Sandy Bay Airfield was built as a seaplane base with moorings for flying boats. It was situated on the eastern shores of Lough Neagh, close to Ram’s Island.
The US Navy decided in 1942 not to use Killadeas as a base for Catalina flying boats however US Navy aviation saw plenty of action throughout the war. In October 1942 US Navy amphibious Catalinas appeared at Ballykelly en route to Morocco and continuted their anti-U-boat patrols, sinking two and damaging several more.
Lough Neagh became the main base for the US Naval Air Service in Northern Ireland during the Second World War, with Sandy Bay and Ram’s Island becoming key locations. They were the UK terminal for a scheduled twelve times weekly service operated by the US Naval Air Transport Service Consolidated Coronado flying boats from and to the La Guardia terminal in New York. These services conveyed personnel and urgently needed supplies, under the control of the US Navy Commodore at Londonderry. However the RAF was responsible for the provision of accommodation and messing for these transit crews and their control staff. They were accommodated in buildings that were erected at the residence known as Ben Neagh close to Crumlin and Sandy Bay. Many of the Coronado pilots were civilians seconded under contract by Pan American or American Export Airlines.
This service was part of the build up to D-Day and was inagurated on 18 May 1944, when a Coronado arrived from New York. This was the first of 538 crossings of the Atlantic made by these large flying boats during that summer, the normal load being 9 crew, between 10 and 18 passengers and freight. Up to 11 movements a day were recordered in the lead up to D-Day. Despite the frequency of these movements, there was only one accident recordered. On 17 July a Coronado was holed on some rocks at Sandy Bay. It was repaired at returned to service.
These planes were not fast and transatlantic journies took well over half a day, at a cruising speed of 150 mph.
On 15 October 1944 all services were terminated.
Information above from Ernie Cromie and his book Overhead and Over Here.
Catalinas on Lough Erne. These planes belonged to RAF Castle Archdale. Images from seawings.co.uk