26 June 2019

LAU-10 Zuni Rocket Pod - Model Kits Review

1. Introduction
Basic information about the Zuni 5in (127mm) unguided rocket is available in Wikipedia: link
It was one of the mainstay weapons of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps strike aircraft of the 1960s and 1970s, finding wide use during the war in the Southeast Asia. Zuni rockets were carried and fired from two types of pods: two-shot LAU-33 pods were used only on the F-8 Crusaders, F-4 Phantoms and OV-10 Broncos, while four-shot LAU-10 pods can be carried by almost all types of the Navy and Marines combat-capable aircraft.
For a long time, Zuni rocket pods were overlooked by manufacturers of aftermarket add-ons, but recently a LAU-10 pod set was released by Eduard from Czech Republic.

2. Kits
I've picked a number of "representative" plastic LAU-10 pods from my collection of U.S. Navy / USMC aircraft model kits and compared them with the recent resin set made by Eduard. On the picture below the samples are marked as follows:
 a) Fujimi – A-4E/F Skyhawk kit # 25024 / F24, released circa 1987.
 b) Sword – TF-9J Cougar kit # 72101, released in 2017.
 c) Airfix – AV-8A Harrier kit # A04057, released in 2015.
 d) Academy – OV-10A Bronco kit # 12463, released in 1999.
 e) Eduard – LAU-10/A Zuni set # 672211, released in 2018.
Each of the listed kits, as well as the Eduard's set, gives you two pods.
And here are some measurements:
                  | L     | D    |
Fujimi        | 39.0 | 6.5 |
Sword       | 39.0 | 6.5 |
Academy  | 32.6 | 5.5 |
Airfix         | 33.9 | 5.8 |
Eduard      | 34.0 | 5.0 |
Reference | 33.5 | 4.9 |
In my table, "L" is the length of the pod, without protective caps, without rocket projectiles, in mm, in 1/72 scale; "D" is the external diameter of the pod. Reference data came from an official U.S, Navy manual (NAVWEPS OP 2210) and from a drawing which also appears to be a part of some official manual.

Before we proceed, let us state that neither of the reviewed items contains the frangible protective caps for the LAU-10 pods, and let us agree that this is not a drawback. Now, a few words about each of the items:
a) Fujimi kit.
First and foremost, the Fujimi's pods are significantly oversized: 5.5mm (16%) too long, 1.6mm (32%) too wide. Although the protruding rocket heads are good, the shape of the pod itself is simplified: absent are the "cuffs" on the front & rear ends and small holes on the front & rear faces. No decals are provided.

b) Sword kit.
In size and shape, the Sword's item is identical to the much earlier Fujimi's pod. Draw your own conclusions.
Compared to the Japanese variant, Sword has removed the convenient locator pins and added molding imperfections. No decals are provided.

c) Airfix kit.
This pod has nearly the right length, yet it is still too wide (0.9mm, 18%). Unfortunately, the tail plate of the Airfix pod is just a blank space, which is completely inaccurate. You can attempt to remedy this, but drilling four 1.76mm holes inside a 5mm circle, absolutely symmetrically, is not an easy task. Airfix, however, is the only plastic kit manufacturer in this selection that provides you with decals for the ordnance.

d) Academy kit.
This pod is completely inaccurate: the four rocket channels are two times smaller than they must be, making the whole item nearly unrecognizable.

e) Eduard set.
Positive aspects:
 - Very good accuracy and the level of detail.
 - Unlike the aforementioned plastic kits, this set allows the LAU-10 pod to be modelled in either loaded or empty configuration.
 - Rocket heads are provided separately which immensely simplifies their painting.
 - The pod's body is a single casting, so there is no need to fill and sand the longitudinal seam between the halves (an inherent shortcoming of most of the plastic kits).
 - Decals are included.
Negative aspects:
 - The tail plate for the pod in the loaded configuration is not entirely accurate. Eduard has correctly represented the four "crosses" of the rocket stabilizers, but look at the historical photographs. You will see a prominent round "button" (fin retainer cap) atop each of those "crosses", and this was omitted by Eduard.
 - It is regrettable that such bulky casting blocks are used to hold the pods' tail plates. The plates themselves are quite thin, and it is not very easy to saw them off the casting blocks, while ensuring that the cut is aligned with the plate surface.
 - The text on the decal can only be read with a magnifying glass, but if you do so you will see that it contains some gibberish, such as "explosladed rocket", "kt2000lbs", etc. Having browsed the Net, I saw that the same was true for the 1:32 scale LAU-10 set that Eduard has released in 2016. The 1:72 scale set came 2 years later, but they haven't corrected the decal.
 - The instructions tell you nothing regarding the painting of the protruding rocket warheads, leading you to believe that they are to be just as white as the rocket pod exterior (which they are not). I wouldn't consider this a drawback when reviewing a 1980s or 1990s plastic kit, but a brand like Eduard, and in the 2010s, is expected to be thorough in all aspects of their model kits and aftermarket items.

3. Conclusion
Although the recent set released by Eduard is not ideal, it is clearly the best thing available if you want to furnish your 1:72 scale model with LAU-10 Zuni rocket pods. The price is moderate (compared to the resin items of similar size on the market): at the manufacturer's site it's 161 Kč, which amounts to ~6.3 EUR.

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Zuni rocket in Wikipedia: link

30 April 2019

Grumman FF-1 Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Grumman FF-1
U.S. Navy. BuNo 9383 / 5F13. VF-5B.
USS Lexington (CV-2), 1934.

1.2. Story
In an everyday scene aboard the USS Lexington, an FF-1 of Fighting Squadron 5, positioned on the aft elevator platform, is being raised from the hangar to the flight deck. One flight deck crewman sits in the cockpit to control the brakes, while other men wait on the elevator edge, ready to manhandle the fighter onto appropriate spot on the flight deck. Another deck hand, not concerned with the VF-5B's activities, walks past with a torpedo-handling cart, apparently towards the torpedo-bombers positioned aft.

