Finished Fokker D.VIIF – late, but only by 99 years

About two years ago I wrote a post about my Fokker D.VII project at roughly the midway point. I finished it in April of 2016, and neglected to share the photos. The full ordeal of the build will be documented in an upcoming IPMS/USA Journal article, but here’s the historical background and the explanation of the diorama.

Wilhelm Hippert was an ace, but his Fokker D.VIIF was also one of the most strikingly painted of the Great War. With the checkerboard fuselage, Jasta 74’s blue nose and landing gear, and the name “Mimmi” painted in enormous letters across the top wing’s four-color lozenge camouflage, it stood out even in an era of wild paint schemes.

The finished model, which has some paint under all those decals!

Wilhelm “Willi” Hippert began his air war as a member of Feldflieger Abteilung (FFA) 227, piloting a two-seat reconnaissance aircraft on the Western Front. He and observer Leutnant Heinrich Klose combined on the destruction of a Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2d from No. 20 Squadron, RFC over Lomme on March 17, 1917, and his aggressive flying led to his transfer out of observation aircraft and into the Albatros D.Vs of Jasta 30 over the Italian front.

Promoted to Vizefeldwebel (roughly, sergeant), Hippert became an ace flying over the Battle of Caporetto. On October 2, 1917, he claimed his second victim, a 40th Squadriglia Savoy Pomilio SP.3 pusher scout. October 25 saw Hippert dispatch a Sopwith Camel, followed by an SAML on November 30. On December 8, Hippert achieved ace status when he shot down a second Camel near Treviso, and he added another Camel to his tally on January 11.

On March 5, 1918, Hippert was transferred to the newly-established Jasta 74 on the Western Front, flying the Fokker D.VII. The squadron experimented with high-altitude breathing equipment to gain an altitude advantage, but it would achieve only 24 victories before the war’s end. It was here that Hippert acquired his colorful checker-boarded mount. On June 7, he claimed a Dorand AR2 over Beaumont-sur-Vesle, and added two French bombers, a Caudron R.11 and a Breguet 14 B.2, on August 22 (although the Breguet was never claimed).

From there, Hippert’s story goes cold. Unlike other German aces who were caught up in the intrigue of the political upheavals of the nation, or who made their fortunes in stunt flying or in Hollywood, Hippert seems to have disappeared from history. His memory lives because of his striking Fokker – and because we modelers enjoy building it.

Since the model would find a home in a non-modeler’s house, I bought a nice acrylic case with a finished wooden base on eBay for less than $30. That lent itself to a diorama: why simply stick the Fokker on a wooden base when a diorama would look better?

I mulled over several options, but I decided to avoid making a hangar, drilling posts for a fence, or otherwise getting too involved in features that would overwhelm the Fokker. Instead, I simply coated the base with scenic glue and sprinkled it with sifted dirt. After I masked the edges of the base, the dirt was painted a gray-brown color. I then sprayed on some thinned white glue and spread on some coarse turf, based on a photo I found of Jasta 74 on a remarkably non-prepared airfield in 1918. To brighten it up a bit, I added a sparse sprinkling of Silflor flowers.

Note the small flowers – Silflor’s wonderful products added a bit of color to the unprepared airfield.

I allowed the storyline to be dictated by the figures I had on hand. Quickboost’s German/Austro-Hungarian pilot figure came out about halfway through the build; he sported a moustache very much like Hippert’s. I painted him and set him aside.

Wilhelm Hippert? Is that You? And boy, money was a lot bigger back then!

The 3D-printing site Shapeways provided me with a package of 50 German WWI ground crewmen – all different poses! – and the orderlies with the champagne and the ground crewman were among them. And W+D Models sells the very best WWI figures out there, including a set of Royal Flying Corps pilots and lots of German foot soldiers. One of the British pilots would get a transfer to the French Air Force for purposes of this scene.

The excellent W+D figures of the French pilot and the German guard really stand out for their excellent sculpting.

The Fokker D.VIIF frames the little ceremony quite nicely.

In 1:72, this scene doesn’t take up much space.

The high-altitude breathing apparatus can just be seen below the cockpit.

These figures told my story: one of Hippert’s last victims, a French bomber pilot, is received by the victor with a toast delivered by two orderlies. He’s not particularly excited about it; even less excited is the guard detached to watch the prisoner. While one of the orderlies delivers a snappy salute to the prisoner, the guard shoots him a sideways look. Meanwhile, while the officers engage in their silly ceremony, a mechanic attends to the real work of caring for the Fokker D.VIIF.



