Hasegawa 1/72 SP-5B Marlin

KIT #:
PRICE: $20 when new (which was a LOT of money for a model in 1973)
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


          The last flying boat operated by the U.S. Navy, the Martin SP-5B Marlin (P5M-2 prior to 1962)was used around the world between 1951-66.  Developed from the early PBM Mariner series, the Marlin was larger, and in the P5M-2/SP-5B variant had the most advanced hull used by any flying boat other than the P6M Seamaster jet-powered flying boat.  Originally equipped with armor, self-sealing fuel tanks and a twin 20mm tail turret, by the 1960s the armor and the tail turret were gone to save weight for more electronic gear.   

          Naturally, under those conditions, the Marlin was the main US Navy ELINT aircraft for patrols along the China Coast from the Yellow Sea through the Taiwan Straits to Hainan Island.  The four West Coast squadrons, based at NAS North Island (VP-48) and NAS Whidbey Island (VP-49 and VP-50), alternated tours in WestPac with each other, though VP-40 operated from NAS Sangley Point, outside Cavite in Manila Bay for several years as a permanent unit.  The squadrons also sent aircraft to Okinawa to operate from Buckner Bay with the seaplane tenders USS Pine Island, Currituck and Salisbury Sound. In the early 1960s, International Law recognized the 3 mile limit to territorial waters.  The People’s Republic of China began to claim the 12 mile limit to their territorial waters in 1962, and the US Navy was told to fly their recon missions at the 6 mile limit; still using World War II-era navigation technology, it was not unheard-of for an airplane flying for an extended period of time over a cloud deck to find a hole in the clouds, through which the crew could see green and brown and tan, rather than blue, this engendering a turn to the east to get back to the safety of international waters.  No airplanes were lost, but there were a couple occasions I remember where the crews were able to make extensive close examinations of Red Chinese MiG-17s hanging on the edge of a stall off their tail.

          During my time in the far east, VP-40 was the unit that we operated with most closely; being a life-long aeronut, I was crazy enough to think a 12 hour flight in a flying boat was more interesting than a liberty ashore, and I managed to cadge several flights then, with QE-5, callsign “Seashell-5" being the airplane I flew in more than once.

The Great Galapagos Adventure:

          To me, the most interesting six weeks of my naval career was a trip to the Galapagos in 1964.  There are only a few mentions of the 1964 Galapagos Expedition, and the only one by other participants is a very good page on the VP-48 website that tells the story from the aviator’s recollection.  There is, also a sub-page at the site which has a copy of the “Crossing the Line” booklet that was presented to all of us on USS Pine Island.  You can see it at: http://www.vp48.org/index_page0315.html

Click “Crossing the Line Initiation” (I think I actually found a picture of yours truly emerging from the “Tunnel of Love” but that was a long time ago and we all looked different then)

          Here is my recollection:

          Perhaps the most interesting mission undertaken by the SP-5B Marlin was the operation of four SP-5Bs of VP-48, flying from an advanced seaplane base operated by the USS Pine Island (AV-12) to support the International Galapagos Project in January and February, 1964.  In the 1950s, the environmental alarm had been sounded about the condition of life in the Galapagos - the site of Darwin’s first investigations that led to his describing the crucial theory of evolution in “The Evolution of Species” published in 1859.  Before Darwin’s visit aboard HMS Beagle in 1835, the islands had been used for the previous 150 years by English pirates, whalers, fur sealers and others, and the native animal population was already in decline by 1835.  In 1959, Ecuador declared the Galapagos a national park, and with the support of the Charles Darwin Institute, a fifth expedition was mounted by the California Academy of Sciences (which had made expeditions to the islands since 1906) to perform the most thorough examination of native animal life since Darwin’s work in 1835 as part of the work to establish the park.  The U.S. Navy decided to provide support for the expedition, since it would provide the seaplane tender USS Pine Island with the opportunity to perform remote sea base operations in the islands.

          Pine Island departed San Diego with the scientists of the expedition around January 7, 1964, as I recall, with the first port of call being the Panama Canal.  We arrived in Balboa just after a series of anti-American demonstrations January 9-12 (this is known as Martyr’s Day in Panama and is the event that eventually led to the U.S. handing the canal over to Panama 15 years later) and the ship only remained two days before heading out for the Galapagos.  The islands straddle the Equator, and so on January 20, 500 or so Pollywogs, including yours truly and the Chief Pollywog, Pine Island’s Captain (later VADM and CTF-77 in 1972), Damon W. Cooper, were initiated into Neptune’s Realm in the traditional celebration.

          About the same time we were crossing the Equator, the  Marlins departed NAS North Island, headed non-stop for NAS Corpus Christi, Texas.  While three managed to get into Corpus Christi before the fog rolled in, the fourth eventually had a very adventurous landing at NAS Pensacola.  Gathering all at Corpus Christi, they then flew down to Panama and on to the Galapagos, where the Pine Island was anchored off Baltra Island.  The crews arrived two days after Pine Island had shed all her Pollywogs, and the 20 or so Naval Aviators aboard the airplanes were initiated by a large group of former Pollywogs, intent on “passing on the tradition.”  I am personally glad I was not one of them - being one of 600 Pollywogs initiated by fewer than 100 Shellbacks was enough “adventure.”  I did, however, enjoy “passing on the tradition.”

