Inside the Collection

The Frigate Bird II and her Captain Revealed

Catalina Flying Boat ‘Frigate Bird II’ on display
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The Powerhouse Museum’s curatorial transport department was recently assisted by Museum Studies intern, Zinnia O’Brien, to work on a large photographic collection relating to Sir P.G. Taylor. “Who?”, you ask. In this post, Zinnia tells us a little about her internship project and the significance of Taylor in the context of Australian aviation history.

As a New Zealander, before I started an internship at the Powerhouse Museum I did not know of the Australian pilot Sir P.G. Taylor. I knew of the exploits of other Australian aviation pioneers, such as Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm, but I knew nothing about the others who had flown with them. I had jumped at the chance to complete my final Masters of Museum Studies internship placement at the Powerhouse Museum but I did not realise the true significance of the aviation project for which I had applied. The project was to research, record and scan a collection of over 300 images which documented Sir P.G. Taylor’s flight to Chile in the Catalina Flying Boat ‘Frigate Bird II’. The group of photographs had been generously donated by the Taylor family and they provided a new insight into Taylor’s life and this important flight.

Frigate Bird II over Sydney Harbour on the 21st of April 1951
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Photograph, black and white, Frigate Bird II over Sydney Harbour on the 21st of April 1951.Captain Patrick Gordon “Bill” Taylor (later Sir), had been involved in several other significant and hair raising aerial adventures before pioneering an air route from Sydney to Valparaiso in Chile. On the 13th of March 1951, Captain Taylor and a crew of four departed from Rose Bay to cross the South Pacific, from Australia to South America for the first time by air. The Australian Government had given permission to Taylor to carry out a survey flight to establish an air route for use by commercial aircraft. Taylor was allowed to select an aircraft and the best available was a Catalina PB2B-2. The aircraft was named ‘Frigate Bird II’ and given the Civil Registration VH-ASA, the ASA chosen especially to stand for Australia-South America. The roles and personality of the crew who accompanied Taylor on the flight are also revealed in these photographs. They were Captain G.H. “Harry” Purvis (First Officer), E.D. “Blue” L’Huillier (Engineer), Angus Allison (Radio Officer and Bowman) and Sydney Morning Herald Journalist Jack Percival (Official Correspondent and Executive Officer).

Crew of Frigate Bird II at Rose Bay prior to departure of flight from Australia to South America, March 1951
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Photograph, black and white, Crew of Frigate Bird II at Rose Bay prior to departure of flight from Australia to South America, March. Standing in front of a Sandringham Flying Boat are (l-r) Percival, Purvis, Taylor, Allison and L’Huiller.The ‘Frigate Bird II’ made an initial flight to Grafton, NSW, landing on the Clarence River, before heading east to South America. Stops were made at Noumea, New Caledonia; RNZAF Station at Lauthala Bay, Fiji; Satapuala Bay, Samoa; Aitutaki, Cook Islands; Papeete Harbour, Tahiti; Mangareva in the French Gambier Islands and at Easter Island. The final stop at Easter Island was vital for the ‘Frigate Bird II’ to refuel. However, they had to land on the open sea and there was no sheltered area for take-off, a serious hazard for a grossly over loaded aircraft. There they suffered through a storm, freak swells, broke all three of their anchor ropes as well as Taylor being washed overboard. They managed to sail the ‘Frigate Bird II’ around the Island like a boat and were finally able to take-off with the assistance of JATO (jet assisted take-off) rockets.

Frigate Bird II sailing around Easter Island from Ovahe Cove to Hanga Piko, view of port wing
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Photograph, black and white, Frigate Bird II sailing around Easter Island from Ovahe Cove to Hanga Piko, view of port wing. Taken on 22-24th March 1951, during the Frigate Bird II’s outward flight from Australia to South America.On the 26th of March 1951, ‘Frigate Bird II’ escorted by a Chilean Air Force Catalina, reached Valparaiso, Chile. They landed at Quintero Air Force Base and were warmly welcomed by the President of Chile and Air Force Officials. After nine days in Chile, ‘Frigate Bird II’ departed having successfully completed its diplomatic mission and starting an air link between Australia and Chile. The return flight was just as eventful when the JATO rockets failed to correctly fire when taking off in another storm at Easter Island. The aircraft barely missed crashing into the cliffs. After flying approximately 30,000km, they arrived back in Sydney on the 21st of April to a large reception. The ‘Frigate Bird II’ was subsequently gifted to Captain Taylor by then Prime Minister Robert Menzies, in recognition of the pioneering flights made by the famous aviator.