1.3. Model Kit
FF-1 from Special Hobby (kit # 72232), 1:72 scale.

2. Kit Overview
Overall, I believe the Special Hobby's FF-1 to be a good kit; its best features are as follows:
 - Very good overall accuracy (praises to Special Hobby for using historical data and not relying on walkaround pictures of the Canadian Car & Foundry G-23 airplane preserved at Pensacola).
 - External surfaces are smooth, with delicate recessed and raised (where appropriate) details.
 - The surfaces are not marred by dreadful bullet hole-style imitation of rivets that is an unfortunate characteristic of many aircraft model kits being produced now by Chinese and even some of the European manufacturers.
 - An excellently cast & detailed resin engine, a small set of photo-etched metal items (including the instrument panel) and a printed film for the instrument panel are already inside the box. You don't need to spend anything on aftermarket stuff.
 - Accurate decal, which is a rare occurrence with out-of-the-box decals.
But there are also some features that are not so good:
 - The most challenging subassembly of any biplane kit – the wing box, with its associated cabane struts and interplane struts – does not have any tabs and respective recesses to correctly position and align the parts. It is a pity that the Special Hobby's technology does not allow for a one-piece upper fuselage section with molded-in cabane struts, such as the one we see on an ancient SBC Helldiver kit by Heller.
 - The main wheel parts are inaccurate (tire profile too big).
 - It would have been better if the canopy was vacu-formed and not injected plastic: the sliding canopies were very rarely closed on the U.S. Navy biplanes of the 1930s, and replicating "stacked-on" canopy sections with thinner vacu-formed items is easier and more realistic.
I did not photograph the box contents – there are a couple of good reviews available on the Internet that include good photographs: link and link.

3. Construction
3.1. Building
The enhancements that I've made when building my model are as follows:
 1) The kit's resin engine is excellently detailed, beautifully cast and not over-engineered (like some of the aftermarket engines that require assembly from dozens of minuscule parts), but I still thought that adding the ignition wiring is worthwhile.
 2) A number of openings were cut out for more realism, such as various inlets and vent ports on the fuselage; cockpit steps; gun cartridge ejector openings; horizontal stabilizer technological cut-outs.
 3) Instead of relying on very small plastic tabs, I joined the lower wings and the horizontal stabilizer to the fuselage by means of drilling holes and inserting metal reinforcing rods. I also had to make recesses on the fuselage, the upper wing and the lower wing to accommodate the interplane struts and the cabane struts. Still, the process of assembling the biplane wing box has tested the very limits of my patience.
 4) Upper and lower wing hand grips imitated.
 5) The kit's inaccurate main wheels (see my comparison photograph) replaced with a set of better ones, copied from the Curtiss BFC-2 model kit by RS Models.
 6) Main landing gear linkages scratch-built from metal wire, as I considered the kit's plastic parts being too thick scale-wise.
 7) Machine gun barrels scratch-built from thin metal tubes (syringe needles).
 8) Scratch-built Pitot tube added to the port N-strut, scratch-built Venturi tube added to the starboard fuselage side, scratch-built gun sight added to replace the kit's indifferent plastic part.
 9) Canopy cut into sections to be positioned open (customary for the Navy's airplanes of the era, especially while on deck). In the end, I'm not entirely satisfied with how the resulting canopy sections look like in terms of their proportions, but creating a new, better shaped canopy from scratch was beyond my power.
 10) Clear external lights added (taken from very useful sets produced by a company named Elf), including:
   a) Landing light on the port lower fuselage.
   b) Coloured navigation lights on the upper wing tips.
   c) Coloured formation lights on the horizontal stabilizer leading edges (yes, they did exist; here's a good photo: link).
 11) All external bracing and antennae wire imitated.
The rear machine gun is of course modelled in the stowed position: it is only deployed in the air for combat training, or during maintenance (the trend with some of the modellers who love to show off everything deployed, raised or extended, regardless of the sense, is sad to observe).

3.2. Painting & Markings
As a prototype for my model I wanted an FF-1 covered by at least one good historical photograph, and therefore I selected the BuNo 9383 assigned to the VF-5B (here's the photo: link).
The top surface of the upper wing is Chrome Yellow. The True Blue color of the tailplane was assigned to the VF-5B squadron when it was based on the carrier USS Lexington, and the Willow Green trim marks the leader of the 5th section in the squadron. The fuselage is painted Naval Aircraft Grey, as prescribed by the Navy's directives of the time and as confirmed by historical photographs (thankfully, even a color photograph exists to prove this – see link). The rest of the airframe is painted Aluminium.
The national insignia and other markings came from the kit's decal sheet, which is accurate.

3.3. Presentation
My small diorama is intended to replicate a fragment of the USS Lexington, with the airplane being raised from the hangar to the flight deck on the after elevator platform.
1) My elevator well imitation is mostly sheet plastic. A number of small custom-made photo-etched items were used, such as the ladder and the tie-down eyes. Everything was built basing on the relatively scarce historical photographs (such as this one: link).
2) My flight deck crew figures came from CMK #72115, Hasegawa #X72-7, Fujimi #35001, Italeri #1246 and Airfix #1748 sets, with all of them undergoing some sort of modification to headgear or uniform (in fact, I had to make some resin copies first, as the original Italeri and Airfix figures, while being very good shape-wise, are made from some horrible polyethylene substance which is totally unworkable from the modelling perspective).
   a) Of course it would take more than three guys to manhandle an airplane, even a small 1930s fighter, but we will assume that the rest of the team is waiting just a couple of steps further from the elevator well edge and thus out of the scope of my little diorama.
   b) It may appear that the crewman in the pilot seat is sitting too high, with his head not clearing the canopy, but this is confirmed by historical photographs (link); apparently, the seat height on the FF-1 was adjustable.
3) The U.S. Navy period torpedo-carrying cart was scratch-built basing on historical photographs (such as this one: link).

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Grumman FF in Wikipedia: link
[2] Grumman Biplane Fighters in Action | Aircraft in Action Series # 160 | Squadron/Signal Publications, 1996.
[3] Basic information on the USS Lexington (CV-2) in Wikipedia: link and original U.S. Navy plans of the ship (see the "General Plan" link there in the External Links section there).

