Eduard has released a full line of Hellcats in 1/48 scale, covering from the early -3, to the late -5, including night fighter versions and even Royal Navy service markings. This particular boxing is the Weekend edition of the -5(N), with neither mask nor photoetch, but with two options for decals and a small number of resin parts to make the conversion to “night fighter”.
When I opened the box I found a total of 5 sprues (one clear) and 3 small resin casting for details like radio-altimeter, exhausts, radar housing for the starboard wing and cannons with nicely casted flash dampers. FYI: the nightfighter version of the Hellcat was capable of carrying a 20 mm cannon.
A note on the sprues: one of them –the fuselage one- was molded in tan, while the rest of the sprues were molded in blue-gray. And there were two full engine cowlings, but no indication of the second cowling in the instructions. I was a bit puzzled by the different plastic colors and two cowlings.
Like most airplane models… construction starts with the cockpit. Please note that I used an Eduard photo-etch fret to enhance the looks of it. The original cockpit is nicely detailed, with a combination of raised and recessed details, plus decals for the instrument panel and the seatbelts. But I had the opportunity to review the PE fret as well (review of the Eduard FE802 fret available elsewhere in this website) so I went ahead and used it. Actually the inbox decals for the IP and seatbelts look so good that I am sure I will use them to improve others Hellcats I have in my stash.
The cockpit assembly (with or without the PE) is straightforward to assemble. You get a cockpit floor, stick, rudder pedals, IP (plastic or PE) seat and console side detail. Fit is excellent. If you go the PE route you need to remove some detail. Otherwise the raised details – mainly in the side consoles - will likely drybrush nicely.
Before closing the fuselage parts, make sure you open the bottom part to install the drop tank and sandwich the tail wheel. Actually I choose to leave the tank out and to modify the tail wheel as to be able to add it at a later time. I just blanked off the place where the tailwheel is attached, and then I added a small wire to the tailwheel strut, which matches a small hole in the blanking plate. A tiny drop of superglue will keep it in place once all assembly is completed.
Closing the fuselage presented no issues whatsoever as the fit is as close as perfect as you can find. I only needed a light pass with the sanding stick in a few spots to get rid of seams. Adding the tail surfaces at this time is a good idea and they don’t present any issue either.
Note: The tail surfaces and wings have some rod-like parts that look like molding defects near the wing/tail join to the fuselage. These rods are not molding defects, but actually are meant to provide structural strength to the top/bottom part when assembled. Do not remove them!
Before closing the upper/lower wing parts, make sure you assemble the well wheels, and sandwich the guns in place. Again I choose to deviate from the instructions and installed a piece of plasticard inside the wing behind the gun placement. This plastic backing acts as support for the gun barrels which can now be added after painting and decaling. Make sure you stagger the backing plasticard in the right place to have the characteristic staggering of the Hellcat guns. After adding the flaps and control surfaces, the wings were ready to be added to the fuselage. Be aware that you can only assemble these parts in the neutral position.
At that point I moved construction towards the engine and cowling. The engine is represented by two pieces (the two cylinder rows) with exquisite detailed cooling fins and pushrods that pop out under a wash. The crankcase is also appropriately detailed with positive assembly slots against the engine, making sure it will be properly aligned. The cowling is made up of 3 parts, basically left/right halves and a cowling front piece. Just a slight pass with a sanding stick was all that was needed to have that part ready for painting.
I actually kept the cowling and engine as independent subassemblies so I would be able to paint the engine exhausts and assemble them towards the end of the construction, without having to worry about complex masking.
It was time to remove the radar housing from its casting molds. To my surprise there was a small bubble in the casting, only visible when I removed the part from the pouring plugs. It was very easy to fix with a bit of putty. The fit of the radar housing to the wing also required a bit of filler.
Painting of this model is as simple as it can be, with all the parts being flat sea blue. After I got a uniform base color and in order to break the monochromatic finish, I mixed a bit of light grey in the airbrush cup with the flat sea blue and I hit the center of the panels in the upper wings, horizontal surfaces, and fuselage spine/top of cowling, to try to give the model a light fainted paint look. I used Model Master Enamels and a double action Badger airbrush for the paint job.
After giving the paint job a full 24 hrs. to cure I did a very light sanding – more like a light polishing - to the paint job to remove any rough patches that could be in the paint surface, and to increase the weathered and fainted look of the model.
A coat of Future was then applied in preparation for decals. You are provided with national markings, squadron markings and a full set of stencils. For most decals, the clear backing of them ends with the printed ink region, minimizing the risk of silvering. These decals (printed by Eduard) are very thin, they conform to the panel lines and they tend to stick to the first place where they are located. Make sure you have plenty of water underneath the decal for placement.
The only decal I had trouble with was the national marking that is applied on the lower part of the radar housing. You are given two decals, one with the star and the right bar, another curved decal that sets over the curved radar housing. The curved decal seemed to me like it was a bit longer (maybe by 1/8 of an inch) than it should have been. I just trimmed the excess and then I applied the star and right bar.
I applied another coat of Future and after it cured, and I applied an oil-based wash to all the panel lines to highlight the surface detail.
At this point I added mounted the engine exhaust, engine, cowling, antennas and the guns. On that point: the original resin Eduard parts had a small defect on one of the flash hiders. Eduard offered to replace the part but due to the pressing deadline of review I actually went ahead and used a Master Model (Poland) aftermarket part instead of the original resin parts.
After a flat coat, I added the canopy and finished the weathering with a pastel chalk, giving the Hellcat those exhaust marks often seen along the fuselage sides.
This model is a delight to work with. Everything fits well and the part count is relatively low, making it a low-stress (to stress-free) model to put together.
I highly recommend this kit to modelers of all experience levels.
I would like to thank Eduard Models and IPMS/USA for the review sample. Also I want to thank Dave Morrissette for sending me the aftermarket guns with flash hiders.