The Consolidated Aircraft Corporation was founded in 1923 in Buffalo, New York. Consolidated was best known for designing two of the most important aircraft of the Second World War: the B-24 Liberator, the most heavily produced heavy bomber in U.S. history, famous for is ruggedness and reliability, and the PBY Catalina Flying Boat.
Developed in the mid-1930s, the Catalina was a large amphibious aircraft that could land on either the land or water. At that point in history, airfields were still uncommon in much of the world, and flying planes and flying boats, such as the Catalina, had the advantage of landing anywhere there was water.
The Catalina was originally designed for long-range naval patrols, especially in the Pacific Ocean, where the U.S. Navy needed an aircraft that could locate enemy ships over great distances. A single PBY Catalina spotted the location of the Japanese carrier fleet sailing towards Midway Island in 1942, giving the Allied forces an advantage that led to a decisive victory. A British Catalina sighted the German battleship Bismark in 1941, as it attempted to escape the North Sea to France, leading to the sinking of that ship by the Royal Navy.
However, during the Second World War, the Catalina was modified and re-purposed for many other missions. It’s large cargo hold allowed the aircraft to transport supplies and personnel to distant bases, even bases that lacked an airfield. Catalinas were equipped with bombs and torpedoes for anti-submarine warfare. Several Japanese and German submarines were sunk by Catalinas. Other Catalinas were painted black, equipped with radar, and used as a night bombers, dropping mines on Japanese supply routes and bombs on Japanese supply ships in total darkness.
The Catalina was most famous as a search and rescue vehicle. Many thousands of Allied pilots from shot down aircraft, or sailors of torpedoed ships, were rescued by Catalinas. Its long range, ability to land on water, and capacity to carry passengers and rescue boats, made the Catalina the ideal aircraft for such a mission.
The PBY Catalina was difficult to fly, slow, and vulnerable to attack. However, it was heavily armed, could fly in any kind of weather, remain in the air for over twenty hours, and continue flying even if damaged by enemy fire. The U.S. Navy was the primary operator of the Catalina, though Catalinas were also exported to the British and Australian navies, which also used the Catalina in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Over three thousand Catlinas were built, most at the Consolidated factory in San Diego. However, 235 Catalinas were built at a second factory in New Orleans, built in 1943 near Lake Pontchatrain (across the street from the modern UNO Lakefront Arena), near the U.S. Naval Air Station in New Orleans (today the main campus of the University of New Orleans). Consolidated merged with the Vultee Aircraft of Los Angeles, California, in 1943, and the merged company became known as Consolidated-Vultee, and later Convair.
At least two Chinese Americans are believed to have worked for Consolidated Vultee. We know for certain that Edward Tsoi worked there. Edward M.Y. Tsoi (1916-2005) was a native of Shantou in Guangdong province. He was a student at St. John’s University in Shanghai, and he came to the United States in 1936 to complete his education at the University of Michigan. The Japanese captured Shanghai the following year.
At that point in history, students from China were expected to return and help modernize their homeland. The Kuomintang told them it was their patriotic duty to do so. But after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, the Pacific Ocean was infested with Japanese submarines, and the U.S. military commandeered all U.S. shipping to served the Allied war effort. With no means to return to China, students such as Edward Tsoi were effectively trapped in the United States.
After graduating with degrees in civil engineering and architecture, Tsoi first worked in Baton Rouge, then moved to New Orleans to work at the Consolidated-Vultee factory. We think he worked as either a draftsman or an engineer. After the war, he remained in New Orleans and worked as an architect, starting his own architectural firm in the 1950s, and designing several supermarkets for Schwegmanns in the 1960s.
The other Chinese American at Consolidated-Vultee may have been George Chu Lin. Chu Lin was a native of Mississippi, but he moved to New Orleans during the war in search of work. His wife and two sons, Paul and Sam Chu Lin, also lived with him in New Orleans. We don’t know exactly what George Chu Lin did in New Orleans, but we suspect he may have been a draftsman or engineer, like his friend Edward Tsoi.
After the war, George Chu Lin moved back to Greenville, Mississippi, where he became an insurance agent for the California-based Occidental Insurance Company. He became a household name among the Chinese American families of the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta. His son, Sam Chu Lin, became a famous broadcast and print journalist.
Battle Stations: Catalina Patrol.
Collier, Philip. <Making New Orleans>. 2017. Pages 206-207.
“Our Times.” Times-Picayune (2012 Feb. 5).
Records of Edward M.Y. Tsoi, 186. Tulane Southeastern Architectural Archive.