Tag Archives: 1/72

Dragon 1/72 Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. L Late production (7645) Armor Neo Pro In-Box Review and History

If you are a regular reader here, you’ll know that there is one thing that I have found more consistently disappointing and frustrating than any other aspect of tank model kits: tracks! I have lost count of the number of tank kits I have built that have been spoiled by over thick, too-tight, poorly detailed tracks made of unglueable vinyl. Even some of the hard plastic tracks I have come across simply look nothing like the original…

Which brings us to the subject of this review, the Dragon 1/72 Panzer Ausf. L in the Armor Neo-Pro series featuring “Neo-tracks.” Dragon have an enviable reputation for producing accurate kits with very high quality mouldings, so when I saw this as a Black Friday special offer, I couldn’t resist. The Dragon Panzer III Ausf. L was first released in 2011 and this Neo-Pro version in 2021. Dragon kits are comparatively expensive – here in Spain they generally retail for around €25 – 30, which seems a lot for a 1/72 tank kit but when I saw this one for under €15, I thought I’d take a punt.

Neo-tracks are simply length and link tracks which, at 1/72, can be a challenge. But I’m hoping that at least they’ll be accurate when they’re done. Are these the answer to my track woes? We’ll have a look inside the box in a moment, but first, let’s take a brief look at the Panzer III.

History

Design of what would be designated the Panzer III began somewhere around 1934. Although Germany was still formally banned from producing tracked AFVs under the terms of the Versailles treaty, the Nazis were soon to repudiate this and to begin open development and manufacture of tanks. Two tank designs were complete by 1935, for the Panzer I, a machine-fun armed light tank initially intended for training. and the Panzer II, another light tank armed with a 20mm autocannon and primarily intended for the reconnaissance role.

The first Panzer III, the Ausf. A. Only ten examples were produced, all provided with coil-spension and five roadwheels. Subsequent versions switched to first eight and then six smaller road wheels.

However, plans were developed to create Panzer Battalions comprising four Companies. One would be equipped with a tank provided with a large calibre, low-velocity main gun, ideal for firing high explosive shells and acting in the infantry support role (the Panzer IV). The other three companies would be equipped with tanks provided with high velocity main guns, and the primary role for these companies would killing enemy tanks. These were to be equipped with the new Panzer III.

A Panzer III Ausf. D during the German invasion of Poland, 1939. This was the first Panzer III produced in numbers, armed with a 37mm main gun and, as you can see, fitted with exposed leaf-spring suspension and eight small roadwheels. From the Ausf. E on, all models were provided with six roadwheels and more robust and better-protected torsion bar suspension.

Initial discussions on the Panzer III would centre on its main gun, and deficiencies in this choice would affect the Panzer III for most of its service life. It was agreed that this tank would be armed with a 37mm main gun derived from the PaK 35, the principal towed anti-tank weapon then entering service with the Wehrmacht. Arming the Panzer III with a similar gun would, the Heereswaffenamt (HWA – German Army Weapons Agency) pointed out, would greatly simplify ammunition supply. That was true, but many senior German Army commanders disagreed, asking for a 50mm main gun on the Panzer III and pointing out that British Cruiser tanks were already being designed that would be armed with 40mm (2-Pounder) main guns while the existing Russian T-26 had a 45mm main gun.

A Panzer III Ausf. E with torsion bar suspension and six roadwheels but still armed only with a 37mm main gun.

The HWA won the argument, but agreed that the turret ring on the Panzer III would be made large enough for the mounting of a 50mm main gun if that should prove necessary in future. All early models of this tank, essentially, the Ausf. A – E, were armed with a 37mm main gun, and in combat against British and French tanks in 1940 this proved to have serious limitations. The 37mm rounds simply bounced off the thick frontal armour of British Matildas and French Somua S35s and Char B1s. The new Ausf. F model appeared after the campaign in France was over and while the first of these were still armed with the 37mm main gun, most of this version were provided with the more powerful 50mm L42 main gun. All versions of the subsequent Ausf. G were also armed with the 50mm L42 gun.

A Panzer III Ausf. G in North Africa. Finally, it has a 50mm main gun, but it’s just L42, giving it relatively low velocity and while it was effective against British tanks in this theatre, it proved weak when used against Russian tanks on the Eastern Front.

However, when Germany invaded Russia in the Summer of 1941, even this new weapon proved ineffective against Russian T-34s and KV heavy tanks. The Panzer III was up-gunned again, this time with a KwK 39 50mm L60 main gun, a modified version of the towed PaK 38 anti-tank gun. This had higher muzzle velocity and more penetration compared to the L42 gun, but it still struggled to penetrate the frontal armour of the T-34 at most ranges. This new gun was first fitted to the Ausf. J which began to be delivered to front-line units on the Eastern Front in late 1941. However, it was also becoming apparent that the armour on the Panzer III was inadequate when facing the best Russian tanks. That led to the subject of this kit, the Ausf. L, armed with a 50mm L60 main gun and provided with additional armour on the mantlet and hull front.

A Panzer III Ausf. L on the Eastern Front and provided with a 50mm L60 main gun and added armour on the mantlet and hull front.

These began reaching front line units in mid-1942 and around 650 examples of the Ausf. L were manufactured during the second half of 1942. These tanks were used on the Eastern Front and in North Africa. This kit depicts a late production example, recognisable by the lack of pistol ports on the turret and escape hatches on the hull sides above the roadwheels.

What’s in the Box?

Inside the top-opening box you’ll find five sprues moulded in grey plastic, the lower hull, moulded as a single piece, decals and two small PE frets.

Detail looks very good and the mouldings appear to be commendably sharp even on tiny parts. Slide moulding is used, so the main gun bore is open, as are the optional smoke launchers for the turret sides. However, I was a little surprised to find that small details like the tools and tow cable are moulded in place. Painting these will be tricky.

Only the two-piece main turret hatch is moulded as a separate part and it includes some internal detail, though there are no figures included here and no internal detail for the turret itself. Apart from a couple of spare roadwheels, no stowage items are included.

And what about the link-and-length Neo Tracks? These are provided on two identical sprues, one for each side, providing one upper and one lower run and individual links to go round the sprocket and idler. The tracks seem to be nicely detailed inside and out and wholly accurate. Hurrah! However, there are jigs provided, including one that seems to model the sag on the upper run, but no clues in the instructions as to how to use these. 

One of the PE frets contains various grills for the rear hull and two tiny parts that I don’t recognise and that don’t seem to be mentioned in the instructions and the other provides an additional armour plate for the upper hull front.

The instructions are sort of OK, but not entirely helpful. As mentioned, they don’t really give any clues as to how to assemble the Neo Tracks or how to achieve sag on the top run using the provided jig. In some places, they seem to point in the general direction of where a particular part goes rather than showing the precise location. The instructions also show a pair of triple smoke launchers on the front top corners of the turret as optional parts (and all the colour scheme drawings show these as fitted), but I’m not convinced about that. These launchers were certainly added to the next model, the Ausf. M, but that also had a different exhaust system that isn’t modelled here. I haven’t been able to find a single wartime image of an Ausf. L fitted with these smoke launchers, so I feel these should probably be left off. Hull side escape hatches are also provided as optional parts, but again, I don’t think these should be used on an Ausf. L and they aren’t shown on the colour scheme drawings.

In terms of colour schemes, the instructions are confusing and, in some places, just plain wrong. Decals are provided and schemes shown for four tanks, all from Russia in 1942/1943. One scheme (the lower one on the image above) doesn’t give any clues as to the colours to use at all and on the only scheme where a base colour is indicated, this is identified as Dunklegelb (Dark Yellow). However, all Panzer III Ausf. L were manufactured from June – December 1942 and the introduction of Dunklegelb as a base colour on German armour didn’t begin until February 1943. So, all tanks of this model would actually have left the factory finished in overall Dunklegrau which doesn’t even get a mention here. I think that the box-art is correct (it shows a tank of  the 502nd Heavy Panzer Battalion in overall Dunklegrau finish) and the instructions, where they provide any guidance on base colour at all, are wrong. Given that it must take a great deal of time and effort to produce the moulds to make a model kit, you’d think it might be worth expending just a little more time to provide useful information about the colours in which it should be painted!

