Boeing Model 314 Clipper

The Boeing 314 Clipper began air service to Europe in June 1939, but the onset of World War II that September cut short its contribution to commercial aviation.  The Model 314's fame outstripped its numbers: Boeing Aircraft Company built exactly 12, at the then-staggering cost of a half millon dollars apiece.

Minicraft 1/144 scale Boeing Model 314

Kit No.  14503

Comments: Re-issue of Airfix kit, decals do not include U.S. flag

Decals: One version – the Dixie Clipper

Cost: $15.00

*****

The Boeing 314

History

The Boeing 314 took its maiden flight on June 7, 1938, and was perhaps the most famous of Pan American Airways’ long-range clippers.  Appearing in the Spring of 1939, the 314 brought the luxury and performance of the passenger-carrying seaplane to its zenith on the eve of world war.  Pan Am began transatlantic mail service when the Yankee Clipper made its first crossing from Port Washington, New York to Lisbon, Portugal on May 20, 1939 in 26 hours, 54 minutes.  The first regular passenger service followed on June 28, 1939.  Upper class passengers paid either $375 one-way or $675 round trip ($4500 or $7000 today, adjusted for inflation) for the trans-Atlantic crossing.  The Boeing 314 carried 11 crew and 74 passengers, and had a range of 3,685 miles. Its passenger deck had five sections and boasted 36 sleeping berths.  The Boeing Clipper’s heyday was brief, ending prematurely with the coming of hostilities and the resulting technological advances that left large seaplanes obsolete, languishing after the war in the world’s harbors and ports until fate or the elements overtook them. 

 The Boeing 314 originated from a February 28, 1936 letter from Pan American Airways to Boeing Aircraft company, asking them to design “a long-range four-engine marine aircraft” capable of outperforming Pan Am’s premiere seaplane at the time, the Sikorsky S-42.  Barely 4 months later, after reviewing of blueprints and much negotiation, the principals signed a contract for six of what were called the Model 314, for half a million dollars apiece.  When construction began at Boeing’s Seattle plant, components of the plane were built separately and assembled outdoors on a ramp.  The Model 314 adopted the wing design and engines of Boeing’s experimental XB-15 bomber, and had a wingspan of 152 feet and was 106 feet long – once complete, it was the largest, most luxurious aircraft of its time.  The flight deck alone was uncommonly spacious, 21 feet long and nine feet wide, with a spiral staircase, the first to be used in any airliner, leading down to the passenger cabin.

 


All six aircraft were delivered to Pan Am between January and June of 1939: the Honolulu Clipper (NC 18601), the California Clipper (18602), the Yankee Clipper (18603), the Atlantic Clipper (18604), the Dixie Clipper (18605), and the American Clipper (18606).  The Boeing 314 was the first aircraft capable of flying non-stop across the
Atlantic Ocean – able to bypass the then-traditional refueling point, Bermuda.  One, the Dixie Clipper, became famous as the plane that flew President Roosevelt to the Casablanca Conference in North Africa to meet British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in early 1943; FDR celebrated his 65th Birthday en route. 

A second batch of six aircraft was already under construction when Pan Am took delivery.  Three were sold to the British Overseas Airways Corporation and were named the Berwick, the Bangor, and the Bristol.  In early 1942, Winston Churchill returned to England from a meeting with Roosevelt in Washington aboard the Berwick, instead of a Royal Navy surface ship, the Duke of York, due to concerns about German U-boat activity in the Atlantic.  Churchill was impressed with the degree of luxury and comfort aboard the Boeing flying boat, which he briefly piloted. 

 

The Boeing 314 boasted 36 sleeping berths.  Round trip airfare to Europe in 1939 cost the equivalent of $7000 today; Pan Am's passengers were predominantly elite.


After Pearl Harbor, the Boeing 314 Clippers that had not been sold to the British were purchased by the U.S. government and pressed into service by the Army and Navy for the duration of the war, transporting VIP’s, military passengers and special cargo to the four corners of the world.  They had an excellent safety record, with only one, the Yankee Clipper, being lost during the war, due to pilot error upon arrival at Lisbon, Portugal on February 22, 1943.  After the war, the great flying boats were outdated, with the advent of long concrete runways and new planes –  such as the Lockheed Constellation – with the range to use them.  Surviving 314’s were either scrapped, sold to private airlines, or cannibalized for parts.  Pan Am made its last Boeing 314 flight on April 18, 1946 when the American Clipper arrived in San Francisco from Honolulu.  Only a dozen of these great flying boats were built between 1938 and 1941.  By 1951 all the Boeing 314’s had been scrapped but one, the Bristol, which was moored at Baltimore, Maryland.  In an unseemly end to a remarkable breed of aircraft, this last shining example of the Golden Age was damaged and sunk in a winter storm in early 1952.

 


The Kit

Minicraft’s re-issue of the old Airfix Boeing 314 is faithfully recreated, right down to the display stand (which bears the Airfix imprint).  It consists of 92 plastic parts molded in gray, including the display stand, which is molded in black.  It sports an abundance of raised panel lines.  The kit is in 1/144 scale, so it is not extremely detailed, except for the four engines.  There is no interior, although there are a multitude of cabin windows – 39 in all, plus a dome blister aft of the flight cabin for the navigator.  This kit retains its appeal for those who like the sea planes of the Golden Age, and other than significantly more expensive die cast metal or custom wood-carved examples, it is the only kit of the Boeing 314 Clipper available.  

Drawbacks

My only complaints deal with the markings.  The decals do not include an American flag, although the original six Boeing 314 Clippers all bore the national emblem on the nose, and the flag appears on the model’s box art.  It’s hard to understand why this is missing.  Also the Minicraft box claims this is a kit of the Yankee Clipper, but the Yankee Clipper logo and serial number, like the U.S. flag, are conspicuously absent.  Better coverage and attention to historical accuracy are needed here.


