Special Hobby 1/48 Brewster Buffalo F2A-3
KIT #: 48032
PRICE: $42.00 SRP 
DECALS:  Four options
REVIEWER: Dale Rannals
NOTES:

HISTORY

 Ahhhh, yes…..the Brewster Buffalo.  Mention the Buffalo and most will respond negatively about the aircraft……declaring how obsolete it was or how poorly it performed.  The US Marine Buffalos at Midway Island were slaughtered in combat, so it must have been inadequate, right?  But wait, the Avenger torpedo bombers at Midway were also severely trounced, yet they are considered “great” aircraft.  Hhhmmmm….let’s look elsewhere.  The British Commonwealth and Netherlands East Indies pilots got more than a 2 to 1 kill ratio with their Buffalos combating the Japanese onslaught.  Interesting and not bad with such an inferior craft.  But wait…there’s also the Finns, whose Buffalos did a fantastic job, producing several Finnish aces while destroying 496 Soviet aircraft for a combat loss of 19 Buffalos (a kill ratio of 26:1). This is a real confusing mix of data.  What gives?  How can it be so bad and do so good?

 The fact is that our maligned Buffalo is a stellar example of varying circumstances…what you are fighting with and who you are fighting against.  In the case of the American Buffalos at Midway, they were indeed the “worst” of the lot, the F2A-3 version that had a whole lot of weight added with no proportionate increase in power.  So their performance was poorer than the earlier, lighter versions.  Throw in inexperienced U.S. pilots and tactics against the Japanese naval aviators, a highly trained and experienced lot flying superb aircraft, and you have a recipe for disaster.

 In the case of the Finns, well, they had the early versions….lightweight sports cars compared to the later ones.  They also had superb pilots flying against inexperienced Soviet ones using poor tactics with less capable aircraft.  The Commonwealth and ML-KNIL pilots fought gallantly with theirs, but even a 2 to 1 kill ration doesn’t mean much when you’re outnumbered 10 to 1…the outcome is pretty much a given.  

 Overall, not so bad, especially considering this confusing little aircrafts’ poor reputation.  But what exactly is it, you ask? 

 Well, love it or hate it, the Brewster Buffalo model B-139 was one of the contenders for a 1935 US Navy requirement for a carrier based naval fighter, the others being the Grumman XF4F-1 biplane and a navalized Seversky P-35 (which was quickly eliminated due to its inability to exceed 267mph).  It outclassed these competitors and won the competition (Grumman went back to the drawing board and redesigned the XF4F-1 into the venerable Wildcat monoplane).  The Navy started off with an order of 66 F2A-1 machines, these were powered by a 940 hp Wright R-1820 engine for a top speed a bit over 300mph and had a redesigned, larger fin.  Eleven of these were delivered before politics entered the equation and the bulk of the order was diverted to Finland as the Model B-239.

 Next on the agenda for the Navy were 43 F2A-2 models.  These added a more powerful (1200hp) engine but also more weight. Top speed increased but initial climb decreased a bit.  Various export models were produced from this before attention was turned to the F2A-3 model.  No additional power was added, but with armor plate, much more fuel and self sealing fuel tanks all being introduced, performance suffered.  The little sports car had turned into a truck.  Of course, these were the trucks that were thrown into combat against the superior equipped and trained Japanese forces at Midway.

 One thing the F2A-3 did have was range…..lots of it.  All that additional fuel gave it a range of almost 1700 miles. With approximately 13 hours of flying time, it was believed the Navy planned on using them for long range patrols far from the carrier force.  The advent of radar for the purpose rendered this unnecessary. 

 Some interesting comments about the plane:

 Capt. P.R. White:  “It is my belief that any commander that orders pilots out for combat in an F2A-3 should consider the pilot lost before leaving the ground.”  Pretty harsh indeed.

 British test pilot Eric Brown flew the aircraft (one of the Belgian Model B-339’s) and said it had “Not very impressive performance. However, it was a different story when it came to handling, for the ailerons were highly effective throughout the speed range, the elevators almost equally so, and the rudder very good too.” and that it had “delightful maneuverability”.

 “Pappy” Boyington: "They were dogs……but the early models, before they weighed it all down with armor-plate, radios, and other [equipment], they were pretty sweet little ships. Not real fast, but the little [aircraft] could turn and roll in a phone booth."

THE KIT

I was going to do a full preview of this kit but then Scott informed me that the plastic was the same as the Classic Airframes Buffalo kits (they do both a F2A-1 and a Model B-239) except for the fuselage, which is lengthened for the F2A-3.  So instead I will send you here for what’s in the box:  http://modelingmadness.com/scotts/preww2/previews/ca/4100.htm  You do get all the extra parts from the common sprue layout, including cuffed and uncuffed props, two types of tail wheels, two types of fuselage tails, a propeller spinner, and a myriad of different fuselage bottom glass and canopy styles.  Most of these parts are useless, due to the longer fuselage of the -3, but I believe all is here to make a Model B-339-23 version. (This was an export version of the -3)

 Interestingly, I also spied two pieces that to me look like 20mm cannon for the wings, so one could make the one airframe, an F2A-3, so equipped for testing this armament.  Easy enough to scratch build but a neat inclusion nevertheless.