When Aftermarket Attacks: Building the Meng F-106A Delta Dart, part 1

I’ve had the F-106A on my to-build list for years. Literally, years! In 1989, I read an article about the type’s retirement from the Air National Guard which featured several photos of an F-106A in a retirement scheme, one of the last three ANG F-106s (all were with the New Jersey ANG). I decided I wanted to build that plane. A few years later, I ran across a decal sheet from Expert’s Choice featuring that very aircraft (plus markings for a New Jersey ANG F-102B). Little did I know that the art for that sheet was done by Jennings Heilig, a friend of mine! Subsequent research on the subject has revealed video of the final ANG flight’s take-off, which has proven very useful in building a model. But back to the saga…

The years progressed and then, way back in 2010 or so, I started work on the old Hasegawa kit, and I re-scribed an example, carefully replicating the sea of oval access panels below the wings and the quilt-work of panel lines on the fuselage and upper wing. I was contemplating doing a detail set for the kit, with a new cockpit, a repositioned refueling receptacle, new nose bay, intakes… Basically, a whole new model. By 2014, after Meng released an F-102, I threw the whole mess away, hoping we’d have a new F-106 sometime soon. In 2016 I got my wish.

The Meng kit – the answer to my prayers and the cause of my Hasegawa kit’s demise.

The Meng F-106 is an impressive model, with a full missile bay, both styles of canopy, both styles of underwing fairings, a full complement of Falcon missiles (and their boxes), a Genie missile (and a handling trolley), positionable electronics bays in the nose, a gun pod (and the gear doors to accommodate it) and more. Meng also marketed a resin upgrade to the cockpit and to the exhaust/wheel wells. I snapped those up, too.

At first, all seemed will. The Meng aftermarket sets were packaged in extremely sturdy boxes, and each part was in its own tiny bag. The cockpit set had instructions inside the box, while the exhaust/wheel well set had instructions printed on the back of the box.

I started out by painting the rather nice ejection seat. This is the late-model seat, which was perfect for what I planned on building. I painted the seat using the various references available on-line, plus Bert Kinzey’s F-106 Delta Dart in Detail & Scale and the old (1980) Famous Aircraft of the World magazine about the Delta Dart. The seat came out pretty well, I thought!

The Meng resin seat is rather nice – good detail, crisply presented and easy to paint.

Next came the painting of the cockpit tub. This is where things became weird. Using the same references, I looked for areas where colors like red or yellow might be used after a gray dry-brushing had brought out the details. I was astonished that nothing matched the illustrations or photos. Worst of all, the throttle assembly – a rectangular unit inset into the left side console – was missing. Infuriatingly, the kit itself had this feature; it lacked the detail, but the structure was all there. I thought, perhaps I can pitch the resin tub and stick the resin bang seat in the kit tub, then detail the sidewalls. Nope – the seat was far too wide to fit the kit tub.

Grumbling, I made a new throttle assembly, with one long piece of .010 styrene and two shorter pieces at the height of the console all laminated together and sanded to shape. A couple of small knobs made of ting cross-sections of wire were added, and the assembly was cemented in place on the left sidewall. The throttle handle itself will be added toward the end of the build. Then, all the spurious detail was painted and/or adjusted to be a little more accurate.

Throttle assembly, mid-scratch-build. Scratch-building to fix aftermarket is less than enjoyable…

The rest of the resin set was equally disappointing. The sidewalls were inaccurate, and were thrown away; a little switch detail added to the kit sidewalls was perfectly adequate. The avionics bays were nice, but I didn’t want to have the bay’s open; nothing spoils the lines of the F-106 worse than those elephant ear-like doors.

I turned my attention to the exhaust/wheel bay set. To my consternation, none of the main wheel bay parts fit. In fact, to use the non-fitting center section of the bay, you’d had to decapitate the lower wing, which would mess up the structure of the model. And, again, the detail was pretty general – it didn’t look much like my photos. The nose wheel bay, however, was quite nice and matched the photos very well, so I painted it Convair interior green (not the screaming neon green of “interior green,” but a deeper color shown in the photos) and picked some details out in silver and black. Fitting the nose wheel bay and the cockpit tub took a lot of futzing about, but eventually they were both installed, with minimal gaps. The instrument panel was built using the late-style photoetched instruments, but the pedestal was glued to a piece of .010 styrene, allowing me to adjust its position in relation to the fusleage. The goofy tub placed the instrument panel in the wrong place, so some adjustment would be needed when it came time to close the fuselage halves.

