughes had in mind for the PB2Y-5R, he apparently used it during preparations for the initial flight of his own mammoth flying boat, the eight-engine H-4 Hercules, or “Spruce Goose.” Hughes’ Summa Corporation kept the Coronado in flying condition at Long Beach, Calif., for almost three decades, but in the early 1960s its control surfaces and engines were removed and placed in storage.

The aircraft was donated to the National Naval Aviation Museum in 1977. Partially disassembled, it was barged from California through the Panama Canal to Pensacola. “When it arrived it was essentially 100 percent complete,” said Rasmussen. The radios and other accessories were there,“including a lot of the equipment used for mooring and beaching. It was a very complete artifact, unlike a lot of aircraft we receive here.”

The airframe was sealed up after its arrival in Pensacola—and stayed that way until 1990. Along with about 20 other aircraft, the Coronado was then moved to the museum’s restoration hangar. For the next 15 years, 7099 underwent restoration in fits and starts. Rasmussen recalled that sometimes the work proceeded “at a snail’s pace,” since other aircraft had a higher priority for restoration, but at other times it progressed rapidly. Complicating matters was the fact that the flying boat needed so much work done—at a time when only limited funding was available for restoration projects.

Since the aircraft was being restored both internally and externally, the first part of the project involved removing the interior fittings. As 7099 was a VIP transport, this involved taking out seats, a galley, custom bunks and also crew quarters. The upholstery, wood fittings and fabric drapes had rotted over the years, so they couldn’t be saved. Once the cockpit was emptied, all the instruments, radios and navigation equipment had to be cleaned and refurbished to stop further deterioration of metal parts.

Pensacola’s humid, salty air had not been kind to the Coronado’s skin. Rasmussen recalled, “The biggest problem turned out to be when we got into the wings—not only the outer wing panels, but the inboard section which carried the engines and the bomb bays—we found a significant amount of structural deterioration due to corrosion.” It took a good deal of time and effort to remove the corroded areas and replace the structure.

All the exterior aluminum panels were cleaned and inspected for damage, and three of the engines were removed, cleaned and refurbished. Officials decided to leave the fourth engine untouched, to let visitors see how the aircraft looked before its restoration.

With all the repairs now finished, the Coronado is “95 percent original,” according to Rasmussen, who added, “We’re very pleased with how the restoration turned out.” Asked whether visitors will be allowed inside the aircraft, he cautioned, “This is not a user-friendly aircraft.” He pointed out that the interior contains multiple levels and is not laid with level flooring, like a modern airliner. Rasmussen said some groups will eventually be allowed to tour the plane’s interior, but only after safety modifications are complete.

Museum visitors may note that the Coronado’s inboard engines are fitted with Curtiss four-bladed propellers, while the outboard engines have three-bladed Curtiss props. An error? Not so, says Rasmussen, who explained that the four-bladed props were used on the inboard engines to give the aircraft more maneuverability, and they were reversible. The three-bladed props were not. What’s more, the slightly smaller four-bladed props created less sea spray on takeoff, and it was hoped that would lead to less corrosion on the aluminum airframe.

The Naval Aviation Museum’s PB2Y-5R is believed to be the only one of its kind still in existence. For more on the museum and its collection, see


Originally published in the July 2012 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.