Saturday 27 August 2022

Tamiya 1/50 C6N1 Saiun by Mark Smith

From an elegant single engined Army recce to an elegant single engined Navy recce it is a delight to present another wonderfully nostalgic article by Aviation of Japan's Texas correspondent Mark Smith on building the venerable Tamiya 1/50 scale kit of the sleek Nakajima C6N1 Saiun (彩雲 - glowing clouds), Allied reporting name 'Myrt'.

Over to Mark then:-

'Released in 1965, one can imagine Tamiya’s 1/50 scale C6N1 Saiun as a shot across the bow to companies like Monogram and Revell, but I’m not sure anyone took much notice here in America.  I don’t recall even seeing the kit until 1967, in a wonderful shop that was a national mecca for railroaders, Bobbye Hall’s Hobby House.  As Michael Whiteman noted on the MRH Forum two or three years ago, 'The first time I went there I spent all day.  I thought I had died and gone to the Walther's Warehouse.'  Ms. Hall was a savvy and gracious woman who could charm anyone who walked through her door just by being herself. That customer might not know that she had built her own product line and knew the model railroad business inside and out. She didn’t exclude plastic model builders either. There one could find the most exotic stock in Dallas, including English Airfix, Fujimi, Hasegawa, and Tamiya.  But it came at a price.  I wanted those 1/72 Tamiya Hayate and Shoki kits with the wonderful box art, but they were a shocking $3.50 each.  The same amount would buy five of the newly released Monogram 1/72 Bearcats, Mustangs, or P-36 Hawks. I finally asked Ms. Hall why they cost so much - 'Because they cost me so much to import', she replied.  One day I spied the 1/50 Tamiya C6N1 Saiun there.  I think it was $5.50 or $6.00, so sadly I had to walk away without it.  I wouldn’t see another one for quite a long time, but there were plenty of other more affordable kits to keep a kid busy.  

1965 Box Art

1970 Box Art

'Some might wonder how a person so interested in the subject could have heard nothing about a new kit release, right in his wheelhouse, for two years.  That was easy: what passed for ‘the grapevine’ was almost entirely word of mouth; Dallas was a long way from either coast, and Scale Modeler, which pioneered the idea of a magazine devoted solely to the craft, was just starting its second full year. Anyone who wanted to use a computer needed a high-level I.D. badge, a large room, and industrial grade air conditioning.  Every now and then there was something new in the stacks at Daugherty’s Drugs or Woolworth’s.

'I finally bought the 1/50 Saiun about fifteen years after that visit to Hall’s, and by then it was rare and foolishly expensive. I wanted to build it along the same lines as the Marusan Dinah I then had underway: take a good kit and add as much detail as possible, using the recent Maru Mechanic volumes on those types. A closer look indicated why the Myrt had been a little more expensive; it featured, as optional parts, a crystal-clear fuselage half and cowling that revealed a nice engine with bearers, and complete crew station details. Molded in silver-grey and black, the quality of the Tamiya Saiun plastic looked superior to the Monogram, Airfix, and Revell kits I had. Just as importantly, each parts sprue was bagged and carded. This meant that all surfaces were completely unscratched (a pet peeve of mine with new kits now), and Saiun’s hallmark streamlined canopy was flawless. The cockpit still seemed comprehensive. The whole package conveyed both pride in the product and respect for the modeler.

'But I was jaded enough now to find it a mixed bag. It featured movable control surfaces and sliding flaps, as well as retractable landing gear. The necessary design for these really compromised fit and detail; there were no wheel wells of any kind. The kit required a lot of work on this account. Like the Dinah, it was rewarding at the finish line; but it turned that those two had burned me out for a while. Caveat modelor.

