Thursday 29 September 2011

Exploding Fuel Tanks by Richard L. Dunn

There is no shortage of myths circulating about the Pacific War or on the subject of Japanese aircraft flown during that war. Whilst the rise of the internet has contributed to the dissemination of arcane factual information to a much wider audience the concomitant rise of the internet forum has contributed to the dissemination of myths, half-truths and misperceptions, more often than not motivated by the best intentions. Despite this there are still many 'black holes' of knowledge where we might grope and speculate but which remain essentially hidden from us by time and chance.

Filling a knowledge gap and shining a light into one of those black holes, Richard L. Dunn has tackled the crucial subject of aircraft fuel tank protection in his new book 'Exploding Fuel Tanks'. This book tells the story of the air war over the Pacific in World War Two from the perspective of aircraft vulnerability. The result is surprising history with many oft repeated but inaccurate characterisations of the combatants debunked. In addition to a story about technology it sheds new light on combat operations and the actual losses (not just the claims) each side suffered. The main chapter titles in the book are:-

I. State of the Art – 1940
II. The Experience of War: 1940-1941
III. Opening Rounds of the Pacific War
IV. Case Study: Midway
V. Shifting Balance: mid-1942 to early-1943
VI. Progress and Problems for the Japanese
VII. Tactical Consequences – 1943
VIII. Air Combat Late 1943 – Early 1944
IX. Reckoning
X. Lessons from the Final Months
XI. Course and Consequence – It Made a Difference

The book can be obtained via Amazon or direct from Richard's own website which includes reviews, a sample chapter to read and examples of the lllustrations and photographs. Richard's meticulous approach to research and writing has been previously evidenced in several excellent articles on the subject of Japanese aviation at

Image credit: Cover art © 2011 Richard L. Dunn

Monday 26 September 2011

Airfix Aichi D3A1 Val Rides Again!

Airfix will be re-releasing their venerable Aichi D3A1 as a special edition to coincide with the 70th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition to the well known 'BI-231' of Lt Cdr Takeshige Egusa offered in the last release of the kit decals are now included for presentation aircraft # 522 'AII-256' from the carrier Kaga at the time of the attack. Good choices both. The old 'AI-201' of the original kit appears to be no more, has ceased to be . . .

Egusa's aircraft is captioned as for the Pearl Harbor attack but it is doubtful that the dark green camouflage paint was worn at that time and this scheme is more usually associated with the later Indian Ocean operation. Captain Agar described the Japanese dive-bombers attacking HMS Dorsetshire on 5th April 1942 as "painted green with red wingtips". And Cdr (Ag) John Fair's report on the sinking of HMS Cornwall during the same action described the dive-bombers as "Camouflaged 'Deep Sea' with diagonal red band just before the tail" presumably meaning a deep sea green in colour.

Painting suggestions are for Humbrol 90 Matt Beige Green to represent "IJN Light Grey Green" (sic) which is the same paint Airfix recommend to represent RAF Sky - not really representative of the olive grey colour. I continue to be amazed at the imparting of duff information - even by people who ought to know better - when researchers have been sharing their findings for more than a decade. For a more representative appearance using Humbrol paints consider adding a little Matt 225 Middle Stone to Gloss 40 Pale Grey which is already a "warm" grey of beautiful consistency and finish. This will achieve a good looking semi-matt finish.  For the Dark Green Humbrol 75 Matt Bronze Green is recommended. This is not bad but lacks a little in green chroma. I'll be looking at IJN Green paints in more detail as part of the Raiden series and will tackle Humbrol mixes then. No concession is made to the blue-black of the cowling, which like RAF Night, was a mix of ultramarine and carbon black pigments rather than a pure black.

This 1964 kit was mentioned fondly here and what modeller John Wong managed to achieve with it is shown here.