5. Notes
5.1. When modelling a U.S. Navy FF-1, SF-1 or FF-2, do not put your trust into the present-day photographs of the airplane preserved at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola. That airplane is an ex-Nicaraguan Air Force G-23 manufactured by Canadian Car & Foundry, and it has a number of noticeable differences compared to the U.S. Navy's Grumman machines (e.g., different engine cowling, propeller and exhaust; chin intake; lack of nose-mounted landing light, etc.). The Special Hobby kit has all the respective details captured accurately.

5.2. The U.S. Navy's True Blue and Willow Green seem to be rather "difficult" colors. Whenever you see respective artwork or color profiles, in books and magazines or elsewhere on the Internet, the representation of True Blue and Willow Green is nearly always wrong: either too light or too bright. The kit manufacturer's instructions are not to be trusted either: for instance, the Special Hobby's FF-1 manual advises C34 Sky Blue and C64 Yellow Green (Gunze Sangyo numbers), both rather questionable in this particular case. As always, historical photographs are your only true friends. It is a pity that very few color photographs from that era are available, yet they can be found. The blue can be very well seen here, and the green here.

5.3. I am afraid that my presentation of the USS Lexington's elevator well is only an approximation when it comes to some small detail. I did what I could, but there are simply not enough photographs available. Regretfully, books that describe the USS Lexington offer little help in this regard: they generally provide good descriptions of the ship's design and career, but when it comes to the visual side of the story – meaning the photographs – some of the authors appear to suffer from a kind of "battleship mindset". A case in point is the "Lexington Class Carriers" book by Classic Warship Publishing (author S.Wiper): apart from a number of general bird-eye views of the ship, there is not a single (!) photograph of any of the aviation facilities, such as the elevators, the arresting gear or the hangar deck, while on the other hand, there are ten (!) big photographs specifically showing the ship's silly 203mm gun turrets. Is it a book about an aircraft carrier or about a battleship, one is moved to ask? Clearly the author did visit some archives, and I refuse to believe that those did not contain photographs of the America's then biggest carrier's aviation facilities. The "Lexington, Saratoga" book by the Polish publisher "AJ-Press" is better in this regard, but still the pictures where the elevator wells can be seen provide few details for a comprehensive 1/72 scale model.

5.4. Publications on the Grumman FF-1 generally state that when it was selected by the U.S. Navy its performance was superior to any fighter in the Navy's service at the time. While this particular statement is true, it is hard not to compare the Grumman's biplane against its contemporaries from other countries and services, and thus to contemplate on how astonishingly conservative (if not retrograde) was the U.S. Navy of that time when it ordered its aircraft, given that at the very same time it possessed two of the most modern and most powerful aircraft carriers in the world.
I have compiled a small table which includes some representative monoplane fighters, operational and produced in quantities, that have been first flown and introduced within a very short time (no more than 2 years) of the FF-1 biplane. Unsurprisingly, we see substantial advantage of all monoplanes in maximum speed: keep in mind that in the 1930s the speed was arguably perceived as the paramount characteristic to judge a fighter plane, while other performance criteria, such as the range and the service ceiling, received much less attention.
Type                    | Country | F.f.        | EIS | MS
PZL P.11             | Poland   | Aug '31 |  '34 | 390
Grumman FF-1   | USA      | Dec '31 |  '33 | 333
Boeing P-26        | USA      | Mar '32 |  '34 | 377
Dewoitine D.500 | France  | Jun '32  |  '35 | 402
Polikarpov I-16    | USSR   | Dec '33 |  '34 | 454 (Type 5)
("F.f." stands for the date of the first flight; "EIS" stands for the year of entry into service; "MS" stands for maximum speed in km/h)

30 December 2018

Miscellaneous Ground & Carrier Deck Support Equipment Items

In this short article I am presenting another installment of my 1/72 models of miscellaneous ground support & carrier deck equipment items used by the U.S. Navy. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the Navy's GSE: I only model such items that I need for my present and future dioramas, and only those that I could collect sufficient historical information for.

Maintenance Platforms
Historical Information: These types of lightweight portable platforms were utilized for aircraft servicing and maintenance by all branches of the U.S. military.
Time period: 1940s-1950s.
Paint scheme: USN items typically ocean grey; sea blue and olive drab also possible.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Both items are scratch-built with the aid of custom-made photo-etched metal parts.

Tow Bar, Early Type
Historical Information: Employed to tow various types of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft on aircraft carriers as well as on shore stations.
Time period: Mid-1950s - 1960s.
Paint scheme: Orange yellow.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Scratch-built from plastic.

A-4 Skyhawk Tiller Bar
Historical Information: When taxiing, steering on the U.S. Navy carrier-based jets was initially achieved through differentially applied main wheel brakes, and later by means of nose-wheel power steering. However, on a carrier deck a tiller bar, handled by a deck crewman, was often employed for more precise steering, especially when lining up with the catapult track (see more details in an article by Tommy H. Thomason: link). Different tiller bars were needed for different aircraft types.
Time period: 1960s.
Paint scheme: Orange yellow.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Scratch-built from plastic and metal wire.

A-4 Skyhawk Starter Probe
Historical Information: Early models of the A-4 Skyhawks (specifically, the Wright J65-engined A-4A, A-4B and A-4C), unlike other U.S. Navy carrier-based jets of the period, utilized a very peculiar engine start arrangement: the engine had to be started mechanically by means of a rotating metal shaft inserted into a dedicated receptacle from the outside, and the shaft, in turn, was driven by compressed air obtained from a standard tractor-mounted jet start unit. The rather bulky but man-portable apparatus, made specifically for the early Skyhawks, was known as the "starter probe".
Time period: For as long as the said types remained in service (1955 - mid-1970s).
Paint scheme: Typically insignia red.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: Scratch-built from plastic and custom-made photo-etched metal parts.

Wheel Chocks
Historical Information: Many different types of aircraft wheel chocks were used by the U.S. Navy throughout the years; what I present here is only a small selection.
Time period: (A) – 1920s - 1930s; (B) – 1930s - 1940s; (C) – 1940s; (D) – 1940 - 1960s.
Paint scheme: Light grey, insignia red or orange yellow.
Photographic proof: (B) - photo; (C) - photo; (D) - photo
Model Details: Scratch-built from metal wire and plastic.