'The Hasegawa 1/48 kit of Saiun which arrived in 2002 proved one of their finest efforts, reflecting a deep study of Myrt’s revolutionary design, and doing so without gimmickry. It was of course a much better kit, but I doubt it was as important to many builders of my generation as Tamiya’s. A friend recently sent the link to a charming online article by Mr Hiromichi Taguchi of Web-modelers, Japan from December 2013, which provides a nostalgic reminder how good the model can look when built without any modifications, especially when using the optional transparent fuselage half and taking special care with its masking. All those visible parts stem to stern were a labor of love for the model’s designers, who in a way faced the same challenge in the early sixties as Nakajima’s staff had during the war: how do we fit all this stuff inside?! Mr. Taguchi’s challenge was good-natured: if you too have had this on your shelf of doom for forty-five years…why not build it?


'If someone at Revell or Monogram did see and professionally admire Tamiya’s new sleek Saiun model, it couldn’t have caused much concern. Both firms were hitting their stride on the way to their salad days, with strong domestic sales, increasing foreign interest, and expanding product lines. But by the eighties, Hasegawa and Tamiya had undeniably made deep inroads into their markets. The Japanese firms had developed kits which were as accurate or more so, with fewer fit problems, nicer box art, and better packaging. American model builders had become an older demographic with more than pocket money to spend, and apparently didn’t mind the higher prices they typically commanded. In two moves only a few months apart, Odyssey Partners of New York purchased Monogram and Revell, and these classic American competitors now saw their molds pooled as Revell-Monogram. It didn’t bode well. By 1994 the company’s seeming last gasp was the Pro Modeler line of kits, with a trumpeted focus on accuracy of detail, ‘archive-oriented’ instruction sheets, and well-researched decal markings. It was an ironic way to bow out: as an apparent attempt to compete with the companies which had now outstripped them, it was too late and too little. Almost thirty years later, Tamiya has gone from strength to strength, each release fueled by the same pride of product and regard for the builder that I had sensed when holding that Saiun kit for the first time at Hall’s Hobbies.

Some Build Notes

'As I recall, this was my first build using Tamiya paints. All the markings except the cowl numbers are painted; national insignia were sprayed by making stencils with frisket paper, the rest brush-painted. The panel lines were re-scribed, often using the raised ones as guides, then all the pieces sanded and polished. In places I could preserve some of the kit’s rivet detail.

'The canopy was too long to fit on the Mattel ‘Vac-u-form’ stage. While it felt wrong (!) the kit canopy was cut into two pieces, and after several attempts I got some copies that were usable with .010 K&S Butyrate Clear Sheet. I think this is worth noting even though there is now much less need for home-made vac-forming – a few aftermarket canopies I have are yellowed now; nothing one can do, and pretty disappointing, but none of the K&S ones I’ve made have suffered this, including this one, over thirty-five years later. I don’t remember the kit canopy fitting very well, especially front and back edges. But after the molds were cut into the seven different sections, as long as the sills were cut square, they fit better than originally. The pop-up central section of the windscreen was cut longitudinally, but only scored across, until that section could be gently canted up, without use of glue.

'The landing gear and flaps were the most problematic things on the project, in ways lost to memory. The landing gear doors were wrongly shaped, but were easily corrected and then vac-formed, as these appear extremely thin in photos. I reworked the wheel forks and oleo links and took the wheels from another kit. The wheel well ‘roof’ is embossed sheet plastic, and its edges made from the same. The pale shade of Aotake reflects not the true appearance of that finish, but general appearance of the color in the Maru Mechanic. On top of that, I don’t think the wheel well surfaces should be in that color.  But taking the photos I liked seeing it all again. 

'The leading-edge slats were made by vac-forming the kits parts, but the result was very delicate and they were knocked off over the years and replaced more than once. If I had tried to fair those kit parts into the leading edge, I would have had a place to safely pick up the model! Overreach. There is a parallel in my mind here to Jerry Jeff Walker’s maxim, 'Never write a song you can’t play drunk at two in the morning.' And never build a model which you can’t pick up.

'The last thing I would add re nostalgia was that this model used seat belt buckles and that lovely gunsight from etched parts, which were still relatively new on the scene, but otherwise, no aftermarket that I can recall.  The instruments were done with toothpicks and paint, and much younger eyes and hands.'