The small decal sheet covers four tanks and seems to be accurately printed, though the tiny unit insignia for the Wiking Division tank are each split in into two halves, presumably because they incorporate swastikas. More of a problem is that the decals don’t match the colour scheme drawings! The turret numbers for two of the tanks shown on those drawings aren’t actually included here and you get one spare set of white turret numbers, 101, but no clue what the colour scheme for that tank might be or what unit it belonged to. Though it isn’t mentioned in the instructions at all, decals are also provided for a tank of the 502nd Heavy Panzer Battalion which, although primarily equipped with Tiger tanks, initially also had a number of Panzer IIIs. This is the tank shown on the box art and though it isn’t particularly obvious, the larger of the two elephant decals (this was the insignia of the 502nd) goes on the rear of the turret bin and the smaller one on the front left track-guard. On their web site, Dragon claim that they produce “model kits that leave modelers with a jaw-dropping sense of awe!” That may be so, but they seem to produce instructions that leave this modeller with a baffled sense of “Eh?”

Would You Want One?

Detail here looks good in the box; all mouldings are sharp and there is very little flash and no obvious ejector marks. There are some tiny parts that appear to be the size of a gnat’s eyeball, but for those of you with less challenged eyesight that may not be an issue. The confusion between the decals provided and the markings shown on the colour scheme drawings is just stupid – decals are provided for just two of the four tanks shown and you have some spare decals, but no information about where they go or what unit they apply to. However, provided that you can work out how to assemble the Neo Tracks and that you ignore the colours suggested in the instructions, I can’t see any reason this won’t build into a respectable model of the Panzer III Ausf. L. However, there are a few (cheaper) alternatives if you do want to model this tank in 1/72.

The Revell 1/72 Ausf. L (02351) was released in 2003 and it’s a nice little kit that is generally accurate and includes link-and-length tracks. Revell also offer (or offered – I don’t know if it’s still around) a 1/76 Ausf. L and this is a re-release of the original Matchbox kit from 1974. It’s OK, though it does have rather thick vinyl tracks.

Ukrainian producer UM Models offer a 1/72 kit of the Ausf. L first released in 2016. This seems to be very nicely done with PE parts and link-and-length tracks. Plastic Soldier Company offer the Panzer III in 1/72 in a pack that provides three tanks that can be completed as the Ausf. J, L, M, or N though these are simplified, easy-assembly kits that are aimed more at wargamers than modellers.

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Dragon 1/72 Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. L Late production (7645) Armor Neo Pro Build Review

SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) Build Review

I begin the build with the cockpit area, and what’s provided in the kit is pretty sparse – a floor, two seats, an instrument panel and a stick. However, All I’m going add are some harness straps to the seats. You could add more, but I’m not sure how much would actually be visible on the finished model.

I then fit the cockpit floor in place, and that isn’t as easy as you might think. It takes a bit of fiddling to get it all straight. And this isn’t the only time I’ll be saying that during this build…

Then, I do the only other bit of additional detail I’m going to add here, the inverted cylinders for the Argus engine. On the original, the front bank of two cylinders are clearly visible through the cooling vent on the front of the cowling. On this kit, all you get is the opening. So I make up something that looks a little like the cylinders and pushrod tubes out of bits of sprue and stretched sprue. It all looks a bit rough here…

But with everything temporarily joined, I think it will look OK from the front when it’s all painted.

Then, I paint the engine, the engine compartment and the interior of the cockpit. I add some harness straps to the seats – these are just drafted out in a graphics program and printed on a laser printer. They wouldn’t stand close inspection, but I hope they’ll add some visual interest to what is otherwise a rather empty cockpit.

I also attempt to dry-brush some detail on to the instrument panel. Not easy because what little detail is there is barely raised at all.

Then I join the fuselage halves and add the cowling nose. Fit is, well, just about OK but less than perfect. A little sanding and some filler will be needed to fill the worst of the gaps. 

With the fuselage and nose joins sanded and filled I add the tailplanes and struts, and that isn’t simple either. Location consists of a single, small, short round peg on the tailplanes and a corresponding hole in the tail. This doesn’t give a clear or strong fit and you’re going to need to carefully position and prop the tailplanes while the glue sets. I guess that’s just how things were back in the 1970s when this kit was first released!

The wing halves are then joined and there aren’t any problems here, though location isn’t well defined and you do have to be careful to get congruence between the upper and lower halves.

Next, I add the leading-edge slats to the wings and again, that’s tricky due to vague location. Several plastic pegs are moulded into the leading edges of the wings, but there are no corresponding locating holes in the slats into which these fit. You have to glue the slats roughly into place, then prop them while the glue dries, keeping your fingers crossed that you’ll end up with something that looks plausible and matches on both sides.

In terms of overall construction, I’m going for the Luftwaffe version, and the camo scheme on the top of the fuselage, wings and tailplanes will need masking. All the struts that support the wings and undercarriage will get in the way, so I’m going to paint the wings and fuselage first and separately, then I’ll add the canopy and finally the wings and undercarriage. Next, I work on painting the canopy framing. I begin by taking the canopy parts off the sprue and doing some basic masking. And wow, there are a great many tiny sections of masking required! I’m not complaining – one of the reasons I chose the Storch as a subject was so that I could work on my (in)ability to mask and paint canopy frames. You have to take your time, use a series of fresh blades in your craft-knife/scalpel and aim for a state of tranquil focus. Or something like that… It took over an hour to get to the stage below, where I’m ready to start slopping some paint on the canopy.

And this is the result. It’s, well, not as bad as some of other attempts at framing. Though that isn’t a high bar to exceed! Of course, I still have to join the five pieces of the canopy together, and I have a feeling that’s going to be tricky.

But for the moment, I put the canopy aside and begin painting the fuselage and wings. I start by painting the lower surfaces light blue, then masking and painting the base, lighter green on top.

Then, guess what? It’s time for even more masking to delineate the splinter camo scheme on the upper surfaces.  And when I peel off the tape, just to add to my usual masking woes, the base green paint lifts off in places. This only happens on the fuselage and tail, but quite large sections of paint are removed (as you can see below). I don’t really understand why – I’m using my usual masking tape, I didn’t burnish it down particularly hard and the Vallejo acrylic paint I’m using is the same I always use. Oh, well, some careful touching up is required.

But at least I end up with pretty much what I was aiming for.

Next I add the decals. These are pretty good – dense, but not too thick and printed nicely in-register. I do notice that in a couple of places, most obviously on the fuselage identification letters (though it isn’t noticeable in photographs), there is some silvering, though I used both Decal Fix and Decal Softener.

Next I assemble the five parts of the canopy. It’s not easy to get everything aligned and the canopy has to be both accurately and robustly assembled because the wings attach directly to tabs on the top. And I’m not going to say that this is impossible, because clearly it isn’t, but it is very, very tricky. You’ll be juggling five separate and oddly shaped parts that just don’t fit particularly well while trying to get everything to line up. I’m happy and relieved to end up with something that looks even approximately correct.

Next, I touch up the areas of green that have become chipped, give everything a coat of clear varnish and then I attempt to attach the wings and struts. And again, that’s fiddly. The fit of the wings on to the stubs on the canopy top isn’t great – there is a fair amount of play. So, the underwing struts are needed to avoid droopy wings and keep everything in place, but these don’t fit especially well either. The small struts that fit into the wings inboard of the main struts also don’t quite seem to fit – they seem too short to connect with the main struts when they’re in place. In the end, I prop everything straight and level and hope that it will be close to right when the glue sets.

When the glue on the wings and main struts is dry, I move on to the final part of construction, the fragile undercarriage. For a change, this isn’t tricky, it’s fiendishly difficult – this is turning out to be a much more challenging build than I had anticipated! On each side, there is a single vertical leg that includes the shock-absorber and wheel and these are held in place by a pair of V shaped struts that glue into the fuselage underside (though no locating holes are provided) and side and to the undercarriage leg. Or at least, that’s the theory… On the pointed end of the end of the main, lower strut, there is a small pin, but there is nothing at all to fix this into on the undercarriage leg, and the instructions don’t really give any clues of how these are meant to join. In the end, I file off the pin (which seems to serve no purpose anyway) and attach the point of the strut with a butt joint to the top of a small box on the inside of the undercarriage legs. That isn’t really very satisfactory, but I just can’t see any other way of joining the undercarriage legs and supporting strut. With that done, trying to then get the undercarriage leg to attach to the underside of the wing while simultaneously getting the struts fixed to the fuselage underside is an exercise in swear-inducing frustration.

