Saturday, April 20, 2024

Airspeed Envoy -modified RS Models 1/72nd multimedia kit


Photo from the SDASM photostream

Famous flier Charles Ulm attempted an Okland (near San Francisco, US) to Oahu (Hawai'i) flight, unfortunately ditching before reaching destination, never to be found again, in spite of extensive rescue efforts. With him in the plane were two more men, copilot George Littlejohn and navigator and radio operator Leon Skilling.

The kit:

I am working provisionally on a boxing I already have, which is good for OK-DOA, and NOT for VH-UXY. That boxing will be arriving in a few more days. These boxings are exactly the same, save for a few parts, that I will exchange (the rest of the build is equally valid for both boxings).

Congratulations are in order for RS Models for releasing appealing civil kits, much appreciated by the  breed of modelers that favor such types.

I have built RS kits before, the latest being the Caudron Goeland "Ric et Rac":

They have a multimedia approach, great surface detail, some flash, mostly no locating devices, and variable fit, from good to iffy. You will spend, as with any kit of this type, a certain amount of time cleaning every part, but in this case nothing terrible. We are grateful for having this civil subject.

Kit manufacturers try to squeeze as much versions as possible from their molds, and that’s understandable, as it defrays costs, appeals to a wider range of modelers, and even the same modeler may like to build more than one version.

What’s less understandable is the not very good research involved, as many times it’s not just a matter of slapping different decals, or having two or three extra parts to cover the various types.

I am always surprised as how little it takes (a few seconds on a computer, looking at photos, literally) to realize that other changes or mods are needed to get the version covered by a particular set of decals.

This is the case with VH-UXY, an Airspeed record named “Stella Australis” (Southern Star). This name was an echo of the “Southern Cross”, the famous Fokker trimotror plane used by Ulm and Kingsford Smith before.

I am also surprised at how some modelers blindly follow the manufacturers, without ever questioning or doing just the merest Internet search, sometimes resulting in a not very accurate model, no matter how much effort and time is poured into it.

In the case of VH-UXY, a modified Envoy, there are so many differences that a list is necessary to make what quickly has become a conversion of the kit, not just the simple assembly of it. Mind you, no rocket science, just looking at photos and jotting down the internal and external changes.

To start with, this was a very long-haul flight, so a massive extra fuel tank was installed in the fuselage. This is clearly visible in photos and clips, all easily found on the Net. The tank in fact isolated the navigator in the back of the plane. It was located immediately after the position normally occupied by the first two passenger seats, a space now reserved for the copilot (the cockpit was small and had only one central seat). So, better perhaps list the changes and additions:


1) Add a fuselage long range fuel tank.

2) The first passenger window on the left is blanked and an access hatch for the pilot cut out in the area.

3) A new door, shaped like the main cabin door (triangular) replaces the small oblong door on the left side to the back.

4) The whole pax cabin is reshaped, with a seat for the copilot after the cockpit and a seat for the navigator after the tank, in the aft section of the fuselage (exact positions and radio and navigation equipment unknown at this moment, as I found no data on them yet, in spite of spending long hours in every repository I thought of).

5) Following photos alter the windows as some where blanked and some slightly repositioned. 

6) Add a wind-driven generator prop on the left wing L.E. according to photos.

7) Substitute the kit’s smallish wind-driven generator (most likely for the radio) on the fuselage spine for a larger one with the right shape and detail, again following photos.

8) No L.E. lights can be seen in photos, so those need deleting.

9) The wings on VH-UXY (series I) were partially fabric-covered, not plywood-covered as in the kit (this is accurate for the latest version, series III, though).

10) The props had L.E. metal guards.

11) Add beacon on fuselage spine and belly.

12) The wingtip edges were painted red with a thin line, possibly as a visual warning. Same for the front edges of horizontal tail and all around the vertical tail, a thin red line.

13) Add the mast on the aft fuselage belly for the trailing radio aerial.

