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 


Ken Glass said...

Hello Nick,

There is a build review of the Cyber Hobby Val kit at the IPMS USA website. It was posted there on Sept, 12, 2012. The URL is:
The build and review were made by IPMS USA member Roger Rasor, who I had the privilege of meeting in person at the 6-'13 Sumter, SC IPMS Region 3 contest/show.

Ken Glass

Straggler 脱走兵 said...

Thanks Ken. Shouldn't have bothered so long after the event should I? ;-)


Ken Glass said...

Hello Nick,

Please do bother. The Cyber Hobby / Dragon Val (with all those 'fatal flaws') is probably a much better effort overall than many other older kits of Japanese WWII subjects. Side by side reviews of select parts from the various kits available, as done with the Val wheel spats, are very welcome.

Ken Glass

MDriskill said...

Nick, much obliged for this article! I've been kicking about for info to determine if the Dragon kit were worth the tariff to add to my small stack of unbuilt Fujimis! So I appreciate your usual thorough examination and links to other references.

Mike Quan said...

Hello Nick! Thats for your informative article on the CH Val kit. I can confirm that both the Pearl Harbor and Midway releases contain the identical set of plastic sprues. Regretfully, the Midway decals also share the "orangey" tone for hinomarus that were present in the PH initial kit release.

Straggler 脱走兵 said...

Hi Mike

Thanks very much for the confirmation!


Bernard said...

Very interesting description of the model. Dragon seems to have made some significant mistakes, although overall I like the model and it looks effective. I want to buy this model, although the price seems quite high for a modern production with the shortcomings described here. The described version from what I have reviewed is hard to find, but there are Midway versions available on ebay for $45-50.