Hobbycraft 1/48 U-1A Otter

KIT #: HC 1656
PRICE: €20 “on offer” in 2004
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Spiros Pendedekas
NOTES: Includes resin parts.


The de Havilland Canada U-1A was a version for the US Army of the DHC-3 Otter STOL utility transport aircraft. The DHC-3 Otter was introduced in 1953 as a similar, but larger development of the earlier and highly successful DHC-2 Beaver. Dubbed the "King Beaver" during design, it would be the veritable "one-ton truck" to the Beaver's "half-ton" role.

Using the same overall configuration as the Beaver, the new, much heavier design incorporated a longer fuselage, greater-span wing and cruciform tail. Seating in the main cabin expanded from six to 10 or 11. Power was supplied by a 600 hp PW R-1340 radial. Capable of being fitted with skis or floats, it was utilized by many users in a variety of roles, including Search and Rescue.

With 184 delivered (as U-1As), the United States Army became the largest operator of the aircraft. Other military users included Australia, Canada, and India. Still, the primary role of the aircraft as a rugged bush plane continues to this day, not excluding its popularity in the skydiving community.

A total of 466 Otters were manufactured, the type serving as the basis for the very successful DHC-6 Twin Otter.

U-1A #58-1695 was delivered to the United States Army at Sharpe Army Depot, Stockton, CA on the very last day of 1958. It was initially assigned to 17th Aviation Company, Fort Ord, California. From early 1962 till late 1968 it was deployed in Vietnam with the 18th Aviation, 339 and 338 Transportation Companies respectively. It survived the war and returned to the USA, being civilianized in 1977, only to be destroyed in 1980, when the roof of the hangar in which it was parked at Lac du Bonnet collapsed due to an accumulation of snow.


Introduced in two versions by Hobbycraft in 1988, this kit is the land/ski version (the other being the floatplane one). It comes in a (too big for the kit contents) sturdy top opening box, the boxart depicting a U-1A in high visibility green camo. Upon opening the box, you are greeted with around 60 parts made of somehow hard light gray styrene arranged in 4 sprues, the three of them being individually sealed, with the fourth, containing the fuselage halves, unsealed. Molding looks good, with no flash present. Detail is engraved but at places looks simplistic and toy-ish.

Internal details range from basic (cockpit) to nonexistent (cargo). The provided pilot seats protrude too much at the front, the control column is wrong and the instrument panel very plain. Though I might personally pass over the cargo compartment emptiness, as I always display those areas closed, I would like a more detailed cockpit, since quite a bit can be seen through the large windscreen.

Engine representation is also basic: there is a plate with molded-on cylinder-like protrusions, onto which a simplified looking crankcase with molded-on off-scale pushrods is to be attached. The cowling has good shape, but the reinforcing strut at the middle of the air inlet is too thick and rectangular looking. The prop looks good, as do the distinctive exhaust pairs (but their inner walls are unrealistically thick). Most of the remaining parts, including support struts, wheels, moving surfaces' hinges and wing fillets present the same simplified look.

Clear parts, apart from being thick, are well molded and reasonably clear. They are sealed together with one main sprue, meaning potential scratches. Instructions are a two sided pamphlet, containing a short history of the type, an 8-step construction sequence and the camo suggestion. No internal color callouts are given, just generic external ones. Two scheme options are provided, a Canadian late DHC-3 and a U.S. Army U-1A, as it stood in Vietnam in the mid-60s. This is a “gray” Hobbycraft box, rumoring lesser decals, which seems the case here, as they do not seem very well registered. At least their material quality seems good.

All in all, this kit seems to wobble between a serious model and a “detailed toy”. As was my usual case, upon discovering it forgotten at one of my hometown’s toy/hobby shops, back in 2004, at “a price I couldn’t refuse”, I immediately grabbed it, only deciding to give it a go almost two decades later, finishing it as an early Vietnam era U.S. Army bird.


I started by attaching at the fuselage halves the two cockpit doors, cargo door and inner cockpit entry door in “closed” position, then attached all side windows from the inside. I then attached the cockpit floor and rear bulkhead at the starboard fuselage half. Hobbycraft instructs you to glue the instrument panel onto the central console, but this is clearly incorrect: it must be glued directly under the dashboard and, for this, a slight reshaping was necessary. The central console extension with the various control levers found at real Otters was fabricated from styrene sheet, onto which small pieces of stretched sprue were affixed.

I then turned my attention to the plain looking cockpit seats: I cut four “cushions” from sheet styrene, glued them onto the seats, painted them a dark green and added seat belts made of linen doped masking tape, with the “buckles” represented by silver touches from my Pilot silver pen. The seat supporting frames had oversized rears, so I reduced their size, in order for the seats to rest in a more natural position and not penetrate the instrument panel!

The control column is totally wrong: studying net available pics, I modified it by adding a symmetrical arm and attaching two leftover yokes from my spares. After some net search, I decided to paint all cockpit parts Hu140 Gull Gray, with black instrument panel and yokes and red/yellow/white switches. A fire extinguisher was fabricated from stretched sprue, painted red and attached to the rear bulkhead, in order to busy-up to the plain cockpit. Hu140 was also used to paint the empty passenger/cargo interior.

I then joined the two fuselage halves. Fit was average, the resulting gaps initially treated with liquefied styrene, followed by putty. Since the side windows fit was less than perfect, I gave them a coarse sanding progressing up to 2000 grit, then polished them with Plexiglas polish, followed by an application of Future, with the side windows becoming flush to the surface and looking reasonably clean. Finishing with fuselage assembly, the two distinctive exhaust fairings were bilaterally attached.

The wings were next assembled and, together with their supporting struts, were attached to the fuselage, with the tail planes and MLG struts following soon after. Fit was manageable, with some attention needed in aligning the wing and MLG struts.

