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A6M2 Kit

Tamiya 1/32 A6M2b Zero Fighter Model 21 (Zeke) Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review July 2006 Manufacturer Tamiya
Subject A6M2b Zero Fighter Model 21 (Zeke) Scale 1/32
Kit Number 60317 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros Just as stunning in detail as their A6M5 release Cons  
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $130.00

First Look

A6M2 Kit
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In 1937, the Mitsubishi A5M made history as the first monoplane carrier-based fighter. Codenamed Claude, the aircraft was an advanced combat aircraft that flew many combat missions during the Sino-Japanese war. Even as the A5M was entering service, military planners were looking for an even more ambitious combat aircraft that featured firepower, maneuverability, range, and carrier-capable. Two companies were given the requirements, Mitsubishi responded with the A6M.

The A6M retained the duralumin construction of the A5M, but added a fully enclosed cockpit, more powerful engine, radio and navigation avionics, wide-stance retractable landing gear, and provisions for external stores. In order to achieve the proper combination of range, maneuverability, and limited take-off/landing roll, the aircraft was kept as light as possible. This meant that armor plate was not a design feature.

The aircraft was named Type Zero for the year of its introduction, the Japanese year 2600 (1940) and given the codename Zeke. When allied fighter pilots first encountered the Zero in combat, they had little experience in dissimilar aerial combat training. It was through this early painful learning curve that many aircraft in-service with allied forces were suddenly looked down upon since they couldn't turn with the Zero. Nothing could turn with a Zero! It would be later that allied pilots would learn the limitations of the Zero and employ tactics that played to the strengths of their own aircraft. High-speed passes, diving passes, and the Thatch Weave were some of the tactics used to remove the Zero from the sky.

To underscore the impressive performance of the Zero, there was an airshow at Chino airport where the last remaining airworthy Sakae-powered Zero still flies. The Planes of Fame crew put the Zero and a P-51 Mustang at the end of the runway for a simultaneous take-off. As both applied full-power and released their brakes, the Zero's tail was in the air and by the time the Mustang's tail came off the runway, the Zero was airborne. By the time the Mustang got off the ground, the Zero was already climbing through 1,000 feet and accelerating away. It was a perfect mirror of those early test flights of the YF-16 taking off simultaneously with an F-4E chase aircraft. The Viper leapt into the air, went vertical, and as it passed through 5,000 feet, the F-4E chase plane was visible in the aft-facing camera still accelerating down the runway. That is light-weight performance in both cases!

When Tamiya first released their 1/32 A6M5 Zero kit a number of years ago, they significantly raised the bar on kit engineering and detail. If you own one (or more) of these kits, you can sell, give away, or toss any A6M5 in any scale that you may have as you won't want to look at them again.

Like the now-famous Trumpeter line of 1/32 kits, the A6M5 Zero was so detailed that it bordered on over-engineered. The difference between the Tamiya 1/32 and Trumpeter 1/32 kits is primarily fit. While both are highly detailed, the Trumpeter kits seem to require more care to minimize fit problems. Then there is accuracy - many will recall the delays in the release of the 1/32 A6M5 kit to address various late-breaking detail bugs to ensure the most accurate kit possible. It was almost a matter of national pride at stake. So after a break to produce two 1/32 F-4Es and two 1/32 F-16Cs, Tamiya is back with another Zero.

Here is the A6M2b in 1/32 scale. Is it a minor alteration to the A6M5 or new tooling? The short answer is new tooling on the major airframe components and re-use of other detail trees. But on opening the box of this A6M2, it is clear that it was produced after the engineering developments gained from the F-16C projects.

First of all, the box is engineered to serve as a transport and storage box for the assembled kit. Like the F-16C, there is a cardboard insert that the assembled aircraft can rest upon inside the box. The external tank and wingtips are installed with poly caps so they are removable and stored safely under the aircraft.

Like the A6M5 and many of the Trumpeter large-scale aircraft, this kit uses photo-etched hinges for the flight control surfaces. This is a personal bias, but I really don't like the photo-etch workable hinges as the flight control surfaces will droop. This isn't bad for the elevators, in fact Tamiya has the two elevators coupled together so they'll droop in synch with each other. The ailerons are the problem as they don't droop together except on modern fly-by-wire aircraft. The simple fix is to glue the hinges so the ailerons will stay put.

As I mentioned earlier, the two main sprues containing the fuselage halves and wings are not the same as the parts from the A6M5 kit (I compared my two kits). Aside from some minor detail differences, the changes in tooling include:

  • Separately molded rear fuselage deck, indicating that other versions are forthcoming
  • The ventral panels under the wing guns are now separately molded, also indicating other versions are planned
  • The wingtips are now molded separately
  • The wingtips are positionable in flight or stowed mode using poly caps, or removable for storage

Like the A6M5, this kit features a beautifully detailed cockpit, an equally beautiful Sakae engine, retractable landing gear, your choice of open or closed cowl flaps, a removable drop tank, optional display stand, optional wheel chocks, and option standing and seated pilots figures. If you note the number of parts NOT used in this release, some are unique to the A6M5, but there are definitely hints at Zeros to come.

Assembly of this kit is like most Tamiya kits, the fit should be trouble-free, but if you take a little extra time to dry-fit the parts before gluing, you should have virtually no seams to fill.

Decals are provided for seven examples:

  • A6M2, AI-102, Lead Aircraft of Carrier Division 1, Air Superiority Command, 2nd Strike Unit, Lt. Saburo Shindo
  • A6M2, AI-105, Lead Aircraft of Carrier Division 1, Carrier Akagi
  • A6M2, AII-168, Carrier Division 1, Air Superiority Command, 1st Strike Unit, Carrier Kaga
  • A6M2, BI-151, Lead Aircraft of Carrier Division 2, Air Superiority Command, 2nd Strike Unit, Carrier Soryu
  • A6M2, BII-124, Carrier Division 2, Air Superiority Command, 2nd Strike Unit, Carrier Hiryu
  • A6M2, EI-116, Lead Aircraft of Carrier Division 5, Air Superiority Command, 2nd Strike Unit, Carrier Shokaku
  • A6M2, EII-137, Carrier Division 5, Air Superiority Command, 2nd Strike Unit, Carrier Zuikaku

A complete set of maintenance stenciling is also included for both Mitsubishi and Nakajima-built A6M2 aircraft. To make painting easier, Tamiya has also included a set of their yellow-tape window masks for the canopy and windscreen.

I must say that sequels are rarely better than the original, but in this case, Tamiya has taken a few lessons from their F-16 development and applied them to this release as well. With the fantastic details in the box and the variety of aftermarket decals that will no-doubt follow, this kit will provide lots of modeling enjoyment. Given the level of engineering excellence that has gone into this kit and the F-16, I can only hope that we'll see a 1/32 P-51 or P-47 build to the same exquisite detail!

This kit is definitely recommended!

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