In-Box Review
Curtiss SO3C Seamew
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by: Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]

The SO3C was designed in 1937 in response to a US Navy requirement for a replacement for the biplane SOC Seagull. The specification called for a mid-wing monoplane with a crew of two. The centre-line and wing-tip floats were to be removable to allow it to be converted to a landplane with a fixed landing-gear. Due to restricted hanger space on battleships and cruisers - from which the floatplane version would be catapulted - the wings were required to fold. Finally, the Navy specified an untried engine, the Ranger XV-770-4, which promised exceptional fuel-efficiency - allowing greater scouting radius.

Curtiss and Vought submitted designs and the former was awarded a production contract after competitive trials. I think that was probably the last good news Curtiss ever heard about the aircraft, because serious problems set in as soon as service trials began. The prototype proved dangerously unstable and the engine was unreliable and prone to overheating - it failed during tests, which resulted in the aircraft sinking. Not long after it was rebuilt, the engine failed again. A number of measures were taken to try to sort the problems. The cowling was redesigned to allow much improved cooling, while the wing was fitted with upturned tips and the horizontal tail enlarged. Similarly, the fin was enlarged and fitted with a dorsal fillet extending over the observer's canopy.

In the meantime, the Navy only made matters worse by demanding the installation of so much extra equipment and fuel that it was discovered that the SO3 could no longer take off fully-loaded from water. Worse still, the pylon for the main float proved so flexible that, in rough conditions, the propeller sliced the top of the float. In a bizarre "fix", a slot was cut in the float and filled with balsa wood... which must have done wonders for crew confidence. Even the Curtiss workforce showed little faith or loyalty to their own aircraft and nicknamed it the "Reluctant Dragon" - it was reluctant to take off and always draggin'.

Despite these shortcomings, over 700 were built and the SO3 entered US service as the Seagull. 250 aircraft went to Britain, where they were christened Seamew to avoid confusion with the Supermarine Seagull. The name Seamew was later adopted in the US too.

In service the SO3 Seamew proved a dismal failure and the average service life was just 2 months. The aircraft really needed a more powerful and reliable engine, plus re-design of the wings and main float, but the priority wasn't there and the Seamew suffered the ultimate ignominy - it was replaced by the very aircraft it had been designed to supersede when SOC Seagull were brought out of mothballs.

The kit
Czech Model's new 1/48 Curtiss S03C Seamew contains parts for the floatplane variant and consists of:

27 x dark grey styrene parts
2 x injection-moulded canopies
14 x pale grey resin parts

The surface finish of the plastic parts is pretty good for a short-run kit - a polished exterior with all-engraved panel lines. The engraving may be a little heavy for some tastes, but it should look fine under a coat of paint and will lend itself well to wash-style weathering. There was a little flash here and there on the review sample, but nothing serious and the plastic carves and sands nicely, so clean-up is pretty easy. I found one or two places where there were moulding blemishes - but sanding or re-scribing soon took care of them.

The smaller parts are a bit heavy, as you'd expect with a short-run kit, but most clean up well-enough. The propeller looks fine with a bit of thinning, but the wheels are rather weak - they have sink-marks and lack the tread visible in photos. It's a shame they weren't included among the resin parts.

Test fit
There are no locating pins, but the main parts match up well enough, with the following caveat; both the fuselage and wings were slightly warped in the review sample. Not too serious - and they are easy enough to clamp together while the cement dries - but it's a reminder that this is a short-run kit, which won't "build itself" like some of the output from the majors.

The fuselage is designed with the rudder moulded onto one half. Fair enough - nothing unusual in that - but the odd thing is that part of the fin is split too and join doesn't fall along a panel line. Looking around, you find other cases of this odd design - e.g. the wings are split across the ailerons. I can't see why the parts are broken-down this way - it just means extra filling to hide the joints.

Sticking with the wings, the trailing edges are pretty hefty and look much better after thinning down. The scribing for the wing-fold isn't complete - but it's an easy job to extend it around the leading edge.

I compared the kit with photos and plans in Ginter Books "Naval Fighters #47" about the Seamew, which I'd recommend to anybody tackling this kit, because it highlights plenty of small details you can add to improve the model. Admittedly the plans in the book are a little basic, but they serve their job and the kit matches up quite well. However, there are a couple of areas which need some attention:

The leading edge of the vertical fin doesn't seem "bulbous" enough toward the top, so it'll be necessary to build it up with a bit of plastic card and filler.