Image credit: All © 2011 'Airfix' a trademark of Hornby Hobbies Limited

Friday 23 September 2011

Ohka Kits & Colours

Fine Molds have recently released two 1/48th scale kits of the IJN 'Ohka' (桜花 cherry blossom) rocket propelled and piloted bomb, the MXY7 used for special attacks, usually dropped from a Mitsubishi G4M2 'Betty' bomber, and the K1 unpowered glider trainer. There have been previous kits  from Hawk (as 'Japanese Kamikaze Piloted "Baka" Bomb' and in a double kit with a German V1) and Tsukuda (a Hawk re-pop) said to be to 1/41 scale and Kora have released or are due to release a model of the later Ohka Model 22 in 1/48. A 1/72nd scale Ohka was included in the Hasegawa Mitsubishi G4M1 'Betty' bomber issued in 1969.

Tsukuda Ohka

A photo-etch sheet designed to be used with the new kit is also available separately from Fine Molds (!). At that price you might think . . . . It consists mainly of seat, seat belts, armour plate and other cockpit fittings together with a brass pitot tube.

The US authorities coined the Japanese term 'Baka' (馬鹿 fool or folly) to describe this weapon, said to be for propaganda reasons in order to downplay their concern at the Japanese suicide tactics. It always irks when  contemporary terrorist attacks are sometimes compared to the Japanese suicide attacks by ignorant (or lazy) media writers. The Japanese made those attacks as uniformed combatants, flying military aircraft against legitimate military targets in a theatre of war. This is not to forget or in any way to denigrate the many victims of the attacks, who were also soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting for their countries and doing their duty. And it is not to excuse or justify the war aims of the government that sanctioned them. The final writings of the special attack pilots reveal that many of them, far from fitting the popular stereotype of fanatics, expressed anxiety, sadness at the prospect of their premature deaths, concern for their families, an instinctive awareness of the ultimate futility of the enterprise but above all a deep sense of unavoidable duty. The peer and hierarchical pressure in their decisions to volunteer for these terrible missions are not to be underestimated. The young Japanese pilots who volunteered were servicemen responding to a rigidly imposed hierarchical militarism in which the concept of sacrificial death in battle and duty to their homeland was central. The Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors (軍人勅諭 Gunjin Chokuyu) issued by the Emperor Meiji in 1882 contained the precept that "Duty is heavier than a mountain; death is lighter than a feather".

I suppose it is possible to build a model of an Ohka and give no thought to the underlying moral and philosophical aspects, the distinction between an aircraft carrying a bomb and an aircraft designed as a bomb is perhaps a fine one, but for some it may be more difficult. Fine Molds have already released models of the "human torpedo" kaiten  - (回天 - difficult to translate "shaking the heavens") and midget submarines used for one way missions so the Ohka could be seen as a logical continuation of this theme. Ohka has a special resonance for me because at about the age of seven I sat in the cockpit of one overseen by my father who pointed out the sparse controls and how they worked. It was the origin of my interest in Japanese aircraft but the concept was, and remains, a chilling one.

TAIC Cutaway Drawing of Ohka

Hawk "Terror Attackers" Double Kit of Ohka and V1

Ohka Model 11 Colours

Leaving aside the difficult moral and philosophical dimension to focus on modelling this aircraft there is the perennial question of colours. Ohka is often depicted in the whiteish grey associated anachronistically with the early Zero or sometimes in a light green as with Hawk's kit. The Fine Molds kit instructions suggest overall GSI Creos (Gunze) Mr Color # 35 IJN Grey (Mitsubishi), which is a bright, slightly blueish grey of Munsell 4.7 B 6.5/0.5 (close to FS 36373 @ 1.26), conceived in the 1980's and purporting to represent the early Zero colour. However, a pale blue-green around Munsell 2.5 G 8/1 and 5 G 8/1 has been authoritatively reported from extant samples for the fabric covered plywood wings and tail assembly. The fuselage and metal parts are reported to have been painted in an "olive grey" (amber grey or yellow grey) around Munsell 5 Y 6/2 to 7.5 Y 6/2 similar to the early Zero. Some colour photographs and film (view from 1:09) do suggest that this is not simply due to thermal ageing of the paint surface although no doubt that might be a factor in the current appearance. The main reason for the yellowish caste of the "grey paint for light metal" is subject to much heated debate. The presence of yellow or yellowish-brown pigments in the paint is disputed but regardless of that the Urushi-type plant resins of amber character used in the binder had an immediate tinting effect on the white pigment and with the black created a fugitive greenish undertone. The fabric dope was of a different type, a pigmented cellulose acetate butyrate, the xharacteristics of which are that it is  clear rather than amber in tone and that it does not readily yellow with age.  

