SB2C-4 Helldiver

Published: September 16th, 2012     
Product Image
Box Art
Reviewed by: Howie Belkin - IPMS# 16
Scale: 1/72
Company: Cyber-Hobby
Price: $45.99
Product / Stock #: 5103
Product provided by: Dragon Models USA

First, I owe an apology to you and to Dragon for my delay in building and reviewing the "...best dive bomber the Navy ever flew but also the last."  That final assessment came after a difficult start in replacing the Dauntless, "one of the most popular aircraft ever to fly."  In fact, when the first squadrons conducted trials aboard the Essex CV-9, "...the ship departed for the war zone with SBD Dauntlesses instead."  In trials aboard the second assigned carrier, the second Yorktown CV-10, "...the results were so disastrous that the ship's Commanding Officer, Captain J.J. 'Jocko' Clark, stated that the aircraft's only value was as an anchor."  Though the Helldiver could carry a heavier payload and was faster than the Dauntless, and ongoing improvements ironed out its shortcomings, it became a great aircraft with the moniker the Big Tailed Beast or simply, the Beast.  The Helldiver's combat debut was on November 11, 1943, when VB-17 attacked the Japanese island fortress at Rabaul.  From then on, the Japanese knew the end of the war grew closer faster.  The SB2C went on to become "the most numerous Allied dive-bomber of World War Two..."

Dragon's Cyber-Hobby slide-molded release is of Curtiss'-4, the most produced variant.  It was equipped with underwing zero-length rocket racks and a spinner.  The -3 variant began production with solid dive flaps, but during production it changed to the perforated dive flaps (Dragon will have released a SB2C-3 by the time you read this).  The kit features fine engraved panel lines, a nicely detailed cockpit, and a gunner/radio operator's station, a bomb bay with two bombs and the choice to display bomb bay doors opened or closed, an outstanding twin-row radial engine, a single-piece 4-bladed prop with a separate spinner, separate control surfaces, the choice to fold or extend the wings, amazingly detailed wheel wells, optional position landing gear and doors, optional position rear gun turtle deck fairing, and a segmented canopy that implies that you can display them open so you can see those interiors.  Photo-etch parts capture the perforated dive brakes nicely.  Take care that you don't ruin them by filling the perforations while painting or cementing!  Solid plastic dive brakes with indentations, not perforations, are also provided without explanation.  The explanation is that the perforated flaps weren't introduced until late in the -3 run.  If you're building a -3 you have a choice of perforated photo etch or solid plastic with indents.  The -4 only gets the great looking perforated flaps.

The decals and painting guide allow you to build one of three US Navy aircraft during 1945: 'White 6' of VB-80, USS Hancock; 'White 205' of VB-87, USS Ticonderoga, and 'White 114' of VB-3, USS Yorktown.  The first two are overall glossy Sea Blue while the last is in the three-tone tri-color scheme.  Though markings aren't provided, the Helldiver also flew with the U.S. Army and Marines, and in the Atlantic, and in an impressive post WWII career that concluded in French Indochina (i.e. Vietnam).

Some 170 parts are carefully packaged in separate poly bags to prevent scratching or lost parts.  The clear parts truly sparkle!  I was going to rave how the bar has been raised once again and that THIS has become the best 1/72 aircraft kit yet.  But, alas, Dragon has a reputation for poor instructions and once again they fall short.  Don't neglect the bottom of the box the kit came in.  It has a number of black and white photos that can help clarify construction.  You'll need it and as many references as you can muster to clear up the murky instructions.  Dragon refers to Aqueous Hobby Colour, Mr.Colour, and ModelMaster Colors on the instructions, but the only color call-outs are on the final overall paint schemes.  None of the parts are color referenced.  I spent a lot of time with my references to confirm color, and painted most of the model throughout the construction process.  The pilot and gunner drop-in interiors are zinc chromate, according to my color photo references.  The stick is zinc chromate with a black handle at the top.  The instrument panel and various radio and control boxes are black.  The instrument panel has molded-on detail but instruments are just raised circles.  I drybrushed them, then made Future glass.  The bottom row of red switches is as per a color photo of a restored SB2C.  The pilot's seat is nicely done with molded-on seat belts.  Photo etch replacements are provided, but you would either have to remove the molded-on ones or exactly cover them with the PE.  The gunner's bucket seat does not have the lapbelt molded on, nor is there one on the photo etched fret.  Since I painted the pilot's molded-on belts, I used leftover PE belts for the gunner.  There is no gun/bomb sight provided.

