(Reproduced from Scale Models International: Vol 27 Number 318 - April 1996 Author: Bryan Ribbans)
The old adage of "If it looks right then it must fly right" didn't always work. Take the Saro Lerwick flying boat as an example. To my mind it is clean lined, fairly compact and altogether quite neat in appearance for a pre-war design, yet in service it was an unmitigated disaster. During flight trials it was found to be unstable and possess vicious stall characteristics which were responsible for most of the in-flight accidents. Take-off performance was poor with the 'boat wallowing in anything other than a calm sea. All of this led to an early withdrawal from RAF service, the type having flown operationally with No.209 Squadron based at Oban, Scotland from late 1940. However, by may 1941 they were being replaced, with only 21 Lerwicks being built.
However, all is not lost, as Contrail filled a gap by producing a 1:72 scale vacform kit of this flying boat to grace the shelves of many a model room. It is exactly this type of situation that the vacform was meant for - a relatively unsung aircraft that the major injection moulders would never dream of mass producing. But the venerable Gordon Sutcliffe hit the mark again with this choice of subject and provided the average modeller, with a couple of smaller single engine vacforms under their belt, the chance to move up to something more impressive.
The kit arrives in the familiar sturdy cardboard box and on opening reveals two well moulded sheets of plastic, a sheet of transparencies, along with a very nice decal sheet. the instructions consist of two sheets, one with a 1:72 scale plan, smaller exploded view and general hints and tips on building and the other with a service history and suggested sources for reference.
The mouldings are clean and exhibit a fair degree of exterior detail including the doors, portholes and aileron/elevator hinge lines. However, I suspect many who are building kits like this will add their own surface detail to taste. Now is the time to do this whilst the hull and wings are still supported by the carrier surround as all the parts can be scribed on a flat board. It's a lot easier and once the hull is together, after sanding the joints, all you have to do is to join up the panel lines across the joint. Also, make sure you drill out the portholes at this stage using progressively larger sizes of twist drill bits to obtain a perfectly circular hole. Nothing looks worse than elongated port holes!
You will notice that the plastic used for moulding is a little on the thick side and on any other kit I probably would have been disappointed but I found it very useful as time went on, as once the individual parts were removed from the carrier, I was able to obtain good thin wing trailing edges but also have a wide gluing area for instance. On the hull I was able to get away with less bulkheads and supporting straps than I have previously and it felt altogether stronger when later handled.
All the mouldings were cut out and removed from the carrier at the same time preferring to get the messy sanding out of the way all at once. Instead of my normal method, I used the new Aeroclub Tee-Al and the Sandvic sanding appliance and was very pleased with the ease with which it removed the lip of plastic. I felt I had much more control over events and am convinced I sanded much more accurately than is normally the case. The system is also a lot faster, it only taking one evening to prepare by this method. Definitely a bonus!
With the boring bit out of the way I examined the components on the building board. The hull was in two halves, each half incorporating the fin. The wings are moulded with a full span upper and a port and starboard lower section each with most of the engine nacelle, except the cowling, moulded on to it. The cowlings are one of the very few weak parts of this kit, looking more like door stoppers than anything else, (more anon). The tailplane consists of upper and lower, port and starboard halves with elevator detail inscribed, which are designed to butt join onto corresponding stubs moulded onto the rear of the hull. I also had the four float halves and other sundry small items such as the intakes which I replaced using bits from my spares box as the time taken to clean these smaller parts up is above all proportion to their finished worth.
Actual construction began with the hull bulkheads, of which there are five, plus the cockpit floor (which I also blanked off front and rear) all glued into the interior with both liquid cement and epoxy for a very strong joint. The last thing one wants is one of these to come adrift after closing the hull up! They fitted well with a few adjustments here and there. The cockpit floor was also fitted at this stage, guessing where the correct height should be as there is no indication on the plans. (Incidentally, I used the Aviation News plans almost exclusively throughout the building of this model as they show much finer detail than the kit plans). I painted the entire interior matt black, with the exception of the cockpit area, and then joined the hull halves with liquid cement. This was taped up securely with masking tape and left to dry overnight.
