Heller 1/72 SBC-4 Helldiver

KIT #: 285
PRICE: @$5.00 when newish
DECALS: One option (French)
NOTES: OOP but not impossible to find.


Ever since as a kid I had an Aurora 1/48 (?) unpainted, unrigged SBC on my dresser, the Helldiver has been one of my favorite aircraft. Its coloration and brawniness epitomize the “Yellow Wing ‘Tweener” era. Unfortunately, its limited performance in all roles to which it was assigned also exemplify the lackadaisical level of combat preparedness at which many  US weapons systems between the world wars were procured .

Printed and Web Site accounts differ on the details of the Helldiver’s service record, so the reader may select his own authority. Probably the most accurate, certainly the most exhaustive, is Squadron/Signal Publications’ “Helldiver In Action softcover, which is out of print but fairly findable.

The Helldiver was produced in two major variants: the under- powered SBC-3 and the not-quite-so-under-powered SBC-4. Externally they are distinguishable by the latter’s larger, scooped cowl, straighter underbelly, and slightly taller fin.


  Like the Azur Co., Heller generally concentrates on aircraft flown by French forces. Their kits are simple, cleanly molded, with no flash, sink holes, or ejector marks. Fit is pretty near perfect.  Transparencies are clear, but thick and heavily framed. The SBC-4 is characteristic in all respects. The landing gear struts and retraction webs are exceptionally petite and realistic, though fragile and difficult to affix.

            Heller often induces inaccuracies as a result of simplification (check my P-47N review). Just two very minor ones showed up.  The windshield has a too prominent “forehead”. Its thickness permitted an easy re-sanding to a more “Neanderthal” slope.  The propeller, while shapely and sharply molded, has an improper hub. A correct one, sporting the heavy triangular prop boss and 3 prominent bolts, emerged from the spares box; possibly from a wrecked Airfix Devastator.

            The only engineering complaint concerns the lower wing to fuselage joint. The wing is a single piece affair with a beavertail extension, which forms part of the trailing edge fairings and aft belly.   Getting a good fit requires careful taping in place.  The part here is very this so a tad toomuch glue can (and did) melt the fairing edges. This is a good place  for  CA or epoxy.


            To facilitate the fuselage to wing join, I deferred installation of the cockpit floor and interior.  Once the basic airframe was together, sans top wing,  holes had to be drilled for rigging wires. Next stop:  paint booth.


            Two shades of yellow, two of silver, one of blue, with white pinstriping, made painting a protracted affair fraught with multiple opportunities for major or minor booger-ups. None really materialized. The first step was an overall white gloss enamel primer. Testor’s square bottle yellow lightened with white produced an acceptable lemon-yellow tail color. The fuselage band and wing chevrons are supposed to be True Blue, but the official Model Master FSN stuff ends up on the shelf looking too gray-purple.  Light Blue, except in ultra bright light, results in  a more proper shade.

These stripes were masked over and the overspray covered in more white. Pinstripe outlines were formed by additional masking with thin tape strips. To simulate the aluminum lacquer used on metal surfaces, I added a dollop of gloss white to Floquil’s silver. Doped fabric surfaces were sprayed with unadulterated Floquil.  The contrast is subtle, but that’s how it appeared in real life.

            The upper wing surface was treated to MM’s chrome yellow, which according to photos, might not be quite as orange as it should be. When all the masking came off, the fuselage and wing bands seemed a smidgeon too wide – but that’s life. When the masking came off the canopy, all the framing had to be drastically touched up by hand. At the risk of being repetitive – that’s life!

            All decals came from the spares box. The tail codes are bogus.  I’m not such a stickler for  historical accuracy that I would cut and assemble sub-microscopic numerals from a Superscale sheet.  A light schpritz of Future covered everything.


             Heller’s cockpit furnishings are simplistic, but adequate for the degree of visibility through the thick “glass”.  My only embellishment was a “radio box” and wire DF loop. Mating a bipe’s two wings is always a dicey affair, no matter what assists are engineeried into the kit. In constructing the Matchbox Helldiver, I had cut away the molded-in cabane struts and replaced them with strip stock after joining the wings with the interplanes. The Heller version also had pre-assembled cabane struts but I used the opposite tack, joining the wings by the cabane struts then adding the interplanes. It worked – but only because the engineering was perfect. All  struts  were the right size, and the lower wing was a single piece – eliminating any uncertainty in the dihedral. I still think the earlier procedure is better advised and plan to use it for all future biplanes.

            Rigging was done with 32 gauge stainless steel surgical suture. It has the proper diameter and compromise between stiffness and malleability. It also shines just like the real thing. If you don’t share my good fortune of having  a close family member in the surgical profession, .05mm bead stringing wire, available at the artsy-craftsy counter, is a suitable second choice. Both beat by light years the monofilament “invisible thread” I had previously used. That stuff was used for the radio antennae. The wing has integral masts, but these were too short, so I replaced them with piano wire – actually high E guitar string.  I gave up on trying to learn how to play the damn thing, so at least I got some use out of it.  Speaking of thread and wire, a   Readers Forum thread ran awhile ago seeking methods for straightening wire. Here’s the secret:  Take out major kinks by pulling it through your fingers without inducing too much curl. Cut to rough lengths and roll the piece between two perfectly flat surfaces, such as squares of glass plate or  glazed tiles. For measuring precise distances between anchoring points a draftsman’s dividers is the perfect tool.

            The radial engine is a bogus looking affair but it sits far enough back in the cowl so no one will complain, particularly when dolled up with the spider representing the wiring harness ring and push rod tubes. Those spokes are too wide, but I wasn’t in the mood to dice up any more guitar strings for replacements. As noted, the prop had to be rplaced with an Airfix or whatever-it-is.  The blades on the replacement looked more like bludgeons and had to be thinned down. I omitted the underbelly tank, as photos of A/C in the subject livery indicate it was not hung.


             Both the Matchbox and Heller kits rate about equal. The latter has a better canopy; the former a proper prop.  For the ease and price at which they can be found at swap meets and even stores where stock moves slowly, both can readily be  built.

Joel Hamm

 February 2008

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