Revell/Monogram 1/48 PBY-5A Catalina

KIT #: 04507
PRICE: £34-99
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER:  Frank Reynolds
NOTES: A straight from the box exercise


There is so much to the legend that is the Consolidated PBY Catalina. It was designed to the requirement of one specific customer, the United States Navy and when it entered service in September 1936, the PBY-1 formed a batch of just 60 aircraft for a Navy that was operating under peacetime conditions and financial stringency. Nine years later, history would record the PBY design as the most successful flying boat ever, with 3,272 aircraft built. It was not the best flying boat of World War2, but it was the best available in quantity. It would patrol the vast trackless expanses of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, achieve fame in convoy protection and the suppression of submarines. It was to feature in critical parts of two legendary naval actions of World War in the discovery of the Japanese Fleet before the Battle of Midway and the Royal Navy’s hunt for the battleship Bismarck. Until Britain entered World War 2, it might have been assumed that a flying boat designed in 1934 was nearing the end of its production life, but in September 1939 an order for 106 aircraft for the Royal Air Force was followed just weeks later for 200 aircraft for the US Navy,  bringing the PBY programme back to life. These orders were for the PBY-5 variant that featured  very distinctive large blisters for the waist gunners.  Over the next six years of World conflict the PBY would be built at four plants in the USA, two in Canada and at least one in the USSR.

There was one major variation of the PBY design that would ensure its longevity and its legendary status – the provision of a fully amphibious undercarriage in the PBY-5A. This was a matter of engineering genius, to provide a long range patrol bomber that was perfect to support the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific and provide an aircraft that could operate from rivers, estuaries, sheltered lagoons, island airstrips or full scale military bases. When production ended in September 1945, 1418 amphibians had been delivered. Among this total were 230 aircraft built to an order for the United States Air Force by Canadian Vickers Ltd., of Montreal for a Search and Rescue aircraft, designated OA-10A. 

The coming of peace saw the PBYs swiftly removed from US and British military service and many war surplus aircraft became available to the civilian market. This saw the beginning of a remarkable story, for an obsolescent military aircraft that had seen six years of war entered a phase that would see it serve a breathtaking five decades in the cause of peace and environmental protection.

The PBY had many positive features for its peacetime role. It was available at relatively cheap war-surplus prices, it was simple, rugged and dependable, many personnel had been trained by the military to operate and maintain them. It was ideal for specific operations in undeveloped areas such as the forest and lakes of the North American continent. The bubbles on the rear fuselage made generous-sized freight doors and the type’s long range meant that it could go long distances without needing a fuel supply at every remote base.

Yet it was the civilian operators who adapted the PBYs as water bombers who would ensure the type’s long and honourable service, in ever dwindling numbers, decade by decade, until the beginnings of the 21st century. Today there are possibly less than 20 PBYs still flying , preserved as warbirds. The type fully deserves its accolade as a legendary type.


This kit, of an American legend, originated from another American legend – Monogram. Many modellers of a certain age have enjoyed the products of Monogram who seemed to specialise in the big, bold and beautiful. Going back to the 1960s, there was a 1:72 B-52, later we were awestruck by a 1:72 B-36, 1:48 B-29, B-17, B-24. You could rely on them to tool up the kits that dreams were made of. This is one of them. It is big.

Although the some of the parts are embossed with the words “Revell 1999”, this kit clearly originates from Monogram with its big, yet carefully moulded parts and some seemingly complex structures moulded in one piece, where other manufacturers would have provided built up structures. By 21st Century standards the level of internal detailing is simple, more like that of a 1:72 scale kit, but it is adequate. The external detailing is impressive, a product of Monogram at its confident best, with subtle etched panel lines and beautiful sculpting around the fixed control surfaces. Most impressive was the fact that while some flash was present, no sinkage could be detected on any of the mouldings.

The kit is presented in a large tray-type box and consists of four large parts frames in medium grey plastic and one of clear. A large and colourful decal sheet by Cartograf gives a choice of two aircraft an OV-10A of the USAF at Goose Bay, Labrador, 1948 and a US Navy version of VP-3 1948, location unspecified. Being post war, both aircraft are unarmed.

