PBY-5 Catalina  NZ4017

By Randy Lutz


Using the Monogram 1/48 kit of the Consolidated PBY-5 to model a Royal New Zealand Air Force Catalina piloted by Flying Officer D.S. Beauchamp of 6 (Flying Boat) Squadron, while stationed at   Halavo Bay, Florida Island, Guadalcanal during December 1944.


I have three modelling buddies (two in Canada and one in the U.S.) who along with myself compete in a mini bi-annual modelling challenge.  We each select a subject, or theme that we must build a kit to comply with.  Our selections are then written on a secret ballot.  Actually, one of my business cards.  That way each ballot is identical and lends a semblance of credibility to the selection process and when drawn by a waitress at a Hooters restaurant, no one can complain that she was swayed by the appearance of an abnormal ballot.  We do this once in the spring at a U.S. Region I Convention and once in the autumn at a small show in upstate New York.  Who ever does not finish his model in time for the next drawing, must buy dinner and drinks for those who do finish their model.  A couple years back the subject chosen was "floatplanes" and this proved to be the incentive I needed to build a Catalina, a subject that I had long desired to have in my display case.

For this build I used the Monogram PBY-5), which is the non-amphibian version of the Catalina.  To the best of my knowledge, the PBY-5 has only been released once, whereas the PBY-5A has been offered by Pro Modeler, Revell Germany and more recently by Monogram.  The kit in its unbuilt form is quite impressive and displays well defined recessed panel lines and very fine recessed rivets.  Trumpeter would do well to look at these rivets and use them as a benchmark.  There is considerable flash on some parts, which seems to be a standard annoyance with Revell/Monogram kits and some rather heavy sprue attachment points.  But these should not be considered as serious shortcomings with the kit.  Some parts of the kit are quite well detailed such as the cockpit bulkheads, while others like the engines and aft crew compartment sidewalls left me craving for more detail.


As with most kits, construction usually begins with the cockpit and the PBY is no exception.  However, I usually cleanup all parts and perform any modifications or enhancements prior to actually following the instructions.  With the 18 pieces which Monogram has provided you have the basics to produce a more than adequate cockpit out of the box, and considering what is actually visible through the canopy once the model is complete, any additional detailing could be considered superfluous.  The Monogram name has long been synonymous with detailed interiors and the Catalina attempts to continue the trend.  I did use a True Details resin cockpit set in my model, but not out of necessity.  It was more due to the fact that I had the set and would most likely never build another PBY, so I had better use it in this instance. In my opinion it is totally unnecessary, as it all but invisible once the model is assembled and any money spent on the detail set is better spent on beer. Sadly the True Details set enhances the cockpit, which is the one area where you cannot see the results, but offers nothing for the more visible waist gun compartments.

When I first set out to build the Catalina, I was planning on making a Fleet Air Arm Catalina Mk I.  This would feature a single .30 cal gun in the nose and due to the open top nose turret; I thought that the area immediately below the turret would benefit from the inclusion of strip styrene to represent the ribs and stringers.  However, long after the fuselage halves had been assembled, I obtained the "Eyeball" turret with the twin .30 cal guns from the Pro Modeler kit and then decided to build the Kiwi Cat.  So, in retrospect, the plastic strip added in the nose is a waste of time and material, as I cannot see it anyway.  After I had installed the True Details resin sidewalls, the basic interior components were airbrushed with Xtracolor X117 Interior Green FS 34151, contrary to Monogram suggesting an Olive Drab interior.  A dark wash was next, followed by some dry-brushing using lightened Interior Green.  This step pays dividends as the bulkheads and seats have some great detail that really stands out after painting.  Too bad you can hardly see it once the canopy is installed.  The instrument panel and various boxes were painted a semi-gloss black and given some grey dry-brushing.


With the front offices taken care of, I started to focus on the waist gun positions.  From the beginning it was my intention to model the aircraft with the waist blisters in the open position   and consequently, I felt that additional detail in the form of ribs and stringers would be mandatory.  This is one area where I feel that Monogram "copped out" in the detail department.  What ribs they did include are rather indistinct, tend to just fade away, missing any longitudinal stringers and are peppered with ejector pin marks.  I sanded off all the detail and fabricated new ribs and stringers using plastic strip.  This area was then given the same paint treatment as the cockpit.  

It never ceases to amaze me how much of an improvement you can realize with just a little extra time spent with some plastic strip and an airbrush or paint brush.  To add a little visual interest to the waist gun positions, I added a LIFE magazine decal on the floor, by the chemical toilet.  It is hard to see, but some people have spotted it.


I next installed the various small windows, which are inserted from the inside and these all fit quite well.  From the outside, I applied a heavy application of superglue to all the windows and when dry, they were sanded and polished to give them that 'blended in' look.  This is something many modellers neglect to do and in my opinion it can ruin the look of the clear parts as they will either sit proud, or be recessed from the surface of the fuselage and in some cases, there are large gaps around the perimeter of the windows, all of which can detract from the overall appearance.  A little extra time here, is time well spent.  We all have our pet peeves, and clear parts are my biggest peeve, irrespective if they are canopies, side windows, or navigation lights


With the front and rear cockpits completed, it is a simple matter to set them in place and close up the fuselage halves.  The two halves do fit well, but I suggest you glue it in sections to ensure proper alignment and eliminate any steps from one side to the other.  There are a couple of areas on the fuselage which will require some attention before you can go much further.  They are slightly recessed patches in the areas where the nose wheel well and main undercarriage legs would be on the amphibious PBY-5A versions.  This is a result of the moulds serving dual purpose and having an interchangeable insert.   Once you sand these areas smooth to eliminate the mould seam, you will most likely have eliminated a large number of the recessed rivets in the same areas.  Don't despair, as this is an easy fix.  Simply brush some liquid cement over the area and the recessed rivets will magically reappear.  Albeit, a bit more shallow than before, but there nevertheless.

