Saturday 21 September 2013

Mystery Japanese Fighter

These layout sketches and details of a "possible new" Japanese fighter encountered by VMF-112 are from the unit war diary and date from March 1945. I've added a poll in the sidebar for votes as to what readers think they are. I don't know the answer but  it will be interesting to see what the consensus is!

Update ~ Results

121 people voted as follows:-

Ki-44 - 30 (24%)
Ki-84 - 16 (13%)
Ki-100 -  32 (26%)
Shiden -  18 (14%)
Shiden-kai - 25 (20%)

Ki-100 "wins" by a whisker over Ki-44. The diversity of perception is fascinating and there were comments about the possibility of Ki-115 and A7M too.

Image credits: War Diary of VMF-112 via NARA via  Ronnie Olsthoorn

Thursday 19 September 2013

Johan de Wolf's Royal Thai Air Force Ki-55 in 1/72nd scale

Fujimi's Ki-36/55 family are cracking little kits that offer a diverse and eclectic range of presentational and marking possibilities. It was one of those rare arrivals that managed to evade any pre-release awareness and which I stumbled upon by chance in a sporting goods and toys shop where I had drifted idly one lunchtime with no great expectation of finding anything interesting. Knowing the type I was amazed to be holding a new mainstream kit of a "Go-Go Ko-ren" - of all things - during that Great Age of Polystyrene Jets. And that memorable box art - two bright yellow trainers cruising peacefully in a clear blue sky over a snow-like cloud ceiling with Mount Fuji in the background. Coming from left field was an understatement. Burns says it was issued in 1987 but my memory of acquiring that first one precedes that by at least two years and Jacob Terlouw has kindly confirmed that the instructions on his kit are dated October 1983.

Johan de Wolf has very kindly shared his very welcome build and review of the kit, presenting it as a Royal Thai Air Force example finished in immediate post-war interim markings.

Kit Details
Aircraft: Tachikawa Ki-36
Scale: 1/72
Kit: Fujimi kit nr. 7A-A2
Parts: 35 light grey + 7 clear injection molded.
Surface detail: engraved
Decals: 1 option
Accuracy: excellent
Price: € 5 (via eBay)
Additional items used: Siam Scale sheet # SSN.72038 (also available from Aviation Megastore )


In early 1937 the Koku Hombu issued a specification for a modern army co-operation aircraft that should be able to take of from rough strips close to the front, equipped with radio and cameras and to be capable of light bombing attacks. Both Mitsubishi and Tachikawa submitted designs, but only Tachikawa was instructed to build a prototype. This aircraft made its first flight in late April of 1938. The design was a low wing monoplane with fixed spatted landing gear. To provide the pilot with a good field of vision the wing leading edge was swept backwards. The observer also had a good downwards view through several windows in the bottom of the fuselage. Armament consisted of a fixed forward firing machine gun and a flexible machine gun in the rear cockpit. It could also carry a total of ten 15kg bombs. As it had no real vices it was put into production in late 1938 as the Type 98 Direct Cooperation Reconnaissance Airplane Ki-36 (Kyu-Hachi Shiki Chokusetsu Kyodo Teisatsu-ki - 九八式直接協同偵察機 - often abbreviated to Kyu Hachi Chokkyo - 九八直協). In 1940 a production line was also set up by Kawasaki. 

With excellent performance and good handling characteristics, it was considered an ideal aircraft for advanced pilot training. For this task a special variant was built as the Type 99 Advanced Trainer Ki-55 (Go-Go Shiki Kohtoh Renshuh-ki - 九九式高等練習機 or Go-Go Ko-ren - 九九高練). This was stripped of the observation windows, radio and armament and provided with dual controls. However the fixed forward firing machine gun was retained. The spats were frequently removed as well. The Ki-36 was highly successful during the early conflicts in China, but with the onset of the war in the Pacific, increased fighter opposition limited its safe deployment. Towards the end of the war a modernized version, the Ki-72, with retractable under carriage and a stronger engine driving a three bladed prop was on the drawing board, but it never reached production. Some machines were also converted and used for suicide missions and these could be armed with a centrally-mounted 500kg bomb. 

