by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
backgroundThe Cessna Dragonfly was developed in response to a USAF requirement for a counter-insurgency aircraft in the early 1960s. Based on the existing T-37 "Tweet" trainer, the original A-37A conversions were highly successful when tested under fire in Vietnam in the "Combat Dragon" program, but the experience also highlighted the need for a stronger aircraft, with longer range and endurance.
Fitted with more powerful engines and strengthened wings, the A-37B could carry its own weight in stores and was equipped for in-flight refueling. Though often derided by fast-jet pilots with nicknames such as the "Jet Baby" and "6,000 Pound Dog Whistle" (on account of the ear-splitting noise of its engines), the "Super Tweet", as it was more affectionately known, excelled in its role of flying low and slow, delivering its weapon-load more accurately than Phantoms and Thuds could manage, and needing far less maintenance.
Almost half the Dragonflys built were supplied to the South Vietnamese Air Force and, with the fall of Saigon, many survivors were distributed throughout the Communist block, serving into the 1980s when finding spare parts became a problem. In the West, the Dragonfly was widely exported in Latin and South America, remaining in service to this day in some countries, and continued to serve in US Air National Guard and reserve units until replaced by the A-10 Thunderbolt II.
the kitEncore Models' second 1:48 scale release takes the classic Monogram kit of the A-37B Dragonfly, which was first released back in 1992, and adds top quality new resin and photo-etched details, along with custom-printed decals.
The kit arrives in a very solid top-opening box, with the sprues and various accessories bagged separately. A nice touch is that the resin parts are protected by a cardboard divider. The kit comprises:
123 x pale grey styrene parts (28 unused)
9 x clear styrene parts (2 not needed)
41 x resin parts
49 x etched parts
Decals for 3 x colour schemes.
The styrene parts are now moulded in Poland and look pretty good for their age. A little flash has crept in here and there, but they seem free of sink marks and there's no evidence of mould damage. I found one fuselage half a tad warped at the nose in the sample kit, but it tapes together perfectly straight, so no worries there.
Of course, this being a Monogram kit of a certain vintage, the surface detailing consists of raised panel lines. These are happily very light and crisply done, and are quite complex in places, so rescribing will need care if you decide to go down that route. For our future build I'll leave well alone for the most part, because I intend to do the kit OOB as far as possible - plus, I've never had a chance to see how my current weathering techniques work on raised panel lines. What I will reduce somewhat, though, is the riveting on the tail surfaces - the full-sized A-37B does have raised rivets there, but not that prominent.
Test FitDry assembling the main components shows they are still a nice snug fit for the most part. The wing roots are a real credit to Monogram's designers of 20 years ago, as the fit is just about perfect despite the tricky shape. The wings are split into 3 parts with a full-span lower section and separate top panels and have a tendency to droop slightly, so be sure to support them while they dry to set the required 3° dihedral. The locating tabs of the stabilizers are a loose fit in their slots, so lining the latter with plastic card might not be a bad idea to give a good fit.
some details, old and newThe original Monogram detail parts are largely scrapped in favour of a combination of excellent Avionix and True Details resin and Eduard photo-etched parts, starting with the cockpit which is completely transformed in the process.
A beautifully detailed resin cockpit tub is provided, and into this fit new control columns and a pre-coloured etched instrument panel beneath which hang resin rudder pedals. You have a choice for the side and centre consoles - with either resin or etched details - and the original rather basic Weber ejector seats are replaced by a pair of resin versions, complete with moulded-on harnesses and much finer detail throughout. Last but not least, the inside of the canopy receives a new resin centre frame and etched mirrors and catches.
Turning to the exterior, the styrene undercarriage legs are retained, but the wheels are replaced by "weighted" resin versions, and a new etched nosewheel doors and hinges replace the originals. Similarly, the airbrake is now totally made up from etched parts that must be carefully curved and folded to shape, and its bay under the cockpit is detailed with metal ribs and actuators. Etched thrust attenuators are provided, and delicate new FOD guards are a massive improvement over the old solid-moulded plastic versions.
The refueling probe is replaced with a new resin tip before attention turns to the underwing stores and, as befits the Super Tweet, a rather daunting array of ordnance for such as small aircraft is provided. The old drop tanks, gun pods and napalm tanks, are joined by new resin Mk 82 bombs and rocket launcher pods. The Mk 82s feature a very effective textured "cast" finish.
Instructions & decalsThe assembly booklet is very nicely presented, colour-printed on heavy-weight paper. Construction is broken down into 33 stages, and the clear diagrams do a good job of showing where the original kit parts must be modified to fit the new parts. Colour matches are keyed to most details, and FS numbers are given on a reference chart.
Completing the package is a set of Cartograf decals for three colour schemes:
A. USAF A-37B s/n 69-6350, flown by Capt. John Lamb, 8th Special Operations Sqn., Bien Hoa, Vietnam, 1971.
B. OA-37B s/n 73-1094, 103rd FS, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, 1987
C. Fuerza Aéra Dominica OA-37B, cn 43265, s/n 3701, Escuadrón de Combate, San Isidro, 2000
As you'd expect from Cartograf, the decals are superb, the glossy items printed in perfect register with great colour density and minimal carrier film. Particularly impressive is the "sprayed look" look of the graffiti for the bombs in Scheme A.
conclusionI really like Encore Model's way of upgrading an existing kit with a selection of high quality extras sourced from specialist producers. The resulting all-in-one package is very competitively priced compared with buying a standard kit and an equivalent set of aftermarket items, and breathes a whole new lease of life into the venerable old Monogram Dragonfly. However, it certainly isn't a beginner's model anymore; whereas the original kit was quite simple, to really get the most out of Encore's mixed-media upgrade (particularly some of the etched parts) will require a reasonable amount of experience. The results should be spectacular though, and its great to see a kit of this all too often rather unsung hero available again.
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