Sword F8F-1/1B/2 Bearcat

Sword's new Bearcat is in many ways an improvement over the classic Monogram kit, which wasn't all that bad itself. The main parts are injection molded in grey styrene with finely recessed detail. Two complete sets of fuselage halves are included, allowing the builder to model either a short tailed F8F-1 or a tall tailed -2. An insert panel for the bottom of the cowl is included for the -2. Wings have the cannon bulges (as on the -1B and -2) molded in, and an addendum instruction sheet indicates that these should be removed for machinegun-armed (-1) variant. The small injection parts are a bit crude, particularly the main and tail gears, which lack detail, and the cannon, which are just simple rods. The highlights of the kits are the resin parts. These include the engine, cockpit, main gear well, rockets and mainwheels. The cockpit tub is molded in one piece with the seat, stick, and side consoles molded in. A separate instrument panel is provided, but this lacks detail, with just crude holes for instruments. The engine looks ok, and the rockets are nicely molded. The best part is the wheel well insert, which includes the oil cooler ducting that is very prominent in the wells of the real thing. Hopefully these will fit within the wing without too much of a hassle. Finally, an injection molded canopy is included. In my kit, the molding looked a bit flawed, so a vacuform replacement may be in order.

Decals are provided for two USN (F8F-1 of VF-3 and F8F-2 of VF-151) and one French machine. The French a/c being aircraft "F", a F8F-1B of GC 1/22 Santonge. The decals (by MPD) are nicely printed and appear very thin. Alternative markings are available from both Carpena (72.04 gives a/c "G" a F8F-1B of 1/21 Artois and "P" a F8F-1 of GC II/21 Auvergne) and Superscale. Model Art sheet 72/033 offers a choice of 5 aircraft: F8F-1B BuNo 95015 of GC I/9 Limousin; F8F-1B BuNo 95472 of the same unit; F8F-1 BuNo 95145 of GC II/8 Languedoc; F8F-1 BuNo 94836 of GC I/21 Artois; and F8F-1 BuNo 95114 of EROM 80 (carrying the locally produced photo pod, also available in Resin from Model Art).

Construction begins with cleanup of the resin parts. The engine, interior and wheel wells are all attached to substantial pour stubs that require careful cleanup. The molding quality is excellent, with no air bubbles in evidence. Some of the wheel well detail is moulded paper thin, and is very fragile. I lost some of the thinner bulkheads in this area. Painting the one piece tub takes some care. Colours appear to be interior green below the consoles and black above. Scall Aviation Modeller recently included some colour sketches of the interior, showing a few spots of colour to brighten things up. The instrument panel is basic, with only recessed circles to mark the instruments. This was painted black, with some paint scratched away using a needle to reveal the light resin underneath in the instument faces. Klear was then applied to the instrument faces. Test fitting indicated that the interior tub fit fairly well, although the underside tended to interfere with the top of the wheel well insert. I sanded the sides of the tub to move the front end higher, and also thinned the instrument panel coaming extensively to raise the panel itself. The armour plate behind the head rest appears to be at too steep an angle. I cut this off and repositioned it, later adding a scratchbuilt rollover pylon and detail to the area behind the seat. No location aids are provided for the engine or tail wheel. I added some bulkheads in both areas to prevent the see-through effect, and to provide location points. The cockpit lacks a gunsight, so I built one from scrap with a clear reflector. The vertical stabiliser and rudder are molded to one fuselage half, with a seam running across the root of the tail in a fairly prominant location. Some filing was necessary here to conceal the seam- this may be avoidable by carefully thinning the inner faces of the mating surfaces.

While the fuselage was being assembled, I added the wheel well inserts to the wings. The upper surfaces of these are admirably thin, but I still needed to thin out the underside of the upper wings to get everything together. The inserts themselves show nice detail, but are not fully accurate. A single duct is represented leading from the intake into the fuselage. I fact, this should be two separate ducts. The small splitter separating the openings to the ducts is missing. This is easily added from scrap plastic. The trailing edges of the wings are quite heavy, and would benefit from thinning down on the inside. I elected to take a more convoluted route (read on). I also cut out the wing tip lights and replaced them with coloured clear plastic. After studying photos, I realised the covers should be clear, with coloured bulbs inside, so I replaced them with carved and polished clear sprue. A small hole was drilled into the inside of each "light", and the "bulb" was painted in the appropriate shade.