Then, when you have finally managed to get one leg sort of attached, you still have another to go! I think that trying to get both undercarriage legs attached and reasonably congruent on this Storch  is one of the most frustrating things I have attempted since I restarted modelling, mainly because there are no clear attachment points with which to join these parts. I recently wrote in another article how kit-building can induce Zen-like feelings of relaxation. Well, trust me on this, not if you’re building this Storch! I finally get both legs approximately attached, and leave everything to set.

The last thing to do is to fit the two smaller, upper V shaped struts that also support the undercarriage legs. And while there are sockets on the fuselage sides for these, if you place the open end of the strut in the sockets, the other end doesn’t line up with the undercarriage leg. I do the best that I can and I fudge the location of these struts so that they look just about right.

The biggest surprise comes when the glue is set and I turn the model right way up to discover that, despite all the problems with assembly, everything sits pretty much straight and level. That I didn’t expect! With the last construction completed, I add an oil wash to highlight recessed detail on the wings and tail and that’s this tiny Storch finally finished!

After Action Report

The first half of construction here was fine. Fit was OK, though perhaps location is a little vague. Then came adding the leading-edge slats, building the canopy, adding the wings and struts and finally the undercarriage and associated struts. And none of that was any fun at all. Fit is horrible or non-existent, parts just don’t seem to fit in locating holes (except where those aren’t provided at all) and getting the undercarriage attached and straight was just a series of frustrations. Perhaps none of those things are really a surprise given that this is really a 1970s kit, but these problems make it very difficult to recommend this one and it certainly isn’t suitable for a newcomer to this hobby.

Which is kind of a shame, because somehow, despite all the problems and the fact that things like the struts are clearly oversize, the finished model does nicely capture the flimsy and inelegant look of the Storch. As a finished kit, this kit is sort of OK but it surely was a struggle to get there!

I have read a few other build reviews of various iterations of this kit, and while some do mention construction challenges, none prepared me for just how awkward this would be to build. This is difficult. Really difficult. And not in a good way. It’s hard to see precisely where some parts fit, the instructions provide nothing more than broad hints and a few bits seem to be the wrong length or size. If you really want a 1/72 Storch, you may be prepared to put up with all this but honestly, I’d suggest you consider spending your cash elsewhere if you want to retain your sanity.

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SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) In-Box Review and History

Zen and the Art of Model Kit Building

SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) In-Box Review and History

I’m still trying to build up my rusty aviation kit building skills. And there’s one thing I really struggle with: painting canopy frames. Recently, I purchased a vauuform canopy to replace one I broke during a build. It cost pennies, but there was a fixed postage charge, so it seemed logical to order a kit at the same time. Then, I spotted this 1/72 SMER Storch for less than €8. Well, it would have been rude not to buy it at that price, and the Storch has an awful lot of canopy framing to paint, so it’s a great chance to practice.

SMĚR is a Cech company that market a range of aircraft, ship and car kits in various scales. However, this particular kit isn’t really by SMĚR: it’s a re-box with new decals of the Heller Fieseler Storch that was first produced back in 1976. This is a fairly old kit, but given that the 1/72 kit market isn’t exactly awash with models of the Storch, there isn’t a great deal of choice. So, it’s cheap and it’s old. But, is it any good? Let’s have a look…

History

In 1935, the Luftwaffe issued a specification calling for designs for a new army co-operation aircraft with short take-off and landing (STOL) capability. The winning design was submitted by Fieseler Flugzeugbau Kassel, the company started in 1930 by WW1 flying ace and aerobatic champion Gerhard Fieseler.

An early Storch lands on Unter den Linden in Berlin in 1939

There was nothing particularly radical about the design. The fuselage was constructed of metal tubing covered in fabric. The wings were made of wood and also covered in fabric. Fixed slats were attached to the leading edge of the wings with large slotted flaps and ailerons that drooped when the flaps extended beyond 20˚ at the trailing edge. Power was provided by an Argus As 10C air-cooled, inverted V8 engine producing less than 250hp.

A restored Storch shows its wing-folding ability

However, the combination of a large wing area and relatively light weight gave what was designated the Fi 156 truly astonishing STOL capability. Landing speed with flaps was just 50km/h (that’s just over 30mph folks!) and in a headwind, it could come to a stop in under 10 metres, little over its own length. In a headwind, it could take-off after a run of around 3 seconds/50m.

A Storch fitted with an auxiliary fuel tank

In addition, it’s large glazed cockpit projected over the side of the fuselage, giving great visibility even below. The wings could be folded for easy transport and storage and the long legs of the undercarriage contained oil-and-spring shock absorbers that allowed the aircraft to land and take-off safely on rough ground. These legs drooped when the aircraft was in flight, leading to the name by which it became universally known: Storch (stork).

A Storch on the Eastern Front in 1941.

This was a truly versatile aircraft that was used in a variety of roles including artillery spotting, observation, casualty evacuation, aerial photography, cable-laying and even bombing and anti-submarine missions (a few Fi 156 were adapted to carry a single depth charge). The Storch served on every theatre in which Germany was involved during World War Two and around 2,000 were produced by Fieseler in total, mainly the Fi 156-C version modelled in this kit.

An MS.500 with a radial engine

Amongst other locations, the Storch was manufactured during WW2 in Puteaux in occupied France and after the liberation of that country in 1944, the French Armee de l’Air requested that production continue, initially using parts provided from Germany and later, with new aircraft manufactured by Moraine-Saulnier (as the MS.500 Criquet) using a variety of engines including air-cooled radials. Almost 1,000 examples of various models of the MS.500 were produced and these were used in operations in Indo-China and Algeria.

What’s in the Box?

Inside the sturdy, end-opening box you’ll find three sprues moulded in light grey plastic and a single transparent sprue.

Alternate parts are provided so that you can build this as a Fi 156 or as a MS.500. You get two alternate canopy tops and different tailplanes. However, you don’t get alternate wings – the decals provided are for an aircraft used in French Indo-China (present-day Vietnam), and it was found that the humidity there rotted the wooden wings on the MS.500 which were quickly replaced with metal versions that would obviously have lacked the rib detail shown here.

The canopy parts seem cleanly moulded and the framing is well-defined, something that will help with painting. The cockpit access door on the right side is provided as a separate part, so you could show this open.

Surface detail is OK, with an attempt at replicating the fabric finish on the wings and fuselage. However, the few panel lines are raised rather than recessed and there is a fair amount of flash here.  

Detail is about what you’d expect for a 1970s kit, i.e., not wonderful. Here, for example you can see the control stick (top) and the the MG 15 machine gun for the rear cockpit mount (middle). It’s also notable that there is no engine, though in the original it can be clearly seen throught the cooling vent in the nose and the exhausts are too small and the wrong shape.

The decals cover two aircraft, a German Fi 156 used in Yugoslavia in 1943 and a French MS.500 used in Vietnam in 1952. I was surprised to see that the nasty swastikas for the tail are provided (though they aren’t shown on the box-art or colour scheme), but each is split in two, presumably so that you won’t be offended by the presence of this fascist symbol if you decide not to use them. Given that the Storch was also used by Italy, Spain, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, amongst others, there are lots of options if you want to source alternate decals.

Two colour schemes are provided.

The instructions look fairly simple, and include a brief history of the Fi 156.    

Would You Want One?

What is provided here looks OK, but it’s pretty sparse compared to more modern kits. The cockpit (which will be visible through the greenhouse canopy) is particularly spartan, no crew figure(s) are provided and the Argus engine, clearly visible through the large vent on the front of the nose on the original, is completely missing. Some of the fine detail looks a little overscale and the machine gun, for example, doesn’t really look much like the original at all. However, in terms of overall shape and proportions, this does look pretty close. In many ways, this is a typical kit of the 1970s, providing a decent starting point for a detailed finished model rather than including the exhaustive detail we’re used to in more modern kits.

If you don’t fancy this Storch there are, as far as I’m aware, just two alternatives in 1/72. Airfix released a 1/72 Storch all the way back in 1967. Given its age, It isn’t terrible apart from the undercarriage legs. Two versions are provided in compressed (landed) or extended (in flight) form. Unfortunately, both are too long and look rather odd. If you care, the Airfix kit also shows the cockpit access door on the left, for some reason, while it was actually on the right. Academy released a 1/72 Storch in 1998, and it really isn’t bad. It’s available in several forms with different markings and it can be built as either a Fi-156 or an MS 500 (though it provides only a single set of wooden wings), and it even includes a radial engine if you want to model the MS 500 fitted with the (uncowled) Salmson 9AB nine cylinder radial engine. Some versions of the Academy kit also include a Kubelwagen if you want to put your Storch in a diorama.