Instructions are standard Special Hobby. You get a small 12 page booklet with a history, sprue layouts (and part number assignments), assembly drawings and color callouts (in Gunze colors).  Component placement for some parts are vague, color callouts in the assembly steps are rather generic, and part numbers were found to be incorrect on a few.   The last three pages are devoted to the paint and decal placement guides for the aircraft.

The decals, printed by Aviprint, include markings for three (well, actually four) different aircraft, all non-specular blue grey over light grey.  You can do an aircraft from VF-2, USS Lexington, November 1941; another from VMF-211 at Hawaii in April 1942 (this one has the oversized upper wing insignia and red and white striped tail, so at least a bit different from the norm); finally a USMC aircraft from VMF-221 at the Battle of Midway. The forth aircraft is achieved by changing the “MF-15” side code of the last aircraft to “MF-11”.  Also, a subtle difference in assembly that isn’t called out in the instructions is the Lexington aircraft has the bottom glass installed, the other two do not (apparently due to the extra fuselage fuel tank that occupied that area).

CONSTRUCTION

For this build the first thing I did was read Scott’s review of the Classic Airframes Brewster B-239.  This is an excellent article on building this kit. I recommend printing it out and keeping it handy while you are building. http://modelingmadness.com/scotts/axis/239buffalo.htm  

Thusly armed with this information, I dove in.  Construction starts, not with the cockpit but with the wings.  Fairly straightforward…a couple of resin inserts for the wheel wells and then the two top wings halves mate up with the single bottom piece.  The bottom glass blanking plate is attached here; its fit leaves a lot to be desired.  I can only hope the glass piece itself fits better if that’s the aircraft you choose to do.  Next on the agenda is the fuselage wheel well/accessory bay forward of the cockpit.  This is actually a very nicely detailed area; unfortunately it is also an area that will be hard to see once done.  Here is where I deviated quite a bit from the instruction sequence.  I moved up a few steps and glued the aft cockpit bulkheads and tail wheel insert into the right fuselage half and then taped the fuselage halves together so I could check/adjust alignment of these parts.  This I set aside and let dry.  I then went back to the accessory package and started assembling that.  Part placement here is a bit vague but in the end it came out okay….again very little of this is going to be seen.  I left the two machine guns off this assembly for that very reason.  While this was still drying, I glued the assembly into the wing bottom and slipped my taped fuselage over and onto it, again to keep everything in place and aligned properly.  Confused yet?  Don’t worry, this little plane is a confusing build and it gets worse.

You see, the instructions would have you assemble the accessory bay, fuel tank/cockpit floor, engine and engine mounts all to the wing assembly.  To this you glue the right fuselage half.  Then into the right and still unattached left fuselage halves you attach the instrument panels and cockpit bits.  Then, with all these bits perfectly aligned (of course), you then assemble the left fuselage half to button it all up.  Sounds like trouble to me.

Luckily for me there is a problem with this kit that actually makes assembly easier.  As I mentioned above, the plastic for this kit is the same as Classic Airframes F2A-1 and B-239 kits, except for the longer fuselage.  (The -3 had a 10” fuselage extension forward the wing for center of gravity purposes.)  Well, the engine mount parts were not adjusted for this extra length; they are still for the shorter fuselage.  So if one assembles according to instructions, you end up with an engine that is about ¼” too far inside the cowling.

It was thus apparent to me that I could not mount the engine to the mounts.  So I started working on an alternative.  I decided to mount the engine on the forward bulkhead as a separate assembly.  I cut a piece of evergreen sheet to lay over the bulkhead hole that the engine originally fits into…with the engine laying on, instead of in, this bulkhead, and with the thickness of the evergreen sheet itself, I had the length that it needed.  I painted the bulkhead Zinc chromate yellow and after adding pushrods to the engine (with evergreen rod) I painted it steel and grey and put a nice dirty oil wash over it to pop out the details. 

The nice thing about this whole mess is that without the engine attached to the rest of the mount and accessory bay, the fuselage could be glued together, the cockpit panels assembled into it, and the whole thing slid over and attached to the wing assembly.  Much easier.  So that’s the route I went.  I glued the fuselage halves together and started on the cockpit bits.  I’m not real excited about the photo-etch over film over plastic aspect of the instrument panels. They were hard for me to get aligned.  Still, they turned out very nice, much nicer than a dry brushed piece of plastic for sure.  After all the bits were assembled, painted, and detail-washed, the cockpit looks very nice.

