Azur 1/32 Bloch 152
KIT #: A060
PRICE: $56.15 from www.greatmodels.com 
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Bill Koppos
NOTES: Unexpected Subject

HISTORY

         The rather undistinguished career of the Bloch fighters began on 17 July 1936, when the prototype MB150 refused to part company with the ground on it's first attempted test flight. Due to the desperate need for fighters to combat the Nazi threat, the design was modified and tried again. Underpowered engines were the main problem facing French aircraft designers at this time, but finally a 920 HP Gnome-Rhone 14 radial got the short nosed plane airborne. Now overheating became a problem, as the cowling had been made very small and tight fitting to decrease drag (see the Focke-Wulf FW190). Various cowl/spinner combos were tried throughout the Bloch's career, but the problem was never completely eradicated. Production began with the designation MB151, output initially being very low.  The MB151 was still too slow and further modifications to engine, wings and cowl resulted in the MB152, which could finally carry the 2-cannon and machine gun armament that was it's best strong point. When airframe production at last picked up, many were grounded for lack of propellers! There seemed no end to the problems of the French aircraft industry.

         When Blitzkreig hit there were 7 Groups fully or partially equipped with Bloch variants. These were quickly involved in the furious fighting, strengths being good handling, heavy armament and ability to take a lot of battle damage, slow speed and climb rate and very short endurance the minuses. The worst problem was the lack of early warning, many French units caught low and slow trying to take off on short notice as the 109's and Dorniers swept in to attack their airfields. Several French pilots did well on the Bloch152, Sous Lt. Robert Thollon scoring 8 and Louis Delfino 6 kills with it. Accounts vary, some giving the Bloch units a 2 to 1 victory ratio, but in the end it did not matter as the Germans were not going to be stopped in France. After the surrender the Bloch was a main fighter in the European Vichy Air Force, as they lacked the range to escape to North Africa as other types did. Marcel Bloch went on to much better things, changing the name of his outfit postwar to Dassault, you know, the Mirage people.
THE KIT

          A 1/32 kit of the Bloch 152 was totally unexpected to me. I picked this up at the IPMS Nationals in a package deal with the 1/32 Finnish Brewster B-239 release, being very surprised to see it. I did have the Classic Airframes 1/48 kit and the interest to build it but never got round to it, now I had the urge to do a Bloch, and as Scott said, it looked easy enough. See Scott's preview  for sprue, resin and photo-etched shots.

       Panel lines are finely represented in the usual soft grey Azur/MPM plastic, and some nice rivet detail is present.  The resin cowl is beautifully done looking much like the Pacific Coast Macchi 200's. The engine is also a very nice replica. The etched fret has just the good stuff, a seat harness and some  brackets to enhance the pilot seat. Decal sheet is large and colorful, and includes 3 battle of France aircraft. One is a machine flown by Robert Thollon, and I picked this one. On to Bloch building.
CONSTRUCTION

          First let me say my references were limited on this aircraft, so I figured this one would be a good choice for keeping simple, being done mainly Out of Box. The one pic I did find showed the cockpit/seat setup to be pretty accurate, and looked busy enough when painted up. The seat has etched braces that help it, and I used Humbrol buff, dirtied with pastels, to simulate the canvas seat and seat back. The instrument panel had nicely raised detail to paint, and before you know it the fuselage was together. The "scallop" windows on the fuselage spine are molded as a clear part of the fuselage spine, a nice touch. I added strips to represent the canopy slide rails as per photos, these running between the small teardrop-shaped fairings the kit provides. So far so good. This happy scene would soon change.

           Wing assembly was next, the wheel well insert fit well. Now the warning. When installing the framing pieces on the wheel well insert, if you install them as it looks in the plan you will Bloch (block)  up the areas where the gear legs are supposed to retract into. Don't do as I did, and notice this after the glue is thoroughly dry. I could not remove them at this point and had to trim the crap out of them to result in a real looking setup. Before glueing, make sure they follow the gear leg cutouts in the wing bottom. Now I encountered the kit's big faux pas (that's French). When trying to install the wing, I found the left side fuselage root to be warped, upturned considerably. Plotting how to fix this, I settled on gluing the left top wing portion to the root, reinforce with styrene strips, let dry completely, then glue the bottom wing to the top. After this dried, I was able to pull down the assembled left wing, glue the central bottom and right top wing on. The right top did not now match the bottom very well, and the panel lines do not match up, but there was nothing to be done about it. The left wing also has a permanent twist downward to the trailing edge that is noticeable if stared at. Hopefully for you folks this warp was peculiar to my sample, but it's something to be aware of.

