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…
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.
Airfix 1/72 Mitsubishi A6M2b Zero (A01005) Build Review – Coming soon