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Great Planes PBY Catalina Seaplane ARF Review

Great Planes has captured the classic lines of one of the all time great flying boats from the Golden Age of aviation and made it available to the park flyer masses with the PBY Catalina Seaplane ARF! Jon Barnes takes a dip (and loses his pants... really) into this one.

Splash

Introduction

The Catalina stands out as one of the most distinguished planes ever to grace the skies, for several reasons:

  • No other flying boat was ever produced in greater numbers, with around 4,000 total built.
  • Originally designed as a long distance patrol bomber, but adapted for use in a wide variety of roles, from anti-submarine warfare to maritime patrol to night attack and naval interdiction to search and rescue.
  • The Catalina and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress were the only two aircraft with the range necessary for operations against Japan.
  • Most remembered by veterans of WW II as a rescue aircraft, credited with saving the lives of thousands of air crewmen shot down in the Pacific Theater.
  • Maiden flight in 1937, with many still in service into the 1980s, and used up to the present for aerial firefighting.
  • Although relatively slow and ungainly, the PBY had a reputation as an exceptionally reliable aircraft.

In addition to all of the above, the Catalina PBY Flying Boat has one of the most recognizable profiles in aviation history.

I had always wanted to try radio control float flying. The closest I ever came to it was flying my float equipped nitro powered EZ Cherokee off of snow during a cold Ohio winter many moons ago. That was fun, but I couldn't keep my thumbs warm enough to fly for more than a few minutes at a time! When I saw that Great Planes was releasing the PBY, I jumped at the chance to review it! A true flying boat and the year round warmth of the San Francisco Bay area? Who could ask for a better combination!


Wingspan:53.5Wing Area:395 sq. in.
Weight:3.00-3.25 lb.
Length:34.25"
Wing Loading:18-19 oz/sq. ft.
Servos:2X Futaba S3107 (Ailerons), 2X Futaba S3114 (Tail)
Transmitter:Multiplex EVO 9
Receiver:Castle Creations Berg 7
Battery:Great Planes 11.1V 3200 mAh 20C Discharge Lithium Polymer
Motors:Great Planes Rimfire 28-30-950 Out-Runner Brushless
ESCs:Great Planes Silver Series 25A Brushless ESC 5V/2A BEC
Manufacturer:Great Planes
Available From:Great Planes
Retail Price:$139.99

Kit Contents

Considering the final assembled dimensions of this airplane, Great Planes does an impressive job of packing it all up into not-so-large box!

As I eagerly began to unpack and inventory all of the pieces and parts, I was even more amazed. Great Planes raises the bar with this ARF when it comes to the completeness of the kit.

They provide several components that other manufacturers would call "extras" including pre-installed aileron servo extensions and a pair of very nice looking prop hubs for 3 mm motor shafts. The fuselage comes nestled between two cardboard boxes that are chock full of parts, including wing tip floats, nacelles, cowls and rear blister windows. They are even so thorough as to give you a spare set of the windows in case you have to remove the first set for servicing the innards. They also provide a cradle that comes in handy not only for the assembly, but for preparing the plane for flight out in the field.

After unpacking all of the components, I could not help but be very impressed with the quality and composition of this Great Planes ARF.

Kit Includes:

  • Beautiful fiberglass fuselage
  • Built up balsa wing halves with pre-installed aileron servo extensions and motor leads
  • Built up balsa tail feathers
  • Fiberglass battery hatch cover
  • Plastic engine nacelles, cowls, windows, wing struts and tip floats
  • Aluminum prop hubs for 3 mm motor shafts
  • Pair of 2 blade 8x6 props
  • Complete hardware package, including all necessary fasteners, quick links, hinges, Velcro, aluminum wing joiner rod and push rods
  • Superb photo-illustrated assembly manual
  • Adhesive backed decal sheet
  • Styrofoam and PVC cradle

Included for this review and recommended by Tower Hobbies:

  • Great Planes Electrifly 28-30-950 Brushless Outrunner Motors (2)
  • Great Planes Electrifly Silver Series 25 amp ESCs 5V/2A BEC (2)
  • Great Planes Electrifly 3200 mAh 11.1 volt 20C discharge Lithium Polymer battery.
  • Futaba S3107 servos (2) for ailerons and S3114 servos (2) for rudder and elevator.
  • 12 inch servo extensions (2) for rudder and elevator servos.
  • Castle Creations Berg 7 Receiver and crystal

Assembly

If you have never built a Great Planes ARF, then you have not experienced some of the best written and illustrated assembly manuals in the business. It seems a great deal of time is spent making sure that the manual makes the grade, and the PBY’s manual is no exception. I like that I can also access any of the Great Planes manuals on their web site in PDF format as well. This has allowed me more than once to take a quick peek at something when I do not have the manual handy.

