15 October 2015

E-1B Tracer – RVHP Conversion Set Review

1. Introduction
Aircraft: Grumman E-1B Tracer
Model kit manufacturer / country: RVHP / Czech Republic
Scale: 1:72
Catalogue number: 7293
Release time: probably late 1990s

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

2. Kit
This is in fact a conversion set and not a full kit. It is intended to convert the S-2 Tracker model produced by Hasegawa (a very old one, first introduced in the 1970s) into the E-1B AEW variant.

2.1. Box
The box is compact (23 x 14 x 4 cm) and extremely sturdy. There is no other packaging though, and resin pats are left to rattle inside the box.

2.2. Instruction
Instruction is provided on one black & white A4 sheet. Assembly guidelines are given in a text-only form. Very little information on painting is supplied.

2.3. Resin Items
All parts are cast from pale cream resin. At first glance, the resin as such looks nice, but the quality of surface finish is in fact very poor: the parts are uneven in places and have multiple scratches as if they have been sandpapered (apparently, the manufacturer neglected to prepare the master kit surfaces properly before casting). The two parts comprising the radome do not fit together, leaving a wide gap. The fuselage halves diverge when aligned.
While the quality of parts can be assessed as poor, the accuracy and geometry is, unfortunately, even worse. The most characteristic feature of the Tracer, its radome, is fatally flawed. See for yourself on my comparison pictures, where the RVHP's parts are put against some historical photographs and the Google's satellite imagery of a surviving E-1B. The shape of the real Tracer radome is not only different in all aspects (planform, side view, front view), it is also much more intricate than the simple tear-drop / egg-shaped thing designed by RVHP
Other issues of this set comprise:
 - Total lack of small parts to make the radome support struts (5 in total), several Tracer-specific fuselage air scoops and smaller antennae.
 - Absence of accurate panel lines on the fuselage and the radome.
 - Absence of the vents on the radome underside and several smaller air inlets on the fuselage.
 - Simplified surface detail on the horizontal and vertical stabilizers.

One has also to keep in mind that the Hasegawa's S-2 Tracker kit, which is supposed to serve as a basis for this Tracer conversion, is itself very old, has raised panel lines and offers very austere detailing. Given this, the project of building something resembling an accurate model of the E-1B would require many months of dedicated and meticulous work that, among other things, will include scratch-building the radome – thus making obtaining the Czech conversion set scarcely worthwhile.

All in all, the RVHP's set leaves an impression that it has been designed basing on some sketchy drawings (from an old book or a magazine) rather than on any photographs of the real aircraft in question. Actually, this may well be the case if the set was created in the pre-Internet era by someone who had no chance to visit the U.S. and photograph / measure one of the very few surviving Tracers stored there.

3. Decal
One decal option is provided for the following aircraft:
 - BuNo 148921 / NP015. U.S. Navy, squadron VAW-111, USS Hancock (CV-19), 1973.
Basing on the historical photographs, the decal sheet has the following inaccuracies:
1) The exact shape and size of the bat artwork is questionable, as the only available historical photograph that proves its existence is taken at a rather oblique angle. It could be surmised that this artwork was a one-of-kind example specific for BuNo 148921, as historical photographs of other VAW-111 Tracers that are currently available do not exhibit any radome artwork whatsoever.
2) Inaccurate font of the vertical stabilizer "NP" code: there should be no cut angles on the P's.
3) Inaccurate font of the "8921" BuNo and the "015" modex: all characters should have 60° angles (not 45°).
4) Inaccurate BuNo cut-out on the vertical stabilizer maroon trim.
5) Inaccurate black arrow shapes: they should have straight, not curved sides.

What we see here is a decal that was apparently created basing on a drawing in a book (namely, USN Aircraft Carrier Air Units Volume 3 by Duane Kasulka, Squadron / Signal Publications, 1988) and not on historical photographs.

4. Alternatives & Aftermarket
As of October 2015 there is only one full kit of the Tracer on the market – the one issued by Mach2 (# 7229 / GP029). As can be seen from kit reviews (see link), the Mach2's kit has the same grossly inaccurate radome shape as does the RVHP's conversion set. A very old vacu-formed conversion set produced by Falcon (# 4600), unsurprisingly, also shares the egg-shaped radome with the RVHP and Mach2 offerings.

No aftermarket is made specifically for the Tracer. However, there is an R-1820 engine set by QuickBoost (# 72059) that is certainly applicable. In addition, there are two photoetched detail sets made by Eduard (# 72267 and # 72268) that are intended for the S-2 Tracker; certain parts from these two sets could be also of use.

5. Conclusion
 - Nothing.
 - Totally inaccurate radome shape.
 - Very poor quality of surface finish.
 - Poor fit of parts.
 - Poor surface detail: no proper panel lines on the fuselage and radome, no imitation of vents, inlets, hatches and lights on the fulselage.
 - Total lack of the Tracer-specific small parts: radome support struts, air scoops, various antennae.
 - Inaccurate decal.
 - High price (~$52 in 2005 at Hobbyshop.cz).

The conclusion is, therefore, as follows: we will have to wait until some manufacturer comes up with a new E-1 Tracer kit – and, hopefully, with an accurate one.

6. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the E-1 Tracer in Wikipedia: link
[2] Good photo walk-arounds: linklink
[3] Some useful notes by Tommy H. Thomason: link
[4] S2F Tracker in Action | Aircraft in Action Series # 100 | Squadron/Signal Publications, 1990
[5] E-1B Tracer Standard Aircraft Characteristics sheet by NAVAIR (see link in source [1]).
[6] An example of flawed E-1 Tracer drawings: link