Neither the Airfix nor the Academy kits model the Argus engine at all and in both (as in this kit) the cockpit interiors are pretty rudimentary. You might think that there are other 1/72 kits of this aircraft, but those offered by AZ Model, MisterCraft, Aurora, Pantera and others are, like this kit, just re-boxed versions of the original Heller kit.     

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Revell 1/72 Spitfire Mk Vb (03897) Build Review

I start this build by addressing a couple of things I want to change. First is the spinner. I’m fairly certain that what Revell have done here is to simply copy the spinner and propellor originally provided with their new-tool Spitfire Mk IIa released in 2016. But the Vb spinner was distinctively different: longer and with the propellor mounted further forward (the Vb propellor is also heftier, but I can’t think of any simple way to address that, so I’ll be using the provided prop). The extended spinner does make the nose of the Vb look notably different – you can see what I mean on these images below of two Spitfires from the RAF Museum. These show a Spitfire Mk Ia (left) and Vb (right).

You’ll also note that the Vb spinner sits flush with the front of the fuselage while there is a distinct gap between the Mk Ia spinner and the front of the fuselage. The part that needs attention here is part 6 from sprue A, the base of the spinner. And while most of this kit has sharp detail and clean moulding, this part doesn’t. It has prominent moulding seams front and back, it isn’t entirely flat on either side and it isn’t even circular. In short, it looks as though it has been carved out of warm plasticene with a rusty spoon.

After I clean it up, I add a disk of 1mm thick plastic card to the front of this part, drilling the small piece of card to fit over the pin on which the propellor fits. Then, I add the prop and spinner. When the glue is dry, I sand the resulting extended spinner to something closer to the shape and size of the original. Above you can see a loose test-fit of the reshaped spinner within the temporarily joined fuselage halves. Certainly not perfect, but I think this does now look at least a little less wrong than what was provided in the box. With that small job done, I begin the next piece of work, seeing if I can cut out the cockpit access door so that I can show it open. That shouldn’t be too difficult, but to show that door open, I need to be able to show the canopy in the open position so the first step is checking that this is actually possible.

The canopy is provided in three separate parts: the windscreen, the sliding bubble canopy and the short glazed rear section. I thought that meant I’d be able to show the canopy open, in the fully slid-back position. I was wrong. On the original and in the fully slid-back position, the canopy sits over the rear fuselage, just ahead of the radio mast as you can see above. Out of the box, the sliding part of the canopy provided here does not fit over the fuselage, not even close. And while trying to wrestle it into place, I managed to split the sliding part of the canopy in half, which caused the inadvertent startling of my cat through a sudden stream of expletives. I don’t really understand this – what’s the point of providing a canopy in three parts if you cannot show it in the open position? Having said that the canopy doesn’t look too thick in the in-box review, I now have to revise this: it is too thick to be placed in the open position without a fair amount of work. It would probably be fine if you assemble the three parts in the closed position, but that’s not what I want to do.

I’ll continue with the build, but I’ll need to try to source a vacuuform replacement canopy. I said in the In-Box review that I appreciated the ability to be able show the canopy open (that was actually one of the reasons I chose this kit!) but don’t be fooled by the fact that the canopy here is provided in three parts: you can’t show it in the open position without risking breaking it as I did. At least cutting out the access door is simple. You can see above everything blue-tacked roughly into position. With those jobs done, I move on to construction, following the sequence in the instructions. I begin by assembling and painting the five parts that comprise the cockpit and I add the decals for the instrument panel and the Sutton harnesses.

The finished cockpit actually looks OK, though the decal harness straps look a little cartoon-like. I then assemble the fuselage halves with the cockpit inside. Fit is, well, sort of OK, but a long way short of perfect: no matter how tightly it’s clamped, the is a small but noticeable gap on the fuselage top, just behind the cockpit. The halves themselves aren’t flat and some filling, sanding and re-scribing of panel lines will be required to get rid of the most obvious joins.

Interlude: Replacement Canopy

Having messed up the kit canopy while trying to wrestle it into place in the open position, I have sourced a replacement vacuuform canopy. I haven’t used one of these before, so I thought I’d share the experience.  I have gone for a canopy from Czech company Rob Taurus, mainly because these seem to be readily available here in Spain and for less than €3. RT don’t do a canopy specifically for the Revell Vb, so I have gone for one intended for the Tamiya Mk V on the basis that one 1/72 Spitfire V canopy just can’t be too different to any other. I think…

And this is what you get…

The moulding looks sharp and the framing seems to be  nicely defined. Obviously, all parts will have to be carefully cut out of the surrounding plastic. One thing worth noting is that there are gaps comprising scrap plastic moulded between the windscreen, sliding section and rear portion of the canopy. I’m hoping that will make it easier to cut these out as three separate parts, but it means that even if you plan to show the canopy closed, you’ll still have to cut the three parts out separately and then fix them together. Before I start cutting, I pack the canopy with plasticene to stop the thin plastic from distorting while I cut.

Then, with a fresh craft knife or scalpel blade, you start scoring, very lightly and carefully, round the edges of the part. This does take some care and a steady hand, so make you have had (or not had, depending how it affects you) your daily coffee before you start.

This what I end up with. It still needs some cleaning up with emery paper, but it isn’t too bad. And a quick check suggests that it fits in place much better in the open position that the canopy provided with the kit.

I haven’t yet decided if I’ll be using the rest of the Rob Taurus canopy or the kit parts, but with that out of the way, it’s back to main construction. I do a dry-fit of the wings to check fit. The wing-root joins are very good and will barely require filler, which is great. What’s not so great is the fit of the separate wingtips. The join is very evident and the profile and leading edges of the wingtips don’t seem to quite match the profile of the wings – filling, sanding and re-scribing of panel lines will clearly be needed here.

I deal with the wingtips and add the wings, rudder and other bits and pieces to complete main construction. Overall, fit is pretty good in most places and no major sanding or filling is required.

Next, I begin painting with several light coats of Vallejo Light Sea Grey on the underside.

Then, I move on the top and begin with a couple of light coats of Humbrol Acrylic Ocean Grey. And it’s immediately apparent that it’s just much too dark. As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader, I don’t care too much about precise colour matches on my kits, but this is too far from the original even for me.

I mix up a lightened version of the same colour and repaint, which at least looks closer to the original.

Then I add the dark green camo. The grey still looks a little dark, but I can probably live with it.

Then it’s on to painting the yellow panels on the outboard sections of the wing leading edges, something I’m not looking forward to because it involves masking and that’s something I almost always have problems with. This time it isn’t too bad – not great, mind you, just not as crap as usual.

Next, I add the windscreen and the fixed rear part of the canopy. I decided to use the kit parts rather than the replacement vacuuform parts but there is a problem: I attempt to use the larger, armoured windscreen, and it just doesn’t fit. Even after lots of filing and sanding, the lower front part of the windscreen (which does look way overscale) floats above the fuselage. Finally, I give up and instead use the smaller of the two kit windscreens which does at least fit and looking at photos, this actually looks more like the windscreen on a Mk Vb Spitfire than the armoured version!

I add the sliding part of the canopy (using a dab of PA glue) and the cockpit access door. Next, it’s time to apply the decals, and there are quite a few. They’re nicely dense and printed precisely in-register, and they’re not too thick – they conform well to what’s underneath with a couple of applications of Vallejo Decal Softener. The only tricky bits are the tail ring, which comes in two pieces with a join on the top of the fuselage and the patches over the machine gun muzzles.  Getting the tail ring lined up without any gap takes a bit of fiddling and the small red patches just don’t want to bend over the wing leading edges.  

Then, I add the propellor, undercarriage, exhausts and radio mast. No problems with fit, and finally, I add some oil paint streaks and shadows and that’s this Revell Spitfire Vb done. 

After Action Report

For whatever it’s worth, I don’t feel, as I have read elsewhere, that this is a terrible kit. Though I’d have to say that it’s not completely wonderful either. The kit spinner is too small, you can’t show the canopy open and the armoured windscreen won’t fit in any way that looks credible. Set against that, the overall shape and proportions of the wings, tail and fuselage look pretty good to me (though I haven’t measured them) and while perhaps some of the surface detail isn’t 100% accurate, overall, it doesn’t look too  bad. The decals seem comprehensive and I do like the harness decals – I think they notably improve the cockpit interior.

