Wingnut’s monster flying boat is worth the effort.
Manufacturer: Wingnut Wings
Subject: Felixstowe F.2A (Late)
Extras: Gaspatch turnbuckles and Lewis guns, Uschi elastic thread
Engineering: Impressive but fragile
When we think of WWI aviation, we tend to think of Biggles-style dogfights over the trenches, or Zeppelin and Gotha bomb raids. However the little-known air war over the North Sea may have had a greater strategic effect, since this was part of the Royal Navy’s efforts to counter the German submarines.
In May 1916 the battle of Jutland had ended the Kaiserliche Marine’s plans to assert even temporary naval superiority over the North Sea. A decade of frantic and expensive Dreadnought construction had failed to even locally overturn the balanced of naval power, and despite taking worse losses, the Royal Navy emerged from the battle with greater relative strength than it had going in (this is due to the entry into service of the Revenge-class battleships along with the battlecruisers Repulse and Renown, all of which bore 15-inch guns) and it was finally clear that symmetric warfare was not going to be successful.
In a sense, the victory at Jutland was almost too successful for the Royal Navy. It wasn’t seen as such at the time or in popular memory to this day, but by forcing the Germans to shift strategy it brought Britain into greater peril. The result of Jutland was an expansion of the submarine campaign against Britain’s maritime trade routes upon which the country relied for food and raw materials imports. The Germans were well aware of how effective a blockade could be: despite its continental location and large size (which should in theory make naval blockades less effective), the British “distant blockade” of German trade had caused widespread starvation among the civilian population by 1916. Thus they concluded that Britain should be far more vulnerable to such a blockade, and the campaign of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare followed.
In hindsight, we know that this was a strategic disaster for Germany: the U-boat campaign was unable to force Britain out of the war, but did overcome both the isolationist and pro-German sentiments in the United States, to the point that despite running his 1916 re-election campaign on a promise of neutrality, President Wilson entered the war in April 1917.
Though the U-boat campaign was unsuccessful, it did ensure that Britain’s situation was vulnerable right to the end of the war. A lack of success does not mean there was no danger: rather, the submarine threat was managed by vigorous naval activity and continuous development of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) tactics and technologies.
This is where the Felixstowe comes in: these large, long-ranged flying boats were ideal for maritime patrol duties, flying sorties of many hours. They were large enough to carry two pilots, an early form of flight engineer, wireless radio, a collection of defensive machine guns (useful as the Germans flew naval fighter patrols against them), and still had weight to spare for a bomb load. Thus they were able to operate independently from naval units, able to locate submarines, vector friendly forces in to attack them, and also give them a good bothering in the meantime. This prevented them from actually carrying out their missions, which can be almost as useful as sinking or damaging the submarine.
Interestingly, when looking at the Felixstowe you can see the design lineage that many American flying boats would follow into the 1930s, and in fact it bears a striking similarity to the PBY Catalina which would go on to play a similar, important, though far better-known role during WWII. The wing-fuselage proportions (though the Catalina is a monoplane, look at where the top wing sits compared to the fuselage), engine locations, even a lot of the fuselage shape are very similar.
I want the wood to look like individual wooden planks, not a consistent, factory-produced part. But equally they would all be similar wood and given the same treatment. So the plan was to vary the base coat, with some planks getting a touch of USN Gloss Sea Blue, others having German Red-Brown, while still others just have the black primer. The pale wood has a similar treatment but using USN Intermediate Blue and RAF Marking Red of all things.
Wood has wood grain, so a smooth paint finish doesn’t cut it. I dabbed on some oils in Sepia and Cream Brown and streaked them along the grain. I quite like the result.
There’s an interesting bit of surface finish with the black parts. These represent a tarred waterproof surface on the real boat, so they are NATO Black with a very matte finish applied.
The petrol drums are Battleship Grey… which I remain confused over. Especially being a RNAS (naval) aircraft I would have thought the common paint would be what turned into AP501 which is a very, very dark blue-grey. But it looks a lot lighter in photos so I’ve gone with Tank Grey oversprayed with USN Intermediate Blue.
The box with a tarp is the wireless which is covered with a waterproof sheet. The sheet is Helo Drab, which is close enough to colours like PC8 and PC10 to look realistic to the time period, but which is also a bit different to the main colour I’m planning on for the wing canvas so should give a bit of extra interest.
