Saturday, 4 July 2015

Chinese Aircraft ~ Part 2

John Haas kindly shared these images of his splendid Curtiss Hawk 75 built from the 1/48th scale Hobbycraft kit  in Republic of China markings. The story of the Curtiss Hawk monoplanes in Chinese service may be found here and here.

John's model represents the Curtiss 'Hawk Special', also known as the 'China Demonstrator', NR1276, (c/n 12327), as photographed at the Curtiss factory on 16th April 1937. Although NR1276 is often referred to as the first H75-H it actually appears to be the pattern aircraft for the H75-M, an export version of the Curtiss Hawk specific to China.

Les Moore kindly provided these images of his excellent Martin B-10 bomber wearing Chinese insignia and representing an aircraft of the 30th Squadron. The model was built from the classic 1/72nd scale Williams Brothers kit and constructed from the box except for the machine gun and pitot tube which were fabricated from .016 guitar string.  Les painted it with War Birds acrylic and Testors enamel paints. 

The Chinese government purchased nine Martin M-139WC-1 and M-139WC-2 export versions of the bomber, the first six delivered in two batches of three in February and May 1936. The final three arrived at the end of 1936 via Manila and Hong Kong. The first six bombers were assigned to the 8th Air Group's 30th Squadron and the subsequent three bombers to the 14th Squadron, also known variously as the 14th International Volunteer Squadron or the 14th Volunteer Bombardment Squadron. This unit, commanded by Vincent Schmidt, a First World War veteran from New York, consisted of foreign volunteer pilots from the USA, France and New Zealand flying with Chinese bombardiers and gunners, and was also equipped with Vultee A-19, Northrop A-17 and Gamma 2E types.   

In May 1938 the two surviving Martin bombers from the 14th Squadron, 1403 and 1404, were assigned to an Air Expeditionary Force under the command of Captain Hsu Huang-sheng to fly over Japan and drop peace leaflets. The bombers were equipped with enhanced radio and radio direction finding equipment which had been co-ordinated with ground stations established along the primary and secondary routes. 

The two Martins were on stand by for the mission at their Hankow base from 15 May awaiting suitable weather conditions. At 1523 hrs on 19 May the two aircraft, piloted by Captain Hsu and 1Lt Tung Yen-po (the executive officer of the 8th Air Group's 19th Squadron), departed on the first stage of the mission, flying to Ningpo via Nanchang and Chuchow. They landed there at 1755 hrs and after final preparations and refuelling took off for Japan at 2348 hrs. After dodging the searchlights of Japanese warships the Martins arrived over the fully lit city of Nagasaki at 0245 hrs and from an altitude of 11,500 ft first dropped a flare which triggered an immediate blackout and then scattered leaflets.  They then flew on to Fukuoka where from 0325 hrs they began dropping more flares and leaflets. At 0332 hrs they started for home.     

On the return journey the two bombers encountered bad weather and became separated in cloud but were able to find their way to the Chinese coast by means of continuous radio communications with the ground stations and each other. Both aircraft made landfall at Sanmen Wan at 0712 hrs coming under fire from Japanese ships anchored in the bay, the first hostile fire they had encountered on the mission. Martin 1404 finally landed intact at Yushan airfield at 0848 hrs  and at 0924 hrs 1403 landed at Nanchang. After refuelling the bombers flew on to Hankow, rendezvoused over the city at 1113 hrs and both landed there safely. 

More on Chinese bombers and bomber operations in due course.

Image credits: All Curtiss Hawk 75 © 2015 John Haas; All Martin B-10 © 2015 Les Moore

Friday, 3 July 2015

Ki-61/Ki-100 Aces

There appears to be a certain amount of confusion about the difference between a Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien and a MiG-17 jet in some quarters, an error apparently more difficult to resolve than it was to perpetrate. For the avoidance of any doubt here is the correct cover art by Ronnie Olsthoorn for Osprey's forthcoming Aircraft of the Aces 114. It depicts the Ki-61-I Otsu of Sgt Susumu Kajinami of the 68th Hiko Sentai attacking the B-25 'Little Stinky' (41-30080) of the 501st BS near Boram, New Guinea on the 22nd December 1943. Flying as wingman to the more experienced M/Sgt Matsui in this particular encounter, Sgt Kajinami went on to claim a total of eight enemy aircraft destroyed and 16 probables over New Guinea, surviving that campaign and the war. 

