Sunderland Mk. I
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Britain had an empire which spanned the globe. Its success depended on long lines of commerce and communication, traditionally supported by maritime transport. With the development of aviation, the long-range transportation by air of both passengers and freight became a possibility. Airlines such as Imperial Airways came into being, and with them came a new generation of aircraft which were larger, faster and able to travel further than their predecessors. Flying boats were particularly favoured for the long-range routes to Africa, Asia and Australia as they could take off and land from any suitably large body of water without the need for the expensive infrastructure associated with airfields.
By the 1930s, the Air Ministry had issued a requirement for a large flying boat capable of carrying passengers and mail over long distances to far-flung parts of the empire. Short Brothers responded with the impressively large four-engined S.23 Empire. In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, Shorts also used the design as the basis for a military version designed to meet Air Ministry specification R.2/33, which called for a similar aircraft for use in the maritime reconnaissance role. Named the Sunderland, the new aircraft took to the air for the first time in October 1937 and entered squadron service in June the following year.
Powered by four Bristol Pegasus XXII engines, the Sunderland had a longer range than any of its predecessors. Designed to take full advantage of this range, the aircraft were equipped with six bunks for the crew, as well as a toilet and galley. The Mk.I could carry up to 2000lb of bombs or mines, although in practice the load carried was usually lower in order to maximise range. A total of 89 Mk.Is were manufactured before production switched to the Mk.II. Sunderlands served throughout the Second World War and beyond, and became a vital weapon in countering the U-Boat menace during the Battle of the Atlantic. The Sunderland had a reputation as a tough, survivable aircraft and there are numerous documented cases of Sunderlands fending off or destroying enemy fighters even when severely outnumbered. The Sunderland soldiered on long after hostilities ended, playing a vital part in the Berlin Airlift and the Korean War. The last Sunderlands passed out of RAF service in 1959, but some remained in service with the RNZAF until 1967, some thirty years after the first flight of the prototype.
Since time immemorial (1960 to be precise), the only 1:72 Sunderland in town has been the venerable Airfix kit. Whilst that kit is capable of being turned into a handsome reproduction of the real thing in the hands of a highly skilled modeller, an awful lot of work is involved as it is pretty crude my modern standards. Now Italeri have come to the rescue with an all-new kit of the Sunderland Mk.I, apparently produced in cooperation with MPM/Special Hobby of the Czech Republic.
The new model arrives packed into a colourful, top-opening box adorned with a large illustration of a Sunderland engaging a U-Boat somewhere over the Atlantic. The sides and back of the box are crammed with photographs of the finished (albeit unpainted) model and full-colour profiles for the six aircraft depicted on the decal sheet. I like Italeri's approach here because all too often it is impossible to tell which marking options are supplied with a kit, or what the finished kit looks like, unless you have seen a built example before making your purchase. Inside are five large sprues of light grey plastic, a single sprue of clear plastic, a small fret of photo etched parts, a piece of cord, decals, the instruction book and a full-colour booklet which provides historical notes, period photographs and detailed walkaround photographs of the real thing (albeit not of the type depicted by the kit, as the only known surviving Mk.I is under the water at Pembroke Dock).
The plastic parts are all nicely moulded and there are no signs of flash or sink marks in any awkward places. Surface detail is comprised of recessed panel lines and rivets/fasteners. The engraved detail is clear, crisp and consistent. Some may find it a little on the heavy side, particularly in terms of the rivet detail, but you will need to study the pictures (or ideally the actual kit) and make your own mind up about this feature as it is a personal choice. I myself will reserve judgment until I have built and painted the model, which hopefully won't be long,
Italeri have provided a pretty comprehensive interior with this kit, and the insides of the fuselage halves are almost as detailed as the outsides. Obviously the interior detail is less refined and there are a fair number of unavoidable ejector pin marks, but overall the internal structure of the aircraft has been captured reasonably well. Getting down to nitty-gritty, construction starts with the flight deck. The plastic parts account for the floor, pilot and co-pilot's seats, rudder pedals, instrument panel and control yokes. Photo etched metal parts are used for the seat harnesses and the fixings for the crew seats. Moving aft, behind the nicely detailed bulkhead is the radio operator's position, comprised of a seat and radio set.
Before you go any further with the construction of the interior, you will need to fix in place most of the circular port holes that are a characteristic feature of the Sunderland. These all have to be fitted from the inside, so you'll need to make sure that they are securely fixed lest any pop out and rattle around inside later on. Masking these will not be an easy task, and I imagine a great many modellers will be hoping that Eduard release a set of pre-cut masks for this kit before too long!
The forward lower deck includes the bomb aimer's position and the anchor. The latter is a nice touch, and it can be positioned in either the stowed or deployed position, using the length of cord provided. The rest of the internal detail is comprised of the upper and lower deck structures and the two dorsal gun positions. The two .303 inch Vickers K Guns are nicely moulded and have separate magazines. No other detail is provided for the gunners' positions though, so there is some scope for scratch building or aftermarket upgrades in this area.