P.G. Taylor in the port blister meeting Chilean Air Force officers
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Photograph, black and white, P.G. Taylor in the port blister meeting Chilean Air Force officers. Taken upon arrival of the Frigate Bird II in Chile on the 25th March 1951.These four photographs hardly illustrate the drama and adventure of this amazing flight but are an indication of the historical value of this huge photographic collection. Not only have I now discovered the story of Sir P.G. Taylor and the ‘Frigate Bird II’ for myself but I have also been able to share this story and images with a new online audience. In the near future more of these significant photographs will make their way onto the Powerhouse’s website. I hope the publication of these photographs will lead to a greater awareness of Australia’s pioneering airmen and the importance of aviation in forging a place for Australia in the post-war twentieth-century. Keep watching for more of this story to be revealed!

Zinnia O’Brien, Student Intern, February 2010

31 responses to “The Frigate Bird II and her Captain Revealed

  • Great work Zinnia. I work in the education section of the powerhouse and always mention the Catalina Frigate Bird 2 in any tours I do. My home town is Grafton NSW and I met Captain Taylor as a one year old passenger on a Sunderland flying boat on a commercial service from Grafton to Sydney in 1949.

    Best wishes for your further work.

    Bob
    x2581

  • Thank you for the comment, it was a fantastic project to work on!
    And lucky you to get the chance to fly with Captain Taylor. The photographic collection documenting the flight has over 300 images so hopefully you can use some for tours and teaching in the Education Department too!

    • Hi Zinnia .
      I was 7 years old when my dad ex Guinea Airways before WW11 loaded us into the family car a 1921 Fiat 501 to go to Rose Bay to watch P G Taylors return. In his speach I remember him saying that they had used JATO for take of in what I recall was Chile and it was one of the earliest uses of this jet assist in the world.
      Little did I know that 10 years further on I would be sailing from the school yacht club beside Rose Bay Flying Boat Base which still used Short Empires to Lord Howe and witnessed the idiot in a speed boat Leave Kambala shoreline in a speed boat to cross the immediate take off flight path. None of us could believe the stupidity or the fact it was not a collision as it was that close.
      Being an old aircraft buff I shall buy your book and anyone interested in Catalina PBY’s must visit the wonderful Lake Boga Catalina Museum and it WW11 SE Asia communication bunker.
      Regards
      Chris Lamacraft

  • I paint western (Cowboys, Indians, Mountain men and wildlife) and aviation art.
    I have researched Sir PG Taylor for several years and have painted several pieces pertaining to his record breaking flights. Am presently working on a painting of VH-ASA and the Chilean PBY flying alongside one another just as Captain Taylor spots the Andes from their vantage point at sea.
    I am glad to hear the Taylor family has donated the photos you speak of to the museum. I am wondering if it is possible to view all the Taylor photos?

    Regards,
    Dave Paulley

  • My grandfather was Angus Allison who flew with PG Taylor and it is great that I am able to show my children what an amazing part of history their great grandfather was part of. Thank you.

  • Hi Lisa

    Your children can certainly be proud of their great grandfather. The Catalina “Frigate Bird II” will be a constant reminder at the Powerhouse of the famous pioneering flight he went on.