The shape of the upturned wing-tips is wrong. Czech Model have moulded the trailing edge to follow that of the wings themselves, but it's clear in the photos and plans that the tips were more angular on the original, with a distinct break in the line. Again, it's a straightforward fix with a plastic card extension blended in with filler.

The floats match the originals fairly well; the main float is maybe a tad small (but nothing like the problems with Monogram's Kingfisher). The wing floats are a better size, but the noses don't look pointed enough; in photos, the originals look almost dangerous!

Resin Parts
If the plastic parts are a little basic, the resin parts are just the opposite! Produced by True Details, they really are quite exceptional - beautifully detailed and perfectly cast... and, most important, they fit well!

The pilot's cockpit consists of floor, sidewalls, bulkhead, stick and rudder, instrument panel and seat. The detail on the sidewalls is superb - it matches photos of the original very closely and every lever and cable was cast perfectly on the review sample. The rear bulkhead also features the complex area behind the cockpit - a mass of bottles, pipework and lifting points. The resin part is excellent - and a little work with a file to open up the flashed-over holes really brings it to life.

The rear cockpit includes a plastic floor and shelf, but added to these are a radio rack / buklhead which is beautifully detailed (all it really needs is a D/F loop). The gunners seat is cast as one piece but, again, once the flashed-over holes are opened up it looks great. Finally, there's a delicately moulded .30 calibre machine gun. (Photos of the original show fold-down armour plate and a sighting-glass which aren't included.)

The only thing really missing from both cockpits is the seat harnesses - strange, because True Details often include stunning moulded-on harness on their seats - but, there are plenty of etched harnesses available.

Turning up front, there's a very nice resin engine, plus a cowling front and bottom which includes excellent exhausts. The carburettor? intake should extend forward a bit level with the lip of the cowling - but it's no big deal to alter this.

Clear Parts
The canopies are injected and are nice and clear - but they are very thick. This makes it impossible to pose them open - a real shame in view of the interior detail. They are a tight fit in their openings - far better than too loose and a quick bit of sanding soon takes care of things.

I must admit it's disappointing that Czech Model have opted for these injected canopies rather than the excellent vacuformed parts they've included in some of their other kits. By their nature, these kits will appeal to experienced modellers who, I think, would mostly prefer vacuformed canopies.

Incidentally, the distinctive dorsal fillet on the gunner's canopy actually extended slightly rearwards, so fill the obvious "panel line" created by the kit part and scribe a new line slightly further back - by about the thickness of the frame.

Instructions & Decals
As usual with Czech Models, the assembly instructions are very well drawn and easy to follow. Assembly is broken down into eight stages and is pretty logical - although most modellers will want to leave the wing floats off until after applying the decals.

Every stage includes colour notes, and a more detailed explanation accompanies the main painting instructions. No model paints are recommended, but Czech Model give F.S. equivalents for the ANA colours.

Decals are provided for:

SO3C-2 Seamew, Bu No. 4847, USS Denver in 1943 - in Blue Gray and Light Gray camouflage.

SO3C-3 Seamew - "War Junk", USS Biloxi, 1944 0- in the classic 3-colour Navy scheme.

The decals are well printed - thin and glossy and the register looks spot on. The slogan "War Junk" should be white with a red outline, but seems to have been printed minus its white fill.

It's a shame that Czech Models haven't also included parts for the landplane variant (maybe that's to come?), but I really like this kit and have already started building it. It's a sure recommendation for a kit if my "test fit" for a review gets out of hand and I can't resist building the thing! So far I haven't hit any major problems and it's an enjoyable build.

The plastic parts are basically correct and the resin details are excellent. With some work refining some of the areas you'll have a striking and unusual model for your collection. Czech Model's Seamew isn't suitable for absolute beginners, but experienced fans of floatplanes can snap this one up with confidence.

Czech Model's Seamew is available for $44.95 direct from MMD-Squadron who kindly supplied the review sample.
By any reckoning, the Curtiss SO3C Seamew was a failure. In researching this review, I failed to find a single good word written about it! So it's pretty much guaranteed that the major manufacturers will never release a model - and it's an ideal subject for a short-run kit.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:48
  Mfg. ID: 4817
  Suggested Retail: $49.95 RRP
  PUBLISHED: Dec 11, 2005
  NATIONALITY: United States

About Rowan Baylis (Merlin)

I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...

Copyright 2021 text by Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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