Tie-Down Chains
Historical Information: All aircraft on the U.S. Navy aircraft carriers are secured to the deck when not taxiing, taking off or landing. Tying down was initially done with stout ropes, but in the early 1960s, with the aircraft weight constantly increasing, metal chains came into use.
Time period: 1960s - present time.
Paint scheme: Chain links - invariably rusted metal; hook assemblies - natural metal, insignia red or orange yellow.
Photographic proof: link
Model Details: A metal chain is not an easy object to model, and, from the accuracy perspective, the best way to imitate it would be to use a real chain. The chains I am showing here came from a company called Shipmodeling (Verf' na Stole), have 16 links per cm and are the smallest that I could find. However, these "real" chains are relatively expensive, and it is not easy to make such a chain tout, especially in a confined space under the wings or the belly of your 1/72 scale model. Photo-etched chains (mine came from a set by White Ensign Models #7209), while less realistic than the "real" chains, are therefore usable when you have to imitate an aircraft secured to the deck with multiple chains, or when the access is restricted.

14 May 2018

Grumman F2F-1 Model

1. Introduction
1.1. Aircraft
Grumman F2F-1
U.S. Navy. BuNo 9675 / 2F4. VF-2B.
NAS North Island, circa 1937.

1.2. Story
There is no particular story behind this small vignette. An F2F-1 of Fighting Squadron 2 is parked on the apron of a Naval Air Station, while two pilots are in conversation nearby.

1.3. Model Kit
F2F-1 from Attack Squadron (kit # 72068), 1:72 scale.

2. Kit Overview
This resin kit is an accurate and well detailed representation of the tiny Grumman F2F-1. My full review of the kit is available here: link

3. Construction
3.1. Building
First, some minor problems of the kit had to be corrected:
1) The too prominent rib running the whole length of the kit's belly was deleted; some minor details visible on the belly of the real aircraft were added.
2) Small gaps between the elevators and the fuselage, not present on the real aircraft, were rectified.

Then, although to some it may appear that the kit is well detailed out of the box, there is a number of items present on the real F2F-1 that are not in the kit, and therefore had to be scratch-built:
3) The kit's photo-etched pilot restraints were replaced with more historically accurate ones from an Eduard's generic set. This was the only improvement I've decided to make inside the cockpit.
4) Unusually for its time, the F2F-1 had movable horizontal stabilizer. Historical photographs show that in most cases a parked F2F-1 had its horizontal stabilizer in a negative angle of attack position, with the elevators drooped. Thus, this is the configuration that I replicated on my model.
5) Scratch-built trimmer added to the vertical stabilizer.
6) Oil cooler intake, carburettor exhaust and engine exhaust pipes drilled out.
7) Engine ignition wiring scratch-built (the kit's photo-etched part is, in my view, way too thick and contrasts unfavourably with the minuscule detailing of the engine itself).
8) Cockpit step and shell ejector chute openings cut out on the starboard side of the fuselage.
9) Scratch-built Pitot tube added to the port N-strut, scratch-built Venturi tube added to the starboard fuselage side.
10) Gun barrels scratch-built from thin metal tubes.
11) This tiny biplane possessed a sizeable collection of external lights, and all of those lights had to be scratch-built from clear plastic, including:
   a) Landing light on the port lower fuselage.
   b) Coloured navigation lights – two on the upper wing tips and two on the upper wing surface, plus one clear navigation light on the aft end of the tail cone.
   c) Five formation lights – one dorsal, two on the lower wing and two coloured ones on the horizontal stabilizer leading edges.
12) All external bracing and antennae wire imitated.
In addition,
13) A gun camera of the type seen on many Naval aircraft of that era, including "my" F2F-1 BuNo 9675, was scratch-built.

3.2. Painting & Markings
As a prototype for my model I wanted an aircraft covered by good historical photographs, with some hopefully in color. These criteria are met by the F2F-1 BuNo 9675 assigned to the VF-2B, and this is the variant that I selected.
The top surface of the upper wing is Chrome Yellow (note that the yellow overlaps the leading edge), while the Lemon Yellow tailplane designates a unit assigned to USS Lexington and Insignia White trim with thin black border marks the leader of the 2nd section in the squadron. A careful study of historical photographs (see source [3]) will tell you that this machine, as well as its stablemates, had its fuselage painted in silvery Aluminium Dope color and not in Naval Aircraft Grey, as prescribed by the Navy's earlier directives and as the kit's instructions advise. The rest of the airframe is also Aluminium Dope, and "my" BuNo 9675 appears to have had it polished to a natural metal-like shine (see historical photograph: link).

Unfortunately, the kit's decal is defective to the point of being totally unusable (colors are out of register, all elements are pixelized), so I designed the required letter & numeral decals in accordance with historical photographs and had them custom-printed. The national insignia came from a generic decal sheet by Techmod.

3.3. Presentation
The vignette base is sheet plastic. The pilot figures came from CMK # 72110 set and were slightly modified to make them Navy rather than Air Force guys.

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Grumman F2F in Wikipedia: link
[2] Grumman Biplane Fighters in Action | Aircraft in Action Series # 160 | Squadron/Signal Publications, 1996.
[3] A collection of excellent historical photographs: link

5. Notes
5.1. In regards to the paint scheme, this particular kit's instruction sheet is not alone in suggesting an incorrect fuselage color. Even the massive monograph "US Navy & Marine Corps Aircraft Color Guide" by the well-known author John M. Elliot says nothing about the fact that somewhere in the second half of the 1930s the prescription to paint all external metal & wood surfaces in Naval Aircraft Gray, very clearly given in the Navy's specification still applicable at that time (SR-15a), was de-facto abandoned, and that most of new aircraft types of that era had their fuselages painted in Aluminum Dope. There are many historical photographs that clearly show overall Aluminum fuselages on late 1930s and early 1940 USN planes; I am giving just a very small selection: SBC-3 (link), SOC/SON (link), F3F-2 (link), TBD-1 (link), BT-1 (link), SBD-1 (link), XFL-1 (link), XSB2C-1 (link), XF5F-1 (link).
Still, in many cases model kit manufacturers and modelers alike seem to be putting their trust in texts and not in actual historical photographs.