Image credit: © 2015 Osprey Publishing and Ronnie Olsthoorn

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Chinese Aircraft ~ Part One

It is always a delight to be able to feature Chinese aircraft here and Woodstock has an excellent blog featuring his superb and inspiring models of historic Chinese aircraft including many rare and unusual types which are seldom seen as models. The heading image is of a mixed media Blackburn Lincock in 1/72nd scale made from the rare New Types Park kit which featured in Aviation of Japan's article on Robert Short. Woody has two of these on display, the second interpreted in an even more colourful scheme.

Breda Ba 25

Boeing 218 (export P-26) in Cantonese Air Force plumage

With special thanks to Woody for facilitating the link and kindly permitting some of his beautiful models to be shown here. More Chinese aircraft models to come. 

Boeing 218 of 17th Group, Republic of China Air Force

Kawasaki Ki-10 in Chinese insignia

Fokker DVII in early Chinese Republican insignia ~ aircraft re-covered and clear doped, easier than lozenge!

Image credits: All © 2015 Woodstock 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Hasegawa Shiden Kai in 1/72

The Hasegawa Shidenkai dates from 1977 and was a stablemate of their J2M3 Jack to the same scale. It is listed in a Trade Fair report in Scale Models (UK) magazine of April 1977 (p.199) and appeared in the 1978 Hasegawa catalogue as 'N1K2-J George' with an image of a built up model. Until recently it was still listed in the standard range and retailing from HLJ for ¥640 (about £3.48/$US5.21) which makes it 38 years old.

1978 Hasegawa Catalogue Image

The first issue was in the 'red' series box as A29 (heading image) and moulded in dark green plastic. The box ends of this kit include the number JS-125 which Burns* lists as being a separate issue kit from 1980. The 1978 catalogue image (above) includes both numbers so make of that what you will. Early Shikeo Koike box art depicted a pair of aircraft from the 343rd Ku despatching an anonymous Corsair in a sky of orange tinted miasma. From 1982-87 the kit was released in the 'blue' series as B1 with the same box art (below) and still moulded in dark green. The JS-125 number on the box end was replaced with B001 which Burns also lists as a separate issue for 1981. Markings options in both releases remained the same - 'A 343-15' of the 343rd Ku's 301 Hikotai flown by 1Lt Naoshi Kanno, the Hikotai leader and 'C 345-45' of the same unit's 701 Hikotai flown by 1Lt Takashi Oshibuchi, also the Hikotai leader. The tail codes and the twin fuselage bands on both aircraft were presented as white. 

1982 release as B1

Do not adjust your monitor - bold presentation for 1987 release as 506

In 1987 the kit was re-issued moulded in light grey plastic in a larger box as number 506 with colour photos of a made up model on the side and the same box art boldly re-presented to 'zoom in' and depict the Shiden kai in an inverted position. At the same time the image was modified to present the tail code and twin bands in yellow with a large white number '15' added to the fuselage Hinomaru. The kit decal sheet, for the same two options, reflected those changes with 1Lt Oshibuchi's aircraft also given a makeover with yellow tail code and red bands. At one time it was believed that the bands were painted to represent a Hikotai colour sequence but more recent research based on the testimony of veterans suggests that the bands were probably white on Oshibuchi's aircraft and yellow on Kanno's, being the same colour as the tail code. The temporary white number in the Hinomaru is based on a photograph but it has also been shown faded and/or painted over. What didn't change was the suggestion in the kit instructions to paint the under surface light grey using Gunze H61/35 IJN Grey and described in that misleading but persistent cliché of 'light/bright ash white colour' (明灰白色). Burns lists this kit as being issued in 1988 and a further release as AT-06 'announced' in 1992. When it appeared the 1992 release (below) was numbered AT6 and the box art reversed the bold inversion of 506 but with same 'zoom in' presentation.

1992 release as AT6

1997 release as SS2 with pre-painted canopy

In 1997 the kit was added to the 'Super Series' with pre-painted canopies as SS-2 with the subsidiary number 03002 (above). It was in an even larger box with a colour photograph of a built and painted model and the original Shigeo Koike art as a small inset. This kit included only markings for 1Lt Kanno's 'A 343-15'. The instruction sheet in this kit is different, Tamiya-like in style and containing snippets of generic modelling advice at each stage, apparently aimed at the younger or less experienced modeller. Unusually for Hasegawa the colour suggestions reference both Gunze and Tamiya paints.