I wanted a cheap kit on which I could practise my rusty aircraft kit building skills, and this certainly allowed me to do that. It’s as cheap as it gets for any 1/72 kit, in most places fit really isn’t too bad and there is really nothing here that would challenge the skills of even a novice kit-builder. If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed. If you want a totally accurate 1/72 Spitfire Vb, you may want to look elsewhere. 

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Revell 1/72 Spitfire Mk Vb (03897) In-Box Review and History

Revell 1/72 Spitfire Mk Vb (03897) In-Box Review and History

I finished my first aircraft kit for a number of years recently (the 1/72 Airfix Mitsubishi A6M2b Zero, as you ask) and I enjoyed it so much I thought I’d try another small scale aircraft. Although Airfix was the mainstay of my childhood kit-building, Revell kits also featured widely. I have attempted a couple of Revell 1/72 tank kits in the last couple of years, and they were both pretty good. So when I noticed that Revell also do a budget range of 1/72 aircraft kits, I thought I’d take a look. Here in Spain, these sell for around €8, which is about as cheap as it gets for any plastic kit, but are these bargains or just cheap and nasty?

The answer seems to be that these kits are a mixed bag. All are the same price, but some are rather elderly: the Ta-152, for example, appears to be a re-box of a FROG kit initially released back in 1968 and the P-51D and Fokker D VII date all the way back to original Revell releases in 1963. As you’d expect, these older kits just aren’t up to modern standards but some of this budget line are more recent releases and seem to be well regarded. The P-47M Thunderbolt, for example, was released in 1999 and looks pretty good. If you’re going for one of this range, you do need to do a little research to understand what you’ll be getting.

Revell first released a 1/72 Spitfire kit (covering the Mk I) all the way back in 1963. Then, in 1996 they issued a new-tool Spitfire Mk Vb that was, to be honest, a bit crap with a number of notable accuracy issues. My choice here is yet another new-tool kit of the Spitfire Mk Vb released by Revell in 2018. Reviews suggest that this is much better than the 1996 version, though I believe both are still available so if you’re thinking of buying one, make sure you get the 2018 kit (03897) and not the version from 1996 (04109).

I’d guess that there can’t be many kit-builders who haven’t attempted a small-scale Spitfire at some point so I’ll be interested to see how this relatively recent Revell kit stacks up.

History

In 1930 the British Air Ministry issued Specification F.7/30 which called for designs for a new fighter capable of 250mph and armed with four machine guns. Several companies responded including Supermarine Aviation Works, a subsidiary of Vickers. The outcome was an entirely new monoplane, the Supermarine Type 224. Unusually, the company asked the Air Ministry to reserve a dramatic new name for the new aircraft (if it was accepted into service): Spitfire.

Supermarine Type 224. Horrible, isn’t it?

The outcome was a single prototype Type 224 built in 1933. It was a truly ugly monoplane with thick gull-wings, an open cockpit and fixed undercarriage provided with spats. It was powered by the unreliable Rolls-Royce Goshawk II engine (the thick wings and spats incorporated the complex cooling system for the engine) and was capable of no more than 235mph. Overall the Type 224 looked more like a Junkers Ju-87 Stuka than a sleek fighter and it never went into production (or received the name Spitfire). Even Supermarine’s chief engineer, Reginald Mitchell, was disappointed and he immediately began work on something radically different, a streamlined monoplane with an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. The outcome of this second design led to the incomparably better Supermarine Type 300.

Prototype of the Supermarine Type 300 preparing for its first test flight.

Powered by the new Rolls-Royce PV-12 engine (soon to be named the Merlin) the new aircraft made its first flight in March 1936. The thin wings were of a unique elliptical shape and featured a cantilevered main spar that gave immense strength while allowing internal space for the undercarriage, eight Browning machine guns and over 2,400 rounds of ammunition. The fuselage was of monocoque construction, with the thin outer skin giving added strength. It’s performance was simply outstanding, giving good speed and manoeuvrability while remaining relatively easy to fly.

An early Mk I Spitfire with two-blade propellor.

It would be 1938 before the first production aircraft finally left the Supermarine works in Southampton, now formally named as the Spitfire. Mitchell commented that this was a “bloody silly name.” Apparently, he wanted the new aircraft to be called the Supermarine Shrew! Over the next 15 years, the Spitfire would go through more than 20 variants and over 22,000 were built in total.

A rare colour wartime image from 1943 of the subject of this kit, the Spitfire Mk Vb flown by Squadron Leader Jan Zumbach of 303 Kosciuszko Polish Fighter Squadron.

The subject of this kit is the Spitfire Mk Vb. The Mk V was the first major upgrade to the Spitfire as a day fighter (the MK II was very similar to the original version, only a single Mk III prototype was produced and the Mk IV was produced only as an unarmed photo-reconnaissance version). The main difference in this version was the provision of a more powerful Merlin 45 engine fitted with a single-stage, single-speed supercharger for improved low altitude performance and a new carburettor capable of maintaining fuel flow to the engine under negative G.  There were three main versions of the Mk V: the Va, armed with eight Browning machine guns, the Vb, armed with four machine guns and two 20mm cannon and the Vc, provided with wings that could be armed with either eight machine guns, four machine guns and two 20mm cannon or four 20mm cannon.

Another colour wartime image showing Squadron Leader Jan Zumbach (wearing life-jacket) standing in front of his Spitfire Mk Vb.

This was the most produced of all Spitfire versions with more than 6,500 being produced from 1941. Mk V Spitfires were used by 140 RAF squadrons at various times and remained in front line service until almost the end of the war. This was also the first Spitfire to be able to carry both bombs and external fuel tanks and in addition to the RAF it was also used by the USAAF and the Soviet Red Air Force. Given how widely it was used and providing you are willing to source alternate decals, a kit of the Mk V provides a great deal of scope for producing a finished model depicting a number of different aircraft.

What’s in the Box?

The 42 parts that make up this kit are provided on four sprues moulded in light grey plastic and a single transparent sprue.

There is a little flash but the detail, and particularly the external surface detail, looks sharp but quite subtle and very nicely done.

The cockpit looks reasonably well detailed (though I’m not certain it’s entirely accurate – the cockpit floor in the original is curved, not flat as it is here, for example) and it includes interior detail inside the fuselage halves, though this isn’t particularly sharply moulded.

A single transparent sprue includes the sliding part of the canopy as a separate part and two alternate windscreens, one armoured and one unarmoured, though I believe that almost all Mk Vbs were fitted with the armoured version.

I have seen criticism of this kit elsewhere claiming that the moulding for the canopy, and particularly the sliding part, is much too thick. It may be a little thick, but I can’t say that it looks too bad to me and I certainly appreciate the option to be able to show the canopy in the open position.

I have also seen several other reviews that complain that the fuselage underside on this kit, where it joins the trailing edges of the wings, is moulded flat and lacks the distinctive “gull-wing” shape of the original. All I can say is that on the example I have, this area is not flat and appears to include the correct subtle curves.

The wingtips are provided as separate parts, and the instructions suggest that you can build this as either a standard or clipped-wing version. Clipped-wing Vbs were said to have better low-level performance, although this also degraded their climb ability. I appreciate having that option, though I believe that only the elliptical wing is correct if you’re going to use the supplied decals. Two under-fuselage slipper fuel tanks are also provided, one the 30 gallon version and the other the 80 gallon. The decal sheet is printed in-register and seems pretty comprehensive, including both the instrument panel and Sutton harnesses. The only things missing are the yellow patches for the leading edge of the wings which will need to be painted, which is a bit of a pain.

The instruments are also moulded into the panel, so you’ll probably want to sand this flat if you decide to use the supplied decal. The decals and suggested colour scheme only cover a single aircraft, flown by Squadron Leader Jan Zumbach of 303 Kosciuszko Polish Fighter Squadron (though there is no shortage of alternate aftermarket decals in 1/72 for the Mk Vb if you do want to depict a different aircraft). The colour scheme shown is correctly based on the RAF Temperate Day Fighter Scheme introduced in August 1941, comprising a camo scheme of Ocean Grey and Dark Green on top and Medium Sea Grey on the undersides. The suggested colours for the camo scheme (Dark Green and Blue-Gray) look just about OK though the colour suggested for the undersides, Medium Grey, looks a little dark.

The instructions seem to be up to Revell’s usual high standards and appear simple to follow.

Would You Want One?

