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P-39 Airacobra

Hasegawa 1/48 P-400 Airacobra Build Review

By Kelly Jamison

Date of Review March 2007 Manufacturer Hasegawa
Subject P-400 Airacobra Scale 1/48
Kit Number 09092 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Can be built to just about anyone’s level. Had a blast! Cons Minor shape problem in the tail, decals and air intake fit is poor
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $30.95

Background

Many aviation historians say that the P-39 Airacobra was one of the most unique mass-produced fighters created in America and one of the most disappointing aircraft in the hands of the United States Army Air Corps. It came to life in the hands of the Allies, mainly the Russian Air Force but rejected by the British.

Originally scheduled for the British as the Airacobra I or the thankfully short lived name Caribou, the US Army Air Corps changed the requirement for a turbo-supercharger and adversely affected the aircraft’s high altitude performance so much that the British lost interest in it. The RAF looked for an excuse to not purchase or take possession of any of the aircraft. After Pearl Harbor, the USAAC needed all airframes they could get their hands on and this gave the British the out they were looking for and new life for the Airacobra.

Although already painted in British RAF colors P-39’s (renamed P-400 for the export version) were painted with US stars and sent to the Pacific theater. At Guadalcanal the Airacobra made its name in the low level environment of island fighting. The unique tri-cycle landing gear was ideal for the rough and often muddy runways.

The first unit to use the Airacobra in combat what the 8th Pursuit Group in March of 1942. A mixed bag of P-400s and P-39Ds filled the airfield. As more planes became available, more squadrons formed in the Aleutians, Iceland and around the Panama Canal in Central America. Before too long the Airacobra made its way to the Soviet Union where they put the unique Airacobra’s hub mounted cannon to good use against the Germans.

The Airacobra slowly morphed into the P-63 Kingcobra. Most found service with Russia and France during and after the war. The Airacobra and Kingcobra never achieved the recognition of the Thunderbolt or Mustang but did contribute to the war effort on many fronts.

The Kit

The angle of this review is how to build this kit from the box with no extras at all and following the instructions. The overall measurements of the kit are within acceptable margins but the tail needs to be a bit more rounded on the bottom edge to get the shape just right. The aftermarket community has already been addressing this with a new rudder. There is also a fantastic Cutting Edge cockpit you can use if the kit cockpit isn’t to your liking. And like most kits, the cockpit is where we are going to start.

My first problem to tackle is the enigma of the mysterious Bell Green. I have seen five different shades of the ultimate Bell Green. I have come to the conclusion that if you go with a medium green that is not Zinc Chromate Green, you will be OK and you can argue with anyone you want about its accuracy. Hasegawa calls for FS34151. I used Model Masters FS34102 Medium Green with just a drop of white for my Bell Green. I went ahead and mixed a whole bottle to my new color and then airbrushed the lid that color since I will be using Bell Green a great deal.

P-39 The instructions in Step 1 warns you to “Assemble with order”. So that is what we will do. I think the cockpit gives a very nice representation and can be detailed to your desired taste. Bone stock, photo-etched seatbelts or a full resin replacement, it is your choice. I used the decals for the instrument panels but you can hand paint them if you would like. The instrument panel has lots of relief that makes the decals difficult to get exactly right once your favorite decal softener is used. I like the look of the decals better than hand painting the detail on.

In just a few minutes the whole cockpit was together and was looking very good. I did keep breaking off the landing gear warning horn that is behind the pilots head on the left side of the cockpit during the entire build. I also omitted the radio behind the roll bar. My reference photos show no radio for the Guadalcanal P-400s. Now that I have made that statement I am sure someone will come up with a photo proving me wrong.

TIME WARP WARNING! When it was time to put the canopy on, I discovered that the fuselage was spread too wide from the radio shelf behind the pilot. It should be sanded down a bit and test fitted to get the fuselage halves together better. Now this is when it got bad. I had this great idea of just tweaking the canopy a bit so the bottom edges would match up with the fuselage halves a little better.

SNAP! Now it was cracked in half down the middle! So I emailed our very own editor of Cybermodeler (Hi Mike!) and got the kit he used for the quick build. He mailed it to me and I carefully removed the canopy. Right when I was just about to successfully separate it from the demo model. SNAP! Another canopy broken! I got so mad I just ordered another kit (P-39Q/N Kit #JT93, Hey I am not completely stupid!) and got the canopy out of it. I ordered a new clear set from Hasegawa to use later on the new kit. Problem solved except for the canopy was still too narrow for the fuselage. This is real model building here!

BACK TO NORMAL TIME! I glued the small throttle quadrant labeled L6 and the carburetor intake splitter plate labeled B4 to the left side of the fuselage half along with the cockpit sub assembly.

