Minicraft 1:144th PBY-5A
KIT #: 14435
PRICE: around €9-15 
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Frank Spahr
NOTES: 1995 boxing


The Consolidated PBY or Catalina (British designation) is probably the best known seaplane ever. Hence I feel I can get away without a detailed history or specifications for the purpose of this review. The truth is out there, try or wikipedia for starters.

Built from 1936 on, the PBY was constantly updated and produced in very large numbers (around 4,000) and operated by numerous airforces and civilian operators. Even today, some PBY´s are serving in aerial firefighting.

The most prolific version, the PBY-5A, was introduced in 1940. Amongst other improvements, it was the first amphibian in the series as opposed to the earlier flying boats without wheels. PBY´s saw widespread wartime service in patrol/reconnaissance, anti-submarine, cargo and – very notably – search-and-rescue. To name just three memorable events PBY´s participated in: The hunt for the Bismarck, the battle of Midway, and the loss of the USS Indianapolis.

The USAF´s postwar designation for the PBY was OA-10, and as such they continued to serve in limited numbers. The last operational plane was stricken in 1957. French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau made the plane popular when acquiring a PBY-6A in the 1970s and featuring it in his TV shows. Sadly, the plane crashed in 1979 off Lisbon, killing Cousteau´s son Philippe.

The PBY has gained fame for her reliability and resilience, adapting to numerous roles and functions, and it is also a very popular modeling subject.


I bought this kit last year at the Luebeck model show, after seeing very neat displays of 1:144th scale planes, including the PBY. The manageable size led to the kit actually being built, as opposed to the magnificent Revell 1:48 offering I have had in my stash for years now but no idea where to display it.

 The kit has recessed panel lines, a bit deep maybe, but reasonably all right after painting. The detail level is so-so, with hardly any cockpit interior and no more interior whatsoever; but who would see that anyway? The kit contains all the machine guns for a war version, but neither other weapons such as depth charges nor any of the rather elaborate antennae present on these planes. I did not go into any soul-searching regarding accuracy of engines or overall dimensions, as this aspect surely was no imperative on this build. Generally speaking, I do build kits because of the fun involved, and it has to be a really serious glitch to motivate me to change it. On the whole, I let others embark on the quest for the Holy Grail Of Accuracy, if this is what their hearts delights. Honestly speaking, I wanted a cool model of a colourful and beautiful plane and try my hands on making a somewhat livelier seascape than I usually do.

 The kit contains decals for two aircraft, one of them BuNo 44-33939, a postwar air-sea rescue plane operating from California in 1946. This aircraft is also depicted in the large Revell kit, although later in its career when operating in Alaska. Anyway, this was the plane I wanted to model.


 I didn´t want to go all without research; the bare minimum consisted of some quality time on my couch with the Squadron booklet and some internet research, mostly to find a good period image of the plane. turned out to be a very helpful site and contained the image I had been looking for. I could make out a teardrop-shaped radome atop the cockpit (missing from the kit) as well as underwing angled mounts for yagi antennae.

 I began by assembling what cockpit there is and painting the parts interior green and black. Next, the wheel wells were added. As I had decided to depict the aircraft on a sea base, the wheels would be retracted. The small undercarriage fairings from the kit were not used. Instead I glued a piece of brass wire along the fairing´s lower edge and filled the area of the fairing with some applications of self-leveling white glue. The various small windows were filled with Maskol at that stage, as I didn´t plan to use the kit parts. The bow turret was modified; I felt no need to be able to rotate it and I did not want to fiddle it between the fuselage halves during assembly.

 Further assembly and cleanup of the fuselage went well, and very little filler was used. I soon had the hull as the first subassembly, ready for the most tedious part of the build, masking the transparencies. I procrastinated a bit by assembling the wing first. This went mostly OOB apart from the outriggers and their bracing. The outriggers were made removable, the iffy “moving feature” was deleted.

 After attaching the transparencies and cleaning up the surrounds, I masked the //%$ waist blisters using Parafilm M; Tamiya tape was used for the cockpit and bow turret. That took *some* time and entailed a less-than-bright mood on my part, but it had to be done. In between I made a replacement radome. Starting with a piece of sheet styrene trimmed to shape, I applied dental casting wax to both sides to achieve the desired shape. That went rather well, and after painting with acrylics the thing looked good enough for yours truly.


 In hindsight, most of this build was spent masking. The colourful scheme needed loads of masking and careful preparation in respect to the painting sequence. Apart from Tamiya tape, I used Aizu ultra-fine masking tape which is available as narrow as 0.4 mm (0.015 in). I did not need those but the 1.5 mm stripes served well. They were used to mask the black stripes atop the wing and those around the fuselage separating the yellow waist band from the red and blue grey areas. As always, I took the precaution of spraying another pass of the original colour after masking. That mostly prevented the bleeding in of the new colour after masking. Generally speaking , I started by priming the subassemblies with white enamel paint to make sure I had a good grip on the styrene. The areas under the outriggers were prepainted in white, and the outriggers then attached to the wing using Maskol. Thus the paint demarcations worked fine. I continued by spraying the black de-icer boots and stripes, masked those, and then respraying white preparatory to spraying yellow and red. Those shades will look brightest when sprayed on a white background. On the fuselage, I needed some trial-and-error until I realized I´d best spray it all blue grey first and then mask those areas and end up with a retouch of the white undersides. It was far easier masking the vertical surfaces than trying the same with the area under the hull step.