Instructions are provided in a 16-page A4 booklet in greyscale and 31 stages of construction. This booklet seems to be a modified version from an earlier boxing of the kit since some of the construction stages, for the  armament and the radar, show parts assembly in separate exploded views, yet with the whole section being marked up as “not for use” with either of the decal options offered.


This is a departure from normal and a step outside of my comfort zone. There are a number of things that I never do with plastic aircraft kits – build them with the gear retracted; and hang them from the ceiling – until now. 

At  660mm wingspan, I had nowhere to display a completed PBY, yet I had always wanted to make this big legend. It was agreed that it would go on display at my LHS, where they like to do things the good old fashioned way and hang a few aircraft from the ceiling. So it seemed appropriate to finish it “in flight”, with everything tucked away, landing gear and wing floats. It also had to be done “as  kit” with an in-box finish and the only aftermarket I allowed myself was an Eduard mask to ease painting of the transparencies. The USAF version was chosen for its spectacular colour scheme.

I began the build by removing from the parts frames all of the components that I would not need, keeping them in small plastic bags so that I could access them if my decision making was wrong.  I had decided to build in two large sub-assemblies, the wing and then the combined fuselage and tail, which would be finished, painted, decalled and varnished before  they were joined together.

Construction begins with the flight deck and a pair of four-part pilots’ seats that incorporate a support frame and rudder pedals. The pair of seats are secured to a floor box that also serves as the nose wheel bay and a rear bulkhead is attached. The majority of the fuselage interior was painted in a home brew of lurid green to replicate Zinc Chromate. The seat cushions were painted dark brown and the moulded in seat belts olive drab. A small bulkhead is added to define the bow compartment and the nose turret floor glued in place. The cockpit is completed with the distinctive control yoke in an inverted U-shape and a pair of control wheels. The whole flight deck section fits neatly into the nose area. The instructions next proceed to the installation of the small fuselage windows, which I omitted since I prefer to add glazing form Micro Kristal Klear at the finishing stage. The landing gear construction was much simplified since the kit provides a gear up option consisting of a half wheel and small door for the fuselage sides and a closed box for the nose wheel bay, engineered for a neat fit.

Attention now moves to the rear of the fuselage and the waist gunners’ compartment. This area does have some shape issues which may or may not be a problem according to your modelling philosophy. When the same mouldings were reviewed by Tom Cleaver on MM in October 2005 he pointed out that there is a problem with the rear fuselage in that the flared area between the tail fin and fuselage tunnel is too flat, with the result that the leading edge of the tail fin is noticeably too wide. In addition the large observation blisters are too close together along the fuselage spine, suggesting that they, too, have excessive width. Now rebuilding a section of fuselage about 50mm long and reshaping those massive blisters is way beyond my level of modelling ability, so I chose to live with it. The rear compartment interior says everything about Monogram’s tooling skills, when they created a one-piece unit that consists of a central walkway, raised side platforms for the gunners together with the gun pedestals, an ammunition box and chemical toilet. A unit like this is unremarkable when cast as a state of the art resin component, but rendered in injection moulded plastic it is just brilliant. Front and rear bulkheads are added to provide a self-contained compartment that fits neatly into the right hand fuselage half.

It was now time to join the fuselage halves and I was relieved that it would not be necessary to add nose weight to my “ceiling flyer” since the recommended 50 grams of weight would have severely depleted my stock of lead shot. The two halves were joined with slow setting tube cement, taped together and left for a couple of days to settle. The tail surfaces consist of simple top and bottom sections joined with interlocking tongues that provide a strong square joint.

 Next was another departure from routine for I normally fix the main transparencies in place on a model, mask them and then paint at the finishing stage. However the nose turret and observation blisters have sections of framing that are overlaid by other structures so the large areas of glazing were masked off using an Eduard set of pre-cut masks and sprayed first with an undercoat of grey acrylic primer, then a top coat of Dark Blue to match the chosen fuselage colour. The kit provides an open/closed option for the gunners’ hatches in the blisters and this gimmick results in rather thick transparencies. The sliding sections were unmasked and glued inside the fixed sections using Humbrol Clearfix. The flight deck glazing, still masked, was glued to the cockpit area, while the still open positions for the nose turrets and observation blisters were blocked off with tissue paper stuffed into the gaps. The radar housing above the cockpit was added at this stage. I now had a structure that would reach from the joint of my elbow to the fingertips of an outstretched hand and I needed to park this on a separate shelf to free up work space for the next stage. 

