Minicraft 1/144 C-97G Stratofreighter






One aircraft: Minnesota ANG


Lee Kolosna


Overall a bit of a disappointment



The C-97 Stratofreighter enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a cargo carrier and, more importantly, as an aerial refueling aircraft. The concept came about through Boeingís submission to the US Army of a dedicated cargo plane that was based on major components of the B-29. An enlarged fuselage section was built on top of the B-29ís lower fuselage, giving the aircraft its characteristic figure-eight cross section. The wings, engines, tail, and landing gear were taken from the big bomber as well. In January 1943, the Army accepted the design and authorized the production of three prototypes, the first of which flew in November 1944. With the end of the war, the US Army realized that speedy cargo planes with heavy lifting capabilities were essential to meeting military challenges in the post-nuclear era. The C-97 was ordered into production, leading to a successful run of 888 aircraft. Boeing also attempted to capitalize on its investment by introducing a civilian version dubbed the Model 377 Stratocruiser. Several dozen of these aircraft were ordered by various airlines, but Douglas and Lockheed captured the market, making

the last airliners of the piston age The Strategic Air Command made the aerial tanker version, the KC-97, an integral part of its capability to strike targets around the world. With thirsty B-47 and B-52 bombers coming on-line, the need for a reliable refueling aircraft was critical to SAC. The KC-97 filled that role capably for nearly two decades, eventually giving way to the KC-135.

The G model was the most produced version of the series, with 592 tankers built and another 135 cargo-only aircraft made. Powered by four Pratt and Whitney R-4360 radial engines, the C-97G provided service to the Air Force and later Air National Guard units into the late 1970s. A few aircraft were converted to special oversized cargo carriers, known as Pregnant Guppies. These ungainly looking aircraft still fly today, hauling subassemblies for the aerospace industry.



Minicraft is to be commended for their ambitious series of subjects in this popular airliner scale. Iíve always been a fan of the C-97, and three kits were announced: KC-97G, C-97G, and the airliner version Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. An excellent preview of the KC-97G kit by Scott Van Aken can be viewed here. Molded in light gray plastic with engraved panel lines, the first impression is not favorable, with quite a few trouble areas immediately evident. First, the engraving is quite heavy-handed. Not quite Matchbox-like trenches, but close. There are some molding flaws on the bottom of each wing and the vertical stabilizer that need to be sanded out. Secondly, the propellers are really badly executed. The blades are extremely thick, and the hubs are horrible misrepresentations of the real things. This kind of quality in a brand new kit is very disappointing. The landing gear and wheels are nicely done, demonstrating that Minicraft is capable of creating fine moldings when they put their minds to it. The landing gear doors, however, are way too thick. The nose gear door is especially bad, and it was left off the model in the pictures in this review. I have since replaced the door with a piece cut from a sheet of .010 styrene. Thirdly, Minicraft does not offer the slightest representation of the R-3350 engines. The forward area of each cowling is devoid of any detail whatsoever. There is also nothing inside the wheel wells, but that is forgivable in this scale, I suppose.

Like other aircraft in this series, the forward nose section is molded in clear plastic so the modeler can fill in the seams of the canopy area without interfering with the windows, a thoughtful touch. The rest the passenger windows are represented by decals. The decals are of excellent quality, although an error in the printing process cut off half the clear carrier on one each of the "USAF" and "US Air Force" markings. A quick application of Micro Superfilm fixed the problem. Purists will notice that all the markings are printed in dark Insignia Blue instead of the correct black. Itís not a big deal.


My first area of attention was the propellers. I tried to sand down each blade to reduce the thickness, then spent a couple of hours filing the propeller hubs in an attempt to represent their actual shape on the real aircraft. When I finished, it looked better than what the kit originally offered, but not nearly as good as it should have been in the first place. I next worked on the engine nacelles. After gluing the two halves together, I found that I could not attach them to the wing, as the mounting pins are square in shape and their corresponding holes were round. Here, amazingly, we have a real-life example of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I cut the pins off and glued the nacelles on directly. The cowlings were applied next, followed by a lot of sanding and seam filling (I used thick CA glue) to make everything right. The alignment of the cowlings is not great, either, so be careful when you glue them on.

The fuselage has its own set of problems, mostly dealing with huge (for this scale) gaps in the fit, especially on the upper rear of the fuselage. After gluing the two halves together, I loaded up the interior with BBs mixed in a slurry of five-minute epoxy to weight the nose so the model would sit properly on its tricycle landing gear. After this dried, I painted the interior flat black. The instructions mention that a Ĺ ounce of weight is needed, but my experience (unfortunately) is that more is needed. I put in what I thought was the right amount of weight, only to find later (after everything was buttoned up) that I needed more. This is a very tail-heavy model. My solution was to drill a hole in the fuselage just big enough the drop some more BBs in. My model now does a very good job of imitating a bean bag with all those BBs rattling around. Consider yourself warned: use more than enough weight.

Fitting the clear canopy section involved more filling of the prominent seam after masking the windows off to prevent scratching them while sanding. The wings attached to the fuselage without problems, but the horizontal stabilizers did not fit properly at the first attempt. I filed and sanded the underside and finally managed to get them to fit flush with the fairing.


Being a natural metal finish, I paid a lot of attention to the quality of the plastic, polishing out all the sanding marks with a tri-grit file and a final application of Brasso. I used SNJ spray metal for the base coat of paint, followed by picking out alternate panels and the control surfaces with Testorsí non-buffing Metalizer in the Stainless Steel shade. Each panel line was picked out with a wash of dark gray acrylic paint. I hand-painted the yellow tips of each propeller (too small to mask and airbrush) and the black anti-icing boots. I masked the radome with Parafilm M and painted half of it flat black.

The decals, as mentioned before, are of excellent quality and went on the model perfectly. I did not use any sealers either before or after the decal stage. For final assembly, I attached the landing gear and two antenna wires made from "invisible" nylon thread. I drilled a hole with a twist drill in the nose to represent the landing light.


My excitement about the introduction of the Minicraft C-97 series was diminished by the disappointing fit and finish of major parts. Perhaps Iím expecting too much for $10, but I wonder how hard it would have been to produce more accurate propellers, representations of the engine fronts, and less heavy-handed scribing. Academy has announced a 1/72 scale version in the coming year, so perhaps we will see a truly state-of-the-art kit of this non-mainstream subject soon. As for the Minicraft series, I can reluctantly recommend them, but they really could have been better without too much more effort.


Bowers, Peter M.: Stratofreighter, Airpower July 1999, Wings August 1999

Lee Kolosna


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