Observant readers will already have noticed that this isn’t a review of a tank or AFV kit. When I first got interested in kit-building back in the early 1970s, I mainly built 1/72 scale aircraft. So, this is a bit of nostalgia for me and hey, it’s a kind of flying tank, so I feel that it does sort of fit here…
I first encountered the AH-64 back in the early 2000s. For more than twenty years, I lived with my family in a remote glen in the Scottish Highlands. It was a great place for aircraft spotting, being part of an RAF low-flying training area (I recall watching one RAF Jaguar flying so low over a remote loch that it left a boat-like wake on the placid waters…). Late one night, I was walking my dogs in the forest near my home. It was dark, but there was an almost full moon, so I didn’t need my head-torch. Then, I heard something strange approaching…
It wasn’t a jet, it sounded too slow and low to be a piston-engine aircraft and it lacked the characteristic “whop, whop” of a helicopter. This was a low growl that seemed to be heading my way. I watched in amazement as two squat, angular helicopters appeared, flying just a couple of hundred feet above the trees and visible only because they were silhouetted against the moonlit sky. That was the first time I ever saw an AH-64 (though I guess these were probably the version used by the British Army, the WAH-64) and I was well-impressed.
However, I have never attempted a kit of this classic attack helicopter. So when I saw this Italeri kit on special offer, I couldn’t resist. It was first released back in 1987 as the AH-64 and then updated in 1991 to portray the AH-64D version. Given that the basic elements of this kit are now well over thirty years old, is it any good?
The notion of the attack helicopter really emerged during the conflict in Vietnam. A new version of the iconic Bell UH-1 Iroquois transport helicopter (more often known as the Huey) was created with an entirely new fuselage which lacked a cargo bay and had seats for just a pilot and gunner. In the mid-1970s, Hughes Helicopters began work on an entirely new aircraft, the Type 77. The first prototype flew in 1975 and by 1986, the design had been designated AH-64 Apache and was entering service with the US Armed Forces. By that time, Hughes Helicopters had been bought over by McDonnel-Douglas and from 1997, Boeing Defense, Space & Security took over production so this is now generally referred to as the Boeing AH-64.
An AH-1 Cobra, one of the first attack helicopters.
This one tough helicopter. The pilot and CPG/Gunner sit in a bathtub constructed of Kevlar armour and separated by a plexiglass blast shield. All important systems include redundancy, so the AH-64 can keep flying with significant damage. On the original version, a Martin Marietta TADS/PNVS targeting and night vision navigation system was combined with the Honeywell helmet-mounted day/night gunsight and a McDonnell Douglas/Bell mast-mounted day/night target tracking sight to allow target acquisition and tracking day or night.
An early AH-64
Armament comprises an M230 chain gun carried under the nose and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and Hydra 70 rocket pods on hardpoints under the stub wings. From 1997, the AH-64D added a large radar dome over the rotor mast housing an AN/APG-78 Longbow fire-control radar (FCR) target acquisition system. The D version also introduced a new “glass” cockpit featuring several Multi-Function Displays (MFDs). The Longbow radar allowed the acquisition and simultaneous tracking of up 128 ground targets. After the introduction of the D version, the original (non-radar equipped) Apaches were retrospectively designated AH-64A.
A WAH-64D, a version provided with Rolls-Royce engines and operated by the British Army Air Corps, not the Royal Army…
A single AH-64D can pop-up from behind dover, exposing only its radar dome for a few seconds. It can then drop back behind cover and fire Hellfire missiles at up to 8 of those targets. A secure data link can share radar data and allow other AH-64Ds which remain behind cover to engage these same targets. This is a devastating tank-killer.
A US Army AH-64 escorts a UH-60 Black Hawk in Iraq.
The AH-64 has been used in combat by US forces in Operation Just Cause in Panama, and in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan during the first and second Gulf Wars and during the NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. The British version of this helicopter, the WAH-64, has been used extensively to support British Army operations in Afghanistan.
