by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
The P-39 Airacobra has consistently figured high in most-wanted polls for large-scale aircraft subjects for the last 15 years or so, so it's amazing that it's taken so long for an injected kit to appear. Special Hobby has previously released the P-39D and 'Q, and the latest addition to the range is the ill-starred RAF Aircobra Mk. 1 and an RAAF P-39F.
BackgroundThe career of the Airacobra with the RAF is a dismal episode. Originally christened the Caribou (what were they thinking!?) but quickly re-named to fall in line with the U.S. version, the performance of the aircraft fell far short of what was advertised. This was principally because the aircraft wasn't equipped with the supercharger fitted in the prototype. A hot debate ensued, with Bell arguing that British officials knew full well that the equipment had been deleted from production aircraft, while their counterparts claimed they were victims of deception.
Meanwhile, the aircraft were issued to 601 Sqn. in August 1941, and some idea of their unpopularity with RAF crews can be judged by the fact that, over thirty years later, a former 601 pilot and friend of my family still despised and distrusted the Airacobra when I asked him about his wartime experiences! After several months of use dogged by problems, the RAF were glad to see the back of the aircraft (601 Sqn. reequipping with Spitfires) and the surviving Airacobras were shipped off to Russia where, ironically, the VVS used the type with considerable success, eventually receiving around 5,000 P-39s of various marks.
In PlasticThe kit arrives in an attractive top-opening box. The styrene sprues are bagged separately and the resin parts, etched frets and decals are bagged and stapled to a cardboard insert for further protection. The kit comprises:
139 x grey styrene parts
12 x clear parts
5 x resin parts
126 x etched parts, some pre-painted
It's worth stressing that this is a semi-limited run kit so, although the standard has risen to the point of being almost unrecognisable compared with such kits of just a few years ago, it still will require some extra experience and modelling skills to get the best from it.
That said, the moulding quality is good in general. There's little flash evident, but I did find some faint sink marks on the exterior where there's thick moulding on the reverse side of the parts. The surface finish is excellent, with the polished parts featuring neatly engraved panel lines and fasteners, some raised panels and quite subtle fabric areas. There are even locating pins on the main parts, and the airframe clips together very cleanly in a test-fit.
A few detailsThe 50 part cockpit is a mix of styrene and etched parts. There's a choice of plastic or pre-painted Eduard instrument panels and consoles, plus alternative coloured etched seat harnesses for the RAF and RAAF versions kitted. Completing the cockpit is a nicely cast resin gunsight.
The wheel wells and undercarriage are quite well detailed. The mainwheels have separate hubs that will make painting easier and the tricycle landing gear is cleanly moulded. The tyres are unweighted.
All the control surfaces are separate. The landing flaps are raised.
The kit provides a choice of drop tank or bomb, and the latter is especially nice, with etched tail-fins, fuses etc. I'm not sure how appropriate the stores are to an RAF Mk. 1 as none of my photos show any carried. Herein could lie a problem because the centre-line rack is moulded integrally with the wing, so some careful surgery will be needed if you decide to remove it.
There's a choice of propellers and both 6- and 12-stub exhausts. The resin exhausts are beautifully cast with hollow ends.
Last but not least, there's a crystal clear injected canopy and "car-doors". The inside of the latter is built up with etched panels, document cases and handles.
Instructions and decalsThe instructions take the form of a large 12-page booklet with very clear assembly diagrams. The 29-stage sequence is logical and everything looks pretty straightforward. There's no mention of any nose-weight, but I'm pretty sure the kit will be tail-heavy without some.
As usual with Special Hobby kits, Gunze Sangyo paints are recommended. The colour suggested for the cockpit and wheel wells is H58 Interior Green, but both Detail & Scale and Mushroom Books clearly show a distinctive colour known (maybe unofficially) as "Bell green" that was specific to the company's products.
The kit includes decals for 3 aircraft:
A. Aircobra Mk. 1, s/n AH485, UF-O, 601 Sqn., RAF.
B. Aircobra Mk. 1, s/n AH601, UF, “Skylark XIII” 601 Sqn., RAF.
C. P-39F Airacobra, s/n A53-6, FA-F, 82 Sqn., RAAF
The decals are excellent quality. Printed by Aviprint. the items are thin and glossy, and the sheet is my kit is printed in perfect register. The Sky codes look arguably a bit vivid on the sheet, but may tone down when applied. A comprehensive set of stencils is included, along with a clear placement diagram.
ConclusionSpecial Hobby's Airacobra is a large and impressive kit - not suitable for beginners, but experienced modellers should delight in the chance to build a largescale P-39 at last. Recommended.
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