Step 1 includes assembling, then attaching, the gunner's compartment to the rear of the cockpit floor, but is unclear how they fit.  Wait until you're attaching the entire floor to the inside of the fuselage and use the notches inside the fuselage to figure that out.  It's unclear how the gunner's seat/tub fits, so I just dropped it in and cemented to suit.  The real one swivels, so you can't go wrong.  BTW, the original specs required an enclosed turret for the gunner but Curtiss failed to produce one.  The twin .30 machine guns replaced an earlier mark's single .50, which replaced a single .30.  They appear true-to-scale in size and fineness - they're fiddly tiny!  But the detail parts are so small it's hard to discern which goes where.  My Squadron/Signal In Action book illustration shows a ringsight (has been done often in photo etch) mounted above where part C6 (bottom armor plate) goes.  What may be the ammo boxes are on the floor, but they are closed.  In fact, early marks with a single .30 fixed a small ammo box to the machine gun and replaced it when exhausted.  The versions with the twin .30s had one large ammo can on the rear floor, with ammo belts running to each machine gun.  DML could have provided 2 photo etch ammo belts which would have really made this an attention-getter. The flexible ring mount is represented by part C26 with molded indents, whereas it should be perforated.  Dragon could have included this on the photo etch fret.  The gunner's turtle deck can be displayed up or down, but the instructions are not clear why there's an assembly A or B choice.  Hold off the glass part til later when you paint and attach all the cockpit glass.

The engine is a beauty with a hidden slot to line up the two cylinder banks.  They line up off center from each other (paint them steel with a black wash).  Don't remove the plastic on the front bank that runs between the cylinder heads - it belongs there.  A three-part crankcase housing (paint engine grey) and one-piece exhaust ring (paint burnt metal), which can be seen thru open cowl flaps later, finish off the engine.  I left the engine off until a last step.  See the In Action illustration on page 34.

The underside of the cockpit floor is the beautifully detailed bomb bay ceiling.  Bulkheads seal it up as per the real deal.  My references show this would be interior white as per the predominantly overall white bottom of the tri-color scheme I used.  I believe it would either be zinc chromate or glossy sea blue on overall glossy sea blue aircraft.  H.E. Bombs normally were OD with a yellow stripe around the rear body.  Two bombs are included with fins that are scale thin!  The box calls them out as two 5,000 lb bombs but my references claim Helldivers could carry a 1,600 pound maximum in the bomb bay or a torpedo with the bomb bay doors removed.  The In Action book also shows two side by side 500-pounders that would be slung by a double cradle/crutch (provided by DML) similar to the single one you're familiar with on the Dauntless.  Back in 1996, Monogram/ProModeler released a decal sheet with markings and stencils for U.S. bombs and rockets, WWII thru Korea.  It included 1/72 drawings of six types of bombs/rockets.  None of them match up in size to the DML bomb.  I also have a Spring/Summer 1974 issue of Replica In Scale that has what must be the most comprehensive study ever done on American bombs and rockets.  In addition to the photos are black silhouettes in popular scales.  The closest match to the DML bombs I could find were the AN-M76 500lb incendiary, with a close second the Mk 65 Mod O 500lb practice bomb.  I'm going with the AN-M76 until someone shows me otherwise.  Replica In Scale had a respectable bibliography.  They noted that many modelers would just as soon use the kit bomb painted black and be done with it, and many kits provided bombs that had little semblance to the real ones.  Today, one would hope the kit manufacturers researched the ordnance as thoroughly as the aircraft, but perhaps DML simply made a typo stating the 500 pound bombs are 5,000 pounds each.  It's certainly more realistic!  But if you saw this coming down at you, I guess it might as well be 50,000 pounds!

On to the model.  Before closing the fuselage halves, don't forget the arrestor hook.  I guessed and painted red and white stripes.  Decide how you want to display the hook - extended or not?  The instructions incorrectly show it upside down!  Inside the nose, part C33 has a notch/slot for proper positioning which will match up with the engine later, so it is rightside up.  It's unclear how part C10 affixes or what it's for.  My guess is that if you look inside the airplane from below, you would see open space thru the bottom oil cooler flaps.  This part blanks that off.