5.2. It amazes me how often you see modellers declare that they won't build resin model kits, implying that resin is the reason for that self-abstention. Scale modelling is a bit like madness, and surely there are multiple different kinds of this madness... Still, for me the key factor in any scale model is its accuracy; after accuracy, I value the level of detail and the quality of molding/casting. If the model is accurate and of good quality, then the medium – be it plastic or resin – is of no importance to me. Moreover, it is my view that a high-quality, well-designed resin kit would in many cases be easier – and not harder! – to build than a plastic model of the same or similar type of airplane. The Grumman F2F-1 kit by Attack Squadron is an excellent proof. Building this resin kit was immensely easier than building plastic kits of Grumman FF-1 and Grumman F3F-1 by Special Hobby and MPM respectively, all three being biplanes of the same size and layout. Here is just one example: where the Attack Squadron's resin kit parts had minuscule tabs and respective recesses to correctly position and align them, the two aforementioned plastic kits offered no such amenities for the most challenging subassembly of any biplane kit – the wing box, with its associated cabane struts and interplane struts.

12 June 2017

F2F-1 - Attack Squadron Model Kit Review

1. Introduction
Aircraft: Grumman F2F-1
Model kit manufacturer / country: Attack Squadron / Poland
Scale: 1:72
Catalogue number: 72068
Release time: 2016

Basic information on the Grumman F2F-1 is available in Wikipedia (link) and will not be repeated here.

2. Kit
2.1. Box
The box is very compact (16 x 11 x 3 cm) and extremely sturdy, the parts are safely packaged in multiple zip-lock plastic bags with bubble wrapper serving as shock absorber.  There is no boxart to speak of.

2.2. Instruction
Instruction is printed in one black & white and one color A4 sheet.  It provides detailed recommendations on building and painting.

2.3. Resin Items
The quality of casting is excellent.  All surfaces are smooth, with very delicate recessed and raised (where appropriate) details.  Special thanks to Attack Squadron for not marring the fuselage with "bullet hole"-style rivet lines; that would have killed this tiny bird.
In terms of accuracy, I can't see any serious issues.  The only thing I slightly doubt is the prominence of the "seam" running the whole length of the kit's belly.  Everything else matches what I see on the historical photographs, which are not many; and since not a single F2F-1 survived, we won't have any additional technical information on this particular type, unless something buried deep in some archives is suddenly unearthed.  

In this miniature model, which measures just ~12 x 9 cm (actually, this is one of the smallest operational carrier-based aircraft of the U.S. Navy, tied dimensions-wise only with Curtiss TS-1 and Boeing F4B), you get some good interior and exterior detail, such as:
 - Nicely detailed engine complete with minuscule curved exhaust pipes.
 - Good cockpit interior (although Aires has long been producing resin cockpits with crispier and finer details in the same scale).
 - Thickness is as close to being scale-wise as possible in a number of critical parts, such as the engine cowling and wing and stabilizer trailing edges.
 - Slightly deflected ailerons.
 - Weighted wheels.

However, after a rather disappointing surprise with the Attack Squadron's F8F-1 Bearcat kit (see my detailed review here), I decided to review the F2F-1 kit only when all of the resin parts are separated from their bases and could therefore be test-fitted.
Fortunately, here the problems of the Bearcat kit do not reappear.  There is one relatively minor issue that I can see: there are small gaps between the elevators and the fuselage which are not present on the real aircraft.
Other resin parts fit very well; the fit can even be called remarkable in a number of particularly complicated areas, such as
 - the engine and engine cowling; 
 - the upper wing and the part comprising the upper forward fuselage and wing support posts.

Still, I have a couple of minor complaints in regards to parts breakdown:
 - I don't think that making main landing gear legs photo-etched rather than resin is a good idea.  It might appear good from the durability perspective, but from the perspective of historical accuracy an F2F-1 landing gear leg is tubular, it is not comprised from two bars, each rectangular in cross-section.  To hide the seam between the two photo-etched metal strips that comprise each leg, you'll need several layers of primer and some very careful sanding. 
 - Propeller blades and hub are offered as 3 separate parts, and I don't particularly enjoy assembling it while having to guess at the correct pitch angle of the blades.  I don't think it's technically impossible to cast a one-piece two-blade propeller; some of the resin kit manufacturers are doing so.

2.4. Clear Items
The kit contains a vacu-formed canopy of excellent quality, clear and thin.  I see no inaccuracies in its shape.
A small piece of film for the instrument panel is also included.
However, no clear items are provided for either landing light (which on the F2F-1 is prominently positioned in the nose – a very unusual feature for a prop fighter) or navigation lights.  These small items – perfectly easy to do in terms of 3D modelling and resin casting technology, but tedious to scratch-build from a chunk of clear plastic – is what the absolute majority of model kits in the 1:72 scale are lacking (and no, the "common wisdom" of simply painting your plastic parts clear red/green over silver just doesn't do the trick).  Clear navigation lights were present in the Attack Squadron's earlier F8F-1 Bearcat kit, but sadly the company did not follow that practice up with their F2F-1 kit.

2.5. Photoetched Items
The quality of etching is very good, but it is a pity that the manufacturer did not provide photoetched metal parts to replicate the biplane's rigging (also known as flying wires).  The flying wires on the U.S. Navy biplanes were flat strips of metal, i.e. not round in cross-section.  The classic practice of making biplane rigging from stretched sprue or polyester fiber, while being extremely tedious in all cases, is also historically inaccurate when applied to airplanes like the Grumman F2F-1.  Photoetched metal rigging (similar to items produced by Starfighter Decals for the Curtiss F11C and SBC kits) would have made construction considerably easier and resulted in a more accurate model.

3. Decal
There are six decal options provided:
A) BuNo 9624 / 3F1. U.S. Navy, squadron VF-3B. 1936.
B) BuNo 9673 / 5F1. U.S. Navy, squadron VF-5. 1937.
C) BuNo 9367 / 7F13. U.S. Navy, squadron VF-7, USS Wasp (CV-8). 1936.
D) BuNo 9997 / 4F9. USMC, squadron VF-4M. 1937.
E) BuNo 9646 / 2F1. U.S. Navy, squadron VF-2. 1937.
F) BuNo 9663 / 2MF9. USMC, squadron VMF-2. 1937.

