P.G. Taylor's 1951 South Pacific Flight

Between 14 March and 20 April 1951 Captain P.G. Taylor and crew flew PB2B-2 Catalina VH-ASA Frigate Bird II on an experimental flight between Australia and Chile, and return. This was the first ever air crossing of the South Pacific to South America. The aircraft was a stock RAAF machine, formerly A24-385, taken from the inventory of stored aircraft at Rathmines flying boat base, NSW. The photo below shows it on a test flight at Rathmines.

The photo above shows Minister for Air Thomas White farewelling the crew at Sydney's Rose Bay flying boat base, NSW. The crew members, dressed in uniforms specially designed by Taylor for the flight are, L-R: Capt. P.G. 'Bill' Taylor, Capt. Harry Purvis, Flight Officers A. Allison (Radio Operator), Jack Percival (Executive Officer) and E. L'Huillier (Flight Engineer).


The flight departed Sydney and intermediate stops were made at Noumea, Fiji, Tonga, Aitutaki (Cook Is.), Tahiti, Mangareva and Easter Island (Isla de Pascua). The aircraft arrived at Valparaiso, Chile, on 27 March. The flight to Chile was particularly notable for both Taylor's navigation skills and also his skill in 'sailing' the flying boat at Easter Island when the anchor gave way in high winds and the aircraft threatened to blow ashore against the rocky coast. In order to be able to refuel and take off, Taylor had to sail the aircraft from one side of the island to the other in rough seas by tacking the aircraft with alternately taxying into wind with engine on then allowing the aircraft to drift with engine off. It took him the best part of a day to get around to the leeward side of the island and this was followed by a desperate takeoff, using JATO* rockets to get the heavily laden aircraft airborne from a high sea.

The return flight departed Valparaiso on 6 April and arrived at Brisbane, Qld, on 20 April via the same route.


The day after alighting in Brisbane, Taylor flew Frigate Bird II on to Rose Bay, arriving at 3pm exactly. Awaiting the aircraft's return was a large crowd, including Prime Minister Robert Menzies (left, shaking Taylor's hand).

Upon the aircraft's return it went back into storage at Rathmines and was eventually withdrawn from use in 1954. Today it resides in Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, a tribute to the courage of Taylor and his crew.

Taylor was awarded the 1951 Oswald Watt gold medal for the flight to South America. He was knighted in 1954 for his pioneering work in aviation.

The full story of this flight is told in Taylor's superb book, the eponymous Frigate Bird.


See an air mail cover carried on this flight


* Jet Assisted Take-Off


(Photos: top-The West Australian/Geoff Goodall collection; middle-Bob Stewart via Daryl Meek; bottom-CAHS collection)

Read Fifty Years Ago - 1951

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