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.

 

Advertisements

Fujimi vs. Cyberhobby: 1:72 D3A1s in a Battle of the Kanbaku:

It’s time for another bout in our continuing series of head-to-head battles between 1:72 kits of similar types. Today, the battle’s between two eastern takes on a classic early-war aircraft, the Aichi D3A1 Type 99 Attack Bomber, which came to have the allied code name “Val” late in 1942. The Type 99 was responsible for the destruction of more allied shipping than any other Japanese type. It had all the attributes of an early-war dive bomber: fixed landing gear, a big wing, two crewmen – and a tendency to become outclassed by the opposition in short order. The Type 99 fared well in 1942, but when it started facing more robust opposition – in the form of both fighters and improved anti-aircraft fire – its rate of loss climbed dramatically. The D3A2 – which was externally identical except for the addition of a propeller spinner – had increased internal tankage to increase range, but the arrival of the Yokosuka D4Y Susuei nudged the Type 99 off the larger Japanese carriers. Just the same, the Type 99 was an active participant in the defense of the Philippines and were pressed into service as kamikazes; as would be expected, losses were of “frightening proportions,” said Rene Francillon in his landmark book “Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War.

So, with the background laid, let’s meet our competitors! First, the defending champion as best Type 99, it’s Fujimi’s D3A1! Dating back to the early 1990s, this kit is a bit long in the tooth; the copy I’ll be using for the review is the Fujimi 2-in-1 kit, which has two Vals in it and a box banner honoring the 50th Anniversary of the end of WWII. And, in this corner, the challenger, dating to 2012, is the Cyberhobby D3A1. I’ll be reviewing the “Midway 1942” boxing.

Before we get started, let me say that the price tag on the Cyberhobby kit is daunting – I paid about $45 for mine, which is a lot of dough for a single-engine 1:72 aircraft. So can it pull off a convincing win that justifies that cost?

As always, this will be a 12-round bout scored on the 10-point must system: the winner gets 10 points per round, the loser 9 points unless there’s a knockdown, in which case more points may be deducted. In the event of a tie, both contestants get 10 points.

Let’s meet our judge! He’s a scale modeler who coordinated the Midway model display aboard the USS Hornet in 2012 and is currently building Lt. James Muri’s B-26A from that battle. He’s published articles about Midway and he even saw the movie in the theatre in “Sensurround!” Please welcome the Midway Model Maniac… me!

Let’s get ready to ranburu!

1. Box

Both are top-opening boxes that keep the parts nice and secure. The Fujimi box is a little bigger (but that’s because there are two models inside) and it has two images: paintings of a D3A1 flying past Diamond Head during the Pearl Harbor operation and a later scheme launching from a carrier with the obligatory audience of cheering crewmen. Cyberhobby also goes with the launching scene, also with the hat-waving audience in the background. The Fujimi painting of the D3A over Hawaii is okay as far as the plane goes, but the background showing Honolulu is pretty feeble – the buildings along the beach look like something from a third-world country, and immediately behind them is farmland – not accurate, even in 1941. However, the lower scene is far better than Cyberhobby’s similar scene. As these two opponents feel each other out, round one is a draw.

2. Surface Detail

The two have panel lines that are very similar in depth, but which diverge in places. However, on the bottom of the wing, Cyberhobby includes a little rivet detail. It also includes the fairings on the belly that Fujimi missed. Both kits have raised rib detail on the rudder, ailerons and elevators that is considerably exaggerated; they’ll both need to spend some time with sanding sticks to look realistic. In fact, Fujimi’s ribs are more petite and to-scale. While it’s disappointing that Cyberhobby could not improve on this feature, the inclusion of detail on the plane’s belly that Fujimi missed give Cyberhobby a narrow 10-9 round.

3. Fidelity of Outline

Another close round! The fuselages look about equal, as do the wings. One area where the Cyberhobby kit pulls ahead is in the wheel pants; the struts are more accurate than the Fujimi examples. Despite different treatments of the cowlings, both are right in length and look. The fillet on the vertical tail is just a shade more accurate on the Cyberhobby kit. After much scrutiny, it’s another very narrow 10-9 round to Cyberhobby.

