by: Peter Ganchev [ ]
The F6F Hellcat was the most successful WWII US carrier-borne fighter, and the most successful Allied navy fighter of the entire war. In the Pacific the Hellcat accounted for 75 per cent of US NAVY’s aerial victories. It also served as a night fighter (up to the mid-50s), hauled bombs and rockets, performed reconnaissance. The rugged Grumman design was preferred to the Corsair for carrier operations, yet was phased out much earlier than the F4U: by the time the Korean War started, Hellcats served mostly as drones.
When Dragon released their 1/72 F6F kit, it joined the third generation of models of said aircraft. It is hardly the definitive kit in any scale, but it does have a number of interesting features beyond the added carrier deck and two crewmen.
ContentsIn the box you will find 11 separate sprues, two deck plates and a small photoetched fret.
The fun part is you can build most of the mass-produced Hellcat variants from this boxing, except from the N-series night fighters. The kit is advertised as the earlier F6F-3 with the windows behind the cockpit, but it also has
- the late engine cowling,
- late windscreen,
- the wing of an -5N variant with trim tab on the right-hand aileron and 20mm gun fairings,
- the late, horizontal-split fuel tank with the straight pylon,
- 6 HVAR rockets with zero-length launchers,
which would be more fitting to an F-5 variant. There is even a radar container for the F6F-3E night fighter variant, but it’s labelled “not for use”. Interestingly enough the line drawings for the decal options suggest earlier cowling with the bulge over the upper exhaust stack that is not supplied (oh well).
Even more interesting is the wing-fold option, available from the box (a first for the F6F in the scale if I am not mistaken), along with a partial engine support frame and accessory box.
The kit features finely recessed panel lines, some rivet detail, an excellent cockpit, multiple inspection and service openings are also evident. Overall, the surface details are nicely restrained, with the exception of fabric representation on control surfaces, which is too “digital” with a pronounced edge running along the top of each rib.
Parts are well molded, there is no flash, short shots or mold shifts, nor ejector pin marks on areas visible after assembly. Clear parts have no mold separation lines and are distortion free.
Dragon provides decals for 4 aircraft from different squadrons: VF-6, VF-9, VF-25 and VMF(N)-534.
Build ObservationsInstruction sheet features just 6 steps, but as customary with DML each step contains a number of sub-stages and options. I will follow its logic and add my own comments.
Step 1: cockpit.
It starts correctly with the pilot harness installation – the PE parts are extremely thin and can be easily broken, so do follow this recommendation. The seat is beautifully molded, fairly thin and (I believe) the closest stock pilot seat in the scale. The control column is too bent to the rear. The instrument panel is missing the canted side panels: the dials are represented flat on the same detail.
The cockpit can actually be assembled without glue and panels would still stay in place. Some careful highlighting to pick up the molded details would greatly improve its appearance.
If you do not plan to open the front compartment you do not need to install parts D12, 16, 17 and 24. If you do add them anyway – move part D24 to the lower support member where its correct position is.
Step 2: engine.
Easy, as parts have uniquely-shaped locating slots, that should prevent misalignments and switching parts.
Again, if you do not plan to open the engine accessory bay – do not add parts D20, 21 and 22. They will be completely hidden, and will also interfere with closing the fuselage as you would have to go around the exhaust stacks with fuselage halves and the main wing section.
Step 3: closing the fuselage.
Thanks to the alignment pins in fuselage halves and the cockpit floor you will enjoy “click-fit” – parts snap into place and the fuselage stands on its own without glue. On my example transparencies W5 and W6 were recessed too deeply, so I replaced them with transparent pieces of plastic sitting flush with the fuselage sides.
Step 4: fuel tank.
The braces of the fuel tank are too thick so I discarded them and filled the corresponding recesses in parts C1 and C2. I used thin stretched sprue around the tank centreline to simulate the edge where the two halve meet. I replaced the braces with aluminium tape.
I did not use the bombs and their racks. The racks are nicely done, but despite the delicate stabs the overall shape of the bombs themselves is far from the 1000lb original. The molded-on sway braces are too thick and out of shape.
When installing parts D33 and D34 be aware they will leave gaps – I used 0.25mm card stock to fill them. There is also a visible seam line along the sidewall of the main gear bays between the upper and lower wing halves, which needs to be puttied.
My main concern with the way main landing gear is depicted is that there are neither spars, nor other structure to actually support the gear legs at the rear. If you were to opt for the folded wing you will notice the simulated drag link of either gear leg ends up in mid-air, attached to NOTHING, which is completely wrong. Same applies for the outer panels of the gear bay – parts B5, 6, 9 and 10. I did build my own replacement structure for all of them using walkardounds of Hellcats in restoration as a reference.
Step 5: wings.
My biggest gripe here is about the thick wing trailing edges. Very notable, especially after you add the thin-edged ailerons, or compare with the Eduard kit (even the decade older Revell of Germany offering).
Whatever you choose – wings folded or spread – glue the parts that connect their
subassemblies (D14, 15 or D29, 30) just before adding the wings to the airframe. This will prevent damage or broken pins, and will later help with proper wing panel alignment.
I cut off the cannon fairings and filled in the trim tab on the right wing, but did not extend the rib detail over it. I also scratch-built replacements for parts D31 and 32.
Part D26 (Pitot tube) is closer to 48th scale in size – it is way too big and has to be either modified or replaced. For my build I skipped machineguns altogether as I was pursuing the folded wing option and aircraft in maintenance. I installed no rockets for the same reason (not sure the F-3 carried them, but their fins are too thick anyway).
Part 6: final assembly.
Final assembly and the famous “Hellcat grin” debate. Over the past decade the shape of the lower cowling intake has been a favoured subject on modelling forums. Dragon did miss the mark, so I cut the simulated intake out from part A12 and shaped a larger opening using a motor tool and files.
I also created the side cowling bulges from scrap plastic and drilled them out. The additional support structure was already mentioned in earlier steps so I will not repeat this here.
Both figures are molded in a single part each. You will need to clean up some mold lines along the sides of each figure, as well as reduce the right hand and sleeve of the guy marked as J2 (they’re both disproportionately larger than the left ones on the same figure).
FinishingSince I picked the Marine example I started looking for images of Hellcats from the unit. Surprisingly I stumbled upon the exact same bird, but it turned out that 1) it was a radar-equipped night fighter (N-variant), and that 2) the small numbers for the forward gear doors were missing in the decal sheet.
I got the radar bulge from a friend’s Eduard kit, and the small numbers a 144th scale Dragon AV-8 Harrier sheet.
DML will have you place white stencilling on the white lowers of your F6F – the texts must be black instead for machines wearing the tri-color camo pattern.
ConclusionsDespite all the self-inflicted work and complaints described building the kit is actually a pleasant experience. Parts breakdown follows the logic of the options the company wanted to provide – which are plenty and this is easily the most versatile F6F kit in the scale. If you decide to build the kit as supplied you should be able to complete it within a weekend.
Shapewise the completed model represents F6F pretty well, at least to my eye, and is well worth the effort of gluing the few extra parts as compared to the competition. These have resulted in an extremely well detailed cockpit, and with a couple of exceptions fit very well. I only used filled in the gear wells and around the front face of the cowling. As far as the price goes – adding an aftermarket wing folding conversion plus a cockpit update to any competing could easily stretch your budget beyond the money asked for the Dragon offering.
Please note that on the images of the finished model the wings are attached with blue tack because I broke their mounting pins (refer to my recommendation in step 5).
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