The colours shown above are those as reported in the linked article but it is perhaps best not to follow them too slavishly as the contrast between wings, tail and fuselage might be stark on a small 1/48th scale model. A more subtle difference between a cool, slightly blue-green grey and a warm, slightly yellowish grey will work better visually. A superb 1/72nd scale Hasegawa Ohka, displayed here demonstrates this more subtle effect. The two Munsell values cited for the metal paint are very close to each other @ 1.81 so the difference need not worry but there is no close FS 595B equivalent to this colour. The closest,  FS 33303 @ 3.26 & 4.98 respectively, is a poor match, being too brown in appearance and without the slight green or olive caste that is present. The closest FS 595B value to both blueish grey fabric paint values is 35622 @ 1.65 and 2.08 respectively, so a good match. Coincidentally this is the same FS value that is closest to the Du Pont MAP equivalent paint standard 71-021 Sky Type S Grey - a pale duck egg blue applied as an equivalent to Sky on early US manufactured aircraft exported to the RAF.

But by all means experiment and if you prefer an all-grey Ohka so be it. In terms of approximating the colours on a model Japanese modellers always seem more comfortable with the concept of absorbing the available data and settling on a personal interpretation of it - and accepting the inevitable differences between models without fretting over them or trying to impose their preferred solution on others. Western modellers on the other hand, appear more inclined to seek a "consensus" - that old impostor which can sometimes become the origin of a modelling convention that is flawed rather than factual. Too often the well is poisoned by "innocent" questions prefaced in the expectation of a "controversy" and/or containing their own half-arsed answers which leaves this pragmatist cold. Bearing in mind the arcane subject matter the bold and unequivocal statements sometimes made about colour on forums, as though Japanese (and other) aircraft were really painted in Tamiya or Gunze hobby paints, never cease to amaze - especially those gems that begin with "I don't know but . . . ".

Internally Robert C Mikesh reports evidence of yellow-green 'aotake' in the cockpit interiors of the three examples in the UK*, but bear in mind this appearance could be a shift from an original brighter blue-green or malachite. The seats, seat mount, canopy latch fittings, brace handholds and other steel  components were painted black, but the instrument panel was also 'aotake'. Note that this interior colour for the Model 11 is in contrast to the darker green opaque paint reported for the Ohka Model 22 in the same source and in Asahi Journal Vol.3 No.1 'Japanese Aircraft Colours at NASM'.

None of the ready made 'aotake' hobby paints achieve a really convincing appearance, often glaring out at the observer as modern metallic paint, and it  is better, if you have the patience, to mix the colour and apply it as a semi-translucent varnish over a bare metal finish as demonstrated here and also shown here. Scale and shadow does come into this though so the "gleaming" appearance of a 1950's Japanese robot on a small model is best avoided. For Humbrol users approximate 50/50 combinations of 88 Deck Green and 104 Oxford Blue, lightened slightly with 109 WWI Blue can be used to represent both the Army # 3 interior indigo grey and generic 'aotake', thinned as appropriate.

Note in this view the apparent similarity of fuselage, wing and tail colours

* Reported in 'Japanese Aircraft Interiors 1940-1945' (Monogram Publications, 2000)

Image credits: box art © 2011 Fine Molds; box art © 1958 & 1960 Hawk & © circa 1980 Tsukuda ; model images © 2011 Fine Molds; TAIC drawing net; film stills author's collection; rendered colour chips © 2011 Straggler; colour photos net.

