Friday 19 March 2010

Tamiya 1/48th A6M5 - An Appraisal

From correspondent Dan Salamone comes this informative "warts and all" appraisal of the much lauded Tamiya 1/48th Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero, kit # 61103:-

"When first released in the summer of 2008, the Tamiya A6M5 kit was hailed as the ultimate Model 52 kit in this scale. I would like to weigh the pros and cons of this kit as someone who has actually built it, and by comparison to the kit of the same variant from Hasegawa (originally kit # Jt 70).

The quality of the moldings is without question spectacular. At first blush in the box, the kit looks superb, and is indeed superior to the older Hasegawa kit in the amount of detail found in the cockpit. This is where the superiority to the Hasegawa kit ends.

This kit suffers from a Jekyll & Hyde syndrome. Some aspects of the engineering and fit are amazing, others leave much to be desired. For instance, the tolerance of the finished cockpit mating to the fuselage is so minute that you will need to scrape paint off of the edges of the cockpit to allow it to fit into the tabs inside the fuselage. Likewise, the main gear doors literally fall into place on the finished and installed main landing gear legs.

However, these instances of great engineering are balanced by the very poor fitting vertical fin to the rear fuselage, made even more difficult by the insert (part B5) that seats beneath the fin on the left side. The cowl panels (parts C3, D7/D8) need an excessive amount of dry fitting, trimming, and finally careful application of liquid cement to avoid very obvious gaps. Nearly every copy of the kit I have seen built online suffers from gaps in this area. Additionally, the wing leading edge inserts for the guns (parts E 15/16 and B3/4) do not fit well at all.

Then there are the “cute” aspects of the engineering that defy common sense. The placement of the cowl guns prior to assembly means the need to paint them after they are nested in their channels. Tamiya chose to mold the lowermost cowl flaps integral to the oil cooler fairing (part D5) - meaning extra masking and painting. But even worse, the need to add this assembly after painting and after the cowl proper has been installed…..made the very poor fit an exercise in frustration. I needed to shave off some of the exhaust parts (part D10) to even achieve a mediocre fit.

Tamiya also chose to include detail one will never see once the fuselage has been closed up- such as the oil tank near the firewall. Yet, they omitted easily seen detail, such as on the main landing gear wheel hubs. Even more puzzling, Tamiya included this wheel hub detail on their original 1/48 Model 21 kit, back in the late 1960’s!

I also feel that the kit prop has an odd shape about it….not the pitch of the blades in reference to the “hub”, but rather there is a twist to the blades that draws one’s eyes to it.

The laundry list goes on….the windshield has a poor fit to the fuselage which again is a major nuisance in that these parts will have already been painted by the time you discover the fact. Would you believe that the sliding portion of the canopy does not fully fit over the rear portion without cajoling? Needing to install the auxiliary gear doors (part A14) before the main gear legs risks breakage. Every good idea or feature has been countered by two poor ones.

One major improvement in Tamiya kits are the kit supplied decals. I applied the kit hinomarus using the Gunze system of decal liquids and they performed wonderfully. This is countered by Tamiya’s insistence on calling for their own line of paints which ignore differences found on Mitsubishi and Nakajima built aircraft….which have been well documented on this very website.

If this had been a kit that was not so highly touted on its release, I would not view it so harshly. When the 1/48 Tamiya P-47 family was released, it was at the time the pinnacle of plastic airplane model engineering and fit. My subjective view of this Zero kit is as follows . . . people have been blinded by the quality of the molding and the level of detail found in the box. I have studied pictures of various examples of this model both online, and in a recent Model Art volume, and now that I know what to look for, nearly every single example reveals that it suffers from poor fit in the areas mentioned above. Yet, I have never seen any review of this kit that was anything short of glowing.

You may be wondering where the pictures are of my finished Tamiya A6M5. To be honest, I reached such a level of frustration after having spent so much time wrestling the kit that when I discovered my (painted) clear parts fitted so poorly that I would need to perform surgery, I gently tossed it into my garbage can and called it a day. The only other kit I have ever done that with as an adult was the 1/48 Hasegawa Ki-43-I . . . which is another story.

I recommend that if you would like to build an accurate, well engineered model of an early to mid A6M5 in 1/48, you buy one of the many decal variants of the Hasegawa kit. The fit may not be perfect, but it is less expensive and common sense was used in the engineering aspect of kit design.

Dan Salamone"

So many superlatives were promised by this kit when it was first announced that I bought one, even though I model almost exclusively in 1/72nd scale! The last 1/48th Zero model I actually built was Monogram's veteran when it was first released and new!

Looks like Dan's appraisal is going to kick off a short season of all things Zero as we get to grips with a number of recently released books and kits. It remains a popular subject across the modelling and research community, even with modellers whose collections are not limited to Japanese subjects.

Image credits: © 2008 Tamiya Inc

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Large Scale Japanese Army Pup

Wingnut Wings have rapidly acquired a well-deserved reputation for very high quality large scale models of charismatic Great War subjects and for excellent customer service. Commenting on one of the built up aircraft models a friend of mine observed that you could almost climb into the cockpit and fly it away! They are indeed, to use the vernacular, awesome.

Their most recent 1/32nd scale Sopwith Pup kit (# 32013 - RFC version) will be of interest to Aviation of Japan readers as it contains a markings option for a Japanese Army version, shown here with Wingnut Wings kind permission. The kit consists of high quality Cartograf decals for 5 different aircraft; 110 high quality injection moulded plastic parts, optional side cowls, fixed or adjustable tailplane, engine cowls and 2 propellers; a highly detailed LeRhone 9c 80hp engine; 6 photo-etched metal detail parts; fine in scale rib tape detail and full rigging diagrams.

