Kit: Lockheed AC-130A Hercules Gun Ship

Scale: 1/48

Kit Number: 818

Manufacturer: Italeri

Price: $55, on sale

Media: Injection-molded styrene

Decals: Are pretty bad, but you get a sheet for three aircraft: "Thor" - South East Asia scheme/Gloss Black--- Unnamed - Overall Gloss Black--- Air Force Reserve - Overall Gunship Gray

Accuracy: Externally good, the interior is apparently all wrong. Clear parts are of fair quality.

Overall: Huge! An imposing kit that makes an impact whenever seen.

Review by: Lee Kolosna


The C-130 has enjoyed one of the world's longest production runs for an aircraft, extending well over thirty years now. It is still being built today. The versatility of this airframe is nothing short of phenomenal. The gun ship version, as depicted here by Italeri, carries on a concept that first started by loading gatling guns in C-47 transports and using them for close air support of ground troops. These gun ships were loaded with enormous amounts of ammunition and increasingly larger sizes of weaponry. The AC-47 would turn lazy left-hand turns around the target and pummel the ground with withering fire from its 20mm gatling guns. When the Hercules was adapted for the job, it contained four 20mm gatling guns, four miniguns, a 105mm howitzer, and a set of complex aiming and infrared sensing gear. Some editions of the gunship changed the armament to two 40mm cannons and two each of the gatling and mini guns. This is what Italeri chose to model. These aircraft were enormously popular with grunts in Vietnam, and the damage that they could inflict on a battlefield in a short period of time was scary -- almost evil.

Italeri's version of an early Gun Ship Hercules, the AC-130A, is one of the biggest plastic scale aircraft models ever made. While the Monogram 1/72 RB-36 may have a longer wingspan, the completed Hercules is without a doubt more imposing in both girth and height. This is one big model! It tends to draw gasps from those used to working on diminutive Spitfires and Me 109s. The fact that Italeri can engineer a solid kit of such a large subject is commendable. While not perfect, it captures the essence of the airplane, and it can be the centerpiece of any modelers' collection.

The box the model comes in, made of reinforced cardboard, is not as big as one would expect. I've seen bigger boxes for kits in 1/72 scale. Italeri's secret is that it chose to mold the fuselage in four pieces: front and back, left and right. The tail is another subassembly, so all the plastic can be neatly packed into the box without taking a whole lot of room. The front and back fuselage pieces line up quite well on a natural panel line, so the resulting joint is not offensive. Being anal-retentive, I went ahead and filled the seam and rescribed it. The kit is molded in soft, black (ugh!) plastic. The softness of the plastic is good, because there is a lot of seam filling to be done in this behemoth. The clear parts are not very good: thick and lacking in state-of-the-art transparency. My windshield assembly was cracked in half right through the front pane, probably as a result of shipping. Attempts to create a new one with Squadron Theraform were unsuccessful owing to the size of the piece. Fortunately, the cracked panel is square and flat, so I cut a piece of clear plastic out of a music CD jewel case and glued it in place between the two halves at the frame lines. This worked well, but the clarity of the replacement piece is better than the rest of the canopy panes. It's noticeable to the casual observer that it is different. Perhaps other modelers will be lucky and not have the problem I did. Getting replacement parts from Italeri in Italy is not known as an easy task, so I didn't even try.

For such huge pieces of plastic, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that there was no warping that I could detect. The moldings are crisp, with raised panel lines, and no flash. There are no objectionable ejector marks, though a couple of sink holes on the fuselage under the tail had to be filled. Interior detail is provided for both the flight deck and the cargo hold. If you've ever been in real C-130 at an air show, you know the interior is a very busy place with pipes, wires, cables, padded walls, and cargo handling equipment. On the AC-130, there are also the gatling guns and cannons, as well as ammunition storage, searchlights, radars, infrared sensors, a 55 gallon drum, and -- my favorite -- a broom for sweeping up. All of this is provided by the kit. Several C-130 experts have stated that Italeri's interior is pure fiction. I don't have enough references on the subject to comment definitively on that, but I will take it as probably true. I built my model with the rear loading door open. Even with that, the cargo bay interior detail is very hard to see. The poor quality porthole clear pieces don't help here. In the cockpit, I drybrushed the instrument panels (lots of them) with white to highlight the numerous gauges and added some simple seat belts to each of the four seats. With the big greenhouse to illuminate the flight deck, all of the details are visible to the viewer's. You can't see them with great clarity, but you can still see them.

Interior colors were two grays, FS36231 Dark Gull Gray and FS36440 Gull Gray. I used Testors Model Master enamel. I also used a dark gray wash to bring out some of the interior highlights, but again, it's too dark to see anything in there. I feel better knowing that I did it right, but my advice to others is to not bother. Fit of the parts is, with the exception noted below, quite good. This is a tail heavy model, so I added nose weight under the cockpit floor using BBs and white glue. I didn't need to add a tremendous amount of weight owing to the short and squat two axle, four wheel, main landing gear.

