Hasegawa 1/72 OP-2E Neptune Build Review
By Fotios Rouch
|Date of Review||November 2009||Manufacturer||Hasegawa|
|Kit Number||00897 + Aftermarket Items||Primary Media||Styrene|
|Pros||Beautiful detail||Cons||In-Country Conversion is out of production and crude by current standards|
|Skill Level||Advanced||MSRP (USD)||$48.95|
The need to disturb logistic support to the People's Army of Vietnam trucking through the Ho Chi Minh Trail created a covert operation called Igloo White. This was a USAF operation that started in 1968 and ended in 1973. Prior to that the same combat mission was carried out by 12 OP-2Es from the Navy Squadron VO-67 from November 1967 to June 1968.
The OP-2E project was started in 1967 when 12 SP-2E Neptunes were sent to China Lake to become OP-2Es. The conversion had the MAD boom removed and in the bulkhead that was revealed there was a Chaff Dispenser installed for defensive purposes. Under the nose an AN/APQ-131 radar was installed and under the rear fuselage a rear view camera was installed. The front observer position was replaced with a Norden bomb sight setup making the OP-2E the last classic Norden bomber. The huge belly radar was also removed. The canopy was also modified to a more streamlined design since the pilots did not need the bulbous maritime observation style canopy.
The airframe was armored to protect the crew. To carry its mission the OP-2E was equipped with underwing pylons that could carry MERs loaded with ADSID - Air Delivered Seismic Intrusion Detectors. These detectors would be dropped along the Ho Chi Minh Trail where they would plant themselves in the soil and transmit info when passing truck traffic would be detected. The OP-2E was also used as a gunship with downward aiming SUU-11 gunpods under the wings and gunner positions at the waist windows.
The VO-67 squadron and its 12 OP-2Es were based in Thailand at the Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base.
The OP-2E is an obscure Neptune variant and as such it has not been offered by any mainstream companies such as Hasegawa in plastic or in resin. Back in the dark ages of resin, maybe very late eighties or early nineties there was a company called In-Country Hobbies out of Mesa AZ that had tackled some obscure subjects such as the OP-2E, the TRIM AP-2H, B-26K, DC-130, etc.
I remember ordering the whole product line back then only to be shocked upon opening the little boxes and finding the worst resin molding I had ever seen! Be that as it may, almost twenty years have gone by and no one has ever released an OP-2E!
Armed with books and photos from the internet, especially the very helpful VO-67 website (http://www.vo-67.org/vo67_opening.html). I was ready to start a project that had been on the back burner for more than a decade.
In the small In-Country Hobbies cardboard box all the necessary parts were included to do the conversion. Four ADSID probes, five pylons, two MERs, the rear looking camera, the tail bulkhead with the CHAFF, the blanking plate for the missing belly radar, the front radar and a vacform canopy.
Just for historic purposes I am also including an image of how old resin reject parts were used back then by this specific maker. What you see is a 48th scale B-26K wheel inserted in the base of the rubber mold for the belly blanking plate, presumably so less resin would need to be poured in the mold. I wonder, was resin that precious back then?
The parts were full of defects such as pinholes and incomplete casting. I started the repairs by priming them, filling the holes with 3M Acryl Blue, sanding and priming again until they started looking a bit better.
I did not care for perfection at this point since the parts would be handled a lot as I would be trying to make them fit onto the plastic.
The conversion instructions have you first remove the belly radome and then the tail boom before joining the fuselage halves. The cut was easy with a fine razor saw but the resin plug was either shrunken or was never mastered at the proper length and as such it leaves a gap to be filled.
One small difference between the OP-2E and the regular Neptune was the extra window on the port side of the fuselage. The fuselage plastic was masked, drilled out and filed to shape. Clear plastic was cut to size and inserted in the new opening.
I had ordered the Eduard set for the cockpit, wheel wells and engines and the other Eduard set for the bomb bay. I had also ordered the Pavla cockpit set but it was taking forever as they were back ordered. I decided I had enough detail sets to spruce up the ancient and basic cockpit. I had started cutting and gluing parts together until Mr Cybermodeler advised me that there was a Zoom Eduard photoetch set that was pre-painted! It was well worth it to get the set since painting these super tiny instrument panels is a royal pain!
I was not planning to put too much work on the cockpit yet since the model was still going to receive lots of handling and I did not want to lose any of the tiny metal parts. The canopy opening is so wide it would be easy to add the rest of the parts later.
Next item I worked on was the front wheel well. The instruction have you cut up and discard most of the plastic wheel well and keep only a basic frame. Everything else is photoetched surfaces.
I inserted the mostly complete wheel well into the front half fuselage together with the basic cockpit parts and secured everything with cyano glue and styrene rods.
I then worked on the engines and the exhausts. I decided to drill out all of the exhausts and not replace them with tube stock.
I then closed up the fuselage halves and attached the camera housing, the rear bulkhead and a piece of flat styrene to blank out the hole left from the removal of one of the ventral bulges.
The are was smoothed out and puttied and left to dry overnight.
Similarly the front radar was attached with super glue and faired over with Acryl Blue.
The next huge hurdle that will make or brake this project is how to attach the vacuform canopy to the fuselage. The vac canopy is rough and a bit oversize and it does not conform to the existing opening. This is going to be tricky and I wish I had started the project with this as my first goal instead of investing all this work and getting stuck now!
If the canopy deal plays out well, the rest of the project should be a piece of cake... famous last words!