Special Hobby 1/32 Hawk 75M/N/O

KIT #: 32038
DECALS: Three Options
REVIEWER: Bill Koppos
NOTES: Limited run kit

             The Curtiss 75 Hawks sure did get around. For an aircraft I often see referred to as "second rate" or "obsolescent" they served far and wide, and on both sides of WW2. It was the preferred fighter of the French Armee D'el Air, giving away nothing but speed to the vaunted Me109. The Finnish air Force used them long and well, and in Burma the Brits turned with the Ki-43 Hayabusa, called the most maneuverable fighter of the War. A pilot flying in his pajamas and with only one machine gun scored a kill over Pearl Harbor, but here we are concerned with the machines that saw combat first, in the skies over China. 

             First flown in 1935 with a retractable-landing gear, Curtiss produced a simplified version as a demonstrator to shop around to less sophisticated customers. This machine featured a fixed landing gear in streamlined fairings and a less powerful engine than the US Army prototype. The aircraft featured a gleaming, high polish finish on it's unpainted metal skin. This, plus an almost 280 MPH speed, caught the attention of one Claire Lee Chennault, later famed as the founder of the American Volunteer Group. At that time he was serving the Chinese government in an advisory position, and when the plane was offered to China in 1937 it  was duly purchased for Chennault. He supposedly used it in an "observation" role, but I can't imagine this ex-U.S. Army man with an armed "hot" fighter not wading in to the plenty of Japanese targets available. Details of the plane's use are hard to find, and it ended up ground-looped by a another pilot and written off some months later, an inglorious end shared with many Chinese Air Force airplanes. China later contracted for 30 more fixed gear Hawks, but their effectiveness was limited by  poorly trained pilots using them in rough conditions.

           Fast forward to 1988, Bill Koppos visits Tucson, Arizona. Looking for things of interest he finds Paul Gaudette's Military Book Store. Within the walls filled with good stuff is "The Curtiss Hawks", covering the P-1 through the P-40. There in the middle was a photo of a most beautiful airplane, a fixed-landing gear P-36, of course in reality the Hawk 75 China demonstrator. I have wanted a proper model of this one since then, my first attempt from the Hobbycraft 1/48 kit being a foil job that convinced me to never do that again.  Special Hobby released a 1/72 Hawk 75M some years ago, and finally a 1/32 version appeared. 'Tis a golden age of modeling we're living in.   


                                                   Obviously this model is based on the previous Special Hobby 1/32 P-36 series, and having built the P-36 "Pearl Harbor Defender" boxing I pretty much knew what to expect. What I did not expect was to open the box and find the wrong front end. Special Hobby split the fuselage at the front to cater for the Twin Wasp and Wright Cyclone versions, and my box contained the Wasp parts I had used on the P-36. This of course won't do for a Cyclone-engined plane. An E-mail to CMK (the parent company) produced a promise to send replacement parts. If you buy at a Hobby outlet, check your box before paying!

            The rest were standard  P-36 parts but with the addition of a sprue of 3 sets of wheel 'spats", for each of the 3 versions depicted,  the 20mm cannon pods for the Thai version, and a new tailwheel insert to cater to fixed gear models. 2 etched frets are included, a real nice color etched one, with a 3 piece "sandwich" for the instrument panel, some cockpit placards and  details,  and a seat harness. The other is a stainless sheet with the mysterious Curtiss underwing light bomb racks complete with tiny braces. I didn't use this on my model but you bet your bippy I'm saving it for future use when the mythical 1/32 P-40F's are finally released.  Also on this fret are some nice gun charging handles, more cockpit details and a ring and bead gunsight set.  You will be left with a pile of spare P-36 landing gear parts and if you are like me and get the Wasp parts, a complete P&W Wasp for the spares box, in case your French Hawk or P-36 blows an engine.

          Clear parts include 3 windscreens, and one canopy hood, which of course will be wrong for my demonstrator, of which more later.  Decals are provided for 3 export versions, Chinese, Thai, and Argentinian, any of which will make a neat, colorful model. It was hard for me not to do the Thai, with it's big wing guns, but life is short. If you're really daring, there are rumors China bought 2 more fixed gear Hawks, one of which was cannon-armed, and flown with brief success by an American mercenary named Gus Weigel.  Well, let's stick some parts together.

