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CH-53E Kit

Academy/MRC 1/48 CH-53E Super Sea Stallion Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review April 2006 Manufacturer Academy/MRC
Subject CH-53E Super Sea Stallion Scale 1/48
Kit Number 12209 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Excellent detailing inside and out! Cons
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $89.00

First Look

CH-53E Kit
CH-53E Kit
CH-53E Kit
CH-53E Kit
CH-53E Kit
CH-53E Kit
CH-53E Kit
CH-53E Kit
CH-53E Kit
CH-53E Kit

The Sikorsky H-53 was designed as a heavy assault transport helicopter that entered service with the US Navy as the CH-53A, the USAF as the CH-53B/C, and the USMC as the CH-53D. The US Navy adopted their Sea Stallion to serve as a mine sweeper, towing a hydrofoil sled through the water to search for and clear mines left to disrupt maritime traffic. This first version was the RH-53D.

Sikorsky must have taken note of actor Tim Allen's approach to engineering - "more power" when it came time to improve the H-53. They took their twin-engine workhorse and crammed a third engine behind the rotor mast. To translate that additional power to lift, Sikorsky altered the main rotor head from a six-bladed arrangement to seven blades. Another innovation was the tilting of the vertical stabilizer to port to optimize the tail rotor authority against the increased torque from the higher-power engine/main rotor combination.

This new machine became the CH-53E Super Sea Stallion and MH-53E Sea Dragon. Entering service with the US Marine Corps in 1981, it is capable of air refueling thanks to the refueling boom installed below the pilot. The aircraft serves as the heavy-lift workhorse to move troops and supplies between an amphibious task group offshore and forces ashore. In Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the CH-53E can move troops around the battlefield night or day, can lift artillery between firing positions, and a variety of other sling loads at will. While the V-22 Osprey will transform air assault in the not-too-distant future, it won't be able to fill the shoes of this workhorse. We'll be seeing the Super Sea Stallion around for some time to come.

It has been almost two years since Academy rolled out their first 'big helicopter' kit in 1/48 scale with the CH-46E Sea Knight. That kit was impressive out of the box and built up into a beautiful model (look here at our build review). The kit featured separately molded interior walls and captured the detail of the CH-46 nicely inside and out. The only complaint I had was the presence of ejector pin marks on visible portions of the interior of the cargo compartment.

Academy has definitely learned from the CH-46 releases and this first installment in the H-53E family is absolutely gorgeous. The preview photos that we've seen here and elsewhere do not do the kit justice.

The kit is molded in light gray styrene and features finely scribed details on the exterior. Supplied on seven trees, plus a single tree of clear parts, the kit is beautifully detailed inside and out. To facilitate molding detail into the interior and exterior fuselage with no visible ejector pin marks, the interior halves are molded separately from the exterior halves.

Unlike the CH-46, this kit has picture perfect interior cargo compartment detailing with no ejector pin marks (see the photo to the right).

Construction begins with the main rotor head, and this assembly alone, including rotor blades and the various parts of the rotor head consist of 40 parts! MAJOR kudos to Academy for providing the option of building the rotor head either in flight configuration or with the rotor blades folded. You don't have to take up an entire shelf to park this beast.

Like the CH-46 kit, you'll spend a few minutes drilling out flashed-over holes in the fuselage sides depending on whether you're building the aircraft in flight-ready or rotors folded configuration. Either way, there are lots of details on the aircraft exterior that will be added later.

The interior of the cargo compartment is next with good painting instructions and sling seats that are installed for the people-moving mission. While the instructions don't reflect this, you simply fold up the seats or omit them if you want to put cargo pallets inside the aircraft.

The flight deck is next and the detailing is nicely done, though the details on the instrument panel, overhead console, and center console are a bit soft to work with the decals that overlay these parts. Having 'hard' details would make it very difficult to overlay these panels with decals, but if you are looking to paint your own panels with parts containing 'hard' details, I imagine we'll be seeing a detail set from Cobra Company that will fit the bill nicely. With the flight deck completed, the fuselage comes together.

Some of the interior options you have include a positionable jump seat on the flight deck, 50 caliber gun mounts for the port and starboard sides, positionable crew entry door, and positionable loading ramp and door. In addition to your choice of flight-ready or folded main rotor, the tail boom can also be positioned flight ready or folded. If you do fold the main rotor blades, all of the extra holes you drilled into the fuselage early-on are for the included blade holders on the rear fuselage.

Speaking of extra holes, many of the holes you will drill are for the well-researched updates to the aircraft to provide infra-red countermeasures, sensors and other interesting bumps and blade antennas that accumulated as the aircraft was upgraded over time.

Markings are provided on two decal sheets for three aircraft:

  • CH-53E, 161541, CJ/08, HMH-461, OIF
  • CH-53E, 162483, YK/07, HMH-466, MCAS Tustin CA, 1980s
  • CH-53E, 161184, EN/04, HMH-464, MCAS New River NC, 1990s

In addition to the distinctive unit markings, the decals also include walkways and an extensive set of maintenance stenciling.

This is the first time this aircraft has been rendered in 1/48 scale and all I can say is WOW! Do not confuse this CH-53E with the earlier version of the CH-53 offered by Revell. The E-model is distinctive by the seven-bladed main rotor, slanted tail, and of course, the three engines. The earlier H-53 as depicted in the Revell kit has six blades, straight tail, and two engines.

This kit is about as detailed as you can get and still be workable using styrene alone. If you're a real hard-core AMS modeler, you'll want to replace the molded-in grille details in the tail and elsewhere with 'see-through' photo-etched screens. You'll also need the tail rotor drive and joints to install inside the tail that are visible through those screens. Here is a photo of how this looks:


Personally, I think I'll stick with building this beauty straight out of the box. While the additional details would be interesting, it is up to you if the benefit outweighs the work and potential complications.

Before we leave this photograph, take a look at the second aircraft from the camera in this US Navy photo. Those are tiger stripes painted along the dorsal fairing of that aircraft. There is an interesting variation on a plain gray scheme!

This is the best helicopter kit released by Academy and I'd dare say the nicest scale model helicopter kit of any subject released by anyone to date. Academy gets two thumbs up here!

My sincere thanks to MRC for this review sample!