Once placed, the tub/seat look OK…

Only F-106 jocks will ever know how scrambled the side console detail is!

The exhaust parts were also unusable – they were too small in diameter to fit the kit’s tail pipe, and the detail on the flameholder was inferior to that in the kit. So, for about $30, I got a seat, a sub-par tub, the nosewheel bay and an insert for the rear of the canopy. Not a bargain, and the parts made what should have been a fun build into a hassle.

Next time, we’ll look at something slightly more positive: the intakes and the detailing of the wheel bays.




Have you put on some weight? Building the Gannet AEW.3, part 3

The Gannet’s progress has been slow, but deliberate. When we left off, I said I was going to open the boarding ladder, which Sword outlines quite nicely on the right side of the fuselage. I almost considered not cutting it out, because it impinged on the nose wheel well, but I then realized I could simply put a piece of .005 styrene over the right upper wall of the well and it would be just fine.


Of course, I then had to cut a slit in the side of the model that was 7/10ths of an inch long and 1/32 of an inch wide. As I did with the radar observer’s compartment doors, I chain drilled the ladder opening. The difference here was I had to drill every one of the holes in a near-perfect line. My fear was that I’d end up with an overly-wide opening, which would have looked cartoonish. Instead, when I cleaned up the opening with a No. 11 blade and some sandpaper, it looked just fine. The .005 styrene was added and the bay was airbrushed red; the interior of the wheel bay was painted gray. Mission accomplished!

After chain-drilling, gentle carving and a bit of sanding, the ladder compartment is opened...

After chain-drilling, gentle carving and a bit of sanding, the ladder compartment is opened…


And, just like that, the back of the ladder compartment is closed, with .005 styrene.

And, just like that, the back of the ladder compartment is closed, with .005 styrene.

A little red paint finished off the ladder compartment.

A little red paint finished off the ladder compartment.

Next, I opened up all the intakes in the nose. There are six of them – and the nose piece is very, very thick. The lower intakes are perfectly round, so it was a simple matter of drilling them out. Photos showed these intakes had screens inside of them; I struggled to find the right parts to replicate this until I stumbled across some 1:700 modern destroyer helicopter deck safety nets, which were perfect solutions.


The main intakes took a lot of work with a motor tool to open up, followed by plenty of careful cleanup with a No.11 blade and sandpaper. Getting the shapes of the openings the same was critical; that meant the first intake went really easily and the second one took a half hour to match up. The same went for the upper intakes.

Oh, cutting this open was fun.

Oh, cutting this open was fun.

Now I had to start thinking strategically. This model was going to be a tail-sitter for sure with the resin radar observer’s position well back of the main gear. To offset that, I added some pieces of thick styrene strip to the top of the nose wheel bay to function as a dam of sorts, then loaded in about 14 grams of split shot lead fishing weights, all secured with white glue. Another piece of styrene blocked it all in place.


Then, I made the turbine faces for the Double Mamba engine. This was fairly simple. First, I made a backing plate that fit the fuselage; this would go right against the styrene strip at the front of the weight dam. Next, I added two quarter-inch sections of 7/32nds styrene tubing, gluing in place so that they were directly behind the inside walls of the intakes in relation to the nose piece. Turbine detail was added with half-round styrene strip; after it was glued into place, the excess was trimmed away.

Simple but effective (and completed in less than an hour at the Fremont Hornets' buildfest).

Simple but effective (and completed in less than an hour at the Fremont Hornets’ buildfest).

I painted this black, in keeping with photos, and lightly drybrushed my turbine blades. The goal here was not to replicate the entirety of the duct but to give a suggestion of something inside the nose, and this worked well.


Next, I joined the fuselage halves. The fit was not great, but I worked in sections to close it up. Sanding took a toll on some detail; most of it I could rescribe with my UM scribing tool, but the big reinforcement bands on the fuselage had to be replaced with strips of .005 styrene. Some small antenna detail was lost on the bottom, but this could be replaced during final construction.

All closed up and (mostly) rescribed.

Note the two white strips - detail lost in sanding was replaced with .005 styrene strips.

Note the two white strips – detail lost in sanding was replaced with .005 styrene strips.

Then, I added the turbine section. It fit neatly, and it blanked off the nose weight just behind it.

