Airfix 1/72 F2A-1 Buffalo

KIT #: A02050
PRICE: $7.50 MSRP
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Brian Baker
NOTES: Old kit, but can be built into several variants.

HISTORY

The Brewster Buffalo has been badmouthed for years, so Iím not going to continue the process.  In fact, it is one of my favorite airplanes, and I actually knew a Marine Corps pilot who trained in them in Florida during World War II, and his comments were positive.  Of course, by that time, the airplane was no longer in frontline service, and he wasnít in combat with the type, but for its time, it did the job.  A lot has been written about the planeís inadequacies, but it was usually committed to combat using freshly trained, inexperienced pilots flying against enemy pilots with much more combat experience.  In reality, pilot training and experience seem to be as important as the marginal performance features of a particular aircraft.

 Brewster was a company that had only built aircraft components up until the late thirties, when they designed the SBA-1 dive bomber prototype for the Navy.  Although the companyís production facility was located in a downtown New York factory, they built airframes that were trucked to Newark Airport for assembly and flight testing.  When the Navy wanted a fighter to replace the Grumman F3F biplane series,  Brewsterís XF2A-1 seemed just the thing, and the Navy ordered it into production.   Only 11 were accepted by the Navy; the remainder were sold to Finland, although they were too late to participate in the ďWinter WarĒ when the Russians invaded in 1940.  VF-3 was the only unit to operate the F2A-1, flying off USS Saratoga.  Some were rebuilt to F2A-2 standard, and these were used for training.  The Finnish Model 239 was essentially an F2A-1 with naval equipment removed. The Finns made some local modifications to the type during 1940 and 1941, and assigned the aircraft to several experienced fighter squadrons.  The type was very successful in Finnish service against the Russians, and many pilots became aces on the type, besting such Russian operated fighters as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Yakís, and even the LA-5.

 The F2A-2  featured  a 1,200 hp. Wright R-1820 replacing the 950 hp. Engine of the F2A-1.  It was slightly longer, and although several squadrons were equipped with the type,  the model was approved for export, and many were sold to Britain, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  The main problems seem to have been in the landing gear, which sometimes collapsed, and the engines, some of which were recently overhauled engines from DC-3 airliners, and these were sometimes unreliable in service.  In addition, the Brewster  firm was a lot better at selling airplanes than building them, and the Navy became disillusioned with the company, eventually taking it over during World War II due to poor management. Most export models  that didnít go to Finland were similar to the F2A-2, but lacking naval equipment.

 The F2A-3 was the last production model, and had more up-to-date equipment, but no more power than the F2A-2.  A total of 108 was built.  Although using the same engine as the F2A-2,  the F2A-3 was considerably heavier, and performance suffered.  By that time,  the Navy preferred the F4F-3 Wildcat, which was also in production, and development of the F2A ended.  The type was shunted off to the Marines and training units, and the first  combat use involved VMF-221ís successful interception of a Japanese ďEmilyĒ flying boat near Midway Island.  Later, VMF-211 was used in the defense of Midway Island during the  June, 1942,  battle, and many were lost.  Although the airplane was blamed for this defeat, the lack of experience of many of the Marine pilots was also a contributing factor. Later,  the F2A-3ís were all sent back to the States, where they were used for training.

THE KIT

The Airfix Brewster F2A-1 Buffalo kit has been around for many years, and although it has some serious issued, they are easily corrected by any serious modeler.  To begin with, although the kit is supposed to represent the F2A-1,  the cowling is too short for this version.  There is not much cockpit detail except for the seat, and the wheel well lacks any kind of detail.  However, the nose up to the firewall, forward of the wing leading edges,  is approximately the correct length (perhaps a few inches too short), and by replacing the cowling, a reasonably accurate F2A-1 and F2A-2 can be made.  Otherwise, the outline is very close for a kit of this vintage, and if the boiler plate rivets are removed, a degree of realism can be achieved. The engine is very good, although the prop is useless.

Decals are provided for two aircraft:

 Brewster 339E, TD-V, AN185, RAAF, at Sembawang Airfield, Singapore, December, 1941.

Brewster F2A-2, BuNo. 1412, 2-F-7 of VF-2, USS Lexington, Pacific Fleet, 1941.

The decals are very thin and in good register.  The colors are right on, and these decals go on without the need for trimming.  I used the kit decals for my model, and was very satisfied with them. 

Dutch Decal has produced some decals for some of the Dutch, Australian, and U.S. Buffalos operated in the East Indies and Australia during the war.  These are in 1/72 and 1/48 scale. I have these, and they look very good, although I havenít had the opportunity to use them yet. (Check the decal previews page for these).