Mark Smith

In the UK Tamiya's Myrt was reviewed by the legendary Alan W Hall in the March 1966 issue of Airfix magazine and advertised by BMW Models on the back page for 19/11d, 19 (old) shillings and 11 (old) pence, about the price of a good quality hardback book then. That compares to three shillings for an Airfix Firefly and six shillings for a Frog Black Widow. At the same time the Marusan 1/50 Jake was advertised at the 'New Low Price' of 12 shillings and sixpence.

With very special thanks to Mark for another fine trip down memory lane together with images of a very finely built model.  In July 2015 Mark and the late Mike Quan co-authored an excellent article on the C6N1 here - The Need for Speed: Developing and Delivering Saiun - which features Mark's build of the Hasegawa kit mentioned above.

Image credit: All model photographs © 2022 Mark Smith; Boc art images © 1965 and 1970 Tamiya Inc; Kit review © 1966 Airfix Magazine and Alan W Hall: Advert © 1966 BMW Models of Wimbledon            

Wednesday 24 August 2022

Mitsubishi Babs vol.I by Showzow Abe and Giuseppe Picarella

The Imperial Japanese Army Type 97 Command Reconnaissance Plane (97 Shiki Shireibu Teisatsu-ki - 九七式司令部偵察機) known as the '97 Shi-tei' (九七司偵) has long been a popular modelling favourite in all its sub-types, from the various Army and IJN variants to the civilian record breaker 'Kamikaze'. In the mid-1970s both Mania and LS released 1/72 kits of 'Babs' (its Allied reporting name), the former producing kits of both the military Ki-15 and civilian 'Kamikaze', the latter producing a family of four variants: Ki-15-I, Ki-15-II, C5M2 and 'Kamikaze'. The Mania mould was quickly taken over by Hasegawa and their Ki-15 kits re-released intermittently, including a combo kit of 'Kamikaze' and 'Asikaze' in 2007 and together with the Ki-46 in another combo kit as recently as 2017. The LS kits are still available now under the Arii Microace label and have been featured here. For many years the only choice for 1/48 modellers was the Marusan 1/50 scale kit from 1964, re-issued by UPC as the civilian  'Kamikaze' in 1965, but in 2018 Fine Molds released a family of new Type 97 kits as Ki-15-I, Ki-15-II, C5M2 and civilian 'Karigane' editions.

Despite this modelling popularity there has been a paucity of in-depth documentation on the type. There was no Profile publication in the 1960s and no colourful Aircam title in the 1970s to go with the appearance of kits. Not even an early Japanese Famous Aircraft of the World (FAOW) edition is recalled. Only very recently was a Model Art special on the type published but it was predominantly in Japanese language and is completely eclipsed by this new publication. This book, perhaps a surprise to some, addresses the deficit magnificently. In fact, although perhaps a cliché, the book's sub-title of 'The world's first high-speed strategic reconnaissance aircraft' might justifiably be added to with 'Everything you ever wanted to know about Babs'.

Published by Stratus as MMP Books, the book is authored by two established authorities in the field of Japanese historical aviation and those familiar with Giuseppe Picarella's previous title on Japanese transport aircraft will be in no doubt as to the quality, comprehensive coverage and technical detail to expect. The late Showzow (Shorzoe) Abe was a veteran Japanese researcher and author with an illustrious record in co-operating with English language authors and titles since the 1950s, both in aeronautical magazines and books, frequently based on his access to those actually involved. The 192 pages of this 30.5 x 21.5 cm lavish hardcover book are packed with the fruits of their combined expertise and a second volume is on the way! It is the kind of book that in the 1970s enthusiasts might only dream of, but the wait has been well worth it. 

The book is structured as follows:-

Introduction and Acknowledgements
Chapter 1: Japanese land-based reconnaissance aircraft 1911-1935
Chapter 2: Made in Japan
Chapter 3: Strategic Reconnaissance - uncharted territory
Chapter 4: Kamikaze flight
Chapter 5: Changing the rules of the game

The Notes section is a comprehensive survey and summary of Army and Navy designation systems and terminologies, including  civilian terminology and Allied reporting names. This is followed by the first chapter, a fascinating study of the period 1911 to 1935 by aircraft types, offering exceptional detail and photographs to throw magnificent light on what has hitherto been much in darkness.     

