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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.    

Related PostsItaleri 1/72 AH-64D (080) Build Review – coming soon