I must have lost the two parts C21 which are the round exhaust stubs that protrude out of parts C3 and C54.  They are easily replaced with tube stock.

From step 7 on, you're primarily constructing the wings, flaps, landing gear, etc.  The SB2C had moveable wing slats.  There is no color call out for the interior that's exposed.  The only references I found were in black and white, so I chose to paint this area Sea Blue, though I expected them to be red.  The wings can be assembled down or folded - or in the process of going from one position to the other.  A photo in my references clearly showed the two wings in motion at different stages, so they are not necessarily in synch with each other.  When stowed/folded, Helldivers had a straight brace that secured the wing to the fuselage.

I assembled the tops and bottoms of the wing sections closest to the fuselage together.  I wanted to show off the wing folding feature, so I needed to close off the open end with the structure part D16 (and D17 for the other side of the plane).  I believe the part numbers are reversed on the instructions as D6 and D7 perfectly fit where D16 and D17 are said to go.  When in doubt, dry fit, dry fit, dry fit!  The part should fit like a glove without requiring any work.  These wing structure parts are very detailed but all the wing fold photos I've seen show it has prominent lightening holes, and some wiring going from the inner to the outer wing.  See In Action page 34.

On tri-color scheme aircraft, this exposed wing-folding structure should be Intermediate Blue, as would the bottom of the outer wing halves.  The bottom of the inner wings would be white.  The inner wings weren't perfect fits to the fuselage, especially at the joint at the leading edge, but CA+ Zap-a-Gap and a touch of putty solved the problem.  I have to admit that there was very little need for putty thru the entire build.   Take care, though, that the left and right sides attach at the same incidence angle to the fuselage.  The mighty 20mm cannon in each wing look to be dead-on scale miniatures but beg to disappear in your carpeting.

The landing gear legs and doors and wells are very well done!  But my eyes weren't seeing where/how to attach parts D2 and D3.  A photo on the bottom right of the box bottom, and the bottom right photo on page 48 in Squadron's book, clarified that.  Again, the three-tone scheme had these areas painted white.

It's hard to see which is the front of the rocket racks, but there's a photo under the box that helps.  In Action page 35 also helps.  These racks have a rectangular base that drops into a rectangular cutout in the wings.  A little putty will fill the bill here, but a photo on page 70 of the Osprey reference shows those rectangular bases.  None of the 5 inch HVARs (High Velocity Artillery Rockets) are provided.  If you come up with any on your own, note that they could be mounted even with the wings folded up.  I suggest holding off fixing the overwing pitot tube and underwing radar rakes until the very end.  The oddly shaped pitot tube curves upwards from the wing leading edge, then points straight out front.  Its front tip should be unpainted metal.  The radar part D18 cements to a short straight piece, number D19, which is shown but not numbered on the instructions.  The ASB or "Yagi" radar antennae rake points to the forward outside, to 2 o'clock and 10 o'clock, not straight ahead as one would expect.  The Squadron Aerodata reference book has a drawing that shows this on page 75.   So does a photo on page 63 of the Smithsonian's In the Cockpit reference.

All of the moveable control surfaces are separate parts so you can position them as you please.  Remember that the ailerons go opposite each other.  If the one on one wing is up, the opposite one should be down.  The elevators should both be in the same direction.  All of these are fabric covered metal frames, so if you weather your Helldiver, don't have paint-chipped metal showing thru.

The decals are opaque but no stencils are provided (Academy does).  Academy also provides a black/white stripe decal for the tailhook, the black wing walks, and the red rectangular marking that runs along the bottom of the pilot's canopy.  On my model the smallest '114' numerals go on the wing leading edge, but that's not indicated anywhere in the instructions.  A couple of photos and color illustrations of the 2nd Yorktown, CV-10's VB-3 number '110' and '114' appear in my references.  All of Dragons numeral decals are individual numeral decals with minimal excess clear film.  You have to place each one individually - even the smallest ones.  That requires a steady hand and a good eye for proper positioning.  On the positive side, Bombing Group 3's (VB-3's) famous black panther insignia is provided for both sides of the fuselage.  A third insignia decal is provided with no explanation.  They all face the same direction.  I used the Future floor wax decal system which eliminated the need for a decal solvent and eliminated all clear decal film.