Regrettably, the decal is defective in a number of ways (right-click on a picture, select "Open in new tab" from the context menu, then in the new tab enlarge the picture to 100% scale so that you can see all of the issues described below).
1) The colors on the decal are printed out of register.  That makes all 6 decal/markings variants unusable: all elements (the lettering of the Marines variants over the tail stripes; the unit badges of the Navy variants; the "E" letter denoting excellence; the propeller tip stripes; etc.) are out of alignment.

2) Apparently, the resolution used when printing this decal was not high enough: the contours / edges of the decal items are not straight / smooth, they are jarred and "pixelized".  The "steps" ("pixels") can be seen with unaided eye on nearly all items on this decal.

These two problems are very serious: essentially, they mean that the decal supplied with this kit cannot be used.  It has to be noted that the decal that came with the Attack Squadron's F8F-1 kit did not have such problems: all its elements were in register, and there was no "pixelization".  Therefore, the question is not about technical impossibility, but about quality control with the decal supplier.

There are some other issues that are not related to the quality of printing, but rather to historical accuracy.

3) Variant A: the white color that is used to print the star on the "Screaming Eagles" squadron badge is questionable.  I haven't seen any color photographs that would show this badge on a Grumman F2F-1, but available black & white photographs show that the star is substantially darker than other nearby markings (such as the letter "F" in the aircraft's tactical code) that are definitely white.  Furthermore, color photographs that show the "Screaming Eagles" squadron badge on their later aircraft are available, and there the star is definitely yellow.

4) Variant B: the light blue color that is used to print the shield on the "Red Rippers" squadron badge is questionable.  Period black & white photographs as well as later color photographs of the "Red Rippers" aircraft suggest that the blue used on their badge is not light in shade: it looks like the standard Insignia Blue, i.e., dark blue.

5) Variant C: the BuNo 9367 supplied for this variant is incorrect.  This number belonged to a Grumman FF-1 fighter, not to any of the F2F-1's.  BuNo's assigned to the F2F-1's were as follows: 9342 (XF2F-1); 9623 through 9676; 9997.

4. Alternatives & Aftermarket
As of summer 2017 there are no other 1:72 scale model kits of this aircraft in production, but in distant past there have been a couple of vacu-formed models.  As for the aftermarket stuff, it seems that the only item relevant to the Grumman F2F-1 is the R-1535 resin engine produced by Starfighter Decals.  Considering the intricate exhaust pipework that is integrated into the F2F-1 engine, I'm not sure that the Attack Squadron's model would benefit from this good but apparently generic aftermarket R-1535.

5. Conclusion
 - High accuracy; no visible shortcomings in geometry.
 - Very good level of detail for a 1:72 scale kit.
 - Excellent quality of casting.
 - Vacu-formed canopy and photoetched metal parts included.
 - Decal is totally unusable due to serious printing defects: all elements are out of register and "pixelized".  This is a major shortcoming for a kit priced at E32.

6. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Grumman F2F in Wikipedia: link
[2] Grumman Biplane Fighters in Action | Aircraft in Action Series # 160 | Squadron/Signal Publications, 1996.
[3] A collection of excellent historical photographs: link

Considering the defective decal, it is curious to see what the typical reviewers – those of the "My sincere thanks to ABC Company for this review sample" persuasion – are saying.  In one such review we read the following: "Decals are exceptionally done and appear to be spot-on, registration-wise. Colors are really well done."
So.... look once again at the high resolution scan of the decal in my article above, and then choose for yourself what you want to believe.

12 March 2017

HUP Retriever - Amodel Kit Review

1. Introduction
Aircraft: Piasecki HUP-2 / HUP-3 Retriever
Model kit manufacturer: Amodel
Scale: 1:72
Catalogue number: 72137
Release time: probably mid-2000s

Basic information on the HUP Retriever is available in Wikipedia (link) and will not be repeated here.

2. Kit
2.1. Box
The box is a top-opener of moderate size (26 x 18 x 5 cm), too large for the enclosed plastic frames measuring no more than 15 x 12 cm. The cardboard is thin and soft. The boxart is funny: it shows a U.S. Navy HUP-2 in inaccurate paint scheme (olive instead of historically correct Engine Grey), as well as in historically inaccurate setting: it is shown overflying a ship that is clearly the USS Wasp, LHD-1, commissioned in 1989 (that is 25 years after the last of the Navy's Retrievers was withdrawn from use).

2.2. Instruction
Instruction is printed in on one black & white A3 sheet. Guidance on assembly is clear enough. Guidance on painting is full of inaccuracies, but I will come to that later (see section 3).