Although Italeri have provided plenty in the way of interior features, there is still a lot of scope for fitting even more detail inside the capacious fuselage. If you really want to include that toilet though, you'll have to scratch build it! The front and rear turrets are nicely represented and there is plenty of detail to show off. The cooling sleeves on the barrels of the four .303 inch Browning machine guns fitted to the rear turret are very nicely depicted. The front turret and bomb aimer's window can be finished in the extended or retracted position.
The wings are each comprised of upper and lower halves with separate elevators. Make sure you pay attention at this stage of the build as you are required to make a couple of cuts in the leading edges of the wings. The retractable bomb racks can be posed inside the fuselage or in the extended position underneath the wings. Each is comprised of three plastic parts, with photo etched details being used to bring them to life. The bombs themselves are nicely moulded, although the ring-type ballistic tails are unavoidably clunky when moulded in plastic. The elevators and rudder are all separate parts and can be posed in a range positions to add life to the finished model.
The floats look fairly straightforward to assemble, and clear instructions are given for fitting the rigging between these parts and the wings. The four Bristol Peggies are well detailed and should look the part under the cowlings. The foremost part of the cowlings, which were left unpainted on the real aircraft, are moulded separately, which should make painting these parts easier.
Final details include the slipstream shields for the fuselage gunners' positions and a range of aerials and antennae including the DF loop aerial. If you want to depict your model with the beaching gear fitted (and I imagine most modellers will) then Italeri have provided both the main gear legs and a separate beaching trolley. The main gear looks pretty good and the tyres have a convincing tread pattern moulded in place. The beaching trolley, which fits under the rear fuselage, is a miniature model in itself and is made up of eight plastic parts and two photo etched parts.
The clear parts are generally very nice. The turrets in particular are thin and transparent and the raised framework detail is very convincing. The cockpit canopy is also commendably thin and clear, but the framework on my copy fades to a rather indistinct outline on the starboard side. A set of photo etched windscreen wipers are included as well, which is a nice finishing touch to this part of the model. The numerous portholes, the fitting and masking of which will probably be the one tedious part of this build, are quite thick and feature some pincushion distortion.
The decal sheet is quite small for an aircraft of this size, but is generous in terms of the marking options it provides. Altogether there are six options to choose from:
- Sunderland Mk.I L2163 of 210 Squadron, Oban, Scotland, 1941, finished in Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey over Aluminium undersides;
- Sunderland Mk.I L5798 of 210 Squadron, Oban, Scotland, 1940, finished in Dark Earth and Dark Green over Aluminium undersides;
- Sunderland Mk.I L5802 of 95 Squadron, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1941, finished in Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey over Aluminium undersides;
- Sunderland Mk.II T9072 of 204 Squadron, Bathhurst, Gambia, 1941-2, finished in Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey over grey undersides;
- Sunderland Mk.I N9029 of 230 Squadron, Eastern Mediterranean, 1940 Dark Earth and Dark Green over Night undersides; and
- Sunderland Mk.I T9071 of 230 Squadron, Eastern Mediterranean, 1941, finished in Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey over Sky Type S undersides.
Italeri have done well to choose a range of schemes which offer plenty of variety. I myself am very tempted to build my copy as one of the Dark Green and Dark Earth aircraft, as this scheme was relatively unknown to me until the marking options for this kit were announced. The decals themselves are printed by another famous Italian name, Cartograf. They look beautifully thin and glossy, which gives me confidence that they will perform well.
I'm sure a great many members and readers of Britmodeller will thank Italeri for producing a brand new kit of such an important, not to mention impressively large, British aircraft - and so they should! Italeri have managed to produce a kit which is very well detailed without being overwhelmingly complex.
Unlike other manufacturers, Italeri have not compromised buildability for the sake of squeezing as many variants as possible out of the same moulds either. That said, there are tell-tale marks inside the fuselage around the dorsal gunners' positions and the sharp step in the lower hull, which seem to indicate that a multi-part mould has been used. If so, this could mean that later versions of the Sunderland, which feature the streamlined hull and offset mid-upper turret, could be in the pipeline, either from Italeri themselves or MPM/Special Hobby.
If the kit has a weak point, it is probably the way in which the skin of the aircraft has been depicted. The panel lines are a little on the heavy side and some modellers will be put off by the extensive use of recessed rivet detail. I have it on good authority, however, that the appearance of the recessed detail looks much better after a couple of coats of primer and a light rubbing down. Overall this should be a very enjoyable and rewarding model to build. There is detail a-plenty and the inclusion of photo etched parts is handy too. I'm looking forward to building my copy and am happy to recommend this kit to others.