by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
The Supermarine Seagull amphibian was first built in 1921. The prototype was modified from the earlier Seal, and production began a year later with 25 Seagull Mk. IIs built for the Royal Navy. A tropicalised version followed in 1925 as the Mk. III and 6 were supplied to the Royal Australian Air Force, with one other for Japan.
Although the numbers produced were small, the Seagull served usefully as a fleet spotter with a crew of 3, and was the first British aircraft to be catapulted. In Australian service, the aircraft carried out a number of photographic reconnaissance surveys over Papua, Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef.
The kitSilver Wings' Supermarine Seagull impresses from the word go. I've never been lucky enough to see one of their kits before, so I was knocked out by the care which had gone into preparing it for the tender mercies of the international post, protected by cut-to-size sections of expanded polystyrene in a sturdy package. The kit's box itself is very attractive and, importantly, good and sturdy (all too often, otherwise very fine short-run kits are let down by a flimsy box) and, inside that, everything is sealed in zip-lock bags and further protected in bubble-wrap pouches.
I couldn't resist starting with a quick peek at the instructions and thought "Oh, that actually looks surprisingly simple!", and then I started unpacking the parts... and the the zip-lock bags just kept coming and coming... Eventually, no less than 17 bags sat in front of me, containing:
171 x grey resin parts
2 clear resin windscreens
14 x resin struts cast with metal cores
6 x copper pins
2 x small sheets of styrene
Vinyl painting masks for 2 x colour schemes, with a small supplementary sheet of decals
The casting throughout is excellent. Most of the larger parts have already been removed from their pour-stubs, and the overall finish is fantastic. The original aircraft was built with a sealed and polished wooden hull, so the kit is correctly devoid of any planking or panel lines. The wings and tail have a beautifully rendered fabric effect that should look lovely when painted. There's a little whispy flash around some of the very small parts, but the detail is excellent.
Test fitThe first real surprise is that you can actually do a test fit on a model like this! In fact one has already been partially done for you, because the fuselage/hull arrives taped together. The fit is excellent and, removing the tape, you can see why - the halves are cast with locating pins. After pausing to admire the internal detail (more of which later) it was time to turn to the wings and, again, they have locating pins. Each is built up of 3 sections and the line-up is very precise. The lower wing sits firmly on top of the fuselage thanks to a pair of substantial locating pins and, while I certainly don't expect this to be a kit that "builds itself", the good design does look very encouraging indeed.
A few detailsThe interior of the fuselage halves is very nicely detailed for the pilot's cockpit and the gunner and wireless operator's stations, with neatly modelled ribs and stringers. A pair of bulkheads close off the aft section and floors are provided. The pilot gets a seat with a cushion, control wheel and rudder pedals, throttle, plus an instrument panel with a separate compass. The aft compartment is less comfortable - the crew had to make do with sling-type seats - and there are a number of items such as an anchor, fire extinguisher, ammunition drums, boxes and a document case to add. The rear Lewis Gun is finely detailed and attaches to a 5-part mount.
The Napier Lion engine is beautifully detailed, with a very impressive main casting onto which attach numerous smaller details. There's a choice of radiators and exhausts as appropriate to the British or Australian engines - and the exhausts feature hollowed-out pipes. The engine fits into a mount that sits between the wings on the lower centre-section on a cat's cradle of struts.
Struts? This is a 2-bay biplane, so there's plenty of them! The wing construction is probably too complex to be suitable for newcomers to biplanes, but the metal-reinforced struts are a real plus. To keep everything lined up while drying a jig is definitely to be recommended. The instructions show the lower wing mounted on the fuselage and then building up from there, but the fit is so positive I'm tempted to follow an alternative path and build the entire wing structure, complete with the engine, as a separate unit, rig it and only then attach it to the fuselage. The instructions include a useful full-size diagram showing the dihedral, and a large and clear guide to the rigging and control cables.
Instructions and paintingThe assembly guide takes the form of a 10-page A-4 booklet, printed in colour with simple but clear illustrations. Notes are in English throughout and colours are keyed to many of the details.
Two colour schemes are featured and illustrated with colour profiles and monochrome plan views:
Supermarine Seagull Mk II, N9647, 440 Flight, HMS Eagle, 1924/25
Supermarine Seagull Mk III, A9-2, 101 Fleet Co-operation Flight, RAAF, Richmond, 1927
Decals are only provided for the maker's data on the engine side panels, all the other markings are supplied as vinyl painting masks. These are cleanly die-cut and, although challenging and certainly more time consuming to use than decals, promise a superior result - particularly on the silver-doped wings where carrier film would show easily. Nevertheless, I can't help thinking that many modellers would prefer to at least have the option of conventional decals. No instructions a given for the masks, but it should almost go without saying that you should paint the wings panels before assembly, and the fuselage as a separate unit before joining them.
ConclusionSilver Wings' Seagull is a stunning kit! The presentation and casting puts it firmly at the cutting edge of resin production and, while definitely not a kit for beginners, the good design and engineering should make this a thoroughly buildable project for modellers with a bit of experience of resin construction and biplanes. It's obviously not cheap, but hand-cast kits of this high quality can't be - and the sheer amount of labour that goes into the pattern making, casting and overall production in a project like this is quite astounding (I can vouch for that in my own small way, having made a range of conversion sets back in the early days of resin). This is a real connoisseurs' model that fully captures the glory-days of early flying boats and will be by far the most complex biplane I've yet tackled, but I'm itching to get started. Highly recommended.
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