4. Ordnance and Displacement gear

This is a clear win for the Cyberhobby kit. The 250kg bomb is provided as a single-piece body with detail, with separate fins, and the 60kg bombs are also rendered with detail. Fujimi gives you a featureless 250kg bomb with separate halves and s seam to deal with. The racks for the 60kg bombs in the Cyberhobby kit have detail, which is missing from the simplified Fujimi racks. The displacement gear in the Cyberhobby kit is more petite and smaller in size, which is more accurate. In all, an easy 10-9 win for Cyberhobby.

5. Landing Gear

Fujimi has the wheels molded into the spats. Cyberhobby has separate wheels and spats, and they’re weighted, even. The Fujimi tail wheel is molded into one of the fuselage halves, while Cyberhobby has a separate tail wheel. The Fujimi tail wheel fairing is more accurate. Still, I give it to Cyberhobby, very narrowly.

6. Cockpit

Fujimi’s cockpit is sparse – simple bucket seats lacking belts on a floor, with flat instrument panels enchanced by decals, and a control column. Rudder panels are molded to the floor. There is no sidewall detail but thee are some sink marks. There’s a nicely molded Type 92 machine gun for the observer, but there’s no mount for it – and even if there was, the clear parts have no provision for an open canopy.

Cyberhobby has more stuff in the office, starting with considerable sidewall detail (which also sports three ejection pin marks amid the raised ribs – good luck with that). The instrument panel has molded instruments, but they are completely unlike anything in the real aircraft. The bodies of the forward-firing guns are included, but they seem somewhat narrow. The seats, front and back, are identical and are not quite right in shape. The control column is present, but inaccurate. The observer’s instrument panel is just okay. Again, there is no mount for the observer’s Type 92 machine gun – but there’s also no gun in the kit.

How do you score a round where both contenders punched themselves in the face? I have to go to my modeler’s sense here: I’d rather have no detail to work with than a bunch of detail that’s wrong that I’ll have to remove before doing my own work. It may be controversial, but I’m calling it for Fujimi.

7. Engine

Cyberhobby tries to get back on track here. The crankcase and mount are separate and there’s nice rivet detail. There are pushrods, but the cylinders lack cooling fin detail. Ouch! Fujimi has a one-piece engine front with an utterly smooth crankcase, but the Hikari 1 engine in this kit has fins – and pushrods in the wrong positions. Terrible efforts by both contestants, and the crowd boos. Call it a draw.

8. Propellers

Cyberhobby’s prop is daintier – it’s also pointier. That’s totally wrong. It does have nice hub detail, however. Fujimi nails the shape, although there are ejector pin marks toward the base of the blades. Fujimi ekes out a win in this round.

9. Clear Parts

This battle’s getting sloppy now. Cyberhobby gives you parts for an open canopy and a closed one, but the stacking sections are very pronounced and the last three sections are so undersized they won’t touch the sides of the fuselage, making the single-piece canopy unusable! Fuimi’s single-piece canopy at least fits the fuselage. The round goes to Fujimi (although it really should go to Falcon or some other vacuformed canopy vendor!).

10. Instructions

Fujimi has to get the edge here; it’s less complex kit is explained in seven steps, and there’s little to get confused about. Cyberhobby crams everything into five steps, and some of the items on the instructions in no way resemble the parts on the sprues.

11. Decals

This is a little tough, since these are not original boxings, but let’s work with what we have. Fujimi has a very large sheet from which you could build just about any early-war D3A1; the markings called out are for “Egusa’s Stallion” from Soryu, a Hiryu D3A, a Kaga D3A and a Zuikaku D3A from the Pearl Harbor operation, plus a Celebes-based aircraft from 1942. There’s a red numbers jungle with the code letters for the first, second and third carrier divisions (AI, AII, BI, BII, EI and EII), so if you do some research you can just about any Pearl Harbor plane. The fuselage stripes, tail stripes and fuselage bands are all here, in various colors, as are wheel spats markings and vertical tail bands.

Cyberhobby give you two planes that flew on the strike on Midway Island, both from Akagi, a D3A aboard Shokaku at Coral Sea, and a Celebes-based machine from 1942.  Gray wing walks are provided, something Fujimi omitted. The tail stripes are each separate stripes, which ought to be a blast to apply and keep even. The printing looks sharp and in register.

This round is close, but it goes to Fujimi and their extremely extensive sheet.

