Heller MS.500 Criquet

For such a small, seemingly simple aircraft, this kit is surprisingly difficult to build. Having built the kit as a Storch back in my adolescent years, I had some inkling of just how bad this kit can turn out without a lot of care in assembly. The real problem is the fuselage to canopy to wing area- for this kit the canopy is a major structural component.

To warm up for assembly I filed off all the overdone fabric texture from the wings, fuselage and empennage, being careful to leave the scalloping in place. I removed the flaps and all control surfaces, just to add a little character. I filed the trailing edge of the rudder down quite a bit. Interestingly, I had a chance to examine an actual rudder on an aircraft under restoration at the Royal Army Museum in Brussels, and the trailing edge is actually about half an inch thick, i.e. it does not come to a sharp edge. This is due to the strip of wood that runs around the rudder, giving it its shape. The cowling benefits from drilling out the main intake and adding a little engine detail inside (very little of which can be seen). I also bored the two small cheek intakes that Heller provides as raised details.

When it came time to build up the canopy, I worked slowly, leaving the door until last. This proved to be a good idea, because with all the other windows in place and aligned, the door wouldn't fit. I ended up fitting it in an open position (and it looks like I planned it that way!). Aligning all those struts is not an easy task, and it's made more difficult by the poor attachment points in the kit. Incidentally, most of the struts are overscale, and some are downright inaccurate, but there's no easy fix for this. When I reattached the flaps and control surfaces I realised that I had no clear idea of how the flaps should look when dropped, so I fudged it. It's pretty hard to spot the problem in this scale. At this stage, the kit looks real fragile, and it is. Mine's been dropped at least once (by a club member who shall remain nameless), cracking the wing root seam and separating all the struts on one side at their fuselage attachment ends. The accident wasn't all bad though, since in refilling the wing root seam I did a better job of hiding it than the first time around.

For the MS.500 I used the kit-supplied horizontal stabs, tailwheel and upper transparency without the gun position. I've noted that the gun position was in fact present on some aircraft, though I've never seen the gun installed. My references on the paint scheme were vague at the time, so I selected a nice dark green (FS34092) that I'd bought by mistake for another project. I drybrushed with a mix of this shade and white to highlight the rib detail and simulate a weathered finish. For markings, I modelled an aircraft depicted in a photo in Rene Francillion's Vietnam: the War in the Air. Most MS.500's were very plain in finish. I used the kit cocardes and cross of Lorraine for the tail, with the aircraft letter P coming from spares. For the tricolor on the tail I used white and red straight from the bottle, with the blue mixed from insignia blue and white to match the cocardes.

Subsequently I found a couple of references that cite FS34087 Olive Drab as the correct color (Robert Mikesh's Flying Dragons and the instruction sheet for Decals Carpena Indochina Part 2 set). The color profile of a South Vietnamese MS.500 in Squadron's VNAF book suggests a light blue undersurface colour, but I can find no evidence for this, and a photo of an ex-French Criquet in the Laotian AF clearly shows the same dark shade the wings. Overall, the kit looks good, but the details could certainly be more petite. I had hoped for an improvement with Eduard's new cutaway Storch kit, but this is merely the same kit with the internal framework added to the wings and aft fuselage.

Update (Feb 27, 1998): I have been informed by Cyril Defever that Heller's kit does not actually represent an MS.500 at all. MS.500s were produced post-war, and featured aluminum skinned wings, unlike the fabric skinned wings of the Fi-156 (and Heller's kit). Attempting to fill and sand away all the rib detail on the kit would be one solution to this problem, but a rather labour intensive one. Still, it's something to keep in mind for those looking for better accuracy.

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