Battle of the 1:72 Hellcats: Dragon vs. Eduard

Not often does it come to pass that as famous a fighter as the F6F Hellcat goes so long without a really great kit in 1:72 scale. The Hasegawa and Academy kits were okay; the Italeri kit was a big whiff. Now we have two contenders for the title of best 1:72 Hellcat, out on the market at almost the same time. We’re going to put them in the ring head to head and score it the way we did with the dueling Canberra PR.9s that came out a few years ago

And now, the contenders! In this corner, hailing from Obrnice in the Czech Republic and weighing in at maybe one pound, please welcome the Profipack Prowler, Eduard’s 1:72 F6F-3! And in this corner, from Tseun Wan in the New Territories of China and also weighing in at about one pound, say hello to the Hong Kong Hellcat, Dragon’s 1:72!

This will be a 12-round bout, with the mandatory 10-point rule in effect. The winner of each round will take 10 points, and unless there’s a knockdown, the loser of each round will get 9. Your judge, hailing from Alameda, California, is me.

The referee has issued his instructions, and here’s the bell!

Round 1. Box

Both kits have decent but not great art – Dragon has a photo-realistic painting of two F6F-5Ns flying in formation, while Eduard has a slightly more action-packed painting of a Hellcat with a Japanese aircraft slanting away in flames. However, that aircraft looks like no Japanese plane I could identify – it looks like a D3Y2 and a Ki-84 had a baby. But here’s the real deciding factor in the round – the Dragon kit has a top-opening lid, while the Eduard kit has a side-opening semi-floppy box. The art’s a letdown in both cases, but Dragon wins the round on structural grounds. Dragon takes the first round 10-9.

2. Surface Detail

Dragon sports some very fine and very nice surface scribing. How will Eduard counter? With the lapped panels it first displayed in its 1:48 Hellcat! It has equally fine panel details everywhere else. And now Dragon leaves itself open! Both aircraft have the electrical access panel doors on the starboard side of the aircraft – but Dragon erroneously replicates them on the port side as well! Oh, doctor! What a mistake! Dragon picks itself up and stumbles to the bell, but it’s going to be a 10-8 round for Eduard!

3. Fidelity of Outline

Compared to drawings, both fuselages line up nicely, and both capture the forward upper corner of the vertical tail accurately (a first for F6F kits in 1:72). The Dragon kit is slightly shallow, and the hinge line for the vertical rudder is a bit off, but the Eduard kit is right on the nose. At first, the cockpit seemed to be too long, but there’s an insert for the rear cockpit to allow you to do a -3 or a -5 from the kit.

The easy stuff’s out of the way, and here’s where we see Eduard really assert itself: on the cowling. Both kits offer three-piece cowlings, with two sides and a front piece as a means of capturing the Hellcat’s “smile.” Dragon leaves itself totally exposed – the front of the cowling has a flat front on the chin, and the vanes in the intakes are too close together. Eduard’s cowling intake is perhaps a bit narrow, but the vanes are in the right place – and Eduard gives three sets of cowling sides, for various exhaust arrangements. The cowling is a big problem for Dragon – make it another 10-8 round for Eduard! Can Dragon make a comeback now?

4. Ordnance

Both kits have rockets, and both are quite nice. Eduard’s are one-piece items, and Dragon’s (in keeping with the overall complexity of the kit) are two pieces, with the rockets and fins separate. The Dragon stubs (molded to the rockets) are better, so an edge to Dragon there. The bombs are good in both kits, with Dragon providing 500-pounders and Eduard supplying 250- and 100-pounders; both have mounting bands molded on, but Eduard uses photoetched fins, fuze propellers and anti-sway braces, pulling Eduard even. The tie breaker is the centerline drop tank, which came in three flavors. Dragon gives you a keel-less tank, with sway braces that wrap around the tank and a straight-backed pylon. Eduard provides a similarly keel-less tank with the curved pylon and photoetched sway braces. Edge, 10-9, to Eduard, although judges who like simpler builds might see this round going to Dragon.

5. Wheel wells and Landing Gear

Dragon gets its second wind here, leaping out of its corner with three – count ‘em! – three different sets of wheels and tires (radial, diamond and block treads). The struts are very detailed, with separate retraction struts, anti-torque scissords and even molded brake lines. The tail wheel struts have two halves, which trap a separate wheel. These are nicely detailed, but the lightening holes need to be opened. The gear doors are nice, but they lack the retraction struts. An added bonus: the kit includes single-piece retracted gear, just in case you want to build your Hellcat in flight.

