In 1935, the British Government took the courageous decision to carry all mail within the Empire at the ordinary inland surface rate of a penny ha'penny. To cope with this and increasing passenger traffic required a substantial expansion of Imperial Airways who took the equally courageous decision to buy 28 of a completely new flying boat straight off the drawing board from Short Brothers. At that time, flying boats were better suited for heavy loading than land planes which were constrained by the small and rough landing fields then available. The resulting aircraft was the Short Empire C-class flying boat, the prototype of which made its maiden flight on 4th. July 1936. The military potential of the design was quickly appreciated and the Sunderland was quickly developed. The two-deck layout of the Empire boat was retained, with wardroom, crew's quarters, sleeping quarters, galley and workshop. The prototype first flew in October 1937 and the Mk.I, powered by Pegasus XXII engines, entered service the following summer. At the start of WW2, three squadrons of Sunderlands were in service. As well as valuable work on maritime patrol, they also performed a considerable amount of transport work, evacuating hundreds from Norway, Greece and Crete. At the end of 1941, the Mk.II was put into production with the Pegasus XVIII powerplant and later versions featured a two-gun dorsal turret. The Mk III, the most numerous version, appeared in 1942, with the Mk.IV and Mk.V following. The aircraft is perhaps best known for its role in the defeat of the U-boat, claiming its first in January 1940. Its formidable armaments earned it the nickname of "Flying Porcupine" and many Ju 88s were included in its list of kills. In the early years of the war, the shortage of Sunderlands was augmented by the transfer of Empire boats from British Airways to military duties. In 1943 as the situation eased, the procedure was reversed with a batch of Sunderlands being demilitarised for civilian use by the airline. With a wingspan of 112 ft. and a crew of thirteen, the Sunderland Mk.V had a maximum speed of 213 mph and a normal range just short of 3,000 miles. Production finally ceased in October 1945, with a total production of over 700 aircraft, including 250 machines being completed by Blackburn Aircraft Ltd.
At a scale of 1:33, the model is large, with a wingspan of over three feet. This is larger than any aircraft I had so far built so I approached the project with some trepidation. Also, this is not a conventional aircraft, but a flying boat with construction more akin to a ship. The kit itself is printed on 11 sheets of A3 card with a further 8 sheets of paper parts to be backed up onto stiff card. Normally, with these latter, I cut out the parts roughly and stick them onto scrap card such as cereal packets. However, in this case, because of the sheer numbers of sheets, I decided to glue whole sheets to A3 sheets of plain card. For this purpose, I used Spraymount aerosol adhesive which was much quicker and cleaner than spreading glue from a tube over a large area. I started by studying the four double-sided pages of diagrams, which, since all instructions are in Polish, are essential. It is here that you begin to appreciate that this model will be quite a project.
The first part to be built is the hull/fuselage. Unlike the fuselage of a land-based aircraft model which is built from a series of cylindrical sections, the Sunderland's skeleton hull resembles that of a ship model with keel and frames. As such, the Sunderland is a full hull model and there are two separate decks to be inserted into the structure, with steps in the deck towards the aft of the aircraft. As it is quite complicated, the two guiding principals are constant reference to the diagrams and construct generally in part number order. As well as the skeleton parts, there are also the cockpit interior and forward turret housing to be built at this time and located in the hull. Along the edges of the skeleton hull are glued a series of card strips on which the hull plating will hang. The diagrams also indicate the use of brackets (sklejki) made from scrap card and located between the deck-end, keel and frame to stabilise the butt joints. At this stage also, two pairs of half-length wing spars are attached to the hull skeleton; as the attachment of the wings is some way ahead, these can become bent and weakened unless the hull is supported in an upright position. Plating the hull comes next. Many of the plates, especially forward, have portholes which may be glazed. At the same time, the cockpit canopy must be positioned and the gun turrets, which can rotate, built up and located inside the fuselage. These latter are especially difficult, the gun turret frames being quite tricky to glue together. I found that using small tabs with which to join two sections of a frame was preferable to relying on butt joints. I glazed the turrets from flat sheets of perspex, cut according to the templates provided. I found it was better to stick the perspex piece into shape before inserting into the turret frame. Having completed the hull, the next stage was the wings. Again it was back to the diagrams to get a clear picture of what should be done. The wings are provided with mechanisms for moveable ailerons and flaps. For the latter, I used sections of copper wire which allowed the flaps to extend from the back of the wing and then pivot downwards. For the ailerons, I used styrene rod to produce a suitable hinge. Locating the wings on the stub spars proved quite tricky. The spars are located in narrow sheathes in the end of the wing and care must be taken to slip these on before the glue begins to bind. In the end, I had to ease open the sheathes with a screwdriver to allow the spars to be pushed right in.
The fin and tail-planes are built next and again both the rudder and elevators can be made to move. The two pontoons are constructed like miniature versions of the hull with frames and plating. These are then attached underneath the wing and braced with wires; I found these latter essential to give the pontoons stability. The engines are built in three sections. Firstly, there is the fairing, again made with frames, followed by the cowling with propellor. Finally, the exhaust pipe which is very neatly made from various tubular sections to bend in the right way; onto the pipe, and this is what took the time, are glued about 50 small wedge-shaped vents. Happily, the final effect is quite pleasing.
Finishing off the model includes attaching an array of radio aerials and underwing bomb-racks with a full complement of bombs. A set of wheels to be attached to the hull for movement on land is also provided and these could be used as a suitable cradle for displaying the model. Not all the plating fitted perfectly, because of either me or the kit, but I was able to patch some sections with spare coloured card provided with the kit. Touching up with acrylic paint completed the process.
I would estimate the model took me upwards of 200 hours to build and the finished result is well worth the effort. It is the first time I have made a large, four engined aircraft and a seaplane to boot. It is definitely not a beginner's model but anyone of reasonable experience should find it an enjoyable challenge. Overall, I am pleased with this magnificent model.