by Cam Tetrault
images by Vern Gwin
The Royal Navy was the first armed service to experiment with aircraft operated from capital ships and towed barges.
When I saw pictures of these early aircraft carriers I thought it would make a unique way to display an aircraft model. Originally I was only going to make the turret but as things progressed I realized more details were needed to put the display into proper context. The diorama in 1/48 scale measures 21"L x 13"W x 12"H. People ask me, "where is the rest of the ship"?
Following Shep Payne's advice about incorporating human elements into a story within the diorama I have a couple of scenarios taking place in "H.M.S. Gallant 1918". The first is "The Older and Wiser" naval officer giving advice to the "Young and Adventurous" flying officer which is the subtitle to the diorama,namely,"Leave Flying to the Birds, Old Chap". More than one early aviator has heard those words.
The other scenario is more down to earth. We see the ordinary sailors performing the mundane tasks of swabbing the deck, emptying the garbage and grabbing a smoke while the ship's cat looks on and the seagulls prepare to squabble over lunch.
The diorama took 3.5 months to complete and was good therapy while I recovered from the heart attack.
The main 12.5" gun turret is made from Evergreen styrene plastic and the gun barrels are brass tubes of different sizes. The life rafts are converted kitchen stickup hooks.
When you scratchbuild you never know where the perfect part will come from. I like to wander around the Dollar Store, sewing and craft shops. I tell the clerks when they ask if there is something they can help me find, " I don't know what I'm looking for, but, I'll know it when I see it, thanks." That is how I came to use replacement brass buttons for the decorative gun muzzle plugs. There are approximately 750 rivets on the diorama made from sewing pins. All the handrails are brass rod and the gangway is brass tubing and evergreen plastic.
The flying-off deck and the main deck are made from individual planks of Balsa wood for the former and light shaded Mahogany wood for the latter. The Balsa wood is rougher and represents the more temporary nature of the flying-off deck, I tried to accent this with a more heavily weathered look using dark oil paint washes. The main deck is more subtley weathered using water color washes.
The ship's transfer boat sports a scratchbuilt brass steam engine which looked great in natural brass but had to be painted for realism (darn). The water is Polyfilla poured while it is in a watery consistency. Once it is dry I painted it with different shades of blue and grey oil paints, then applied 3 to 4 coats of white glue over top and light washes of green after. The idea was to create depth to the finish.
The underlying deck structure is foamboard with styrene plastic sheeting glued over it. I find this method keeps the diorama light but strong enough to work on without distorting. Superstructure details are a mix of bits from the spares box and creative bit-bashing such as making life preservers from 1/25 car model tire rims and portholes from sewing clasp backs.
The Sopwith Pup is the Eduard 1/48 scale kit with extra detail.
I cut out the upper wing centre vision opening, added the aileron cable inspection ports and opened the cowling side access hatches. I added extra detail to the front of the cockpit, including the hand pump and carburettor intakes and gas line.
All control surfaces were cut off and pinned back on. The rudder post access opening was cut out. I added scribing on the cowled areas and scribed my own fuselage stitching.
I used some of the kit photoetched parts on the engine but replaced the kit PE cylinder fuel intake pipes with real copper pipes (just like the real plane) and used brass wire for the valve lifter rods. I used Italian black leather from an old pair of gloves for the cockpit combing surround.
A wind powered generator was added to the cabane strut and bungee cords were lashed around the axels.
The Pup was painted with humbrol doped linen on the bottom and custom mixed dark green on top because RN aircraft were a darker shade of green than RFC aircraft. I counter shaded the doped areas to simulate the interior braces and to look weathered.
The dark upper green areas were weathered with pastel chalks.
Rigging is a combination of invisible thread, cotton thread and wire.
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Model and Text Copyright © 2000 by Cam