Continuing with parts that won’t be seen, I added oils and assembled the interior floor section. The next part of the build adds sides and more structure that bridges over the top. Lots of fuel pipes, the pilots’ seats, and even the side MGs, that sort of stuff, so this is the last time a lot of this will be easily accessible.
Though a lot of this probably won’t be seen, I don’t think it’s a waste of time. This isn’t some weird “but I’ll know it’s there”, it’s just that I don’t know which bits will be visible and everything I’ve done here used techniques that I don’t really understand. There was the colour shifting under the wood which I vaguely know what I’m doing with but not well enough to be sure how it will come out, and now using wet oils: a technique I’m determined to learn but have only recently started getting to grips with.
First, I used grime (Starship Filth) in the corners and areas where I think it will accumulate. Under the ladders, at the bottom of the petrol drums, etc. Most colours here are dark so this is low-key, just giving a touch more contrast rather than really being visible.
The big deal here was the pale dirt. As this was a naval aircraft flown from seaside bases I want to give it a sense of saltiness. So I’m going with a bit more white than I might otherwise. This is also where the wet oils really matter: dark grime looks reasonable scrubbed dry onto the surface, but pale colours don’t look like dirt, they just look faded. The colour is made up from dots of Cream Brown, Neutral Grey, Light Grey, and Off-White. I haven’t figured out the technique well, but I do like how it turned out here.
I added a touch of spilled petrol to the top of the barrels. I don’t know how accurate this is, but since I haven’t yet managed to find a fuel filler cap on this thing, I’m going with them lifting the top off these tins and just pouring petrol in.
The bombs and props aren’t needed yet, but I always end up doing them in a rush when I get to the end, so doing them now seems worth a try. The bombs have a base coat of Alclad Exhaust Manifold, and the top colour is MRP’s German Dark Yellow. The props are German Red-Brown over Dark Wood, which in turn was painted over lightly applied Gloss Sea Blue or RAF Marking Red, depending on which diagonal of the cross the blade is on. The real thing is basically a pair of two-blade props stuck together, so I wanted each of those to be subtly different. Oils were streaked along each blade, either Sepia or Raw Umber again depending on diagonal.
This section was very fiddly, and it feels like you could make a mistake here that will haunt you later. In fact large sections of the side panels are not glued: I’m hoping that they will be scooped up and held in place by the fuselage sides.
Effectively this whole assembly gets held snugly within the fuselage: the floor here isn’t the outside of the model. Think of a hot dog where the fuselage top is the mustard and this assembly is the sausage.
The problem here is that the floor forms the footprint for the sides, but those are moulded flat and the floor curves. This means the sides are under tension if you glue them now, but with few top spars (one of which snapped upon installing but hopefully won’t be visible, certainly looks that way) to give a solid hold top and bottom. In other words, if you stick the bottom, this large, springy structure will try to open out at the top anyway, still preventing some parts from fitting their final locations. So it just seems better to only stick what can be stuck and hope everything closes up nicely in the next step.
Speaking of fragile struts: there are a lot of very fine parts and they get very little to really hold everything together. Things like the fuel pipes are three parts with off-centre COGs which all have to sit just so while only being supported at a couple of corners. It’s very house of cards.
A surprising element of this kit (this being the late Felixstowe with the cut-down fuselage top) is the number of parts which the instructions direct to cut but give little indication as to where. This compares poorly to Eduard for instance who tell you to the tenth of a millimetre how much to shave off a kit IP. I’m hoping that means the parts won’t be visible or structural, but they include the bright copper part of the fuel pipes where being even slightly off mean they won’t join with the connecting part or hover above the fuel tanks. It’s odd because it make it feel like less care than expected went into tooling this variant.
The last think to talk about here is the internal rigging. This is the only point where the this part of the model is sufficiently complete to actually run the wires, but also accessible enough to get to them. The rigging here gives a taste of what is to come: wires run almost the full length of this structure, around, through and under various elements, and the complexity is beyond what I’ve seen from other WWI models. There are eight separate wires running aft from the throttle levers alone, in two runs (high and low) which each split left and right toward the engines. I suspect this is a mix of the different heritage of this aircraft and the engines being mounted externally between the wings. Everything else I’ve seen has the engine just ahead of the pilot where these wires would not be visible.
