Subject: Grumman F7F-3 Tigercat

Scale: 1/48

Manufacturer: AMT/Ertl

Kit No.: 8843 (AMT/Ertl kit no.)

Parts:100 (94 light gray styrene, 3 clear styrene, 3 vinyl tires)

Media: Injection molded styrene

Price: US$18.50 (can be found cheaper, though)

Detail: 9 (ascending scale 1-10)

Accuracy: 9 (ascending, 1-10)

AMT/Ertl has taken some heat in the summer of 1996 as modelers have discovered that the beautifully detailed vinyl tires on their quarter-scale Tigercat also eat styrene. It's true, because I left the right fuselage half lying on the nose tire with a resultant crecent-shaped dent on the rear of the part. But that shouldn't scare you away from this kit - just keep the tires in their cellophane! Resin aftermarket wheels are available, and the kit's styrene components are first-rate.

Other than the tires, it's hard to find anything really wrong with this kit. If you think you're going to need lots of aftermarket parts to make it look good, save your cash. The four-piece P&W R-2800 engines feature separate ignition harnesses, crankcase fronts, full-round cylinder banks and the correct Navy-spec cylindrical magneto housings. The cowl flap ring units are molded separately from the main cowlings, and feature the best-molded exhaust pipes I've ever seen in a kit, period. I only had to hand-twist a small Dremel ball cutter in the openings to ream them out to my satisfaction.

The propellers only add to the engine detail, with molded-in hex nut retainers for the hub spinners and the hub gear cases. Blades are well-defined with thin edges and a nice blade twist. Recessed panel lines are the norm on this kit, and they are well done for this scale. The centerline and inboard wing racks feature separate sway braces, and the 500 lb. bombs and main drop tank are keepers. Well-done 5" HVARs with separate fin assemblies round out the stores, although the fins are a bit thick. That's more an example of limitations in making affordable molds for injection-molded kits than a reflection on AMT/Ertl. Molded-in nose .50's are easy to drill out with a pin vise and suitable bit. The wing-mounted 20 mm slots are a touch on the shallow side, and those barrels should be replaced with hypo tubing.

The cockpit has few parts, and the sidewall detail is a little less than the quality found in Ertl's A-20 series. But the instrument panel needs just paint to make it look great. No recognizeable gunsight exists in the kit, so you'll need to scratchbuild one. The seat features good pan detail, and the control stick includes the floor-mounted linkage channel. The rear cockpit bulkhead has good molded detail for the seat mounting frame. A resin cockpit set is available from Meteor Products/Cutting Edge and might be a good investment for the hard-core builder, but the average builder can get a good looking result from the stock assembly. If you want an on-ground model, you can either use the tail-prop parts in the kit (a two-piece 55 gallon drum and crate assembly which is probably quite reasonable given the Tigercat's layout) or install plenty of noseweight. Before I found out about the tire reactivity problem and rebuilt her gear up, I installed two .50 cal muzzleloader ball rounds and a .50 cal. "sugar loaf" bullet under and immediately behind the cockpit assembly. That appeared to balance the Cat during a taped-together dry fit of the model. Don't rule out the drum and crate though. B-24's, which shared with the Tigercat an extreme amount of rear fuselage aft of the mains, were usually seem with similar rigs or steel-pipe tail props when at rest. Wheel wells feature good roof and sidewall detail, and the main-gear door interiors truly add to the effect. The main landing gear uses the multi-part leg system of the A-20 kits, and appears strong enough to support the model (based on my experience with the A-20G kit). The wheel hubs are very nice, with flange and bolt detail.

The seams between the wing halves are probably the only real problem area in assembly, but careful filing and sanding will give a smooth finish to the leading and trailing edges, which are a touch on the thick side. The wings and horizontal stabilizers, if assembled carefully, fit to the fuselage with no filler needed. The seams are along panel lines, and are that tight.The engine-cowling assembly arrangement allows you to leave those items off while finishing the rest of the model. If you choose the green/white banded VMF-312 navigation trainer, this solves a lot of problems with close-in masking and painting. The canopy is fair, with petite frame detail. The decals are translucent ("great" news for putting those yellow numbers over a sea-blue finish) and do not conform well. If you have a light table, you can cut new letters from aftermarket decal sheet or masks to spray markings on blank decal sheet or directly on the model. Aftermarket sheets are also becoming available to cover the kit's markings and other schemes. The kit features the VMF-312 scheme, another Marine fighter and a new-delivery Navy T'cat. If yo do an in-flight Tigercat, you'll need to cadge up a pilot, and the figure from Monogram's 1/48 P-51D is good if you shorten the legs (if you catch my drift - the stumps are well hidden under the panel) and rework the goggles to the wraparound style.

A modular-style mold is being used on this kit, and one can see evidence of this in the form of fine mold separation marks on nose panels and the dorsal spine between the wings. These match the locations of the radar operator's position and the larger radar nose of the F7F-3N night fighter. Based on photos in Ray Wagner's "American Combat Planes," you could do an F7F-4N with just the dorsal position and minimal work to the existing day fighter nose (read that as paint).

As a measure of my cheapness, I used Krylon interior/exterior spray SeaBlue paint. Especially since none of the major U.S. model paint manufacturers (including one that pioneered systemic matches to Federal Standard colors . . .) has seen fit to put Dark Sea Blue in a spray can . . . HINT, HINT. This choice was only because I haven't been able to set up my airbrush in the house lately. The Krylon appears to work well, if you're interested, but mist on those first couple of coats and rub out with an extra fine plastic wool pad or 600 grit wet/dry paper for a good, smooth finish.

All in all, the Tigercat is a good investment and a treat to build. Actual construction probably took less than 12 hours, but painting to bring out that detail probably added another 10. It's worth it, and maybe AMT/Ertl will fix that wheel problem.

And keep their factories in the U.S.?

- Mike Still