Wing

Since the servo extensions are pre-installed, all that has to be done is to plug in the servos, secure the connections to insure they do not accidentally come unplugged and mount the servos to the wings.

I like to wrap the connection with several turns of electrical tape but you may prefer heat shrink or even a piece of string. After drilling small pilot holes and running the servo mounting screws in once and then back out, I hardened the servo screw holes by dripping a few drops of CA into them.

After mounting the servos, it takes only a few minutes to mount the control horns on the ailerons and assemble the push rods. Though the manual suggests using a nylon Faslink on the servo end of the aileron push rod, I instead used my handy Z-bend pliers to create a nice Z-bend. The other end of the push rod attaches to the control horn with a nylon clevis.

The two wing halves are joined by an aluminum wing joiner bar. Unlike many kits, you are NOT instructed to glue the two halves together so you can break the PBY down to haul it back and forth to the field, uh, I mean the lake.

The kit includes two pre-built ply motor mounts. After epoxying these to the wings, it is easy to mount the Rimfire motors. However, the screws that come with the motors are only long enough to grab a thread or two of the blind nuts. Per a recommendation in the manual, I obtained some 3 mm by 6 mm screws. In addition to providing a more secure attachment, the extra length allows the use of flat washers and lock washers too. At the same time that I was tightening the motor mounting screws, I checked the tightness of the four hex head bolts that hold the ply motor mounts together. I use red thread lock on all motor mounting fasteners.

The motor leads also come pre-installed in the wings. The connectors are even pre-soldered on the wires. After the motor wires are connected, it is time to slip the plastic motor nacelle over the motor and mount. At first glance, the task seems impossible, but as the manual says, take your time - it WILL fit! The nacelles are anchored to the wings with a few small pieces of Blenderm tape (well, at least for the first TWO flights! But more on that later!). The motor cowls slip over the nacelles. They are a very snug friction fit, and it is not necessary to anchor them with anything.

The final step to complete the wing assembly is to glue the tip floats on. There are two-ply tabs that slip into grooves in the wing. I decided to epoxy them exactly as instructed, but I also determined that it would be prudent to add a little hot glue to the space in between the two ply tabs. This would serve the dual purpose of providing a little extra adhesion as well as sealing the gap between the wing tip float and the wing.

Fuselage

The fuselage on this Great Planes ARF is a beautiful fiberglass one, and it is a very nice piece of lay up at that. Before I began any assembly, I had to study the internal structure of it. I am not sure how they did it but it would appear that all of the light ply "skeleton" must have been inserted into the fuselage piece by piece and then assembled inside of the fuselage. Fortunately for me, I have relatively small hands for a guy that is six feet tall enabling me to insert my hands in through the rear windows and work inside the fuselage fairly comfortably.

There is not a great deal of assembly. The main task that must be completed is to mount the elevator and rudder servos and then install the corresponding push rods Again, the manual does a perfect job of guiding you through this process.

The push rods are secured at both ends with the included quick link style connectors. They are quite small in size, and the screws are not your typical round head screw or allen head type of bolt. They are a very small set screw type of fastener, much the same as a set screw used to anchor a pinion on a motor shaft. I was a little concerned about the holding strength of such small fasteners so for a little extra peace of mind I again decided to use a little dab of thread locking compound. Strangely enough, the Futaba servos provided for the rudder and elevator came with but one horn each. After completing the installation, I was happy with the linkages however.

Tail

After the hinges are installed and the elevator is attached the horizontal stabilizer is glued directly to the fiberglass fuselage. I removed the covering where the stabilizer would mate up to the fuselage. I also laid some fillets of epoxy on the underside of the horizontal stabilizer, where it meets the fuselage. The rudder uses but one hinge, with the balance of it held captive and pivoting on the water rudder assembly.

Before allowing the epoxy to set, I insured that the horizontal stabilizer and elevator were squarely aligned and installed in all directions relative to the wing and fuselage.

Radio Installation

I have been itching to try one of the new Berg 7 Full Range receivers since I use their smaller receivers almost exclusively in the rest of my fleet. Castle Creations was nice enough to provide one for this review, and it ended up being a perfect choice for this application. Though you could theoretically use a four channel receiver, with Y-connectors on the ailerons and speed controllers, using the Berg 7 made my setup much easier. I was able to plug each ESC and aileron into its own channel, giving additional functionality as far as using flaps or differential throttle. There is plenty of room in the fuselage for the diminutive blue receiver. I attached it with Velcro to the highest point in the ply internal structure.