P-39 The instructions call for 15 grams of lead weight. I think the general rule of thumb is put as much as you can in there and even some in the drop tank or bomb if you can. I have seen where others have glued the two fuselage halves together then pour white glue in the opening where the machine gun cover is placed and filled the nose with shot or slivers of lead. Do whatever works for you as long as you get at least 15 grams in the nose.

Step 2 calls for assembling the fuselage halves at this time. Tight fit and good engineering make it a breeze. I always use superglue to keep from melting or distorting the thin trailing edges of the rudder and it makes it easier to sand the seam down. If you sand the fuselage seam within about an hour it will be easier since superglue gets harder with time.

On Step 3, I decided to use the external tank instead of the bomb in step 3. When you glue and sand the external tank halves, you loose the ribbed details and they must be re-scribed. Not a big deal. There is an option for a gas cap that was located higher up on the tank to get some extra “Go Juice” in the tank. I opted out of using the cap (L18).

We are onto Step 4 already which calls for assembling the wings. There are three small radiators that are glued onto the bottom side of the wing. Make sure and do not mix up part A11 with A10. They are beveled and it does make a difference.

There are also shell ejector covers that fit into the bottom of the wing which allows the model maker to make different versions of this plane for future release. They are engineered to near perfection. A touch of liquid glue on the top of the seams and capillary action glues them into place permanently.

Now for one of the largest banes of the kit, Part B1 which is the air intakes. I glued it into place and the fit was not too good. It took thick superglue to fill in the gaps. This alignment would cause problems in the wing alignment, wing roots and gun plugs too. After the wings were superglued on, I had to sand down and clean up the intakes and the area around the fuselage to wing connection point.

P-39 P-39

This repair job is where I spent the majority of time on this build. It really was not that big a deal but a bit of a surprise from a kit of this level. If you ever built the MPM P-63, you would not think twice of this little excursion.

I was impressed with the tight fit of the tail planes. They almost snap into place and fit agreeably in the fuselage slots. The kit also gives you the option of using the small transparent lens covers supplied on the clear tree (Part #R 9). I decided to not add to my woes by loosing one of those lenses to the carpet monster. I also decided not to install the exhaust stacks until after all the painting is done. It just makes painting them that much easier.

Step 5 is the spinner. It is nice and clean. No problems. Just do not forget the small vinyl ring that helps retain the propeller. Do not use glue on this piece (Part P1). Just let it free float in the blade boss. I cleaned up the mold lines on the propeller. Airbrushed it flat black and gave it a coat of clear gloss to get it ready for decals. Then taped it off at the tips to paint the familiar yellow with Testors Bright Yellow and then put it off to the side waiting for decaling at a later date.

P-39 Of course Hasegawa is trying to get the most out of these molds so they built it to house different components to make said versions. Parts D3 and B7/B8 are such parts. The predicament is that the wing machine gun barrels on a P-400 should be the pierced sleeve barrels and not the smooth surface ones you get in the kit. Hopefully the aftermarket industry will come to the rescue. I don’t like the way these fit into the wing but I don’t have a better idea either. The fit was a bit off and needed filler. Note: This picture is from a production sample and not the model featured here.

P-39 The nose gun cover seemed to be a bit undersized leaving a small step on each side of the fuselage where the curved surfaces should continue smoothly. I centered the cover and used a sanding stick to try to get the curve to match a bit. Nose on view will show a bit of an oval but it is not too bad. Note: This picture is from a production sample and not the model featured here.

The landing gear is on Step 6. It is well engineered and easy to install. I was a bit skeptical about the nose gear but it seemed to work just fine in getting the rake right and is strong enough to hold all that nose weight. It was all temporarily installed with Blue-Tac putty just to make sure the plane wasn’t going to be a tail setter. Make sure to use Parts # M1 for the P-400 because it used the smaller wheel but Hasegawa supplies the larger wheel too for other versions. Part A12 is the small gear door and should be painted black if you are going to use the Guadalcanal decal option. On the main gear you should use part M5 for the wheel hubs. The rest of the pieces will be installed after painting. So we will skip Step 7 and go onto some of Step 8.

I installed the bomb racks at this time without the supporting struts (L7/L8 for the drop tank). I would just break them off during painting. I also skipped the pitot tube (A8), the cannon (A9) and the landing light (R3) for later installation but installed the radiator flap vents (B5/B6/B13) in their full open position since they would be painted the same as the bottom of the wings.

Moving on to Step 9, I masked off the inner and outer window for airbrushing on the big car doors of the cockpit. They got a coat of Bell Green. When it was dry, I used the decals #66 and #67 then detailed them out according to the instructions. The left door got glued in place. I was very content with the fit to the fuselage.