12. Extras

The Cyberhobby kit includes folded wingtips, and I hope you like folding your wings, because the tips are longer in chord than the wings at the break line. That means some re-shaping if you wish to build the wings extended. The rudder and other control surfaces are separate in the Cyberhobby kit, which expands complexity but gives you a bit of latitude for posing the model. Cyberhobby gets a minor win here for trying but not succeeding spectacularly.

The verdict

This fight revealed things both models need – new engines, interiors and clear parts. When we go to the cards, what do we find? A draw – 145-145. Dead even. If you want a tiebreaker, go to the price tag; you’ll find the Fujimi kit quite a bit cheaper on the vendor tables at a contest or on eBay (where it can be had for $7-$12 plus postage). Cyberhobby let us down here; there were areas where it could have made a great leap ahead beyond Fujimi’s good starting point, but it blew it with the interior (no observer’s weapon?), engine, prop and other things. Please, Cyberhobby: your core kit is good. Re-do the detail sprues and you’d have a winner.

References:

Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War, by Rene Francillon

Japanese Aircraft Interiors 1940-1945, by Robert Mikesh

Aichi D3A Val, Nakajima B5N Kate, by Seweryn Fleisher and Zygmunt Szeremeta

Maru Mechanic No. 34

Aichi 99 Kanbaku “Val” Units of World War II, by Osamu Tagaya

Battle of the 1:72 A6M5s: Tamiya vs. FineMolds

It’s not often that two top-flight scale model companies release kits of the same subject – a subject native to their headquarters nation, to boot – within a little less than 12 months of each other, but that’s what has sparked our fourth head-to-head kit battle. In February and March, 2011, FineMolds put out its 1:72 A6M5 Type 52 Zero fighter as part of a promotion with Model Graphix magazine, a similar scheme as what it did for its A6M2 and a little later its A6M3. Then, in February 2012, Tamiya came out with its own A6M5 Type 52. There it is – two Japanese heavy-hitters, with 1:72 kits of the later version of Japan’s lightweight fighter. This calls for a head to head battle!

Before we get started, let’s set the ground rules for this far-eastern fight! This will be a 12-round contest, scored on a modified 10-point must system. The winner of each round gets 10 points, with second scoring 9, except in the event of a knockdown. A knockdown is any area where a model truly excels in detail or accuracy, or where one falls down badly in those same areas. A KO may come if a model has a terminal problem – an error or omission that would require serious surgery to fix – but the pundits say that, based on past history, neither of these pugilists is likely to hit the canvas.

Your judges for this evening’s bout are… Hailing from Alameda, California, a 1:72 scale specialists whose model is, “scale modelers do it with tiny tools”… me!

Let’s meet tonight’s contestants. In this corner, out of the great nation of Japan, FineMolds! And its Nipponese neighbor, from Shizuoka, is Tamiya!

And now, レッツランブルに準備をする! (That’s “let’s get ready to rumble” in Japanese, gaijin!).

Round 1. Box

Here’s where the FineMolds/Model Graphix gimmick hurts. The parts come in two boxes, with the parts divided into three bags. You get the wings, clear parts and a few other details in one box and the fuselage, decals and engine and cockpit parts in the other box. While the sturdy boxes protect the parts nicely, this is a pain during construction (as I found during my A6M2b build) because it’s really tough to collect all the parts between build sessions in these odd boxes, which open in the center and have small compartments that only really fit half of the parts. Meanwhile, Tamiya has a conventional box, with a painting of an A6M5 from the Junyo Air Group flyiong placidly through a cloudy sky. Offbeat is good sometimes, but in the practical area of boxes, the tried and true is that way for a reason. Round goes to Tamiya!

Round 2. Surface detail

If this were a race, this round would be a photo finish. Both models have fine recessed panel lines, and among the nicest I’ve ever seen. They also replicate all of the same panel lines, which is itself remarkable; in past head-to-head battles, we’ve seen manufacturers pick and choose small details to replicate or omit. These two foes go toe to toe in the panel department, Ultimately, the judges find that the Tamiya kit has slightly more refined panel lines, so the round goes to Tamiya by a hair.

Round 3. Fidelity of outline

Both models capture the contours of the Zero effectively, and it comes down to nit-picking to determine a winner here. Tamiya captures the tail cone more effectively, but the way this area is engineered that detail could easily be eradicated during construction. Tamiya’s upper wings include slightly raised doors above the wing-mounted 20mm cannons; a search of photos found only a single photo that suggested these doors stood proud of the wing. FineMolds lacks the raised doors; that’s enough to make round 3 a tie.