It is also necessary to install a 18 inch long piece of the rigid plastic provided tubing which serves as a guide tube for the receiver antenna. I anchored mine along the left side of the fuselage with a few pieces of Blenderm tape and some hot glue.

It would be easy to make all of the servo, motor and ESC connections quickly with a view to simply finishing the assembly quickly, but I decided to try and spend a little extra time making all of the gear wiring and connections as neat as possible. Normally, it is necessary to plug your servos and ESCs into predetermined channels on your receiver, but because I use a Multiplex EVO 9 transmitter, I am able to assign any function to any channel, allowing me to tidy up my receiver connections by plugging all of my servo and ESC leads into the nearest channel. It negates the need to connect the two ESCs via a Y-connector, and then plug this into one channel. Instead, I was able to plug each ESC lead into its own channel, and then just map both channels to the throttle in my transmitter programming. Nice!

It is also imperative that you label your six motor to speed control connections, so that each time you remove the wing and reinstall it you will be able to quickly and correctly reconnect these wires. I used heat shrink of two different colors to bundle each set of three wires. I then individually labeled the three wires in each bundle.

It is normally vital to provide a path for cooling air to enter and exit the fuselage on an electric plane, but on the PBY, that is a catch 22. It is difficult to provide both a point of entry and exit for air while at the same time sealing up the fuselage to stop water from entering. It is my feeling that Great Planes has addressed this by almost overpowering this plane. What do I mean? Study the screen capture of the power system below.

The two motors TOGETHER are pulling just under 22 amps out of the big 3200 battery, for a total power output of 255 watts. That means each speed controller is being utilized at less than 50% of it's rated ability, or around 11 amps so the Electrifly 25s shouldn't be breaking a sweat even when running at full throttle with limited cooling. Additionally, the inside of the hull is quite cavernous so it is not as if the speed controllers are stuffed into a narrow fuselage with only a little air to dissipate heat. Finally, the flight envelope and performance of this scale plane does not necessitate wide open throttle settings from take off to landing.

Completion

At this juncture, there are only a few minor steps that need to be performed before it is time to head for the lake. There are two wing support struts per wing half. Pre-drilling pilot holes in both the wing and fuselage is a good idea. After running the screws into the wing, remove them and harden the threads of the hole with a few drops of CA.

Great Planes gives you four plastic blister windows though you will initially only need two to finish the plane. RC56 canopy glue is best for attaching them to the fuselage with masking tape holding them in place until the glue sets . Install the included props and spinners, check the CG and set up your control throws.

Flying

Basics

Taking Off and Landing

Flying a float plane is very much similar to flying a tail dragger. It takes a light and proactive touch on the rudder or you can end up in a ground loop (or in this case a water loop)! The water rudder is useful in making low speed turns while taxiing, but if the winds are too strong, you may have a little difficulty aiming the PBY. Checking the lateral balance of the plane and adding weight to the light wing tip if necessary will greatly assist you when taxiing. Otherwise, the heavier wing tip float will tend to remain in the water while the lighter wing tip float will remain above the water. This will cause the PBY to yaw in the direction of the heavy side, and this tip will catch and possibly induce a water loop. A good lateral balance will help you keep the wing level, which becomes even easier as you transition from taxiing speed to flying speed.

When you are ready to take off, the two Rimfire brushless outrunners have more than enough punch to get the PBY up on step in an instant. If you prefer, you can simply aim the PBY into the wind and shove the throttles to the stops. The PBY will leap out of the water rather quickly. I enjoy the challenge of a more scale take off, and success can be difficult without timely rudder corrections, but the look of the PBY as it slowly lifts off the water and climbs out in a scale fashion is exhilarating.

Successful landings require a little finesse on the throttles. If you try to come in with little or no power, you'll probably end up doing a multiple bounce landing. (I included one of my bad landings in the video below.) Instead, maintain a little power on final and allow the plane to descend gradually. Feather in a touch of up elevator and ease the throttles back when it starts skipping across the tops of the waves. The PBY will reconnect with the water and settle back down onto its hull. I don't think you'll have any difficulty differentiating between the two!

Aerobatics/Special Flight Performance

There is no doubt that the PBY Catalina is first and foremost a scale airplane. As such, I feel challenged to try and fly it in such a manner that it looks as real as possible. The recommended power system has ample power to take this plane though basic aerobatics including loops and rolls, but I have not attempted any such maneuvers thus far. I have plenty of other planes that I can fly should I want to perform aerobatics or 3D flight maneuvers. But it would look pretty cool to get some video of a PBY in a low inverted pass!