During the war Ki-55’s were also supplied to the Manchukuo and Thai air forces. After the war both the Nationalist and Communist Chinese air forces operated a small number that had survived the war, as did the French Air Force in Indochina. In Indonesia a few abandoned machines were used against the Dutch during the struggle for independence. The Royal Thai Air Force acquired 24 machines in 1942 which they designated in their parallel system as aircraft Type 6 and Type 89. They were generally just called "Tachikawa" by personnel. The trainers remained in active service until 1950 when the last remaining machines were retired. Of more than 1300 built, only 2 machines now survive, one in the China Aviation Museum (Beijing Aviation Museum/PLAAF Museum) and the other in the Royal Thai Air Force museum in Bangkok. This last museum is well worth a visit as it has several rare and even unique types on display.

The Kit

This is one of four boxes of what are essentially permutations of the same kit. There is the Ki-36 kit, the Ki-55 kit, and in this case the de-militarized Ki-36 that was operated by the Asahi newspaper as a fast communication plane. It retained its photographic equipment, and it was probably used for clandestine aerial spy photography. Then there is a combined kit that contains the parts of all three previous mentioned versions and their markings. The kits come in a sturdy top opening type box with nice box art. The two/three grey sprues are packed separately from the clear sprue(s). Although it is a fairly simple kit with a limited amount of parts, external detail is generally rather good and very refined. For a kit of this age the quality is very good. There are no moulding defects or flash to be found, there are however a few ejector pin marks in the cockpit area. Parts fit very well. The instructions are in Japanese and English. They start with a very short type history, followed by 6 easy to follow construction diagrams. Next there is a colour and markings guide. Colours are mentioned throughout construction both in generic terms and paint numbers from the Gunze Sangyo range. The small decal sheet is sharply printed and looks to be of excellent quality.


Dimensionally all is well, with all measurements within a millimeter of what they should be. Surface detail has been accurately reproduced. There is also some bad news though. All kits have the under fuselage observation windows which are incorrect for the Ki-55. The biggest problem is the over simplified interior. The Ki-36/55 didn’t have a floor as such. The seats in the kit are very clunky as well, unlike the real thing. The prominent and highly visible crash/roll over frame is missing too.


As I wanted to build a Thai aircraft I first had to find the correct kit. I had the Ki-55 box but this only supplies the un-spatted gear. So I would need the Kisaragi or the Ki-36 box. I soon obtained the Kisaragi box for a very reasonable price through eBay. I started with mounting the observation windows in the lower wing part and then puttied them over. The bomb mounting slots were treated in the same way. After this had dried the area was sanded flush. I also removed the flaps so I could display them open. I then glued the wings together and added ribs to the flaps. The ejector pin marks were removed from the interior and some structural detail was added. The side walls were also provided with a throttle quadrant and map cases. 

Although incorrect I decided to stick with the floor provided by the kit. Here too I added more detail in the form of rudder pedals and rails. As the Ki-55 was a trainer I used both control columns. The seats were refined by thinning them down and the addition of seat belts. The instructions suggest navy blue as the interior colour, but I decided on Japanese cockpit green as the main colour. The prominent roll bar was also added. I did not use the side windows and hatches (parts C4 and 30) but in all I added some 30 parts to the meager 7 parts provided by the kit. The very clear green house canopy will provide a good view of every detail you care to add. After the fuselage was closed and left to dry, I turned my attention to the landing gear and engine. The landing gear is rather simple and a bit crude. I didn’t like the flat sided and crudely detailed spads very much, so I puttied them over and sanded them to a slightly more bulbous shape. I also scribed around the wheels to create the impression of depth. The single piece engine is very nicely detailed and looks great after careful dry brushing and weathering. The rear edges of the cowling were thinned down before glueing the halves together. The wings were now added to the fuselage and this is really the only place where I needed some filler.