CONSTRUCTION

I began by sanding off the rivets, but first I masked off the control surfaces, as I wanted to save the fabric detail.  I then detailed the cockpit by adding  plastic strips to simulate the fuselage side structure and three instrument panels and the side detail equipment. I mounted the seat on the base provided for it, drilling a hole under the seat for the control stick, which I build from plastic rod.  The small set of windows in the belly need to be inserted into their position from the inside before the cockpit floor, such as it is, in glued to the lower wing assembly.  Be sure to paint everything  in the cockpit with interior green, as you can see everything from the outside.  I added rudder pedals and referred to some interior photos for instrument panel arrangement.  After adding four ribs in the gear strut wells, I assembled the wings, adding some filler in the gaps.  After the fuselage halves were joined, I attached the wing unit, gluing the front and back attachment parts but leaving the wing root assemblies unglued. When dry, I used a rubber band to get the proper dihedral angle, and then glued the wing roots to the fuselage sides.  The tailplanes fit right into place, but they do have tops and bottoms, so make sure they are installed right side up.  At this point, I added the tail cone and filled in the tail hook hole.  I then built up the roll bar assembly aft of the pilotís seat and added an RAF style reflector gunsight. The Navy versions had a telescopic sight, and this is included in the kit, along with a different windshield. After attaching the canopy sections, which fit perfectly, I masked them off and did the basic painting. The masking was tedious, but not as difficult as I had anticipated.

 The only serious problem I had was with the landing gear.  If you insert it inside of the wheel wells, the airplane appears to sit too low.  I attached the gear leg bases to the point just outboard of the gear strut wells, and the inside strut was just long enough to allow the assembly to sit at the right angle.  The kit tail wheel is way too small, so I replaced it with one from the spares box.

 The cowling is the basic problem with this kit.  It is too short, even for the F2A-1 version.  Outside of using half a tube of putty, the only solution is to replace it.  The good news is that the Revell Buffalo kitís cowling  is perfect, and can just be attached to the firewall and it looks just great.  The Airfix kitís engine is very good, and can be used with some trimming, but it needs to be mounted on a short piece of plastic tubing, as otherwise, it will sit too far back in the new cowling.  The Airfix prop, however,  needs to be replaced by that from the Revell kit.  The prop cuffs are very subdued on this unit, and they can be sanded off very easily. The spinner is just the right shape.  The Airfix kit prop is useless for any Buffalo kit, even the ones that didnít use a spinner.

COLORS & MARKINGS

I used the Airfix kit decals for the RAAF version, which was ďsand and spinachĒ on top and ďsky and blackí underneath.  The decals were a snap, and didnít require any solutions.  I did add some black wingwalks, as some photos of RAF Buffalos show them, and some donít.  These planes would have been heavily weathered and worn, so mine is pretty grungy looking, but then, it certainly hadnít been in the factory or overhaul depot for a long time at that stage of the game.

Conversions

With the Revell cowling and prop, any of the British, Belgian, and Dutch aircraft (339B, C, D, & E) can be modeled, as well as the F2A-2.  Major differences involve the  propeller,  tailwheel,  and tailcone. I have done an F2A-3 from this kit, and intend to do several more.  On this conversion, you need to add some length to the firewall before mounting a Revell  cowling.  I suppose that the cowling from a Matchbox kit would also work, but it is slightly shorter, and  I think the Revell  unit is best.  The F2A-3 didnít use a spinner in most cases, and since it had a cuffed prop, finding a good prop might be a problem.  However, I recently built a Hobby Boss FM-2, which provides just such a prop, and which is wrong for the FM-2.  Iím saving that prop for my next F2A-3 or 339-23. The prop from an Airfix Grumman FM-2 will also work for the  uncuffed props used on the export models.

 The Brewsters break down as follows.  Check references for exact details.

XF2A-1                      Prototype.  Different rudder. Radio mast on left side. Detail differences.

F2A-1             First Navy version with short cowling.

239                 Export model for Finland.  As F2A-1 with  larger tailwheel, reflector gunsight.

F2A-2             Second Navy version.  Longer cowling.

339B/C/D/E        Export models.  Long tailcone, larger tailwheel. Otherwise similar to F2A-2.

F2A-3             Longer fuselage, short tailcone.  Small Navy-type tailwheel. Revised canopy. No spinner.

339-23                        As F2A-3 except for long tailcone, large tailwheel, and earlier canopy.

 Hasegawa came out with a series of Buffalo kits in 1996 and 1997, and these kits are easily superior to the Airfix kits, although they are much more expensive.  The problem is that they only produced the F2A-1, F2A-2, and Finnish Model 239.  They could have easily added parts to make the longer nosed F2A-3/339-23, but for some reason didnít.  I have built these kits and they are great, and the F2A-2 kit would work for any of the British, Dutch, and Belgian versions.  But the Airfix kits still have some value if you donít mind doing some extra work and have the spare parts to do the modifications.

CONCLUSIONS

Highly recommended for experienced modelers with a hefty spares box.  This kit is a challenge, but it was a lot of fun for me.  Try one.  Your entertainment will probably only  run about 10 cents an hour, if that much.

REFERENCES

Squadron-Signal F2A Buffalo In Action, No. 81

William Green & Gordon Swanborough.  WW2 Aircraft Fact Files:  U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Fighters

Profile Publications No. 217  The Brewster Buffalo

Kari Stenman and Andrew Thomas.  Osprey Aces Series No. 91.  Brewster F2A Buffalo Aces of World War II.

Gerard Casius & Luuk Boerman.  Brewster B-339C/D/-23  History: Camouflage and Markings.

Jarmo Nikkonen.  Brewster 339E Buffalo:  The Luckless defender of Singapore.  AAHS Journal, Summer, 1998

Brian Baker

August 2010

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