Waterproofing

Waterproofing you say?! Though not normally a topic to be considered when reviewing an ARF, an electric float plane spends time in a potentially conductive medium known as water.

A Nice day for a Swim

I must confess that my first outing with this plane resulted in a swim! It was my own fault. I had completed the maiden flight, and I was excited to get the battery recharged so that I could get her back up for some photo passes. Meanwhile, the winds had picked up and the chop had also grown. I was having trouble getting the PBY up "on step.” The flying boat seemed to be more of a boat than a plane this time, sitting heavy and low in the water. I had drained the hull after the first flight, with only a small amount of water having found its way into the plane from the first flight. Why was I having difficulty this time?

I decided to force the PBY up into the air, and in an instant I knew that was a BAD decision. The plane was seriously pitch sensitive, almost to the point of being uncontrollable. I was able to get the plane back down into the water but with a big splash The impact popped the battery hatch loose (either that or the flight crew ejected when they realized the landing to come). In any event, water poured into the hull, and in seconds the plane sank to the point that only the wing was visible. I hesitated , and then ran down the shore, dropping my wallet, car keys, fleece jacket and sunglasses as I decided to go in after the sinking ship. The PBY was probably only about 100-150 feet off shore but the bottom of the reservoir dropped away steeply enough that swimming was the only way to get out there. As I drove home sans pants with a beach towel wrapped around me I concluded that evidently a modest amount of water had also found its way into the wing. As I forced the nose of the PBY up in the air on takeoff, the water had instantly drained into the rear of the wing. Can you say tail heavy!?

If you ever find yourself submerging your plane and gear, the best thing you can do is disconnect the battery as soon as possible. Do not power any of the soggy gear up again until it is thoroughly dry. I laid all of the electronics out on the picnic table on a very sunny California day. I reassembled it all the next day and found that everything was fine except for the two speed controllers. Carol Pesch from Hobbico was gracious enough to supply another pair of speed controllers, as well a replacement battery hatch. The original battery hatch is now sunken treasure at the bottom of the reservoir.

Therefore, it is a very good idea to spend a little time waterproofing the PBY to minimize the amount of water that finds its way inside. Using RC56 glue, I applied a bead of glue around the edges of the engine nacelles and the tip floats. I then used my finger to smooth the bead and remove the excess. The result was an absolutely invisible seal of glue. The engine nacelles have built in cooling holes to provide some cooling airflow for the motors. It is best to leave these open and just accept the small amount of water that may enter through them.

I also decided to make a gasket between the wing and the fuselage as mine had a gap that looked to be big enough to allow water to enter. I used a silicon type caulk and allowed it to dry overnight before remounting the wing.

My efforts met with success, as my next outing saw minimal water infiltration. After several flights, only a very small amount of water found its way into the plane.

Is This For a Beginner?

The Great Planes PBY is not very difficult to fly. The undercambered airfoil coupled with the relatively light wing loading combine to make this plane a very well behaved flyer. So YES this plane is perfectly suited for the beginning FLOAT flyer. It is a great way to jump into the waters of radio control float planes. If you are a complete beginner to radio control planes, it would be best if you get some stick time in on some four channel aileron trainers before moving into this area of the hobby. Or, if you absolutely have to have one, enlist the help of a more experienced pilot to help you develop the skills necessary to fly a plane like this.

Flight Video/Photo Gallery

Downloads

Conclusion

The Great Planes folks have engineered and produced a great alternative to your run of the mill park flyer - float flying for the masses! The retail price is relatively low when you consider the quality of the fiberglass fuselage and all of the "extras" that they include with the kit. The recommended power system is a perfect match for the PBY and helps you fly it in a very scale fashion. The recommended Rimfire motors are a perfect match for the PBY- they pull hard and yet the total current draw feasts on the Electrifly 3200 mAh battery. A throttle setting of around 50% will result in very realistic looking scale flight and flight durations of ten minutes and longer. I would like to see perhaps a little more emphasis placed on the importance of sealing up all of the possible points of entry on the fuselage and wing into which water WILL eventually finds its way, but there are ways to minimize and maybe prevent this. The thorough instruction manual will have you in the water and in the air in no time flat. The fit and finish is first class. There were many different paint schemes on the many Catalinas that saw service throughout the plane’s long and illustrious career, and I am anxious to see what other builders come up with for custom paint jobs.

Plusses

  • Beautiful fiberglass fuselage!
  • Superb instruction manual
  • VERY complete kit with many extras included
  • Excellent flight stability
  • Classic and famous flying boat in a quick building ARF
  • Recommended power system components are all ideal for this plane.