The second chapter follows the development of Naval aircraft types, principally by Mitsubishi, with the same individual studies of each aircraft, again with well chosen and presented photos, culminating in examination of Kagamigahara Army airfield, the personalities involved in development and a biography of designer Fumihiko Kouno 1896-1982.

Chapter 3 focuses on the strategic reconnaissance role and delves deeper into the development of Babs with, in addition to photos, colour schematics and plans by Picarella, a 1/48 scale colour profile of the prototype Ki-15 c/n 1501, also by Picarella, and another biography, this time of Youzou Fujita 1898-1939 a notable Army pilot. In this chapter various colour schematics and plans are especially interesting and of value to the modeller. Of mention here is the well presented size and quality of reproduction of photographs, a feature throughout the book.

Chapter 4 is a wonderfully detailed account of Kamikaze's flights to Rome and London with excellent colour profiles of the aircraft as well as good clear photos of aircraft and crew. Biographies of associated personalities Masaaki Iinuma 1912-1941 and Kenji Tsukagoshi 1900-1943 are included, and these are both noted as Part 1 so there are more to come. Author prepared 1/48 scale colour profiles continue with J-BAAL 'Asakaze', c/n 107 'Sochikaze', c/n 2012 'Amakaze' in its three different appearances, J-BACL, J-BACR and J-BACK, Osaka Mainichi Shumbun's 'Karigane I' and 'Kotobuki'. These profiles are presented very clearly and cleanly, and will be inspiring eye-candy for modellers looking for something different and hopefully for decal manufacturers too.

Chapter 5 focusses on the first operational service of the type over China, again with colour plans in 1/72 scale showing variant and panel details. Of special interest here are details and profiles of the early civilian Babs pressed into military service with some interesting camouflage schemes. This chapter is awash with page after page of superb 1/48 scale colour profiles and schematics presenting the standard factory finish, camouflage and unit markings in exceptional detail, including a unit organisational discourse in tabular and pictorial formats, the latter exampling Hiko Dai 8 Sentai. Excellent and excellently chosen photographs delight throughout. Meaty sub-sections to this final chapter  cover earlier reconnaissance operations over Manchuria from 1937 to 1939. Then development of the Ki-15-II; the Nomonhan Incident; Manchuria and Korea operations from 1939 to 1945; historical summaries of individual Ki-15 units; an interesting digression on RAF photo-reconnaissance and Spitfires; the Ki-15-III; French Indo-China; clandestine flights; the Pacific War; Home Islands and Brigade Command Reconnaissance Companies; Flying, Aviation and Technical schools; the Part 2 biography of Kenji Tsukagoshi; Manchukuo use; and most interestingly post-war use by Chinese Nationalist and Communist forces with relevant profiles. Again this coverage is superbly served by no less than 41 1/48 scale profiles throughout, in addition to numerous colour unit insignia schematics and 1/72 plans, with no Ki-15 stone left unturned as far as I could tell.

This very highly recommended book is a brilliant tour de force on Babs and should be considered essential for anyone with an interest in studying and/or modelling the type in all its many guises and a most valuable addition to any aeronautical library. In fact it is an inspiration for modelling the aircraft. I was left thinking, based on the superlative data in this book, that a new mould, multi-variant 1/72 scale kit of the 'world's first high-speed strategic reconnaissance aircraft' is surely warranted as the available kits are now nearly 50 years old. How about it Arma Hobby? And surely a 1/32 scale kit shouldn't be far behind?

Many more sample pages from the book and further details of its contents may be found in this comprehensive review at the Aeroscale website.

The second volume on Mitsubishi Babs, eagerly awaited, will cover the development of the Naval C5M, IJN operations, plus many more photos, more artwork, original engineering drawings and a complete technical description of the aircraft and equipment. 