      After 2 nudging E-mails CMK sent my Cyclone fuselage parts. Took about 3 months all told but finally they arrived.  I have heard that others have had trouble getting any response at all. Anyway the model can at last be started. I believe it is much better to glue the front to the backs of each side first, carefully lining them up. It is easier to fix the legnthwise seams than side ones. Before the halves can be joined the cockpit and engine must be done and installed. Pictures of the Thai Museum's Hawk show a yellow/green chromate mix inside, I added a drop of black to some Yellow Zinc chromate, making the seat a bit greener than the rest. The 3-part color etch instrument panel is really swell looking when assembled, and the placards add a nice touch. I chipped the dickens out of the wear areas using Rub 'n Buff and made a set of lap belts from lead foil. I didn't use the kit harness as photo-etch is too stiff for me, too hard to "pose" on the seat. Now the nicely detailed Wright Cyclone powerplant was assembled, ignition wires added, and painted aluminum, with black pushrods and a heavy black wash. This was attached to the firewall and put into the right fuselage side, the fuselage now glued together with it's attached cockpit assembly, taking care to make sure all internal parts are centered.

        It was at this point that things took a turn. I had originally intended to do the plane on the box cover, a standard run Chinese Hawk 75M, with it's paint job being described in the plans as a "very worn finish". But constant internet surfing in search of Hawk stuff turned up some very interesting items. Between gentlemen sending me answers to information requests and just plain luck I turned up a small picture history of the Hawk Demonstrator. It would appear that after it's delivery to China it was given an overall coat of a very dark color, over which was crudely painted a large white "75" on the fuselage. The best pics however showed the Demonstrator later on with it's paint really badly worn, including a closeup shot of a smiling Chennault himself in the cockpit, the original "Curtiss" logo of the Demonstrator vaguely showing through the washed out paint. THIS was the plane I had to model.

           So what was necessary to make the 75M into the Demonstrator? Well back to my search results. It seems the 75 prototype and early Hawks had no quarter-panel windows such as the P-36 and P-40 sported. There was just a scalloped area, an indentation, like a Macch 202 for instance. The fuselage spine had a slightly more "humped" appearance than the P-36 types, without the windows there. A nice side view of the Cyclone prototype showed these fairly well. The landing gear fairings were more cut away and streamlined than the 75M's. Duplicating the paint wear pattern would be a challenge. Some examination showed these mods doable by my low-tech abilities, so the course was duly changed. Some deep cleansing breaths-onward.

         Step one was to fill in the side window cuts, using sheet styrene and sprue pieces laid in with generous amounts of Tenax liquid cement. . The object here was to make this area solid, as heavy duty cutting and sanding would be needed.  The spinal surgery also commenced with glueing styrene slabs onto the areas to be raised. After 2 good days of drying the plastic could be carved down to the basic shapes wanted, and smoothed out with a coarse sanding stick. The cutouts were started using coarse sandpaper wrapped around a dowel  until the channels started looking like the pictures, then lighter grades of sandpaper were used. Pinholes and scratches were filled using Gap filling CA. The spine chunks were then carved and sanded and filled also, the process continuing until it looked like a match to the photos. The pics of the actual demonstrator are not too clear in this area, so I based it on the Cyclone prototype. Sorry purists, this thing is just not documented like a P-51.

              Now I started carving on the landing gear fairings, removing much of the front,  trying to cut them down as close as possible to the real deal. The wheels I fixed so as to be able to slide them in after the paint job, by notching them down to the axle holes on the inside where this cannot be seen. The opportunity was taken to beat the tires up a bit with rough paper to simulate operation from poor airfields. Now the assembled wing was fitted to the fuselage ,and here is the worst part of the kit, much shimming and filling is needed to get the correct results. Large gaps were fixed by cementing styrene shims onto the areas that need attention, dry fitting and trimming till a semblance of fit results. It also helps to glue a styrene tab into the fuselage at the rear wing joint to back up the glue and filler needed here. The stabilizers are fit now, the elevators being separate and I positioned them slightly down.  Mr. surfacer was brushed over all the filled areas and flaws fixed, several sessions of this procedure being needed. The undercarriage was now attached using the little arrows underwing as reference points, only minor trimming was needed.