Friday 16 September 2011

A Gaggle of Old Jacks and Random Thoughts ~ Part Two

The Nichimo 1/72nd scale Raiden, as mentioned in the previous blog, was also released in the mid 1960's and was still available until quite recently, presented as a double kit with the A5M4 Claude. The box art, unchanged in all releases, is by K Hashimoto who also painted profiles for the Bunrin-do 'Famous Aircraft of the World' (FAOW) series of books on Japanese subjects. Molded in dark, bottle green plastic it is a slightly coarser kit than Tamiya's, having engraved lines representing decal locations and concessions to scale fidelity necessitated by a moveable rudder, ailerons, retractable undercarriage and canopy. The latter, in three parts, is marred by mold marks and a little shallow in profile. This kit does have more interior detail though, with a separate instrument panel, cockpit floor with integrally molded seat and control stick and a separate pylon/headrest. The pilot figure appears to be modelled on a member of Mr Toad's extended family from 'Wind in the Willows' but probably looks better painted. Of interest are the decals for two aircraft, which appear to be of useable quality, and provide tail codes for コ-J2-34 ('Ko'-J2-34), which Model Art 470 identifies as "Shisei Raiden-kai" s/n 3034 of the Naval Technical Air Arsenal and ゲ-1107 ('Ge'-1107) of the Genzan Ku.

Another Raiden kit was issued in the mid-1960s by Otaki as OA-25. It has been reported as being to 1/70th scale but the only image of the box that I could find online states 1/72nd scale. No details are known about it.

After the last blog Jacob Terlouw kindly sent me an example of another Tamiya 1/72nd Raiden box art.  Do not adjust your set - the effect is intentional! This was a "sepia" version of the original box and I believe it was used for a 30th Anniversary re-issue of the kit? Another thing I forget to mention was the depiction of a Zero-like black cowling on the Raiden in the first Tamiya box art.

In 1977 Hasegawa's 1/72nd Raiden appeared as kit # A30 in the red stripe box style with early Shigeo Koike box art. This was - and is - a little gem of a kit with fine engraved details and an exceptionally clear and crisply molded canopy. The interior is adequately detailed for the scale, incorporating a cockpit floor, rear bulkhead, separate seat and control stick and an instrument panel featuring the armoured glass screen as a separate piece. A two-piece decal for the instrument panel was also included. Two alternative props are included - the standard type and a high performance type. This kit was released at the same time as the Shiden-kai but a curious enigma is that whilst both these kits had fine engraved panel line detail the Hayabusa and Hayate kits that followed several years afterwards had raised panel line details! Decals were included for three aircraft, two Raiden of the 302nd Ku - ヨD-153 ('Yo'D-153) and ヨD-1195 ('Yo'D-1195) - and one from the Tainan Ku - タイ-101 ('Ta-i'-101). Hasegawa's Raiden followed the style of the earlier  kits being molded in a dark green plastic. Painting instructions were comprehensive with a text explanation in addition to the tagged schematic drawings:-

"Painting of the Raiden
Like other Navy aeroplanes in the late period of the war, Raiden was painted in dark green for the upper surfaces and in light grey for the undersurfaces. But after April 1945 some were used unpainted for their undersurfaces. The anti glare in front of the canopy was blue black, blue-black mixture: 3:1, the same color with the cowling on the Zero fighter. The both sides of the propeller blades were painted in dark brown, or blue black, with a tellow stripe on each blade tip."

The box art shown above is from the original kit purchased in 1978 for the sum of HK$5.20 (about £0.42p now). The current "combo" special edition - two Raiden kits - is selling in the UK for about £40!

From 1982 the Raiden was re-issued as kit # B2 in a blue stripe box (shown above) but was otherwise identical to the first issue. This box style lasted until 1987. In 1988 a new larger box was introduced and the kit number changed to 505. This edition incorporated the original box art but it was presented to a different size taking up the whole of the box top and the image was modified to depict the lightning bolt adorned 352-20 of Lt.j.g. Yoshihiro Aoki of the 352nd Ku which featured as one of two options on the decal sheet. The other decal option was for YoD-155 of the 302nd Ku.

Two other numbers are reported to have been used for this kit - JS-126 in 1980 and B-002 in 1981 but I don't know if the box styles or artwork were different in any way. My example of 505 is molded in the same dark green plastic as the earlier releases but later issues of this kit may have been changed to light grey. Note how the artist has depicted the area under the rear canopy in a blue-grey or perhaps 'aotake' colour. In the earlier editions the internals were called out as "malachite green" (a blueish-green) but in this edition it was suggested that Gunze H340 'Field Green' paint was to be used. 