Standard boxing from 2004 as A6

I'm not sure when the current 'standard' boxing (above) first appeared but my example is dated 2004 and numbered A6 with the subsidiary number 00136. The box art and markings options remain unchanged from 1987.

The Kit Itself ~ An Appraisal

Hasegawa's Shiden kai, now approaching its mid-life crisis, was finally upstaged - dare I say it - by the Aoshima kit in 1996 and is further relegated, if still in production, by the revision and improvement of the latest release of that kit. The Hasegawa kit represents the later production Shiden kai with the narrow chord tail fin, equivalent to the Aoshima kit # 6 (017517).  I have always rather liked it, warts and all, and view it in the context of its contemporaries, such as the Airfix FW 190 A/F and Me 163. Compared to its mainstream predecessor, Nitto's 1/75th 'Sidenkai' (sic) from 1964 (of which more anon), and at the time it was released it appeared a masterpiece of engineering and scale fidelity. Nowadays, with the trend in modelling towards an expectation of minute accuracy in every panel line, cockpit interiors of crowded complexity and long hot arguments over shape issues, it is perhaps viewed more critically. 

Hasegawa and Aoshima fuselage halves compared ~ Note different exhaust outlet spacing

The Hasegawa Shidenkai kit is presented on two simple, sharply moulded self-contained sprue frames with a separate clear frame providing a single canopy in the closed position. Panel line detail is crisply engraved with exhaust outlets and cowling flaps moulded integrally with each fuselage half. The lower pair of exhaust outlets are also moulded integrally with the fuselage halves and decidedly fuzzy in comparison to the better defined outlets on the Aoshima kit which are moulded as part of the single piece lower wing. The lower cowling intake ducting in the centre section is moulded as a separate part in the Hasegawa kit whilst it is integral to the lower wing in the Aoshima.

Lower wing pieces compared ~ Hasegawa ailerons and wingtips moulded integrally to upper wing halves 

The wheel wells are devoid of detail but enclosed and whilst too shallow they are not as bad as some. The main undercarriage covers are moulded in one piece, separate from the struts and must be cut for the model to be displayed wheels down.

Simplified cockpit detail in the Hasegawa kit ~ but good for 1977!

Cockpit detail is minimal but was considered good at the time, consisting of a floor with rudimentary rudder pedals, separate stick, seat and rear bulkhead. The separate instrument panel is flat with the instrumentation provided in the form of a decal. Early kit instructions suggest 'blue bamboo colour' (aotake - 青竹色) for the cockpit interior but this was later changed to Gunze (GSI Creos) H340 Field Green (FS 34097). The engine is a relief moulding with the final reduction gear and pitch control unit as a single separate piece. The propeller unit consists of the four-bladed prop, spinner and back plate as three separate parts whilst the cowling is moulded in one piece. There are parts included for the drop tank with separate sway braces.

Aoshima and Hasegawa cowlings compared

The Hasegawa cowling has deeper and more pronounced intakes than the Aoshima cowling, which is slightly more tapered all round, but the revised and updated Aoshima Shidenkai kit recently released (below) has a new cowling as well as a more detailed cockpit interior.

In terms of shape pinning things down is only marginally easier than knitting fog. The Aoshima fuselage ahead of the windscreen is shallower than the Hasegawa but deeper and more boxy to the rear. It has been asserted that the Hasegawa kit is too shallow but the tapering up of the lower rear fuselage line and the shape of its tail fin and rudder assembly appear to have the slight edge - depending on which plans are consulted. The tail fins and rudders of both kits are slightly too short in height. It is always fascinating how minor shape issues are glossed over in the clamour over newly released kits, but quickly seem to become 'fatal flaws' and ultimately, and often in a surprisingly short space of time, the kit is dismissed as a serious contender.

A neat little kit seems to sum up the Hasegawa Shidenkai, asserted shape issues and alleged inaccuracies notwithstanding. It is a simple, rapid and enjoyable build, recommended as such even today. My own biggest disappointment with it was melting the prop with a hair dryer when once attempting to photograph it with the prop turning (doh!). There is an enthusiastic build review of the kit at Modelling Madness, here and it is certainly a pleasant and undemanding weekend project out of the box.