I have seen a number of criticisms of this kit elsewhere. OK, I accept that it isn’t perfect, but I don’t think it’s terrible as a budget kit either. Many people mention the overly thick canopy, though it looks useable to me. One thing I would agree with is that the spinner looks a little short here and the propellor seems to be mounted too far to the rear, though I suspect it may be possible to address this. The exhausts also have round outlets rather than the more flattened openings found in the Vb. I think both these issues are because of the use of parts copied from the earlier Revell Spitfire Mk IIa kit from 2016 – I guess that this re-use of existing parts probably reflects the low price of this kit. Several people have also remarked in reviews that this kit lacks the distinctive “gull-wing” shape of the rear fuselage underside between wings, mentioning specifically that the fuselage underside between the trailing edges of the wings is shown flat in this kit. Mine certainly isn’t like that so I’m not sure if this kit has been revised since its first release? Overall and out-of-the-box I’m fairly happy with the level of detail and accuracy that I see on this budget kit.

If you don’t fancy this one, as you’d guess, there are lots of alternatives in 1/72, but few provide a really accurate kit of the Spitfire Mk Vb. Airfix do a Spitfire Mk Vb in 1/72, but it isn’t a new tool kit like their Spitfire Mk Ia from 2010: despite the new box-art it’s an original release from 1975. That said, it isn’t at all bad (the spinner and propellor, for example, are notably more accurate than on this Revell kit), though it does have some other accuracy issues. Tamiya also do a 1/72 Spitfire Mk Vb that was first released back in 1993 and it’s a decent kit, though unusually for Tamiya it has a one-piece canopy moulding that can’t be shown open, the wings lack dihedral and the shape of the rear fuselage looks not quite right.

Heller released a 1/72 Spitfire Mk Vb in 1978, and again it’s not bad (the cockpit is particularly good) but it has some problems with the wings which look really odd from the front. This kit has been also re-boxed by Aurora and Testors and is currently available from SMER Hi-Tech. Italeri also offer a Spitfire Mk Vb in 1/72. This was released in 2006, but it’s mainly based on a much earlier Spitfire kit from Italeri and it’s sort of OK, but not wonderful and the shape of the forward fuselage looks a little odd. HobbyBoss do a 1/72 Spitfire Mk Vb/Trop in their “Easy Assembly” series, and it isn’t bad in terms of overall look, but it lacks detail: the cockpit is very basic and it lacks landing gear doors, for example.

I suppose you could combine the best elements from this Revell offering plus bits and pieces from the Airfix and Heller kits to produce something more accurate. Alternatively, AZ Model from the Czech Republic released a 1/72 Spitfire Mk Vb in 2010 (though this seems also to be sold under the Kovozávody Prostejov logo), and reviews suggest it’s pretty good, though perhaps a little tricky to build. Overall, the AZ Model kit seems to be the most accurate Mk Vb currently available in 1/72 though as I haven’t seen this kit, I can’t say whether it is really the “definitive” Mk Vb as some people claim.

Related PostsRevell 1/72 Spitfire Mk Vb (03897) Build Review – coming soon

Airfix 1/72 Mitsubishi A6M2b Zero (A01005) Build Review

I’m going to build this straight out of the box, though I will be trying to add flaps.

First step is the cockpit, and I’m impressed with the level of detail. I’d be tempted to add even more items such as harnesses if the cockpit could be shown open, but as it can only be closed, I’m keeping it standard.

I paint the interior in Vallejo Olive Green, which seems a reasonable match for N5 Light Olive Green used on some Japanese aircraft. I add a wash of dark grey oil to pick out the shadows and the two instrument panel decals.

Next, I join the fuselage halves and add the upper front panel that includes the cowling machine guns. Fit is pretty good, though a little filler is needed to blend in the upper cowling panel.

Then, I join the upper and lower wings and cut off the wingtips. Fit is again very good. I also cut out the flaps, which I’ll be building out of plastic card and adding in the take-off position.

I do a dry-fit of the wings, and there is a fairly noticeable gap between the wing roots and the fuselage.

It only takes a little filler and some sanding to get a reasonable join between wings and fuselage. I also add the tailplanes and rudder, and these fit very nicely with no filler required.

I add the flaps in the extended position – these are simply fabricated with thin plastic card and some plastic strip for the framing.

Then I hand-paint the cockpit framing. And, to be honest, it isn’t great. But I’m really not confident about masking such tiny panels, and I’ll try to clean it up a little later using a sharp blade. I also use a little filler to blend in the rear part of the cockpit with the fuselage.

Now, it’s time for paint. There seem to be a great many opinions about the actual colour used on aircraft of the IJN. The latest research seems to indicate that these were painted a fairly light grey, though in some lighting conditions this is described as having a green or brown tinge. It certainly isn’t as light as used to be thought – it seems that this paint finish faded lighter as it was exposed to sunlight. Looking at photographs of aircraft from late 1941 (which this kit is supposed to be) also shows the rudder, ailerons and elevators as being slightly lighter. You can see what I mean on this image of the rear fuselage of a Zero shot down during the attack on Pearl Harbor below.

I believe that the whole aircraft was painted in a single colour, so I guess that perhaps the paint reacted differently when applied to the fabric covered control surfaces? Anyway, I have decided to use Vallejo Light Sea Grey as the base colour with lightened rudder, elevators and ailerons.

Here it is after several thinned coats. I painted the cowling black, then overpainted in dark grey, leaving recessed detail and the gun troughs in black.

Then, I add the decals. These go on without any problems, though they are quite thick – even after several applications of Vallejo Decal Softener, they don’t conform to the detail underneath.

I then give it a coat of clear varnish and a wash in dark grey oil to highlight panel lines and recessed areas, and I am surprised at how much difference this makes. It really gives the aircraft a much more 3D look. The interior of the flaps, wheel-wells, interior of the undercarriage doors and ends of the folded wing tips are painted in viridian, a blue-green intended to replicate the Aotake anti-corrosion finish used on some IJN Zeros. I’m not certain this is actually correct for an aircraft that took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor because it was only used on aircraft manufactured by Nakajima, but I like the look of it and it provides a nice contrast to the grey finish.

I then add the wingtips, and propellor. Finally, I complete the undercarriage and this is the only really fiddly part of the build. Location is imprecise and the main legs are very wobbly, so I do the best I can. I’ll probably add a stretched sprue radio antenna later but apart from that, this Zero is finished!

After Action Report

This was a fun build! Fit is generally very good, with the exception of the wobbly undercarriage legs. Detail is nicely done and the recessed panel lines work very well with an oil wash. Overall, if you want an inexpensive and straightforward introduction to aviation modelling, you could do much worse.

OK, I would have been happier if the cockpit could have been shown open and perhaps the decals are a little thick, but those are really the only issues I encountered. If this is representative of the quality of these new Airfix mouldings, I’m impressed. The only thing I would suggest is that if you’re building one of these, it would probably be worth buying a pre-cut mask for the canopy. What joy to discover that Airfix 1/72 aircraft kits can still provide kit-building pleasure. Now, if I can just find an Airfix aircraft kit with an opening cockpit canopy..

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Airfix 1/72 Mitsubishi A6M2b Zero (A01005) In-Box Review and History

Airfix 1/72 Mitsubishi A6M2b Zero (A01005) In-Box Review and History

Aren’t boot sales wonderful? We have them here in Spain and in amongst all the tat, occasionally you find something worth having. When I spotted an Airfix kit on offer for just €1, how could I ignore it? So here we are, only my second aviation kit for a very long time. The first one (the Italeri AH-64D) was a bit crap, and I’m hoping this one will help me to rediscover the pleasures of building tiny aircraft.

This is the new-tool release dating from 2011, replacing the previous Airfix 1/72 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero (108) originally released all the way back in 1959. These new-tool Airfix aircraft kits have gained a great reputation for accuracy and ease-of build and, even if you can’t find one at a boot sale, they’re as cheap as chips, generally being available for not much more than €10.

I spent way too much of my childhood building Airfix aircraft kits, and I loved them back then. Are they still as much fun today? Let’s take a look…

History

The design of any aircraft is a compromise. A more powerful engine gives more speed but has less range. Armour provides protection for the pilot but the additional weight limits climb performance and manoeuvrability. When Dr Jiro Horikoshi of Mitsubishi Aircraft was presented with a new specification for a fighter by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) in 1937, his initial reaction was that it was impossible.

