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DC-4 with Merlin engines model airplane

24 Apr

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A license-built DC-4 with Merlin engines, the Canadair North Star was operated as the Argonaut by BOAC from 1949. Simon Lind recreated the airliner with Mach 2’s DC-4 kit as his starting point.

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The Mach 2 DC-4 is the only kit of this subject currently available in 1:72 scale, so if it’s a DC-4 or Argonaut you want to build, you will have to use this kit. You will also have to be prepared to do a lot of work – even taking into account the fact that this is a short-run limited edition,

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this is not the greatest of kits. I have now built two examples: a Douglas DC-4 in Trek Airways markings (Photo 1) and this subject: a BOAC Argonaut. The kit comes in a large box with fairly good artwork on the top. Decals are provided, primarily for the C-54 military version. The kit parts are supplied in a large plastic bag and on first appearance the content looks quite impressive. It is only when you make a dry run or test fit the parts that the production values become apparent.

Cockpit and cabin

I started by marking and cutting out the windows and passenger door (Photo 2). The plastic is very soft and drills and cuts easily. It was then necessary to reposition the passenger door (Photo 3). The plastic in this area is very thick, but soft. I then put together the cockpit and detailed it (Photo 4). I also added weight, but not enough, as it turned out. Although the plastic is thick and heavy, ensure that you add enough weight to prevent tail-sitting. Unfortunately the undercarriage is not very sturdy, and it would be useful if Aeroclub produced white-metal replacement parts. Not a great deal of detail will be visible through the windows, but I at least added the basics. I then built up the passenger cabin area that is visible immediately inside the door (Photo 5). For reference I used plans found in the book BOAC – An Illustrated History.

After detailing and painting the cockpit and cabin it was time to try and fit the fuselage halves together. There are no lugs or pins so you will have to make your own location tabs. The fuselage halves ready for joining are seen in Photo 6. The work needed to produce a decent join stretched even my patience! Note also the amount of weight that has been added; in the event, it still wasn’t enough.

The cockpit ‘canop/ is almost opaque; no amount of polishing would render the windows clear, so I ended up cutting them out (Photo 7). The fit of the ‘canopy’ itself was very poor and it required a lot of filling and filing. I also had to reshape the nose to obtain the characteristic Douglas look.

I then turned my attention to the engines. I used the engine fronts from a Shackleton kit as a basis (Photo 8) and

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built up the nacelles from plasticard (Photo 9). The exhausts and cooling gills were all scratch built. Making the nacelles from plasticard required careful measuring and cutting. I built up the nacelles using layers of card, since these proved easier to shape compared to trying to obtain a curve using a single thick piece of card. The cooling flaps were then cut out (Photo 10). A mini rotary tool proved invaluable here, as did a moveable mini vice. I am not sure that I provided the correct number of exhaust stubs, but the end result looks acceptable (Photo 11). I provided some rivet detail in this area, but it was lost during the final finishing.

Wing and nacelles

The next area requiring attention was the wing. I knew I would have to alter the diameter of the nacelles and remove the intake strakes, but I didn’t expect to have to straighten the wings as well. I also elected to remove all the flying surfaces for later re-attachment at different angles. This did not hinder the straightening process, but it did give me more work than I had expected when it came to re-profiling them to fit. Removing the intake strakes and re-profiling the nacelles is seen in Photo 12. The intakes are not aligned correctly, so care must be taken when fitting the engines to get them all pointing in the same direction. In Photo 13 it can be seen just how ‘straight’ the wing is. Cutting, filling, clamping and patience were eventually rewarded by a reasonable looking model. In order to straighten the wing, I cut near the nacelle, bent it open and inserted a plastic wedge, before gluing and shaping as required (Photo 14). Various blemishes and indentations on the surface of the wing then required filling and sanding.

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The major wing components were now ready to be matched (Photo 15), but there was still a lot of work to do yet. All the control surfaces were separated from the wings and tail surfaces, and the hinges remade (Photo 16). Despite carefully aligning them, I still had to move some of the control surfaces again to fit perfectly. In the end it was worth doing as it looks much better than leaving them in their original state. Photo 17 provides some idea of the work needed to obtain a decent finish.

Painting and finishing

The model was now ready for painting (Photo 18). Prior to painting I filled all the windows with PVA glue. When the painting was complete I cut this away and refilled the windows with Humbrol Clearfix. When using car spray paints I have found that placing the model flat on a turntable in a spray booth is not the best way to achieve good results. I now fashion a stand from a wire coat hanger so that the model is held vertically on the turntable (Photo 19). The advantages are numerous: the spray cans work better; coverage is more even; revolving the turntable is easier; and more spraying can be achieved before the paint dries, so there is no danger of overspray spoiling the finish. I now use this method on all large-scale painting projects. Initially a black undercoat was sprayed on to carry the Alclad silvers. Keeping the model vertical and using a trigger on the can made life much easier and produced a far better finish. Using different shades of Alclad also helps to provide a good final appearance (Photo 20). I completed the model by painting the flying surfaces in different shades of aluminium and then applied the decals. The undercarriage was then detailed, painted and attached (Photo 21), the propellers added (Photo 22) and various aerials fitted.

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