Arii/Otaki 1/48 F6F-3 Hellcat
|NOTES:||Converted to F6F-5; Hi Tech resin Conversion 48-009; Cutting Edge control Surfaces; Sky Decals F6F decal set|
On 20 January 1944, the USS Randolph (CV-15) departed San Francisco, for Ulithi Atoll whereupon she sortied on 10 February, with TF 58 under the command of Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher. The US fleet ventured to within almost 200 miles of the coast of Honshu, Japan, where carrier planes pounded the Tokyo industrial complex in raids that marked the first bombings of their kind since Lt Col. Doolittle had brought his "Tokyo Raiders" in from Hornet (CV-8)—alias "our new secret base at Shangri-La"—in April 1942. The raids, now famous as the February Tokyo Raids, served as a diversion for what was to take place to the South—the invasion of Iwo Jima as well as to destroy as many aircraft as possible in order to prevent them from being launched in Kamikaze attacks. Much controversy remains over these raids, as they took away from the pre-invasion bombardment of Iwo Jima that the Marines paid so dearly for.
Of the seventeen carriers participating in the raids, more than half of the Pilots and crewmen were being introduced to combat for the first time, including the Randolph’s Air Wing Twelve, led by Charles Crommelin. The Randolph participated in attacks on the 16th and 17th against Tokyo airfields and the Tachikawa engine plant. The following day her planes made a strike on the island of Chichi Jima. The strain of operating so closely to the homeland in the poor weather of the Northern Pacific, coupled with the Kamikaze threat must have been extremely nerve-racking to our own people. More importantly they were very damaging to Japanese industry and to the morale of her citizens.
After two days of strikes against the Japanese capital, the task group headed toward Iwo Jima and conducted strikes on Japanese positions on Chichi Jima and Haha Jima en route. On 19 February 1945, Marines left their transports and headed toward destiny on the black sands of Iwo Jima. On 20 February, CAG-12 launched three aerial sweeps in support of ground forces invading Iwo Jima and two against Haha Jima. During the next 4 days, further strikes hit Iwo Jima and combat air patrols were flown almost continuously. Three sweeps against airfields in the Tokyo area and one against Hachijo Jima followed on 25 February before the carrier returned to Ulithi.
As the war in the Pacific ground on, the Randolph and Air Group Twelve continued their assault of the Japanese islands. They took part in the invasion of Okinawa and endured kamikaze raids, including taking one while at anchor in Ulithi. These attacks, continued to grow in ferociousness throughout the waning days of the Pacific war.
The Arii/Otaki Hellcat has been out on the market for many years. It isn’t as detailed as the Hasegawa offering, especially in the cockpit. However the trademark Hellcat cowl is better represented in this offering. The engine is just the first row of cylinders, but is still a good representation nonetheless. The cockpit can be easily fixed with offerings from Hi Tech and True Details to name a few.
I first built this kit back in the mid 1980s and at the time had converted it into an F6F-3N. Fast-forward to 2003, when I began to get the itch for this project. I wanted to build something that would show a Landing Signals Officer (LSO) ‘waving’ the approach of a landing aircraft. This kit came to mind as one that would be easy to convert if not cheap, should I make mistakes. The LSO himself came from the archaic Monogram TBF Avenger and had been sitting in my spares box for years.
Construction began with the removal of the old paint. To remove old paint, I sprayed a healthy dose of Easy Off oven cleaner and let it sit for about 30 minutes. After some vigorous scrubbing with a toothbrush, most of the old paint came off. I then proceeded to remove the control surfaces: flaps, elevators, ailerons and rudder, as well as the cowl flaps. The cockpit sidewalls were ground down to allow the resin cockpit to fit. My earlier conversion had left a gaping hole in the starboard wing, which was filled with styrene and squadron green putty.
The cockpit came from the Hi Tech resin set. The cockpit comes as one giant block of resin that includes the floorboards, sidewalls and instrument panel. There is no bulkhead, so I had to build one out of styrene. Although not as highly detailed as the True Details offering, it suited my purposes, as the pilot would hide most of the detail.