Round 4. Ordnance

There’s not much in the way of underwing stores in these Zero kits; both accurately capture the later-style tank as a two-part unit. Both models provide the cannon barrels with flash hiders, and neither has the barrels drilled out. The machine guns on the fuselage deck ahead of the windscreen are also both well captured, but the Tamiya machine guns are slightly better. By a hair, the round goes to Tamiya!

Round 5. Wheel wells and landing gear

The wheel wells are one of the few spots where there’s a distinct difference. Both kits use similar engineering: detail on the inside of the top wing, with a boxed bay and rib detail on the lower wings. Here’s the thing: the FineMolds kit has four ribs, while the Tamiya kit has five. Checking the references, the correct number is five – giving Tamiya a big edge! The wheels in the Tamiya kit more closely resemble the reference photos, Then FineMolds struts are very nice, as are the gear doors and their hinge details, but Tamiya is just that much better. In this round, it’s no contest – Tamiya comes away the clear winner here.

Round 6. Cockpit

Let’s just run down the components in each kit, starting with Tamiya. There’s a seat (which needs its lightening holes to be drilled out and have belts added), a single-piece mount for the seat, a rear bulkhead frame (which has its lightening holes drilled out). A backing piece for the instrument panel holds a blank instrument panel that gets two sets of decal instrument clusters are complemented by two machine gun bodies. A separate seat adjustment lever fits to the right of the seat against the bulkhead. This is combined with a very nice floor piece that has a stick, a separate left-side console and a convincing control column.

In the FineMolds kit, there’s a seat (which needs the lightening holes to be drilled out), a four-part mount for the seats, and a rear bulkhead (which needs its lightening holes to be drilled out). A backing piece for the instrument panel holds a panel with recesses for every instrument; the instruments are all catered to with decals. Two machine gun bodies go atop the panel. A separate seat adjustment lever fits to the right of the seat against the rear bulkhead. This is combined with a very nice floor piece that includes fine rivets and a separate rudder bar; the control column is convincing, and there’s a left-side panel that gets a couple of its own instrument decals.

It seems pretty even – but FineMolds gives all the radios, boxes, compass and trim wheel as separate parts. This allows you to paint them separately before installing them into the cockpit. Tamiya provides some of these details as separate boxes, with slightly raised relief on the fuselage sides; FineMolds provides stringer and former detail, plus all the boxes. It’s close – but FineMolds is the winner.

Round 7. Engines

Tamiya’s engine is two banks of cylinders, the front one with push rods, with a separate crankcase. This attaches to a firewall/cowl flap combination, and the distinctive exhaust pipes affix to the rear of the firewall. It’s a nice approach. FineMolds has a slightly more refined combination of cylinder banks and a crankcase that also includes the inner part of the ignition harness. It also has a full set of collector pipes for the rear of the engine, and the distinctive exhausts attach to the back of the engine. This is a nice detail – especially as FineMolds give you the option of open cowl flaps, so you can see the detail around the back of the engine. Round goes to FineMolds!

Round 8. Propellers, spinner and cowling

The props are very similar – Tamiya’s may be a bit thicker in the blade – and the spinners are the right shape and size. Often the prop is an overlooked area. Not so here. However, the FineMolds cowling seems a very tiny bit undersized, while Tamiya has the proper taper and looks to be just the right size. Because of this issue, this round goes to Tamiya.

Round 9. Clear Parts

FineMolds gives you a single-piece canopy, plus a separate windscreen, rear canopy and sliding canopy. It also gives you a clear gunsight and wingtip light covers. Tamiya gives you a windscreen and a combined closed sliding canopy and rear canopy and an opened rear canopy and sliding canopy, plus wingtip light covers and gunsights. Clarity is excellent in both cases. Here’s what it came down to: FineMolds has the wingtip light covers molded into the wings, to use the clear light covers, you’ll have to sand the notches open. Tamiya give you notches in the lower wings – but, oddly, not in the top wings. You’ll have to sand the notch, and you’ll have to use the clear light covers. For this odd omission, I’m giving this one to FineMolds.

