Thursday, 3 November 2011

New Airfix Zero - A Partial Build Review


The new mold Airfix Zero has finally eclipsed their old veteran from 1959 whose last fling was as a starter set with paints and new box art in kit no. A50085 (shown above) still being sold by retailers as "new" (and potentially confusing unsuspecting buyers!). Its saving grace is a decal sheet for a Tainan Ku machine V-103 with blue fuselage band and tail stripe. To be fair to Airfix this partial build review of the new Zero (I haven't finished it yet!) is made in comparison to the Hasegawa kit rather than the superlative Fine Molds A6M2.


The new kit comes in one of the shallower, end-opening red boxes with the colour painting schematic on the reverse. The clear canopy part is protected in a separate poly bag.


The parts are crisply moulded in light blue-grey plastic with all of them secure on frames - sometimes a bit too secure as we shall see. Some of the smaller, finer parts have mold seams or a little flash which makes clean up tricky. Compared to the glossy and hard (almost brittle) plastic of the Hasegawa kit the Airfix plastic has a distinctly rubbery feel. Seeing what happens when this plastic is "scabbed" (ask me how I know) and, not wishing to set hares running, I do wonder about its longevity - but only time will tell. Panel lines are slightly more pronounced than on the Hasegawa parts but not excessively so.

Construction begins, naturally, with the cockpit and this is a gem, shunting the Hasegawa kit by a wide mile. The seat, with recessed but not perforated lightening holes, is attached to supports on the rear bulkhead which fiendishly includes the headrest/rollover pylon. Fine raised detail and moulding represents the spools, bungee cord and adjusting handle for the seat. This bulkhead then fits perfectly onto a shaped floor with raised details of side console, footboards and rudder pedals. There is a separate stick and instrument panel with three decals included for the panels. These work brilliantly and look most effective when applied. Sidewall detail of ribs, stringers and instrument boxes follows the clever Tomahawk design of being raised but on a recessed panel, giving a finer scale appearance.

I painted the cockpit in a favoured "generic" of Xtracolor X113 WWII Faded Olive Drab. As well as avoiding the Mitsubishi vs Nakajima dilemma posed by the kit subject choice this colour has a subdued olive green look that under a transparency can be just about anything you want it to be. Instrument box sidewall and console detail were picked out in Xtracolor's X353 Japanese WWII Navy Green before dark washing and drybrushing.  When complete the whole assembly pops neatly and positively into place against the starboard fuselage half and the fuselage can then be closed up. It is a pity that there is not an open canopy option because the Airfix cockpit has enough going for it to cause a pang of sadness that it will all have to be viewed through transparent plastic. In the kit I am building the fuselage halves were slightly warped and had to be forced together to the rear of the cockpit. This was easy enough and created no problems but I am left with lingering doubts as to whether the tail fin is also slightly twisted from the vertical.

The machine gun fairing in front of the windscreen is a separate piece incorporating the gun sight to which the machine gun breeches have to be attached. The instructions would have you add this assembly after the fuselage halves are joined. Don't!  It doesn't fit through the gap and you will have to pare down the gun breeches and the fuselage sides to drop it in (ask me again how I know). Once it is in place though the fit around the nose panels is excellent.

The engine consists of two nicely detailed rows of cylinders that trap a propeller shaft between them, facilitating the attachment of the propeller after painting. The front row is molded within a sprue circle with every individual cylinder attached to it and requires very careful removal. The engine assembly then fits to the firewall in a similar manner to the Hasegawa kit. I found it a bit wobbly in alignment with a tendency to droop down from the centreline - but that might just be me. The cowling is a single piece which, unlike the Hasegawa kit incorporates the oil cooler intake and exhausts as moulded detail rather than as separate parts. It is slightly larger than the Hasegawa cowling and comparison between the two kits reveals that the Airfix fuselage is actually wider in plan view with a wider canopy. I'm not going to get hung up on fatal flaws but I suspect this might make the finished appearance slightly too broad in the beam like the old Zero. It has also been mentioned elsewhere that the spinner looks too small but I can vouch for the fact that it is actually larger than both spinner options in the Hasegawa kit! The overall shape and appearance of the Airfix model reminds me of the Fujimi 1/48th version.

After this construction is rapid - wings, tailplanes and separate rudder being conventional but the fit of the wing assembly to the fuselage was not as trouble-free as I expected and fettling was required to avoid a step at the roots. Before assembling the wing parts a decision must be made about the folding wingtips. Probably to avoid the risk of wonky wingtips Airfix have moulded these as part of the upper wings with separate wingtips for the folded option. This means that for a folded option the wingtips must be cut from the wings and after assembly replaced with the folded parts. A good approach and definitely non-Fujimi. The transparency has better defined frame outlines than the Hasegawa kit that should make painting easier.

The main undercarriage legs are very fine, almost too spindly, and require care, but I like the option of separate "closed" wheel covers and a retracted tail wheel for an in-flight presentation. The Hasegawa kit does not offer this. The legs are also longer than the Hasegawa parts and I suspect the Airfix model might therefore look "stalky" by comparison. The inner wheel doors are very nice, incorporating the operating brackets, and there is a separate tailhook.  The propeller consists of a blade assembly, spinner and - hurrah! - a backplate. But watch out - there is a thin lip of flash around the hole in the backplate that stops the propeller seating properly unless it is first removed - and it is difficult to see. In my kit the propeller blades were not quite symmetrical - perhaps an issue from the sprue being removed from the mold too quickly. A nice touch is separate aileron operating cranks on the top wing. The drop tank looks a little odd in comparison to the Hasegawa item, although not unduly so, but has raised line detail. Care needs to be taken with this as it has locating pins which if used create a step. It might be better to remove the pins in order to better line up the edges. The locating slot for the drop tank in the wing centre section is flashed over and needs drilling or cutting out but again care is required. The plastic is thick enough to make this trickier than it looks. I ended up with a drop tank that was not aligned to the centreline and had to re-adjust it. 

