Friday 6 October 2017

1/48 D4Y3 Suisei by Michael Thurow ~ Part 1

Michael Thurow has very kindly contributed this report on his build of the Fine Molds 1/48 Kugisho D4Y3 Suisei 

The Bonsai Dive Bomber
Late-war IJNAF combat aircraft seem to be less popular among enthusiasts than the colourful heroes of the Pearl Harbor attack. The Kugisho (Yokosuka) Suisei, however, is a fascinating subject for many modellers. That might stem from its versatility as bomber, fighter and recce plane, or from the alternative appearances of in-line versus radial engine, or simply from the way it looks when airborne, fast and aggressive, especially with that radial engine.

I was surprised at how diminutive this aircraft is when compared to its precursor, the Aichi D3A. There is a strong contrast in philosophy to US Navy dive bomber development which developed from the fragile Vought SB2U to the monstrous SB2C Helldiver. Even with an internal bomb bay the Suisei is no larger than the SB2U! Folding wings were not needed for handling this little aircraft on carrier elevators. Altogether it is a fine exponent of Japanese WWII aviation technology - compact, beautifully streamlined and pleasant to look at.

A kit with flaws
I first encountered this Fine Molds kit some time in the mid-nineties at my local model shop. The launch of this product has certainly contributed to modellers' interest in the subject. Fine Molds was new to the market and allegedly the top 1/48 brand, a Hasegawa de luxe and very expensive. Attracted by the dramatic monochrome box art, I was curious and paid the unreasonable price.

Twenty years passed before I started the project. It was a good decision to wait because the latest publications and aftermarket accessories, my improved skills and knowledge of the matter enabled me to build a better model.

I had read a number of build reports before I started the kit, and many authors praised it highly. Sorry that I don't agree, guys, but I'm underwhelmed (as my American friends would say) by its particulars. My earlier modelling reports reveal that I like to renovate and upgrade 1/48 models of the 1970s era from Otaki, Fujimi and even Monogram. Therefore I'm not very critical of the raw material - an appealing model can be built from any kit. However in this case I had expected more from such an exclusive and expensive product.

Let's begin with the positive aspects: the overall shape and dimensions seem correct, the plastic is easy to cut and sand, it has a nice surface with fine panel lines and most of the white metal parts add valuable detail. On the other hand the Fine Molds strategy of offering a base kit that allows them to delineate all D4Y variants creates a fundamental problem. Understandable from an economic point of view, it leads to an awkward cut of main components (see picture) which to make matters worse are a poor fit.

I acquired the separate and optional Fine Molds accessory set to further improve the model but felt that at the prohibitive price of the kit it should have been included! Unfortunately the instructions for the set are enigmatic and the bending lines of the photo-etch parts are so thin that they break. There are a few other weak areas that will be highlighted during progress. Finally, criticism aside, I concede that this is a very solid kit for creating a respectable model as I have seen other modellers achieve.

The Samurai command post

The interior consists of the kit plastic parts, the included white-metal parts and the additional photo-etch accessories, some of which replace the plastic. Whilst the rear cockpit detail is quite gratifying the pilot's compartment is more imaginative than accurate, particularly the side consoles which I removed and replaced with pieces from the scrap box. There are some beautiful parts like the telescopic sight, the drift meter and the 7.92 mm Type 1 machine gun, which nonetheless I exchanged for an Eduard Brassin MG 15 because the moulded-on magazine didn't fit under the canopy. Two of the photo-etch parts are also worth mentioning, the rear gun tray and the frame for the cockpit separation window - very realistic and easy to handle.

Less convincing are the seats, from which I scraped away the crude moulded belts), the ring mount for the gun (got deformed when I drilled the holes) and the photo-etched instrument panel and front gun arrangement from which I used only the panel and discarded the rest because it demanded a complicated bending procedure that ended with all the elements breaking apart. The instruments, by the way, are too small but there is not enough space for larger decals. For the canopy I used the respective parts from the Falcon IJNAF set in combination with the original kit transparencies.

Once I was happy with the cockpit I decided to invest some extra time in crafting a crew from the excellent Modelkasten "Rabaul Zero Fighter" aircrew figures.

Pimping the powerplant
The D4Y3 was equipped with a Mitsubishi Kinsei 62 14-cylinder radial. I replaced the kit's one-piece engine block with a Vector Kinsei model which has more depth. Oil cooler and supercharger air ducts were cut open, and the oil cooler inlet enhanced with a piece of mesh. A firewall was needed to fix the new engine. I also produced open cooling flaps with internal actuators. Fine Molds could have done a better job representing the exhausts which are too small. I enhanced them with jackets of thin paper which also gave them hollow nozzles thus avoiding difficult drilling.

In parallel I had completed the propeller. As I couldn't attach it at this stage I overlooked a problem that haunted me when the model was all but finished. Not only are the holes for the prop blades too wide, the spinner with back plate is a little longer overall than the original. That doesn't sound too dramatic but can destroy the good looks of the nose profile. I'll come back to this later.