  • In the 1960’s I was a Flight Safety instructor in Qantas and carried out many liferaft drills at the Rose Bay flying boat base. Norm Lynch was the DCA person in charge of the base. The Catalina occupying the hangar for many years was Frigate Bird 2. I often mentioned the Catalina to Norm Lynch and he advised that eventually the aircraft would be used as a training aid for aviation apprentices to restore it. It wasn’t until years later that I read Captain Taylor’s book “Frigate Bird 2” that the importance of restoring the aircraft became obvious. Years later the PowerHouse aviation curator asked me (I’m a Ham Radio Operator) if I could contact other hams to obtain the radio equipment that was in the aircraft originally, to be fitted inside the hull. Right now I am writing a series of articles about the early days of flying boats in Qantas, including an article on Catalinas. If you could provide some photos of the aircraft to me to include in the article I would be delighted. If you could give me your email address I will send you a copy of my Catalina article as far as it is completed at this time. Regards from Dave Jeanes, former Qantas Radio Officer.

  • Hi Dave

    I remember you and your kind assistance with acquiring radio components to replace those that had been removed from “Frigate Bird II” prior to its acquisition by the Museum. Although I have retired from the Museum now I volunteer my time one day a week and maintain my interest in the Museum’s wonderful aviation collection. I would be very pleased if you could send a copy of your Catalina article to me at iand@phm.gov.au when you are ready. I’m sure it will be an interesting read and worth preserving on the Museum’s Catalina file.
    You will be contacted soon by one of the Museum’s Curators about “Frigate Bird II” images.

    By the way next year will be the 60th anniversary of the flight of “Frigate Bird II” to Chile and return.

  • A minor error in your history of Frigate Bird 2. She was not dismantled in 1956 for transport to Rose Bay, but was still very much in 1 piece and housed in the hangar at RAAF Rathmines when I was there on RAAF recruit training course 458 from April to July 1958. I did have photos of myself with her but can’t find them now although I have found photos of Auster,
    Mustang ,and Tiger moth in same hangar.
    It was an unexpected suprise and delight to see her hanging in the museum when I visited some years ago,as I had read of her beinging barged to Rose Bay,but thought she would be sitting derelict somewhere or possibly have been scrapped as has been the sad fate of so much of our aviation heritage!

    Will continue to search for these photos and if I locate them will forward same as they may be of some slight interest to you.

    Yours,
    Frank Davis.

    • Hi Dave, the photographic collection is still being formerly acquired and should be available this year. We no longer have a curator of aviation, hence the delay. Regards, Erika

  • I flew on Frigate Bird II with PG Taylor at the controls on an Air Training Corps camp at Awaba, Lake Macquarie, probably in 1952. The trip was to Rose Bay and back. The plane was noisy and cold, leaked prodigious quantities of air through the blisters, there were no seats only canvas bunks, and it was like landing on gravel. Still it was a great experience for a first flight.

  • Dear Brian
    Thanks for your comment. I forwarded it onto Ian Debenham, our honorary aviation curator and this is his reply: “I didn’t know that Taylor took any passengers on that flight. I am under the impression that he flew the aircraft to Sydney with a view to its sale but the sale fell through.

    I like the impression of the aircraft. I have always imagined that it would be like flying in a bass drum and there are references in Taylor’s books about leaking hatches in rain storms. From Rathmines to Sydney and return is such a short trip in comparison to the Australia to Chile flight. Imagine spending hours inside the ‘bass drum’ with water dripping on to the map on your knees as you flew through rain. We don’t know what we are missing when we go flying in a modern airliner!” If you’d like to get in touch with him, please let me know.

  • I wish I had known about this when we were in Sydney during May this year.
    I have 2 of Sir Gordon Taylor’s Hard cover books and cherish them greatly.
    The Sky Beyond & Bird of the Islands .
    Currently simulating in my Sim some of those flights in the Catalina.

  • Thanks for raising our awareness of PG Taylors trans-Pacific flight. The Catalina was a very special aircraft and it took a very special pilot to fly it. Consolidated in San Diego commissioned a documentary on the manufacture of PBYs which is a must see for all Cat lovers. Unfortunately my copy is VHS but I hope to transfer it to DVD. Even Jacques Cousteau owned one and I think anyone would be hard pressed to nominate a more versatile aircraft that truly changed the course of history.
    Thanks again,
    Regards,
    Keith.