Peek a boo! The turbine section in its new home.

Peek a boo! The turbine section in its new home.

I painted the nose piece sky; this way, after it was added, I wouldn’t have to mask the black turbine section inside it during final painting. It also presented somewhat of a sloppy fit. It went on, but I had to do some significant sanding to get rid of seams and steps. That was followed by some tough rescribing of the fasteners on the nose, which I accomplished with Dymo tape and an old Verlinden scribing template. The rest of the nose detail was also added back in.


Whew! I now have a heavy but completely rescribed fuselage that’s ready for its wings. I’m going to pause, however, to work on another great 1950s design, the F-106 Delta Dart. More from the Gannet when the Delta Dart reaches the same stage the as this build!


Dammit, Gannet! Building Sword’s AEW.3, part 2

The Gannet AEW.3 build continues at a deliberate pace, with the holidays and various other things taking a bite out of my modeling time. I also paused to build this for my father-in-law’s N-gauge railroad layout as a Christmas gift:


Who wants a teeny, tiny, itty-bitty, teeny-weenie, little Blizzard?


Then I was able to get back to work on the Gannet!


The floor and bulkheads were joined by the overhead duct in the Sword set to create a single radar observers’ compartment. To keep the compartment in place, I added lengths of styrene strip in one side of the fuselage. This gives a positive location for these parts and a way to ensure that they stay glued in place; nothing is more painful than having to crack open a model after a cockpit breaks loose inside a sealed fuselage!

The completed radar observers' compartment, held in place by styrene strip guides

The completed radar observers’ compartment, held in place by styrene strip guides.


The extra overhead detail panels from the Sword kit fit poorly, and I thought I could add the detail easier on my own, anyway. The extra detailing in the radar observers’ compartment was accomplished fairly quickly, because I did something I rarely do: I stopped to figure out what would actually be visible. Although I had some good photos to work from, they were taken of an aircraft with the seats and much of the radar equipment removed. Put the seats back in, and you can’t see a lot of the detail. I added some structure from styrene strip and rod, made a couple of small black boxes from styrene card and Reheat photoetched instrument faces, and gave it all a wash to pop out the detail. The final touches were the emergency egress handles above the hatch openings; these were made from bits of styrene painted yellow and glued in place. The black stripes were drawn on with a .005mm Rapidograph pen.

Let side of fuselage, with extra detail...

Let side of fuselage, with extra detail…

...And the right side. Note the small emergency egress handle above the door.

…And the right side. Note the small emergency egress handle above the door.


The next item of interest was the nose gear bay roof. The kit provides a good approximation of the basics, but omits the jungle of hydraulic and electrical wires so typical of 1950s wheel wells. Using photos, a copious amount of fine solder of three sizes, styrene bits and even a piece of stiff steel wire here and there, I added additional detail.

The strut was set in place to make sure my added detail didn't make fitting the strut impossible later.

The strut was set in place to make sure my added detail didn’t make fitting the strut impossible later.

Detail in the form of hydraulic lines added to the nose gear bay.

Detail in the form of hydraulic lines added to the nose gear bay.


Then, the whole thing was painted, given a wash and dry-brushed. And it looked great, except for the fact that I painted it the wrong color (interior gray-green). I painted over my work in the correct medium gray color and repeated the wash/dry-brushing routine. A bit of detail painting followed, and the nose wheel compartment was complete and ready to add to the model.

Why do they call it a wash? It only makes the parts look dirtier! I mean, come on!

Why do they call it a wash? It only makes the parts look dirtier! I mean, come on!

At this point, a person not suffering from AMS would glue the interior parts in, join the fuselage halves, and get on with it. Not me! Next steps (pun intended) are the boarding ladder compartment and opening up the intakes in the nose (and creating a new compressor section for the Double Mamba engine to go behind it). Stay tuned for more gruesome details!

Homely but hard-working: Sword’s Gannet AEW.3, part 1

The Fairey Gannet came in a number of variants – the AS.1 and AS.4 anti-submarine warfare platforms, the T.2 and T.5 trainer modifications, and the COD.4 trash-hauler – but if any version could be said to be the most attractive Gannet, it was the AEW.3. This is truly damning with faint praise; with its bulging radome and finlet-bedecked empennage, plus its decidedly un-aerodynamic collection of antennas, scoops and other protrusions, the AEW.3 was an odd-looking machine by any standard.