Dry fitting the fuselage to the wing showed an okay fit, but one that left a pronounced lip at the bottom.  Rather than putty this area and sand it smooth I opted to trim away an appropriate amount from the fuselage in the wing join area instead.  Once this was satisfactory I glued the assemblies together and finally had something that looked like a tubby little Buffalo.  Still had to do a little putty and sanding, but I’ve had worse.

The next little problem area is the life raft/headrest assembly.  Again, a fiddly assembly.  I got it together and glued to the rear cockpit decking and it looked pretty neat, until a couple days later when I test fitted the rear cockpit glass on and it didn’t fit.  The life raft assembly sat way too high.  Just great.  I carefully cut it back off and proceeded to cut down the mounting legs till the canopy fir over it.

Okay….I think we’re ready for the paint booth.  Well, almost.  I dipped the correct canopy pieces in Future and after dry I proceed to mask the frames.  One nice thing about the -3 is the sliding portion of the canopy has just an outside frame…..no frames between the clear panels.  This was done to try to improve visibility and they just butted up the Plexiglas pieces against one another.  There will be lines but no colored frame there, so that much less masking to do. 

COLORS & MARKINGS

There’s not much difference in the color choices for -3’s…they’re pretty generic looking.  I decided against the cover aircraft, as I figured most would do that one.  So I chose the VMF-211 bird at Hawaii, mostly because I liked the big wing insignia and the stripes on the tail give it some color.  I first sprayed the entire aircraft light grey and when dry checked all the seams for imperfections.  Of course I found none.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!  So after puttying and sanding some more I touched up the grey and highlighted panel and panel lines with lighter and darker shades respectively.  Then I masked off the underside in preparation for the top color.

I sprayed the blue-grey and gave it the same highlighting treatment.  This I let dry for a couple days then gave it a gloss coat of Future in anticipation of decals and further weathering.  I am thoroughly impressed with the decals; they applied easily, were movable with no tearing, and snuggled down very well on their own.  One application of micro-sol and they achieved that “painted on” look.  Very nice indeed.  The rudder stripes are a bit oversized, but trimming was easy after they dried.  After the decals were on I broke out my artist oil colors (the cheapest set I could find…doesn’t need to be anything fancy) and proceeded to dot the surfaces with various colors.  Then I took a brush damp (not wet) with turpenoid (you can use any mild thinner) and proceeded to blend the colors around, producing a hue-changing color film and further breaking up the monotone of the base colors.  Nice thing about this is the slow drying time of the oil gives you plenty of time to blend things around or completely wipe it off if you don’t like the results. 

Time for a dull coat and for me to almost completely screw this build up.  Both this model and a 1/48 Eduard Tempest were ready for to dullcoat but alas, my bottle of Tamiya flat base and Future was all used up and I needed to mix up another batch. No problem, says Dale......except that a bolt of dumbs##t hit me right about then and I mixed it up wrong.  Most would test said mixture on some scrap, but not me. No, I merrily sprayed away. All looked good until it started drying, then a lovely white cloudy coating enveloped on both aircraft....somehow (er....stupidity) I mixed the flat mixture WAAAAAAAAAY too strong. Both aircraft almost flew against the wall at that point.  But then I remembered a thread in the forums here at Modeling Madness recently about clouded canopies. It was recommended to just re-dip the offended canopy in Future again and that should solve the problem. I figured the same might work here. I gave both aircraft a light wet sand with very fine sandpaper and then re-shot both aircraft with Future. And it worked! After it dried I then re-shot both with a PROPERLY mixed up flat base. The Tempest looks good and the Buffalo exhibits just a few tiny areas of white-ish-ness (I'm sure that's a word) that I can easily pass off as dried sea-spray.

So saved from disaster, I added the canopy and all the final bits.  Wasn’t sure about the landing gear color, so once again I erred on the side of colorfulness and painted the legs Zinc Chromate yellow.  I also added an aerial of very fine stainless steel wire.  This is something I won’t be doing again, as it steadfastly refused to accept any paint without blobbing up…back to stretched sprue or nylon thread for me.

CONCLUSIONS

Well, I now have a Buffalo in the collection.  Not a beginner’s kit by any measure, but to others I can definitely recommend it.  It is an odd build and not without it’s problems, but it turns into a fine model of an often overlooked and derided fighter.

REFERENCES

Squadron Signal #81 F2A Buffalo in Action

Wikipedia   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brewster_Buffalo

Annals of the Brewster Buffalo    http://www.warbirdforum.com/buff.htm

Dale Rannals

September 2009

If you would like your product reviewed fairly and fairly quickly, please contact the editor or see other details in the Note to Contributors.

Back to the Main Page

Back to the Review Index Page