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The PBM Mariner was put together by VP-74 on the parking ramp at NAF Natal, Brazil and all parts, except the main part of the plane, were whittled out right there. This story was never believed by anyone who had not seen the plane or wasn't present when it was successfully flown by the pilots and crew of VP-74.

"We were based in Natal and operated from the river there. We had been there several months and most of us were getting used to the hazards connected with flying out of this river-based seadrome. We had also mastered the peculiar taxiing techniques required to 'make the buoy' and be hurled up the ramp. "This was a real trick in itself.

The accepted method was to get lined up downstream and make the slowest approach possible at about a 45-degree angle and have the plane stopped or barely moving when close enough to the buoy for the crew member in the bow compartment to reach out and pick up the buoy ring.

Usually this was accomplished without much ado, because the pilots had gotten to be experts at the maneuver with time. "One other hazard to a successful taxi to the buoy was the presence of a large steel hulk beached just downstream from the landing ramp. This was both a physical and psychological danger as pilots wondered 'What if I hit that thing with this plane?'

"One day, one of our pilots did, missing the buoy and gunning the wrong engine. The crewman in the bow compartment went over the side just before the crash. After his bailout, the bow turret and the bow compartment were crunched in all the way back to the watertight door and the bulkhead, and that structure held. That bulkhead was right below the two pilots' feet.

"By quick action of the boat crew, the plane crew, and the beaching crew, the plane was saved and successfully towed to the beaching ramp and beached. After the 'oohs' and 'ahhs' of squadron personnel, our genius of a leading chief stated that he could save the plane. "A crew of selected workers carefully sawed and snipped the metal until the entire ragged, crunched and wrecked metal was separated from the body of the plane.

After that, 2x6 planks were obtained, as well as heavy canvas and roofing tar. Enough planks were sawed to solidly cover the bulkhead, which was just forward of the windshield, then an ample layer of tar and a sheet of canvas. Another layer of planks was installed at about a 45-degree angle to the first ones, and thus built up with three layers each of tar, planks and canvas. All of this was solidly affixed to the structure of the plane. All done, it gave the plane a very snub-nosed, sawedoff appearance, and the overall length of the craft was shortened by about eight feet from nose to tail. 

"There was neither the mathematical talent nor equipment to work out the new aerodynamics of this weird-looking bird, so the only way to find out its characteristics was to fly it. "A number of pilots and crewmen volunteered, as it was a foregone conclusion that the crew that test-flew it would get to fly to the States for a new one. The PPC who won the toss was Joe Buehlman. He picked a co-pilot, two radiomen and two mechs and they were put into the river. As there was no place to use a normal bow mooring line, the plane was manhandled until the beaching gear was removed and the tail line cast off.

"Joe and crew taxied out, looking quite odd to those of us on the beach. However, Joe kept reporting that the plane handled well on the water and had no leaks. They taxied around until reaching takeoff position and Joe said that he was going, advanced the throttles, picked up flying speed and pulled it off the water right in front of all hands standing in awe on the beach.

After climbing straight out seaward until he reached an altitude of a couple of thousand feet, he reported that he was coming back over the station doing all the normal flight maneuvers. Later, and saw the plane being unloaded from a Seaplane Tender that had just arrived from San Juan." On the straightaway, they reported that with normal cruise power settings, the plane had gained about 12 knots in airspeed and that it climbed, let down and did all the maneuvers just as a normal plane would.

After an hour or so in the air, they returned with a complete 'thumbs up' for the plane and departed the next day for the five-day flight back to Nas Norfolk,  Virgnia. "Within a few days, Joe and the crew were back with us. They had just gotten off an air transport from San JuanPuerto Rico. It seems that they had flown along fine with stopovers at NAF, BelemBrazil, Essequibo and NAS Trinidad, British West Indies, and then went into San Juan overnight.

When they returned to the plane the next morning, there was a guard on it with orders to let no one on. board. Early in the morning, it seems, the Commander of Fleet Air San Juan had looked out his office. Window, spotted the plane and went ballistic. He permitted the crew to get their belongings from the plane and told them that the plane was going nowhere as it was obviously impossible to fly. The crew had just successfuly put about 6,000 miles on it.  "I had occasion to go down to Pier Five at Norfolk about a year and a half later, and saw the plane being unloaded from a Seaplane Tender  that had just arrived from San Juan."



(C) Since 2007 -