14) Remove the little tabs along the edges of the fuselage roof part, as none are visible in photos of this particular plane.

15) Add detail to fuselage top as per photos, with fuel cap for the extra tank, what seems like an escape hatch for the navigator, etc. 

16) The wheels had a sort of short tube extension pointing outwards that needs to be added. Maybe a towing accommodation.

So far this is what I already discovered, but more may have to be done to make the model accurate for VH-UXY.

 Box contents:

Resin and P.E. parts, plus clear parts and inst. pan. film:
The sprues:
Instructions that could be improved. A sad, smallish photocopy, where the drawing lines are too jagged, and the small details lost and illegible (paint codes, for example, not that the colors are really accurate):
I acquired this aftermarket mask set as no masks are provided:
The Townend rings are difficult to separate from their pouring blocks. Once carefully done, they need refining from the inside. I use a tube and fine sandpaper:

 Once cleaned-up, it's polished:

All major resin parts already separated. One Townend ring had two holes (air bubbles), which are here being puttied:
Both wheels suffered of poor molding, and lack the tube extensions seen in photos. The control wheel has flash that needs removal:
There is a strange excrescence at the front of the lower wing that needs removal:
Major parts separated and cleaned:
The wing light recesses -this particular plane had no wing lights, lazy research again - protrude upwards to provide boxing of the area, thus hindering the needed truing and refining of the contact surfaces. In this case the protruding section will be removed, as the lights will be blanked off:
In this plane the aft door was exactly like the front door on the other side of the fuselage (vaguely triangular), not as depicted here. Again, poor research:
Washed again. The trailing edges are quite good, unlike other short run kits that have pancakes (case in point the MPM and SH Junkers I am building in parallel):
Issues already started. Three different sets of lower engine nacelles are included, it will be your guess as to which to use, as they are numbered in the sprues, but not in the instructions. This isn't a problem here, as Stella Australis used different parts that are coming as explained in the other boxing, but can be an issue building any of the other liveries.

The engines are assembled. The fit and detail on the cylinders is good:

From Flight International:

Six to eight passengers, but not in this particular plane, which was stripped of all passenger seats. Ulm and Littlejohn were at the front, one piloting and the other just right behind, then the massive fuel tank, then navigator radio-operator Skilling, isolated from them:
"Smoking permitted". I am old enough to have flown for years in that kind of environment. Not very nice.

The ejector towers that may hinder other parts or become visible are removed:

When I say "become visible", well, this kit is experimenting with an unorthodox way of dealing with the windows. I you look at the instructions, somewhere above, you will see that the windows are designed as clear strip walls that form part of the structure...without locating devices, just mere butt joints. A bold move, one may say, and one that makes me a bit skeptical, but we'll see how it goes. In spite of providing a full interior, and even the possibility of a last luggage compartment and two aft separate bulkheads, the doors are molded shut. Not only that, but the design makes hard for the adventurous modeler to open the passenger cabin door, as it's rendered half in the fuselage plastic and half in the transparency. Not a very practical move one may say. Besides, the "transparencies" are pretty good, but not crystal clear, so all that interior may be a bit hard to see. I may open things up a bit. Adding some difficulty to the task: the seams between clear parts and fuselage will be hard to deal with, having just the narrowest areas to work with putty and sandpaper. Not impossible at any length, but requiring care. So, not sure what was gained by this gambit, and what may be lost. I understand the limits of short-run technology, and are all for innovation when the result is good. We will see how all this builds. In any case images show that, for this specific plane, the normal cabin door was kept shut, partially because part of the fuselage tank was in the way, and you can see some items stored inside against that door though the door window in photos. But the aft right fuselage new door is seen open in many images, thus this is the one that I will be showing so.

