1/144 Platz C-46

Gallery Article by Pieter Stam on Oct 4 2012

 

 

Today I want to show you a lesser known aircraft in an exotic paintjob. It was originally designed in the late 1930's by Curtiss as the CW-20, a pressurized airliner (a novelty in that time).  But history proved that the majority of the CW-20's were used for cargo duties.  The C-46 (the military variant) played a lesser role in the global events of WWII.  The area where it really excelled was in flying 'the hump', transporting desperate needed supplies over the Himalaya mountains to the Chinese army. After WWII, the C-46 continued to fly in military service, but the unique qualities of the C-46 made it a perfect civilian cargo carrier for high altitude or rugged terrain.  Even today, more than seventy years after the first C-46 flew, they continue to fly commercially in remote parts of the world.  Many of them found a second, or even a third or fourth life as a meat-hauler in Latin America.  These machines transported meat from the ranches to the capital of Bolivia, La-Paz at an elevation of 13.000 feet! They were flown way past their envisioned service life and their engines were pushed far beyond their limits on a daily base.  Even today, a handful of these old lumbering machines continue their duty in remote parts of the world.  In Bolivia the C-46 is a rare sight nowadays.  A quote from Stephen Piercey in his book "Skytrucks" catches the spirit of the meat-haulers perfectly: "Bolivia could not exist without its faithful Curtiss Commandos.  Written off with great regularity, these old WW2 work-horses are either rebuild or are replaced by other C-46s that can be bought at knock-down prices from South or North America.  Sole fleet member of Transportes Areos San Martin (TASMA) flies from La Paz, Bolivia and was seen departing from its base in 1977, dutifully watched by the company's entire staff.  Within 30 minutes she was back on the ramp after suffering a blown engine on take-off.  Actually the third Bolivian C-46 to lose an engine that morning".  I wanted to build a C-46 in 'meat-hauler' markings to honor the strength of the airplane and the people who kept them flying.  More information on the C-46 can be found at various sites, including: 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curtiss_C-46_Commando
http://www.michaelprophet.com/ 

For my project, I bought a 1/144 C-46 from Platz.  It is a mixed media kit with resin, PE and white metal.  I never worked with white metal, but more about that later.  The whole impression of the kit, after opening the box, is that this is something of a delicacy for model builders.  The major parts, the PE and the white metal are all packaged separately and all bags are neatly stapled to a cardboard underground.  This prevents the bags from shifting and damaging each other. The molding of the resin is flash free, but some flash does occur on the white metal. It seems a very carefully designed and produced kit. 

 

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I am used to 1/48 WWII airplanes, so noticing the hull was already completely shaped as one object was a nice surprise, this would certainly speed up the build. There was however a minute shift of molds during the production, resulting in a fine 'step' running across the entire length of the fuselage. But this is easily corrected with careful sanding. The wings and stabilizer did not fit perfectly in their intended slots, but this was also easily corrected with some putty. As you can see in the fifth picture, I strengthened the fuselage-wing joint. For this, I drilled holes through the wingroots into the hull with a 1mm drill. I filled it with stretched sprue and thin ZAPP CA to make it a super-strength joint. I did this because of my own stupidity. I didn't realize that this wasn't ordinary plastic I was trying to glue, the elevators fell off and the wings were also bound to do that. The Platz kit features a decal for the outline of the cargo doors. I did not like this and decided that I should attempt to scribe it into the hull myself. Finding a proper side-view of a C-46 proved to be the greatest challenge. The process of scribing the cargo door can be seen in the pictures below. This was actually the first time that I attempted scribing and I am very happy with the results! The landing gear provided me with some difficulty. Being white-metal, I decided not to paint it entirely. Just some accents with another shade of metal to break-up the even color. However, I was shocked once I assembled the gear and glued it into place. The legs where clearly bent as you can see in the picture! This however was easy to fix, since white metal can be bend a little bit and will stay in that position. I suspect that if you bend it too much, it will break. But my gear looks satisfactory now. And with the wheels and gear-doors mounted, no-one will notice that the legs are not completely in an identical position. Some VHF Nav and Comm antenna's where made from copper wire (from a cat.5 cable) and some foil, from a wine bottle. For the antenna's, I drilled small holes in the fuselage to allow a more robust fit. The PE antenna's supplied in the kit didn't look very convincing, because they are essentially flat. In a similar fashion I fabricated the two enormous pitot-tubes under the cockpit. The doors for the main gear are very thick. I managed to bend them in a realistic way with great difficulty. When I attempted this with the doors of the tail gear, one door shot away, never to be found again! So I was forced to make new doors out of the same tin-foil I used for the VHF Nav antenna. In the process, I discovered that Platz actually made a glaring error in the doors of the tail gear! They made them inside-out! See picture 17. I made the exhaust from copper tubing, they look way better then the white-metal exhausts. Platz provides four bladed propellers, but most Bolivian C-46's are using three bladed props. Also, the diameter of the Platz props was too small. I wanted to cut off the blades and fit them to a pair of 1/144 DC3 prop hubs, but I ended up using 1/144 constellation props cut to size. The prop hub is totally wrong for my machine, but at least it looks convincing. 

By this time, I already had chosen the exact scheme I wanted for the C-46. I choose the CP-1319. During its 68 year life, it was rebuild and repainted several times.  This aircraft was fully restored after being left at El-Alto airport.  It tragically crashed on the 21st of April 2012, killing three of the four occupants including a Bolivian senator. See http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20120421-0 for details.  This aircraft is one of the most photographed Bolivian C-46's and because of this, it was easy to obtain reference material.  The scheme isn't too difficult to do and there are few decals to apply.  I also had to design the decals myself, because nobody in the world seems to produce decals for a Bolivian C-46.  The decals were printed by http://www.blackliondecals.nl/ and are a very good quality.  They respond well with set and sol and the background doesn't shine trough.  They can print 'white' as well, but this wasn't necessary in this case.  I also used some of the decals that Platz provided.  They also responded well with set and sol.  I didn't observe any silvering with any decal.  I weathered the aircraft by drybrushing several shades of metal and black.  The last step was applying the wire antenna.  I used EZ line for this. I now believe that EZ line is essential for any serious WWI and WWII aircraft modeller.  I realise that the cowlings are wrong for the CP-1319, but I didn't want to change them because I was afraid of ruing everything by doing so.  Throughout the build I listened to Bolivian 'saya' and 'caporal' music for inspiration.  For me, these styles of music are indistinguishable, but they provide a nice background. I want to make a Bolivian B-17, which operated in the meat-haulers role as well and put them in a diorama together.  But that is a different project. Reference pictures of Bolivian B-17's are rare. 

Pieter Stam

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Photos and text by Pieter Stam