Image credit: All box art and images © Hasegawa Corporation as dated; AT6 box image via eBay; kit part comparisons © author.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Shiden Addendum

I don't have the Tamiya 1/48th Type 11 Shiden kit but a communiqué from Aviation of Japan's Texas correspondent Mark Smith suggests that it suffers from the same cowling scoop issues as the 1/72nd scale kit. Mark kindly sent these images of his own Shiden model with a modified cowling, using the front half of the Otaki Shiden kit cowling grafted to the rear of the Tamiya cowl. Mark writes that considering how very nice the Tamiya kit is in about every other respect, it is puzzling how badly they missed the cowling and how well Otaki managed to capture it considering the age of those moulds - mid 1960s.  Mark remembers modifying the cowling before any other construction to see if it would work - it did - using superglue as a filler, which has not shrunk as putty can do after many years. The current price of the Otaki kit, now available under the Arii brand, makes this a practical consideration for a Shiden model, although Hasegawa also have a range of Shiden kits available (not seen) and the Arii/Otaki kit is a pleasant antidote to AMS in its own right.         

The frontal view of Mark's model makes an interesting comparison with my image of the original 1/72nd kit part.

The IJN designation of the N1K1/2 is usually rendered in English as 'Interceptor Fighter' but the Japanese characters used - 局地 - mean 'local area' which implies a short range capability in contrast to long range - 長距離 - and thus an aircraft designed for a local, short range interception role. Shiden was first designated the Experimental No.1 Local Area Fighter.

Shiden was developed from the Kyofu floatplane fighter, Kawanishi's engineers wishing to exploit that design's performance features. At first the IJN were not interested, being focussed on development of Mitsubishi's Raiden, and Kawanishi pursued the project as a private venture. By the time the Navy were able to evaluate one of three less than perfect additional prototypes constructed by Kawanishi delays and concerns over the Raiden project had changed their tune. Kawanishi were instructed to continue improving the Shiden design and to suspend further work on another concurrent IJN fighter project - the J3K1/J6K1 Jinpu. A complicated undercarriage system in the N1K1-J, necessitated by the inherited mid-wing configuration of the floatplane and a 10 foot propeller, proved problematic and prone to failure. Shiden had an alarming stall characteristic that tested pilot reaction and skill, the combination of both issues impacting ease of landing. The ultimate resolution of these issues was the modification to low-wing configuration of Shiden Kai and the rest, as they say, is history.

Otaki/Arii Box Art

Mid 1960s issue Otaki Shiden box art by Tatsuji Kajita~ kit moulded in dark green

1972 release of Otaki's Shiden ~ Splendid box art by Rikyu Watanabe

Current Arii Shiden box art 

Image credit: All model photos © 2015 Mark Smith; Box art © Tamiya Inc., and Arii; special thanks to Keishiro re the characters 局地

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

More Thoughts on Shiden in 1/72

Prior to the appearance of the Aoshima Shiden the only realistic game in town had been the limited run MPM kit (above) released a mere couple of years beforehand. It was typical of MPM's early efforts consisting of basic if not crude short run plastic mouldings with plenty of flash but it did benefit from a crisp vacform canopy (still crystal clear in my example), a photo-etch sheet and photo-film instrument panel. The decal sheet, by Propagteam, offered markings for four subjects - 'ケ-1174' of the Genzan Ku, '341S-12' and '341-16 over S' of the 341st Ku's 402nd Hikotai and '201-53' of the 201st Hikotai. Whilst the Aoshima Shiden trumped the MPM kit, making it effectively redundant, it was in turn upstaged by Tamiya's release of its own N1K1-Ja in 2001. Tamiya have a deserved reputation for detail and fit and their Shiden kit surpassed the Aoshima kit in a number of features. 