I started by making a wing spar from differing sizes of brass tube stock, sliding one inside the other and epoxying this along the main spar line of the interior of the upper wing, just behind the engine nacelles. Roughen the inside of the wing where the spar will sit to help the glue take a firm hold and apply two slight bends into the spar to obtain, and hold, the correct wing dihedral. The plans show quite clearly where the dihedral breaks are.
I was able to obtain a very sharp trailing edge on all the flying surfaces due to the aforementioned thick plastic. There are two ways to mount the 'saddle' type wing, either cut away part of the wing and lower this onto the hull or cut away part of the hull and leave the wing whole. The Contrail plans state that the latter course is the more difficult and, after due consideration, I am inclined to agree. I therefore began to remove small amounts of plastic from the forward and rear edges of the wing centre section, following the feint guidelines moulded into the upper sections of the wing and hull. watch that you get the incidence of the wing right when fitting, as the Lerwick has a pronounced 'nacelle high' attitude. A study of photographs will confirm this. Ensure also, that the wing is at right angles to the hull. I test fitted this assembly many times until I was happy, deciding then to place a few drops of super glue into the joins and leave well alone. Later I flooded it with liquid cement and topped it off with epoxy. This is one strong wing joint!
All of the wing assembly took place with the components placed into a rudimentary jig, on clear plastic card over the Aviation News plans. When undertaking any operation such as this, remember to take your time as it is infinitely better to remove a small amount of plastic than try to put it back. The guides on the parts were found to be quite accurate. It will now pay to leave all of this to harden off for a few days and in the meantime assemble and prepare the floats, tailplane and display stand.
I did not use the kit mouldings for these, but instead found a replacement pair of the right size in my spares box. Believe it or not, they came from a vintage Airfix Beaufighter that is just about as old me! Yes, I know I can use Aeroclub engines and props, but these were to hand and, after cleaning up and a bit of scribing, didn't look too bad. They also had inscribed engine detail, all of which saved building time. The props I used also came from the spares box, but this time from an unknown origin. Remember to check your references here as most Lerwick props were fitted with spinners, which are provided in the kit, but the subject of the decal sheet, certainly at one point in its career, was photographed without them. The kit plans show them fitted though.
COCKPIT AND TURRETS
By this time the fuselage/wing joint was hard, so I set about the cockpit area. The canopy framework is quite clearly scribed and it is an easy task to run a sharp scalpel blade around the outer edge of the 'glass-house' area using several light cuts and gently remove the unwanted portion to reveal the floor and bulkheads inside. However, herein lies another problem; the cockpit area, even in this scale, is huge and would exhibit much more detail if it were not for the fact that, as yet, I have not found a single interior photograph in my references. From the published exterior photos to hand it is possible to work out who sat where and, using contemporary pictures taken of similar flight decks, an idea of layout can be arrived at.
I fitted an instrument panel, throttle housing and seats for the pilot, co-pilot and engineer along with some panels and boxes for a 'busy' effect. On turning to the transparencies a further problem arose, as upon holding them up to the light, I found the whole sheet with the canopy and turrets moulded on, was in fact distinctly BLUE! The plastic used showed a blue hue under certain light conditions but, after a moment's panic, I found that on the model, this did not show. Quite strange! The canopy, when cut out, is quite thick and has a lot of scribed frame lines in it but, due to the relative lack of detail in the cockpit, I was fairly grateful!