2.3. Plastic Parts
The surface of plastic parts is smooth, engraved panel lines (very few of them, actually) are not too wide. Unfortunately, these are the only nice words that can be said about this kit.
1) The kit's fuselage is inaccurate in every respect. In particular,
 a) In cross-section, the kit's fuselage has a nearly flat top and a completely flat bottom (similar to that of, say, CH-47 or Yak-24). This is entirely inaccurate: the fuselage cross-section of a real HUP was a nearly perfect oval.
 b) Aft rotor pylon shape is totally incorrect: it must be taller, and both its forward and trailing edges must be closer to vertical.
 c) The kit's forward rotor pylon shape is incorrect; observe how smoothly the pylon blends with the fuselage on a real HUP: photo.
 d) Aft rotor pylon should have four large cooling openings, not two as presented in the kit. It should be noted that some machines had the two lower openings closed with special metal covers, but it was only practiced very early in this helicopter's service life.
 e) The main landing gear leg attachment points on the kit are put too far aft.
 f) Cabin door must be slightly wider and located a bit lower and more forward.
 g) The rescue hoist hatch in the cabin floor is totally omitted in the kit. The internally mounted rescue hoist and its requisite cabin floor hatch are very curious features of the HUP design and should not be overlooked.
 h) The shape of the ventral cooling opening is incorrect: it must be an elongated octagon, not a circle: photo.
 i) The indentation on the starboard fuselage aft of the main landing gear strut mount is not a transparent window, as suggested in the kit, but a refueling receptacle.
 j) The shape of the starboard cabin window is incorrect: it must be an octagon, not a rectangle, and positioned a bit more forward in the fuselage.
The following sketch is not a rendering of any of the Internet drawings; it is made by me and is based solely on historical photographs (photographs of preserved machines are inapplicable as the photographer is always too close to the subject):
2) Rotorhead detail is nearly non-existent in the kit. This is how the rotorhead of the real thing should look like: photo.
3) The shape of rotor blade tips is inaccurate in the kit. The blade tips must be square.
4) Most of the kit's cabin interior appears to be fictional. The pilot and co-pilot seats are inaccurate. The passenger seats are missing, although, in all fairness, it would be impossible to mold these webbed seats accurately in plastic.  Furthermore, it appears that the HUPs serving with the Navy's operational units did not have any insulation on the cabin walls and ceiling, so that the fuselage structure, the rescue winch and even some of the forward rotor transmission were clearly seen. As an example, here are some photographs that show what the cabin interior of a real operational HUP looked like: link and link.
5) The kit's representation of the engine and the aft rotor transmission is a complete fiction. For instance, the R-975 engine that powered the HUP had a single row of 9 cylinders, not two rows as represented in the kit. This is not a tragedy in itself, as on a real helicopter the engine is not actually visible behind a tangle of pipework and mounts; it just shows that the kit manufacturer did no research whatsoever: the R-975 is a well known engine (it was used to power Sherman and Lee tanks and Hellcat tank destroyers, among others), and even a cursory search will tell you it has a single row of 9 cylinders.
6) Landing gear legs, if used as given in the kit, will result in the fuselage sitting unrealistically high above ground. In other words, the kit's landing gear legs are "unloaded" and thus inaccurate for modelling the helicopter in a typical stationary / parked pose.
7) Quite a few of the smaller details are missing in the kit, such as the landing lights and navigation lights. However, considering the magnitude of problems with the fuselage, such smaller detail issues seem to be unimportant.

To conclude this section, it appears that the Amodel kit was designed basing on the quite detailed but very inaccurate drawings published in "AviO" # 2 (Kharkiv, 1992) magazine: the kit fits these drawings perfectly.

2.4. Clear Items
Clear plastic items are very thick; their transparency is seriously compromised by molding imperfections and distortions. 

3. Decal & Paint Instructions
There three decal options provided:
A) HUP-2, BuNo 128562 / UP20. U.S. Navy, squadron HU-1. Early 1960s.
B) HUP-3, Serial No 51-16621. Royal Canadian Navy, squadron VU 33. Late 1950s or early 1960s.
C) HUP-2, BuNo 130077 / 23S6. French Naval Aviation (Aéronavale), squadron 23S. Late 1950s or early 1960s.
Variant A:
1) The kit's instructions recommend painting the airframe Olive Drab, which is, of course, incorrect. Only the U.S. Army H-25A Army Mules were painted Olive Drab: example.
The U.S. Navy Retrievers, throughout their service life, were subject to the following paint schemes:
- Sea Blue (FS15042) overall: example
- Light Gull Grey (FS36440) overall: example
- Fluorescent Red Orange (FS28913) overall: example
- Engine Grey (FS16081) overall: example
- Engine Grey with Fluorescent Red Orange trim: example
As for the Red Orange trim exact placement, the kit's instruction is also incorrect: there must be a wide Red Orange band on the forward lower fuselage, and the "step" in the Red Orange trim on the top of the aft rotor pylon is in reality much less pronounced than the kit's instructions suggest.
2) The kit's instructions recommend painting the rotor blades black overall with yellow tips. This in incorrect. First, rotor blade upper surfaces must be Light Gull Gray. Then, as the Navy's SR-2e regulation states (taken from the definitive work on the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft colors and markings by John M. Elliot), "matched sets of main rotor blades" are to have the first 2 inches of each blade tip painted an identifying color - Insignia White, Insignia Red and Light Green – with a 6 inch band of Orange Yellow inboard of the tip color (while "unmatched sets of main rotor blades" are to have all blade tips in Orange Yellow). I don't know whether all of the Navy HUPs did use matched sets of rotor blades, but a number of available historical photographs clearly show that differently colored blade tips were in fact present. As an example, see color historical photographs here (search for "HUP-2" on this page).
3) The kit's instructions recommend painting the cabin interior Light Grey. Most probably this recommendation is accurate for BuNo 128562; however, we should remember that some of the HUPs had Interior Green cabin interiors.
4) The kit's instructions provide no recommendation on this, but all of the interior visible through the four large openings on the aft rotor pylon must be painted the same color as the helicopter's fuselage.
5) The proportions of the U.S. national insignia on the decal are incorrect: the red stripes are too thin, the blue border around the white star is too thick.
6) All of the codes on the decal ("UP", "20" and "128562") are printed using inaccurate font. Historical photographs of this particular machine as well as of other contemporary HUPs in Engine Grey & Red Orange paint scheme show us that all symbols had 60 degrees, not 45 degrees corner cuts.
7) The font for the "NAVY" fuselage side letters is inaccurate on the decal. The decal's letters are too narrow (in relation to their height), and the bars in "N", "A" and "V" have different thickness.
8) Historical photographs show that there were several variations of markings on the HUP fuselage lower surface. The kit's decal and instructions suggest the following variant (from nose to tail): "Navy" > "Rescue" > national insignia. This could have been the case for some of the machines; however, historical photographs show that HUPs in Engine Grey & Red Orange paint scheme, assigned to utility squadrons, had "Abandon Chute" or "Remove Chute" lettering, and not "Rescue". In particular, photographs of BuNo 128562 suggest that the markings on the lower fuselage were as follows, from nose to tail: "Abandon Chute" (white letters on Red Orange background) > national insignia > "Navy".
9) The "Rescue" arrows on the decal are orange. This is incorrect: these arrows must be Insignia Red.