               The finishing plan included first applying a high-polish finish using Alclad Polished Aluminum, this required that the plastic be polished also., using the finest side on the sanding sticks. After checking for and fixing the flaws, and buffing the whole model, the paint process can begin. 
             First order of business was shooting the fabric covered control surfaces with Aluminum, Alclad White Aluminum with a dash of flat white works well. Then these areas were masked off, and the airframe carefully cleaned for a coat of Gloss black, the recommended base for Alclad Polished Aluminum. I just used plain old Testor's glass jar Gloss Black, allowing 2 days drying time. The fuselage modifications looked good, no flaws being apparent, just the usual stray hairs and dust particles which were polished out.  Now after a good shaking the Polished Aluminum was laid on using thin dusting coats, and boy was she shiny when done! All paintwork was done with my trusty Paasche H single action, "external mix" spray gun.

            At this point I was tempted to leave her as she was, in shiny metal condition, and but for one problem I might have. The prominent "Curtiss" logos under the cockpit rails, or the cowling "Wright Cyclone" were not available in decal form. I actually attempted to make decals for it, freehanding the logos with prismacolor pens and printing them onto decal paper. They looked passable but not great, but a test on a mule model did not go well, the film being horrible, sticking out like a sore thumb. Some grumbling and head-scratching later, I figgered if I did the beat-up paint finish, I could freehand the logos right onto the model, where they would be partially covered as in the photos, and still be acceptable. Another carefully thought out decision made by the amazing Koppos thought process.

            One of the pictures of the Chennault Hawk made things easier and harder at the same time. This was a shot from the right rear quarter, showing clearly that it did have upper wing Chinese National insignia (many Chinese AF planes did not, including the box art machine).  Also clear were the 2 blast tubes sticking out of the cowling, showing that it did have four guns. Here too was the paint or lack thereof at the time. This paint had to be water based judging from the way it wore off. An interesting feature was the grid of peeled paint that followed the rivet lines toward the tail. At last a use for acrylic paint. What better way to simulate worn-off water base paint than to actually wash it off? Tests on the poor mule showed that Tamiya paint will come off with minimal scrubbing with Windex, and looked much like I wanted. The rivet peeling could be done with good old magic mask.

              First the insignia problem had to be tackled.The kit provides only underwing Chinese insignia, and a search of my decal dungeon showed nothing even close.  Time to get out the circle template and X-acto blades. First a proper sized circle is cut out and the outer part picked up and applied to it's location. Now the circle is sprayed Flat White, and dried overnight. Now to cover everything we don't want blue, this being the inner circle and 12 "rays' of the Nationalist Chinese suns. The inner circle was cut by template on the round part remaining from step one, and centered using the precision eyeball. Now the real fun of cutting 12 individual "pie slices" for the sun rays starts, using the remaining tape ring, these also being placed by eyeball. Believe it or not it isn't that hard, but sure is tedious. A mix was made up of Testors Blue and Black to try and match the decal colors, and sprayed over the masks. After all masks are removed you will have a Chinese sun insignia. They are a bit light but I will call it "fading" to match the rest of the beat-up scheme. This was done 4 times, a lot of work for sure but did it turn out great in the end, eliminating all the chancy problems that decals can cause.  I think you can't beat painted on markings and will do it every chance I can from now on.

             The large fuselage "75's" were penciled out on Tamiya tape until they looked right in size and crudity, according to our photo evidence. The numerals were then carefully cut out, the resulting stencils then applied to the fuselage after much fiddling to guess the proper positioning, and Flat White sprayed over them. Now the left-behind 7 and 5 were used to cover over the numbers when dry. These numbers had to be applied to the model before the final acrylic Green overcoat as it would have been impossible to mask them later without peeling up the Green. More circles now to cut, to cover over the National suns we just painted, and while the white and blue was out might as well mark out and shoot the 12 rudder stripes also.  OK, now for the "grid" appearance on the fuselage rear. Once again using the image, lines were drawn very lightly with a pencil, following the pattern as best I could. Utilizing a fine brush, Micro "Magic Masker" was painted along the lines, keeping these lines as fine as possible. The left side was done trying to randomize the look a bit.  

