Revell/Matchbox 1/72 SB2C-1 Helldiver

KIT #: 04142
PRICE:  3.00 (On ebay some months back)
DECALS: Two Options
REVIEWER: Ant Harrington
NOTES: Requires putty and patience, but a good result


To cover the Helldiver's full history, warts n' all, you'd probably have to write an entire thesis! Readers wishing to know more about the Helldiver saga should check out Tom Cleaver's build reviews of the ProModeller 1:48 scale Helldiver on this site, (here and here) which give an excellent account of the type's troubled history.


The first thing to state about this kit is that it is a re-issue of the old 1970's Matchbox kit, coded PK-104 (I know the number because it's plastered over all the sprues!), and so this is by no means a modern kit. I bought the kit before I knew this, but it was so cheap I wasn't complaining - in fact, it's not a bad little kit. The sprues come in a plastic bag packaged snugly in a surprisingly small box, and the breakdown of parts is pretty conventional. There are 40 peices moulded in dark blue plastic, and two clear parts for the pilot's and gunner's cockpits respectively. Rather oddly, the panel lines on this kit are part raised and part recessed, the rear fuselage and tail having the raised detail.

 Initially it seemed that the kit was missing the perforations on the flaps/ dive-brakes, but in fact the perforated type were only fitted to the later -3 and -5 models (curing some of the dive instability problems), so the kit's solid trailing edges are accurate.


The build begins with the cockpits, as you'd expect. This being a rather basic kit, there is very little interior detail and this is a problem because there is so much glazing to see through. There is a pilot's seat and backplate provided, and something loosely resembling an instrument panel is moulded into the cockpit coaming. Two lumps moulded into the inside face of the gunner's cockpit to act as a seat, another even sturdier pair to mount the gun, were the only details in the rear. 

I added alot of detail to both cockpits, including floors for both and a control column for the pilot's cockpit. I then raided the spares box for various other bits of radio gear etc. The cockpit was painted Revell SM360 Fern Green (a close match for US cockpit green), with Gun Metal floors. The crew figures were painted seperately and added later as the cockpits are so spacious they can be added anytime before the canopies go on.

Although the oil cooler outlet is moulded in the open position, the opening is moulded solid, so this needs cutting open while the fuselage is still in two halves. It's also at this point that you're supposed to insert the arrestor hook, but the kit item bears no resemblance to the real thing as it is a rather toy-like length of plastic with a hook on the end. Perfect for playing deck landings with a bit of elastic, but not great for a desktop model (remember, this was meant as a toy when Matchbox first released it). Being as I was finishing the model as a shore-based trainer, and several of those had hooks removed, I decided to leave it out. The fuselage halves join nicely, although the spine between the two cockpits has no locator pin so care has to be taken to glue this accurately and strongly. A bit of scraping and sanding saw to any joint imperfections, no putty required. So far, so fun!

The wings were next, and following the 'toy' theme the wings were designed to fold on huge, clunky hinges. If I were a few years younger I'd say they were cool, but they bear no resemblance to reality. Each wing is made up of four parts, with upper and lower inner and outer sections. I assembled the wings and then glued the hinges in the 'spread' position, making sure the inner and outer sections were nicely aligned. The gap in the hinges was still enormous, and so I used alot of putty filling these in and sanding smooth. This was trickier than you might think as the thickness of the inner and outer sections was different in places, and this meant that the sanding was as much about removing mis-matching areas of plastic as it was about smoothing the filler. I eventually reached a point where the joint disappeared and the wing tapered smoothly. I then attached the wings to the fuselage, with some putty being required in the undersides of the wing roots, but nothing major.

The tailplanes are moulded complete, they just needed cutting from the sprues and and glueing in place. They have alot of raised panel lines, and with more time and patience I would have removed them and re-scribed. With alot of time already given to the cockpit detailing and wing filling, I decided to leave them alone. They're quite subtle, so they don't look too bad.