The pilot came from the spares box and was spruced up with a leather flight jacket and Mae West. Once the cockpit was completed I added a small electric motor (taken from a Tamiya Skyraider kit) and routed the wires through the fuselage and wing. An access hole was drilled in the wheel well and the wires were routed through it. At this point, I sealed up the fuselage with Cyao and proceeded to work on the seams.
The next step in construction was to add the control surfaces. I wanted to portray the aircraft as if it were slightly out of control and landing in a slight slip. I installed the flight controls appropriately, using brass wire to attach them. The flaps came from the Hi Tech kit and fit with no problems.
The cowl flaps were a major pain in my rear. It took me several attempts to get them correct, including one effort with aluminum from a soda can, which I won’t even attempt to cover here. The lower cowl flaps are not present on the –5 Hellcats and were filled in. At the same time, the oil cooler was opened on the bottom of the aircraft.
I was afraid of the various antennas being broken off during handling, and so set about making new ones out of brass. The aerial behind the cockpit was placed in the hole left by the original plastic one, which led to problems later on. Specifically, it’s too far forward. I didn’t discover this till I tried to mount the canopy and by then it was too late. I could only place the canopy about halfway back on the rails, which is incorrect. Afterwards, I checked the kit with scale drawings and the placement was indeed wrong. It was too late for me to go back and fix without ruining the finish in the process, so it is an error I’ll have to live with.
I did not like the look of the kit landing gear and ended up making new ones from scratch. I wanted strong landing gear because the plane would be supported by just one main mount and the tailhook. They were made with brass tubing, with sections of styrene tubing to represent the various thicknesses of the gear. The kits tires are horrendous, but fortunately the Hi Tech kit includes some excellent weighted wheels.
The tailhook ended up being my foray into Blacksmithing. I heated a piece of brass rod and pounded the end into shape. A little work with a file finished it off. After checking it for the proper length, I glued it to the fuselage.
Because I was making a –5 Hellcat, the windscreen and canopy from the kit were incorrect. To fix this, I picked up a vacuform canopy from Squadron. However when I got the canopy home, I realized I had mistakenly bought one for the –3! Not to be fazed, I used the kit windscreen and sanded/polished it down till the framing was no longer visible. While doing this, I made sure I sanded it flat to portray the flat windscreen common on later Hellcats.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
Because the Randolph and Air Wing 12 took part in the later stages of the war in the Pacific, all her aircraft were painted an overall Gloss Sea Blue. The hardest part of painting this aircraft was masking the tail and its distinguishing white stripes. The ailerons were also white on the Randolph’s aircraft, so these were painted and masked before the gloss sea blue was applied. After waiting a suitable period for the paint to dry, the entire kit was given a coat of future prior to decaling.
The decals came from Sky Decals and went down without any problems at all. The sheet comes with enough decals for numerous airplanes, which is frankly more Hellcats than I could ever build or display in my lifetime. With so many markings, they are printed rather close to each other on the sheet. Care must be taken when cutting the markings lest you damage the others. I used Micro Sol/Set and they went on with no problems whatsoever. After decaling, the plane was given a final coat of future prior to weathering.
As the fighting approached the Japanese homelands during the last stages of the war, the supply chain had been well established. That coupled with the wartime production rate usually kept the frontlines supplied. If an aircraft was lost, replacements were flown to the Essex class carriers from jeep carriers as soon as possible. For this reason, plus the fact that the USS Randolph had been in combat less than a month, I kept the weathering on this aircraft to a minimum. I added some cordite stains to the wings and exhaust staining down the fuselage and left it at that. Last bits were put on, such as canopy, and propeller and it was set aside while I worked on the base.
Prior to starting this project, I drew up a set of plans to help me visualize how I wanted the flight deck and catwalk to look. Although I could have purchased plans from a company specializing in model ships, I wasn’t willing to spend the money required for the limited use I’d get out of them. I was only building a small quarter of the flight deck and catwalk, so for my purposes, the web and various books sufficed. Research produced enough photos of LSO platforms and catwalks to enable me to draw my own plans in something approximating 1/48th scale.
For the carrier flight deck, I used Just Plane Stuff’s WWII USN flight deck. I’ve scratch built Flight Decks before and didn’t want to deal with gluing strips of wood together and then making the tie downs, (the hardest part in my opinion) and settled on their quality product. A corner of the flight deck was trimmed so I could add the LSO platform and catwalk. I cut a hole for the arresting gear and placed the cross deck pendant across the flight deck. During a quick trip to the woodshop, I cut the wood to make the sides of the base and the bottom. These were then attached to the flight deck with super glue.