  • Just after I completed my apprenticeship as a motor mechanic in 1950 I applied for a position as an engine mechanic at Trans Oceanic Airways Rose Bay and was fortunate to obtain this position. At that time I did not know that P G Taylor (Bill) was a director of the company. Our work consisted of keeping two Short Sunderland flying boats VH-AKP, VH-BKQ and four Solent flying boats VH-TOA, VH-TOB, VH-TOC and VH_TOD on the Lord Howe Island, Port Morsby and Horbart runs.
    I knew of Bill Taylor but had not met with him although he was our chief pilot. We the engineers would keep watch for Bill to arrive at the base in his MG car most time with his attractive wife. After completing the per flight checks I often had time to talk with the Flight Engineer Bluey L’Huiller and ofter to say G-day to the Captain as they entered the aircraft. Captain Bill was always a pleasure to watch as he took the plane out onto Sydney Harbour. Later in my time at Rise Bay I had an occasion to talk to Bill and I asked him about his flight with Kingsford -Smith and the Southern Cross when he salvaged the oil from one engine to save the other. Rather humbly he asked me if I would like to see the Globite suit case and the thermos flask that he used. I was overjoyed when on his next visit he allowed me to hold both these “famous” items as if they were just old pieces kept under the bed. Always after a flight Bill would thank the ground staff. I recall him saying to me “If it was not for the ground staff I could not fly” A most modest man and one who appreciated the work of the backroom boys to keep him in the air.
    I followed his flight to Chile and read his account in Frigate Bird 11 a most facinating story of a great navigator and pilot who must be considered the equal of other like Captain Cook.

  • Hi, I have been trying to get some details of flights from Rose Bay to Hobart and back in P G Taylor’s Catalina in about 1949-1950 that my family enjoyed when I was 16. My abiding memories are of the NSW coastline from a very low altitude (it seemed like 500 feet!) and the take off and landings. I guess it took quite a long time as the ground speed was probably only of the order of 150 knots. Do you know if the aircraft was the Frigate Bird II ?

  • Dear Mr Churches

    Thank you for your enquiry relating to Sir P G Taylor’s Catalina aircraft ‘Frigate Bird II’ displayed in the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.
    Sir P G Taylor began flying with Trans Oceanic Airways on the 4th of February 1949. Trans Oceanic Airways was an airline created by pilot Bryan Monkton in 1946 with five ex-RAAF Sunderland flying boats converted for commercial use. Initially the airline flew charters to the islands of the South Pacific and later began services to Grafton and to Hobart.
    In his book “The Boats I Flew” Monkton describes a flight to Hobart thus:
    The next route we opened up was between Sydney and Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. Luckily the direct distance between the two cities was too great for the DC-3 and services of the domestic airlines entailed a plane change in Melbourne with another stop at Launceston. This took almost eight hours whereas the Sunderland could make it non-stop in four and a quarter. The direct flight was not only more convenient and timesaving but was highly scenic.
    From Sydney it closely followed the beautiful south coast of New South Wales as far as Cape Howe, then crossed Bass Strait to meet the north east point of Tasmania and pass down the rugged coastline of the ‘Apple Isle’ to Hobart. Here again we were able to deliver our passengers right to the front door, so to speak. Hobart the pretty little capital city, nestling at the foot of Mount Wellington, is situated on the south side of the broad Derwent River. Alighting on its smooth surface, we moored up off the main shipping wharves and put our passengers ashore within short walking distance of the city centre. (p.122).

    The Sunderland flying boat was a capacious aircraft powered by four engines. In commercial configuration the Trans Oceanic Airways’ aircraft were capable of carrying 32 passengers. On the other hand the Catalina was a twin engine flying boat, far less capacious than the Sunderland and capable of carrying only 14 passengers in commercial configuration. No Catalinas were operated by Trans Oceanic Airways and Sir P G Taylor’s Catalina ‘Frigate Bird II’ was not operated commercially. It was still in its military/ Australia-South America survey flight configuration when acquired by the Museum.

