The Short Sunderland - Aviation Archive range to gain a ‘Flying Porcupine’ : Part 1
As we head into this 70th anniversary of VE Day weekend, we thought that we would do something a little different with this latest edition of Aerodrome. We have decided to focus on one of the most anticipated new Corgi models of recent years and to give you a tantalising glimpse of what could be gracing your display cabinets in the very near future. We are going to concentrate on the development of the impending new 1/72nd scale Short Sunderland release this week and will look at the history of the actual aircraft in a follow on edition next week.
I think that I can say with some confidence that one of the most anticipated new models in the die-cast aviation collecting world is the impressive 1/72nd scale Short Sunderland from Corgi. This fantastic new tooling release seems to have already captured the die-cast collectors imagination, as pre-ordering activity has been brisk, to say the least and it already looks like this is one model the collector has been waiting for. So why has the Sunderland proved to be such a popular aircraft with the enthusiast?
As soon as Corgi released the 1/144th scale Short Sunderland in the Aviation Archive range way back in 1999, the die-cast aviation collector always viewed it with great affection. There is something rather enigmatic about flying boats and their operation, which continues to captivate enthusiasts to this day. Initially associated with the long distance transfer of mail, these aircraft were soon adapted to fly the rich and famous to glamorous destinations across the Atlantic and in to the Far East. Perhaps it is this ‘blue-ribbon’ service perception that led to the flying boat captivating the public at large, who could really only dream about a flight in one.
From a purely logistical perspective, for any country with a coastline, or with large inland waterways, the flying boat was a very attractive option and possessed some clear benefits. Although there would clearly have to be some specific arrangements made for flying boat operations, the water meant that these large aircraft could be operated without the need for expensive runways and even more expensive airports. As war approached, the flying boat would also be of great interest to the military - possessing a number of unique operational attributes, the flying boat would immediately be pressed in to service and become a crucial military asset throughout the conflict and in almost every theatre of operation.
We will be taking a closer look at the historical aspect of the Short Sunderland in next week's edition of Aerodrome, but this week is very much about immersing ourselves in the fantastic new tooling that is being developed at Corgi HQ and looking forward to its arrival later in the year. I am sorry if this comes across a little boastful, but I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to handle the latest sample model this week, but I will tell you more about this experience later.
Like many of our readers, my love of all things aviation has been with me for as long as I can remember. As a boy, I would visit the central library in my hometown of Oldham every Saturday and head for either the history, or aviation sections, where I would soak up all the fantastic information that was available there. Magnificent books on the history of Avro and De Havilland were things that I could never hope to own for myself at that age, but they certainly felt like mine, whilst I had hold of them for those few short hours. All this passion was then lavished on my Airfix models, which was probably the main distraction in my life, until things like football, girls and work started to impinge on my modelling time. I definitely remember the launch of a new Airfix catalogue being one of the major events in my year and I would be standing on the doorstep of the local model shop, as soon as he opened his door, on the first Saturday morning following a catalogue launch. And then there was that artwork by Roy Cross – how could you not be into aviation after seeing these captivating pictures?
Remembering back to my modelling days, I always thought that the Short Sunderland was one of the most interesting aircraft operated by the RAF and was therefore one of the first large models that I attempted to build. We have already discussed why the Sunderland should enjoy such general appeal amongst aviation enthusiasts, so it came as no surprise that the hobby was rather excited by the announcement of a 1/72nd scale Sunderland in the Corgi Aviation Archive range. Let’s take a closer look at ‘Project Porcupine’.
Since joining Hornby Hobbies, I have been lucky enough to forge some really strong links with the Corgi research and development team. These people are charged with bringing the aircraft models we all love to collect, to our display cabinets and the way they go about this task is particularly impressive. As collectors, we might well think that this would be our ideal job, given the opportunity and you would find it quite an easy task – nothing could be further from the truth! This work is highly specialised and fraught with problems and frustrations – it is much better to let the Corgi team take all the headaches on our behalf.