              Well it was finally time to apply the Acrylic overcoat. The paint in the "newly applied" photo appeared very dark and glossy, now not having any color shots one can only assume it was some form of Chinese Green. I settled on the very scientific method of color selection-I liked the look of the one Special Hobby used on the box art. I purchased 2 jars of Tamiya, an Olive green and a Dark Green, a 50-50 mix of these two yielding what I wanted. (I warned you purists). Using Tamiya thinner, I sprayed it on in a somewhat patchy fashion on the fuselage, covering a bit more on the wings and tailfeathers. Also the wheel spats were done after the bottom wings were masked off. As soon as the Paasche was cleaned, I bought the model in and started attacking my new paint job. The magic Mask was peeled with tape and toothpick, the results turned out pretty well, only one spot peeling too much. Now using Q-Tip (tm) ear swabs soaked in Windex(tm) (take that lawyers) I abraded the paint back in the areas indicated in the photo, the fuselage taking the major beating, also the areas on the wings where the crew would trod and random wing streaks as other pictures showed. The Tamiya paint came off the Alclad fairly easily as planned, but I left enough on the "Curtiss" logos to hide their crude nature, just a hint of them showing through as was the reality anyway. All the rest of the masking was removed now, and the wingwalks brushed Black and weathered.

           Whoo-wee! Shockingly, this thing had turned out almost exactly the way I wanted it. While I was calming down I started tackling the finishing bits. My nicely striped rudder was attached with wire in drilled holes,  to avoid a glue mess. The propeller was assembled, and the blades given the polished Aluminum treatment with a White Aluminum hub. The Wheel hubs had been given the green weathering treatment, now the tires were done Dark Grey and given a dose of Chinese mud. They were clicked into place and stayed put without glue, so they are unglued still. Now for the glasshouse. It seems there are two kinds of canopy on P-36/Hawks, one with a rear-sloping windscreen with a canopy hood that matches it, and one that has a vertical meeting line. The 75 Demonstrator requires a straight set, so guess what is in the kit? Yup. I scoured through my various 1/32 P-40 kits, finding the Hasegawa's and old Revell's unusable. I ordered a Squadron Vac for the P-40E as this was at least straight, though it still has some bracing not present on the very simple Hawk hood. The natural metal bracing was done using strips of Bare-Metal foil. This stuff is a pain to use and hard to get stuck initially, but once rubbed down it stays put. The effect of real canopy frames is yours if you have patience. Once framed the whole thing was dipped in a Future Floor Finish bath and the excess wicked off with paper towels. Once again the final product was what I wanted. On a roll here. The 75 Demo used the very early curved unarmored windscreen, the kit part had to be trimmed to sit with a vertical line to match the canopy, this required quite a bit of fiddling but eventually came around, and was given the foil frame/Future treatment and attached with white glue. Holes were drilled at the landing light locations and a drop of correct paint placed in each (right blue, left red, rudder white), and the clear teardrop shaped landing lights attached with white glue. The photo-etch ring and bead gunsights were attached and the kit machine gun barrels placed in the wings, in addition to my stainless blast tubes in the cowling. This Hawk is ready to do some shootin'!

                Well it was a bit of work but I'm happier with this model than I have been in  a long time. I even put a Chinese guard on it. Some time ago my kid found a 1/32 set of Chinese WW2 soldiers in a Wal-Mart or one of those type stores, well detailed and authentically painted. I modified one to be at attention with a shouldered Mauser rifle, to guard a 1/32 P-40 that isn't built yet. He's now keeping an eye on my personal Hawk Demonstrator.

               If you have some experience with limited run kits, this one is an easier one as these things go. For the record I did test a kit decal on the mule and it settled down nicely. Using the regular kit parts a fine Chinese Hawk can be made, as well as the Argentine and Thai versions. The fuselage parts problem has to be watched for though.


The Curtiss Hawks P-1 through P-40  Shamburger @ Christy Wolverine Press 1972
Flying Tigers  Daniel Ford  Smithsonian Books  1991, 2007
Various internet sources, some of which
 have since become unavailable.

Bill Koppos

May 2012

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Kit bought with private funds.

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