Modelling the Qantas Empire Airways Catalina in 1/144

(January 2022)

A Little History

In 1935 Qantas Empire Airways (QEA) became Australia’s first international airline when it began flying regular airmail and passenger services between Brisbane and Singapore.  The company had been formed the year earlier as a joint venture between Australia’s QANTAS and Britain’s Imperial Airways and, between them, they flew regular airmail and passenger services between Australia and Britain.

QEA began the service with a small fleet of deHavilland DH-86 landplanes that were replaced, in 1938, by the much bigger and more comfortable Short Empire Class flying boats for the service between Australia and Britain.  When World War II broke out the service was curtailed and when Japan entered the war in 1941 the service was broken and several of the flying boats lost in action.

The cessation of the flying boat service reduced QEA from being Australia’s premier airline to a very small operation in northern Australia.  However, during a visit to Britain in 1942 Hudson Fysh, the QEA Managing Director, negotiated with the British authorities to reestablish the air link between Australia and Britain with QEA operated flights from Western Australia to Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) which would connect with British flights the rest of the way to Britain.

To conduct these flights QEA was loaned five British Consolidated PBY-5 flying boats and made the first direct flight from Perth in Western Australia to Lake Koggala in Ceylon on 29 July 1943.  The flight distance was over 6,480 kilometers in a flying time of between 27 and 33 hours.  Due to weight restrictions only three passengers and 69 kilograms of mail were carried on each flight.  Because the flights took over a day they were called the ‘Double Sunrise’ flights.  QEA flew the service on 271 occasions before it was supplemented and then replaced by QEA Consolidated LB30 and Avro Lancastrian services from 1944.

Making the model

One of my plans in modelling has been to make models of all the major Qantas airliners, starting at the beginning and continuing in a line right through to the Airbus A.380 and perhaps the A.350 if Qantas acquired them for its ultra-long-haul ‘Sunrise’ flights. (They will fly much further but not take as long as the Catalina ‘Double Sunrise’ flights.)  Making models of the QANTAS fleet before 1935 is too much for my modest modelling skills, but after that most of the QEA and Qantas Airways fleets from the introduction of Constellations in the late 1940s is fairly straight forward.

The years between 1935 and 1948 proved, however, to be more challenging, if not impossible.  When I first hit upon this plan there were no kits for the deHavilland DH-86, a vacform kit of the Short Empire Class flying boats, a kit of the Catalina but no QEA decals, and no kits for the Consolidated LB30 or the Avro Lancastrian.  More recently things have changed with the availability of the Arctic Decals DH-86 and the Amodels Lancastrian.  Having completed the deHavilland DH-86 and the Welsh Models Short flying boat, it was time to move on to the Catalina.

In theory this is not a difficult model to make.  There already exists the Minicraft 1/144 Consoidated PBY-5 kit, but that’s all there is in that scale.  It’s not a great kit but it is adequate.  To make the version flown by QEA the alterations are not difficult – don’t install the guns, turn the front turret around so the hole for the gun is hidden inside the hull and fill in the holes for the undercarriage in the hull.

The more challenging part of the project was in trying to work out what the colours and markings for the QEA Catalinas had been.  There has been a fair amount written about the Double Sunrise flights but almost none of that is about what modellers really need to know.  However, after a great deal of brow furrowing as I tried to work all this out I found that DK Decals offers a decal set for all five QEA Catalinas for which, presumably, they had done all the research that I was trying to do.  Why reinvent the wheel, I asked myself, and ordered them.  There was a slight problem, the decals were for a 1/48 model and I was making a 1/144 one, but that was only a slight inconvenience.

The DK Decals offering for the QEA Catalinas is excellent with beautifully printed decals and a full colour instruction sheet offering seven options for all five Catalinas.  The real difficult became choosing which one to make and I finally settled on number 3, ‘Rigel Star’, because it was one of two that had the large registrations in the upper wings and the only one of them that had the RAAF blue and white roundels as well.  Fortunately all the individual markings for the Catalinas were in black so it was a relatively simple task to scan the DK Decals, reduce then in size from 1/48 to 1/144 scale and print them out.  Finding the national marking and the big white numbers for the tail cost me an evening sorting through old decals sheets, but eventually that was resolved too.

Two final problems presented themselves.  The kit provides struts for the wingtip floats if they are extended and, while they are excellently to scale, they proved too fragile for my big fat fingers and broke far too easily.  (I see that there was an aftermarket white metal set of struts offered at one time and they would be good if they are still available.)  To replace them I had to use the thinnest plastic rod I had which is a little to thick for complete realism.  I also had to simplify the arrangement somewhat so it was make able, but in this scale the result is not too noticeable.

The other problem is the exhausts.  The kit supplies some rather unusual looking little bits of plastic for the exhausts but I couldn’t make much sense of them and they didn’t fit very well, so I dispensed with them.  A couple of photos I found of the QEA Catalinas showed them with flame dampener exhausts similar to those found on, for example, the Short Stirling, but I had nothing like that in my spares box.  On the other hand, other photos didn’t seem to show any flame dampeners at all.  Much more brow furrowing followed as I tried to resolve this conundrum.  Eventually it occurred to me to go back to the DK Decals instruction sheet to see what they had to say on the subject.  The sheet shows quite clearly that Numbers 1 and 2 did have flame dampeners and the others did not.  A huge sigh of relief!  Had I thought of it earlier I might have filled the engine nacelles and drilled the exhausts into them for a little more realism, but it was too late for that by then so a touch of Burnt Iron in the kit exhausts was all I was willing to do at this late stage, and then the model was as good as finished.

The next QEA airliner in the plan is the Consolidated LB-30, which is not going to be easy.  The decals are easy this time, Hawkeye make a set for this model, but turning a barely adequate Minicraft B-24 kit into a LB30 is going to be interesting, to put it mildly.

4 thoughts on “Modelling the Qantas Empire Airways Catalina in 1/144

  1. I know they weren’t painted in QEA colours but Short Hythes of BOAC were operated by QEA between Singapore and Rose Bay in 1946-7.

    I also recall that the Training Centre at Mascot – now being demolished – had photos on the walls of all Q.A.N.T.A.S.and QEA types (this was 1965, before it dropped the ‘Empire’) and they included, in wartime olive drab the Lodestar and DC-3 which were operated to North Queensland and New Guinea during the War (if I recall correctly).

    Finally, a number of my colleagues recalled fondly flying Beavers and Drovers for QEA in New Guinea after flying (not so fondly) DH83s and DH84s for some years after the war. Mmmm. Maybe they weren’t so fond of the Drover – QEA discovered the propeller problem.

    Just some thoughts on a complete collection!


    1. You are a bad person. I had intended to spend last night finishing off a little French biplane but instead I found myself following up your suggestion on more QF aeroplanes to make. A check of my inventory shows that I’ve made 19 with Qantas livery and another six or seven if you count Australia-Asia, JetStar and other affiliates. I have another four kits with decals I can make, another four I have decals for but not kits and kits for another four or five for but not the decals for them, so I will be putting in an order for them soon. Sadly, Hythes are not among them (no available kit or decals) or Lodestars (though I made a TAA Lockheed 18 last year, does that count?) I remember reading that somebody is making a kit for the QF Drover and I will be getting that as soon as it is available. So, you’re keeping me busy – Leigh


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