Eduard 1/48 F6F-5N Hellcat

KIT #: R0006
PRICE: $160.00 MSRP
DECALS: Nine options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Royal Class kit. Two aircraft with tons of aftermarket.

HISTORY

     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.

      To straighten out the myth of the airplane, the Hellcat was  not produced "in answer" to the Japanese Zero, which would be its major wartime opponent; it would have been impossible to design an airplane starting in 1942 (following the discovery of the Zero in the Aleutians that August) that would have had any hope of getting into production in the required timescale.  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 first entered combat in the fall of 1943, as the Navy was beginning the Central Pacific Offensive, with squadrons based aboard both the big "Essex" class fleet carriers, and the "Independence" class light carriers which were based on cruiser hulls.  The U.S. Navy was the only air force of the Second World War to insure its fighter pilots went into combat knowing what to do both with their airplanes and their weapons.  With this superior gunnery training, many Hellcat pilots became an “ace in a day" in the swirling air battles that began over Truk in early 1944, and then moved on across the Central Pacific with the invasions of the Marshalls and Marianas later that year.

     In 1943, the Navy began developing the Hellcat as a single-seat night fighter.  While the F4U Corsair was also used for this role, the Hellcat was considered better for the role since its landing characteristics were so much better than the Corsair, something of importance when it came to landing aboard a heaving carrier deck at night.  In the end, the Marines made more use of the Hellcat as a night fighter.  These squadrons were used with great effect during the Okinawa campaign, where they brought Japanese night attacks to a virtual halt.

 Bruce Porter:

     Bruce Porter first entered combat in the Solomons with VMF-121 in 1943, flying the F4U-1 Corsair.  He scored his first victory on his first mission, and had a score of 3 by the time the unit's tour was up.  He was then transferred to VMF(N)-544 at MCAS Cherry Point to undergo night fighter training on the F6F Hellcat.  In February 1945, half of the unit was redesignated as VMF(N)-511 and sent aboard the USS Block Island II (CVE-106).  The unit did not see active combat, and Porter campaigned to get transferred to one of the units assigned to operate ashore in the Okinawa campaign.  He was first sent to VMF(N)-533 in time for the April invasion, then transferred to VMF(N)-542 in May.  On June 15, 1945, he scored two victories over Japanese intruders.

     I had the opportunity of meeting Bruce on several occasions in the 1980s and early 1990s, when he was a guest at the Planes of Fame Air Museum. 

THE KIT

     Many modelers wondered why Eduard would do a Hellcat when two different good models were already available.  After studying the various releases Eduard has done to date of the Hellcat, I can say that they did it for the same reason they released a series of Fw-190s in 1/48: their product is superior.

     The kit has surface detail that is superior to either the Otaki or Hasegawa kits, with very petite engraved rivet detail along panel lines, and separate control surfaces that can be posed dynamically.  The kit has separate fuselages, wings and cowlings for the F6F-3 and F6F-5, which take into consideration detail differences beyond the obvious that other kit manufacturers have missed in their desire to cut costs, as well as ordnance that is different to the two types as regards the F6F-3 and F-6F-5.  The kits include nicely-detailed cockpits in plastic, accompanied by very good pre-painted photo-etch detail that is up to Eduard's usual standards.  Additional photoetch is there for the engine ignition detail, as well as more detail for the wheel wells.  Resin engines and corrected resin wheels, as well as separate resin parts for the night fighter versions of both the F6F-3N and F6F-5N are provided.  Decals are provided for no less than nine Hellcats: three F6F-3s, and six F6f-5s including a French Aeronavale F6F-5, and two different Hellcat drones.  The best-known aces on the sheets are “Holly” Hills, the RCAF/USN ace; night fighter ace Bruce Porter, and first Hellcat ace Hamilton McWhorter, including his VF-9 F6F-3 and later VF-12 F6F-5.  The VU-1 Hellcat drone is in the later three colors, while an early drone in overall orange is included.

     There has been the usual brew-ha-ha regarding the release of this kit among those with too much time on their hands over at The Other Place, regarding the accuracy of the kit in general and the “grin” in particular.  In his comprehensive review of the kit, Brett Green points out that of the available Hellcat cowlings - both those from kits and those from aftermarket producers - none is entirely accurate, though some are moreso than others, concluding that the Eduard cowling is overall the most accurate.  This is also the conclusion that has been drawn after copious study of photo comparisons between actual Hellcats and the kit, from those participating in the commentary Over There 

     Demonstrating that Eduard listens to valid criticism, the plastic wheels people have complained about are accompanied by resin wheels no one should have any problem with.  The resin engines are also beautifully cast.  There is an additional bag of resin parts for the night fighters, including the radome and a wing gun replacement that includes the most accurate representation of the 20mm cannons inboard I have seen in any kit.

