Santa Maria - Aeromarine 75

the History of Aeromarine Airways

In 1914 the Aeromarine Plane & Motor Company was founded at Keyport with Inglis M. Uppercu as president. Aeromarine built mostly military seaplanes and flying boats. The company broke new ground in aviation by offering some of the first regularly scheduled flights. Aviation promoter Harry Bruno worked with Aeromarine to commercialize the transportation potential of airflight.

The Aeromarine 75 were surplus Navy Curtiss F-5-L Flying Boats converted into passenger airplanes. Flying one of the first real airways in history during the 1920’s. The Aeromarine company operated ten four cabin flying boats and they all had colorful names, mostly related to the Caribbean: Santa Maria, Nina, Pinta, Columbus, Balboa, Mendoza, Ponce de Leon, Governor Cordeaux, Wolverine and Buckeye. Flights were operated from Key West, Florida, to Havana, Cuba, from the United States mainland to the Bahamas and Cuba. Transporting passengers, mail, and freight beginning in 1921, it ceased operations in early 1924 due to a freeze on mail contracts by the United States Post Office.

“Aeromarine aerial cruiser, which has ample accommodation for ten passengers, exclusive of pilot and pilot’s mechanician, has been designed for aerial voyages from New York to Asbury Park Atlantic City, Norfolk, Washington, Baltimore, Southampton, New Haven, New London, Newport, Miami and other points on the Atlantic coast.” (Aeromarine)

In the spring of 1921 the company was reorganized as Aeromarine Airways. Aeromarine enjoyed many firsts – The first U.S. international air mail service and first scheduled U.S. international passenger service (Key West to Havana, November 1, 1920); first total-service U.S. airline (passenger, mail, express cargo); first in-flight movie (Chicago, August 1921); first airline baggage label (1921); and the first U.S. airline ticket office (Cleveland, July 1922).Its slogan was “Speed Safety Comfort”. The overseas flights in flying boats, brought passengers to popular destinations that still allowed drinking at the start of Prohibition. Hence the Airline earned it’s nickname ‘Highball Express’

The full story of this pioneer airline may be found in “Aeromarine Airways – It’s Aircraft and History” by D. Koch in Skyways, the Journal of the Airplane 1920-1940, No. 52 October 1999.

The Santa Maria:
‘Santa Maria’ was the queen ship of the Aeromarine Airways’ Black Tail Fleet. She was one of a fleet of four cabin flying boats operating between Cleveland and Detroit on a double daily schedule. At the close of the season on the Great Lakes, she was flown to New York via Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, Lakes Champlain and George and the Hudson River. After refueling in New York, she proceeded South via Atlantic City, Manteo and Miami to Key West. Since the Santa Maria went into commission she flew over 50,000 miles.

the build

Aeromarine 75 (curtiss f-5-L)

Wingnut wings 1/32

Aeromarine airways
1920-1924

The Santa Maria:
‘Santa Maria’ was the queen ship of the Aeromarine Airways’ Black Tail Fleet. She was one of a fleet of four cabin flying boats operating between Cleveland and Detroit on a double daily schedule. At the close of the season on the Great Lakes, she was flown to New York via Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, Lakes Champlain and George and the Hudson River. After refueling in New York, she proceeded South via Atlantic City, Manteo and Miami to Key West. Since the Santa Maria went into commission she flew over 50,000 miles.

Preparations for the build:

I was ‘sold’ the first time I ’stumbled’ across photos of the Aeromarine. Initially I thought the F-5-L flying boats were a lot more similar to the Felixstowe F.2a. The more i researched the Aeromarine, the more difficult the conversion seemed to get. The Wingnut Wings kit in my stash was the ‘early’ version. So I started checking measurements, drawing sketched that would enable me to do the conversion. I was aware that the Rolls Royce Eagle engines had to be replaced by US Liberty engines. That wasn’t a problem I could order Liberty ‘sprues’ from Wingnut Wings.

Converting the hull would require a completely new interior and superstructure to alter the F.2a into a passenger plane. The cockpit was moved back between the wings, above the fuel tanks. The front was converted into a six passenger cabin. In the rear of the fuselage was adapted to fit a second cabin to accommodate four passengers. Early on I also found out that the hull length of the F-5-L was three feet longer than the Felixstowe, so it had to be extended as well as converted. But I was still adamant in my decision to go on with the conversion.  Little did I know how comprehensive the build was going to get.

To my horror I later realized that the wing chord of the F-5-L was a feet wider than the Felixstowe F.2a a fact that really put my decision to the test. If I wanted to continue, I had come up with a way to make the wings wider. This put the project on hold for a while. When I picked up the project again I had realized that I needed more extra parts from WNW’s. I ordered an extra set of ‘Late’ wings (it also had the later ailerons). Some aftermarket turnbuckles from Gaspatch and Seatbelts from HGW.