With very special thanks to co-author Joe Picarella for the book sent from MMP Books for review by Aviation of Japan

Image credit: Book cover and sample page © 2022 MMP Books

Monday 22 August 2022

AVI Models 1/72 Kawanishi E7K1 and E7K2 'Alf'

In March this year AVI Models released a quartet of new 1/72 kits of the Kawanishi E7K1 and E7K2 'Alf' floatplanes as follows:-

AV72020 E7K2 'Alf' Carrier Observers presents the radial engined development of the Navy Type 94 Reconnaissance Seaplane offering a choice of three subjects on the decal sheet as follows:- 
  • YI-51 of the seaplane carrier Chitose, Inland Sea, Japan, October 1941 - in dark green and brown camouflage over light grey with white tail code 
  • SVII-I of the submarine tender Jingei, 7th Submarine Squadron, 4th Fleet, South Seas, early 1942 - in dark green and brown camouflage over light grey with blue tailcode 
  • DI-I of the light cruiser Abukuma, Kiska, Aleutian Islands, Summer 1942 - in dark green over light grey with yellow tail code

AV72021 E7K2 'Alf' Shore Based Units presents the same variant offering three subjects on the decal sheet as follows:- 
  • カシ-83 (KaShi-83) of Kashima Ku, Lake Kasumigaura, Japan - in dark green over light grey with white tail code. The kit incorrectly identifies 'Kashiwa' Ku. Kashiwa was an Army airfield.
  • サ (Sa) 951-86 of 951 Ku, Sasebo, Japan, August 1945 - in dark green over light grey with yellow tail code. This aircraft has the white surrounds of the hinomaru over painted 
  • オミ-54 (OMi-54) of Ominato Ku, Ominato, Japan - in overall silver (aluminium) dope with black tail code

The E7K2 Type 94-II variant of Alf has not been kitted before, although in 1994 Gartex released the Hasegawa Type 94-I 'Alf' of 1970 vintage as kit GA:5 with additional resin parts to complete it as the E7K2 radial engined variant (box shown below). The Gartex kits were expensive at the time and quite difficult to obtain even then. A very fine build of the Gartex kit on catapult by Morimoto Oyama may be found here at the excellent Japanese Web-modelers site.

AV72024 E7K1 'Alf' In Camouflage presents the inline-engined Type 94-I offering three subjects on the decal sheet as follows:- 
  • MI-I of the minelayer Okinoshima, Japan, 1941 - in dark green and brown camouflage over light grey with red tailcode 
  • Houkoku-213 of the cruiser Ashigara, North China coast, 1938 - in dark green and brown camouflage over light grey with white houkoku legend on tail fin and rudder 
  • 14 over 7 of unidentified unit, possibly a seaplane tender - in dark green and brown camouflage over light grey

AV72025 E7K1 'Alf' In Silver presents the same variant and offers a choice of three early uncamouflaged examples on the decal sheet as follows:-
  • カモヰ-12 (KaMoWi-12) of the seaplane tender Kamoi - in overall silver (aluminium) dope with red tail fin, rudder and tailplanes with white tail code and black fuselage code
  • タ-72 (Ta-72) of Tateyama Ku - in overall silver (aluminium) dope with black tail and fuselage codes
  • Houkoku-192 - in overall silver (aluminium) dope with black tail and fuselage codes

The original Hasegawa release of the E7K1 in 1970 presented only one subject, a silver doped and red tailed 'Alf' from the cruiser Mikuma, but the tailcode on the original decal sheet looks more like MiWaMa (ミワマ) than MiKuMa (ミクマ). From 1972 the kit was distributed in the USA by Minicraft Models Inc., with their logo print-added to the box front (shown below) and by Hales in the UK with a logo sticker on the box front.

New box art was introduced from 1973 with three subject options for two silver doped aircraft from Maizuru and Yokosuka Ku and a dark green aircraft from the battleship Kirishima. Since then the Hasegawa kit has been repeatedly re-issued, sometimes with a ship's catapult included and most recently as a combo kit with the E13A1 'Jake' in 2020, both representing aircraft of the Ominato Ku. A venerable kit and the only game in town for 50 years, there are many fine examples of it built and improved, as shown in this modelling thread. But a detailed replica required work and the AVI Models kits more than adequately address its shortcomings.