A6M2b Model 21s on the carrier Shokaku prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 1941

The IJN wanted a fighter capable of operating from existing carriers, so it had to have a wing-span of less than 12m (39’ 4”). It had to able to take-off in less than 70m (230ft) but also had to be capable of achieving a top speed of at least 500km/h (310mph) while at the same time having a range of over 1,800km (1,100 miles). It had to able to climb to 10,000 feet in no more than 3.5 minutes and above all, it had to be more manoeuvrable than any other fighter in service.

An A6M2b taking off from the carrier Akagi during the attack on Pearl Harbor

The design that emerged was for the  Mitsubishi A6M Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter, referred to by its pilots as the Reisen (a contraction of “rei” (zero) and “sentoki” (fighter)) but known to just about everyone else as the Mitsubishi Zero. Somehow, Horikoshi seemed to have achieved the impossible. Although its 14 cylinder radial engine wasn’t especially powerful, the fighter was fast, with a speed of over 350mph and it exceeded the range requirements set by the IJN. It could also climb and turn faster than almost any other comparable fighter and it was armed not just with a pair of 7.7mm machine guns in the engine cowling but also two 20mm cannon in the wings.

A6M3 Model 22s

This astounding performance was achieved by the creation of an aircraft that was extremely light. The gross weight of the A6M was 2,796 kg. The comparable Grumman F4F Wildcat had a gross weight of 3,700 kg. Partly this light weight was due to the use of new materials such as Extra Super Duralumin (ESD), a stronger but lighter zinc/aluminium alloy. However, elements such as pilot armour and self-sealing fuel tanks were simply left out in order to save weight.  

A6M5s being prepared for a kamikaze attack in 1945

In total, more than 10,000 of all variants of the A6M were built during World War Two. The A6M2b Model 21 (the version depicted in this kit) was the most produced of all. It differed from the first A6M2a Model 11 only in having larger internal fuel tanks and folding wing tips.

What’s in the Box?

In the box, you’ll find three sprues moulded in light grey plastic and a single transparent sprue for the cockpit canopy.

You’ll notice a few gaps on the sprues – this kit has been started. Happily, only five pieces forming the cockpit interior have been removed from the sprues and all were in the box, so I think I’m good to go.

One thing that really stands out for me is the overall quality of the mouldings and especially the panel lines. I have to put my hand up and admit that I haven’t much experience with modern aircraft kits, but to me, this looks very good indeed for a budget kit.

Separate folded wingtips are provided, but to use these, you’ll first have to cut the wingtips off the wings.

The cockpit interior has reasonable detail, including on the interior of the fuselage halves and decals are provided for the instruments.

Perhaps the only thing that doesn’t look quite so great in terms of detail is the pilot figure, but as I don’t plan using this, I can’t say that I’m too concerned.

A single transparent sprue includes the cockpit canopy. This is admirably clear and the framing seems well-defined, but it would have been nice to have the option to show it open.

The decals provided are for a single aircraft; an A6M2b that took part in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Specifically, these markings are for an aircraft of the 2nd Strike Unit, Carrier Division 1, flown by Lieutenant Saburo Shindo from the carrier Akagi.

The only suggested colour scheme is overall “Satin Hemp” with a black cowling. The actual colour that early war Japanese naval aircraft were painted is a subject of intense debate amongst modellers. At the time that this kit was released, it was generally thought that these aircraft were painted in a pale amber or ivory colour, which I guess is where “Satin Hemp” comes from. More recent research seems to suggest that these aircraft were actually painted overall grey in something called “J3,” which seems to have been simply a fairly light grey, though probably darker than formerly believed (it seems to have been prone to fading over time). As ever, I have no intention on getting bogged down on trying to replicate precisely a shade of paint that would have been subject to fading anyway, so I think I’ll ignore the Airfix advice here and go for a light grey.

The instructions seem clear and with just 47 parts to work with, I think even I can work out where everything goes (why do I have a feeling I may regret saying that later…).

Would You Want One?

In the box, this looks very good in terms of detail and accuracy. OK, so it doesn’t have the quite level of detail seen on some other AM6 kits (there is no DF loop inside the rear of the cockpit, for example), but the engraved panel lines and general level of detail are acceptable. Given that the various versions of the A6M are said to be the most covered aircraft in 1/72 scale, there is no shortage of options if you don’t fancy this one.

Hasegawa do virtually every variant of the A6M in 1/72 from the initial A6M2 to the last A6M5. Their A6M2 Model 21 (51313) is, like the Airfix kit, a new-tool version first released in 1993, and it’s very nice indeed with good internal and external detail and nicely engraved panel lines. Their original 1/72 Zero released back in 1972 (A003:250) isn’t nearly as good, but you probably won’t find the older version still being offered for sale.

Although they don’t produce tanks in 1/72, Tamiya have a range of 1/72 aircraft kits that are generally very good indeed. This range includes several versions of the Zero. These were first released in 2012 and all are superb. They feature great cockpit detail, canopies that can be completed open or closed and nicely engraved panel lines. These are generally regarded as the best 1/72 Zero kits currently available, though like the Hasegawa Zero, they’re considerably more expensive than the new Airfix version. 

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Italeri 1/72 AH-64D (080) Build Review

One thing I noticed when I began this build (and which I missed in the In-Box Review) is that there are two sprues here, but though they are completely different, both are identified as “080 A”, moulded into a tab on the sprue. The instructions refer to them as A and B. This isn’t by any means a major problem, but it does perhaps indicate a certain carelessness in the making of the moulds for this kit.  As you follow this build, you’ll realise that this isn’t the only issue with these parts…

Anyway, I start on this kit by attempting to improve the shape of the rear of the fuselage sponsons. These are completely the wrong shape so I start by cutting off the rear of the existing sponson.

Then, I create a new rear part of the sponson using plastic card and filler. The result certainly isn’t perfect, but I believe it is closer than the kit version.

Next I work on the cockpit tub. No real problems here and I don’t spend a great deal of time on detail given that this is obviously the wrong cockpit for this model of AH-64. The seats are a problem. They include harness shoulder straps, which is nice. But they also have distinct ejector pin marks right in the centre of the rear seat cushion, right between the straps. If you sand off the pin marks, you’ll lose the strap detail…

Before I join the fuselage halves, I check the fit of the cockpit, and I’m glad I do because it’s around 2mm short.

In the image below, you can also see just how bad fit between the fuselage halves is – look at the area in front of the cockpit and the mounting hole for the upper sensor module… I use filler to build up the front edge of the cockpit in the hope that this will help to hide the gap.

Then, I join the fuselage halves. Fit, frankly, is horrible. There are locating pins, but even using these as guides, the two halves just don’t match up – this is especially noticeable on the top of the nose, ahead of the cockpit. After lots of sanding and the use of a fair amount of filler, I end up with a fairly smooth join, but of course I lose all the raised panel lines and rivet detail in the areas where I have sanded the joins.

Then I assemble the halves of the engine pods. Again, these have locating pins and again, the top and bottom halves just don’t line up. This leaves a very noticeable seam between the halves. I’m going to sand and fill to remove this, but this also means that I’ll be removing virtually all the detail from the outside of the pods. Just take a look at the image below (and yes, I have used the locating pegs and holes to line the pod halves up). I really can’t remember the last time that I dealt with this level of fit issue, though I suspect it was around 1972… 

After a great deal of filling and sanding, I end up with engine pods that look just about OK, though as you can see, they now lack surface detail on the outside. I have also added the undercarriage and the horizontal stabilator, which is tricky to fit straight.

I go on to add other bits and pieces to the fuselage, including the canopy and the underwing stores. I used filler to build up the fuselage ahead of the canopy, but more was needed at the rear of the canopy to cover a small gap. In addition, the Hellfire missiles really don’t look anything like the originals and the endcaps for the Hydra rocket pods fit badly – lots of sanding and filling is required to get smooth cylinders.

Final construction of the fuselage is completed and happily, I don’t encounter any further serious fit problems. I also construct the rotor head, blades and Longbow radar and these go together precisely and  with no problems at all – hurrah! These are temporarily fitted, but I’ll be leaving them off until painting is finished. I also Ieave off a couple of small antenna that don’t seem to appear on operational versions of the AH-64D – I guess that these were perhaps unique to the prototype? As you can guess, I haven’t enjoyed this build at all but now, finally, I’m ready to start painting.

Masking the cockpit is less of a problem than it can be simply because the canopy comprises mainly large, flat panels. I go for several thinned coats of Vallejo Russian Uniform for the base coat. The instructions suggest olive drab, but I’m going for a British Army Air Corps version and these seem to be a lighter green (and current US Army AH-64s are painted grey, not green). I add some highlights and pick out details like the sensor panels and hydra rocket heads in a light grey and add the decals.