It took some time to calculate where to insert the three feet of extension of the hull to fit everything. The porthole glasses were inserted between the outer hull and the interior paneling… The assembly of the hull went pretty smooth, I just had to keep an eye on the different ‘lines’ of the hull, trying to line up everything correctly. It resembles ‘Frankensteins monster’  a bit, patchwork of main parts…

Next I went on to work on a new superstructure. To create the parts for the roof of the cabins I started out by fitting balsa wood blocks and sanding it into the shape of the Aeromarine superstructure. As I didn’t have any plans or drawings I was limited to using the photos of the Aeromarine, including for the interior detailing. Can’t believe it went that well with the superstructure, no test runs just two vac forms, cutting, sanding and it fitted. I guess it’s all of the trial and error of other builds I’m benefitting from. I decided to make the roof of the front cabin detachable, thinking of adding wicker chairs and passenger figures. This was very fun doing it and was a huge milestone of the build. After this   there’s only critical part of the conversion remaining, the massive conversion of the wings. 

The cabins are clad with a dark wood veneer like mahogany. I used photoetched stencils for the basic wood grain. On top of this, the finish was done with oils burnt umber etc. The wicker chairs would require a build article of it’s own to explain. Suffice to say they were done weaving stretched sprue for the wicker parts and milliput epoxy putty for the cushions. A master was cast with silicone to be able to create enough chairs for both cabins. The famous blue carpets of the Aeromarine’s was done using several blue grey ‘mixtures’. The fuel tanks were of a different shape, so I had to create new tanks from aluminum sheets.

Cockpit:

The conversions require the cockpit to be completely remodeled from the ground up. Luckily the NASM has got a surviving example of a F-5-L fuselage. Photos of this flying boat has been a great help in adding interior details to the build. As mentioned before the cockpit of the Aeromarine 75 flying boat was allocated from the nose to the middle of the aircraft between the wings and above the passenger cabins, right on top of the fuel tanks.

The parts of the new cockpit. Steering wheels, pilot seats and controls. The seat cushions are cast in resin.

Black Tail Fleet:

With the fuselage almost done, at least roughly, I turned my attention to the iconic tail of the F-5-L. I have no idea how the constructors arrived at this design, other than they must have had issues with the control of the large flying boat. The basic shape was cut from a piece of 1mm polystyrene sheet. Stringers were then added to give the tail some more ‘character’. The tail was then clad with 0,3mm polystyrene sheet with ribs engraved with a ball pen.  The result is quite convincing, not WNW’s detailing kind, but sufficient to do the job.

Middle wings:

The first test to see if it would be possible to use two pairs of wings to create the broader wing chord. On top of that, finding the right place to cut to get the best possible outcome, was absolutely crucial. This took some time to figure out, but in the end I do not think it could have been done in a better way.

Wing parts cut from two sets, adding 1 feet (1cm) to the chord. And painted with Lifecolor Deep Cockpit black.

Hull – Painting & markings:

Finally! After months of conversions and alterations, it is time for some painting. Both the black and the white paint have been toned down, to avoid the contrast getting too stark, between the black and white colors. Some shading was done to the white to add some subtle variations shades vs. highlights. It’s beginning to look a little like an Aeromarine!

Using photos of Santa Maria, I worked on creating decals for the fuselage. Some were ‘photoshopped’ because of their unique texting, for others I searched for fonts which fitted close enough to be used. The decals were printed on transparent decal paper and applied to their locations.

Liberty engines:

The American built Curtiss F-5-L flying boats were fitted with Liberty V-12 engines. So the kit Rolls Royce Eagle engines had to be replaced by Liberty ones. A welcome break from the continuing conversion and scratch building work. The exhausts were ‘borrowed’ from the Ninak kit.

The engine mounts have been converted to fit the Liberty engines. Some of the kit parts are used with some added parts made from brass rod to add some strength to the structure. The top middle wing is fitted with epoxy glue. 

Casting:

Many parts had to be replicated. Some have been scratched, others copied from other kits and some part are converted from kit parts and replicated creating a mold from Silicone and casting the needed number of parts.

 Struts & exhausts.                                                                             Two bladed propellers.                                                                        Radiators and oil tanks. 

So far, so good. A major point of the build has been reached, almost looks like a flying boat!

Rudder and elevators:

After this the next step was to begin working on the rudder and elevators. First they were prepared for painting using strips of tape to create the effect on the rib tapes. Different shades of black is being used to create nuances. Basic color used is Lifecolor: Deep Cockpit.

Tail: 

First I had to make new struts, with a different angle. They were made from brass rod cut to length and both end bend to go into drilled holes. The struts were then given a piece of thin styrene sheet, slightly bend, glued to the brass with CA. On the other side some putty was used to add some mass to the struts. When dry, the struts were all filed into the correct shape.

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