Eduard F6F-5 Hellcat
I'd heard a lot of good things about Eduard's Hellcat, and when I had the chance to scoop up one of the Profipack releases at a 40% discount, I jumped on it. The kit looks really impressive in the box. The moulding is very crisp, with the fuselage panels neatly capturing the overlapped appearance of the real thing. The basic kit provides options for the rear quarter windows (not present on any French Hellcat I've seen), diamond or cicumferential treaded tires, separate sliding canopy covers for open and closed installation, underwing rockets (though the holes for the mounting stubs are moulded open and would need to be removed if you don't want to fit the rockets), and two sizes of bombs. Unused parts on the sprues include 20-mm cannon barrels (as fitted to some Armee de l'Air Hellcats), a radar pod and two variations on the cowling.
The Profipack release includes two photoetched frets - one in colour for the cockpit interior, and an unpainted fret for various external details. Its worth noting that the fins for the bombs are only provided as photoetched parts, so if you're building the regular kit, you'd need to source your bomb fins elsewhere. Also included is a set of canopy masks, in a material very similar to Tamiya masking tape.
One disappointment is that the Aeronavale decal option offered in the 48th scale version of the kit is not included, with the decals only covering 4 gloss sea blue US Navy aircraft.
Construction starts with the cockpit, which includes nicely detailed plastic parts for the floor, rear bulkhead, side consoles, seat and joystick. Not notes in the instructions is that two instrument panels are included on the sprue - one with moulded instrument detail (part D41), and a second with no detail (D45), for use with the provided photoetched parts. The first problem I encountered relates to the PE parts - the part numbers in the assembly diagram don't match those on the fret or the part layout diagram. For the most part this is easy enough to figure out, but for some of the smaller parts, I was scratching my head. Speaking of small parts, I evenutally gave up on installing many of the smallest handles and levers, which are designed to be butt joined to the PE panels, with very little bonding area. I also managed to lose the PE throttle quadrant. The colour etched parts look nice, but be careful with parts like the throttle quadrant, where the unpainted rear side will be partly exposed when installed.
The only improvement I made to the cockpit was to remove the gunsight reflector glass, which is moulded integral to the instrument panel in brown plastic, and replace it with a scrap of clear plastic.
With the cockpit complete, fuselage assembly proceeded quickly. Fit was excellent. Moving on to the wings, I managed to break off one of the aileron hinges which project behind the rear edge of the lower wing half - watch out for these. I also found the fit of the wing halves was sloppy around the underside of the flaps and ailerons. Fortunately, fit of the wings and tailplanes to the fusleage was impeccable.
Next up was the engine, which includes a PE ignition harness, data plate and microscopic Pratt and Whitney badge. The PE ignition harness doesn't look anything like the part pictured on the instructions, but I think I got it installed correctly. The three part cowl fits nicely, and I left it unglued for painting.
Given the all-blue finish I was planning, I installed the landing gear and doors at this stage. I installed the wheels but left off the separate tires, masking the edges of the wheel hubs to prevent paint build-up from interfering with the fit of the tires.
I planned to use the larger (500-lb?) bombs provided, but I dropped one of the PE tailfin assemblies, and then rolled over it with my chair, ruining the part. I used the smaller bombs. I have no evidence these were carried in French service, but they look OK. The rockets look nice, but like most 72nd scale offerings, the thick fins on adjacent rockets nearly touch their neighbours.
I used the provided canopy masks. There are two sets of masks provided for the sliding section of the canopy, and no explanation of which to use. Looking carefully, they differ very slightly in shape, and I also noticed the canopy framing actually differs between the open (E8) and closed (E5) canopies - weird.
After a coat of primer and the usual correction of minor seam issues, I sprayed white on the rudder, followed by insignia red brightened with a touch of yellow, and a custom mixed blue-grey that I probably couldn't duplicate if I tried. After maskig the rudder, I applied Testors Model Master Gloss Sea Blue over the entire model. I hadn't sprayed this colour for many years, and I was surprised by how thick the paint was, and how glossy the resulting finish came out. I toned this down by post-shading with mutliple thin coats of gloss sea blue cut with increasing amounts of flat intermediate blue, which added some variation to the finish, and cut down the gloss.
Next up were the decals. I wanted to build an Aeronavale Hellcat, to go along with the Academy kit I'd finished in very drab Armee de l'Air markings more than 15 years ago. Searching through my decal collection, I found a set of ESCI decals, which I passed on due to their age and too many bad experiences, as well as Carpena's Indochina Part 1 sheet. Despite previous disasters with the Carena decals, I pressed on. I coated all the decals with Micro Decal Film before trying to use them, and still found the white markings in particular wanted to break up. The Carpena sheet provides a set of number 31 decals for the cowling, but omits those for the main gear doors and under the rudder. I'm not sure if this aircraft actually carried them under the rudder, but going from profiles of other Flotille 11F aircraft I put them there. The extra 31s were custom printed by a friend with an ALPS printer. I used the white step markings, prop logos and the wing walk areas from the kit decal sheet.
Aside from the previous mentioned postshading, I kept weathering light, adding an exhaust stain and some restrained paint chipping with a silver Prismacolor pencil. I used some Mig pigments to add dust to the wing walks, figuring these aircraft were operated from dusty land bases during the Dien Bien Phu campaign.
Final assembly went smoothly. I managed to lose the antenna mast somewhere along the way, so I scratchbuilt a replacement, adding the wire aerial from monofilament thread, and the whip aerial from stretched sprue.
Overall, I really liked this kit - most of the problems I encountered were related to the decals. The detail and fit is really good, some of the best I've come across. I would not recommend the Carpena markings. I know Model Art also offered Hellcat markings, but I haven't tried them myself.
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