I've built a number of Bill Koster's vacuform kits over the years - in fact the first major project I tackled when I returned to modelling seriously in the late 1980s was his ambitious Douglas A-20G. Once fairly common, vacuforms have become rather neglected with the rise of resin and short-run injected kits, but they still offer a uniquely challenging and satisfying form of modelling, so any new release is very welcome.
It was rumoured for years that Bill was planning a 1/48 scale Mitsubishi G3M "Nell", but as time went by, I began to conclude that it would never see the light of day. Well, it's great to be proved wrong - although ironically, having waited so long for the kit, I completely missed its release and only spotted it by chance when browsing Aeroclub's catalogue recently. Of course, I couldn't resist it and ordered it immediately, the kit arriving very promptly just a couple of working days later.
The G3M seems rather modest compared with later bombers, but when it was designed in the mid 1930s it was more advanced than most Western types. With a smooth stressed skin construction it possessed a truly extraordinary range of 3,871 miles (compared with the RAF Whitley's 1,650 miles). An ominous portent of the machine's significance came in August 1937 when G3M2s of the Kanoya Air Corps made the world's first trans-oceanic air raid, hitting targets 1,250 away in mainland China. Despite this, Western planners remained complacent about Japanese air power in the build up to war in the Far East - the Royal Navy paying bitterly when HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales steamed to the defence of Singapore in December 1941. Thinking they were safely out of range of air attack, they were caught and sunk by G3Ms in the aircraft's most famous action. Known to the Allies as the "Nell", by 1943 the aircraft had largely been relegated to second-line duties.
As with all major Koster kits, the G3M arrives in a large and very sturdy flip-top box that doubles as a handy tray to keep the parts together during assembly. The kit comprises:
28 x vacuformed parts
60 x resin parts
49 x white metal parts
Decals for 3 aircraft
The vacuforming is pretty good, with the main parts well formed. I don't know if it's a problem common to all the kits, but my example has a badly formed upper port wing half. Happily, this was spotted and a perfectly moulded replacement included in the kit.
Surface detail varies somewhat. There are a few small flaws to take care of, but nothing major. Panel lines are scribed and are a little soft, so I'll probably rescribe them, but the fabric surfaces are very nicely depicted. A bug-bear with many vacuforms is over-attenuation (where the plastic is stretched too thin over deep detail) and Koster's Nell is no exception. Just how much seems to be hit or miss, because Mick Evans seems to have encountered much more of a problem than me in his impressive build
. In my kit, the trouble is limited to an interior part and the cowling undersides.
With the bulk of the airframe vacuformed, it's a surprise to see the fins and rudders produced in resin. To be honest, I'd have preferred them vacuformed, because the rudders have very thick trailing edges and will require so much thinning that the surface detail will need totally replacing. The ailerons are resin too (hanging separate from the wing, rather like on a Ju 52), but these and their hinges are neatly cast and should look fine.
The rest of the resin parts are pretty good and have some fine detail, but there are a few bubbles evident and they'll generally need a bit of clean up. The white metal parts fare much better - extremely cleanly cast with excellent detail. The instructions show two machine guns, but only one is included in my kit, and a couple of undercarriage struts are also missing, but the latter will be simple enough to replace.
A few details
The kit has quite a well fitted-out interior, with a mix of resin and white metal details added to vacuformed floors and bulkheads. The resin instrument panel is excellent, as are the throttles, but the cockpit sidewalls are less successful, being vacuformed - which never really works for me. Despite the master patterns obviously being highly detailed, the result looks soft and I'll scratch build replacements. The bulkheads include useful spars to support the wings and set the dihedral.
The resin engines are quite impressive, with good detail on the cylinders and a really nice touch is detailed rear faces. The kit includes a mass of tiny white metal parts for push-rods etc. The exhausts in my kit suffer from air bubbles and, being so delicate, it'll probably be easier to replace them than repair them. The individual propeller blades attach to nicely detailed hubs, with separate spinners
The undercarriage is very sturdy, with solid white metal main-gear legs and weighted resin wheels. The tail wheel is cast in one piece in metal.
A torpedo is included - or rather, the body is; the tail fins and propellers must be scratch made using a template in the instructions. There's no detail on how to mount the torpedo.
Lastly, the transparencies. These are good, with crisp framing and no over-attenuation evident in my kit. In some previous Koster kits I've built, the clarity of transparencies has been truly excellent - this time it's still pretty good, but I'll give the parts an extra polish and a dip in Klear/Future.
Instruction & Decals
The assembly diagrams are nicely drawn and break construction down into 18 stages. There are no colour details provided so you'll have to find some references or rely on educated guess-work.
Decals are provided for a trio of G3Ms from unidentified units. The decals are pretty good quality, being thin and glossy with good colour density and minimal carrier film.The hinomarus are a tad out of register, but I'll probably paint these anyway. A plan view of a typical camouflage pattern is provided, but oddly enough, this doesn't match the colour profiles it accompanies.
However you look at it, Koster's G3M Nell is going to be a challenging build - but that's half the satisfaction of vacuform modelling. Obviously, it's only recommended for experienced modellers, but any difficulties in construction will be more than outweighed by the reward of a unique model that few others will be able to add to their collections.
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