Eduard 1/48 Hellcat I

KIT #: 8223
PRICE: $49.95 MSRP?
DECALS: Six Options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Dual Combo kit.

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.

      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.  The reconstituted 804 Squadron, still flying off Emperor, was credited with two Oscars and a Dinah shot down off Rangoon on March 1, 1945.

     The Royal Navy’s philosophy of fleet air defense did not provide much opportunity for FAA fighters to engage in combat.  Of the 455 total aircraft shot down by FAA fighters during the war, the Hellcat was responsible for 52, a virtual tie with the 52.5 shot down by Corsairs and exceeded only by the 67 shot down by Wildcats.  19 of the 52 were scored in April, 1945, during the invasion of Okinawa.

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

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.  This Royal Navy kit has separate fuselages, wings and cowlings for the F6F-3 (Hellcat I) and F6F-5 (Hellcat II), 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.

     Decals are provided for six Hellcats: three Hellcat Is and three Hellcat IIs.  

     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 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. 

COLORS & MARKINGS

Painting:

     Doing the 804 Squadron Hellcat I as it appeared during Operation Dragoon involved a lot of masking.  I began by pre-shading the model with flat black, filling in the areas where the D-Day stripe would be entirely in black.  I then masked off the black stripes, and painted white over the black.  This was intentionally “ragged” to get an impression of these stripes being temporary.  I also painted the nose with a white undercoat for the red.  After all this was dry, I masked off the white stripes and the red nose.  The FAA camouflage was applied using Xtracrylix Extra Dark Sea Grey, Dark Slate Grey and Sky.  When that was dry, I unmasked the stripes and gave the model a coat of Xtracrylix Gloss varnish.

Decals:

     The kit decals went on without a problem.  They are thick enough and opaque enough that none of the black and white stripes bleed through the markings.

FINAL ASSEMBLY

     I gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Satin varnish, then applied exhaust stains.  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.  This “Hellcat with D-Day stripes” is very unusual.  There is an F6F-3 in this scheme based out at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino.

Thanks to Eduard for the review kit.

Tom Cleaver

November 2008

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