As mentioned above, the kit depicts a plywood wing, thing is, only the series III had those (VH-UXY is series I), so some subtle rib relief will have to be simulated. Again: not the best research. Those wing ribs can be seen in the header photo. There is a very easy way to add them, that I used on my vacuformed Execuform Sikorsky S.43:

The passenger seat pedestals are removed. The aft cabin bulkhead door is cut open. The next bulkhead is reduced to an arch, as the navigator/radio operator had to access the area from behind it, through a new door aft on the left fuselage, that I will re-contour (the kit's is not good for this plane) and open up:

 The new door is marked:

And a new bulkhead made to close the area:

The fuselage long range tank is being built. The position is about there:

Preparing to do the Series I ribs on the wings:

The wing trailing edges as mentioned were quite thin, but further passes are made with a cabinet scraper to make it even better:

And glued:

 The long range fuselage fuel tank, with generic detail as I don't have anything on it but what I can gleam from exterior photos:

Those little tabs (apparently cabin vents for the passengers) need deletion, not seen in photos of VH-UXY:

Some base colors applied:

I will have to remember while painting the exterior to apply to the window clear strips the interior color, before applying the exterior one. In that way that first color will be seen inside the fuselage (as the parts are clear).

I lost to the Twang Dimension one of the clear wing light covers, so I filled both recesses with Milliput:

To fix the short-pour wheels shown somewhere above, a drop of superglue was applied filling the faults. Once set, the wheels were sanded on a soft sponge sanding stick, and new wheel hubs were punched, drilled for the axle and engraved with the screws:

The wooden props are treated with oils. The spinner was metal and will have to be painted later:

The boxing of this kit that has VH-UXY treats the wind-driven generator as if it were a small "football" antenna, and the it's a bit small compared with photos. Thus a new one is scratched, providing holes for the little prop and the cable exiting behind. Here is how these can be made (the parts on the toothpick is the kit's):

A few are made to chose the best:

This part is not the red color of the fuselage top, but looks black in photos.

The making of the ribs relief is starting:

It just requires patience, even spaces and keeping parallel. I wrap around the tape to do the other side to get a good alignment of the "ribs":

Pity RS Model missed the difference between the variants. Still nothing insurmountable. Just more work, as usual.

Another painting session:

The new wind-driven generators and the kit's one on stick:
Masking the props to paint the spinner metal. The props were wood color, not aluminium:
Both sides of the transparencies need to be modified to be accurate. Let´s start with this side:

To match reality:

Same for  the other side. Two windows need deletion and a new one needs to be created in the new scratchbuilt door for the right side:

The cockpit access hatch is fabricated according to photos:

More painting, and primer over the wing in several coats. An additional section of the cabin floor is painted to span the very last compartment, where the radio operator had his station. Notice the masking to paint the spinner:

And the result:

This is the boxing that comes with VH-UXY, but with inaccuracies that the modeler has to deal with, major and minor:

The last small window here reflects better reality, the first window is bogus. The small window is not included in the parts correctly, nor are the other changes depicted above:
The red band on the fuselage spine is too narrow. Other smaller red trims on wingtips and stab LE are not depicted:
The only different parts are the resin accessories:
These are the nacelles you need for VH-UXY. The engine is a Lynx, correct for this version. The kit I started with has the Castor engines. The Lynx are smaller and so are their Townend rings and exhaust rings:
Another instruction glitch. The lower nacelles are parts 27/28, not 28/29. The instructions are slightly different to reflect the featured planes and their parts:

The exhausts came with four missing stacks. I have seen this in other reviews of this kit. No pieces were found in the bag, so this is from factory, and bad quality control. Nothing that can't be fixed, though:

I found this cream resin to be harder and brittler than the grey one in the previous kit:

The missing exhaust stacks are made of solder and superglued. This will allow some reasonable bending to reach their positions in the cylinders:

A door and a spare are made for the newly opened one where the inaccurate entrance (only for this specific plane) was:

Fit is adjusted in place:

The door is bent to follow the fuselage shape, then given a window and a handle:


To be continued...