In World War II, PBYs were used as anti-submarine warfare aircraft, patrol bombers, convoy escorts, search and rescue aircraft, and transports. The PBY was the most successful aircraft of its kind, as no other flying boat was produced in greater numbers. The last active military PBYs were not retired from service until the 1980s. Even today, over seventy years after its first flight, the aircraft continues to fly as an airtanker in aerial firefighting operations all over the world.
In the acronym PBY, "PB" stands for "Patrol Bomber", and "Y" is the code for "Consolidated Aircraft", as designated in the 1922 United States Navy aircraft designation system.