Sikorsky's first big success in the U.S. came with the S-38, an
ungainly-looking amphibian that was rugged, dependable and boasted very
good performance for its time.
The S-38 came about after the crash of the S-36 'Dawn' during its
trans-Atlantic attempt of 1927. In May 1928, the redesigned aircraft,
the S-38 rolled out and Sikorsky immediately had orders from Pan
American Airways and the U.S. Navy. The first two series of 10 aircraft
each quickly sold out, and soon Sikorsky had more business than it could
handle. The S-38 funded the construction of Sikorsky's Stratford, Conn.
headquarters, where the company is still based.
About 133 S-38s were manufactured, about a third of which went to Pan
Am. The rest served in myriad roles for the next 20 years. This
effectiveness stands in contrast to the looks of the S-38, a
conglomeration of wings, wires, struts and booms. A shoe-shaped
sesquiplane, the S-38 was designed well for its environment, with
self-draining struts, floats and fuselage divided into watertight
compartments, and a fuselage-top entrance that eliminated the chances of
a side door leaking or warping. Vern Carsterns, a pilot for the famous
Martin and Osa Johnson expeditions, said that the ruggedness of the S-38
would make it "very useful for bush operations even today."
Czech Master's kit is a rather daunting-looking piece of work in the
bag, a collection of struts, engine components, floats and airfoil
surfaces. Looking at the trees rather than the forest makes it all seem
a little more buildable, and once it ís boiled down to its individual
steps, the S-38 seems within the grasp of modelers with a bit of biplane
Two fuselage halves are provided, one for a standard S-38 and the other
for Johnson Wax's 'Carnauba' These are split vertically and differ only
in the shape of the rearmost passenger window. The windscreen and
windows are provided as vacuformed parts. The side windows insert from
the inside on a large sheet; it might be wise to install these and then
paint the interior colors on the vacuform parts rather than to paint the
resin sidewalls, thus avoiding a high-gloss interior!
The interior floor is a single large piece that includes the control
panel and the bulkhead between the cockpit and passenger compartment. A
decal provides the control panel detail, and a control yoke and two
chairs (which were wicker in real life) complete the front office. Back
aft, four chairs and a boarding ladder add detail to the passenger
space; since S-38s could accommodate as many as eight passengers, some
research may be needed to outfit your S-38 accurately.
Once the fuselage is together, a fuselage-top boarding hatch can be
added in either an opened or closed position. Boarding handles and other
fiddly bits around the aft complete the fuselage.
The wing - all 10 inches of it - is a marvel of casting. It's a single
piece and is remarkably straight along the trailing edge, a difficult
feat in a thin piece of resin. My example had a very slight twist to it;
this can be cured by putting the model in very hot water and physically
twisting the part back into shape.
Butt-joining the fuselage are two stub wings, which will take careful
thought to position since there are no locating aids. Getting these in
place will be vital to the success of the model; if they are not
symmetrical, the attachment of the upper wing will be thrown off, and
with a big wing any error will be magnified.
Two engine options are provided: the S-38'ís uncovered crankcase and
the S-38BC's covered crankcase. In either case, the engines are very
well molded, and they attach to an exhaust collector that comes complete
with a drilled out exhaust pipe. These join t0 'power eggs' that mount
to a large central cross brace that also supports the center of the
wing. There are no NACA-style cowl rings, which were frequently seen on
The tail is a multi-piece affair, with two booms (again, cast as very
straight pieces) sliding into slots in the wing. The horizontal
stabilizer slides into slots in the vertical fins, which are included on
the tail booms. A set of cross-braces then go on the booms about midway
to the wing, and some additional detail parts go on the tail, although
their placement is difficult to determine from the instructions. All the
parts are exceptionally well-cast and care will be needed to avoid
breaking them during construction.
At this stage, the instructions suggest you build the struts below the
upper wing before adding it to the fuselage. I suggest having some flat
metal stock available at this stage, as the resin struts do not seem
capable of supporting the heavy wing over the long haul. At the very
least, I suggest substituting metal rod for the tail supports; these and
the center brace will be able to take the weight of the wing/tail combo,
and the rest of the struts can be added with confidence since they won't
have a structural role in the model. The power eggs join the center
brace and upper wing and have their own set of complicated bracing.
Also in need of structural help is the landing gear. The tail skid
should be fine, but the main gear struts could use an assist; some
telescoping metal tube in place of the strut extending from the power
eggs and some metal rod for the fuselage-to-wheel struts could help
avoid drooping over time. The wheels have the wire wheel pattern on
them, but are unconvincing; some World War I-era photoetch might help
this situation. The floats attach to the bottom of the stub wings. Once
the construction is done, it ís time to rig the control wires and
struts; these are clearly called out in the last assembly step. Kit also
includes two pages of period detail photos and a page of color images of
Johnson Wax's recently-built replica for aid in placing these details.
Before the addition of the wing, the model should be painted, and to do
so means picking one of the five schemes provided for on the decal
sheet. Martin and Osa Johnson's 'Osa's Ark' is included, although unlike
the S-39 kit by Czech Master, no zebra stripes are provided, only
registrations and the plane's name.
Next is a
U.S. Navy PS-2, finished with a chrome yellow wing, light gray and black
fuselage and the red-white-blue rudder of the period. The third option
is the 'Carnauba' in its gaudy red, yellow black and gray finish and
S.C. Johnson and Son Inc. markings. Another colorful option is an S-38
from 1929 operated by the New York, Rio and Buenos Aires line, featuring
a yellow and gray wing and a gray and black fuselage with a large
airline logo prominently displayed and the nickname 'Porto Allegre' in
jaunty yellow script on the fuselage side. Last is a comparatively drab
but historically important Pan American Airways aircraft; Pan Am was a
major operator of the S-38 on its various Caribbean and South American
While not as well-engineered as their S-39, the Czech Master S-38 fills
an important niche in Golden Age aircraft, and the spectacular decal
sheet will make choosing which aircraft to build a tough one. Experience
modelers who have built biplanes will enjoy the challenges posed by the