The AVI kits, moulded in grey plastic, are finely moulded with delicate surface detail, the stressed fabric effect and panel detail being finer and more subtle than on the older Hasegawa kit. The kits contain two identical sprue frames with the alternative fuselage halves for each version left on the frame for the relevant variant. They consist of around 76 parts (depending which variant is to be built) rather than the 47 parts of the Hasegawa kit.  Whereas interior detail in the older kit is restricted to a floor, three identical and crude 'armchair' seats and three identical crewmen, the AVI kit is furnished with floor, accurate pilot and crew seats, control stick, rudder pedals, forward bulkhead and instrument panel, radio equipment and sidewall framing with separate instrument details, as well as spare machine gun drum magazines. The instruction sheet (above) shows all these parts in colour and with paint references, a nice touch. The Hasegawa kit has two side window transparencies but these are not included in the AVI kit, nor is the framework around these windows depicted. The AVI E7K1 kit appears to be based on the later production variant with two semi-elliptical hand/foot holds instead of the windows, the same configuration being on the E7K2. Late model E7K1 aircraft were also sometimes fitted with a circular RDF loop or fairing behind the rear cockpit. The fairing is included in both kits (part # 83), possibly a little under scale, but not the loop. Ditto the optional wind-driven generator on the starboard rear fuselage (part # 65). Exterior cockpit details consist of two windscreen transparencies for pilot and navigator's positions and a gun ring and very neatly moulded Type 92 machine gun for the radio operator/observer's position. There was also a re-modelled variant which had the ventral machine gun removed and re-positioned in the central cockpit, providing for two dorsal machine guns. Bomb racks and four bombs with separate fins are also included in the kits, again very neatly moulded. 

E7K2 - note rear side panel in closed position over cockpit, window and RDF fairing

The distinctive ribbing frames either side of the radio operator's position were sliding panels that could be drawn up to completely enclose the rear cockpit (see photos above), presumably to help protect the radio equipment from spray. They appear to have been fabric on metal frames for the E7K1 but possibly all metal on the E7K2. On the E7K2 there were small rectangular windows in the forward side of the second lower 'rib' and centrally on the upper fifth 'rib' of the sliding panels but these windows are not represented on the kit parts and the panels are moulded integrally with the fuselage halves. A detail for some aftermarket photo-etch perhaps? 

The breakdown of kit parts is conventional but care will be required in assembling the struts as location positions are marked with shallow indentations. Float pontoons consist of three parts, two sides and an upper panel, allowing for more detail on the latter compared to the two part Hasegawa mouldings. The four bladed prop on the E7K1 consists of two two-bladed parts with the spinner moulded integrally with   the forward pair of blades. The radial engine of the E7K2 consists of four parts with both rows represented as fully formed separate parts, a firewall and a gear casing through which a hole must be drilled to accept the two-blade prop. The cowling consists of two halves with the cooling flaps moulded in the open position - and quite finely done. Exhaust pipe parts in both kits are more finely moulded and detailed than Hasegawa's single stack, radiator parts ditto. 

Exterior colours are referenced to Gunze Mr Color paints with No.15 IJN Green (Nakajima) suggested for the dark green, No.133 Earth for the brown and No.315 Gray FS 16440 for the under surface grey. Decal sheets are by Rising Decals and sharply printed with good colour saturation. 

These are excellent kits of a handsome and ubiquitous IJN biplane seaplane presented in both its variants with interesting subject choices, and which will repay care in assembly and painting. With special thanks to Mirek of Rising Decals for kindly providing kits AVI72021 and AVI72024 for review here.

Image credit: Box details and instruction extract © 2022 AVI Models; E7K Photos author; Gartex kit box art © 1994 Gartex; Hasegawa kit box art © 1972 Hasegawa-Minicraft Models Inc.