Variant B:
10) The kit's instructions recommend painting the airframe light grey overall, which is incorrect. Royal Canadian Navy helicopters of that time period, including the Retriever, wore the two-tone scheme: Dark Sea Grey upper surfaces and Medium Sea Grey lower surfaces and sides.
11) The kit's instructions recommend painting the fuselage band and the top of the tail rotor pylon yellow. I could not find a single historical photograph that would confirm the yellow trim; available photographs show the trim color to be red.
12) The shape of the red maple leaf on the national insignia does not appear to be historically accurate.
13) The font for the black "NAVY" lettering is inaccurate on the decal. Compare the decal's letters with historical photographs.
14) The "147621" serial number present on the decal is historically inaccurate. Although Bureau Number 147621 was indeed allocated to a HUP-3, that particular machine has never served with the Royal Canadian Navy. The Canadian machines (three in total) were actually ex-U.S. Army H-25A helicopters, and, although all of them did receive the U.S. Navy Bureau Numbers, they carried their U.S. Army serial numbers while in Canadian service. Their respective Army serial numbers and Navy Bureau Numbers were as follows: 51-16621 / 147622; 51-16622 / 147609 and 51-16623 / 147617. Each of the three Canadian machines had its large fuselage tactical number changed several times throughout its service life, but the "621" tactical number present on the decal was, according to source [5], associated with s/n 51-16621 during its service with Utility Squadron 33.
15) The "Attention pales rotor" legend on the decal is incorrect, as well as its black & white color. Royal Canadian Navy Retrievers had technical stencilling in English, not in French, and this particular warning placard read "Beware of forward rotor blade" in white capital letters on red background.

Variant C:
16) The font used for the white "23.S-6" side number on the decal is inaccurate. Compare it with historical photographs, and also observe that Aéronavale puts an underscore (_), not a dash (-) between the squadron letter ("S" in this case) and the individual machine number.
17) The "Attention pales rotor" legend on the decal is incorrect. On Aéronavale Retrievers this particular warning placard read "Attention avec pales du rotor avant" (in capitals).

I have to conclude that, as is so often the case, this decal is apparently based on inaccurate color profiles from books or magazines and not on historical photographs.

4. Alternatives & Aftermarket
According to scalemates, the following other companies have released the 1:72 model kits of this helicopter: Siga (# 72-M07), YuMTK (kits # 005 and 006) and Mach2 (# GP.012).
The model kit from Siga, although different in some minor detail, is clearly based on the same master parts as the Amodel kit and, therefore, must share all of its inaccuracies. I could not find any pictures of the YuMTK product at all, but I strongly suspect that this is the same model as released by Amodel and Siga; it is also possible that the YuMTK product is the original, while Amodel and Siga are reboxes.
The Retriever from Mach2 is definitely their own kit, but, to put it short, it is very poorly cast and has a number of accuracy issues, as are most of the kits produced by this manufacturer (sadly, the people at Mach2 do not seem to have learned a single thing in their 20+ years of operations: their models released in 2016 have the same poor accuracy and poor quality of casting as their models from the 1990s).

As for the aftermarket items, it seems that only one is available: a vacu-formed canopy from Pavla. Its transparency is very good, but the flat shape of its bottom is tailored to match the incorrectly shaped Amodel's fuselage.

5. Conclusion
 - Moderate price (approx. $11 paid at a local model shop in 2012).
 - The accuracy of this kit is horrible. There is hardly a single part that could be considered accurate, but worst of all is the fuselage, which is wrong in every respect.
 - Very thick clear plastic parts with poor transparency.
 - Decals for all three variants are totally inaccurate.

6. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the HUP / H-25 in Wikipedia: link
[2] Brief description of the HUP / H-25 on Boeing's official site: link
[3] Full list of produced HUP / H-25 helicopters with construction numbers, Navy Bureau Numbers and Army serial numbers: link
[4] Several photo walk-arounds of preserved Retrievers: link
[5] A small but useful piece of info on the Royal Canadian Navy Retrievers: link
[6] An article in French, with some useful details on the HUP-2 service with Aéronavale: link

Some caution notes on the available information and sources:

a) There seem to be a persistent myth (repeated even in some of the printed books) that the Army's H-25A variant had larger cabin door. There are no indications that this was the case. Take a look at photographs of the real thing (such as these examples: H-25A and HUP-2) and see for yourself: the doors are identical in size, shape and placement.

b) Another Internet myth states that there were external differences between the U.S., Canadian and French machines, and that somehow the shape of rotor blades and engine cutout of the Amodel kit are correct for the U.S. and Canadian variants but not for the French one, or vice versa. This is totally unsubstantiated; there were neither "Canadian-specific" nor "French-specific" Retrievers. The French Naval Aviation (Aéronavale) received standard HUP-2 helicopters from the U.S. Navy. The Royal Canadian Navy received ex-U.S. Army H-25A helicopters, which are externally identical to the U.S. Navy HUP-3 variant (except for some antennae).

c) Take a particular note of the fact that as of early 2017, there seem to be no accurate line drawings of the HUP Retriever available on the Internet. All available drawings have multiple inaccuracies, and this includes drawings from such sources as the official U.S. Navy flight manual; wikipedia.org; "AviO" # 2 magazine; "An Illustrated Guide to Military Helicopters" book by Bill Gunston; "Helicopters. Military, Civilian and Rescue Rotorcraft" book by Robert Jackson; aviastar.org and various other sites.

d) When researching paint schemes and markings, do not trust photographs of preserved and restored aircraft. These are very frequently painted and marked without regard to historical accuracy. You can rarely see historically correct fonts on a museum aircraft, and sometimes even such basic things as the national insignia are wrong, which really grieves me: museum workers are supposed to be capable of doing at least some research, aren't they.

e) It would be wise to look at the technical condition of preserved and restored aircraft with a critical eye. Some of the preserved machines are sadly deteriorated. Yet others, while externally glossy and pleasing to the eye of a casual observer, do not retain their historically accurate configurations and may have some components removed and some replaced with non-authentic ones. For example, exhibits at the USS Intrepid, Kalamazoo Air Zoo and Fort Rucker museums all have non-authentic tail wheels.