To say that I love Flying boats is like
saying ants like picnics. They have grace, character and a utility
that no other type of aircraft has, the ability to make 2/3’s of the
world’s surface their runway. My love for them was fostered in part
by my Dad, a licensed pilot from the “old school” of pilots that
learned to fly literally by the seat of their pants, and his passion
for flying and landing on water.
When I first saw the story of the
Curtiss NC series trip across the Atlantic in 1919, the airplanes
caught my attention. Immediately I knew I wanted to build a model of
one, and I knew it was going to end up being a scratchbuilt model.
Even though I have scratchbuilt a few aircraft before this, this was
going to be the first of this size and complexity.
Gathering the reference data proved to be fairly
easy. A quick email to John Bayer, Director of the First
Across Organization, (http://www.geocities.com/firstacross/)
resulted in several sources of plans and reference materials.
Another website that gave invaluable information was The Naval
Aviation History Office (http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/nc-4mono.htm).
I also thought a trip to Pensacola Naval Air Museum to photograph
Nancy was in order, so a quick email to the fine folks there to
explain what I wanted to do resulted in a
very quick response. It said in a nutshell, “Sure come on down,
we’ll be glad to help.” A trip in April of 2003 resulted in over 130
digital photos and 72 35mm Color Slides. The people there were very
accommodating. Not only did they allow me full access to Nancy, but
they also rolled out a small electric scaffold to lift me up and
over Nancy, allowing me to photograph the airplane from the top, as
well as the bottom. I was also able to poke my head inside and get
some very helpful interior pictures. I can’t recommend the Naval Air
Museum enough, very nice people to deal with and a fantastic array
of displays there.
references ready, and raw materials purchased, it was time to begin
construction. I decided to begin with some of the smaller
subassemblies first to get a feel if I was actually going to be able
to finish this beast. The more I looked at the plans, examined the
forest of struts, the maze of rigging, the more I started to think…
Riiiiiiiight. I’m really going to build this… sure I am.”
with that, the drawings that I obtained from Model Airplane News had
some features that did not agree with the photos I had taken in a
lot of areas. The Nacelles weren’t drawn quite right, some of the
rigging was misdrawn, and many details were left off the plans all
together. Items like the wind driven fuel pumps on the rear deck,
and the “tunnel” underneath the rear pusher engine to keep
crewmembers from getting whacked by a spinning prop. Another bugaboo
that would bite me good later on in construction was the fact they
were drawn in two scales, 1/32nd and 1/48th. I
was building the model in 1/48th scale, so it wasn’t a
major issue, but there were a few times I had to get out the
calculator to refigure a certain dimension. Rather than go into a
full-blown step by step construction article, I decided to give a
brief outline of each subassembly, and the materials and techniques
used to construct the model. That, and some In-Progress
photo’s should give you a good idea of
the amount of work and time invested.
always if you have any specific questions on how I did a certain
part of the model, please feel free to email me and ask away.
was carved from a block of basswood.
vacuum-formed from .040 plastic sheet
Hull stringers made from .010 and .005 strip.
formers made from .030 sheet.
floor and slat seats made from .040 plastic for frames and.010
strips for slats.
Panel from .010 with Reheat Gages and Foto-Cut bezels
Wheels, Rudder Bars, Throttles and Engine Controls made from
brass wire and solder as needed, and spare photo etch.
finished to represent varnished
fairings vacuum-formed and faired in, with Compass and
Windscreens made from Rod and clear sheet.
fittings made from brass or steel wire, solder, strips of
plastic as needed.
wind driven Fuel Pumps made from
Evergreen Channel and rod.
Hull begins life as paper templates pinned
to the wood block and band sawed to shape, then a small block plane
was used to rough carve the hull to close to final shape.
Hull after final sanding and wing center
section glued in place, and cockpit
cutouts chiseled out.
Hull after vacu-forming.
The basswood master was cut in half at the Cockpit Bulkhead and left
in the rear portion of the hull for strength. This allowed for brass
tube sockets for the lower wings to plug into. (and
to prevent me from being loony enough to build a second one)
showing slat floors, Control Bar, Rudder Pedals and Slat Seats and
all control cable runs.
Center made from .040 ribs and brass tube spar, sheeted with
.010 plastic with ribs embossed from underneath. Upper Wing
Center Section constructed of a 3/16 balsa core sanded to
airfoil shape and sheeted with .005 plastic, ribs embossed from
panels, both top and bottom made from 3/16 Balsa core sanded to
shape, with 1/8 Rod embedded in wood at strut locations. Wings
then sheeted with embossed .005 plastic, Strut locating holes
and rigging holes predrilled.
from Top Wing panels, Aerodynamic mass balances added, and then
sheeted with embossed .005 plastic.
from Contrail Strut material, each strut cut and fitted as model
sat in jig. Ends pinned with brass wire, and each strut is
embedded into the plastic sockets installed in the wings. Epoxy
was used to secure them.
Lower Wing structure, sans skins
assembled and fitted. The assembly Jig is started.
Clockwise from top left.
Wing skins being test fitted. Ribs embossed from underneath. Skins
are being glued in place along lead edges. Skins
being cemented along outer ribs and trail edge and completed.
Hull completed, Painted, decaled and
Lower Wing Center Section Completed.
Wings temporarily set in place and Top Wing Center section jigged
into place. Balsa Cores with .005 sheeting was used for Wing
construction. Small white items under left wing are wind driven Fuel
Section Struts cut and fitted, Tail Booms started.