Nearly everything about the Gannet AEW.3 was different from the AS.1: the exhaust was relocated, the fuselage lost its additional seats behind the cockpit and instead housed two radar observers in a compartment submerged in the redesigned fuselage; the shape of the vertical fin was changed to offset the loss of directional stability caused by the omission of the long canopy. The landing gear was lengthened by three feet to give the radome deck clearance. The plane differed so much from the original Gannet that there was talk of renaming it the Albatross, but the Royal Navy’s retirement of the anti-submarine Gannets around the time the AEW.3 made its fleet debut in 1959 limited the possible confusion.

Built to replace the Skyraider AEW.1 (an AD-4W in U.S. Navy parlance), the Gannet AEW.3 used the same electronics – the AN/APS-20 radar system. It was intended as a stop-gap measure until a British purpose-built aircraft incorporating the latest in electronics could be built for the CVA-01 class of aircraft carriers. Unfortunately, the Defense White Paper of 1966 – the same document that cancelled the TSR.2 – put an end to Britain’s plans for a large carrier for almost 50 years, and it meant that the AEW.3 would have to soldier on with no replacement in sight. They operated right up until the last carrier they could fly from, Ark Royal, was retired in 1972, and then from land bases until 1978. In the end their two biggest enemies were attrition – 22 of the 44 built were lost to accidents – and the Shackleton program. Numerous Gannets lost their radars to Shackleton MR.2s, which rendered the Gannet airframes expendable. Only seven AEW.3s survive, with six in museums and one undergoing restoration to flight.

Sword's box captures the AEW.3 in all its graceful glory.

Sword’s box captures the AEW.3 in all its graceful glory.

I’m building Sword’s new Gannet AEW.3 kit in 1:72 scale. The model features a lot of surface detail, as did the real plane; it also has a small sheet of photoetched parts, but no resin. The plastic parts for the wheel wells are somewhat under-detailed, and the cockpit sidewalls are mere abstractions of what’s actually there. That said, they give you a structural place to start.

Sword also sells a resin set for the radar observers’ position. (Read Mark Davies’ very good review of it here.) I’d seen an AD-4W at the IPMS/USA Nationals one year with the radar operators’ compartment opened and always wanted to do something like that, so here was my chance!

Step one was the seat. The kit gives you the seat itself and the arm rests as separate plastic pieces. The arm rest part will become weak and break if you cut it from the sprue with flush cutters – use a razor saw instead. I airbrushed the seat and armrest with Testors’ aircraft interior black (I sprayed the instrument panel, sidewalls and cockpit floor and rear bulkhead at the same time), then dry-brushed with gull gray and finally a little aluminum to suggest chipping. The headrest on the rear bulkhead and armrests were brush-painted with Testors leather.

Gannet seat, before addition of the sidewalls.

Gannet seat, before addition of the sidewalls.

I brushed a little Future on the seat back and added a tiny white stencil decal to duplicate photos. This was a bit of a wasted effort, since the shoulder straps almost completely covered the stencil! The whole mess was shot with Dullcote and allowed to dry.

One item missing from the kit seat was the seat cushion/survival pack, which was very apparent in photos of XL500. I made my own from a bit of shaped .040 by .030 styrene strip, with the notch carefully carved and then sanded. The cushion was painted yellow, then masked and painted sage green on the seat area. The edges of the green area were them masked and sprayed green. The resulting product was dirtied up with some pastel powder and glued to the seat pan.

Based on eye-witness accounts of Gannet AEW.3 XL500’s interior, the lap belts were painted gray while the shoulder straps were painted metallic blue. The kit’s lap belts went together well and were placed on the seat pan, with the buckle ends glued to the pan and then the fastener ends carefully folded over the seat edges. The shoulder straps were supposed to wrap around a photoetched bracket that attached to the rear bulkhead, but the bracket allowed almost no contact area for glue. Instead, I folded the bracket, wrapped the ends of the straps around it, glued the bracket in place, attached the straps to the seat back and glued the bracket to the bulkhead, allowing the straps to support it. I had to trim about a quarter-inch from each strap to achieve the correct length.

The photoetched instrument panel was dry-brushed and the acetate instrument faces were added to the back with Future as the adhesive. The panel comes in three sections, which were CA-glued to the plastic instrument panel backing provided in the kit. The AEW.3 instrument panel had its six primary flight instruments (airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter, vertical speed indicator, heading indicator, turn coordinator) outlined in white. I cut extremely thin bits of white decal and carefully place them where they needed to go, getting a good result for the scale of the instrument panel!