Eduard has a much simpler main gear strut, with the anti-torque scissors molded on and the retraction struts part of a solid polygon at the top of the strut. The gear doors include retraction struts. As for the tail wheel, it’s much simplified and has a single part. There are two styles of tires, which each receive a center hub, which makes them easier to paint. Just the same, Dragon’s more detailed struts give it the edge. 10-9 Dragon.

6. Cockpit

Don’t go toe-to-toe with Eduard in this department. The cagey Czechs score with a color photoetched sheet that includes the instrument panel, seat belts (with the correct chafing pads and hardware), panels and switches. The plastic parts are quite nice, too – you could build the control panel without the photoetched parts if you wanted.

Oh, but Dragon counters, and does so to an almost absurd level. There’s a small photetched sheet in the kit – unpainted and just seat belts – but the plastic cockpit parts are quite nice. And Dragon doesn’t know where to stop; there’s former and stringer detail in the aft fuselage, and a firewall and engine mount with an oil tank ahead of the cockpit. The detail is extensive – and absolutely invisible once the model’s built.

The fancy footwork by Dragon is interesting, but its lack of visibility means it can’t be considered by the judges. The round goes to Eduard, 10-9.

7. Engine

The two kits are fairly evenly matched here, although the Eduard engine cylinders look a bit on the thin side. Dragon gives you two banks of cylinders and a separate crankcase, which then attaches to a backing plate that includes exhaust stacks and to which a simple accessory section attaches. Again, this detail will be invisible once the model’s assembled.
Eduard provides two sets of engine banks, with a photoetched ignition harness and a separate crankcase and magnetos. Oh, Eduard is getting cocky now – look at this! A photoetched data plate and a tiny Pratt & Whitney name plate! That’s just egregious! Eduard scores in this round, 10-9!

 8. Propeller

Both kits do a decent job of capturing the hub detail, but he Dragon prop lacks any taper to the blades. Whole the prop looks nice, it’s just not as correct as Eduard’s. Eduard, 10-9.

 9. Clear parts

Dragon has a set of open and closed transparencies with the F6F-5-style windscreen, and they’re very nice, but the closed version has the earlier version of the sliding canopy. Eduard provides both the F6F-3 and F6F-5 styles of windscreens, plus two sliding canopies (one open, and a narrower one for the closed position) – but they’re of the later style. Neither kit gets it exactly right, but Eduard takes another round, 10-9.

 10. Instructions

Both use exploded view drawings, and while Eduard uses color to illustrate its decal schemes, Dragon doesn’t really need the full color treatment (both options are all glossy sea blue). Dragon has a more difficult assembly process to illustrate, and its instructions do a good, clear job of it. Dragon takes this one, 10-9.

11. Decals

Dragon gives you two options: planes from VF(N)-41 on Independence and VF(N)-76 on Hornet. Notable by its omission is ace Bruce Porter’s “Black Death.” There’s a notable quantity of white data decals for these all-blue planes. Eduard gives you five options, include several obvious ones: namely, Alex Vraciu’s “Gadget” from Intrepid and Richard Stambook’s sharkmouthed VF-27 plane from Princeton. Also included in Ken Hilderbrandt’s “Joan II” of VF-33 at Ondonga in 1943, William Moseley’s VF-1 machine from Yorktown and a plane off Lexington and VF-16. Extra versions of the tiny squadron logos are provided – a great bonus if you build these Navy subjects. I would have killed for a VF-16 “Pistol Packin’ Airedale” logo when I built my last Hellcat 10 years ago! Eduard takes this round soundly, but not with a knockdown, 10-9.

12. Extras

Here’s where Dragon asserts itself. The kit has folding wings, for goodness sake – which, if you want to build a folded-wing Hellcat, should count for a number of points. They’re done well, and there’s plenty of detail. The Dragon kit also has separate ailerons and a separate rudder. The F6F-5N components are well done, right down to the gun insert in the wing with the open-ended flash suppressors; adding these without breaking them during construction should be a challenge. The Eduard kit also has the guns provided as an insert into the wing, and it also includes a set of pre-cut masks for the clear parts. There’s even an F6F-5N wing pod – so I guess there will be an Eduard night fighter soon. Even so, you have to give it to Dragon – folded wings? Too cool. Round goes to Dragon 10-9.