The Model 314 had a range of 3,685 miles and was the first commercial aircraft capable of crossing the Atlantic without refueling.


Construction

The construction of this kit was quite easy.  The challenge came with the paint scheme, the type of paint I used, and the fact that where decals were provided for certain markings, such as the large orange flash across the wings, the anti-glare panel forward of the cockpit, and the de-icing boots, I opted to paint them instead.

Construction begins by glueing the 39 windows into the two fuselage halves.  Since I wanted to paint the kit in a natural metal finish, I airbrushed most of the large pieces while they were still on the sprues, Alclad’s Gloss Black Base followed by Polished Aluminum.  I wanted to avoid the task of masking and unmasking all those windows, all of which are about the size of Franklin Roosevelt’s ear on the U.S. dime.

Once the Alcad was dry, I glued in the windows and glued the fuselage halves together.  Hiding the seam was a routine job of putty and sanding; a second application of Alclad followed.  I went on to paint the de-icing boots on the twin outboard tail planes and the horizontal stabilizers before attaching them to the fuselage. 

Boeing's passenger aircraft often bore the company logo somewhere on the airframe.  Here, the red logo appears on the Model 314's rudder.

Painting

The real challenge with this kit comes with the painting, mainly because of the need for a natural metal finish (if you are building the kit in its original livery – otherwise the sky’s the limit in terms of the colors it sported during its brief post-war career as an airliner or in private service) combined with the many windows.  A note on painting the windshield: It may be best to paint the frames of the windshield before gluing it in.  I glued the windshield in dead last, after I had glued the antennas atop the flight cabin, so I had very little maneuvering room with the smallest of paintbrushes to get the proper angle for painting. 


I painted the Boeing 314 in Alclad’s Polished Aluminum, using Model Master acrylic International Orange for the flash across the tops of the wings and fuselage.  The underside of the fuselage, designed precisely like the keel of a boat, and of the plane’s sponsons, or sea wings, are in Tamiya acrylic Semi-Gloss Black.  This sounds simple but was very complex, requiring repeated maskings for the orange flash, the black de-icing boots on almost every leading edge the plane has, and the black underside.  There was even more masking for the repairs to the Alclad required when Tamiya tape pulled sections of it up.  This last problem was new to me, since on my first outing with Alclad, building the Testor’s P-47 Thunderbolt, I had absolutely no problems with tape damaging the metallic paint upon removal.  But it was a frequent problem with this kit.  Since I used a different bottle of Alclad for the Boeing 314, I finally concluded that experience with Alclad depends on the particular batch of paint.  I was lucky in that the first bottle was flawless, but the second had some apparent chemical impurities, requiring almost constant repair and re-touching with the airbrush as I progressed with the 314’s painting.  It was so bad that I opted not to fill the seams where the wings join the fuselage, since I did not want to risk stripping up the paint of an entire area on the wing when I masked it.  Re-touching or repainting the damaged areas with Alclad was time-consuming, but had to be done, because the stripped area was exposed grey plastic, right next to an area built up with layers of primer and polished aluminum paint.  It took no less than 6 to 8 light coats of Alclad to hide the damaged areas.  I learned to avoid tape altogether, masking instead with a combination of Post-It notes, Blue Tack, and even wet paper towels where I could get away with it.



Pan Am's Dixie Clipper, one of the original six Model 314's, flew President Roosevelt to the Casablanca Conference in Morocco with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in early 1943.  During the long trans-Atlantic flight, FDR became the first president to celebrate his birthday aboard an aircraft.

While the directions call for the kit’s four engines to be installed as you are cementing the wings together, I left the engines off until the plane was nearly finished, knowing that I would have to mask them for the orange flash.  Once I glued the wings on, I took note of the many scratches that appeared along the spine of the plane – scratches that ordinary enamel or even acrylic paint would have hidden after two or three coats.  But although I laid down at least four coats of Alclad after puttying and sanding the seam, followed by use of a Squadron sanding stick for smoothing, the scratches showed up clear as a bell due to the extremely thin, water-like nature of the Alclad.  The solution I hit upon was to mask the fuselage sides with Post-Its and lay down a few layers of Gloss Black Base – since it’s a lacquer, it could not help but hide the damage I’d done to the otherwise smooth surface by sanding.  I thinned the Gloss Black with alcohol to almost a 50-50 ratio to avoid excessive build-up, and it worked wonders.  Once it dried, I sprayed on the Polished Aluminum and the plane was good as new. 



Passengers boarding the Boeing 314 stepped from a quay onto the seawing and through a door on the port side of the aircraft.  The formal Pan Am logo above the door reminded them which airline was transporting them in such luxury.   

 


Conclusion

This is a wonderful kit of a seaplane of yesteryear, and an icon of the Golden Age of aviation.  It falls together and actually looks fairly detailed when complete, a surprise given its age and scale.  Minicraft is to be complimented for reviving this  Airfix mold, which dates back at least to the 1970’s.  I recommend using a rattlecan of Tamiya’s gloss aluminum on this particular kit, since the Alclad was mighty finicky this time out and your painting strategy really has to revolve around the 39 windows in the passenger and flight cabins.  Though you can barely see them in the box art and they are invisible in every photo I’ve ever seen of the Boeing 314, it dresses the kit up quite a bit if you take the trouble to add radio aerials. 

Reference:  Seawings: An Illustrated History of Flying Boats by Edward Jablonski; Robert Hale & Company, London, 1974.



A familiar view from ships at harbor during a Boeing 314's arrival.  Rugged though it was, the 314 was not designed to land in open seas, and for the most part was restricted to the world's ports and sheltered waterways. 

 

 

 

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