Revell 1/72 Supermarine Walrus: Whale-Spotting in the Southern Ocean – Part 1

Revell 1/72 Supermarine Walrus box art

This the old Matchbox kit, reissued by Revell. I’m using it as a basis for a model of an unusual Walrus—one of two that were carried by the S.S. Balaena factory ship during the whaling season of 1946-7. Named “Boojum” and “Snark”, these yellow-painted aircraft could be catapult-launched, or lowered into the sea for a conventional water take-off. They were used to gather information about approaching weather, about the ice conditions, and to spot whales. (No-one had ever used an aircraft for whale-spotting at that time, and there was significant doubt among the whalers that it was even possible to see a submerged whale from the air.)

John Grierson, who was in charge of the aircraft, left details of the adventure in his book Air Whaler (1949), a lecture to the Royal Geographical Society entitled Whaling From The Air, and an article in Flight magazine entitle Air-Whaling. So the aircraft are fairly well documented. In fact, a total of four Walruses were originally purchased and equipped for the Antarctic, registrations G-AHFL, G-AHFM, G-AHFN and G-AHFO. Grierson won the 1946 Folkestone Aero Trophy race in G-AHFN, but it then never left England. G-AHFM, christened “Moby Dick”, got as far as South Africa and was then left behind—the hangar on Balaena could only accommodate two aircraft, and a third would need to be “parked” on the catapult, making aircraft handling and maintenance excessively complicated. But G-AHFL “Boojum” and G-AHFO “Snark” made it to the Southern Ocean and logged 96 hours flying there.

I’m building “Boojum”, because its markings were included on a sheet of JBOT decals I bought years ago, with the intention of building a completely different aircraft, Scottish Airlines’ G-AJNO. From that sheet I learned that there was a Walrus associated with a company called United Whalers, and from there I was lured into the whole story of “Whaling Walruses”.

So, here’s “Boojum”:

Supermarine Walrus G-AHFL
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"Boojum" on crane
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For part of its time in the Antarctic, “Boojum” flew without an undercarriage, there being no landing strips for hundreds of miles:

"Boojum" with undercarriage removed
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And here’s a view of “Snark” which adds some information about the appearance of the upper wing markings and the run of the radio aerial wires:

Reference photo G-AHFO

Immediately, it’s evident that the Revell kit is going to need some modification. The major addition will be the grab rail around the nose of the aircraft, but I also need to scratch-build the tail-wheel. The aircraft was normally equipped with a sort of shroud around the rear wheel, which functioned as a rudder. The kit parts provide only this rudder, with its oleo in a compressed position, so I need to build a bare wheel with an extended oleo for my planned in-flight model. I also need to add some runners for the rear hatch, and add a few other tweaks here and there, including the notorious festoon of ropes that bedecked the Walrus. And then there’s the hook under the nose which was specially fitted to the whaling Walruses, so they could do something called a “mat recovery”. While still making headway, the Balaena would tow a net from its side, and a returning Walrus would motor up on to the half-submerged net, cut power, and hook on, ready to be lifted aboard by the hoisting sling on its upper wing.

Walrus mat pickup
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The very under-detailed interior also needed a bit of work. I opened the navigator/observer’s side windows (which are closed in the kit, and indicated only by a black rectangular decal) and “glazed” them with slips of overhead projector film (remember that?). Then I roughed up some internal partitions from styrene card, and moved one of the kit figures and his seat into the observer’s station just behind the pilot. I confess I didn’t spend much time on detailing, since little of this is going to be visible through the kit’s windows.

Revell 1/72 Supermarine Walrus adapted interior
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I also placed a little neodymium magnet inside the fuselage, because (like my Junkers F.13 build), I want to be able to lift the aircraft on and off a stand without needing to cut a slot in its underside. Using styrene card, felt, and epoxy, I constructed a little magnetic cradle to fit just behind the “step” on the underside of the model, and attached that to an old Airfix stand base.

Magnetic stand for Revell 1/72 Supermarine Walrus
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Revell 1/72 Supermarine Walrus magnetic stand from Airfix base
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To mount the external grab rail, I drilled out a series of holes to accommodate some 0.5mm brass rod.

Revell 1/72 Supermarine Walrus grabrail supports
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The little bulge visible on the nose in the picture above needs to be smoothed off—it represents a thermometer housing that was present only on the port side of the real aircraft. And I need to add a spray fairing in front of the observer’s window on this side, too. For some reason, the kit provides that feature on the port side, but not the starboard.

Here’s the assembled fuselage with the grab rail and rear hatch rails in place:

Revell 1/72 Supermarine Walrus fuselage port
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The kit provides the rear hatch cover in the open, retracted position, but I need to model it closed. So I split the kit part and reassembled it flat, opened its small windows, and added some plastic card to its front edge to simulate the shape of the real thing.

Revell 1/72 Supermarine Walrus fuselage starboard
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Modelling the rotating propeller for this one is a bit of challenge, since the four-bladed prop actually consists of two two-bladed propellers bolted together. So I needed to stack two propeller discs one behind the other:

Revell 1/72 Supermarine Walrus prop discs
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(For a description of how I make these, see my post How To Model Rotating Propeller Discs.)

I’m pretty hopeless at engines, but I painted up the kit part as best I could to match the appearance of various walk-around photos of displayed aircraft, and I cobbled together a rear wheel to match the photographs of the real aircraft, using styrene sheet and brass rod:

Revell 1/72 Supermarine Walrus scratch rear wheel and painted engine
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Next time, I need to start running the rigging wires.

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