A new model begins to take shape
Work on the development of any new die-cast tooling begins many months before we see it appear in the hobby stores and the Sunderland project started life way back in the autumn of 2013. At this stage, work would have already been done on obtaining specific research material, which would include photographs, technical drawings, books and magazines, in support of the proposal. This would also be the stage when any specialist advisers would be contacted and secured, particularly if they could make a significant contribution to the project.
One issue that will always be problematic for the team is that of obtaining evidential photographic research. Some of the most popular aircraft, which later became models in the Aviation Archive range, come from an era when photography was almost exclusively using black and white film stocks. This can make things particularly difficult for the team in obtaining definitive colour references for their models and really does require some detailed research, from a number of reputable sources.
Sunderland CAD drawings
The next stage in the development process is to obtain technical information, which will allow the CAD engineers to produce their digital files. In the old days, this would involve choosing the most accurate model kit on the market, pointing out any deficiencies it may have and making a resin master from this information. This would then form the main reference for your new model and although this was a relatively successful system, things have now progressed somewhat, allowing much more accurate information to be obtained. Model engineers now have some extremely impressive technology available to them and can actually obtain digital 3D measurement scans of an aircraft, by taking a portable scanning unit to the aircraft they require details of, wherever it is in the world. This measurement technology is both portable and accurate, allowing model engineers to obtain the most concise references possible, for any new project. Obviously, the use of this technology is not always possible – in some cases, aircraft are on display in museums and are simply too close to other aircraft to allow an accurate scan to be obtained, whilst other aircraft are simply too large to be scanned effectively!
Sunderland CAD drawings
With regard to the new Sunderland project, a different approach was required right from the start, simply because of the sheer size of the aircraft. A resin 3D model pattern was created, which was then exhaustively checked and verified for accuracy against existing aircraft plans. There is also the opportunity to request expert opinion, if and when this should be required. The 3D pattern model template is created using computer-aided design technology and 3D printing and whilst this must be horrendously costly to establish at the outset, it must save thousands of pounds in development costs moving forwards. It certainly allows the model engineer to either render the entire profile of the subject aircraft, or to take individual parts and provide detailed production information for them. This process is particularly impressive and allows the team to see the future model, before the extremely expensive model tooling block has been created.
Sunderland stereo pre-production sample
Once the team are happy with the template they have created, one of the samples is then professionally hand painted and finished in the markings of the proposed first catalogue release. This is an important stage in the life of any new model, as it let’s the development team see what the finished model will actually look like. This is also the model that will be used for catalogue photography work and general marketing activities – the project actually begins to seem real to the collector, from this point onwards.
Sunderland hand-painted pre-production sample
For the manufacturing company, the financial outlay has only just begun and the largest expense is still to come – the creation of a metal tooling block. This is a huge block of milled steel, through which the molten metal (known as Mazak) will be injected, to produce the component parts of a die-cast model. These parts will then be cleaned and assembled, before being sent back to the UK for inspection. At this stage, there is still the opportunity to make alterations, or additions to the tooling, if required, as every aspect of this sample metal model, which is known as a ‘first shot’, is checked for accuracy.
Attempting a model as intricate and distinctive as the Sunderland will always be a challenge for the design engineers. The classic shape of the deep Sunderland hull and a multitude of small moving parts, will always ensure that there are sleepless nights amongst Corgi development team members, when models such as this are in development. Features such as the retractable front turret, dedicated beaching gear, opening side hatches and a sliding rail under the wing for delivery of bombs and depth charges, were all challenges specific to the Sunderland project, all of which have been incorporated into this extremely impressive new model.
As manufacturing techniques improve, the team at Corgi will always strive to bring the most accurate model to the collector market, which really does demand quite a challenging workload for them. In the die-cast collecting hobby, there always used to be the caveat ‘accepting current manufacturing tolerances’, and whilst this statement is still very much appropriate, the advancement in production techniques means that we are getting much cleaner, much more accurate models now and I have to say that the new Sunderland is an absolute cracker!