When I tried to affix the engine onto its stub, part C33, I found the stub was too thick!  I took a sanding stick and thinned it a bit, until the engine fit.  Watch the alignment.  Then I added the cowling with its scale-thin cowl flaps.  Again, watch the alignment.  There's a notch in a lower left and a right side flap to accommodate the exhaust stub fairing.  The propeller has almost too short a shaft to attach it to the engine.  It would be nice if Tamiya's vinyl cap trapped between engine banks became the hobby standard for attaching propellers.  Instead, my Zap-a-Gap came to the rescue.

I had prepainted most of the model but had to go back and do some retouching as necessary.  I not only chose a tri-color scheme but I also chose to pose the wings and dive brakes in unlikely positions, to "model" my model showing off these features.  I couldn't find parts D28/29 on the instructions.  They are airfoil shaped but "blanks" with no detail.  Walt Fink's review figured them out.  They are strengthening inserts that "...ensure a strong joint with no outer-wing droop..." if you display the model with the wings down.  In that case, you won't use any of the detailed wing-fold structure parts (you won't see any of them inside the closed wings).  Instead, insert D28 and D29 between the wings.

Before I painted the Sea Blue parts, I cut Tamiya yellow masking tape to create my own mask of the extensive glass 'greenhouse'.  Now I removed the mask as carefully as I could and touched up the model where necessary. I "wash-weathered" my model to depict a war weary veteran.  The real Helldiver got off to a bad start but dove right into the thick of things, successfully attacking Rabaul.  From then on, the Helldiver earned the respect of those who flew it.  In the end, it became the U.S. Navy's highly respected, last purpose-built divebomber - the last of its kind.

A few years ago, Academy came out with its 1/72 SB2C-4 which was expensive at $20 msrp, but provided excellent cockpit and gunner's bay detail, sectioned canopies that could be posed open, and so on.  Read the IPMS review.  It blew the ancient Airfix and Matchbox/Revell Helldivers out of the water in detail - and price!  Then, for a limited run, Academy released an improved kit that included extensive canopy masks and photo etched dive brakes.  A real state-of-the-art model with virtually everything in the box except the paint and glue.  And a $34 price tag!

One disadvantage of being a baby boomer was that in my youth I could take some of my paper route earnings and buy models for 39 cents and up.  A budget-busting $3 model was unusual, but you felt it was well worth it!  Yes, I know about inflation and how worthless the US Dollar is in comparison these days.  But I also know that even though Dragon may be an exemplary company and pay its employees well, nonetheless model kits and printing is still done "on the cheap" in China.  Yet I compare the awesome kits from Dragon and, say, Trumpeter to companies like Revell Germany and Airfix.  Somehow the European companies continue to produce excellent kits at excellent prices!  And if those European companies can do so where the Pound and Euro are getting pounded, then why can't these companies using Asian labor and production?

This SB2C falls short of being a great kit for the numerous reasons stated above - and especially the price!  I've reviewed other 'excellent' Dragon/DML/Cyber-Hobby kits and I'm tiring of repeating the same old mantra that the instructions are poorly done, they are confusing, parts are incorrectly numbered or left off altogether, parts are not identified as to what they are, nor are their colors called out.  That requires the modeler to be experienced before tackling such a kit, and at the premium price he must also be 'comfortable' financially!

I thank DML for giving us a new state of the art SB2C-4 Helldiver with photo etched dive brakes, folded wings option, and excellent interior detail front to back and underneath (the bomb bay).  I would have loved to state that this was worth every penny and is the new "best 1/72 single engine aircraft model!"  It could be - or future releases could be - if the manufacturer has at least one modeler build the model and point out the instruction sheet errors to the engineering department.  Photos on the bottom or side of the box should be in their proper sequence on the instruction sheet so we don't have to go hunting for them.

I still feel the price is out of control and should be lowered while giving the modeler more value for his money.  As I complete this review, the msrp has inched up to $46 on this kit!  In the case of U.S. Navy aircraft carrier subjects, a mini-diorama in a box could help tilt the balance.  Give the modeler a nicely molded flight deck section to display the model on, or a stand that enables you to display the model in a near vertical dive with perforated flaps opened.  In either case, a pilot and gunner/radioman is necessary.  Dragon has shown what it can do with 1/72 armor figures!  Imagine if they applied themselves and came up with excellent poses!

