Short Sunderland III

The Sunderland was designed to meet Air Ministry Specification R.2/33 which called for a four engined monoplane flying boat to succeed the long line of biplane types that had served the RAF in the coastal patrol and long range reconnaissance roles for nearly two decades. Short's model S.25 was based on but not a derivative of the C-Class "Empire" Flying Boat airliner. The Sunderland was notable for being the first flying boat to be equipped with power operated bow and tail turrets. The Sunderland competed with the Saunders Roe Saro A.33 which suffered a structural failure as a result of porpoising during taxi tests and effectively eliminated itself from the competition. The RAF's decision to use a powered four gun turret in the tail required some basic changes to the design to accommodated the shift in the center of gravity. This included giving the wings a slight sweep back which resulted in the engines and wing floats to have a slight outward cant. 

The prototype made its first flight in October of 1937. One interesting feature of the bow turret was that it retracted back into the fuselage to allow space for a crewman to supervise the mooring process. The Sunderland's offensive armament consisted of four 500 lb. bombs or eight 250 lb. bombs carried internally, they were winched out on tracks from the fuselage to a position under the inner wings for deployment. Defensive armament consisted of a Frasier Nash two gun turret in the bow with .303 in. guns, a four gun Frasier Nash four gun turret in the tail with .303 caliber guns and two .303 in. guns firing from two beam positions in the upper hull. It was powered by four Pegasus XXII engines offering 1,010 h.p. for takeoff and 890 h.p at 6,500 feet. Seventy-five Sunderland I's were built which were followed by fifty-eight II's. The II first flew in August of 1941 and differed in having Pegasus XVIII engines rated at 1,050 h.p. for take off and a maximum output of 1,065 h.p. at 1,250 feet. Late production Mk. II's had the beam guns replaced by a power operated dorsal turret with two .303 in. guns. The Sunderland III standardized on the dorsal turret and used the same engines as the Mk. II. It flew in prototype form in in June of 1942. Four-hundred and seven of the Mk. III's had been built by the end of 1943 when production was shifted to the last variant the Mk. V. The Mk. V had four .303 in guns mounted in the forward fuselage and fired by the pilot for use in clearing the decks of U-boats during attack runs. The Mk. V was the first model to switch from the Pegasus engines to R-1830 Twin Wasps of 1,200 h.p. Some Mk. V's had their dorsal turrets replaced by two manually operated 50 caliber guns beam guns. 143 Mk. V's were built bringing the total to 721 of all types. 

Sunderland's were given the nickname of "Flying Porcupine" by the Germans and it on more than one occasion proved it could hold its own during attacks by a variety of German aircraft from fighters to the Fw 200 Condor and proved to be a valuable weapon during the battle of the Atlantic.

 The Kit

The Airfix kit is ancient, being one of the first four engine aircraft to be modeled by Airfix and while the kit may not be up to current standards of fit and finish it is still an accurate representation of the Sunderland and can be built into a nice looking model with a bit of work. I'm going to do an inbox review but due to the age of the kit and length of time that I've had it, it will be a bit different than looking at the sprues of a pristine kit. Some where back in the late sixties or early seventies I apparently did some preliminary fitting on the kit as some of the parts had been removed from the sprues. In fact a good deal of them are off, some were my doing, some were loose in the box when I got it.
The kit comes in a top opening box that is rather sturdy by today's standards with what was fairly typical Airfix artwork on the front. Back then most kits were not bagged like they are today and loose parts were fairly common. I can't say exactly how many sprues there were originally. The kit is molded in white plastic with raised detail, most of which are rivets. The rivets are actually quite small for the time though certainly out of scale. The plastic itself is very smooth but does exhibit sink marks on the fuselage and upper wings. These correspond with the locations of the alignment pins and sockets. These also appear on some of the smaller pieces as well though less noticeable. There was very little flash on any of the parts and just parting lines on the smaller parts but the halves lined up well so round sections were mostly round.Typical of the times the kit has movable ailerons, elevators and rudder and the turrets would rotate and guns elevate if one so desired. Even the front turret would retract as on the prototype although some detail was sacrificed for this.
Interior detail was also pretty much the standard of the time for Airfix, flight deck, control columns, instrument panel, seats, pilots and a printed set of instruments you could cut out of the instruction sheet and glue to the instrument panel. The turrets were also typical Airfix with a gunner with a bushing attached through which the guns mounted, a front and back and retainer for the bottom so that it could be rotated if you were careful gluing the fuselage together. The engines were molded with the nacelles and were pretty shallow detail wise. The kits comes with parts for a beaching gear which makes it convenient display purposes. By my count, assuming none have dissapeared over the years there are 122 parts in white. The clear parts were pretty typical for the time as well, thick and distorted, the round porthole glass looks like it has a bulls eye in the center. Total for clear parts is 43 for a grand total of 165 parts. Photos below show the kit parts.

 I no longer have the decals that came with the kit, not that I would want to try to use forty year old decals anyway. They covered markings for one aircraft in the sea green and slate gray over white scheme.  The instructions are printed on a single 8" x 12" page front and back. The front has history, painting instructions and written assembly instructions. The back has 1/3 page with an assembly diagram and the balance of the written instructions.

So why would anyone want to build one of these dinosaurs ? Well it's really still the only game in town if you want a Sunderland, the only other kit I remember was a vacuform version and back then they were pretty crude as well. Besides the Airfix kit is accurate dimension wise. As for the surface detail I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do. I really don't want to scribe it. I may just lightly sand to rivets to reduce their size or maybe do away with them altogether. In 1/72 you really shouldn't see them or panel lines either one unless you have your face right up against it.

After Market Goodies

In spite of the kits age there are some after market items available. Squadron has vacuform canopies for the kit [9192] which includes the turrets but not all the port holes. The other items are interior details from White Ensign models and while these are really neat not a lot of them will be seen once you close up the fuselage. None the less I couldn't resist. Nothing like putting $50 worth of details inside a $2.00 kit. Yes sports fans that's what the Sunderland cost when new in the sixties ! White Ensign makes three sets for the Sunderland, cockpit details, depth charge compartment and an exterior details kit. I decided to just use the two interior kits. The photoetch fret is shown below and the work on it is exquisit. It comes with two 8 1/2" x 11" pages of  very well done instructions and a parts map. Only thing missing was a clear film to use behind the instrument panel but the instruments couldn't be seen from outside anyway. See below.

The depth charge compartment is a smaller fret and only has one page of instructions with it, see below.

The White Ensign parts are available from Great Models Webstore or directly from White Ensign Models website.

This kit is a blast from the past and sometimes its good for the sole to build up one of the old kits if nothing else to help one appreciate just how far the industry has come. The review linked below includes the White Ensign interiors and includes some really  good photographs of them built up.

Links to kit build or reviews

A review / build can be found here.


"War Planes of the Second World War - Volume Five - Flying Boats" by William Green
"Sunderland Squadrons of World War 2" by Jon Lake

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Updated 5/10/08