V.L.E. Models' 1/144 Sikorsky S-38
By Jim Schubert
The S-38 was a refined follow-on to Sikorsky's S-36 twin engined, twin boomed amphibian of the mid 1920s. The prototype S-38A (NC-5933) was originally sold to NYRBA (New York, Rio, Buenos Aires Airways), which later sold it on to Pan American Airways as an addition to Pan Ams fleet of S-38As In February of 1929 Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh took S-38A NC-8000 on a 2,000 mile, three day, trip through seven Latin American countries establishing Pan Am's Caribbean air routes. Pan Am operated a number of S-38As and Bs on their Caribbean and Hawaiian inter-island routes in the early 1930s. The A models had a peculiar, and most un-aerodynamic looking, flat plate windscreen, which is provided in the kit as an option to the more normal looking five panel windscreen on the later B models.
The six photo copied sheets of instructions mention eight useful references, to which I would add Dave Straub's long, six part, article on the adventures of Martin and Osa Johnson in Africa and Borneo with their S-38B, "Osa's Ark" and S-39 "Spirit of Africa", which appeared in Skyways-The Journal of the Airplane, 1920-1940, Nos. 48 through 53 in 1998 and 1999. This is not only a hair raising tale of adventure but also includes many fine sharp clear photos of the S-38 and S-39.
The kit comes in a plastic bag and comprises one .040" x 7" x 10" sheet of styrene containing: the vac-formed main planes and empennage (the vac-formed empennage is to be replaced with the resin substitute provided in the kit); eight decent resin parts - the hull, the empennage, engines and two optional windscreen modules - the windows and windscreen are opaque and represented by decals in the common fashion of many 1/144th airliner kits; 13 usable white metal parts - alternate engines, nacelles, tip floats, wheels, central wing strut and landing gear struts; one small photo-etched sheet containing landing gear "A" arms and the nacelles-to-wing struts; three flat .015" x .042" x 6" brass strips; one .015" x 6" brass rod; two .030" x .080" x 2" flat styrene strips, a great decal sheet with the markings for "Osa's Ark", NC-29V, and windows and a separate sheet with the two optional Pan Am markings for NC-5933 and NC-8000.
This is a little model; the finished wingspan is only five and seven eighths inches and the hull is only two and seven sixteenths inches long. The hull is the poorest part in the kit. Although it is correct in plan view and overall length, it is much too tall in side elevation. It's about one sixteenth inch too tall at the front of the windscreen and about three thirty seconds inch tool tall aft of the windscreen. This results in the profile sloping much too sharply downward from the windscreen to the bow. A LOT of careful filing of the hull and the chosen windscreen module will correct this. Because of the small scale a lot of detail has, perforce, been left out of this kit. The S-38 was a nightmarish maze of struts and rigging; the struts appear to all be here and the material is provided for you to scratchbuild them all but there is no mention of rigging, nor is there a rigging diagram. There is no hint in the instructions regarding how you are to align all of these fiddly little struts of brass rod, brass wire, white metal and styrene rod; so you're on your own to figure out how to build a construction jig to fit it all together properly. You had better figure this out well before you start assembly.
If you are a masochist with a powerful Opti-Visor and lots of patience and simply must have a 1/144th scale S-38 for your airliner collection, you can build a fairly presentable replica of one from this kit. I'll keep looking for one of the out-of-production Esoteric 1/72nd scale kits or one of Tom's Modelworks 1/48th scale kits for my S-38. Cheers.
Title Image Caption
John T. McCoy painting of Lindbergh at the top of descent into Panama in NC-8000 on February 6, 1929; this painting is referenced in the kit's instructions. This is one of a set of 13 paintings Pan Am comissioned from McCoy in the late 1970s. They were used as menu covers for first and business class passengers; unframed 16" x 20" prints could be ordered from Pan Am.