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Small scale aircraft modeling

The Fiume and her sister ships of the Italian Zara class had the unusual arrangement of a bow catapult, which from a modeler's perspective means the floatplane is prominently visible.

While building Tauro's 1/400 scale Fiume, I realized the kit-provided RO-43 floatplane required some work to improve its appearance. I found creating an accurate biplane in this scale quite challenging, but anyone with a little skill, patience, and perhaps an optical aid may find a mini-project like this rewarding.

The overall shape of the kit floatplane was accurate. However, I needed to slim down the wings and add some missing details.

I filed down and lightly sanded the flat undersides of the wings, thinning the cross-sections. Be careful, the plastic is delicate. Next, I replaced the kit's horizontal stabilizer with a more accurate one from .005 " styrene.
I chose to model my plane with its canopy open, which increased the level of difficulty. To open the cockpit, I shaved off the old canopy and drilled several overlapping holes with a pin vise and 1/16" bit. I used a #11 blade to scrape the cockpit walls to give them a uniform appearance. At this point, a modeler with a lot of experience could add seats and other interior details, but I knew my limitations and was satisfied to leave the cockpit open.
I made a replacement windscreen and canopy by cutting thin slices of plastic from a coffee stirrer. I attached them with super glue.
To improve the cowling, I removed the incorrect two-blade propeller and mounted a photoetched three-blade propeller (found in a friend's spare parts box) on a bit of styrene rod. I drilled a shallow hole using a pin vise and 1/16" bit and glued it into the cavity. I added .016" brass wire exhaust pipes to either side of the cowling.
With the main portion of my floatplane finished, I concentrated on additional details. I carved wing floats from bits of sprue, then attached them to the wings with small pieces of 1/350 scale photoetched brass railing. I also used brass railing to make the struts for the wings and the main float. Finally, I scratchbuilt a launch sled from bits of styrene. My finished floatplane was ready for painting.
The overall appearance of the RO-43 was light gray. However, colorful markings made it distinctive, especially the red-and-white chevron pattern on the top surface of the upper wing. I used the Encyclopedia of the World's Warships as a reference. I airbrushed the plane neutral gray, and painted the top of the upper wing flat white before masking it. I tediously applied thin strips of red decal material across the top surface of the upper wing, using Micro-Sol. By alternating sides, I retained the symmetry of the chevron while allowing each stripe to snuggle down and dry sufficiently. I hand-painted the fuselage and tail markings, and added the roundel decals provided in the kit. I painted the canopy gloss dark blue.

My finished RO-43 floatplane adds visual depth to the Fiume's forecastle, and generates favorable comments on the ship overall.
Encyclopedia of the Worlds Warships Lyon Hugh and Captain J.E. Moore, Salamander Books, Published by Crescent Books, New York, 1978.

Gli Incrociatori Italiani (1861-1964) Giorgio Giorgerini and Augusto Nani, Ministry of Defence, Rome, 1964.
Charles Landrum is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and career naval officer. He has served on six ships. He is a member of IPMS, and has been modeling since he was eight.


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