The final score

We have a unanimous decision – really, it’s not that close. Eduard takes this contest 116-100.

Both kits are major improvements over the past 1:72 kits, but Eduard scores with a better cowling, interior, engine and propeller.

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362nd Fighter Group decals: surprises in research

There’s a new sheet in the works from Barracudacals that fans and family of the 362nd Fighter Group will enjoy. It has a couple of planes that were on the 1998 IPMS/USA Nationals sheet (George Rarey’s “Damon’s Demon” and the yellow-cowled version of Col. Joe Laughlin’s “5 By 5”), one that was on an Eagle Strike sheet but in an earlier version (Gene Martin’s “Bonnie Lynn,” a later scheme than on his original “Bonnie”) and a couple that have never been done – namely, Wilfred Crutchfield’s “Kentucky Colonel” and Ralph Sallee’s plane. We call Ralph’s plane “Super Rabbit,” although it has no name written on it. And, working with Ralph, we stumbled across one of the hazards of this kind of research.

Ralph sent a photo of the left side of the plane – great for developing profiles or doing decals. But, when we asked him about the names in the crew block, he said he’d check it against the nose art on the RIGHT side of the cowling. That’s right – there was art on both sides of the nose. The right side had a map of the U.S. with “1950” written above it, with the home states of Ralph and his crew colored in and small names and cartoons on them. We’ll have to do a bit of guessing at what they were and how they were colored, but this was truly a uniquely marked airplane.

Ralph sent a couple of photos – I’ll put ‘em up here when the sheet’s done. I’m hoping to have the sheet done by the 362nd FG reunion in October. Thanks, Ralph!

67 Years ago: Flak takes a toll on the Fourth FG

On 28 August, 1944, the 334th Fighter Squadron of the 4th Fighter Group launched a strafing mission to the Strasbourg area and chewed up traffic as far as Sarrebourg. The count of damaged and destroyed ground targets included 56 goods wagons, 13 trucks, 22 locomotives, a factory and an oil tank. This haul came at a cost, however. Major Donald Carlson was flying with Lt. Herbert VanderVate as his wingman, and he was directly behind VanderVate on the first pass made on the trucks, but he lost contact with him. VanderVate was killed when his Mustang crashed.

Also knocked down was Capt. Pierce McKennon, who was forced to bail out near Niederbronn. He was seen to land near some trees. Also lost were Albert Schlegel, who was shot down by flak near Strasbourg and was killed, Lt. Ferris Harris, who also died, and Major Archibald Thompson. Both Thompson and McKennon evaded and made it back to the group.

335 and 336 Squadrons escorted three bomb wings of B-24s to Haguenau on 1 September, but the bombers aborted so the mission turned into a sweep. Col. Claiborne Kinnard, Capt. Gerald Montgomery and Lt. Leonard Werner combined to down three enemy aircraft. Back at Debden, Col. Don Blakeslee grudgingly went on leave and Col. Jim Clark became acting group CO.

This day, 67 years ago: a rough day for the Fourth Fighter Group

Blakeslee led the August 18, 1944 fighter-bomber sweep in the Beauvais area, while Capt. Michael McFarlane commanded a strafing mission. All did not go well. While bombing a rail tunnel north of Meru, Capt. Thomas Joyce was hit by flak. “I could see that his starboard wing was in bad shape,” said Lt. Henry Clifton. “About 18 inches or two feet of it was sticking up at a right angle to the rest of it. After flying for a while, (Joyce’s) ship seemed to be in better shape than first thought.” Joyce landed the Mustang safely.

Before others could bomb, the group was bounced by about 50 Bf 109s near Beauvais, including eight machines from 10/JG.26. “Lt. (Arthur) Cwiklinski and Lt. (C.G.) Howard were my No. 3 and No.4,” said Lt. Preston Hardy. “In the ensuing fight, I saw two parachutes which I think were both my pilots, although one could have been a Hun that was clobbered at the same time. I had shot one Bf 109 off the tail of one P-51 and Lt. Whalen shot one off my tail.”