Round 10. Instructions

Again, the gimmicky packaging of the FineMolds kit hurts it. Instructions are broken up over two issues of the magazine; there’s also a nice step-by-step build article with photos that helps. But it’s all in Japanese, and it’s tough to know when to switch issues to keep building. Tamiya has its usual beautiful and clear decal sheet, which leaves no doubts as to what you should be doing. The FineMolds instructions also disappoint by having no English translation on the decal options page; you’ll have to do some Googling to figure out what your scheme of choice represents. Round goes to Tamiya!

Round 11. Decals

Like I said, FineMolds’ instructions don’t give you an English version of the history of the subjects. All three are green-over-gray with a black cowling. First up is a plane from the 653rd Kokutai, September 1944 at Oita Naval Training Air Base; this plane had white surrounds on the hinomarus on the wings and fuselage. The second plane is from the 221st Kokutai operating out of the Philippines in 1944 This aircraft also has white surrounds on the hinomarus on wings and fuselage sides. Finally, there’s a plane from the 261st Kokutai based at Saipan during the Battle of the Philippine Sea; this plane has black surrounds on the hinomarus on the wings and fuselage.

Tamiya’s markings are for three planes as well. There’s a pair of Nakajima-manufactured A6M5s – a plane from the 652nd Kokutai aboard the carrier Junyo at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and a plane from the 653rd Kokutai in Oita Prefecture in 1944 – and a Mitsubishi-built A6M5 from the Rabaul Air Group in 1943-44.  All the options have black surrounds on the hinomarus on the wings and fuselage.

The major markings are all very nice; FineMolds almost gets an edge because of the data decals, which are very complete. But in reality, this round has to be scored a draw. 10-10!

Round 12. Extras

The FineMolds DF loop is better than the Tamiya version, and FineMolds’ treatment of decking below the rear canopy and the headrest is much more modeler-friendly – you won’t lose any details during seam-sanding the way they’ve engineered this section. The external aileron counterweights are a bit finer in the Tamiya kit than they are in the FineMolds kit. Tamiya handles the scoop below the cowling a little better. That said, this round will go to FineMolds

And there’s the bell! Let’s go to the cards!

As predicted, no one hit the canvas in this fight – both models are eminently buildable and look like wonderful ways to invest your time in a model. The final score is 116-114 Tamiya, making it a clear winner – but, had FineMolds sold their kit through more conventional channels and with a bit more awareness of the international appeal of their kits, it would have been much closer.

The next battle comes between modelers – it’s not the kit that makes the model a winner, it’s the builder, and both of these kits will build into an outstanding replica of this classic late-war fighter.

Battle of the Ju 88s: Revell vs. Hasegawa vs. AMTech

For our third battle of 1:72 kits, we’ll go from a head-to-head matchup to a head-to-head-to-head matchup. We’ve seen a lot of German twins come out lately, including the He 111 and the Ju 188 from Hasegawa, but one subject that’s received a lot of attention in the last 10 years is the Ju 88. There have been four Ju 88s issued in the last year; one of them, the Zvesda kit, did not make it into this contest. Let’s just say it had visa issues getting out of Russia and was unable to make it for this contest.

Here are the ground rules. This will be a 12-round fight, scored on a modified 10-point must system. The winner of each round gets 10 points, with second and third scoring 9 and 8, respectively, except in the event of a knockdown. A knockdown is any area where a model excels in detail or accuracy, or where one falls down badly in those same areas. Your judges for this evening’s bout are… Hailing from Alameda, California, me!

Let’s meet tonight’s contestants. We have three models from three continents in tonight’s showdown. First up, this was an entry from 2002 that provided the Ju 88S-1/T-1 variant, making it unique and an option for a “Baby Blitz” Ju 88. Hailing from West Des Moines, Iowa, with its roots in the old Ertl kit, it’s AMTech’s Ju 88S-1/T-1.

And in this corner, dating to 2006, it’s a model that raised a lot of eyebrows and was what was considered to be the best Ju 88 we’d see for a long time. The kit in today’s tussle is a Ju 88A-4. Hailing from Shizuoka, Japan, it’s Hasegawa’s Ju 88A-4!

And, finally, the upstart. This kit appeared on European shelves in November, 2011 and in the U.S. just recently. It too is a Ju 88A-4, and it comes to us all the way from Buende, Germany. Please welcome the Revell of Germany Ju 88A-4!

And now, let’s get bereit zum rumpeln (ready to rumble, translated poorly)!