Outer Panels being test fitted
If in doubt…
Jig it. One of the most gratifying features about this model is that
in spite of the complexity of the construction, it all stayed in
good alignment because of the care and double-checking taken during
construction to ensure everything stayed straight. The jig was a bit
of extra work, but the end results were worth the effort. Here the
Wing Struts are all cut to length, and numbered for their particular
Removing the jig and nothing moved or “tweaked” out of alignment.
Horizontal Stabilizers and all three Rudders and Fins made from
.010 plastic cores, sanded to shape, and skinned with .005
embossed plastic. All surfaces were built separate and hinged
with brass wire.
from Contrail Strut material, cut to length and anchored with
brass pins in ends.
pre-assembled and painted, and rigged using Lycra thread,
anchored in pre-drilled holes with CA glue.
Fin/Rudder Cores made from .010
Components test fitted for fit and
Owwww my eyes! My first attempt at “Yellowed
NDL” was woefully too orange. Testor’s Lemon Yellow was
deemed adequately close and Tail was repainted. Tail is complete
here except for rigging.
Nacelle built up from Evergreen Channel, internally rigged, and
engine bearers added from .060 plastic. Front Cowl and Lower
Cowl Vacu-formed from .010, side panels made from .005 plastic
with foot and inspection cutouts punched out. Nacelle Struts
made from Contrail Struts, cut and fitted to length in a jig.
Nacelles vacuum-formed from .040 plastic over a wooden master
turned on lathe. Front cowls vacu-formed separately and added
after engines were installed. Radiators resin cast from a master
made from a Chevy Pickup Radiator, hoses are Solder Wire. Struts
made from Contrail Strut material. A special jig was made for
strut locations and lengths, and for cutting and fitting the
Main Struts between all three nacelles.
- Engines and
propellers are commercial items. The Engines are Aeroclub white
metal engines, with separate exhaust stacks made from solder and
drilled out. Propellers are custom ordered props from Martin
Digimyer and Copper State Models.
Center Nacelle framed up with Evergreen.
This was then covered with Vacu-formed lower cowl and front cowl,
and .005 sheet side panels. Large triangle thingy in the front is an
alignment aid. Struts are Contrail Strut pinned with brass wire in
Wing Nacelles vacu-formed over wood
master. A scrap
piece of balsa was made to the same size as the lower wing to make
an assembly jig for cutting struts to length.
being painted, and the forest of struts
cut to fit. Cradle for Assembly Jig helps hold everything in
constant alignment to keep things square and even.
Radiators installed. Remember the comment on the two scales being
used in the plans? This is where it bit me good. I made masters to
cast the Engine Crankcases and the Cylinders. After casting 4 really
nice crankcases, and 50 really nice cylinders, it was then I
discovered that I made the crankcases in 1/48th scale,
and the cylinders in 1/32nd scale. As Homer Simpson would
say… DOH! So I said to heck with it and used the white metal
Liberty’s from Aeroclub. They clean up nice and look good when
painted, and the props I had custom made by Martin Digimyer, through
Copper State Models.
- The Main
Booms are 1/8 inch dowel sanded to a taper on the ends. Center
Fittings are aluminum tube, drilled for Cross Tree and braces.
Cross Tree made from Contrail Strut Material, cut to length and
pinned for strength. Center Tail Boom also made from Dowel. All
were painted with Gray Lacquer and epoxied into place into holes
predrilled in wings and tail.
Tail Booms being built. All were cut to
length with the while model was firmly held in place in jig.
- Rigging is a
combination of Lycra thread used for wing bay and control line
rigging, and Nylon Monofilament used in the Tail Booms for
strength. All holes pre-drilled, and CA used to anchor lines in
Lycra was used for Wing Bay and Control
Line rigging, Monofilament was used for the Tail Booms for strength
and to hold it all in place.
- Hull painted
with Gray Auto Acrylic Lacquer, with strips of white decal paper
used to form the Numeral 4 at all 5 locations.
- Wings and
Tail painted with Model Master Insignia Yellow, fin flash
painted using Insignia Red, White, and Blue, with Serial Number
from scrap decals.
National Insignia made using PC and Detail Master
- Struts and
booms painted with Gray Auto Lacquer
unusual in assembly once parts were fabricated. Epoxy and CA
used almost exclusively for strength and for filling seams.
Wooden hull master was cut at the forward bulkhead and left
inside the assembled halves for strength. A special jig was
constructed to hold airframe in alignment as construction
progressed, and also serves as a transport caddy. Finished base
is ½ inch particleboard, sealed and painted with the same gray
used to finish model, and the pedestal is a block of mahogany.
Altogether about 734 hours were put into building the model.
This was a
rewarding project, in that I not only had a chance to exercise some
techniques I’ve used before, but I also had a chance to learn some
new ones along the way, talking to other modelers and seeking their
input. Is this model perfect? Heck no. I’ll be the first to admit
it’s not… it has it’s share of flaws and I know there’s a few places
that I had to make some “ejimicated” guesses due to lack of
reference material, but over all I am very pleased with the results.
It never fails to draw it’s share of ooo’s and ahhh’s wherever I
take it, and it has won two awards so far, First place in
Scratchbuilt Class at BUFCON 25, and First Place in Scratchbuilt
Class at NOREASTCON 2004. It’s a unique model of a unique subject,
and I had a ball building it, which is after all, what modeling is
supposed to be.