In actuality, Cwiklinski had suffered an engine. After he landed, “I left my chute and dinghy in the burning plane and hid my helmet and Mae West in an oat stack,” Cwiklinski said later. “Looking for a place to hide, I saw some farmers beckoning to me. I approached them, and they hid me in a wagon under some oats. They outfitted me with civilian clothes and moved me to a farm about five miles away. From there I rode a bike about five miles to Etrepagny, where I stayed in the mayor’s home. On August 29, the town was liberated by the English.” Cwiklinski made it back to England on September 5.

In all, the group destroyed seven Bf 109s, with two falling to Lt. Cwiklinski and single victories for Edmund Whalen, Hardy, Lt. Paul Iden, Lt. Donald Perkins and Lt. Brack Diamond. In return, the Bf 109s claimed nine victims: Lt. Dean Lang, who was taken prisoner, Captain Glass and Cwiklinski, who both evaded capture and returned to friendly lines, and Lts. Howard, Bernard Rosensen, John Conley, Robert Cooper, Donald E. Smith and Leo Dailey, all of whom were killed.

68 years ago: The Fourth Fighter Group wreaks havoc on a Ramrod

On August 16, 1943, Don Blakeslee led the Fourth Fighter Group on a Ramrod to Paris. The P-47s were attacked by small groups of six to eight, and almost all of the planes were forced to land at advance bases as a result of damage and a lack of fuel.

“I was 2000 feet above and slightly northeast of the first box of B-17s,” reported Major John DuFour. “I noticed that enemy fighters were making head-on attacks on this box of bombers, so I dove down to a position directly in front of the bombers and attacked two Bf 109s who were just turning to make their attack.” DuFour  damaged one fighter and sent it diving away, then saw two more Bf 109s preparing an identical attack. In a turn, he fired and saw no hits. “I took one last look at the 109 and saw his left wing suddenly peel back and fly off. The 109 immediately flicked into a peculiar, uneven type of spin and when last seen was headed straight down completely out of control.”

Lt. James “Goody” Goodson had his section above and to the left of the B-17 formation when he saw several German fighters angling for head-on attacks. Goodson and Lt. Kendall “Swede” Carlson overshot the yellow-nosed Fw 190. Another Fw 190 crossed in front of Goodson, intent on attacking the bombers from behind. “I closed to dead astern and about 75 yards or less. I observed many strikes, saw the enemy aircraft roll on its back and I followed until I saw him crash straight into a woods north of Paris.” Goodson and Carlson climbed back to the bombers to find another Fw 190 lining up for an identical shot at the bombers.” I fired from 250 yards and closed, observing many strikes including a violent flash in the cockpit,” said Goodson. The enemy aircraft fell to earth in a spin.

Lt. Roy Evans’ section was covering the front box of bombers when he bagged his Bf 109. “I saw three Bf 109s start to attack a straggling Fort out of the sun. I was 3000 feet above the enemy aircraft with my section. I went down to attack these Bf 109s. I took one enemy aircraft and my No. 2 man, Lt. Aubrey Stanhope, took another. The first burst of about one second hit him in the tail or slightly behind. I moved my bead up saw strikes around the cockpit, on the engine and at the wing root on the left side. I was closing so fast that I flew past very close to the enemy aircraft, less than 20 yards away. I saw the pilot slumped over in the cockpit and smoke and flame coming from the left side of the engine cowling.”

Lt. Raymond Care and his spotted two Fw 190s flying line abreast and parallel to the bombers. “I attacked from line astern,” Care said, seeing the flash of strikes. The stricken machine’s undercarriage dropped down. “I then skidded over to the second enemy aircraft and gave him a burst from about 150 yards.” Care climbed and turned, watching the enemy aircraft go down. “I saw one of them hit and explode in a small field on the outskirts of Paris. The other I lost sight of going down and smoking and out of control.”

In addition, Capt. Jim Clark shot down two Fw 190s before he was hit by a 20mm cannon shell that tore a three-foot hole in his port wing. Lt. Mills also knocked down two Fw 190s, Lts. Howard Hively, James Happel, Frank Fink, Sam Young and Fonzo Smith and F/O Clyde Smith downed single Fw 190s. Lt. Joseph Matthews downed an Fw 190 but was shot down himself, probably by Lt. Friederich Mayer of 10/JG.2. He successfully evaded and returned to Britain in late 1943.