Main construction was finished by adding the cowling and landing gear. Before painting I added some scratch built details like the under wing venturi tube, the step bracket in the wing root and the step pylons on the left fuselage side. After painting the prop, flaps,  exhausts (drilled open) and drainage pipe were added.

Painting and decaling

For a post war Thai example things would be simple as they are trainer yellow all over. However things are much less simple when it comes to wartime colours and markings.  The Tachikawa Ki-55 trainers were provided together with the Nakajima Ki-27 fighter. The Thai Ki-27s were camouflaged and there are depictions of several variations of colours. There are very few pictures of the Ki-55 in Thai service and most date from just after the war. I found a single photograph of  a Thai machine with a western style number '7' - probably a post war example. The paint job looks very worn with several chipped of patches and a generally scruffy look. The colours are very dark and at least two shades are visible. This leads me to believe that it could have been finished in the brown/green scheme like some of the Japanese army machines. This is the colour scheme I chose for my model. It was then weathered rather heavily. The Siam Scale decals went on without fuss as usual. The tail number came from the spares box. Note that the Siam Scale instruction sheet shows the machine with a radio mast and telescopic sight which is incorrect. In hindsight I should have painted the undercarriage dark green instead of light grey. I may still change this sometime in the future.


Even though the interior detail is basic, this is still a very nice kit. When it was first released it was rather pricey, but nowadays they can be found for very reasonable prices. The kit goes together without any trouble, and I can therefore recommend it to builders of all skill levels. It would be nice if one of the resin companies would provide an alternative for the interior.

Johan de Wolf

Note on RTAF Markings

Johan's model depicts a Ki-55 in the brief period of interim markings seen just after the war. The aircraft is still camouflaged but the rudder has been re-painted with the pre-war national colours. The wartime elephant insignia on the wings has not yet been replaced by the post-war roundels. After the rudder the upper wing markings were usually re-painted first leaving the elephant insignia beneath the wings until those too were re-painted.

Here is an interesting wartime film of IJAAF Ki-55 trainers of the Kumagaya Army Flying School, note the very clean looking finish of these aircraft:-

However the interior shot doesn't seem to be of a Ki-55. Note the shape of the spats on these aircraft and also that the cowlings and spats don't really appear to be black. Perhaps they are Fujimi's "cocoa brown" or even red? (Heresy! Burn the Witch!)

Image credits: Box art © Fujimi Mokei Co. Ltd; Model photographs © 2013 Johan de Wolf

Sunday 15 September 2013

Val's Rear Seat

For anyone contemplating a build of the Aichi D3A1 in 1/72nd scale some extra detail in the cockpit interior will probably factor as a consideration, especially if the canopy is to be displayed in an open configuration. The brief review of the Dragon kit deliberately omitted reference to the observer's seat  as its unusual configuration warranted a more detailed treatment. All three (+1) available kits in 1/72nd scale provide only a seat for the observer and none of them depicts it correctly or completely. One has to look to the Hasegawa 1/48th scale kit for a presentation that more closely replicates not just the original seat but the complex seat mounting arrangement too - albeit in simplified form. There is a drawing of the seat mechanism in FAOW 130 taken from the engineering manual but viewed in line art profile it is a little difficult to work out what is going on. There is also a cutaway drawing in the same reference but unfortunately it does not show the seat arrangement clearly.   

The Airfix kit has identical pilot and observer seats which bear no resemblance whatsoever to the originals, being merely supports for the Biggles Twins. By cutting them down, the addition of plastic card and re-shaping they can be made to better approximate the real seats but if the builder of the Airfix kit wants even a representative interior a lot of additional work lies ahead. As noted elsewhere the Dragon kit features incorrectly identical seats for the pilot and observer with the latter supported directly on the floor of the cockpit without any representation of the framework around the seat. The Fujimi seat is a better shape and unlike the Dragon kit it differs correctly from the pilot's seat. However it is also mounted directly onto the cockpit floor so will again need the fabrication of a representative support cradle. For those curious about the ZTS Plastyk kit there is an in-box review here. It is a clone of the Fujimi kit. Rather curiously the Airfix and Dragon kits do not contain a machine gun for the observer although they are shown deployed on the box art. The Fujimi kit contains a nicely moulded gun but no mounting provision and it is marked 'not for use' and not shown on the instructions! A suitable gun could be pinched from other kits or there are some aftermarket white metal and resin replacements available intermittently.