Finished panel with its primary six outlined with decal trim

Finished panel with its primary six outlined with decal trim

The sidewalls were detailed, first with the kit’s photoetched parts, then with additional details fashioned from styrene rod, Reheat photoetched switch panels, and bits of wire. The whole mess was painted, dry-brushed and then details were picked out in gray, white and red with a fine brush.

Sidewalls, dressed up with some details prior to painting.

Sidewalls, dressed up with some details prior to painting.

Next, I put the sidewalls in place and used a razor saw to remove the rudder pedals from the sprue. These were cleaned up, glued in place and painted, then dry-brushed. Now, with the exception of the control column and some handles, the cockpit’s ready to stick in the fuselage.

The cockpit with the side consoles and the rudder pedals in place.

The cockpit with the side consoles and the rudder pedals in place.

But there was one more cockpit to work on – the radar observers’ compartment. I used my motor tool and a fairly large bit to chain-drill the hatches; once I could pop out the plastic, the edges were dressed with some carving with a sharp No. 11 blade. I also carved back the interior of the hatch for a more scale thickness. The openings were then sanded with some microfiles, followed by sandpaper. The sandpaper was also used on the interior to even the interior walls out.

Chain-drilling the hatch gives you a start...

Chain-drilling the hatch gives you a start…

...And careful use of files, carving with an No. 11 blade and sanding cleans up the opened hatch.

…And careful use of files, carving with an No. 11 blade and sanding cleans up the opened hatch.

This Sword set is all resin; it gives you no color call-outs or seat belts for the observers’ seats. Thus, my first stop was the internet, where I found photos of the interior from a museum example. The basic color was British interior gray-green; I airbrushed the parts black first, then sprayed gray green. The various boxes were then painted with a mix of dark gray colors, each one being a little different. The whole mess was given a dark wash, then dry-brushed. Radar scopes, instrument dials and other details were picked out in gray or white. After a spray of Dullcote, any dials received a drop of Future for shine.

Rear and front bulkheads for the radar observer's compartment.

Rear and front bulkheads for the radar observer’s compartment.

The seats were painted and weathered, then gained seat belts sourced from an old Airwaves set, with quick-release fillings pillaged from an Eduard set.

Seats! Note the weathering to the floor.

Seats! Note the weathering to the floor.

Sword neglects to provide any color call-outs, so I recommend the images that begin here as a good starting place. The many exposed wire and cable runs are next.

Next time: extra details, closing the fuselage, and adding a lot of nose weight! Stay tuned!

Battle of the F4F-4 Wildcats: Airfix vs. Hasegawa

The next in our series of head-to-head battles pits the two most recent models of the F4F Wildcat, the 22-year-old Hasegawa kit versus last year’s Airfix kit. The Hasegawa kit is one of my favorites, and I’ve built it a couple of times; when it was released in 1994, it was a revelation and a massive step forward from what was available (the grotesque Frog/Academy kit and the not-really-an-F4F Airfix kit).

So, you might think, there could be a bias for the Hasegawa kit. But that model had holes in its game: the wheel well was lacking, the cockpit needed a little work, and there were a few minor accuracy issues that held it back.

Price also sets an undertone for this bout. The Airfix kit can be had for prices under $10, while the Hasegawa kit has… a Hasegawa price tag. Could it be that one entry is both better as a model and as a bargain? We shall see!

So, with that said let’s meet our contenders!

In this corner, the defending champion as the premier 1:72 F4F, ironically hailing from Japan, is Hasegawa’s family of F4Fs (I’m using the FM-1 boxing, just for full disclosure)! And in this corner, the challenger, all the way from England, it’s the Airfix F4F-4!


The ground rules: this match will be decided using the 10-point must system, where the winner of each round earns 10 points and the loser 9, except in cases of knockdowns. Any show-stopper problems will count as a knockout and cause the judge to dump his examples of the losing kit at bargain-basement prices at the next contest. There will be no hitting below the seat belt (F4Fs didn’t gain shoulder harnesses until October 1942), the use of extraneous drop tanks will be noted, and any snarky comments about the Marines will earn a one-point deduction.

Now let’s meet our judge! He has three Wildcats in his collection (a Frog F4F-3 conversion, a Hasegawa F4F-4 and a Sword FM-2) and knows more about the Wildcat than he really wants to. The man who mastered the installation of the belly window (after much trail and error) … me!