    Sources: Bryan Monkton, The Boats I Flew, (Australian Aviation Museum, Bankstown, 2005)
    Rick Searle, The Man Who Saved Smithy: Fighter pilot, pioneer aviator, hero: the life of Sir Gordon Taylor GC, MC, (Allen & Unwin, 2015).

    Thank you once again for your enquiry.

    Ian Debenham OAM
    Volunteer and former Aviation Curator, MAAS.

  • Mi abuelo Gerardo Ciuffardi Galleti piloto chileno fue nombrado para hacer entrega de la primera carta que se enviare desde Chile a Australia. La carta fue entregada al comandante Taylor minutos antes de partir su épico viaje. Cruzando el Pacífico. Un recuerdo maravilloso de hombres únicos.

    • Gracias Carlos for your post about your grandfather Gerardo and his letter to comandante Taylor. I will pass your post on to comandante Taylor’s family. They may still have your grandfather’s letter. As you say: Un recuerdo maravilloso de hombres únicos.

  • While I worked at Rose Bay for Trans Oceanic Airways the aircraft that flew to Hobart and New Guinea were the Hercules powered Solents which were larger than the Sunderlands having an upstairs lounge and seating, from memory, for approximately 16. these were a very comfortable and reasonable quite aircraft. The converted Sunderlands were used on the Lord Howe and Grafton trips.

    • Thanks for your additional information Carl. According to Bryan Monkton’s book mentioned in my post above the Solent was also faster than the Sunderland. The Sunderland reached Hobart from Sydney in 4 1/4 hours whereas the Solents took 3 1/2 hours for the same journey (p.156). Unfortunately for Trans Oceanic both Solents were damaged while attempting to take off from the Brisbane River. Bryan Monkton doesn’t give a date for that accident which, by the way, wasn’t the fault of the Trans Oceanic crew but he dates the accident to the second Solent to 22nd of March 1952 (p. 157).

      Ian Debenham OAM

  • Have just read article on Taylor and Frigatebird II. Most excited by Zinnia O’Brien’s project to scan photo records. I’ve recently read Taylor’s book about crossing the pacific in Frigatebird II and been inspired to do some historical modelling on the subject. I’m developing a project relating to
    Frigatebird II and would like to know how to access the collection. I would also love to access any photos of the restoration of FB II and get hold of the primary data used by restoration team to chose the exact paint tones and markings applied to FB II. How can I do this? Can the Powerhouse help me? Does anyone else have some leads?

  • My Grandfather, was a great friend of PG Taylor and competitor to open the south pacific route, P.G Tylor form Australia in his PB2B-2 FRIGATEBIRD II and Roberto Parragué Singer in his OA-10 Number 405 “Manutara” from Chile.
    In This moment we have one of the PBY, number 32, of French Goberment give away to Roberto Parrague after his fly on 1965 from Chile to Thaiti, this airplane is in fly conditions and we are looking for pilots to do a his certify flight, if some one of you know a piolot in Australia please send his contact.
    Thanks in advance!!!!, my email is roparrague@gmail.com

    Roberto.

  • My Father C.G.Davies was asked by Harry Purvis to be part of the crewof Frigate bird 2as Flight engineer, but my Mother Vetoed it, but as a 15 yr old I was with Dad at the send off ceremony, at rose bay, Harry purvis flew the southern cross with “Bill” Taylor for the film SMITHY . not long after I flew in a “CAT” at Rathmines as an A.T.C. cadet on a weeks camp. and later still did my “NASHO” training there (Rathmines) as wellthere was only one “Cat” left by then the Base was now OTU (officer Training Unit) and it was an Aphibian (retractable landing gear ) I have P.G.s Book Frigate Bird 11 signed by all Five crew members Harry Purvis was Manager of Sydney Morning Herald Flying Services (flying out of Camden )my Fater Chief Engineer , and was friens with Jack Percevil Aviation Correspondent for SMH . The fueling and Takeoff at EASTER Island was VERY “DICEY” to say the least .

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