 After removing the masks I found some glitches despite all effort made; I corrected those and did some more masking for the silver background of the fin number. I have to say that no lifting of paint whatsoever occurred in all the steps of the masking process. The paints used were a wild range of acrylics, from Revell, Vallejo and JPS respectively. All performed well.


 Next came the mating of wings and fuselage to a good fit. I used a very useful clamp I had bought at Telford – highly recommended! After this operation I glued the outriggers in place, without the supports for the time being.

 Now I was ready to prepare the sea base. I had decided to use my standard IKEA picture frame that fits in my transport box and display cabinet. I cut a piece of foam board to fit into the picture frame and determined where to put the plane. In the end, it was put more or less smack in the middle, not the ideal position compositionwise, but unavoidable in regard to the plane´s size and the space needed for an impressive wake.

 A groove was cut into the foam board to accept the hull step area, to capture the moment right before take off. I did not find any image showing the real amount of wake the PBY would produce during take-off, so I had to conjecture and guess. I ended up with a triangular area of disturbed water, bordered by a wake behind the aircraft tapering out rather soon. I assumed the prop wash would disturb the water in a larger area than the passage of the hull alone would do, but I can be wrong there. My only excuse to anyone in the know would be: “Well, I thought it did look cool that way …”

 To produce the disturbed water behind the plane, I put brush cleaner into my airbrush and gently (!) sprayed the affected area with it. The stuff will dissolve the foam board´s surface, when done properly, which means NOT IN EXCESS. The wake was sculpted using acrylic filler from the hardware supermarket. The water effect in the remaining area comes from several layers of wall paint, applied copiously with a large brush. That leaves a lightly stippled and irregular surface. This can be colored as desired using acrylic model paints in various shades of blue and green. The disturbed water was then highlighted with white wall paint. The final water effect was achieved using some good coats of clear gloss acrylic, applied with a foam roller. Of late, I find I use mostly hardware supermarket stuff for my sea bases!

 Having sorted this out, it was time for decaling. Preparatory to that, the model received a good gloss acrylic coat to prevent silvering. The decals took very long to leave the carrier paper, but then they worked well. Micro Sol was used to achieve a good fit. After all the decals were applied, a satin coat was added to seal and blend things in further yet.

 Before adding the notorious fiddly bits, I did my limited weathering. A postwar rescue plane would definitely not look as if dragged to hell and back, so I did some accentuation of panel lines using artist´s oil paint and Humbrol thinners (thanks Chukw!) Some light exhaust stains were applied to the wings, but nothing major. I tried to remember that less is more.

 I don´t remember who asked me what I would do re the props, but he sure had a major point there. Standing props would look dead, at least in the images, and I considered the alternatives. Clipping the prop blades seemed the most viable to me, and likely to look better than any acetate sheet with painted on prop blur I could produce.

 In the end I took a different approach: I drilled a somewhat larger hole into the kit engines and carefully glued a piece of brass tubing into it, using white glue. The prop shafts were cut away and replaced with lengths of brass wire, heated and melted into the prop from the backside. That combination turned in the face of my airbrush or a hair dryer, and I happily noticed the faint yellow circle produced by the prop tips. There is one very talented German modeler who inserts small air tubes connected to a compressor into his model bases, and I have admired his models at shows. The props spin nicely without any engines, wires and the like. I made a try but could not get enough pressure to make the props turn, so for the time being my props will only turn in the presence of a suitable airflow. But it looks nice in the pictures!

 The number of fiddly bits wasn´t too large, but some of them were needed anyway. The pitot tube was added from brass wire; the abovementioned radome was added. The pretty iffy kit parts for the outrigger bracing/actuators were redone in brass wire, too. The main wing supports were added from round styrene stock, omitting the need to clean up the kit parts. The underwing antenna supports were made from leftover  1:250th scale PE ship´s railings. They are no complete yagi antennae, but I could not see all the dipoles in the images, so I omitted them. They could be added from PE railing rather easily.

 Another light satin coat sealed and blended the model, and now I could finally remove all those annoying cockpit masks and the Maskol from the small windows. Some glitches were inevitably discovered, but acrylics are very forgiving re touchups, so some work with a toothpick to remove excess paint and a small paint to correct defects did the job as good as I could. The small windows were filled with Ponal white glue, a brand that dries completely transparent. Other brands may remain opaque – better make sure yours works before you use it in earnest.

 The antenna wires were made from Caenis ultra-fine flyfishing thread, glued with white glue and made taut with heat from a dental waxing instrument. This stuff is really good, it is much more forgiving than stretched sprue!

 Finally, the model was placed on the base using clear acrylic gel. The foam and spray were added from cotton wool, and I could take my photographs.


 All in all this was a fun build, not overly strong in the accuracy department, but fun nonetheless – and I really have a PBY in my display cabinet now!


 W.E. Scarborough: PBY Catalina in action. Carrollton 1983

Frank Spahr

January 2009

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