What’s in the Box?
In the side-opening box you’ll find two sprues moulded in dark green plastic and a single transparent sprue.
The transparent canopy is admirably clear, but the cockpit framing isn’t particularly well-defined, which will make masking and painting tricky. The quality of mouldings and detail are variable and there is some flash. All panels lines are raised and rivets look a little oversize.
Some things, like the rotor head for example, are very nicely moulded and detailed.
On the other hand, the M230 chain gun is quite crude and lacks detail.
The biggest visual problem here concerns the shape of the sponsons on either side of the fuselage. The rear part on both sides is based on the very first AH-64D prototype (which is probably unsurprising given that this kit was released back in 1991). You can see an image of the prototype AH-64D and the kit fuselage below.
On all operational versions of this helicopter, the rear of the sponsons are a quite different shape. Strangely, the side views in the instructions show the sponsons as provided, but the colour side views on the back of the box show the correct shape for the left-side sponson. Why? You can see what the rear of the sponson should actually look like on the image below.
You can either accept that what you’re building is a model of the prototype (though the markings provided aren’t suitable for that) or you will have to do some work to re-shape the rear of both sponsons if you want to portray an operational version.
Decals and colour schemes are provided for three Apaches covering the US Army, the Dutch Army and for a WAH-64D of the “Royal Army.” I presume this last is a reference the British Army Air Corps. I mean, really, there is no such thing as the Royal Army. How much (or how little) research would it have taken for Italeri to discover that? I think this tells you just how much care and attention went into creating this kit. No decals are provided for the prototype AH-64D, though that’s what is shown on the box-art.
The instructions seem adequate, though they do contain at least one error: Step 4 shows the sensor modules in the nose being fitted upside down – fortunately, the box art shows the correct orientation.
Would You Want One?
Overall, this is a mix of good and rather shoddy. It feels like a kit produced in haste, but given that it was released all the way back in 1991, you might have hoped that it would have been sorted out by now. Some of the detail (the rotor head, for example) is very nicely done but raised panel lines aren’t something you’d expect to find on a modern kit and this lacks a lot of details seen on operational Apaches. This also has some fairly serious errors in terms of representing an AH-64D. Most noticeable are the sponsons which I have already discussed.
The second issue is the cockpit: the cockpit control panels provided here are the “steam gauge” version from the earlier AH-64 kit and they lack the distinctive MFDs provided in both front and rear cockpits on the AH-64D. Personally, I can probably live with that: on a 1/72 kit with a closed cockpit, you won’t be able to see much of the control panels. In many ways, this reminds me of the aircraft kits I struggled with in back in the 1970s – it certainly doesn’t feel like a kit from the 1990s. I like a challenge and I enjoy trying to improve old kits, so I’ll have a go at trying to make this kit into a reasonable representation of the operational AH-64D. You may feel differently, and if you do, there are alternatives in 1/72.
The best of the rest are any of the Academy 1/72 AH-64D kits. These were first released in 2015 and all are accurate, have lots of detail and engraved panel lines. Hasegawa also do an AH-64D in 1/72, but like this Italeri kit, it uses elements from an original AH-64A kit from 1983 and it’s not particularly accurate. Hobby Boss also offer an AH-64D in 1/72, first released in 2007, but it has the same issue with the rear sponsons as this version.
For such an iconic and widely used combat helicopter, it’s surprizing to me that so many available small-scale kits (other than those by Academy) have glaring accuracy issues. If this was a kit featuring, for example, a significant tank from World War Two which had equivalent accuracy issues, I suspect if would be the subject of howls of derision. When I work on modern tank kits, I’m often impressed by the level of detail and accuracy provided. This on the other hand feels like a throwback to an earlier era when, if something kinda, sorta looked like the original, that was generally good enough. It will be interesting to find out whether this can be built into something that looks acceptable but, out of the box, this appears to have some serious problems.
Related PostsItaleri 1/72 AH-64D (080) Build Review – coming soon