Minuses:

  • Could use more suggestions for sealing the plane against excessive water intrusion

This is one classic plane that I intend to keep in service in my fleet for a long time.

Last edited by Angela H; Aug 05, 2007 at 07:51 PM..

Discussion

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Old Aug 06, 2007, 08:08 AM
KK6MQJ
Bajora's Avatar
Joined Sep 2004
13,607 Posts
And if I may quickly sneak in here and say, a special thanks again to Terry "Blueskyrider" Riley and Mike "Mpcrash" Pogge for providing the extra pairs of hands and eyes for assistance with the video and stills!

I couldn't do it without you guys...well, unless I sprouted more arms and eyes!
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 08:36 AM
There is no place like Hodges!
edge5foamy's Avatar
United States, GA, Byron
Joined Mar 2007
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Great review!
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 08:38 AM
The sky is my playground.
Dora Nine's Avatar
United States, NH
Joined May 2005
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Nice! Thanks!
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 10:09 AM
Grumpa Tom
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United States, CA, Los Angeles
Joined Sep 2003
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Excellent review. And your stills photographer is outstanding!
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 10:15 AM
Registered User
Kevin Murray's Avatar
USA, NC, Greenville
Joined Dec 1999
9,271 Posts
Nice review and plane, I need one of these too. Thanks.
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 10:17 AM
Registered User
Sebastopol, CA, USA
Joined Dec 1996
537 Posts
Super review, Jon, very complete and clearly written.

The video is awesome. I would love to know how your friends managed to hold the camera so steady during the many closeups. Mine always have the shakes! A small gripe, though: those spinning transitions between shots are irritating. You don't need that kind of showoff stuff.

Hope to see you at Creekside one of these days.
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 10:29 AM
KK6MQJ
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Joined Sep 2004
13,607 Posts
Thanks Albert. I appreciate your candor on the video transitions. I normally limit myself to fades and dissolves as far as transitions. I thought the flips would be appropriate since the video was a blend of two different outings, with drastically different lighting and scenery.

We'll cross paths again soon my friend. You can count on it!

And thank you for the nice comments Kevin, Kmot, John and edge! Glad you all enjoyed it. I CERTAINLY had a blast doing the review. What a plane!
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 11:23 AM
WAA-08 Pilot Eventually
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Darien,IL,USA
Joined Jul 2000
1,570 Posts
Jon,
GREAT review, Excellent video footage and transitions!!!!
Certainly proves it is an excellent flyer.
Your detailed descriptions and photos are insightful and will help when I get mine.
Thanks for posting, much appreciated,
Don
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 11:31 AM
There is no place like Hodges!
edge5foamy's Avatar
United States, GA, Byron
Joined Mar 2007
3,549 Posts
I like the new waterplanes, GP has this new Cat, and a new Seawind EP(39'' WS). I am tring to get them to have a small pond setup at SEFF 08 for planes like these.
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 11:35 AM
Balsa Bomber Builder
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Joined Jun 2007
147 Posts
Thank you for the very honest review. I was considering purchasing this plane and your review makes it very comfortable for me. Thanks again.
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 11:41 AM
KK6MQJ
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Joined Sep 2004
13,607 Posts
Yeah, I noticed that "baby" Seawind myself! I like it!

The PBY has caused me to be bitten by the float flying bug I am afraid!

I also picked up a NIP Eflite J3 25 Cub with floats!
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 11:51 AM
There is no place like Hodges!
edge5foamy's Avatar
United States, GA, Byron
Joined Mar 2007
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Yeah, that J-3 Cub 25 is nice.
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 07:13 PM
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Thomas B's Avatar
United States, TX, Fort Worth
Joined Jun 2000
14,489 Posts
A very nice review on the little Catalina. I got mine int he air over the weekend at our local summer float fly. They really did a nice job on the hull design for this model.....still looks pretty scale, but works great.

The only comment I would have added to what you wrote would be to mention the lack of a nose turrent molding in the kit design....what wase GP thinking when they skipped that crucial part??.. One almost always looks at the nose of something first!
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Old Aug 06, 2007, 08:31 PM
We shall serve the Lord
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United States, TX, Kingsland
Joined Sep 2005
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Great Review Jon. Excellent Pictures. I really enjoyed your "splashy" landing. I think I may have bounced the Seawind in like that once. OK, maybe twice. I like the throttle management and elevator work on the smooth landing. It just shows that with seaplanes you have to keep trying different approches till you find a method that works and then stick to it.

Looks like Great Planes has another winner in their stable. After reading your review, I better make a little more room in my shop for a PBY.

Mike McD
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