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.