Airfix 1/24 F6F-5 Hellcat Kit First Look
|Date of Review||June 2019||Manufacturer||Airfix|
|Kit Number||19004||Primary Media||Styrene|
|Pros||Impressive details||Cons||Nothing noted|
|Skill Level||Basic||MSRP (USD)||$160.00|
The Grumman F6F Hellcat was another step in the incremental designs that were being applied to Grumman's carrier-based fighter aircraft. Starting with the FF carrier biplane fighter, the evolution continued with the F2F and F3F biplane fighters before Grumman took the leap with the F4F monoplane fighter. Building upon that approach, design work for the F6F began in mid-1941, several months before Pearl Harbor, and the initial variants were supposed to be powered with the 1,700 horsepower Wright R2600 Cyclone engine, but after assessing the combat experiences of the F4F against the Zero, the engine was changed to the Pratt & Whitney R2800 rated at 2,000 horsepower. The F6F-5 differed little from the F6F-3 though the side windows aft of the cockpit were deleted while receiving a two-stage supercharger for improved performance. The F6F was armed with six .50 caliber machine guns, just like many of the Wildcat variants, but the Hellcat also had additional armor protection to prevail in aerial combat. In fact, it was the highest scoring US Navy fighter in World War 2 with well over 5,000 kills.
When Airfix first posted CAD previews of their next large-scale model kit late last year, many of us were surprised to see the F6F-5 Hellcat. More than that, we were also surprised to see this kit coming in 1/24th scale. This was going to be a huge model! Granted that Airfix has turned out some other ‘heavy metal’ (and wood) subjects in 1/24 scale, such as the Typhoon and Mosquito, this is the first American-made subject since their P-51D Mustang from the early 1970s. Nevertheless, the RAF and Commonwealth Air Forces flew the Mustang and the Hellcat saw service with the Fleet Air Arm as well as Commonwealth Air Arms.
With each of Airfix’s large-scale masterpieces, I’ve managed to resist the temptation to add one to my growing collection of backlogged projects. I came close to breaking that trend with their Mosquito, but since I had already invested in Tamiya’s 1/32 Mosquito FB.VI and HK’s 1/32 Mosquito B.IV, having a larger one didn’t make sense. So, when the Hellcat finally did become available here in the colonies, I figured I’d still be safe. Bad assumption. My Hellcat arrived yesterday and as expected, the box is huge (26.5” x 14” x 5”). When I opened the box, it was clear that none of the space inside was wasted. Each of the (huge) parts trees was individually bagged. The clear sprue was uniquely packaged – it was first wrapped in a paper towel of unknown origin, then placed in a bubble-wrap envelope, before going inside its own clear plastic bag. This kit is well-packaged. As a side note, I was officially notified that I must get the kit sprues moved out of the box as soon as practical as my cats wanted to take over. That’s okay, I’ll just gave them the shipping box that held the Hellcat and now they are satisfied (for now).
Speaking of impressive, let me describe Airfix’s instruction BOOK – 72 pages! This instructional tome is one of the best out there, its pages have very little text, but are well-illustrated using CAD views that clearly walk you through the step-by-step process of building this beast. They make good use of color to highlight the specific part or parts being assembled. Where applicable, part numbers are associated with the letters A, B, C, and/or D to indicate which parts belong on a given variant supplied in the box. There are also icons to show which display condition a given assembly step supports: in-flight, parked with the wings extended, or parked with the wings folded. While Airfix did a brilliant job of keeping the assembly steps and overall process relatively simple, you’ll want to spend some time in the instruction book in advance of your build to make decisions about how your model will appear at the finish so you can properly identify the relevant steps to get you there.
As for the kit, it is molded in light gray styrene and presented on nine parts trees, plus one tree of clear parts. We've provided inside and outside views of the sprue trees containing the wings and fuselage halves in the images to the right. No photo-etched parts are included, though there is no doubt in my military mind that we shall see plenty of aftermarket support for this kit. I’ve seen one such product already that provides a breath-taking update to the cockpit, which we will look at another day. Even so, Airfix as packed so much detail into this kit that you could do a magnificent build straight out of the box. Let’s take a look at the features and options in this kit:
- Nice surface detail on wings and fuselage including lapping metal skin on fuselage and ‘stressed skin’ effects
- Beautifully detailed cockpit
- Pilot’s restraints are provided as styrene parts
- Instrument panels are molded in clear with individual instrument faces and placards provided as decals
- Impressive level of structural detail replicated inside the cockpit
- Radio racks with avionics mount inside the mid-fuselage
- Positionable ventral access door
- Detailed engine
- Instructions provide data for ignition wiring
- Extensive instructions for installing the intake and exhaust manifolds/plumbing
- Provisions inside the hollow crankcase for electric motor (not included)
- Lots of details in bay between engine and firewall including air intake ducts, oil tank, inverted flight tank, and more plumbing
- Positionable access doors for engine and engine accessory bays
- Positionable cowl flaps
- Detailed wing gun/ammo bays
- Positionable gun and ammo bay doors
- Positionable landing gear
- Detailed wheel wells
- Wings can be posed folded or extended
- Detailed wing fold areas
- Positionable ailerons
- Positionable elevators
- Positionable rudder
- Positionable flaps
- Positionable tail hook
External store options include:
- Centerline drop tank
- 2 x 500lb bombs
- 2 x 1000lb bombs
- 6 x HVAR rockets
Four subjects are provided on the kit’s huge decal sheet. These include:
- F6F-5, 7, VF-27, USN, USS Princeton, 1944, ‘Paper Doll’ as flown by Lt. Carl A Brown Jr.
- F6F-5, 32, VF-12, USN, USS Randolph, 1945
- Hellcat Mk.II, K-6J, 808 NAS, FAA, HMS Khedive, 1945, Operation Sunfish
- F6F-5, 1 1.F, Flotille 1F, French Navy, carrier Arromanches (R95), 1953, Indochina War
- When building in this scale, you’ll want to look over some good reference photos to help capture the colors and subtle details that will break up the monotony of the zinc-chromate primer on the insides of the airframe or the overall dark sea blue exterior found on most F6F-5 Hellcats.
- You likely have these on your shelf at present, but you’ll want Walk Around F6F Hellcat by LCDR Richard Dann, USNR and/or F6F Hellcat in detail and scale by Bert Kinzey. Both provide useful period B&W as well as color images of the interior and exterior of the Hellcat with good technical illustrations highlighting the detail differences between the variants.
- I was a bit surprised that Airfix didn’t make provisions for the minor detail differences between the F6F-3, F6F-3N, this F6F-5, and the F6F-5N. A few extra parts or cut-out provisions for side windows would have made additional release variants possible. That said, the scratchbuilder can fabricate those details with little effort.
- Take care using online references as you may be replicating a contemporary warbird rather than a WWII combatant. Many restorations come close to original, but others take certain detail and color ‘liberties’ because they want something fun to fly rather than a museum piece (plus who wants to fly with 60+ year-old instruments and radios?).
This is an impressive kit and so far, the dry-fitting of parts is equally impressive. At the moment, I’m not sure whether I am going to build a USN combat aircraft, post war reserve aircraft, or backdate the model to the F6F-3. While the FAA option provides a distinctive color pattern, the wartime USN camouflage schemes during the F6F-5’s service came in a variety of colors – all of them glossy dark sea blue. The F6F-3 could be found in the early blue over gray, or tri-color camouflage schemes, while the post-war aircraft offer a variety of ID stripe and markings. The drones get even more colorful, and who wouldn’t want to build an F6F-5 with a Sparrow I missile under its wing? Decisions, decisions.