Resin pre-production sample
During this rather advanced stage of development, alterations and modifications to the model can be required numerous times, which may also involve making changes to the tooling back at the factory in the Far East. Each time this happens, a test model will usually be sent back to the UK for inspection, until the design team is happy with both the quality and the accuracy of the tooling. Once this stage has been reached, they can move ahead once more, this time to the important stage - into actual production.
Whilst the model tooling is being finalised, a separate file of colour reference material and finishing instructions for the first model release is produced and verified for accuracy. It is obviously important that the manufacturing facility in the Far East and the design team in Kent, have exactly the same reference criteria to work from, particularly when considering paint application. Many of the models in the Aviation Archive range present aircraft from WWII, or earlier and paint referencing information can be quite a challenge. Add to this the fact that you have to scale down the colours and make sure that the factory is working from exactly the same colour information that you are using back in the UK and we have yet another reason to be thankful for the diligence of the design and development team at Corgi. We are now, barring one or two last minute alterations, ready to proceed to production – the part of the process that all of us collectors are interested in!
New Corgi Sunderland – ‘First Shot’ model inspection
I mentioned earlier that I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take a closer look at the Sunderland sample models this week and I thought that it would be a nice way to end this latest edition of Aerodrome, by letting you know what I thought of what I was shown. As a collector myself, I was more than a little interested to see what the new model would look like and if it would be as good as I had hoped – I have some great news - it is fantastic!
I was able to see the 3D resin sample, the hand decorated model and the die-cast ‘first shot’ example of the Sunderland and I can honestly say that it is an extremely impressive model. The overall casting of the model is very clean indeed and there are some really nice touches incorporated in to the tooling, such as opening side door/window, sliding weapons rail, retracting front turret and extremely robust beaching gear (undercarriage). The beautiful shape of the Sunderland’s hull has been faithfully captured, which is obviously quite deep, compared to most aircraft and making this a unique model in the Aviation Archive range. This brings me to perhaps the most striking feature of the new Sunderland – it is very heavy indeed! There is a significant amount of metal in this model, making it one of the heaviest Aviation Archive models that I have ever handled, in fact it is a beast of a model. I am sure that the Sunderland is going to be extremely popular with die-cast aviation collectors and I am very much looking forward to adding one to my own personal collection.
I would like to thank the Corgi design and development team very much for their hospitality this week. I was tempted to bring that magnificent first shot Sunderland back north, but I am just going to have to wait for the actual model release, just like everyone else. I also have to stress that the images used to illustrate this article feature pre-production models, which are working samples and can include errors and omissions by their very nature. They are nevertheless, a fascinating insight into how a die-cast model project comes to market and I am sure that you will agree, inclusion of these images certainly benefit this article and allows us an insight into the various stages of modern die-cast model production.
The first Sunderland release – a Royal Australian Air Force classic
I would like to end this week’s Aerodrome by looking at the first release from the impressive new 1/72nd scale Corgi Short Sunderland tooling, which is already causing quite a stir within the die-cast aviation collecting community. AA27501 will present a famous Royal Australian Air Force machine (EJ134) UT-N ‘N for Nuts’, which conducted anti-submarine patrols, operating out of Pembroke Dock, in South West Wales. This aircraft went a long way to earning the Sunderland the nickname ‘The Flying Porcupine’ and is a fantastic choice to launch this exciting new tooling – we will look at this aircraft and the action that made it so famous in next week's edition of Aerodrome.
The magnificent new Corgi Sunderland is now due for release in October 2015, but you can ensure that you have an example in your collection by placing your pre-order now.
Thank you for reading the latest edition of Aerodrome. I look forward to seeing you here next Friday for the second edition of our Short Sunderland feature.