New kit in town; the Tamiya Shiden pushed aside the batwing doors of the modelling saloon in 2001

Panel line detail on the Tamiya kit includes rivets around the cowling panels and wing root fairings not represented by Aoshima. The Aoshima kit omits the lowest of the three cooling slots behind the exhausts - probably because it is concealed by the pitot and wing in most plan profiles. The retractable access steps in the wing root fairings are represented by indented slots in the Tamiya kit but not at all in the Aoshima kit.  These were not toe holds but rather 'L' shaped  stirrups that dropped down on each side and were often seen deployed when the aircraft was on the ground. Above and to the front of these is a square panel that hinged inwards to provide a second step and this is shown in both kits. In addition there were two further retractable handles/steps on each side of the fuselage that operated with the stirrup and which are also seen deployed when the aircraft is on the ground. Sometimes only one of them is shown on drawings and plans. Both kits represent the handles/steps in the retracted position but the Aoshima kit represents the rearmost one as a hinged panel rather than as a spring loaded protruding handgrip. The painted areas around these handles/steps were often worn away.

Comparison of Shiden kit fuselage halves

Instead of a relief moulded engine Tamiya provides a fully formed two part twin row radial. Exhaust outlets and cowl flaps are separate parts whereas Aoshima has them moulded integrally with the fuselage halves. Perhaps because of this I found the three way join of the fuselage halves with their tapered fronts and the single piece lower wing less precise than in the Aoshima kit. In fact I would go so far as to say the Aoshima kit provides for a slightly more straightforward construction all round. Tamiya has the underwing cannon gondola as separate parts whereas apart from the rear fairings the Aoshima gondola are moulded integrally with the single piece lower wing. 

Comparison of Shiden kit lower wings

The Aoshima wheel wells are shallower than Tamiya, again moulded integrally with the wing, whereas the Tamiya wells are open with their detail moulded into the upper wing halves. The complex Shiden undercarriage could never retract into those Aoshima wells so some cunning trompe-l'œil painting is required. The Aoshima undercarriage struts and retraction arms are moulded as one piece together with their doors whereas those are all separate parts in the Tamiya kit. The Tamiya flying controls, ailerons, elevators and rudder, have their fabric surfaces more subtly represented than Aoshima. 

Aoshima cockpit interior parts ~ simple but easily enhanced

As far as interiors go the Tamiya kit has rudimentary sidewall detail and the Aoshima kit none. The Aoshima cockpit is a simplified five-part affair of floor, seat, stick, instrument panel with integral gunsight and rear bulkhead. The Tamiya kit doesn't have many more parts but they are designed for a more detailed appearance. Not much will be seen when the models are completed, especially if the Aoshima pilot figure is used. Kora have released a resin and photo-etch enhancement set for the Aoshima and Kopro kits. Rob Taurus make replacement vacform canopies for both the Aoshima and Tamiya kits.

Tamiya kit cockpit interior assembly ~ note clear gunsight piece

In terms of overall shape there is not much to choose between the two kits. There are subtle differences in the shape of wing tips and tail fins. I have seen comments that the Aoshima kit is under scale but both kits have similar dimensions and both appear under scale when compared to the plan profile drawings by Rikyu Watanabe in FAOW # 124. However those drawings are not marked as to their scale.

Comparison of kit cowlings to original

Neither kit has captured the shape of the lower cowling scoop quite correctly. Overall the Aoshima cowling is slightly more tapered in plan and profile whist the Tamiya cowling is slightly more bulbous. A judgement as to which looks better seems to be subjective.

The Tamiya model provides markings for four aircraft - 'ツ-7' of the Tsukuba Ku,ヨ-110' of the Yokosuka Ku, '341S-23' of the 341st Ku's 402nd Hikotai and '341-16 over S' also of the 341st's 402nd Hikotai. The sheet includes a decal for the seat belt - waist belt and single shoulder strap on IJN aircraft - plus yellow wing leading edge IFF strips and instrument panel dials.

The overall impression is that the Aoshima is a simpler kit which has compromised on the level of detail in some areas. That is not to suggest the kit is flawed in any way - it still builds nicely into a good looking model. Price wise the Tamiya kit retails in Japan for less than the Aoshima, about £4.75 (¥900) vs £6.31 (¥1,200) - if you can find one. The 1/48th scale Arii (ex-Otaki) kit of the N1K1-J is being sold for the same price as the Tamiya kit.

More 1/72nd scale Shiden Kai thoughts and comparisons to follow and a mighty wind will blow in too - with apologies to 1/48th and up modellers! Are these blogs useful/interesting or have all the Shiden itches and axes already been scratched and ground?

Image credit: All box art, kit parts and instructions © MPM, Tamiya Inc., and Aoshima Bunka Kyozai Co., Ltd