Supermarine S.6B Racer by Testors

1/48 scale
Kit No. 910
Cost: $10.00 – $12.00
Decals: One version – (S1595)
Comments: Re-issue of Hawk kit; raised and engraved panel lines; simple construction with relatively few parts; instructions include two good reference photos; pilot but no internal cockpit; paint guide for the pilot is detailed; best paint guide for the plane is the box art, as the one in the instructions is not clear

History

The Supermarine S.6B was a British racing seaplane developed by R.J. Mitchell for the Supermarine company to enter in the Schneider Trophy Competition of 1931. The Schneider Trophy (official name Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider) was a competition held 11 times between 1913 and 1931, honoring technical advances but particularly improved speed in seaplanes in a race flown over a triangular course. The S.6B marked the culmination of Mitchell’s quest to perfect the design of the racing seaplane. It was the last in the line of racing seaplanes developed by Supermarine and followed the S.4, S.5, and S.6. The S.5 had won the Schneider Trophy in 1927, and the S.6 had won in 1929, and the S.6B represented the cutting edge of aerodynamic technology at the time. Mitchell’s experience in designing the Schneider Trophy floatplanes provided him and his design team with valuable experience in producing high-speed aircraft, greatly contributing to the subsequent development of the Spitfire fighter.

For all the fame of the S.6B and its ultimate contribution to Britain’s national survival, it was almost never built. Despite Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald’s pledge of government support for the next British race entrant immediately after the S.6’s 1929 victory, official funding was withdrawn less than two months later following the Wall Street Crash and the international monetary crisis which it triggered, with the official excuse that the previous two contests had collected sufficient data on high speed flight, so that further expenditure of public money was unjustified.

A committee formed by the Royal Aero Club, who were responsible for organising the 1931 race, which included representatives from the aircraft and aero engine industries, was formed to discuss the feasibility of a privately funded entry but concluded that not only would this be beyond their financial reach but that the lack of the highly-skilled RAF pilots of the High-Speed Flight would pose a severe problem. This caused enormous public disappointment: having won two successive races, a victory in a third race would secure the trophy outright. In response, Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail group of newspapers launched a public appeal for money and several thousand pounds were raised; once Lady Houston publicly pledged £100,000, the Government changed its position and announced its support for an entry in January 1931, leaving less than nine months to prepare any race entrant. The RAF High Speed Flight was hastily reformed, and Mitchell and Rolls-Royce set to work.

There were only seven months to prepare an entry, and as Mitchell did not have enough time to design a new aircraft, better performance had to be obtained by getting more power from the R-Type engine. Modifications to the airframe were limited to minor improvements and some strengthening in order to cope with the increased weight of the aircraft. Additionally, the floats were extended forward by some three feet (0.9 m). Rolls-Royce managed to increase the power of the engine by 400 hp (298 kW) to 2,300 hp (1,715 kW).

Although the British team faced no competitors, the RAF High Speed Flight brought six Supermarine Schneider racers to Calshot Spit on Southampton Water for training and practice. The aircraft were: S.5 N219, second at Venice in 1927, S.5 N220, winner at Venice in 1927, S.6A N247, that won at Calshot in 1929, S.6A N248, disqualified at Calshot in 1929, alongside the new and untested S.6Bs, S1595 and S1596.

The improved aircraft was designated the Supermarine S.6B to differentiate the variant from the S.6A. The British plan for the 1931Schneider contest was to have S1595 fly the course alone and if its speed was not high enough, or it encountered mechanical failure, then the more proven S.6A N248 would fly the course. If both S1595 and N248 failed in their attempts, S.6A N247 held in reserve would be entered. Finally, if necessary, S.6B S1596 was then to attempt the World Air Speed Record. During practice, N247 was destroyed in a fatal take off accident, precluding any other plans with only the two S.6Bs and the surviving S.6A prepared for the final Schneider run.

The winning Schneider flight was piloted by Flt. Lt. John N. Boothman in aircraft serial number S1595 at a speed of 340.08 mph (547.19 km/h), flying seven perfect laps of the triangular course over the Solent, between the Isle of Wight and the British mainland. Seventeen days later, Flt Lt. George Stainforth in S.6B serial S1596 broke the world air speed record reaching 407.5 mph (655.67 km/h). The S.6B is credited with providing the impetus for the development of the Supermarine Spitfire and the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which did so much to help Britain withstand the Nazi air assault in the Summer of 1940.

The coveted Schneider Trophy.

The Kit

Testors Supermarine S.6B is a re-box of the old Hawk kit, with all its virtues of simplicity. The kit is injection molded in gray and consists of 17 parts, including a clear plastic windscreen. It looks a bit small for 1/48 scale, particularly the fuselage, but I did not pull out a micrometer so I will not swear to it. The fit of the kit appears to be quite good, based on a dry test fit of the fuselage halves, which have a nicely done set of horizontal ribs as on the actual aircraft. There are a few engraved panel lines, including those for the markings on the fuselage and tail, in the event some intrepid modeler prefers to paint them on rather than make use of the decals provided.

The decals are by Scalemaster and have a nice glossy sheen, so they should present no application problems. However, the tail markings, which include the tri-color for the rudder as well as the serial “S1595” as a single decal — are not quite in register as far as the serial number goes, but this is not obvious except upon close examination. The pilot figure is fair and usable, but not terribly detailed, which is not surprising given the vintage of the kit. The kit is interesting in that there are engraved panel lines on the fuselage and floats, but raised panel lines on the wings.

The biggest challenge in building this kit may be finding the right shade of blue when the time comes to paint the airframe. The Testors painting instructions identify it simply as dark blue, but this is too vague and may lead to the use of too dark a shade. Other sources such as the Supermarine S.6B (S1595) Walk Around, which can be found at www.primeportal.net, call it out as Royal Blue, but this may be too dark as well. To this modeler’s eye, it appears similar to the blue seen on RAF uniforms of WWII vintage. Additional research may be required on this point, but the shade of blue appearing on the kit and in color reference photos appears to match a color called Chrysler Engine Blue, a lacquer manufactured by Testors. Some may balk at applying something as pedestrian as American auto paint to a refined British racing aircraft of the Golden Age, and if so they may resort to Humbrol or Xtracolor pigments. To finish the kit with a measure of accuracy, bracing wires will need to be added, and some of these are shown in the box art, and addressed in more detail in Steps 7 and 8 of the kit instructions.

The original Hawk kit of Supermarine’s S6.B racer, released about 1960.

Conclusion

This is an historic kit from the Golden Age of Aviation. While it cries out for a bit more detail, it will build up readily enough into a good rendition of an award-winning racing seaplane — and can be made great for those modelers willing to put in an addiitonal measure of work. Highly recommended.

References

  • Monogram Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX instructions
  • www.wikipedia.org
  • Supermarine S.6B (S1595) Walk Around (www.primeportal.net)
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