Bringing the fuselage and wing together revealed some problems. Fit in this area was quite poor- partly this was due to my construction technique. I ended up with a step at each wingroot, and also on the underside where the fuselage section is molded to the lower wing. As I was not happy with the fit at the trailing edge, and still thought the trailing edges were heavy, I made the strange decision to drop the flaps at this stage. This allowed me to clean up the fuselage sides, and the need to rebuild the flaps helped improve their shape. I subsequently scraped the ailerons to give sharp edges, which also reduced the overscale raised ribs on these parts. Studying the photos on Almansur's Bearcat photo page xxxx gave me some idea of what the flap area should look like. After cutting the flaps free, I added braces to the open trailing edge of the wing, and boxed this area in with thin sheet. I rebuilt the leading edges of the flaps with sprue sanded to shape, and added caps to the ends to close them off and conpensate for the saw kerf. To mount the flaps, I cut slots into the new inner surface of the wing, and added sections of wire to the leading edges of the flaps in line with hinges on the underside. I later rebuilt the hinges themselves. The tailplanes fit reasonably well, though they were slightly longer than the mounting points provided. The trailing edges of the fins are admirably thin.

At this stage, I started to look at what else needed improvement in the kit. Many of the photos of French Bearcats I've seen show the cowl flaps open on the ground. I decided at this late stage to simulate this. I carefully drilled out the openings in the fuselage, and filed the edges to indicate the rounded edge of the inner structure. The cowl flaps were made from sections of Dymo tape, with scraps of plastic to mount them, and tiny sprue actuating rods. Further study of photos revealed two rows of ten louvres on the top of the cowl, which I added using short lengths of stretched triangular section sprue. Yet more research revealed that very few French aircraft appear to have these louvres fitted, while most Vietnamese (ex-French) aircraft do. They may have been a retrofitted item. Hence I sanded away all evidence of my handiwork.

Both the main and tail landing gear are basic, although the resin mainwheels have nice brake detail. I added the prominent torque links to the main gear legs, as well as the retraction links. I carved away much of the tailwheel leg, replacing it with drilled out scraps of thin sheet, and adding a scrap of plastic on which to mount the finished leg. The main gear doors are thick, and have some internal detail. I chose to leave them as is.

I chose to build a machine-gun armed F8F-1, so I carved off the bulges on the upper wing. I drilled out the shell ejection chutes under the wings as well. There are large holes in the leading edges of the wings to mount the (very crude) cannon barrels. I filled these with carved sprue plugs, and then drileld out the centres to simulate the apertures for the 50-calibre guns. I also drilled out two small circular openings in the leading edges, one in the starboard wing root, and one in the port wing, approximately in line with the main gear strut. I'm not sure what these openings are for, and in some photos they appear to be taped over or otherwise covered. I also drilled mounting holes for the various whip and wire antennae, as well as a pair of t-shaped projections, one beneath the port wing, behind the main gear well, and one on the underside of the starboard horizontal stabiliser. The instructions show a pitot head being fitted beneath the port wing. The only part on the sprue that seems to be anywhere close to the correct shape is what I believe to be the head of the arrestor hook! I built a new pitot head from carved scrap and sprue.

In terms of underwing stores, the kit provides four rockets, and a centreline tank. The rockets are moulded with a heavy raised ring around their centres- this should actually be a thin strap, with a pair of diametrically opposed mounting lugs on each strap. The mounting lugs are at 45 degrees to the fins. The arrangement looks something like a Jubilee clip (hose clamp), but with an adjustment screw on both sides. The lugs are what mounts the rockets to the short pylons. The noses of the rockets are poorly molded, so I sanded them off and added new tips from carved sprue. The exceptionally keen amongst you can add fuses as well. The tailfins are heavy, but I chose not to thin them. I did round the corners of the fins for a more accurate shape. I made sway braces for the main pylons from leftover brass from a photo-etched set, and added the nuts and bolts from sprue. I then added bombs from an Italeri B-57, with the fins thinned and cleaned up to remove raised ejector pin marks. The centreline tank is well-shaped, though the mounts are ill-defined. The sway braces are molded in place. I added further details including the fuel connection and vent using sprue. You need to drill a pair of mounting holes on the fuselage- the kit has some raised pips to indicate the location.