     I particularly like that the canopies are thin enough that they can be posed in the open position, since this is likely the best-detailed cockpit of any Hellcat kit, including the aftermarket resin cockpits that have been released over the years.

CONSTRUCTION

     The Hellcat is basically a simple model to build overall, in any kit from any manufacturer, and the Eduard kit is no exception.  One can do several small things to improve on what is there, and the reader is referred to William Reece's article here at Modeling Madness as an example of what is possible.

     As designed, the separate control surfaces are not posable, though they do provide separation of these surfaces from the main airframe.  Other than that, I cannot see why the kit was designed this way, particularly since the Hellcat had a spring-loaded stick, so that the controls were never “dynamically posed” while the airplane was on the ground to begin with.   

     I assembled the wings and tail surfaces and then attached them to the fuselage halves before assembling the fuselage, because this allowed me to work the connections from inside and out and get them fully seated, which I think is necessary given the design for attaching the wings and tail.  Personally, I think Hasegawa got it right with a one-piece lower wing that attached to the fuselage along panel lines, which insured getting the proper dihedral to the wing.

     The cockpit is perhaps the simplest Hellcat cockpit I have seen from any kit since the Otaki release.  That said, with the use of the very complete photoetch, what one sees in the end with the fuselage assembled and the cockpit closed up is quite acceptable; much of the detail of the more-detailed Hasegawa kit cockpit, or the True Details resin cockpit, isn't all that visible in the final result.

     I needed to run some cyanoacrylate glue along the fuselage centerline seam, but that was the only place the kit needed help.

     The resin engines provided in the Royal Class kit are very nice, and with the additional photoetch detail they make up into very accurate representations of the R-2800, even providing the small differences between the engine used for the F5F-3 and that used by the F5F-5.  I ended up with a time constraint if I was to finish this in time for a review, and after looking at the first Hellcat I did and seeing that the engine detail wasn't that apparent to a casual look once the kit was finished, I opted for the plastic engine.  However, this shouldn't be taken as any sort of vote of no-confidence for the resin engine.  A modeler who wants a detailed engine will be very happy with the final result if you proceed with this very nice sub-assembly.

     The plastic engine assembles easily and looks right once it is inside the cowling.  The cowling parts fit perfectly, and I only needed some cyanoacrylate glue along the lower center seam to smooth that out. 

     I attached the landing gear at this point since it would be painted the same overall Dark Sea Blue as the rest of the model.

     I did modify the drop tank with some .010 x .015 Evergreen strip to create the seam that was on all but the very late-production Hellcat drop tanks.

     Overall, assembly of the model occupied an afternoon, including time spent waiting for the paint to dry.  I pre-painted the cockpit parts interior green and the cowling interior light grey, using Tamiya and Gunze-Sangyo acrylics.  I painted the engine cylinders Tamiya Flat Aluminum, then hand-painted with Tamiya “Smoke” to pop out detail.  

COLORS & MARKINGS

Painting:

     The model is the essence of easy for painting.  I painted the radome white, then masked it off, then painted the rest of the model entirely in Xtracrylix Dark Sea Blue Gloss.  I have decided I really like the masks Eduard provides for the canopies, since they cut down the time spent masking off the canopy with Scotch tape and trimming with a knife.

Decals:

     The kit decals went on without a problem.  They are thick enough and opaque enough that none of the dark blue color bleeds through the white markings.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

     I gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Satin varnish.  When that was dry, I unmasked the canopy and posed it open, and attached the main wheels and propeller.

CONCLUSIONS

     The Eduard Hellcat series is overall the most accurate kit of this airplane available in 1/48 scale.  Surface detail is more accurate than any other kit, and the detail differences between the F6F-3 and F6F-5 are fully covered in the different kits.  Even doing a highly-detailed kit using all the extra items provided in the Royal Class kit is not difficult and a modeler of average abilities and produce a very good-looking model from these kits with a modicum of effort.

Thanks to Eduard for the review kit.

Tom Cleaver

November 2008

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