ツ-134 in flight - note the gap between drop tank and fuselage

Only a single markings option is offered in the kit, identified as an A6M2 of the 201st Kokutai at Tobera Airfield, Keravat, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea in 1944. Unfortunately Airfix's research is found wanting here because the markings actually represent an operational trainer aircraft of the Tsukuba Ku, which operated obsolete A6M2 and A6M2-K two-seat trainers in Japan, as shown in the photograph above taken in March 1944. This image reveals that the aircraft which is the subject of the Airfix kit,ツ-134 (ツ = 'Tsu' for Tsukuba) had white borders to the underwing Hinomaru, probably an indication of a trainer yellow undersurface colour as depicted in Francesco Borraccino's superb model shown here and a slightly different pattern to the camouflage undulations along the fuselage. You read it here, folks (well, possibly also at Britmodeller)! The Rising Decals sheet 72-026 for Japanese Navy trainer aircraft includes the A6M2 modelled by Francesco depicted with yellow undersurfaces and the blue-black cowling colour sweeping back to the windscreen (another indication that the aircraft was probably overall yellow originally with the dark green added later in accordance with the 3rd July 1943 directive to camouflage trainer aircraft. The Rising example has white formation keeping markings on the fuselage and the tail cone shown removed. It is difficult to tell from the photo whether ツ-134 has the swept back cowling colour but it would certainly make for an interesting model.

The 201st Ku on the other hand had the tail code W1-xxx which it used from Nov 1942 to at least July 1943. One of the tail fins in the Blayd collection has the tail code 6-136 over an earlier code of W1-187 so 6-xxx might have been used by the unit in the mid to late summer of 1943. The code O1-xxx was used at Truk in 1944. The 201st was formed from the Chitose Ku and 752 Ku in December 1942 and stationed in the Marshall Islands and at Wake until returning to Kizarazu in Japan in Feb 1943. It then moved to Matsushima. After a short detachment in the Kuriles 45 A6M3 (not A6M2) Zeros went to Rabaul aboard the carrier Junyo arriving there in July 1943. There were no Tsukuba connections for this unit. 

Whether yellow or grey is chosen for the undersurface colour the suggested paint colour of Humbrol 90 Matt Beige Green is not truly representative of the typical finish for the Zero, being the same paint colour intended for RAF Sky (see my PDF 'Painting the Early Zero-Sen'). If grey is chosen then a dove grey  or pale gull grey similar to FS 36357 or 36492 is recommended, suitable for an older aircraft like this one and dependent on how much weathering and chalking is to be represented. Using Humbrol paints I mix these warm greys using 40 Gloss Pale Grey as the base colour, adding small amounts of a yellow ochre like 225 Matt Middle Stone. Adequately thinned 40 is beautiful to brush paint and levels out nicely to an even finish. 

For the uppersurface dark green Airfix suggest 75 Matt Bronze Green which is not bad, just lacking a little in green chroma and tending towards greyish. Another problem is that it is matt whereas the typical paint finish had lustre as seen in the photograph. The original IJN paint colour standard 'D1' was a very dark green indeed, actually called "Deep Green Black Colour" (濃緑黒色) and dark enough to generate descriptions of being "black" when seen in the air. It was around FS 14036 when new and towards 14056 or even 24052 when aged. Despite its darkness it has a very rich green chroma. The other commonly applied IJN dark green 'D2' was just called "Green Black Colour" (緑黒色) and was similar to FS 14077. Again preferring to brush paint using Humbrol (for purely personal and therapeutic reasons!) I mixed this dark green colour as follows:-

6 parts 195 Satin Dark Green
1-2 parts 3 Gloss Brunswick Green
2 parts 104 Matt Oxford Blue
1-2 parts 85 Satin Black

This mix produces a very rich, deep green chroma that overcomes the Humbrol "greyish" tendency for greens and is similar to the Japanese IJN Green hobby paints. The ratio of 3 and 85 can be adjusted to achieve a greener green or a blacker green according to preference and if a more aged appearance is required a touch of red can be added to the mix which will shift it slightly towards olive.

For the blue-black anti-glare and cowling a perfect solution is to mix Humbrol 85 Satin Coal Black and 14 Gloss French Blue in the ratio 3:1 (not just 85 as Airfix suggest). For a more weathered cowling 67 Matt Tank Grey can be used.

Although Airfix's error means that the box art showing combat with P-47 aircraft is fanciful the choice of subject is still a very interesting one. It is just a pity that they don't suggest yellow for the undersurface rather than RAF Sky! ;-)

All in all this is an excellent kit for the price of £5.99 and a worthy alternative to the Hasegawa version. The Hasegawa kit is now difficult to find in the single "standard" edition but IIRC was retailing for around £8-10. The recent Pearl Harbor 'Combo' boxing with two kits is retailing for around £30. 

Image credits: All box art © Hornby Hobbies Ltd; Photo © Koku Fan magazine 02/80

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