by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
backgroundThe Bell AH-1Z Viper is the latest development of the Vietnam-era HueyCobra, which in turn can trace its lineage right back to the 1950s. The Viper is based on the AH-1W SuperCobra, that was developed for the US Marine Corps. Retaining the SuperCobra’s twin-engine layout, the Viper (also popularly known as the Zulu Cobra) introduces four-blade rotor system and more advanced avionics and target acquisition systems.
First flying in 2000, the AH-1Z began operational testing withh the US Marines some five years later, and was declared fully combat-ready in 2010.
the kitKitty Hawk’s new Viper arrives in a very attractive top-opening box and, lifting the lid, the presentation is generally excellent. The main sprues and accessories are bagged individually, while the clear parts are both bagged and protected in their own cardboard box. One main sprue has been folded over - something of a Kitty Hawk trademark. Personally, I find the practice a little annoying, as I’m always worried about damaging parts when I separate the two sections - I wish the packers would simply clip them apart while they’re warm, instead of folding them.
The kit comprises:
221 x pale grey styrene parts
13 clear styrene parts
27 x etched brass parts
Decals for 3 x colours schemes
The moulding is very good indeed and impresses immediately, with some excellent detail evident. I found a hint of flash here and there on the sample kit, but no signs of sink marks. Ejector pins are another matter, though, and you will have to trim some of the bigger ones flush where they prevent parts joining. Luckily, many of them have been kept out of sight, but it is the one element of KItty Hawk’s moulding technology that continues to count against the company in some modellers’ eyes. Coming from a “short-run” background as I do, I take cleaning up parts before assembly pretty much for granted, but I guess it is surprising to find so many prominent pin marks in a mainstream kit.
The surface finish is excellent - silky smooth with delicate engraved panel lines and lightly embossed rivets and fasteners. There are a few raised panels and covers, while inlet and outlet grills are provided as etched pieces.
Test FitWaxing lyrical over surface detail is all very well - but we all know that many a good-looking kit has turned out to be a pig to assemble. So, I wasted no time and got straight into a dry-fit of the main parts, which I’m delighted to say go together faultlessly, with a good crisp joint where the tail section attaches.
a few detailsConstruction begins with a 38-part cockpit that includes photo-etched seat harnesses (mislabelled as “decals” in the instructions). Decals are provided, however, for the multi-function displays. They cover the entire panels, which have nice moulded details anyway, so I’ll trim out just the screens and apply them. The seats are 2-part affairs and should look quite decent with the harnesses attached, while there’s quite a complex equipment console that forms the rear bulkhead of the cockpit. Possibly the fiddliest items will be the pair of side-mounted joy-stick controllers - each made up from 3 parts.
The kit is designed with the option to display the centre section of the two General Electric T700 engines. Each comprises only 4 parts, but the detail is very nicely moulded, so they should form a fine basis for superdetailers to work on.
Similarly, the lower fuselage bays can be left open. Again, there’s more detail you can add, but the basics are there for you.
Under the nose there’s the 3-barrelled M197 Gatling gun turret, and a neat touch is the inclusion of a ball-bearing to fit inside and provide weight to keep the completed model standing on its landing skids.
The exhausts are good and deep, with moulded detail inside - but also some nasty ejector-pin marks that will be pretty hard to tackle.
The rotor blades attach to a solid cross-shaped “spar”, so they should be nice and stable. This part had actually had a bit of a rough time during moulding in the sample kit, with stress marks and being slightly bent - but it should do its job fine. Stress marks are actually quite prevalent throughout the kit, so it is something Kitty Hawk need to keep an eye on.
The tail rotor is in two parts with a nicely detailed spindle and, rounding off the basic airframe, are a number of finely etched grills and vents, which should look much superior to moulded items.
The clear parts are quite superb - absolutely crystal clear and free of distortion. The canopy framing is crisply defined, and the separate side panels will allow you to show off the interior to its best advantage. Under the nose there’s the gimbal-mounted TTS (Target Sighting System) which is designed for use day or night in all weather conditions. The instructions don’t indicate that it can move - but, if you’re careful with the cement, it may do to some degree. Clear moulded navigation lamps are dotted around the airframe.
The full-sized Viper packs quite a punch, so it’s no surprise to see one full sprue devoted entirely to ordnance in the kit. The load-out comprises:
2 x AIM-9L AAMs
2 x LAU-68 7-tube Hydra 70 rocket launchers
2 or 4 x 19-shot Hydra 70 rocket pods
2 x M272 quadruple AGM-114 Hellfire mounts
The moulding and detail is pretty good, although the fins on the Hellfires look a bit heavy to me. Given that the kit includes navigation lamps, it’s a little surprising that clear nose covers aren’t provided.
Instructions & decalsI’ve often been critical of Kitty Hawk instructions for the illogical assembly sequences they depict, but this time things are quite a lot better- although experienced modellers will still probably choose to leave the canopy parts and rotors off until much later.
The drawings are clear and straightforward, and construction is broken down into 26 stages in a neat 18-page booklet. Colour matches for Gunze Sangyo paints are provided (although this isn’t stated), along with FS numbers in some cases.
Decals are included for a trio of Vipers:
1.US Marines #44, s/n 168049
2.US Marines #615, s/n 168003, HMLAT-303 training squadron
3.US Marines #640, s/n 168000, HMLAT-303 training squadron
The first two machines carry conventional camouflage, the third is painted with spectacular red, black and gold striping, with insignia to match.
The decals are printed on two sheets. The first is monochrome and very good quality. The second is quite ambitious in trying to depict the gradated red and gold of scheme #3. Inevitably, this means dithering as small dots - there’s really no choice in printing. Sadly, the registration on this sheet is a tad off in the sample kit, so I’ll probably go for one of the more conventional schemes, attractive as the option undeniably is.
conclusionKitty Hawk’s new Viper is a little cracker of a kit that should be quite straightforward to build, while still offering plenty of detail. From the pre-release build photos, it certainly seems to capture the insect-like menace of the full-sized machine.
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