Round 1. Box

AMTech has a decent painting of two Ju 88S-1s diving to attack, one with an engine starting to burn in the background. It’s framed by AMTech’s standard graphics presentation, which is fairly boring . Hasegawa has a Shigeo Koike painting of three Ju 88A-4s cruising along in a stately manner, also framed by Hasegawa’a usual dull graphic presentation. Revell’s box art is fantastic – it has two Ju 88A-4s attacking a harbor, with the main aircraft just having released its bombs. Detail is outstanding – note how the sun is shining on an angle through the canopy, which is reflected on the left nacelle. Action packed and evocative! Revell is cruising to an early win – but then printed this image on a fold-up side-opening box! Ouch! Both AMTech and Hasegawa go with a sturdier top-and-bottom arrangement. The edge goes to Hasegawa for the Koike art, with AMTech in second and Revell staggering in at third despite a promising start.

Round 2. Surface detail

AMTech’s basic kit is old, but it does have recessed panel lines, and they’re pretty decent. However, the two newer kits really benefit from modern mold-making technology. Hasegawa has all the access panels and the model is fully riveted where appropriate; Revell is close in degree of detail, but they leave off the rivets from several locations where Hasegawa has included them. Why? Who knows. But in a head-to-head battle, this gives the edge to the Hasegawa kit, with Revell in second and AMTech in third.

Round 3. Fidelity of outline

This is where AMTech really suffers. The nacelles are noticeably too small, and the fuselage retains a squarish cross-section as it tapers to the tail. The Hasegawa and Revell kits have both of these areas handled well. The Hasegawa and Revell tail parts match in outline almost exactly, and the wings are both bang on, although Revell provides separate flaps and ailerons while Hasegawa provides only the ailerons. This is really a close battle; Hasegawa gets the edge only because the Revell vertical tail seems to be missing the horizontal separation line on the rudder. Hasegawa first, Revell second, AMTech third.

Let’s take a lot at the scorecard: Hasegawa has won all rounds, and has a 30-28-28 lead. There’s lots of room for the other kits to catch up!

Round 4. Ordnance

AMTEch includes the external bomb racks and four rudimentary SC1000 bombs. They’re okay, but no match for just how well the other two kits handle their ordnance. Hasegawa provides both SC250 SC500 bombs, which are of similar five-part construction; the kit also includes decals for the bombs. Revell provides a load of four SC500s and two SC1000s, but each have separate fins, adding two to the parts count. Revell wins this round, with Hasegawa in second, and AMTech takes it on the chin for a 10-9-8 round.

Round 5. Wheel wells and landing gear

Starting with the wheels, the AMTech wheels are noticeably small and lack detail in the tread and the hubs. The Hasegawa wheels are perhaps the most crisply rendered, but the Revell wheels have better detail on the strut-side hub, making it a tough call between the two. The AMTech struts are long but are reasonably well detailed, although the detail is somewhat heavy. Hasegawa’s struts are less well detailed than Revell’s, so Revell gets the nod there. AMTech’s wheel wells have a flat face on the bottom of the lower wing – it’s stepping in post holes, staggering around the ring, showing its age! Hasegawa has inserts for the wheel wells that have mounting holes for the gear and a little rudimentary structure, but nothing special. Revell has the same structure molded into the wing. Because of the struts, the round goes to Revell, with Hasegawa in second and AMTech in third once again.

Round 6. Cockpit

Revell comes out swinging and connects again and again in this round! 25 beautifully-detailed parts make up the cockpit; there’s a full complement of radios and tons of molded-in detail. One step in the instructions dwells entirely on interior painting. The various types of machine guns are depicted – not a generic German machine gun, but distinct renditions of the MG15/17, MG 81 and MG 81Z are present. It’s a terrific kit cockpit – maybe not as perfect as the Tamiya P-47D interior, but very good. Hasegawa gives it a try, with 16 parts to the cockpit, and the detail is good, but not as good as Revell, and it drops its gloves in one area Hasegawa fails in time and again – the nice sidewall detail is pockmarked with ejection pin marks, meaning you’ll have to do some careful filling to make this area usable. It also has a solid floor, which will need to be cut open. AMTech’s interior is soft and rudimentary. Revell scores a double knockdown here – it’s 10-8-7 in round 6.