           Onward. The stabilizers looked quite thick, a common thing with these big MPM products. I thinned them out by planing them on some 120 grit sandpaper laid flat on the table. A few minutes of this treatment, and they now are the same thickness of the bosses on the fuselage. The elevators are separate, I thinned these also, and glued them both in a slightly drooped position ,as per photos. At this point I built the engine. Pushrods were made from styrene rod and put on as per reference pics, but I did not go nuts here as not much of the moteur can't be seen once the cowl and prop are on. A shame as this is a neat looking engine. I recommend shaving the rear of the engine casting down to the cylinders, even cutting into them a bit, for the correct seating depth in the cowling, otherwise your prop will stick out too far. Consult those Bloch pictures you have, and test fit frequently. I Painted  the cylinders black and crankcase and pushrods grey. Now the cowling can be attached. The kit allows nicely for the unique offset to port that was a Bloch152 torque-fighting  feature. I thinned the cooling flaps along the sides, where the protrude from the fuselage.  The front ring is a hair small but can be carefully installed to look good. The Spitfire-type under wing oil cooler was built and installed, and...
COLORS & MARKINGS

             All seams sanded, cockpit, scallop windows and engine masked, it's time for the paint shop. French WW2 camo schemes are fun to paint, as they were as varied as the painters at the factory. Some Bloch fighters had really jazzy 3 color dos, but as none of my refs gave me a detailed enough look at these, I elected to work from the color 3 view provided. I used Model Master enamels all the way, my local shop having most of  the French colors necessary. These were French Dark Blue grey, French  Light Blue Grey for the unders, French Chestnut (Brown) and I cheated by using RAF Dark green as a substitute for the proper French color. The under color was applied first, then I freehanded the rest working from lightest to darkest. The results pleased me, the French greys being particularly pleasing to the eye. I then post shaded the panel lines on bottom with a dark grey mix, and on top with a grey/Umber mix, liking much how this turned out. Shooting it all with Metallizer Sealer as a glosscoat, decaling could begin 20 minutes later.

            These decals were a very pleasant surprise, going on and snuggling down with NO setting solution. I still can't get used to this, having had to drench decals with solvaset for years to get them to conform. I usually paint rudder stripes of this kind, but this time the decals were used, meeting up nicely on both sides of the rudder.VERY good decals, these. Now my water-soap-acrylic black wash could be applied to the panel lines and control separations, and smeared around the engine and wheel wells to simulate combat grime. A further glosscoat was added to seal the decals and wash,  then finish with testor's Dullcoat to flatten things. The decals looked really "painted on".
FINAL CONSTRUCTION

            Time for the landing gear. This is an area where I could find no close-up pictures for details or brake lines, etc. so I winged it. At least the strut attachment points are substantial, but where the retraction cylinders anchor is anybody's guess. I put mine on behind the struts and attached the other end to a convenient rib in the wheel well. Angles of struts and wheels were done using pics as a guide. The wheels angle out kind of like the Morane 406. OF COURSE after the glue was well dry I started thinking the model was sitting a bit high, and despite staring at Bloch 152 photos for weeks, I realized too late that at least 1/8th inch could be shaved off the struts and gear doors to make it sit right. Your choice. In the rear, this thing had a tail SKID, not a tail wheel, a'la a latter-day SPAD13. Were they saving Francs or weight or what? A tailskid on a machine likely to be flown from muddy grass fields seems backward to me.

            I assembled the resin prop hub, blades and spinner without glue and test fit this. The spinner looked too large to me based on photos. I glued a shaft in the rear and chucked it in a dremel tool, using a blade edge to lathe it down to an acceptable profile. The sizes of the spinners in the pictures seemed to vary, maybe they were different according to the propeller used or the supplier. 

            The two gun sights are things of beauty. The reflector site is well done and provided with a photo-etch frame and clear film that looks quite realistic. The spindly outer metallic sights are an etched part that looks really slick if you can survive the bending process. I masked the very simply framed canopy and windscreen and painted these, the windscreen a very nice fit. I could not resist adding the grab handle at the top of the windscreen.  Imagine my shock when the sliding canopy sat almost perfectly where it belonged with no pressure and staying put with white glue. Thank you Azur. Another problem from scarce refs occurred when trying to figure out where to put the 7.5mm machine gun holes in the wings. I settled on the location you see here. The extra-long 20mm cannons were hollowed out and loaded, this thing really looking mean now. The resin exhausts were painted Metallizer Exhaust, pitot tube camo and copper. A  nice advantage to French fighters is there is no antenna wire, using instead a top and bottom antenna, the bottom being retractable for landing. These were put in place and Viola!
CONCLUSIONS


            I was very happy with my French fighter. I never thought of this machine as a looker, but it grew on me. The forward-placed cockpit,  neat gunsights, and cowling/spinner combo lend it a purposeful appearance. I can say now I am a confirmed Blochhead. The camo colors make me want to do another Armee d'el Air subject, maybe a Morane 406, perhaps. I can't say this one was easy due to the wing problems, but there is always something of this kind on limited-run models. This one is definitely do-able by those with experience in this type of kit. Maybe yours won't have the warpage problem.
            Kit courtesy of  me being at the 2008 Nationals and spending too much.
             Oh, and my apologies for the stupid Bloch puns.
REFERENCES



French Aces of WW2   Barry Ketley   Osprey Auircraft of the Aces #28
Fighters over France and the Low Countries Mushroom red Series # 5104
French Aircraft 39-42 Volume 1 Amiot to Curtiss
French Fighters in Action  Squadron Signal Pub.

Bill Koppos

December 2008

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