Let’s start the contest with something simple…

  1. Box

Bot companies give us sturdy, top-opening boxes, so the parts will be well protected (both in the hobby shop and in the inevitable years in the stash). Hasegawa’s had a nice selection of art by Shigeo Koike; the FM-1 has a painting of a Wildcat dipping low over a surfaced U-boat. These eras of Hasegawa kits had the cover painting across the entirety of the box top, and this edition (unlike some) has a photo of a built model as well. Airfix has its current red border partially surrounding a painting of Marion Carl’s F4F-4 dispatching a Zero; it’s a nice painting, but the background atoll is nothing like Guadalcanal. Carl flew at Midway, but in an F4F-3 with different markings (and his opponents did not yet wear green camouflage). The Airfix box has some CAD images and, thoughtfully, profiles of both decal options (something Hasegawa usually fails to provide) Aside from the Airfix geographical issues, there’s not much difference here, so we declare round one a draw.

  1. Surface Detail

Panel lines in the Airfix kit are heavier than in the Hasegawa kit, but the Airfix really suffers in including surface detail that’s not present in real life. The Airfix kit has the fuselage access hatch on the starboard side as a significantly raised feature (it was flush with the fuselage) and the upper wings feature slightly raised ammunition tray doors. These are truly weird inclusions.

It gets worse when you look at the control surfaces. Hasegawa has faintly-suggested ribs in these fabric-covered areas; Airfix gives you separate and positionable ailerons and rudder, but these areas and the elevators look pretty saggy. This round is a clear win for Hasegawa – in fact, the cumulative shortcomings of Airfix’s surface detail make this a 10-8 round.

  1. Fidelity of Outline

The two models match up almost exactly to each other in terms of dimensions, and these match published dimensions. One detail leapt out at me at first look: the oil coolers. Airfix’s oil cooler fairings are notably teardrop-shaped; this is very much unlike the originals, which are longer and less wide at their fattest point. Hasegawa gets this detail far better and ekes out a win in this round.

  1. Landing Gear

Both kits let modelers down by supplying only the tailwheel used by land-based aircraft. Some enterprising resin company should undertake a resin replacement so we could build some accurate pre-January 1943 carrier aircraft. The wheels themselves are something of a wash: Hasegawa’s have refined hubs but have three fasteners on the hub instead of six, while Airfix has six but they are ridiculously oversized. Hasegawa’s wheels have knockout pins on the backsides that make them virtually unusable; Airfix has their wheels covered in busy detail that in no way resembles the real aircraft. Airfix almost loses the round, but rallies with a six-part set of main gear struts (Hasegawa’s gear has three), a very nice aft wheel bay bulkhead complete with chain gear and, most importantly, the rear wheel-shaped internal fairing totally omitted by Hasegawa. Sadly, the inner gear doors have enormous ejector pin marks an issue they share in common with the Hasegawa kit. Airfix takes this round 10-9.

  1. Cockpit

Hasegawa does itself no favors with its standard sparse cockpit, with a seat, a control column and a solid-floored cockpit tub that is not only inaccurate but is festooned with four ejector pin marks. The head cushion is split between the fuselage halves. Airfix, on the other hand, goes all in, with a seat (also without belts), a instrument panel on an accurate bulkhead, a nice rear bulkhead that includes the headrest, and a detailed cockpit tub… that, like the Hasegawa example, is also inaccurate. Details are provided as decals. This was a chance for Airfix to score big, and while it wins this round, it missed out on a big chance gain two points here.

  1. Engine

In this round, Airfix hurts its cause by working too hard. Its R-1830 has pushrods and wiring harness detail superimposed over some nice (though hard to see) cylinders, as opposed to Hasegawa’s simplified rendering. This attaches to a backing set of cylinders that seems a bit soft. Hasegawa’s front bank of cylinders attaches in a similar way to a rear bank. But here’s where Hasegawa is marginally better: it includes the magneto and the distributor housings, although they’re somewhat simplified. Airfix only has the distributor housings, and they look rather odd, as if they’ve somehow melted back into the cylinders. Hasegawa is slightly better, but the only real solution is a decent aftermarket engine, especially since the back of the engine is visible through the wheel well and neither kit gives you any of this detail. This round is a draw.

  1. Propellers

Airfix’s hub is miles ahead of the goofed-up prop hub in the Hasegawa kit, but the tips of the blades are far too blunt. How do you score this round? Airfix wins – with a bit of sanding and re-shaping.