The Maru Mechanic schematic for the interior (shown above) also simplifies the framework around the observer's seat into a rigid construction (it was not) and there are other details which are crudely or incorrectly depicted. The observer's seat was a bucket type, slightly smaller than the pilot's seat and with the seat pan designed to hold the parachute pack. It was supported on a transverse bar between two vertical hydraulic arms fixed to the cockpit sides on pivoting locking brackets, so there was no attachment to the cockpit floor beneath the seat. The seat could be swivelled through 180° on a central spindle on the transverse bar to face the rear. The hydraulic supporting arms could be compressed to raise the seat from the lower front facing position to the higher firing position and unlocked to allow them (and the seat) to swing rearwards in order for the observer to raise his gun to the near vertical if required. The gun mounting itself was on a 'Y' yoke from the top of each hydraulic arm to a single central support fixed to the cockpit floor behind the seat. This central support had an articulated bar on which the observer placed his feet. The whole arrangement formed a kind of tubular cradle around the seat that none of the 1/72nd scale kits has attempted to replicate. For those modellers who do not have access to a 1/48th scale Hasegawa kit the instructions (shown below) may help in visualising how the seat was actually supported (together with other missing cockpit details from the 1/72 kits).

When not in use the machine gun was stored vertically on the left side of the cockpit as shown in the Hasegawa instructions. To go into action the observer had to open his canopy, raise and turn his seat, unlock the arms to allow the seat to swing then mount and arm the machine gun. The rear machine gun in the D3A1 was the Navy Type 92 7.7mm flexible machine gun, a license-built variant of the British BSA built Lewis type light machine gun so guns of that type could also be used for a 1/72 model.

Interior Colours

Airfix suggest an unlikely combination of Humbrol paints with matt black (33) for the cockpit "floor" (actually the bottom of the fuselage) and matt middle blue (89) - Maru Mechanic inspired? - for the cockpit sides with matt aluminium (56) for the seats. Fujimi suggest "Gunze"/GSI Creos paints gray (H22) for the two seats and "metallic blue green" (H63), presumably aotake, for the rest of the interior. The seriously flawed Dragon instructions provide no suggestions at all for the interior colours. The Hasegawa 1/48th scale kit suggests a mix of "Gunze"/GSI Creos paints - 70% yellow (H4/4) + 15% green (H6/6) + 15% brown (H7/7) to make "yellow green". I have not tried this but envisage it would result in a "light olive green" (Thorpe's N5 approx. FS 34151) or "buff green" (Thorpe's N6 approx FS 14255) similar to the much touted "Nakajima interior green" paint colour. Robert C Mikesh (Japanese Aircraft Interiors 1940-1945, Monogram Aviation Publications, 2000) also reports a "yellowish green" interior colour which he unaccountably compares to (Thorpe's) N2 - a dark green.

Thorpe N5 Light Olive Green and N6 Buff Green

The FAOW cutaway depicts a pale green - similar to the Tamiya XF-71 IJN cockpit green colour. There are artifacts knocking about which show colours ranging from a light apple green, through a slightly blueish green to a definite olive green. Some further colour notes may be found here and here.

Image credits: Header painting © circa 1970 Bandai; Kit seat comparison image author; Kit Instructions: © 2002 Hasegawa Corporation; Others web.

Thursday 12 September 2013

A New 1/72 Ki-100 Type 5 Otsu from Aoshima?

Announced by Hobby Link Japan as a December release, the box art as shown is the old one but the CAD drawing (below) looks new and the price suggests this might just be a new mould kit. If it is like their Shiden and Shiden-kai family it will be something to look forward to. Thanks to Z for tipping me off.