I ran into my first big problem, however, when I tried to put the two fuselage halves together over the completed interior assembly, which is made up of the cockpit floor, instrument panels, bulkheads, cargo floor, guns, overhead lighting and pipes, and the padded sides. This formidable assembly was too wide: the fuselage halves would not close over them (this is after I glued each front fuselage piece to its matching rear piece). I whittled away plastic from the bulkheads and floors, filed perceived protuberances down, and sanded some more. I finally got to the stage where I could get the fuselage halves closed by applying a lot of pressure with my hands, squirting in gap-filling CA glue at the seam, and then quickly applying accelerator to get the glue to solidify before I could let go. Sheesh! It looked like I was wrestling with a black baby alligator. My kids were amused as they watched. My wife wasn't when she heard all the expletives emanating from me as I was doing it.

I used more CA glue to fill all the seams on the fuselage. There's a lot of fuselage seam to fill on this baby. The wings went together very easily. I had to fill all the seams on the engine nacelles. I mated the wings and the horizontal stabilizers to the fuselage with yet more seam work. The tail is also an assembly that has to be done and mated to the fuselage. The three-bladed propellers are individually molded and attached inside their spinners. I agree with Scott, this trend in modeling is an exercise that doesn't need to be done. Fit and alignment problems are more likely this way. I wish model manufacturers would just provide the propeller assemblies complete like they used to in the old days.

After getting the seams filled, I rescribed all the panel lines that I had obliterated in the sanding process. Watch the junction on the top of the wings to the fuselage. The wing lines don't line up with the fuselage lines. I kind of fudged it here. I then primed the model with Krylon Sandable gray primer out of a spray can. This highlighted a few seam flaws, which I corrected. The decals provided with the kit are just awful. They are thick, matt-finished, and silver instantly. The only after-market ones that I could find are on Super Scale set 48-251 Gunships. There is only one AC-130A amongst all the AC-47s on the sheet, so I was stuck with that selection, which depicts an aircraft with the 16th Special Operations Squadron in Thailand in 1970. It has the standard South East Asia Camouflage scheme on top, with gloss black tail, sides, and under surfaces. Horrors! Gloss paint! On a huge model! I resigned myself to orange peel and sanded the primed surface down with 0000 steel wool. Then I used Tamiya Color X-18 Semigloss Black, which, when properly thinned (more so than other Tamiya paints--go 50/50), made a passable gloss surface. I used Polly Scale paints to do the camouflage pattern freehand with my airbrush. Be careful to mask off the black areas when doing the lighter colors, as the gloss black shows any overspray with a enthusiasm that is disheartening. It took quite a few corrective painting sessions to get it looking the way I wanted it to.

I used Future floor polish as a base for the decals, which went on fine. I used Super Scale national insignia. The only kit decal I used was the red propeller warning stripe. I did almost no weathering, other than to highlight the control surfaces with a dark gray wash, and to add exhaust stains on the top and bottoms of the wings. All my references, plus close inspections of C-130s at air shows, indicate that the Allison turboprop engines leave a thick, oily exhaust stain, especially on the bottom of the wing behind the nacelle. The final step was to remove the masking from the canopy and portholes, add the fiddly bits, and attach the landing gear. These are quite beefy, although I managed to crack the nose gear strut during my struggles with the fuselage. Will they hold up to the huge weight of the model over the years? Probably not. So I made a stiff cardboard cradle that fits under the fuselage to reduce the strain on the landing gear while the model is stored. Underwing attachments include the two huge fuel tanks and four ECM pods. I broke the tiny flat antenna just above the cockpit about twelve times, so I suggest that you cut it off and attach it as the last thing you do before putting it on the shelf. (Ha! The only shelf this is going on is a coffee table!) Two radio aerials are connected from the tail to attachment points on the top of the fuselage. These might be the longest aerial wires in model history. Don't use stretched sprue, as it won't be strong enough. I would suggest fly fishing line or invisible thread available from a sewing supply store. Plan on having helpful friends accidentally breaking it often. Consider not putting it on at all, unless you're entering the model in a contest.

I spent over seventy hours working on the AC-130. After six months, some of the seams that I had carefully sanded smooth started to pop open and crack, the damn blade antenna above the cockpit was broken again, and the nose wheel strut collapsed at the point of my earlier repair. I've concluded that a model of the Hercules in this scale is really bordering on being a "bridge too far". Will it ever be entered in a contest? No. Is there orange peel all over the place? Yes. Is the cockpit glass thick and difficult to see through? Yes. If I had the chance, would I do it over again? Absolutely! This is what modeling is all about: doing things out of the ordinary, even if they don't turn out to be contest winners. I would recommend this kit to modelers of above average ability who are looking for an absolute show-stopper in their collections. They don't get any bigger or more impressive than this.

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