After joining the fuselage halves I connected the front section which by exception fitted perfectly. (Some other builders seem to have had problems there). My happiness didn't last long, however, because fixing the separate oil cooler took one hour of cutting, filling and sanding. Even worse was the process of matching the rear fuselage underside which is molded as an extra part to alternate it with the booster rockets for the D4Y4 model. Thank you Fine Molds for having me spend a sunny Sunday afternoon with putty and sanding paper!

To get to this point had required more effort and attention than I had expected but the harder the task the more fun we modellers have, right? My adventure will continue with the second part of the Suisei story. In the meantime a glimpse into the future to show that we do eventually arrive!

Additional items used for this model
Eduard Brassin 648085 MG 15 gun
Falcon No.33 IJNAF Clear-Vax set
Fine Molds AC47 IJN Pitot Tube Set
Fine Molds HD48-02 accessory set
Modelkasten F-5 2300 JNAF 'Rabaul Zero Fighter' aircrew box
Revi 48002 Japanese 'Schrägemusik' Fighter decals
Drop tanks from Tamiya 61084 Nakajima Night Fighter Gekko Type 11 Early Production
True Details 48035 Raiden wheels
Vector 48-017 MK4 Kinsei engine


Dan Salamone said...

Looks great, Michael. I feel your pain, as I had many similar fit issues with my Judy nightfighter project 13 years ago. Looking forward to part 2!


David S. said...

The Suisei or Judy is to me personally a very hard to categorize aircraft. Not technical or something like this, but in my mind. Some aircraft are truly appealing, but mostly a types combat/technical history is what attracts me to it.
I hesitate to use "combat" and "attractive" in one sentence, but I try to explain myself:
While I delve into an aircraft type, I more often than not notice how I become more and more attracted to it while doing so, even though it maybe didn't quite meet my taste initially.
Beauty equals interesting for me, so to say.
The Suisei though is a hard one. I enjoy the general looks of the D4Y1/2, but some features are very strange looking at the same time. For example, the frontal canopy framing forming the small triangle below the sighting telescope is one of the main features I dislike. So the night fighters with their different style of frontal canopy should fix this for me, right? They do, but about them I dislike the far protruding 20mm canon and the metal rear cockpit (I know of the glass one).
The radial engine versions aren't beautiful either, as the lower radiator intake disturbs my view massively and destroys the general outline of the aircraft thereby.
So while this may sound very picky, I earlier stated most of the time I get attracted by a types history.
This in fact is my main problem here.
There is no comprehensive literature on this type I know of in English language. Nor do I know how well covered it is even in Japanese. Wouldn't have minded the Dainippon Kaiga book to be at least partially in English. Maybe someone else will look after this topic in the future.

Still I'm really eager to learn about the Suisei and enjoy her outlines. Maybe even more so, as she is a small mystery to me.

Now finally focusing on your Model. First of all I want to state, despite I said I don't quite like the looks of the D4Y3/4, this doesn't diminish the quality of your build in any way!
I enjoy looking at it.
You managed the struggle with the kit well. Also your additions are quite worthwhile. Resin radials are always so nice to look at.
Two questions remain. Why didn't you show the drop tanks attached? While I was talking about disturbed outlines earlier, I really enjoy them and think they are quite rare to see on this seldom modeled aircraft.
Speaking of, yes, the Zero is comparably overrepresented. But so are the Spitfire, P-51 and Bf-109.
Contrarily to your perception I think late war aircraft like the Shiden are more known among aircraft enthusiasts than earlier birds.
The second question concerns the FineMolds pitot tubes. Are they hollowed on the tip?

I'm really looking forward to part II.

Michael Thurow said...

Thanks, Dan. I actually looked closely at your Judy model to find out how you detailed the canopy area. In part two I will demonstrate a few particulars of my specific choice of aircraft. Michael

Michael Thurow said...

Dear David

I enjoy your thoughts and admit that I have similar feelings when I dive into a model's technical and historical background. The more often I look at an aircraft the more beauty I see. I believe it is important to understand the constructor's ideas and constraints. The D4Y3, for instance, appears in fact perfectly streamlined when you look at how smartly the oil cooler was placed under the fuselage to compensate for the smaller radial engine. Only the dropping belly of the cowling somewhat disturbs the profile. Another appealing feature is the great flow of the canopy when closed.

Regarding my model, drop tanks will appear in part two, and they do look good on this plane! The Fine Molds pitot tube is not hollow. The tip is needle-thin, so no bore could be applied. It is however a great relief to know that it will not break when you accidentally touch it!

Best, Michael

73north said...

amazing work - well done - I have used VECTOR engines in all my Japanese aircraft = the difference is staggering

Ken Glass said...

Thanks for sharing, Michael.

Ken Glass