The final "standard" box style for the 1/72nd Raiden, issued in 1994, still available now and shown above, features the same artwork but resembles the earliest box layout, with an orange stripe. Notice how the dark green varies from box to box and image to image!

In 2004 the Hasegawa 1/72 Raiden was released as 00690 in a special '302nd Flying Group' edition with the same box art used for their 1/48th scale Raiden which had been released in 1996. The kit contained optional markings for ヨD-152 shown on the box and ヨD-1140 with a yellow fin tip. There were also four sets of ヨD codes and numbers to permit other 302nd Ku aircraft to be represented.

The February 2011 'combo' special edition of the 33 year old Hasegawa Raiden kit contains parts for two models together with a tiny brass oblique firing cannon muzzle for which a hole must be drilled in the port fuselage half. Although only three decal options are included, all aircraft of the 302nd Ku - YoD-1198YoD-1183 (with the oblique cannon) and YoD-1164 - two sets of additional white numbers from 0-9 are included though which allow any 302nd Ku Raiden to be modelled.

Update: in May 2012 the Hasegawa Raiden was released yet again, this time in a 'combo' with the A6M5c with markings for the 352nd Ku. The kit included two Raiden options - the lightning bolt adorned 352-20 of Lt Aoki again and 352-50.

Straggler's Raidenfest will continue with a look at the 1/48th kits and the colours in more detail . . . . If you have pics of any built Raiden kits please do send them in.

Image credits:- Top box art © Nichimo circa 1965; Otaki circa 1965; Tamiya circa 1994; All other images Hasegawa © 1978, 1982, 1988, 1996, 2004, 2011, 2012.

Thursday 15 September 2011

A Gaggle of Old Jacks and Random Thoughts ~ Part One

"The Raiden with its sharp ear-splitting, metallic sound like 'keen' and also, with a fat fuselage rarely seen among the Japanese planes then, had been very active in fighting the U.S. B-29 bombers for defence of the Japanese Mainland" 

The release of the new Hasegawa 1/32nd scale Mitsubishi J2M3 Raiden "Jack" inspired me to reflect briefly on the older Revell kit. That in turn led to a nostalgic re-consideration of some other old Jacks like Tamiya's 1/72nd scale veteran, the instructions of which provided the lyrical waxing that heads this blog post. Tamiya's early kit was one of a small series of Japanese fighter types in 1/72nd scale, much admired in their day for their combination of fine engraved detail and working parts. They were undoubtedly pioneering and by comparison with Aoshima's Earlies offered an astonishing degree of accuracy and quality. The Raiden was first issued in 1964 in the 'Flight Series 72' collection and went on to be re-issued over the years in motorised and un-motorised versions in a variety of box and art styles, most of which were illustrated by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1915-2001), perhaps better known for his sometimes mind boggling sci-fi box art.  The kit itself is usually to be found molded in a rather brittle dark or olive green plastic and features a retractable undercarriage, deployable flaps and, unusually for the time, a pair of air-to-air bombs to hang under the wings. In those days Japanese air-to-air bombing tactics and other exotica were largely unknown to British schoolboys and there was no compunction in flying Raiden across the Burmese jungle canopy of the back lawn and dropping the bombs on unlikely Airfix tanks wallowing below whilst even more unlikely Hurricane IV's loaded with rockets gave chase from the landing ground on the patio. After all, that podgy, rotund looking fighter couldn't have been much good, could it? I'm afraid Mr Horikoshi's superbly streamlined cowling design was completely lost to our crude and chauvinist sensibilities in those days of school caps, grey flannel shorts and satchels.