          The Galapagos were a fantastic place to see.  At the time, the human population was under 2,800, living on only two islands (today the population is 25,000 on six); the other 11 looked pretty much exactly as Darwin had seen them 130 years earlier.  Over the next few weeks, the Marlins flew teams of scientists and their naval “bearers” (of which I participated on one trip) to the different islands (there are 13), and Pine Island operated near Santa Cruz, Baltra and Isabella Islands. I for one will never forget seeing the famous Darwin’s Finches (which are biologically all the same finch, found on seven of the islands, each sub-species with a different bill that allows it to fill a different ecological niche in that island’s ecology) in their native environments.  Having the whole thing explained by a scientist who knew what he was talking about helped too.

          At the end of February we returned to San Diego, with a stop in Acapulco (a very different place from what one visits today). As a result, I always laugh when I see Elvis Presley’s “Fun In Acapulco,” particularly a scene where The King dances and sings on the street in front of a large green building - which happens to have been the largest house of prostitution in the city at the time (ask me how I know).

          On their way home, one of the Marlins blew a prop governor coming in to land at the seadrome off Balboa.  With no way to perform the necessary engine change, the Marlin was left behind and the crew flew a Pan Am 707 back to Los Angeles.

The Marlin Goes To War:

          The SP-5B Marlin finally went to war in the aftermath of the (alleged) Tonkin Gulf (non) Incident in August 1964, when  Pine Island, serving at the time as the flagship of Commander Patrol Forces U.S. 7TH Fleet (the command in charge of the destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy and responsible for the cock-up that was manufactured into a lie to provide excuse for a war) was ordered to set up surveillance seaplane operations in DaNang harbor.  I had by that time been transferred to the PatFor staff. During August, VP‑48 established a seaplane squadrons all‑time record, amassing 1,585 hours flight time as they patrolled the Gulf of Tonkin. Flying around the clock, VP‑48 averaged two planes airborne at all times for the  entire month. Over the remainder of Pine Island’s WestPac tour that year, seaplane operations were undertaken at DaNang and at the Poulo Condore Islands off the southern tip of southern Viet Nam.  VP-40 crews, which replaced VP-48 in September, undertook the first aerial mapping of Cam Ranh Bay that fall, which led to the installation of the major U.S. base there the next year.  The Pine Island, Salisbury Sound and Currituck began operating from Cam Ranh Bay (in turn) from the summer of 1965 as part of Operation Market Time, the coastal patrol of southern Viet Nam designed to cut off supplies from the North (which were actually coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail).  In November 1966, Pine Island and VP-40 were the last seaplane units to operate there.  The next year VP-40 converted on to the P-3 Orion, and Pine Island was retired, to be scrapped in 1967 along with Currituck and Salisbury Sound.


           Hasegawa first released this kit in 1971-72, at roughly the same time as their SP-2E Neptune.  No one else has ever done an injection-molded kit of this airplane and likely never will.  The kit has been re-release at least three times with different decals, though all the releases may be with parts from the original run.  The kit has petite raised detail which is actually quite accurate in its final result in portraying the SP-5B.  It does suffer from the usual problematic fit of a kit from that era.  There is little internal detail, but then there is little to be seen once the model is assembled.  Decals are provided for an airplane from VP-40 in light seaplane grey and white, from VP-50 in dark seaplane grey and white, and one from the French Aeronavale in overall dark blue. The decals are accurate, other than the US National Insignia, which seems not to have fared well with decal makers in that era in getting the dimensions right.


          The one thing to remember with the kit is that it comes from that era of “problematic fit” that requires all parts to be test-fitted before assembly.

           I chose to do two sub-assemblies, the wing and the fuselage.  Remembering a previous build of this kit, I first taped the fuselage and wing sub-assemblies together and made certain the fit of wing to fuselage would be smooth, which required some sanding of the wing in the central part where the two come together.

           There is really a lot of correction needed in small details if one is interested in doing a fully-accurate model, and there is a modeler currently doing that whose work-in-progress has been recorded at another site.  Out of the box, the model is relatively accurate, certainly accurate enough for most people.  I painted the basic cockpit assembly, and then painted the interior of the fuselage black so that nothing could be seen through the windows.

           The plastic is brittle (this was a first-release kit), and some extra care was needed in cutting the parts free of the sprues to avoid cracking and other small breakage.  Also, this plastic does not respond that well to modern glues; I found using Tenax that I had to rubber-band parts together to get a firm set-up, and had to give re-applications of glue in certain areas to be sure of a solid join.

           The engines and interior of the cowlings was painted black, since there is not really much detail to be seen there.


          I first pre-shaded the model with flat black, then painted the upper fuselage with Tamiya Gloss White, I then masked that off and painted the Dark Seaplane Grey areas of the wing, engine nacelles and vertical fin, using Tamiya Dark Grey for this.  I then painted the de-icer boots and wing walks with Flat Black and masked them off.  I then painted the rest with “Light Seaplane Grey,” which I based on Tamiya Sky Grey with a brushfull of Flat Blue.  When completed, I gave the model an overall coat of Future.

           Being old, the decals had yellowed over the years.  After two weeks taped in a sunny window, they were less yellow than originally, but not completely.  Not having any decals with the proper size and font that could be used to replace the markings, I went on with them, but did replace the national insignia with modern decals of the proper dimensions.  Interestingly enough, a second coat of Future managed to reduce the yellow area around the decals to the point it is only noticeable in direct light.

          I gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Satin clear coat, then attached the propellers and the beaching gear.


           The SP-5B Marlin is an ugly, ungainly sea bird when on the ground, that like many other sea birds looks best in flight.  The Hasegawa kit captures the look of the real airplane.  Sitting on the shelf, I am reminded when I see it of one of the more interesting adventures in my life.

Tom Cleaver

March 2013

Kit courtesy of my wallet.

If you would like your product reviewed fairly and fairly quickly, please contact the editor or see other details in the Note to Contributors.

Back to the Main Page

Back to the Review Index Page