Round 7. Engines

AMTech is immediately hit by a haymaker; its Jumo engines are missing the cooling fans, and they’re noticeably small. There’s a resin replacement on the market for these parts – never a good sign. Both Hasegawa and Revell get the cooling fans right, but Revell also includes the area behind the propeller spinner, a bit of extra detail that works very nicely. Hasegawa has a bit of a comeback by offering shrouded and unshrouded exhausts, a detail Revell misses. It’s a close 10-9-7, with Revell getting the round.

Round 8. Propellers

The props in the AMT kit are a bit too fat at the centers of the blades and need to be slimmed a bit in order to look like the real items. The Revell and Hasegawa kits get their props right, capturing the pitched spade-like shape of the blades. The spinners are good, with the Revell spinners being slightly larger than the Hasegawa spinners. It’s too close to call – make it 10-10-8 in this round.

Round 9. Clear Parts

AMTech’s clear parts are good and clear; they benefit from lacking the gondola parts (the gondola was omitted from the Ju 88S-1). Hasegawa provides the entire gondola in clear plastic, a great idea that minimizes filling in the small windows, although it does mean you’ll have to paint both sides of the plastic to avoid a shiny interior. Revell’s gondola has clear insert sections, making it more complex and still requiring the two-sided paint job. Both kits have the rear canopy section in two parts. For simplicity of construction, we’re giving this one to Hasegawa, 10-9-8.

Round 10. Instructions

Hasegawa shines here, too. Their instructions are simple and straightforward. Revell’s is its usual graphical mess; it’s so busy it could be easy to miss instructions to open holes or follow the specific instructions needed to get the model subassemblies put together properly. AMTech’s instructions are visually less sophisticated but are very easy to follow – and the kit is simpler, so that makes sense. We give Hasegawa the edge, with AMTech in second and Revell in third. If there’s a weakness in Revell’s game, it’s the instructions.

Round 11. Decals

AMTech give you four sets of markings – three in the instructions, with an extra addendum. The options all date from 1944 – a reconnaissance T-1 based in Italy in the factory splinter scheme; an S-1 from KG.1 with a mirror wave pattern sprayed over the splinter scheme, and two KG.66 machines with black undersides and gray uppersides, one with small RLM75 grau-violet spots over RLM76 light blue, the other with large and widely spaced RLM75 spots over RLM77. The decals cover the rudimentary markings, and they’re printed quite well. Hasegawa offers three schemes, all with the splinter scheme: KG.51 in Russia, with RLM65 licht blau undersides and yellow lower wingtips; a KG.30 machine flown by Oblt. Werner Baumach in Norway in 1941, in the same scheme; and a black-bellied machine from 2./KGr.106. The markings are far more comprehensive, with decals for the cockpit and access panels included on the sheet. There are also non-standard insignia covered with decal markings. The decals suffer from the cream-white printing that has plagued Hasegawa decals for years. Revell’s sheet has two options: one KG.30 aircraft based in Catania (with markings that are apparently spurious) with the splinter scheme, yellow engine nacelles, rudder and elevators and white lower outer wings, and a second plane based in Greece and painted in matt brown with RLM 71 blotches over RLM65. Though the basic markings are a disappointment, this sheet includes the external instruments for the engine nacelles and complete data markings. How to score this? It’s another 10-10-8 round – although both the winners of the round have some limitations.

Round 12. Extras

AMTech has no bells or whistles; it’s a basic kit, and as such is the clear loser here. Its one chance at glory – the EZ6 DF antenna mounted on the back of the fuselage – is rendered poorly as a clear part with detail molded to the inside surface. The other kits offer the antenna as a decal, with a clear part over it. The Hasegawa kit, with its separate ailerons, also includes separate mass balances; so does the Revell kit. The edge goes to Revell because of its more effective treatment of the wing-edge landing light.

And there’s the bell! Let’s go to the cards!

The final score here is Revell 115, Hasegawa 114, and AMTech 99 – a closer battle than I expected! The Hasegawa kit is six years old, but it’s no slouch, and its surface detail is a big plus. The Revell kit, however, is about half the price, and the interior is spectacular. It boils down to what you can afford and what your preference is. AMTech was a distant third, but this is a unique version – if you want to do a Ju 88S-1 or T-1 reconnaissance version, it’s a solid starting place if you can replace the cowlings and adjust the landing gear (perhaps by making copies of the Revell gear).

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.