Also, out in November, Fine Molds 1/72 Prototype Type 9 Fighter as a Model Graphix magazine issue kit for approx. £16.33.

And a 1/32nd scale Hasegawa Shiden-kai is also on the way...

Decal Options are given as:-
  1. 343rd Ku 301st Hikotai. Sqn-Ldr Lt. Naoshi Kanno, Code: 343A-15 Matsuyama, April 1945
  2. 343rd Ku 407th Hikotai. Code: 343B-03 Matsuyama, April 1945

Image credits: © 2013 Aoshima, HLJ (Hobby Link Japan) & Hasegawa

Sunday 8 September 2013

The Curate's Egg ~ Dragon's 1/72nd Aichi D3A1 'Val'

Despite its recent re-issue the Airfix D3A1 kit has long been relegated to the Temple of Modelling Sneers (although we like it here in Schloss Straggler*) and in some quarters the 1/72 Fujimi kit joins it there (but we like that too in our unreconstructed way). Thus much optimism sprang from the fanfare announcement of a new-tooled Dragon of Hong Kong Golden Wings Series Aichi Type 99 Val in the divine scale, tempered slightly by their reputation for odd errors and outrageous prices. The 'Midway 1942' re-issue is currently £34.99 from Hannants (aber was denn!) but only about £14.43 direct from Japan. 

The impressive box art on the Dragon kit is by Masao Satake, well known for his monochrome Famous Aircraft of the World (FAOW) cover art. The kit offers no less than eight Pearl Harbor markings options but depicts them all as grey - very grey - and not the distinctively amber or mustard grey of the original aircraft so excellently depicted by Eric Bergerud on his 1/48th scale Hasegawa D3A1 build here. The red of the Hinomaru appears a bit light on the kit decal sheet which is protected by its own re-sealable bag - a nice touch. The recent Midway 1942 issue contains options for four dark green aircraft and although I haven't seen it I understand from Mike Quan that it has not been revised in any way and contains identical parts to the kit described here.

Eight markings options in the Dragon kit

The kit decal sheet in 5045

Without going into rivet counter mode with a micrometer and painstaking comparison of panel line to panel line there are obvious problems - but there are also some impressive details not attempted in previous kits. I searched for some build reviews mainly in vain, but found an excellent Japanese article here, from which the image below is borrowed and which has further images including the cockpit interior. I note that the builder painted the markings on his model using stencils rather than the kit decals.

Dragon's 1/72nd scale D3A1 with folded and dangly bits

As the linked article demonstrates - all is not lost - but the first sinking feeling occurs soon after examining the kit parts and studying the instructions. The two appear to be related only by the most serendipitous happenstance.  The instructions show a cockpit tub with integral walls - the kit actually has fuselage sidewall detail and a separate cockpit floor with two fixed bulkheads. Although equipped with an instrument panel, machine gun breech detail and ammunition panniers the miniature pilot (sadly not included) has no means to steer his aircraft, a control stick being absent. Also absent is the prominent coaming between the pilot and observer positions which housed the Type 3 Reflector Compass on a raised mounting with a small drawer, prominent enough even in 1/72nd scale to warrant an appearance and included in the Fujimi kit, albeit quite crudely. The Type 3 was a circular compass with two angled glass graticules similar to a reflector gunsight by which the observer could view the compass readings head-up. The observer's radio equipment and instrumentation is represented by a single separate piece which attaches to the floor behind the central bulkhead. 