Finally it gets a grey oil wash to pick out details and make the whole thing look well-used. Most images of operational AH-64s show them with blotchy, discoloured and chipped paint. With that done, this Italeri AH-64 is finally finished. One thing I’m particularly disappointed about on the finished kit is that the pilot’s control panel is clearly visible, and is equally clearly the wrong panel for this model of AH-64.

After Action Report

If you want to build a small scale AH-64, buy one of the Academy kits. Or anything else at all rather than this, the kit that time forgot. I have read in other reviews that fit on this kit is “indifferent.” I disagree. Fit is only indifferent in the good parts. In many places, it’s utter crap. You’ll be left with the choice of leaving very visible seams, or sanding and filling which will remove much of the raised surface detail. Some parts, such as the cockpit, just don’t fit the opening in the fuselage.

I had initially thought of adding some detail here. The M230 chain gun, for example, lacks the distinctive protective cage fitted on all Apaches and the Hellfire missiles used by the British Army have distinctive markings for which decals are not provided. But really, I couldn’t be bothered given all the other problems I encountered here. By the time I finished just building this kit, I was losing the will to live…

I had been really looking forward to building an aviation subject for the first time in a number of years before I began this build but, as a wise man once said: “This is no fun, no fun at all.*” I’m not normally a giver-upper, but I really struggled to find the enthusiasm to finish this build. I have built some old kits since I re-started kit-building a few years back, but I haven’t come across anything quite this bad. Almost every single step of the build involved dealing with deficiencies in fit and mouldings that just don’t match.

Does crap fit and a lack of accuracy make you feel nostalgic for the kits you built as a kid? If so, you might, possibly, enjoy this one. Otherwise, I can’t think of any reason why you’d waste your money on this piece of shoddy tat. Avoid at all costs!

* If you care, it was Johnny Rotten, at the Sex Pistol’s last gig in San Francisco in 1978.

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Italeri 1/72 AH-64D (080) In-Box Review and History

Italeri 1/72 AH-64D (080) In-Box Review and History

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?

History

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.    

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Italeri 1/72 Autoblinda AB 43 (7052) In-Box Review and History

It’s nice to see that Italian manufacturer Italeri aren’t shy about producing kits of some fairly obscure vehicles. Probably less than one hundred examples of this armoured car were produced and none were actually used by the Italian armed forces during World War Two. I rather like that approach: I do get tired kits of the same old AFVs and it’s refreshing to find a kit of something I have never even heard of.

Italeri also offer a kit of the earlier (and much more widely used) AB 41 and even one of the truly odd AB 40 Ferroviaria, a small armoured car designed to run on railway lines. The AB 43 kit was released in 2008 following the release a couple of years earlier of a 1/35 version of the same vehicle by Italeri.

So it’s Italian, it’s obscure and it appears to have a fiendishly difficult paint scheme. What could possibly go wrong? Let’s find out…

History

In 1937 the Italian Ministry of War invited tenders for a new armoured car (autoblindomitragliatrice). This vehicle was to be suitable for use by both police forces and as a reconnaissance vehicle to be used by tank units. Fiat-Ansaldo presented a proposal for a four-wheeled vehicle with four-wheel drive, four wheel steering and front and rear driving positions. The main armament was a pair of 8mm machine guns mounted in a fully rotating turret. This proposal was accepted and entered service as the AB 40.

The AB 40.

However, only around 25 were produced before an improved version armed with a Breda 20 mm autocannon was released as the AB 41. This would be the most widely produced version of this vehicle with over 400 hundred made which saw service in North Africa, the Balkans, Hungary and even with Italian units on the eastern front.

An AB 41 in North Africa.

In 1942 a specification was released for a new vehicle based on the AB 41. This was to incorporate a more powerful engine and was initially intended to be armed with a 47mm main gun. The dual steering positions were to be dropped, reducing the crew to three and armour was thickened and more steeply sloped at the front. A single prototype of the AB 42 was produced before the Italian army lost interest.

An AB 43 (left) and an AB 41 (right). The main visible differences are a lower turret and more steeply angled front hull armour on the AB 43.

After Italy agreed an armistice with the Allies in 1943, German engineers saw the prototype AB 42 and 100 of these vehicles were ordered for use by the Wehrmacht. Around 100 were manufactured as the Beute Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i). These used a lower and wider version of the turret from the AB 41, though it was still armed with the 20mm autocannon.    

One of the notable features of the AB 43 is clearly visible in this photograph taken in Belgrade in 1944. The spare wheels were carried low and on mountings that allowed them to rotate, enabling these spare wheels to help the vehicle cross uneven ground.

These armoured cars were used by several German units in Italy and the Balkans during World War Two. After the war, a number of AB 43s were used by Italian police and Carabineri units.

A beautifully restored AB 43 pictured at a display in Rome in 2008. This shows nicely the unique  camo scheme used by German AB 43s but oddly, it lacks German markings.

What’s in the Box?

All the parts are provided on a single sprue moulded in light brown plastic.

Surface and rivet detail look reasonable overall.

The wheels and tyres are moulded separately and the wheels even include appropriate SPA (Società Piemontese Automobili) logos in the centre.

The front and rear visors and the top and rear turret hatches are separate parts that can be shown open. Some interior detail is included for the turret, such as the breech for the 20mm autocannon and the hatches themselves include interior detail.

Overall, the mouldings here look sharp and nicely detailed. This kit doesn’t use slide moulding so the main cannon is not open. It’s so small that drilling doesn’t look possible – you’ll need a drill of 0.3mm and the barrel on this weapon had thin walls, so a very steady hand will be required.

I’d like to be able to show you the decals at this point in the review, but I can’t. Though the box itself and the plastic bag containing the single sprue were both sealed when they arrived, no decals were included. I contacted Italeri Customer support who replied promptly to tell that these decals may be available, and that they will be sent out (taking 3-4 weeks) if I pay “around €6.”  Now, perhaps I’m just a parsimonious, grumpy old Scotsman (actually, there is no doubt about it, I am a parsimonious, grumpy old Scotsman) but I must confess that this doesn’t seem very impressive. OK, I know, €6 isn’t a great deal of money, though it does represent more than half of what this kit cost me on Amazon. What irritates me is that this is for something that should have been included in the first place. Should I really have to pay for that? I don’t think so. I won’t be taking up Italeri’s offer and instead I’ll be using bits and pieces out of my decal spares box here. 

The instructions seem clear though, oddly, there is no mention of where to place part 12, the rear visor. Happily it isn’t too difficult to see where this belongs (it goes on the upper rear hull, if you’re wondering).

Three suggested colour schemes are provided on the rear of the box and in the instructions, Two are for vehicles in late-war German service featuring a complex three-colour camo scheme and one in overall red-brown is for an AB 43 used by the Italian State Police in the 1950s.

Would you want one?

In the box, this looks pretty good. The mouldings are sharp and the surface detail looks acceptable and it even has some interior detail, very unusual at this scale. Perhaps it would have been nice if a siren on the turret roof was provided for the State Police version (these usually seem to have been fitted) but overall, this looks like an accurate representation of this little-known AFV. If I have one reservation, it’s that the spare wheels seem to sit a little too high on the sides of the hull. If you look at the photos in the History section above and compare them with the side view showing the colour schemes, which accurately reflects what the kit looks like, I think you’ll see what I mean.

Obviously, the lack of decals is a pain but I assume that I was simply unlucky and that this isn’t a common issue. And if you do want to build a small-scale AB 43 and you don’t fancy this one, then I’m afraid you’re out of luck. As far as I know, no other manufacturer covers this vehicle in 1/72 or 1/76. Italian company DOC Models did offer a 1/72 version of the similar AB 41, but that was always produced on a small scale and I’m not certain that it’s still available.

Don’t be fooled – this may say Tamiya on the box, but it is actually the Italeri 1/35 kit.

Italeri offer the same kit in 1/35 form (6451), and it seems to be pretty good. It includes soft vinyl tyres, separate armoured headlight covers and all crew and engine access hatches are separate parts that can be shown open (though no engine detail is included). Decals and paint schemes are provided for the same three vehicles depicted in the 1/72 version. Tamiya also released a 1/35 version of the AB 43 in 2008 (89697), but, unusually for Tamiya, this is simply a re-box of the Italeri kit with the addition of two German crew figures originally included with the 1994 Tamiya Panther Ausf. G.   

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