"Latest kit" snobbery aside it was, and is, a wonderful kit, full of evocative character and delightful in the undemanding enjoyment of its build. In the later kits the decal sheet offered four options with a full set of optional numbers in white. The lightning bolt adorned Raiden of Lt Yoshohiro Aoki of the Tainan Ku (Kokutai), Tai-101, was perhaps the best known but Lt Sadaaki Akamatsu's YoD-1195 of the 302nd Ku was also included, together with the anonymous Ya-1185 of the Yatabe Ku and Ke-1105 of the Kagoshima detachment of the Ulsan Ku from Korea. There is not much by way of interior detail. The pilot, an underfed refugee from Monogram, sits on pegs but there is a parcel shelf behind him with a "parcel" on it and the distinctive frame running to the top of the seat back. The Tamiya kit is sometimes confused in forum comments with the Nichimo example of approximately the same period, with things like "crude rivets" and markings outlines being falsely attributed to it. The Tamiya kit does have rivets but they are fairly restrained and balanced by quite fine engraved panel line detail.

The problem with Raiden for many modellers is the perception of its colour schemes and markings as "boring", being of a consistent appearance regardless of unit or location. It's boring old dark green over grey, right? A cast across the net reveals, however, an astonishing diversity in the perception of this "dark green", from verdant finishes approaching emerald, through olive greens, to dark, blackish greens. And the surface finishes sport equal variety, with dead, dull, flat matt competing with shines of various lustre for the attention of admirers. Then there are the serial chippers, to whom Japanese aircraft represent the ultimate weathering challenge, because we all know the paint was such poor quality and hastily daubed on "in the field", don't we? The out of the jar Gunze or Tamiya IJN Green hides the gleaming Alclad airframe only briefly before masking, salt or abrasive reveals the bright silver core, the pattern more often the impact of imagination than the replication of reality. Perhaps just a little more consideration might go to selecting the dark green paint to begin with, not to agonise over the correct shade to a fractional Munsell value, but to attempt to capture the character and appearance convincingly.

First stop towards this understanding is an excellent colour film of Raiden being prepared for demolition at Atsugi after the war. And not the crappy, grainy, discoloured version on YouTube - buy the DVD you cheapskates! OMG - hold that final flat acrylic clear coat - they are not dead, dull, matt after all!  At least not those aircraft in service rather than rotting in abandoned heaps under the risen and unforgiving sun and not in the sense of modern hobby paints. But try telling that to some people. A friend once described the colour of Japanese Navy aircraft, Zeros as it happens, which he saw regularly, almost every day, as "bottle green" - the colour of dark green glass - and said that the green had a distinctive appearance in the sun, almost iridescent like the shell of a beetle. Not far off the plastic colour in the first Tamiya Raiden kits then - which was probably intended to facilitate non-painting anyway. It's surprisingly hard to get this colour looking right, with its dark, deep, lustrous green but slightly olive chroma. All too easy to get something that looks like a winged Bentley in British Racing Green or that should be on a float in a St Patrick's Day Parade . . . .

Image credits: box art and instructions © Tamiya 1964

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Hasegawa New 1/32nd scale Mitsubishi J2M3 Raiden "Jack"

A review of the new Hasegawa 1/32nd kit of the Imperial Japanese Navy's interceptor fighter the Mitsubishi J2M3 Raiden "Jack" can be found here at Scale Plastic and Rail. The first issue kit, a special edition, contains as a bonus a comic book 'Young Bloods on Lightning Bolt' by Seiho Takizawa.

Raiden is sometimes translated as 'Lightning Bolt' and sometimes as 'Thunderbolt'Raijin is the god of thunder and lightning in Japanese mythology. The name Raijin comes from the Japanese words rai (雷, thunder) and shin (神, god). Raijin is sometimes depicted as a muscular man surrounded by drums, from which come the rumbling of thunder. Raijin also sometimes appears as an Oni (demon) as below. A Buddhist legend tells of Raijin as an evil demon who confronted Buddha. Buddha deployed a heavenly army to capture Raijin together with the demon who became the god of the wind (see Osprey's Ki-44 Aces!). Raijin is sometimes referred to as Raiden, from the words rai (雷, thunder) and den (電, lightning.) According to a Japanese legend, Raiden saved Japan from an invading Mongolian fleet in 1274 by sitting on a cloud and hurling bolts of lightning against the ships.

Model Art in Japan have also published a new profile on Raiden which is now available from Hobby Link Japan.