99 Kanbaku interior arrangement

There is an approximate representation of the equipment behind the observer's seat with scope for additional detail to be added but there is no gun or mounting. The observer's drift sight (the tubular object shown upright to the left of the observer's seat in its storage position in the above drawing) is not included although the aperture for it in the floor is and there is an accurately moulded corresponding aperture in the lower wing centre section, represented only by a crude, semi-recessed circle in the Fujimi kit. Both kits include the RDF loop fairing as a separate part. The omissions in the Dragon kit are fairly easily rectified but at the price they really shouldn't need to be. Even the sprue layout diagram conflicts with the parts actually provided showing different numbers to those on the sprue frame and two mysterious large pieces that baffle comprehension.
Dragon 'C' Sprue with optional cowlings, engine, prop & other small parts ~ 
note the fine details including ring sights

The engine in the Dragon kit is separate and moulded in two parts, quite reasonably, whereas it is just a half-moulding in the Fujimi kit. There are separate exhausts but their location is not very clearly shown in the instructions. The under cowling intake moulded integrally with the lower wing has the correct split configuration but the inner side of each trunk has no wall and is left open. The central bomb crutch detail is impressive but the two parts are numbered C20 and C26 in the instructions but C23 and C30 on the actual sprue frame - a recurring theme. The large central bomb is in three parts, the bomb itself, one pair of separate fins  and one piece representing the fin struts. Wing racks and bombs are also included with one pair of integrally moulded fins and one separately moulded pair for each bomb. The dive flaps have separate mounts which look like they might prove fiddly to install. The wings can be displayed folded and the flaps deployed which accentuates the wing expanse of the original aircraft. However all of the control surfaces have rather crudely moulded and overscale ridges supposed to represent ribs which will need sanding down at least.

Separate control surfaces in the Dragon kit ~
but with ribs and/or rib tapes crudely represented and over scale 

The canopy can be displayed open, which is just as well because it bears little resemblance to the D3A1 and is more like the D3A2 in appearance. It is under scale with an exaggerated section by section tapering towards the rear that is nothing like the original. What is strange is that the canopy appears more or less correct in the advertising presentation shown above. The canopy is probably the single most unredeemable issue of the whole kit and unfortunately the error extends to the cockpit aperture. 

Comparison of Fujimi and Dragon canopies - yikes!

Comparison of Dragon and Fujimi cockpit apertures 

Both the Airfix and Dragon kits have separate wheels and spats with the latter incorporating "flats" to suggest weight. Fujimi moulded the wheel integrally with each spat half. Both the Dragon and Fujimi undercarriage legs incorporate rake back whilst the Airfix kit depicts them aligned vertically. Comparing the kit parts to the 1/72nd scale plans in FAOW 130 (2009) the Fujimi spats appear to be reasonably accurate, the Dragon spats are under scale with slightly exaggerated rake back and the Airfix spats are set at the wrong angle and too elongated to their rear.

Wheel spats compared!

Comparing the main fuselage profiles to the FAOW 130 plans both the Dragon and Fujimi parts appear reasonable in shape if not perfect, so the Dragon kit does not appear to be under scale per se. However the Dragon fuselage is about 2mm too short in the area from the cowling flaps to the windscreen. The wings of the two kits appear generally ok in span and shape but the wing fold of both appears to be 5mm inboard of where it should be. This inboard position tallies with earlier plans in FAOW 33 (1992). The anomaly is quite difficult to understand because both books contain construction plans from the original manual. Does it matter? Probably not (Heresy! Burn the Witch!).

Comparison of the Dragon and Fujimi wing and centre section under surfaces ~ 
the Dragon kit has finely engraved panel lines and where appropriate indented rivet detail 

For those now contemplating a preference for the Fujimi kit there is a nicely built and photographed example from a Japanese website  here (as shown below) with build report here. And there are other reviews here and here. Recently its low price (£5.15 in Japan) made it a potential contender for cannibalisation, although  the canopy, whilst a more reasonable shape than Dragon's, is single piece and not especially thin. The Fujimi kit is currently shown as discontinued but will probably be re-issued at some point. If you already have one in the stash don't discard it! It will be a miracle if Hasegawa or Tamiya kit the type in 1/72nd scale.

Fujimi's 1/72nd scale D3A1


The apparent lack of modelling popularity of the Aichi D3A compared to the B5N 'Kate' was mentioned in the previous blog and is perhaps all the more surprising as there is a very fine English language monograph on the type by Peter C Smith in the generally very good Crowood Aviation series (The Crowood Press, 1999), something the B5N does not presently enjoy. Whether it is that lack of popularity or the jungle telegraph reputation of Dragon kits - or both - that has led to so few builds appearing online is a mystery to ponder.