The front and rear turret locations were removed at this time with the resulting hole being filled with scrap card to form the rear and base of the turret. Some interior detail was added, painted matt black, and then the clear mouldings were cut out. They were then fixed in place with diluted Kristal Kleer applied with a small paintbrush whilst the turret cover was held in place. To do this, just put a drop of neat KIeer onto a ceramic surface, such as an old meat paste pot, and add a touch of water to it which has a small amount of washing-up liquid in it. Mix it around until it flows along a crack by capillary action and keep applying until the gap is full. You are helped in this as the glue will stay white in colour until it begins to dry, so you can see where you have put it. Wash off any excess with neat water. The rear turret moulding was replaced with one from an Airfix Stirling as I felt the outline shape was better. The top turret area was cut out and a section cut from a felt-tip pen barrel to form a gun 'tub'. This was mounted into the fuselage together with some interior detail. The transparency was trimmed to fit at this stage but was left off until all the paintwork was complete to save some very awkward masking. The guns were also left off and were added last of all.
The tailplanes were butt-joined to the fuselage stubs, the fit being fair. Next the floats were added to the wing undersides using Contrail strut material. Make sure the struts are not perpendicular to the wing but are vertical to the sit of the 'boat. Finally, after adding sundry intakes, fitting the cowlings and making the exhausts from Contrail tube stock, it was time for the undercoat to be sprayed on. Once dry, it's time for the check-fill-sand-paint-check routine. Actually, this was not much of a chore as I had no great gaps at all!
All service Lerwick's were finished in the then standard scheme of Dark Green and Dark Earth upper surfaces with Sky underneath, although establishing the correct overall pattern may prove difficult. The Contrail plan shows a pattern for the port fuselage and half the upper surfaces, again the port side, the Aviation News plans, the same. When one looks again at all the available photographs, very few appear to have been taken of the starboard side and in those I have seen, the picture quality is so dark as to be of no practical use. Does anyone out there hold the answer? I for one would love to know. A further result of having studied these photos closely is that I suspect the Contrail camouflage notation key (for the Dark Green/Earth colours) has the titles the wrong way round. The pattern as drawn on the plan looks correct.
When looking at photos of the actual 'boats it is possible to pick out the lighter earth shade which shows up the error. I made an 'educated' guess at the starboard pattern, sprayed on a coat of Sky, followed by masking and then a coat of Earth. When dry, I hand-painted the Dark Green. I would liked to have used my favourite Xtracolors but, for some reason, I have great difficulty in hand-painting with this brand and, as the scheme calls for hard edges, short of using card masks which I find very time consuming, it was Humbrol or bust! Once the paint was dry an overall spray of Johnson's Wax Klear was applied and an hour later it was re-coated. All signs of the hand-painting, e.g. brush marks, had completely disappeared.
The kit decals depict L7257, WQ-F of No.209 Sqn, RAF, and very nice they are too! This 'boat was one of the few to carry under wing roundels and these, together with the very large red/white/blue fin stripes and yellow surrounds to the fuselage roundels, bring to life an otherwise drab scheme. The printed colours look spot on, with a nice dull red and rich yellow being used. The adhesive used on the decals is very strong and will not stand for any sliding about, so aim for the correct placement first time. Once the decals had dried they were cleaned of any residues with a little water, dried off and a final matt varnish coat applied overall.
The masking on the canopy and gun turret was removed and they were given a coat of Kleer and strips of decal applied for the framing. The cockpit followed the upper camouflage colours, but the turrets all had black frames which is unusual, but again the photos showed it quite clearly. The top turret was added at this time, along with the engine nacelle dump pipes, forward Pitot mount and the guns. Lastly I applied masking tape to the bottom of the fuselage and sprayed a dark 'dirty' green along the water line. Clear stretched sprue formed the aerial from the fin to the post at the rear of the cockpit.
Contrail have done a good job in capturing the lines of the Lerwick; it scales out well against the plans and, apart from the minor problems with the cowlings, props and lack of absolute reference material, it makes up into a fine replica.
British Flying Boats and Amphibians 1902-1952 by G.R. Duval, pub by Putnam.
World Flying Boats by G.R. Duval, pub by Bradford Barton.
Aircraft of the Fighting Powers Vol.1 1941, pub by Harborough.
Coastal Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF, pub by Janes
Aviation News Vol.8 No.20, pub by A.W. Hall Publications