Minicraft 1/200 HK-1 'Spruce Goose'

KIT #: 11607
PRICE: $25.00 MSRP
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Jarod Erickson
NOTES: Perfect for beginner, novice, and master builders alike.

HISTORY

The HK-1/H-4 Hercules was conceived as a solution to the growing threat from German U-boats.  Allied ships were being sunk at an alarming rate, which motivated shipbuilder Henry Kaiser to propose the idea of a flying boat.  The idea was approved by Congress and Kaiser teamed up with aircraft designer Howard Hughes to build the plane.  Wartime restrictions placed limits on the use of metal, so the Hercules was built primarily of wood. (Hence the name Spruce Goose)

Development and construction dragged on, frustrating Kaiser, who laid part of the blame to the limitations on metal and partly to Hughes insistence on “perfection.”  Eventually, Kaiser pulled out of the project and Hughes continued on alone, changing the aircraft designation to H-4 (HK-1 designated the Hughes-Kaiser collaboration). 

Work and construction on the Hercules proceeded so slowly that the plane wasn’t even finished by the time WW2 was over.  Hughes was charged with misappropriating government funds and called to testify before a Senate hearing.  On August 6, 1947 during one of his appearances, Hughes made the following statement:

The Hercules was a monumental undertaking.  It is over five stories tall with a wingspan longer than a football field.  That’s more than a city block.  Now I put the sweat of my life into this thing.  I have my reputation all rolled up in it and I have stated several times that if the Hercules fails to fly, I will probably leave this country and never come back.  And I mean it!”

On November 2, 1947 during a break in the Senate hearings, Hughes returned to California to perform taxi tests on the Hercules.  On the final test run Hughes gunned all eight engines and the airplane lifted off the surface of the water, flying at an altitude of 70 feet for about a mile.

Hughes was cleared of all charges and the Hercules was placed in an air-conditioned hangar, where it was kept in flight-ready condition until Hughes’ death in 1976.

The plane was purchased by the California Aero Club and placed on display adjacent to the ocean liner Queen Mary.  In 1988 the Walt Disney Company acquired both attractions, but announced they didn’t want to display the Hercules.  The California Aero Club searched for another host, and eventually awarded custody of the plane to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, OR.  The Hercules was disassembled and moved by river barge to it’s new location where it arrived on February 27, 1993 and has remained there to this day for all to see.

Some stats on the Hercules

Length: 218 feet 8in. (66.65 meters)

Wingspan: 319 feet 11in. (97.54 meters)

Powerplant: Eight Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major Radial Engines

Range: 3,000 miles

Cruise speed: 220 mph(353.98 km/h)

Propellers: four-bladed Hamilton Standard prop, 1 per engine

Propeller diameter: 17 feet 2 in. (5.23 meters)

(specifications obtained from Wikipedia Encyclopedia)

THE KIT

The Hercules is in my opinion a fascinating plane.  For the longest time it was the biggest airplane in the world, and even today it has the longest wingspan of any airplane in the world.  Also, the fact that there is only one example in the entire world makes it truly unique.

The kit has 39 parts molded in a light gray, heavy duty (and I do mean HEAVY-DUTY) styrene; the two fuselage halves,  two sprues containing four wing sections, eight cowlings, eight propellers, eight air intake scoops, four tailplane sections, and a clear sprue with the display stand pieces and the canopy.  One sheet of decals with markings for the single plane (naturally, of course!) is provided.  There really aren’t any panel lines, engraved or otherwise since the Hercules was covered with sheets of laminated wood sealed with resinous glues, but what is there is well done.

If I have one gripe about this kit it’s the fact that it wasn’t molded in 1/144 scale.  This alone would have opened up so many doors for diorama possibilities as there are several tanks, figures and even other airplanes readily available in 1/144 scale.  Demand of this kit must not be very high (I don’t think it is, anyways) but it would be nice to see some aftermarket resin or photoetch detail sets or even some  aftermarket details for some hypothetical overseas transport markings.

Oh, well.

CONSTRUCTION

I had grand plans for this kit when I started; scratchbuilt R-4360 engines, a full flight deck and a diorama depicting the first and only flight of the Hercules, inspired by the box art.

Well, after I realized just how SMALL these things would be, I decided against them, but I still haven’t entirely thrown out the idea of a diorama.

I started by washing the parts in warm water and dish detergent (just like washing dishes!) and letting them air-dry under a fan.  Once dry, I wiped them all down with distilled white vinegar.  This etches the plastic so that the paint and decals adhere better.  I then did a mock up assembly using rubber bands and small clamps to get an idea of the final product.  Not really necessary, but it gives you something to look forward to 

The cowlings have a layer of plastic over the front of them with a hole in the center that the propeller shaft fits into, where the keeper (my name for the little rings or tubes that holds the propeller in place so that it’ll stay in place when it spins) fits onto the shaft from the backside.  To remove this I used a pin vise and progressively larger drill bits(.030” on up) to get the open diameter I wanted.

