Trumpeter 1/32 F6F-3 Hellcat

KIT #: 2256
PRICE: $99.95 MSRP
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Used Kits At War Decals “Dutchies in de FAA”


           The F6F‑3/5 Hellcat is the most successful naval fighter series ever built.  With pilots of moderate training levels, the airplane could more than hold its own against its opponents, while it was tractable enough that the same moderately‑trained pilot could bring a damaged one back and get aboard his carrier, a point of no small importance in naval warfare.  It is the only fighter of the Second World War to remain essentially unchanged in basic design from its introduction to service to its post‑war withdrawal, with the main difference between the two production variants being engine power.

            The Hellcat was already in preliminary design stages well before the outbreak of the Pacific War, and first flew about the time of the Battle of Midway.  What was indeed fortunate was that both Grumman and the "Fighter Desk" of the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics had paid attention to what was going on in Europe with regards to air combat.  They guessed right in giving the Hellcat the biggest wing of any Second World War fighter for maneuverability, and the largest ammunition capacity, to improve its ability as a fleet defense fighter.  They were fortunate that the airframe was amenable to initial change from the underpowered R‑2600 to the far‑superior R‑2800, the finest radial piston engine ever built. With this engine, the airplane had sufficient power to outfly its opposition.

The Hellcat in the Royal Navy:

            The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm - which only achieved independence from the Royal Air Force in 1938 - entered the war woefully underequipped with capable combat aircraft that are at all competitive with their opponents.  The Fleet Air Arm was at least a generation behind the U.S. Navy or the Imperial Japanese Navy, and ended up making wide use of US aircraft which were designed for the purpose.  After their good experience with the Wildcat, the British were eager to get Hellcats, and were second in line behind the U.S. Navy for re-equipment, taking their first aircraft into service in the summer of 1943.  The aircraft was initially named “Gannet” after a large north Atlantic sea bird in British service, but was universally known to its pilots as the Hellcat, and this became the airplane’s official name in March 1944, when the Fleet Air Arm adopted the U.S. Navy names for their U.S. aircraft.  Eventually, 1,263 Hellcat I and II aircraft would serve in the Fleet Air Arm.

            The Hellcat first entered combat with the FAA in December 1943, when 800 and 804 Squadrons flew from HMS Emperor on a series of anti-shipping strikes off the Norwegian coast.  Hellcats again entered combat on April 3, 1944, flying escort for the first of the strikes against the German battleship Tirpitz.  This was followed up by further strikes on the Tirpitz in July and August 1944.

            On May 8, 1944, Hellcats of 800 Squadron, still operating with 804 Squadron from Emperor, encountered a number of Bf-109Gs and Fw-190As from JG 5 over Norway.  Despite the speed advantage of the German fighters, the Hellcats shot down two 109s and a 190 credited to Lt. Blyth Ritchie who had previously scored 3.5 victories in Sea Hurricanes in 1942; Ritchie followed up by shooting down a He-115 seaplane on May 14, sharing a second He-115 with 804 squadron CO LCDR Stanley Orr to become the first FAA pilot to make “ace” while flying the Hellcat.  Unfortunately, Ritchie was lost in an operational accident 10 days later.  These were the only Hellcat air combat victories in the European Theater.

            800 and 804 Squadrons participated in the final Hellcat combat operation in the European Theater, that being air support for Operation Dragoon, the Allied landings in the south of France in August 1944.  The next month, the two squadrons were combined as 800 Squadron; HMS Emperor and her Hellcats transited the Suez Canal and joined the British Far Eastern Fleet in Ceylon, where they would participate in strikes along the Burmese and Malayan coasts.

            Like their American counterparts, British carrier pilots preferred the Hellcat over the Corsair due to its superior handling when landing aboard a carrier.

Dutchies in the FAA:

            Following the conquest of the Netherlands by Germany and the Netherlands East Indies by Japan, Dutch flyers served with distinction in the Fleet Air Arm throughout the Second World War.  One of these flyers was C.A.M. “Charlie” Poublon, who flew with 800 Squadron.

            Born in Holland in 1921, Poublon’s family moved to the Netherlands East Indies in 1932.  In 1941, Poublon took flying lessons at the Badoeng flying Club and received his pilot’s license that August.  In early 1942, he and his family were evacuated to Australia, where he volunteered as a reserve pilot with the Royal Netherlands Navy.  In mid 1942, he arrived in the United States, where he was sent to the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School in Jackson, Mississippi.  Following this, he was sent to Britain with twelve other pilots for service with the Fleet Air Arm, where he received training on Hellcats in 1840 Squadron, then assigned to 800 Squadron aboard HMS “Emperor.”

            While with 800 Squadron, Poublon took part in the invasion of Southern France.  On August 17, 1944, he ditched Hellcat I JV111 off the coast of northern Spain after being damaged by flak during strikes along the French coast.  The remains of this airplane were discovered and recovered in 1984.

            Continuing with 800 Squadron, Poublon took part in further operations that fall over Crete, Leros and Rhodes.  When HMS “Emperor” and her Hellcats arrived in Ceylon in January 1945, Poublon volunteered for duty in Burma with the RAF’s 60 Squadron, flying Hurricanes.  After this tour of duty, he returned to 800 Squadron to take part in the planned attack on Rangoon.  Following the end of the war, he was a liaison officer with the Royal Navy during the Japanese surrender in Java. He served with the Royal Netherlands Navy until transferring to the Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1954. 


            This F6F-3 Hellcat is the second of four kits released by Trumpeter - the others are the previously-released F5F-5N, an F6F-5 and an F6F-3E. The only other 1/32 Hellcat is the Hasegawa kit first released in the late 1970s.  These kits effectively makes that kit obsolete on any point other than price. 

