Fine Molds 1/48 A5M1 Type 96 (Claude) Kit First Look
By Ray Mehlberger
|Date of Review||September 2007||Manufacturer||Fine Molds|
|Subject||A5M1 Type 96 (Claude)||Scale||1/48|
|Kit Number||FA01||Primary Media||Styrene/White Metal|
|Skill Level||Experienced||MSRP (USD)||$35.00|
The Mitsubishi A5M was the world's first monoplane shipboard fighter and the direct ancestor of the famous Mitsubishi A6M “Zero”. The Allied code-name was “Claude”; the Japanese Navy designation was "Type 96 carrier-based fighter".
Designed to a 1934 specification, the plane first flew on February 4, 1935. It exceeded most expectations, in particular top speed (215 mph (346 km/h) was specified, 280 mph (450 km/h) attained). After some work to improve stability, the aircraft entered service in early 1937 soon seeing action in pitched aerial battles at the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, including air-to-air battles with the Chinese Air Force’s Boeing P-26CC Model 281 "Peashooters" in what was the world's first-ever aerial dogfighting and kills between monoplane fighter aircraft.
There, they proved themselves the better of every aircraft they encountered, though the Mitsubishi team continued to improve the A5M, working through versions until the final A5M5, which added a ventral drop-tank for extended range.
A trainer version, the A5M4-K was also built (103 examples). This had twin cockpits and continued in use for fighter training long after the regular A5M left front-line service.
Almost all A5Ms had open cockpits; a closed cockpit was tried, but found little favor among Navy aviators. All had fixed, non-retractable undercarriage with (except for the trainers) wheel spats (fairings).
Some A5Ms were still in service at the beginning of World War II. United States intelligence sources believed the A5M was still the primary Navy fighter, but they had already been replaced by the A6M 'Zero' on first-line aircraft carriers and with the Tainan Air Group. Other Japanese carriers and air groups continued to use the A5M until production of the 'Zero' caught up with demand.
Although almost obsolete at the beginning of 1941, the Claude deserves mention because of its effect on the thinking of the Japanese in the design of fighter aircraft in the years to come. The Claude’s main combat usage was in the Sino-Japanese Conflict, operating off of carriers and from land bases. Although soon replaced by the A6M “Zero” or “Zeke”, the Claude served as a frontline aircraft in the Aleutians and as a secondary fighter/trainer in the homeland. Most remaining airframes were used for kamikaze attacks in the closing months of the war.
The kit comes in a tray and lid type box. The box art is in black and white and shows a A5M1 dog-fighting with a Curtis BF2C-1/Hawk III of the Chinese Air Force. It carries the tail code number 4-115, which is the 13th Naval Air Group, China (one of the markings provided on the decal sheet).
Inside the box is a large cello bag with 2 large light gray trees of parts in it. A second, smaller cello bag holds the decal sheet and the clear windscreen part.
There is a narrow white box, stapled into one end of the bottom tray. It holds cast white metal parts. The instructions complete the kit’s contents.
The instructions consist of a single sheet that accordion folds out into 6 pages.
Page 1 of the instructions is a history of the Claude in Japanese only (as is the whole rest of the instructions). There are a couple of black and white drawings that are portraits of 2 Japanese pilots. It is a shame that this isn’t all in English as they probably identify these two individuals and tell of their exploits.
Pages 2 through 4 give 5 assembly steps. The bottom of page 4 has what looks like a customer service coupon to mail to Fine Molds with any problems encountered.
Pages 5 and 6 Give 4 painting and marking options:
- An overall bare metal Claude with black anti-glare cowling and black wheel spats and a red tail. It has 2 red and one white fuselage bands and the tail code is the number 3 over 173. I tried to identify this unit with my Thorpe book on Japanese Naval Aircraft markings and could not identify it
- Another Claude in the same paint scheme, except for red spatted wheel covers and one red and one white fuselage stripe. The tail code is 3-134, which the Thorpe book identifies as being the 12th Naval Air Group
- A Claude in a wave pattern camouflage, black antiglare cowling, silver wheel spats and undersurfaces, white fuselage band. Unfortunately, the two colors in the camouflage are not called out in English. The tail code is 4-112, which would be aircraft from the 13th Naval Air Group
- A Claude with the same camouflage as the previous one and also from the same 13th Naval Air Group, Tail code 4-115
The decal sheet also has a manufacturers square data stencil and the dash board instruments on it, along with some Japanese stencil warnings that go on the wings.
The first large light gray parts tree holds: the fuselage halves, cowing parts, spatted landing gear parts, belly fuel tank and cockpit interior parts (20 parts) Some mild flash is present on the spatted wheel cover parts, easily removed.
The second large light gray parts tree holds: the wing halves, horizontal tail surfaces, main wheels, wing flap hinges, tail wheel etc.(13 parts) The flaps on the wings and horizontal tail surfaces and the rudder all molded solid. For the price that this kit was, these parts really should have been done separately. Also, some mild flash is present on the horizontal tail surfaces and on the wing tips, easily removed.
The small clear parts tree holds only the clear windscreen.
The cast white metal parts, held in the second stapled box, consist of 3 small cello bags that hold: gun sight, foot petals, pitot tube, venturi tube, exhaust pipes, engine, propeller, pilot seat, prop boss. (10 parts) Now, while I am not against multi-media kits per se, I do think these parts could have been better off done in plastic.
The Claude definitely deserves a place in any collection of WWII Japanese aircraft. This kit is really well detailed and should make up into a real show-stopper.