Is the Dragon kit worth it? Well that really depends upon your enthusiasm for the type and whether you can obtain one at a price that suits your wallet. There is little doubt the kit has flaws in shape and dimensions which is disappointing in view of the fact that the detail is generally superior to the Fujimi kit and makes the Airfix kit look as if it was carved from soap. Apart from the instruction errors the worst and most glaring flaw is the cockpit aperture and canopy. Rob Taurus do not appear to have a replacement D3A1 vacform canopy in their range but Falcon produce a set that includes a replacement canopy intended for the Fujimi kit and that could perhaps be adapted to fit the Dragon kit. The features that are better than in previous kits are the surface detail and small parts, the engine and prop, the nice but irritatingly incomplete interior, the ordinance and racks, the folding wings, the positionable wing flaps and the cowling flap options. All three kits fail to depict the precise shape of the fin leading edge extension but that is not too noticeable. With a bit of work on the Dragon kit an impressive looking model can still result as the Japanese modeller linked above demonstrates.

Sanitised box art from 1980 when the burgeoning "ban everything" industry
forced Airfix to pretend that WW2 did not involve violent destruction and death

More Heresy

So how does the much-maligned Airfix kit stack up in terms of overall fidelity of shape? Well, apart from the spats and copious rivets it is a little short in wing span with the tips too tapered and therefore too narrow in chord. The rudder is also a little too narrow in chord. The forward cowling rim is slightly anaemic but nothing to write home about. The RDF loop fairing is not represented at all. The cockpit detail is limited to two identical and inaccurate seats secured to pins. The canopy parts, which appear to have been cleaned up in the latest re-issue, are more accurate in plan than the Dragon canopy. The tailplanes are pretty much spot on. Interesting that the box art of the re-issued kit appears to faithfully reproduce the kit spats rather than the real thing. Thus builders without D3A references will be perfectly unperturbed.

Is it, in the vernacular, a PoS? Not really, given the context of its age and the state of kit engineering at that time. My assessment of 5 years ago, that it is essentially "simple, unpretentious and honest" has not altered. I've built it several times, without fretting too much over its minor inaccuracies and 1960s detailing, and have always enjoyed the experience. Improving it in various ways without too high an expectation of the end result is both fun and very satisfying. Some of the barmier flights of my fancy have involved a Graf Zeppelin based example in German markings and a licence-built Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm example (the Anglo-Japanese Naval Alliance never ended) with a Bristol engine (the Airfix crew redeemed). And it always looks good hanging from the ceiling in a simulated dive... 

* laters!

Image credits: Dragon kit box art, advertising feature, markings schematic & decal sheet © 2011 Dragon Models; Built Dragon model image © 2013; Built Fujimi model image © 2013 ; Airfix box art © 1980 Airfix Products Ltd; Photographs of kit parts - author 

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Val-edictory to a Long Departed Dive Bomber

Although C Rupert Moore's trio of plunging Aichi D3A2 'Vals' on the cover of the September 1945 Aeromodeller magazine appear to be painted a lovely blue-grey colour I suspect this is no more than a printing anomaly as otherwise they appear identical to the illustration in John Stroud's 'Japanese Aircraft' (The Harborough Publishing Co Ltd., 1945) which was advertised in a two page spread in the same magazine. That unattributed illustration (probably also by C Rupert Moore) depicts a D3A2 in a slightly blueish-green upper surface camouflage with the same rectangular yellow surrounds to the fuselage Hinomaru and red elongated diamond-shaped flashes on the wheel spats. The same shift to a blue-grey has occurred with my scan of the Stroud illustration (below). We know better now - or think we do - so should we ever replicate those old and now largely discredited depictions of Japanese aircraft? The Bald Eagle in me frowns and says "No, certainly not!" but trust me, it's a lot of  fun.