At this stage of construction, it is good idea to perform any modifications to the fuselage if so desired.  I used this as an opportunity to reshape the thermal de-icing system air intake at the base of the vertical fin.  Monogram has moulded it as a square opening, whereas it should have a round shape to the upper part.  I also sanded off the mooring (pendant) line, restored the lost surface detail and replaced the line with a 1/35 metal tow cable after the model was completed.  In addition, the mooring cleats were refined to have a more accurate appearance.


I openly admit that the tail is a little too thick and should be corrected using the Belcher Bits corrected tail, but I passed on this correction for one simple reason...namely the time constraints of the bet.  I just did not feel that I had sufficient time to install the resin tail section cast by Belcher Bits and to add the surface detail needed to mimic the kit.

It is interesting how every review I have read about this kit claims that the tail section is too thick in the area of the vertical fin, but strangely enough, not one reviewer has noticed that the waist gun blisters are too close together on the top of the fuselage.  I am not sure if the blisters are too wide, positioned too high, or if the fuselage is actually too narrow, but the inaccuracy is quite noticeable once the model has been completed.  It is not something that is obvious until it is too late.  Even if I had discovered it earlier in the construction, I am not sure I would have been able to correct it.  If you were to compare this with photos of the same area from the reference books listed at the end of the article, the difference will be readily discernable.

Once all the clear parts had been installed, and blended in to the fuselage, it was time to mask the windows.  Of the three readily available brands of canopy masks on the market (EZ Masks, Black Magic and Eduard) the EZ Masks are my preferred choice.  However in this case, I found the EZ Masks did not correspond well to the dimension of the windows.  The problem is further compounded by the way Monogram has moulded the canopy framing.  Instead of raised canopy frames, rather widely scribed lines indicate the frames.  This means that whether you mask up to the inside edge, or outside edge of the line, you will have either a scribed line that may not be consistently painted, or a scribed line that is not painted at all and is reflecting light from its edges.  To get around this, I sanded off all traces of canopy framing on all the clear parts, polished them back to their original clarity and masked them with tape.


The main wing consists of five principal parts, plus the engine and engine cowling assemblies.  There are no fit problems with the wing and only needs some putty to fix the large divets resulting from the heavy sprue attachment points.  I installed some MV Products lenses in the landing light openings and fastened the clear covers, which were subsequently blended in to the wing.  The pitot tube was drilled out and the three assist handles were made from piano wire and added to upper surface of wing.  

The engines were painted with Metalizer Steel, and given a black wash of India Ink.  I like using India Ink on my engines as it dries with a shine that gives the engine that wet, oily look. The only detail to be added to the engines was the ignition wires that were made from armature wire.






The model was painted as two separate components, namely the fuselage and wing.  I first airbrushed Xtracolor X137 Light Gull Grey FS 16440 on the bottom.  For the top sides, I used Xtracolor X162 USN Blue Grey M-485 FS 15189, after it had been lightened with some white.  I then added more white to the mix and airbrushed all the fabric areas.


The decals were next to go on and these came from Aero Master's special, set number SP48010 on the Royal New Zealand Air Force.  A note for anyone using the Aeromaster decals for this subject, they are printed by Cartograf, and while having perfect registration, and excellent colour density; they must rate as some of the worst decals I have ever used.  Some of them, especially the wing roundels and serial numbers, refused to settle down, even after 20 applications of Solvaset, or Mr. Mark Softener.  

Once the decals were applied to the wings, I could actually get them to lift, by blowing across the surface of the decal.  I had to resort to making my own replacements from decal film.  The fact that the serials refused to settle was a blessing, as they were far too large in the first place.  I made new serials of the correct size on my PC and printed them on clear Micro Scale decal film.


With the decal fiasco behind me, I applied a medium grey oil paint wash to all panel lines and added some paint chipping to selected areas.  I added some shading to the upper surface blue-grey by applying very thin Tamiya Smoke over the panel lines.  This was followed by a mix of one part gloss white with 15 parts thinner and airbrushed randomly over the entire model to add additional fading.  Testors Dullcoat was applied to obtain a uniform flat finish. 

To replicate areas of wear on the upper surface of the wing, I ground up some regular pencil lead and rubbed it into the surface of the model.  It does a great job of giving paint that scuffed, shiny look without drastically changing the colour. The wing was fastened in place and the beaching gear was painted and installed, so that I could finally get this model off its belly.  To add more shading and weathering, various shades of grey and blue chalk pastels were applied to the panel lines and streaked back using a large sable brush.  Traces of a waterline, which was made with a mix of light grey and lime green pastels, was lightly applied, as these aircraft were usually rinsed with fresh water after beaching.


The final details consisted of drilling out all the gun barrels, including both the length of the barrel and cross drilling all the cooling jackets.  The guns were airbrushed with Testors Gunmetal, from the regular line of paints as it has the blue colour prevalent on American guns.  Afterwards, each gun was rubbed with ground pencil lead and lightly dry-brushed with Metalizer Steel.  

The antenna wires were made from stretched sprue and proved to be one of the most involved tasks during the completion of the model.  The trickiest part was to evenly tighten the left and right wires that run from the wing to the tail planes.  Too much heat or too little and the black cross braces would have been crooked.  The numerous insulators were made from drops of white glue, which were painted gloss white when dry. 



RNZAF The First Decade 1937-46, by Charles Darby.  Kookaburra Technical Publications

Detail and Scale Vol. 66 PBY Catalina. Squadron Publications

Squadron In Action No. 62 PBY Catalina.  Squadron Publications

Squadron Walk Around No. 5 PBY Catalina.  Squadron Publications