The… fuselage? Hull? …The sides. They are a very tight fit, requiring a lot of care but no actual fettling to go together. It fits, so Wingnut must have known the meaning of “manufacturing tolerances”, but it feels like one more layer of molecules and the kit wouldn’t need glue: it would hold together by van der Wals force.
A pleasant surprise upon testing the upper coaming: while not directly visible, it looks like quite a lot of the interior work can be seen, certainly making the effort worthwhile. Also I now realise that I picked an example which has a larger cockpit opening and extra station, further helping stuff be seen. It looks like that’s because this one was converted to the open cockpit rather than built that way.
One thing I’m trying to do here is mute the colour palette and shift it towards cool toned blues, greens, and greys. There are two reasons: the first is because reducing the tonal range over the entire model will help subtle colour variations stand out, and with a high-visibility scheme this feels like the way to have it both ways. The second is to conjure the sense of the aircraft operating in the grey, dismal Norfolk coast and flying over the North Sea. It’s a world away from the Caribbean or Pacific and if I can start working such a sense into the model, that would make me very happy indeed.
The colours here are worth explaining a little. The fuselage itself is skinned in a light wood, which is painted with a sort of black tar paint on the “float” portion and on the lower part of the rear fuselage. The fuselage top is covered in canvas. The blue and white stripes are a high visibility “dazzle” scheme, which appears to have been done for recognition.
We don’t have much information to go on for the blue and white tones, so I went with a faded off-white, and a muted mid-blue rather than a brighter or stronger royal blue or insignia blue. Again, this is to maintain the high visibility scheme while limiting the tonal range.
The white is Insignia White painted with the same method I used on the DC-3, of roughly spraying it, marbling in some other tones, then blending with more white. Here however I used stronger tones with the white because I wanted a dirty and worn white: these were taken from blue-grey and cool greens, including Swedish Mid Green, Light Slate Grey, and US Intermediate Blue Grey.
The blue is MRP’s RAF Marking Blue, which is a bit pale for that colour but looks really nice here. That was undercoated with other dull blues and greys: German Tank Grey, Gloss Sea Blue, Ocean Grey, Extra Dark Sea Grey.
The weathering uses quite a range of oil paints to achieve pale salt stains, green algae slime, and dark grime. The pale colours are faded white, neutral grey (which is a very cool pale blue-grey), and cream brown. Something else too but I can’t remember the name, a soft of grey tan. The green is a bright green and a darker field green: the idea of this is that it’s a plane taking off and landing from coastal waters, where it will pick up slime and algae pretty quickly. This is only present underneath and on top of the float, areas that get wet. The dark grime is a mix of sepia, starship filth, and black. As well as the high foot traffic areas, I added the grime under the wings because I think there’s going to be fuel and oil dripping there.
I’m going for heavy salt staining on the lower wing, concentrated at the wing root with the effect decreasing as you move outboard and to the upper wing. The tail needs heavy staining too as the propellers will blow any spray back there.
The other effect on the wing top is oil and grime, both from the engines and foot traffic. This latter can be expected to be considerable as someone had to climb up there and hand-crank the engines at every startup. Add the maintenance of these large but early engines and the fact that we know that it was not unusual for an engine to need maintenance in flight (!) typically involving a leaking water, fuel, or oil pipe and the wing under the engines should be quite grimy. I’ve added some sepia tones to the tailplane right behind the engines to simulate soot and oil from the exhaust ending up there.
The wing underside is where I’m least content with what I have, but as this involves dirtying a pale colour, it was always going to be tricky. Again, this inboard section needs to be pretty foul: it will have dirty water splashing up, and oil dripping down from above.
This model is so huge both in physical size and the number of hours required to build it, that I can’t mentally encompass the whole thing. I’m glad I wrote it up step by step on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/manvskit) as I went along because I didn’t remember half of the stuff that was in here.
My Silhouette cutter remains possibly the most useful piece of scale modelling equipment. It gives the freedom to do any scheme and means I can easily cut masks like those for the insignia on this plane which might not otherwise have been available. Painted-on markings really do look better.
The Gaspatch turnbuckles were fantastic and definitely worthwhile. However I don’t think the Lewis guns added enough to the model to justify their cost.
Just how big is this model? So big that when I bought my photo booth, I specifically got the 90cm one… which this just fits inside. Also so big that I had to go and buy a proper camera just to be able to photograph it.