Next came the air intake scoops.  For some reason I thought they fit flush against the engine nacelles and so I gouged a U shape in one to make it look hollow.  When I test-fitted it on the nacelle I saw how it actually went on and cursed my stupidity.  So I moved on, resolving to either scratchbuild a new one or see about replacement parts.  Next up came the canopy.  Now, this is one teeny-tiny, itty-bitty little window we’re talking about here; I mean, a real greenhouse-canopy nightmare.  Somehow, I got the brilliant idea to paint the entire thing silver and scratch the paint off the panes with a toothpick when it dried.  Yeah, I know, I still don’t know where I came up with that one.  The toothpick didn’t work too well so I moved onto my modelling knife ( I can hear the groans out there now!) which just scratched the heck out of it.  On top of all this, two of my propellers were broken. (In Minicraft’s defense, I think it was a shipping error rather than the quality of the plastic-remember I said it was heavy-duty)  Discouraged but not defeated, I went onto Minicraft’s website and saw that they offered replacement parts so I went ahead and ordered two new canopies (foresight in action!), two new propellers, and eight new intakes.  A week or so later they were in my hand and I was back in business!

Moving on, I decided to work on the fuselage.  There is a row of portholes engraved on each side of the fuselage, so I went ahead and drilled these out with my hobby knife.  I then glued both horizontal stabilizers together and glued them to the fuselage halves.

The wings come in four parts, which make up two halves just like the real airplane.  They interlock in the center, which adds rigidity and a solid feel.

As for the intakes, I found that by drilling a hole in the center of the intake using a .020" drill bit and angling it left and right makes a convincing hollow look.  Remember how I said I only gouged out one?  Luckily I had spares if I screwed one up (and I did screw several up) and eventually I had eight good intakes.

COLORS & MARKINGS

This is one of the easiest paint schemes ever; bright, shiny silver.  Because of the simplicity of this paint scheme, the model can be broken down into two main segments; the fuselage and the wings.  I used a big can of Colorplace's Bright Silver spray paint (the cheap Wal-Mart brand spray paint) for the whole plane (well, almost the whole plane).  I kept the fuselage halves separate till I got them painted.

Since the fuselage is already a light gray I didn't use any primer and went ahead and sprayed the bright silver.  For some reason I panicked and sprayed on a real heavy coat, obscuring the panel lines on the tail of the right fuselage half.  Once again cursing my stupidity, I tried to brush the paint smooth but left huge brush marks. Finally, I took the biggest brush I had, some thinner, and some paper towels and proceeded to clean up the paint.  I was lucky the paint was still wet so most of it came off.  I let the paint dry for 24 hours and sprayed the right fuselage half again.  It still looked slightly hideous, but after the previous day's fiasco I let it go.

Next up was the wings.  I assembled the entire wing section (cowling, intakes, and wing floats) leaving off the propellers and the keepers.  I masked off where the wings join the fuselage and sprayed away.  Because of the large size of the wings (19 inches!) I sprayed one side, let it dry for 24 hours, then flipped it over, sprayed the other side, and let it dry for another 24 hours.  All in all, I think the wing section came out the best.

I painted the propellers with Testors gloss black(#1147) spray paint and let that dry for 24 hours.  I then brush painted the spinners with Testors silver (#1146) and the blade tips with Floquil Railbox Yellow (#F110033).

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

Remember how I said I drilled out the fronts of the cowlings?  In doing so, I also removed the only means of support for the propellers, right?  WRONG!  The keepers (the little rings or tubes that fit onto the propeller shaft and keep the propeller in place) were long tubes with a bulge at the end.  All I did was sand away the bulge to get a flat surface and glue them in the center of the wing nacelles.  Then all you do is cement the cowling over the nacelle, add a drop of cement to the tip of the propellor shaft, slide it into the keeper, and presto!  The end result is a more realistic appearance.

Minicraft suggests using an old "D" cell battery to add balance to the plane once it's fully assembled.  I didn't like the idea of using batteries (leaking acid crosses the mind) so instead I used some various good-sized hexnuts that I found here and there around the house.  I used Elmer's white glue to fasten these down along the inside length of the fuselage.  I then glued the wings to the fuselage and the basic construction was done.  The parts fit seamlessly together.

As for painting the canopy you have two options, either cut tiny little masks for the tiny little panes or try brushing the framework by hand.  I decided to cut the masks.  I used blue painter's masking tape for this.  It's actually not that hard, just tedious.  Once I had the masks burnished down I sprayed the canopy with the bright silver.  After removing the masks and wiping the canopy down with alcohol (I didn't know about Future at the time, so I didn't use it) it came out looking pretty good.

I used the kit's decals, since there aren't any others available.  They were strong but stubborn, and there are two long lines that stretch along the upper length of the wingspan that ripped so frequently that I just left them off for good.  Fortunately, the other decals which are mostly FAA registration numbers went down fine with a little coaxing and a lot of patience.

All that was left was the stand and the Hercules took to the air once again!!

CONCLUSIONS

This kit just might be one of those models that absolutely anybody could build.  It's perfect for a first-timer glue project, or as the starting point for a super-detailed masterpiece.  It could even be a weekend slammer project, if you needed a break from that super-detailed 1/72 Gato submarine or 1/35 Tiger I.

It makes me wonder how different the war would have been if the Hercules had entered full-scale production in time.  The U-boat wolf packs might not have enjoyed as much success as they did.  We might never have had Liberty ships.  D-day might have taken place in 1943.  Germany might have had to focus their shipbuilding on aircraft carriers and the formation of the Kriegsmarine Luftwaffe.  Would a Hercules have delivered the atomic bomb instead of the Indianapolis?  Would there have been gigantic flying antisubmarine or antiship gun platforms?

Just one of those things that makes you think.

REFERENCES

McDonald, John J. Howard Hughes and the Spruce Goose

The Aviator, Miramax Films 2004

Nicolau, Stephane Flying Boats and Seaplanes

Jarod Erickson

May 2009

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