C Ruper Moore used skeletal framework models made from card, consisting of a flat central profile with correctly spaced ribs which he suspended from the ceiling of his studio in the chosen position and appropriate light, from which to paint his aircraft. He did this because he said that the underlying structure allowed him to better appreciate the shape and form of the aircraft. This was a far cry from CGI or 3D modelling but resulted in a simple purity of form that at first glance nowadays might look naive, if not crude. However it had a close affinity to the aero-modelling styles of 60 years ago where the pure aerodynamic form (and flight) of the aircraft was more important than panel lines and pre-shading. I doubt that he made three Val models in different scales so that cover art probably represents one model, hung up in his studio and drawn three times to make the composition. He perhaps drew inspiration from one of his own (?) small vignette paintings in the Stroud book as his Aeromodeller cover art depicts a similar high-level dive amidst flak bursts onto a distant aircraft carrier. It is wonderfully evocative of Val, her purpose and her record, although perhaps more representative of a late-war Special Attack where there would be no pull-out and no return to base. 

Aichi's D3A 'Val' (in Japanese Kyu-Kyu Shiki Kanjoh Bakugeki-ki - 九九式艦上爆撃機 - 'Type 99 Carrier-based Bomb-attack machine', usually abbreviated to Kyu-Kyu Kanbaku -九九艦爆) doesn't seem to be as popular a modelling subject as Kate but is generally well regarded as an effective if somewhat underrated dive bomber. She can look a bit clunky sitting spatted on a carrier deck, pugnacious with her squat, square canopy and closely clutched bomb load. But raise her aloft into the sunlight and tilt her into that characteristic 60° dive angle and suddenly she becomes a predatory bird of deadly beauty, her spats like talons. A slightly portly Stuka without the kinky bits. Model Vals displayed that way, tilted on a stand with the bomb cradle a-fling and a miniature crew always look good. 

September 1945 Aeromodeller Val Article

There is a two page spread on the type in that 1945 Aeromodeller with a rather good looking plan (considering) of what is described as the 'Aichi Navy 99-2 (Val 2) in what appears to be 1/72nd scale by an anonymous draughtsman. The write-up is surprisingly complementary, with none of the contemptuous propaganda that sometimes infused appraisal of what were so recently enemy aircraft. Here we have remarkably comprehensive and fairly accurate coverage in a modelling magazine barely a month after the end of the war. I wonder how many, if any, miniature balsa Vals took to the air over the Home Counties as a result of that article? It was another 19 years before a miniature plastic Val was to appear.

1945 Aeromodeller D3A2 Plan 

My first Airfix Val sought to emulate the box art with a gunner pinched from the Arado 196 kit blazing away from the waist up with a .50 calibre Browning pinched from a 1/76 armour kit. Not being enamoured with that 'boring' light grey scheme my Val sported a finely mottled light and dark green finish more appropriate to an Army aircraft. Surprisingly the original crew, two handlebar moustachioed 'Biggles' characters with carefully arranged cravats whose stiff upper lips appear to have spread to embalm the whole of their sedentary forms, have survived to the latest Airfix re-issue. Every time I see them I think of a clipped chorus of "Hello!" from the escaping RAF duo in the sitcom 'Allo 'Allo'. Whatever are they doing in a Japanese dive bomber? Mind you when they first appeared in Airfix kits those pilot figures were pretty impressive compared to the troglodyte 'Invaders from Mars' with their huge coat buttons which had gone before.

After Airfix there was Fujimi, cloned by Plastyk. And a couple of odd-scale Japanese kits from Bandai and Tamiya before Fujimi and Hasegawa addressed the type competently and then excellently in 1/48th scale. Which in a roundabout sort of way brings us to the recent Cyber-Hobby (Dragon) Val...

With thanks to Ronnie Olsthoorn for cleaning up the Aeromodeller plan.

Image credits: © 1945 C Rupert Moore & Aeromodeller Magazine; John Stroud & The Harborough Publishing Co. Ltd.