25 May 2015

Mk.82 Snakeye Bomb - Model Kits Review

1. Introduction
The Mk.82 bomb is, beyond doubt, an archetypical weapon of the U.S. Navy and Marines strike aircraft of the 1960s and 1970s. Bullpup or Shrike missiles may have looked cooler and guided bombs may have gathered more fame and publicity, but Mk.82 slicks and Snakeyes found incommensurably wider use. Thus if you want a model of an archetypical USN or USMC aircraft of the Vietnam war era in a ground attack configuration, such model should have a load of Mk.82s. And whereas a slick Mk.82 presents no particular difficulty to modellers and is well represented in a number of kits, the Mk.82 Snakeye with its very complex and intricately shaped tail fin unit is definitely not an easy thing to either mould in plastic or to scratch-build. 

Fortunately, some resin aftermarket sets have appeared recently to help us tackle the Snakeye. A couple of such sets are reviewed here and compared against the older plastic kit parts.

Note that this review article only concerns the "classic" Snakeye retarder tail that was in use with the Mk.82 bomb during the 1960s - 1990s timeframe (and applicable to such USN / USMC aircraft as A-1, A-4, A-6, A-7, F-8 and F-4). It is not to be confused with the modern version of the high-drag tail fin unit (see [3] in the Reference section).

2. Kits
2.1. Hasegawa
For many long years the only aftermarket aircraft weapon sets available on the market have been those made by Hasegawa as part of their "Aircraft Weapons" series. There was simply nothing else if you wanted additional weapons for your aircraft model.

The "U.S. Bombs & Rocket Launchers" (cat. #  X72-011 / 35001) set was released in 1987, and back in those years it was an excellent product. But 28 years later we see that the most remarkable part of the real Snakeye – its retarder tail fins – is represented very crudely. It looks like several rectangular pieces of plastic and not like the real thing at all. There's no nicer way to state it.

I will note, however, that the set contains:
 - Decals for the Mk.82 bobms as well as an excellent instruction sheet complete with the paining guide.
 - Many other types of ordnance which are out of my review's scope.

2.2. Academy
I chose the Academy's F-8E Crusader kit (cat. # 1615) for this review because:
 a) this is a relatively modern kit (released in 2004),
 b) the Crusader itself is accurate and beautifully detailed (actually, I believe it to be one of the best 1:72 models of a USN jet),
 c) it includes Mk.82 Snakeye bombs.

However, when we take a closer look at the Academy's representation of Snakeye bombs we see that they give no advantage over the Hasegawa's set at all. Although the bombs from the Korean manufacturer are definitely not the exact copies of the Hasegawa's items (e.g. check the thickness of tail fins), they are in exactly the same league in terms of accuracy and detail. Enough said.

2.3. Kora Models
In 2014 Kora Models from Czech Republic has released a flood of resin Mk.82 Snakeye sets. As far as I can see there are more than 15 sets which differ by the number of bombs and the combination of TER and / or MER racks included.

Curiously enough, the manufacturer does not state on its packaging the exact number of bombs that are included, instead using generic terms like "light load", "medium load" or "heavy load". How difficult is it to put a clear label - "Contains X items" - on the packaging, I wonder?...

I have obtained a set designated as # DSM72009 and containing 12 bombs and 2 MER racks. All items are cast in very pale cream resin. Photographing them is not easy, therefore for the purposes of this review I have covered one bomb and one MER rack from the Kora's set in grey primer.

Looking at the Kora's representation of the Mk.82 Snakeye we see that:
 - Firstly, the quality of casting is dreadful (no, I didn't deliberately pick the worst item - all bombs in the box are exactly the same).
 - Secondly, although there are more fine details than on the 25+ year old Hasegawa's item, those details are inaccurate. Look at the photographs of the real Snakeye and see for yourself.

Instructions on painting the bombs are provided, but decals are not. You are supposed to find third party decals (as hand-painting the 0.3mm tall yellow stencilling on each bomb case is hardly feasible).

But this is not all. The set reviewed here also contains MER racks, so why not comparing them with the venerable items from Japan? Look at my pictures then. I don't know about you, but what I see is a nearly exact copy of the 25+ year old Hasegawa's item. The only thing added by Kora is the poor quality of casting.

After looking closely at this particular set I'd say that the guys at Kora Models should probably remove the red "High Quality" lettering from their product packaging: at the moment it looks like a cruel joke.

2.4. North Star Models
North Star Models has released its Mk.82 Snakeye set in 2014, and in 2015 decal has been added to the kit. The kit (# 72082) is very sophisticated and includes the following:
 - Resin parts for building six Mk.82 Snakeye bombs.
 - For each bomb, a choice of "noses" that includes: standard (short) fuse, 36-inch fuse extender and two types of inert (fuseless) nose cones.
 - Photo-etched parts to imitate fuse arming propellers.
 - Decal with stencils and nose rings for both live and training (inert) variants.
 - Instruction sheet with paining guide.

The bomb's trademark intricately shaped folding fins are astonishingly detailed. Judging by available historical photographs, the accuracy is excellent: even the tiny holes in each of the four fin plates are faithfully represented.

A couple of further notes, though:
 - The fins are so delicate that they can be bent just by touching them with your fingertips. But the nice thing is that they bend rather than break (a good choice of resin, North Star!)
 - Bending the minuscule photo-etched parts is not an easy task.

3. Conclusion
I think that my comparison pictures suffice to declare that we have a clear winner. The Snakeyes from North Star Models are as accurate as it is possible in the 1:72 scale and the quality is absolutely flawless.

And the product from Kora Models just offers one more prove (if anyone needs it) that words like "aftermarket" or "resin detail set" do not necessarily mean "must have". I personally do not think that I will be buying anything else produced by Kora Models.

The difference between the North Star's and Kora's products is so vast that in my opinion the price does not even enter the equation.
However, for those who are interested here's the pricing:
 - North Star Models kit # 72082 (6 bombs with decals) = E 8.01 at the manufacturer's site
 - Kora Models kit # DSM72001 (6 bombs) = E 9.00 at LF Models shop, E 9.79 at Hannants shop

4. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Mark 82 bomb in Wikipedia: link
[2] "Classic" Snakeye retarder tail (Mk.15) in the open position: photo
[3] Modern version of the high-drag tail fin unit that is not to be confused with the 1960s - 1990s "classic" Snakeye: photophoto