  1. Clear Parts

Airfix learned from Hasegawa’s error to take this round. Hasegawa provided single combination windscreen and sliding canopy; Airfix’s parts were a little thicker and cloudier, but you get your option of a single windscreen/canopy and separate pieces, including a sliding section that’s sized to fit over the spine in the open position. No contest – Airfix takes this one.

  1. Instructions

Do you like simple, or do your like complete? Hasegawa sums up its entire build in a six-step process, with drawings absent of any description. Airfix goes bonkers with a 46-step, seven-page instruction process, with separate drawings for optional features. Airfix takes it.

  1. Cowling

This is not a consideration with most aircraft, but the Wildcat had many variations and it would be easy to mess this up. Hasegawa’s cowling ring captures the slight forward flare of the intake at the top front of the cowling; Airfix captures this too. Airfix’s full cowling includes the intakes inside the cowling as molded-in parts of their single-piece cowling; Hasegawa provides intakes as separate pieces that the modeler adds. The big difference is that Airfix includes the cowl flaps in the open position, which is a nice touch but which will again expose the limited detail on the back of the engine. Slight win for Hasegawa.

  1. Decals

Hasegawa operates at a disadvantage here; their decals almost always feature a slightly creamy white color that lets all their kit sheets down. The FM-1 kit used here had two schemes, one for VC-12 in the Atlantic and the other for VC-33 in the Pacific; small details, like the VC-12 logo with a black cat flipping the bird, were very well rendered. The Airfix decals are neatly printed – and the white is white. Markings include one of the few F4F-4s with the red/white rudder stripes and stars in discs with a red meatball at the center and Marion Carl’s Guadalcanal F4F-4, with a full 19-victory scoreboard. Airfix also includes prop decals, some data decals and wing walks. Round to Airfix!

  1. Extras

Airfix’s kit is notable for its option of folded wings. Better yet, the kit also provides full extended wings, so if you want your wings extended you don’t have to glue and fill folded wings in the extended position. It also includes the jury struts. The wing fold internal detail is OK, but would benefit from a little extra detail. The Hasegawa external tanks are better – again, Airfix’s are a bit too teardrop-like and the rears aren’t pointy enough – but even still, in this round it’s Airfix, all the way.

So, according to the judge’s scorecard, the winner and new best bet for a 1:72 Wildcat, is Airfix’s F4F-F by a score of 116-113. Closer than you might expect, yes, and the win brings with it some caveats. One, the raised ammunition trays and fuselage access panel need to be sanded down. They stand far too proud and are silly mistakes on Airfix’s part. Two, get an aftermarket engine. Three, find some substitute for the cockpit floor – it’s simply not accurate out of the box. Four, maybe find some replacement main wheels (Obscureco’s would work well, he said self-servingly). Five, do a little work on the fabric-covered surfaces – the detail is simply too heavy.

The good news: there’s a new F4F at the top of the heap. The bad news: it still takes work to build a world-class Wildcat.


71 years ago: the 36d Fighter Group blunts the German attack on Bastogne

After a day off because of weather, each squadron in the 362nd Fighter Group flew four missions in support of III Corps on Dec. 29, 1944. After the 377th’s first mission of the day, Lt. William Davis spotted a large number of German armored vehicles. “When we went down lower for further identification, there were swarms of Tiger tanks and other vehicles,” recalled Maj. Loren Herway. “We called this into the controller, who was totally surprised and asked for a double verification. By the time we landed and taxied in, there was all kinds of buzzing activity in response to this sighting.” As a direct result, the 378th bombed a concentration of 35 to 40 vehicles hidden in the woods east of Hanaville, claiming seven tanks, six half tracks and three trucks destroyed, then strafed and knocked out 17 trucks near Wiltz. This was probably the 1st SS Panzer Division, which was moving into position to launch a final assault on Bastogne. Pilots reported the tanks were lined up two-abreast on the road, and that the crews were seen hurrying out of their vehicles before they could be destroyed by the P-47s. “It sticks in my memory that Willie’s eagle eye resulted in blunting the German surprise on Bastogne,” Herway said.

In its second mission of the day, the 378th bombed Chenogne and left it burning, then wiped out two gun positions. Its biggest haul came on the day’s third mission, when the squadron bombed tanks in the woods near Longvilly, destroying or damaging 25 along with six trucks, then returned to the area and strafed repeatedly,