Checking the fit of the canopy, I found that the windscreen appeared slightly too wide, while the sliding portion would not fit far enough forwards to show the canopy closed. The fit of the sliding portion to the rear deck also left something to be desires. After polishing the parts and dipping in Klear, I fitted the windscreen with superglue and scrap plastic to fill the gaps. The sides were then filed to shape, and the canopy re-polished. After fiddling with the fit of the sliding section, I elected to mount it open. I temporarily attached it int he closed position using Kystal-Klear to fill the larger gaps. The canopy framing is poorly defined (particularly after repeated polishing), so take care in masking.

At this point the disaster began. To cut a long story short, I painted the model using old Humbrol gloss sea blue, which I was not happy with. Nevertheless, I continued and applied Model Art's decals, which went on reasonably well (see below). I applied a coat of Humbrol satin varnish to seal the decals, and at this point I decided that the finish of the model was not up to my standards. It was time to strip everything down to the bare plastic and start again. The finish I had applied proved remarkably resilient and difficult to remove- much had to be scraped and sanded away, destroying a lot of very fine surface detail. Eventually I got back to where I'd started. In the meantime, I'd completely lost interest in the model, and about 6 months had elapsed!

Eventually I managed to get myself back on track, and after repriming and a little bit of repair, I was ready to start painting again. This time I decided to try something I knew had worked in the past- Model Master Enamel gloss sea blue. Unfortunately, this paint is very hard to obtain in the UK, so I had to smuggle some in from Canada! This went on very well, in two light coats. Given the abuse the model had suffered, I wasn't expecting a mirror-like finish, and I didn't get one. Still, I was more than happy with the improvement. I followed this coat with a very thin mix of sea blue and a small amount of white. This was concentrated on the upper surfaces, varying the intensity across the panels to break up the monotony of the single dark colour.

As with the first attempt, I elected to model Bu No 94836, a F8F-1 of GC I/21 Artois. The Model Art decals (replacements courtesy Ian Southwood- thanks Ian!) went on quite well, with the only problem area being the stripes for the rudder. These appear to have been sized for the Monogram F8F-2 Bearcat, with the tall rudder, as they are oversized for this kit (in fairness to Jean-Pierre, the artwork for this sheet was finished before the Sword kit was available). They can be trimmed to size, and the excess used to cover up and gaps. On both samples the blue and white of the squadron insignia appear slightly out of register. All the other multicolour markings are built up layer by layer, leaving the registration up to the builder. The decals themselves are very thin. White ares are translucent, however most white markings are made up of two layers, providing sufficient opacity.

I coated the markings with a light overspray of satin varnish to blend them in. Next I simulated chipped metal on the leading edges and panels aroung the guns and engine. Exhaust stains were sprayed with black slightly tinted with tan, taking care to leave some overspray on the fuselage roundels. While the flat black was out, the wing walkway areas were added. Final painting touches included adding red and green position lights just forward of the ailerons on both the upper and lower wing surfaces.

I then moved to adding the remaining bits. The flaps were simply pressed in place, using wire pins that allowed the angle to be adjusted slightly. The mainwheels were added, and at this point I found I filed flats on them without any reference to the location of the brake calipers! These should face forwards, so I was forces to file a new flat on one wheel, and do my best to disguise my error. The gear doors fit well, but lack solid attachment points. I added wire pins to the centreline tank as well. Scratchbuilt sway braces were added to the main pylons along with my sparesbox bombs, and the modified kit rockets to their stubs. The tailwheel had a scrap of plastic added to act as a mounting point, but the fit was still very vague. Final details included several wire and whip aerials, all clearly indicated on the Model Art decal placement instructions.

The finished product turned out well, in spite of the calamities along the way. The Sword kit is definitely a better starting point for building an F8F-1 or -1B, and the excellent cockpit and wheel well detail is a bonus. The model takes care to turn out well, and is not helped by sloppy finishing!

References on the Bearcat are fairly common. The best source on French aircraft is the Avions title on Grumman fighters. Other sources include Air Internation vol. 44 no. 6 and Airfan Nos. 9-12.

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Last updated 4 February, 2002