An alternative would be the display with the SB2C either landing or taking off, or taxiing.  Deck crew figures and flight deck equipment would take it up another notch.  Alternatives would be displaying the model ditched with the crew abandoning it.  Or how about providing modular bases that go together?  Dragon already has an F6F Hellcat.  How about an Avenger, too?  Or as Chris Bucholtz in a build article in the Journal, pointed out, we still don't have a proper state of the art SBD Dauntless!  Each model could have a base and figures or equipment representing the hanger deck, another an elevator, and still another with a part of the flight deck.  Dragon might even release a kit of a USN carrier's island.  Personally, I'd be happy with fair representations of these diorama subjects, cutting Cyber some slack from not having to model exact replicas to a T.  Save more of that for the aircraft!  My point is to lower the prices AND provide more bang for our bucks.  Imagine the possibilities!!  But first, there is no reason why Dragon can't take care of the basics beginning with their instruction sheets!

Thanks to DML/Dragon/Cyber for the review sample and IPMS/USA for the review space.  Join me in thanking them for this SB2C but asking them to keep their prices down substantially and providing us with much more model for our money.  And pointing out that a state of the art, properly priced 1/72 SBD Dauntless is long overdue!  As well as the ultimate Avenger!

References:

  • Fine Scale Modeler, October 2012, page 55 Review by Walt Fink
  • U.S. Navy Carrier Bombers of World War II, Aerodata International, Squadron/Signal Publications
  • SB2C Helldiver In Action by Robert Stern. Squadron/Signal Publications
  • U.S. Navy and Marine Aircraft of World War II Part 1, by Bert Kinzey, published by Revell
  • In The Cockpit II, by Roger Connor and Christopher Moore, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
  • Navy Air Colors Volume 1, by Thomas E. Doll, Berkley R. Jackson and William A. Riley, Squadron/Signal
  • Helldiver Units of World War II, by Barrett Tillman, Osprey Combat Aircaft #3
  • U.S. Navy Aircraft Camouflage & Markings 1940-45 by Thomas E. Doll, Squadron/Signal Publications
  • U.S. Navy Dive and Torpedo Bombers of WWII by Tillman and Lawson, MBI Publishing
  • Replica in Scale, American Aircraft Bombs 1917-1974, by James Wogstad and Phil Friddell
  • United States Camouflage WWII, by Jay Frank Dial, published by Scale Reproductions 1964
  • A.N.A. Standard Aircraft Colors 1943-1970, by Jerry S. Smith, published by Modeler's Journal
  • RAF Flying Review, September 1966 pg 90
  • Profile #124 The Curtiss SB2C-1 Helldiver, by Harold Andrews, Profile Publications Ltd.
  • Scale Aviation Modeller (UK), by Jack Trent and Alec Smith, April 2012, pg 292-298
  • The SB2C Helldiver by KoKu Fan Publications
  • Flight Plan, undated copy of article in IPMS NE New York's Journal
  • IPMS-UK undated article ca Airfix's 1/72 SB2C release appx Sept. 1966 included photo of #114.

Photo captions:

  1. The front office sans seat and instrument panel.
  2. The seat has nicely molded seatbelts.  PE belts are also provided.
  3. The instrument panel has molded-on detail but instruments are just raised circles.  I drybrushed them, then made Future glass.  The bottom row of red switches is as per a color photo of a restored SB2C.
  4. The gunner's seat will turn around 180 degrees and drop into his office.   Lots of detail including closed ammo boxes.  The plastic perforated piece would have been perfect as photo etch
  5. The front bulkhead of the gunner's compartment holds the radar and radios -nicely done by DML.
  6. Bombay ceiling is underside of pilot and gunner's floor.
  7. Inside bomb bay doors done in great detail.
  8. Inside landing gear doors is nicely detailed, as are wheel wells.
  9. The dive brake flaps are provided in injection-molded plastic, but the perfs are simple indents.  This is what PE was made for.  At the far right in white are the seatbelts.
  10. The engine is a beauty with a slot to line up the two cylinder banks, a 3-part crankcase housing, and one-piece exhaust ring which can be seen thru open cowl flaps later.
  11. Bomb
  12. Since the RH Yagi protrudes from white insignia, I painted it white, too.
  13. Tricolor schemes had underside areas of wings exposed when folded, painted Intermediate Blue.
  14. Smallest 114s go on wing leading edge.
  15. Spinner should be Int. Blue.  My bad.
  16. Don't forget gunner's seat belt.
  17. Dragon pix from website.
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