The engine/cowl section was next, consisting of a one-peice cowl and the engine divided into two parts- a backplate with the rear row of cylinders moulded into it, and a seperate part consisting of the front row of cylinders and the reduction gear casing. I painted the interior of the cowl a very dark grey, and the engine and backplate were painted in gun metal with a black acrylic wash to give depth. The engine fitted no problem, but a major flaw is that the hole for the prop-shaft is moulded way off-centre. I decided to remove the pin from the prop and simply butt join the back of the hub to the crankcase in a central position. The prop blades are moulded with the hub, with a seperate spinner ( I attached the prop during final detailing, so it was out of the way during painting). The prop-less engine/cowl was then mated to the fuselage, and it made for a good fit.

Wanting to pose the model 'flying' on a stand, I glued the landing gear in the raised position. If you build yours gear-down, watch out for the rake angle of the legs as a couple of other builds I've seen have legs raked too far to the rear. The bays are shallow so the wheels are in fact half-thickness, taken from my spares box (saving me the trouble of sanding down the kit wheels) and glued directly into the 'roof' of the bay. With one or two lugs removed, the landing gear fairings then laid in on top nicely. I drilled a small hole in the belly of the model to take the wire stand, which I made from a cut down wire coat hanger. I have limited space to display my models, so raising them up in flying poses on a wire stand is a great way to save space, and they look pretty good 'flying' out from behind the other things on the shelf.

I then added some final details, including exhuast stubs made from scrap sprue. The bulges for the exhausts are there, but I had to carefully gouge a hole with the tip of a blade to make sockets for these pipes. I also attached the bendy pitot probe to the left wing, and the big radio mast in front of the cockpit. 


Colours and Markings: The kit gives two marking options, one for an aircraft of VB-17 in early 1943, and the other an aircraft of VB-8 based on the US East Coast in July 1943. In either case, the colour scheme is the same, being the characteristic three-tone US Navy pattern. I used Humbrol enamels throughout, 77 Navy Blue, 144 Intermediate Blue and 34 White. I brush painted the whole model, which made recreating the soft demarcation lines a real challenge. The answer was to paint the white undersides first, then the Intermediate Blue, and finally the top Navy Blue. After each stage, I let it dry for a few minutes and then used a brush moistened with white spirit to soften the line. I was rather pleased with the result, although others might think it looks awful!

 I then applied a coat of Humbrol 35 Clear Gloss ready for decals. I chose the VB-8 markings as these are the most colourful, with red-bordered star and bars and buzz numbers in various places. The decals were a delight to apply, the only criticism being that the white areas are very slightly too thin, but this isn't really noticeable. Even the red, yellow and blue ident lamps under the starboard wing were applied as one decal, and the carrier film doesn't show at all. Great stuff!

 I had intended to finish the model with a realistic matt or atleast satin coat, but the shiny finish got the better of me so I applied another coat of gloss clear over the top! A bit of bling seduces all of us occasionally... 


I then added the prop as described above, and the tailwheel. Finally, I added the drop tanks, which I'd pre-painted with Humbrol 27001 Metal Cote. The fit is so snug that they don't need glue, and as you'll see from the pictures they can be removed for a cleaner look.


 This is by no means the most advanced SB2C kit on the market, but if you just want a weekend build that looks OK when it's done, you'll be happy with this one. Yes it does need some filler, and those raised panel lines need dealing with, but for a 1970's 'toy' kit this one really isn't bad - and you can't argue with the price. This is the first WWII US Navy aircraft I've built for years, and I'm really happy with the way it turned out.


American Warplanes of World War II, by David Donald, Aerospace Publishing ISBN: 1874023727

 The Concise Guide to American Aircraft of World War II, by David Mondey, ISBN: 1851527060 (some good colour profiles, but the text is full of mistakes!) 

Also Useful:

 YouTube in-box review  and build review on the BasicModelling channel

Ant Harrington

January 2012

If you would like your product reviewed fairly and quickly, please contact me or see other details in the Note to Contributors.

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