            The kit provides superb detail, with fully-detailed engine, accessories, and radio gear within the fuselage that can be seen if a modeler chooses to “open up” the model. The gunbays are fully detailed and the main gear wells have the most detailws of any Hellcat in any scale.  The cowling is the right shape with the definite “chin” that other manufacturers have missed.

            Trumpeter has continued their policy with US Navy aircraft of providing a model that can be built with its wings folded.  Unlike either the F4F Wildcat or the TBF Avenger kits, however, Trumpeter has come up with a design for this kit that provides parts that will allow the wing to have sufficient strength either folded or spread to stay in its correct position and not be fragile.  The system chosen is somewhat similar to that used by Tamiya for their Corsair and Swordfish, with spars that go deep into the separate wing areas to provide sufficient strength.

            The kit provides decals for two F6F-3s, one of which is “The Minsi,” the first Hellcat flown by Commander David McCampbell, the US Navy’s Ace of Aces.

            I chose to use the decals for a Hellcat I of 800 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, that are provided by Kits At War Decals in their “Dutchies in de FAA” release.  These are excellent decals, and come with a booklet that gives full markings and painting diagrams for four Hellcats and two Corsairs flown by members of the Royal Netherlands Navy.


            My inspiration to build this kit came from a recent visit to Planes of Fame Air Museum just after New Year’s, to watch the flight of the F6F-3 they have that is painted as an FAA Hellcat of 800 Squadron.

            There is a problem with the Trumpeter Hellcat series. Whether this is a “deal breaker” is for the modeler to decide, but here it is: somehow, Trumpeter got the cross section of the fuselage around the cockpit and for about one-third of the distance from the cockpit to the vertical fin wrong. It is too fat, too wide, and the result is that in this area of upper fuselage just aft of the cockpit the sides of the fuselage curve outwards in a way that is very “un-Hellcat-like.”  In side profile the model looks all right, but in head-on profile, the cross section is completely wrong, as it is not the flat-sided upper fuselage associated with the Hellcat.  This makes it look “squat” in a way the Hellcat just doesn’t do.  I have reviewed every photo I have of Hellcats, including some photos I have taken of the two Hellcats out at Chino, and from the 4 o’clock or 8 o’clock positions, this “fatness” that can be so clearly seen in the model from those angles is nowhere to be seen on the real thing.

            Fortunately, it turns out this is not “unfixably wrong,” as such a mistake usually is with a kit. 

            As I did with the F6F-5N kit, I simply bent and re-shaped the fuselage in the “bulged” area.  This is possible since the plastic is soft.  I then sanded the sides of the rear cockpit bulkheads so they have “straight” sides; these need to be “test fitted” to the fuselage after re-shaping them.

            In the earlier kit, I used the kit canopy and windscreen, which had to be heated and re-shaped, which is always a problem with clear plastic.  Even after doing that, I was unhappy with the overall shape of these parts, since they still seemed too fat and too squat.  This time, I used the Squadron vacuform canopy, which is actually made for the Hasegawa kit.  There was a fit problem with the windshield, where I had to fill in the attachment areas of the fuselage with putty, and then putty the base of the new windscreen when I attached it, but the end result is a canopy that has the correct look for a Hellcat.

            For this kit, I also used the Eduard photoetch cockpit detail set, for the instrument panel and other details in the cockpit.  I used an Eduard photoetched RAF seatbelt set instead of the US seatbelts provided in the Hellcat detail set.

            From photos, I was able to determine that the FAA flew their Hellcats without the centerline drop tank most of the time, so I did not use the kit tank.  I filled in the attachment holes in the lower fuselage, as well as those in the lower wings for the unused rockets, with Evergreen rod. I also noted that the FAA did not use HF radios and therefore removed the antenna masts from the fuselage and vertical fin.  I replaced that with a whip antenna made from wire, placed where the fuselage mast would go.



            I think the scheme for 800 Squadron Hellcat Is with the distinctive D-Day stripes is one of the most interesting for a Hellcat.  

            I first applied Tamiya Flat White to the areas of the stripes, and to the nose.  I painted the nose ring with Gunze-Sangyo “Red Madder” and masked that off, then masked off the white stripes and painted the black stripes for the D-Day markings. I used Xtracrylix Extra-Dark Sea Grey, Dark Slate Grey and Sky for the camouflage, applied freehand following the painting diagram in the decal instructions.


            As is often the problem when applying decals over colors as distinct as black and white next to each other, the fuselage insignia needed a white backing.  I should have done this when masking off and painting, and only discovered that the decals lacked the opacity to work here without help when the decals were wet; I quickly took a sheet of white decal, cut circles of the correct size and applied them, then applied the insignia.  The yellow backing for the code letters also let the background colors through, though this was not such a problem since the red letters went over the yellow backing.  Other than this, the decals went on easily and settled in with repeated applications of Micro-Sol.  I used the kit decals for the stencils. 


            I gave the model a coat of Xtracrylix Flat Varnish, then applied exhaust stains with Tamiya “Smoke.”  I fitted the rear windows to the cockpit, unmasked the windshield and canopy, and attached the canopy in the open position. I attached the landing gear and the prop.  


            Admittedly, Trumpeter screwed the pooch with the design of the kit fuselage. As pointed out above and demonstrated in photos here, this is a problem that can be dealt with without a lot of pain and agony with the application of “some modeling skill required.”  If you do these simple fixes, the final model looks much better than the old Hasegawa kit.  I like the distinctive markings of 800 Squadron, and this model looks very nice sitting next to my Trumpeter FM-1 Wildcat V of 805 Squadron in similar markings.

Thanks to Stevens International for the review kit and Kits At War for the decals.

Tom Cleaver

January 2010

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