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


Mark Smith said...

Considering that Dan is the guy who wrestled the Fine Molds Judy to the ground, ending up with a great model (and there's a kit that doesn't fit), this is not encouraging news. But it is good info to have once the project is tackled. Thanks, Dan. And anyway, maybe you needed to get back to that unique Irving you wanted to build.

Mark Smith

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,
Thanks for the kind words on the Judy....and the encouragement to get to the Irving too. ;-)

I truly hope that anybody who is starting or going to start the Tamiya A6M5 is helped by what I shared here....and that if Tamiya ever does release other variants they rethink their approach.

Wyvern03 said...

I realize this is an older thread, but I was wondering... my research shows the fairing at the base of the wing gun started with the A6M5b, rather than the two earlier variants represented by Tamiya. Any thoughts on that?

Dan Salamone said...

Hi there, checking "Illustrated Zero Fighter", the fairing appeared on the A6M5a sub variant, then the "b" and "c" sub variants as well.

It's been awhile, but I recall that the Tamiya kit, as well as the older Hasegawa 1/48 kits, have the fairing molded in, and you are instructed to remove the fairing if building a standard A6M5 version.

As an aside, I am currently working on the 1/48 Tamiya P-38F kit, and the engineering and fit is superb on it (as advertised). I wonder if my copy of the Zero that I was building 12 years ago was simply a "bad egg" as far as fit went?

Hope that this is helpful,