The hull of the ship was replicated with several sheets of styrene. I used butt-joins with gel type superglue to replicate the weld seams. This looks really good, but takes some practice. In retrospect, I think several of my ‘weld’ seams could have been better done. I cut out an opening for a knee-knocker on the side, and blocked out a rough passageway leading into the ship. Several strands of wire were added to replicate all the wiring usually present in the passageways. I took a strip of .20 styrene and glued it around the knee-knocker to finish it off.
The catwalk itself is a piece of aluminum sheet that I found at a local hardware store here in Japan. I had been dreading drilling all the little holes in sheet styrene, until I stumbled upon this. I cut it to the approximate width and glued I-beams to the edges to simulate the scupper. Supports for the catwalk were made from sheet styrene and I-beams and glued underneath the catwalk. Railings were added, as was the LSO platform. Stairs were made from sheet styrene to connect the various levels of catwalk. The escape netting surrounding the LSO platform was probably the most challenging part. The netting came from a potato sack, (“Look honey, modeling supplies!”). It took some imagination to replicate the framework and also make it strong enough to support the netting. But in the end, I think I came close to my various reference photos.
The hull was finished by adding little bits such as a fire extinguisher, speaker and various wires leading to electrical boxes along the catwalk. Because my woodworking skills are not up to par (I used more putty on the joins of my wood base than I did on the plastic model…), I painted the base black. Prior to painting the flight deck, a coat of white was laid down and I masked out the number ‘15’ for the USS RANDOLPH. I painted the flight deck the appropriate Norfolk Blue color and the hull was painted gray.
Once all the paints had dried sufficiently, a coat of Future was applied so I could weather the base. The hardest part of this process was laying down a wash to highlight the tie downs on the flight deck. It took me at least a week, working about an hour and a half a night. I applied rust colored wash in all the nooks and crannies of the catwalk. At first I thought I’d overdone it, but then ended up going back to add more weathering. Ships take a beating at sea and I’m sure that during wartime, the usual shipboard paint chipping, needle gunning etc… fell by the wayside. (That was the method behind my madness anyway!)
|FIGURES & FINAL CONSTRUCTION|
The figures came from my spares box, and for the most part consist of Monogram’s bomber crews and ground support personnel. I modified them as necessary to make them representative of Naval personnel.
The figures were used to focus the viewer’s attention towards the Hellcat. The LSO was to be the centerpiece of this effort and received a bit more attention. His head was modified so he’s watching the aircraft as it lands. I cut off the original paddles and made new ones with brass wire and lead foil. I also built up the collar on his jacket to replicate the fur collar on the G-1 style leather coat. The only other figure to receive heavy modifications was the phone talker. Those modifications included adding a headset and the sound powered phone, as well as the cable coiled at his feet.
After painting, the figures were glued to the base with superglue and a sprayed with a coat of flat. The Hellcat was fastened to the base with brass pins and superglue and the wiring connected to a battery case in the bottom of the base. At this point I called the project complete, (although as I was taking photos for this article, I realized that I had forgotten to add the .50 cals, so those will have to be added eventually).
Overall, I spent almost 9 months working on this kit, with several months off due to work. Quite frankly though, this was the most enjoyable build I’ve done in quite some time. Prior to starting, I wanted to build something that represented the heart and soul of Naval Aviation during the Second World War. I believe the finished project is a good depiction of that.
Review courtesy of my wallet and my ever-patient wife…
F6F Hellcat in Action. Squadron Signal No 36. 1979.
U. S. Navy Carrier Fighters of WWII, Squadron Signal, No 6204. 1987.
Hellcat Aces of WWII. Barrett Tillman. Osprey Aircraft of the Aces #10. 1996.
“Like a Sitting Duck.” Robert Cressman and James C. Sawruk. The Hook Fall 2003.
Crommelin’s Thunderbirds--Air group Twelve strikes the heart of Japan. Roy Bruce and Charles Leonard. Naval Institute Press, 1994.
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