Attention now turns to the plank-like wing. The lower surface consists of left and right halves joined along the centre line. The upper surfaces are in three pieces, consisting of a centre section and two outer panels. This ensures that the overlapping parts of the wing assembly have a strong joint. The control surfaces are moulded integrally with the wing panels, so this five-part unit forms nearly all of the wing structure. Two small ribs are inserted to close off the wing tips. The parts were joined with slow setting tube cement, tightly taped, and left to set hard over two days.

Next the two part wing tip floats were assembled and glued into the large recesses in the wing tips, in the retracted configuration. In typical Monogram style the engines and cowlings each consist of just three parts, being the nacelle, an engine moulded integral with the firewall and the circular cowling. Each engine front was painted medium grey and the units went together without fuss.


Untaped,  cleaned and degreased, I now had two large structures which were first painted with grey auto primer from a rattle can, which revealed the need for some filler along the main joint lines.. Quick setting Squadron Green Putty was used and rubbed down with medium sanding sticks. The primer was retouched where necessary. Next an undercoat was applied to the areas that were to be painted Yellow using Tamiya White fine surface primer. I airbrushed the white areas with a coat of Tamiya XF-3 Flat Yellow, topped off with a coat of Xtracrylix XA1213 Luftwaffe Gelb 04 which provided the rich golden yellow that I had in my mind. The Yellow areas were then carefully masked off while the undersides were painted.

Now since the idea was to provide a demonstrator for shop display it was decided to paint the boat in a scheme that  replicated the box art, so the undersides were airbrushed in Tamiya XF-29 Medium Grey, applied with my Iwata HP-C airbrush. With the undersides masked off with Tamiya tape, the upper surfaces were finished in Tamiya XF-20 Field Blue. The mass of masking was stripped away and the paintwork retouched in small areas where the paint had bled. Some localised masking was then applied and the Black de-icing boots to the leading edges of the wings, tail and fin were sprayed. The two structures were then sealed with two brushed coats of Future/Klear floor polish as a gloss undercoat for the decals.

The decals went on with minimum fuss assisted with Micro Sol and Micro Set and they included neat black edging strips for the yellow identification  bands. Finally they were sealed with two misted airbrushed coats of Xtracrylix Flat varnish. I realised with some surprise that the yellow areas of the airframe had one coat of grey primer, one coat of white, two coats of yellow, two of  Klear and two of matt varnish. The canopy masking was removed and the waist blisters and nose turret glazing secured with Clearfix. The small fuselage windows were added from Micro Kristal Kleer, applied with a wooden tooth pick.

It was now time to join the hull and wing, aligned by previously painted under wing struts and a positive socket between the central pylon and the wing. These components were secured with tube cement and the whole airframe was carefully propped upside down and left overnight to set. The build was completed by attaching the propellers, under wing fuel dump pipes, the aerials, ,landing light covers and pitot tubes.


This kit is not complicated, it is well engineered and the parts have a positive fit. The price is not unreasonable, but it seemed relatively costly to build in terms of the amount of paint and masking tape that it consumed. The shape issues around the rear fuselage are certainly a disappointment but the resulting model is impressive and unmistakably a Cat. It looks good sailing serenely over the retail area of my LHS. I enjoyed the build, not especially taxing but it was time consuming. It requires a lot of space, both on the workbench and for display. If you want a big Cat in 1:48 it is still the only game in town. I enjoyed it as a change of routine.


PBY Catalina in Action by W.E. Scarborough and Don Greer, Squadron/Signal Publications 1983.

Warplanes of the Second World War, Volume Five, Flying Boats, by William Green. Macdonald, 1962

Consolidated PBY Catalina, by David Legg. Airlife Publishing 2002

Frank Reynolds

November 2014 

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