The left door on the real thing was sometimes wired shut but could be opened. I posed mine closed. The throttle quadrant was in the way and made getting in and out of the left side of the aircraft difficult. You might find pictures of both doors open and you can pose the kit that way but it really breaks up the line of the plane like giant elephant ears. By closing the left door and opening the right you accomplish being able to see in and see the unique Art Deco lines of the aircraft at the same time.

P-39

P-39 Now is the time for painting. If you pull out your “British Colours”, you should do just fine. The usual suspects come to play. BS641 Dark Green, BS381C/210 Sky and BS381C/450. The pattern was very tight, almost to a straight line. I tightened up the airbrush so I could freehand a pattern better than I could if I was using masking tape. The loss is the feathered edge isn’t as sharp as it should be but I think acceptable. The lower color got masked off for a very sharp line. Then the whole thing got a coat of Future Floor Polish.

P-39 I followed the pattern on the instruction sheets with no problems and the kit was looking very good in my eyes at this time. Now comes my favorite part. The decals! Long ago I had decided to do the plane from the 347th Fighter Group, 67th Fighter Squadron, Guadalcanal, 1942.

The decals are opaque and are in register but a little on the thick side. They practically melted when hit by Solva-set. This decal solution is way too hot for these decals. Some other decal solution might be better. Since I am building this out of the box completely, I used all the little stencils. Instead of printing out each stencil individually, Hasegawa linked grouped stencils together. Normally I would have cut out the connecting carrier film but I decided to go all the way with this and see what results.

P-39 Well I ruined one of the aircraft serial numbers below the tail with my too chemically hot Solva-set and will have to go to the decal dungeon to find a replacement. Again, this is real modeling. Once a new number was put in place and I was happy with all the decals, I gave the plane a coat of Model Master Dullcoat.

P-39 Back to step 6 and 7. Now I am ready to install the landing gear detail and landing gear covers. The nose gear fits into the nose wheel well strongly and gets even better with the down lock (#A1 and A20) in place. Don’t forget the small door cover on the front of the landing gear leg and the small linkage #A13 that goes on the backside of the leg. It is a little tricky but looks great when finished. The nose gear doors were superglued on. They do not have a tab or really any attachment point to the bottom of the fuselage. You just have to eyeball it.

The main gear fits sturdily in the peg holes. Wait to glue the wheels onto the gear yokes until the plane is sitting on its own. There is a tiny bit of play that will cause the flattened wheels to not set flat on the table. Using liquid glue allows the tires to settle on the flat spots just right. After it is dry, glue the wheel covers into place and then the outer gear covers which fit nicely into the small slots between the wing and main gear. The inner gear door covers fit nicely into small tabs and are stabilized by the petite struts (#M6 on both sides) and fit into small slots in the wheel well agreeably.

THE END RUN!

Step 9 The canopy has been temporarily installed all throughout the painting process. I took off the masking tape and cleaned up a few lines with a toothpick. The soft wood will not scratch the clear plastic and is easy to handle. The canopy was a bit of a pill to get right. I wish I would have spent a bit more time making sure the left door was aligned with the canopy and still sit on the fuselage correctly. I think I have way too big a gap at the front. Had I known, I might have built up that area just a bit more. A drop of silver spruces up the landing light and after that dried a spot of Krystal Klear will glue the landing light lens on.

Using some logic, I painted the drop tank Neutral Gray. The thinking here is the drop tank that went with the aircraft and was painted Sky was indeed dropped a long time ago and a standard USAAF tank was put in its place. I have no pictures of this color combination but it does make sense.

To finish off the prop I cut the 20mm cannon (#A9) from the tree and painted it black then rubbed it with common pencil lead to give it a metallic look. It popped right into the center of the spinner but took some eyeballing to get it aligned right. I used this same technique of the pencil lead on the exhaust stacks after painting them Model Masters Rust. They slid right into position when inserted into the fuselage sides. The right side car door was inserted to the side of the fuselage with no problem. Some exhaust stains from some pastel chalks and the look was complete.

P-39 P-39

Conclusions

I really enjoyed this build. If you follow the instructions to the letter you will cause yourself some headaches like with the landing gear and exhaust being installed too early in the build. I was not real happy with the wing roots. The fit was not very good but can be worked much better than I did. The radio shelf caused the fuselage to be a bit too wide throwing the canopy off and there is a bit of a mystery on exactly which gun barrel to use for the Hispano 20mm cannon. The decals are thick and should be replaced with higher quality decals. The bottom of the rudder does throw off the oval shape of the tail a bit but most of us can live with it. An aftermarket rudder would straighten this out if you are so inclined. I would give this kit an 8 out of 10. I am going to build another with all the bells whistles and corrections in the near future.  But is sure looks good sitting in the cabinet next to the Hasegawa P-40E.

P-39 P-39

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