A previous 1/32nd scale kit of the J2M3 Raiden originated from Revell (possibly with Takara, Japan co-operation) in 1972. Always difficult to find it is now a rare and sought after kit but it will be interesting to see how many of these appear on the second hand market from the stashed hoards now that Hasegawa have released their new version!

Reviews of the Revell kit may be found here at Large Scale Planes and here at Aeroscale.

The same kit was re-issued in Japan in 1976 in the usual distinctive Revell-Japan strong cardboard box. This edition, even rarer now than the original Revell, had new box art and a decal sheet with no less than five options.

No doubt many models of Hasegawa's new Raiden will appear with cockpit interiors resplendent in RAF grey-green and much forum waffle will be expended on the subject by those who worship at the temple of Tamiya paint. Here are some clues.

Image credits: Box art, comic & model images © Hasegawa 2011; Model Art # 11 cover © Model Art 2011; Box art © Revell 1972 & Revell-Japan 1976; rendered colour chips © 2011 'Straggler' 

Monday 5 September 2011

Kit Trivia ~ Zeros New and Old ~ Airfix and Matchbox

It looks like Airfix have attempted to neatly side-step colour controversy with the single option boxing of their new Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero kit in 1/72nd scale. Or maybe not. The unusual undulating demarcation between the dark green and grey (or should it be orange yellow?) might give novice modellers a few headaches. The box art is splendid although I'm not sure what a Tsukuba Air Group Zero is doing mixing it up with New Guinea era Thunderbolts!  It will be interesting to see the painting suggestions in the future Pearl Harbor gift-set combo of P-40 and A6M2. No doubt the release of this kit will trigger the usual forum cycle of questions, answers and arguments. I'm looking forward to what I like to term the "Celebrity Novice" questions where the clueless and/or mischievous hold court as the experts and pundits desperately attempt to assert the supremacy of their advice and opinions in order to influence the painting of one individual's little plastic model. Aw, shucks.

In their time the British manufacturer Matchbox (part of the Lesney Group which came to prominence selling inexpensive die-cast cars under the Matchbox logo) released a number of unique and very good kits. Jean-Cristophe Carbonel celebrates them all in a new and very interesting book about the marque published by Histoire & Collections in English. Unfortunately the Matchbox Zero of 1973 (amongst the first batch of kits) was not one of them, bearing an unfortunate similarity to a T-6 film mock-up. It was surprising therefore to read that Matchbox's Zero was apparently designed with input from Mitsubishi Industries in Japan. One can only surmise that whoever was contacted to provide information had a well developed sense of humour.

The kit itself appeared over the years with two different versions of box art, both the fine work of the artist Roy Huxley. The fire-spitting original succumbed to a more sedate version in 1986 dictated by the marriage of marketing and political correctness. Both versions depicted the classic pale grey - almost off-white - of contemporary convention and belief; the painting instructions even suggesting Humbrol Hu.11 'Airframe White' (FS 37875) from their Authentics US Air Force Vietnam set.

Two markings options were offered in the kit, an aircraft from the carrier Akagi AI-113 at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack and one from the Tsukuba Air Group, a stablemate of the future Airfix kit - Tsu-102 - identified only as a 'Naval Air Corps Operational Training Unit' in dark green with orange yellow under surfaces. When the box art and packaging were revised these options and the painting instructions did not change.

After the demise of Matchbox the brand rights were purchased temporarily by Revell and a number of their kits - and others - were released under the Matchbox logo. The book asserts that the Mitsubishi Zero issued under this logo in 1996 (Kit # 40002 shown above) was "definitely from Matchbox pedigree". Mais non, M. Carbonel, not in the example I own it isn't! Lurking in the box ready to surprise and disappoint the unwary was most definitely the old Frog kit!  Joël Falconnet is quoted as remembering "huge errors concerning box contents" at this time which makes me wonder if any of the re-issued boxes did contain genuine Matchbox Zero kits? Despite its long run from 1973 to circa 1991 the Matchbox Zero kit is something of a rarity these days and the marque has a strong nostalgic following amongst collectors and retro-builders.

Image credits: © 2011 Airfix; © 2011 Histoire & Collections; © 1973 & 1986 Matchbox; © 1996 Revell