Of special note is that the main wings have in reality a slight dihedral, not more than 1-2 degrees, but definitely noticeable from various angles. Kit instructions do not mention this and, worse, the kit seems to have the wings designed at zero dihedral. A friend of mine noticed this discrepancy when he saw the wings attached, hopefully at an early construction stage, with yours truly bravely detaching them soon after! By using a head-on view, I filed the wings’ mating area at a slight angle, and reattached them to the fuselage at the correct dihedral, followed by re-attaching the struts, with two bottles supporting those wings at the correct angle till glue cured.

It was then engine time: I first very carefully cut away the back plate portions, onto which the “cylinders” are molded. After some minor gluing repairs (since I damaged a couple of cylinders), I scribed the bland front of the cylinder bodies, in order to create an illusion of cooling fins. The crankcase with the molded in pushrods was then attached, followed by ignition wires made of stretched sprue. Based on net pics, the complete engine, including the crankcase, was painted black and then heavily dry brushed with silver, with the final result still looking average, but, at least, non-toy-ish anymore!

The cowling had its crude reinforcing strut at the middle of the bottom air inlet removed and replaced with a slimmer one, made of stretched sprue. Cowling innards were painted Hu226 (for the green zinc), whereas the firewall was painted black.

Having more or less finished with all basic construction, I treated all gaps with putty, followed by sanding. After attaching the delicate top wing fairings and underwing hinges, I masked the side windows with liquid mask, blanked the cockpit opening with wet tissue, temporarily attached the front cowling and headed to the paint shop!


Whereas instructions call for an overall olive drab, by doing some net research, I came to the conclusion that U-1As in Vietnam during their earlier days, carried high visibility markings and featured a medium towards dark green gloss overall color, with the olive drab and lower visibility markings only appearing towards the end of the decade. I thus grabbed a tin of Hu117 that looked “right to my eye” and gave the whole plane, including the wheel rims, a good coating, followed by a coat of Future. I then masked the front anti glare panel and gave it a coat of Hu33 flat black.

Kit decals did not present any significant problems during application, but I did experience some silvering; their opacity could also be better. I used Mr Mark Softer, in order to help them conform onto the surface contours. A coat of Future sealed them.


The distinctive exhaust pairs, after having their walls thinned to look scale correct, were painted chrome silver with burned metal innards and attached in position. All three wheels had their tires filed to look “weighted” and painted black, then attached in position. The propeller was painted silver with yellow tips and the rear part of the blades partially flat black (as it was how most Otters were seen in seasonal pics, before ending up having totally black blades). It was then secured at the engine, with the cowling trapped in between, then the whole assembly was attached in position.

I decided to add some weathering, as to reflect the harsh Vietnam conditions, and, not least, to make this simplistic model look more interesting. I thus gave the whole plane a hefty black wash that accentuated the engraved details, then used various shades of blackish/brownish pastels to a good extent, in order to simulate engine staining, top surfaces sun fading and general dirtying (more heavily applied in wheels' area). A final satin coat sealed everything and gave the U-1A its final shade.

I removed the liquid mask from the side windows and performed the inevitable (for me) touch ups. Yes, I somehow managed to lose the front windscreen! Hopefully, its shape was simple, so it was not too difficult to fabricate one out of clear acetate, bending it to shape by applying force with my fingers. After hand painting its middle frame with a 10/0 brush, I affixed it in place using white glue, which double acted as a filler. The result was not bad, with the extra clarity allowing to see the cockpit that I had beforehand improvised upon!

No aerials are depicted at the instructions whatsoever, though, interestingly, a DF loop antenna is provided. By netting, I concluded that U-1As of that era did use the DF loop. Also, two aerial wires emerged from a single point of the fin, with one of them entering the top-fuselage directly, and the other one ending onto a small mast at the front. Finally, a long “rod type” antenna, slightly angled backwards, was found right on top of the cockpit roof. I thus painted the DF loop flat black and attached it, then attached a small mast at the front, using a suitable sized stretched sprue piece, followed by replicating the aerial wires with fine stretched sprue, accordingly run and tightened with hot air from a hairdryer. Finishing the antennas, a longer piece of stretched sprue was attached on top of the cockpit roof, angled a few degrees backwards, as observed in reference pics.

The wing mounted distinctive pitot was wrongly molded: I had to cut its final part and re-glue it at 180 degrees swift. I then attached the pitot in position and painted it camo color with gunmetal tip, before calling this beautiful One-Ton Truck done!


The Hobbycraft 1/48 DHC-3/U-1A is a basic kit. Apart from the (easily fixable) incorrect wings dihedral, general shape is acceptable. Engine looks simplistic towards toy-ish, cockpit detailing is plain and no cargo interior is provided whatsoever. Rest of the “details” range from fair to nonexistent.
Since construction is simple and fit is more or less acceptable, with little effort, a basic representation of the Otter might result. No aftermarket is available, so, if you want to make improvements, you have to go scratch building, or modifying suitable parts from other kits.

With 466 built, it is interesting that, as of 2021, no other kit manufacturer has offered us a detailed, modern “one-ton-truck”. If you want an Otter kit, your only options are the 1/48 and 1/72 Hobbycraft simplistic kits, let alone the fact that even these kits haven’t been reissued since the millennium, being really difficult to find, with their production assumingly stopped.

Having said all that, I had a good time putting together this kit, performing some modifications and a bit of scratch building, in order to address some of the kit’s discrepancies. The end result is unmistakably an Otter: maybe not a detailed or accurate one, but still a fair looking U-1A, keeping company to my other Vietnam era planes in my showcase.

Happy modeling!

Spiros Pendedekas

24 May 2022

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