The superb model shown here, built by Richard Alexander of Wingnut Wings from the kit, represents a Whitehead built Sopwith Pup D4165, as flown by Lt Kawaida in May 1921. Models of early Japanese Army aeroplanes are rare but the opportunity to build one from a kit of this quality is very welcome indeed and Wingnut Wings are to be saluted for including this option. Outstanding.

The kit is only available direct from Wingnut Wings. Other views of the model and more details about this kit, including the other markings options, kit parts and instructions may be seen at their website.

Image credits: ©2010 Wingnut Wings & Ronny Bar; reproduced here with the kind permission of Wingnut Wings

Thursday 11 March 2010

Recent Risings

Rising Decals continue to issue sheets of interesting Japanese subjects, and long may they continue. They have proven to be innovative and frequently fill gaps in the availability of alternative Japanese markings for the many new kits that have been released over the last decade. Another aspect I like about them is the colour chosen for the Hinomaru; personal taste I know but I much prefer their deep, saturated reds to the more orange - or even pinkish - roundels from some manufacturers (the images of the sheets shown here are lighter than the actual colour). The colour instructions are always clear and well presented and I admire the way that the paint colour information is offered with a qualified caveat rather than dogma. Another very positive aspect is the posting of correction colour scheme information on their web page.

'Japanese Carrier Bombers', RD48008, is a 1/48th scale sheet with markings for two early China-based B5N1 of the 12th Kokutai, a B6N2 and a D3A1. The two B5N1 represent the pre war silver and red scheme for a Hokokou ('Patriotism') adorned bomber and a field camouflaged scheme of green and brown which retains the red tail feathers. Interestingly, both aircraft have the same tail code. Was the Hokokou presentation marking overpainted? Dunno! The 551st Ku B6N2 51-301 has large white characters either side of the Hinomaru and a yellow striped tail - an impressive scheme for an aircraft not known for its colourful options, so very welcome. The D3A1 ia another Hokokou adorned aircraft, AII-256, from the carrier Kaga in the early "grey" scheme. The Hasegawa kit, also released by Revell, probably takes the biscuit but for those worried by rising prices (no pun intended) the earlier and cheaper Fujimi offering still seems to be readily available and is a good kit. A D3A1 model lends itself to imaginative presentation, always appearing more impressive posed as in flight, diving with dive brakes open, pilot bent forward peering through the optical sight and bomb cradle swinging down. Standing, tail down, with those mighty pants, always seems to diminish this charismatic beast. The D3A1 also offers the opportunity to experiment with many and varied interpretations of the early "grey". This sheet includes all the markings necessary for three aircraft, including the Hinomaru.

The next sheet is, for me, the most welcome. 'Japanese Aircraft of Training Units', RD 72026, continues Rising's tradition of exploring the many and varied training schemes with a colourful selection of 1/72nd scale decals for IJN trainers, including the K5Y1 "Willow" in land and float configurations, and two A6M2 aircraft. A bonus provides additional markings for the A6M2-K two-seater Zero trainer and K3M3 crew trainer, recently released by AZ Models. The two A6M2 aircraft from the Oita and Tsukuba Ku, with yellow undersurfaces and one with a stripped tail cone, are particularly welcome. Both have large underwing codes and the Tsukuba example has an undulating fuselage paint demarcation that should prove a challenge. The "Willow" has a plethora of schemes that could be applied to the recent Valom kit or the older LS example still available from Arii. Silver with red tail feathers, yellow with red and three different examples of field camouflaged dark green over yellow schemes, including an interesting "snake weave" pattern I have not seen before. The only aspect of doubt about this sheet - and it has nothing to do with Rising - is the availability of a good 1/72nd A6M2-K kit! There is the AML example, a challenging build if you can find one so I'm told, the rare as hen's teeth Gartex resin, a CMK resin conversion for the Hasegawa Zero (which Rising recommend) or the do-it-yourself kit bash. It remains something of a mystery why, when they released their new generation Zero series (how long ago now?), Hasegawa did not take the opportunity to mold an alternative A6M2/5-K fuselage frame and canopy.

Finally, also in 1/72nd scale, 'A5M4 Claude', RD 72027, is a small sheet offering three markings options for this Navy fighter. Two are very colourful aircraft from the carriers Soryu and Hosho, whilst the third is a plainer looking fighter, S-123 from the Chitose Ku at Rabaul early in the war. This latter scheme is interesting in offering a Pacific War Claude but I'm not sure about the colour information here. Natural metal is suggested but I believe the finish chronology for the A5M may have been natural metal only on the earliest examples, followed by aluminium - or silver - paint, followed by the "grey rat" coloured paints for light metals. The instructions offer a useful suggestion for the legendary "golden cast" finish on the A5M should the modeller wish to go that route, by first spraying silver (Mr Color # 8) followed by a mix of 95% clear dope (Mr Color # 155) and 5% yellow (Mr Color # 58). In the case of the Soryu aircraft decal bands are included to aid with painting the blue wheel spats and the FS value for the decals is included (*5190) to assist in obtaining/mixing the correct colour paint. Bearing in mind the white and blue borders on the spats and wing bands this is probably the best approach. A very colourful gem is sure to result. The various Fujimi kits of the A5M4 are excellent and generally available, whilst the older Nichimo A5M4 kit also has a certain chunky charisma and these decals would certainly dress it up.

An excellent and highly recommended selection of decals. Rising's next Japanese projects look set to continue this trend for unusual, colourful and much needed markings. Thanks to Mirik of Rising Decals for the review samples.

Images credit: © 2010 Rising Decals