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Special Hobby 1/32 P-39D Airacobra Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review September 2007 Manufacturer Special Hobby
Subject Bell P-39D Airacobra Scale 1/32
Kit Number 32002 Primary Media Styrene, Resin, PE
Pros Nice detailing inside and out Cons
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $59.95

First Look


Bell designed an advanced fighter aircraft in 1938 that featured a 37mm cannon firing through the propeller spinner and different configurations of machine guns depending on the version. The engine was mounted behind the pilot, with the propeller shaft running under the pilot's seat and between his legs. The aircraft incorporated one of the first nosegear arrangements on an operational fighter.

The aircraft was initially destined for France, but after that country surrendered to Germany, deliveries were instead routed to the RAF. In operations, the RAF didn't care for the aircraft. It lacked performance above 12,000 feet and the Allison engine was not supercharged (a result of some pre-war politics in the US defense industry).

The Soviet Air Force employed the aircraft extensively as it was found to be a worthy fighter in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. More information has started flowing out of the former Soviet Union's archives about the men and missions employing the Airacobra. Prior to the 'fall of the wall', historical publications tended to focus on the exploits of those patriotic crews that flew Soviet-built hardware, downplaying the contributions of lend-lease on the outcome of the Great Patriotic War by their then-current cold-war adversaries. In all, the Soviets receiving over half of the total Bell P-39 production run, which led into the P-63 Kingcobra, but that is another story.

Ultimately, the USAAF finally had good success with the P-39 when experienced pilots employed the P-39, like the F4F Wildcat, to draw on its tactical strengths and against the enemy's weaknesses. Tactics over performance.

When I first heard about someone planning on releasing the P-39 in 1/32 scale a number of years ago, I was really excited about the possibilities. The variety of color schemes and nose art for the aircraft were just as broad as the P-40. The company planning on that kit back then was AMtech, and that release, along with the company, have faded into history.

Special Hobby has taken up the challenge and released this P-39D in 1/32 scale and pushed to get this kit done in time for the 2007 IPMS/USA National Convention in California. I honestly don't know how AMtech might have approached this kit, but Special Hobby did a magnificent job of it!

The first thing I wondered was if this was scaled up from Eduard'a 1/48 kit since the two companies will sometimes collaborate on subjects. This can be quickly dismissed when you look at the parts layout and design of Eduard's kit here. In fact, if you are interested in the various P-39s released in the last few years in 1/48, you can read our comparisons here.

The kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on six parts trees, plus a small fret of color photo-etched parts, and three resin-cast parts: the gunsight and a pair of engine exhaust stacks.

This is one of the first Special Hobby kits that I can recall where you could almost build to model completely with liquid cement. The resin exhausts and the gunsight are a must, but that is only three parts using cyano. Many folks don't use photo-etch and this kit doesn't use photo-etch for any critical assemblies, these are provided for the seatbelts/harnesses, bomb fins, and hinge details on the nosegear doors. I know I want those color photo-etched parts, but Hasegawa builders know that even in 1/32 scale, seatbelts and harnesses are left to the optional aftermarket world.

So how does this kit stack up against the recent 1/48 kits?

  • It is the first in styrene kit in 1/32 scale
  • It has separate ailerons, rudder, and elevators
  • It has the machine gun breeches over the top of the instrument panel
  • Separately molded radio and radio tray
  • Color photo-etch seatbelts/harnesses

The cockpit is not bad at all, the look of the instrument clusters is nicely captured in this scale that was just too subtle in smaller scales. This is where some Eduard color photo-etched instrument panel clusters would really set the model off. Color printed cockpit placards would also be really nice as well. Remember that this kit also features the same styled clear car doors that can be positioned open or closed as the 1/48 scale kits from Eduard and Hasegawa.

Given the design and molding technologies used to create the molds for this kit, you won't see many parts left over after completion of this project. Using more conventional tooling, a mold designer would create as many parts as possible on the trees to minimize the investment. That's why you can see more variant possibilities on Hasegawa tooling as they reuse as many parts trees as possible with different variants and leave more spare parts behind as a result. These Czech molds have some significant advantages and they are perfect for limited quantity releases. That also means that if you want a 1/32 P-39, don't wait too long as the chances of many re-releases are very slim.

Features of the kit:

  • Positionable flight control surfaces
  • Optional bomb or external fuel tank on the centerline
  • Positionable cockpit car doors
  • Very nicely detailed landing gear and wells
  • Optional radio installation depending on which aircraft you're rendering
  • Nice cockpit!
  • Vast majority of the kit is styrene

Markings are provided for three aircraft:

  • P-39D-1-BE, 41-38350, 35 FS/8 FG, P, as flown by Lt. I.A. Erickson, Milne Bay, New Guinea, 1942
  • P-39D-1-BE, 41-38357, 35 FS/8 FG, D, as flown by Lt. Leder, Milne Bay, New Guinea, 1942
  • P-39D-1-BE, 41-38338, 36 FS/8 FG, Q, 'Nips Nemesis II', as flown by Lt. Donald C. McGee, Port Moresby, New Guinea, 1942

The decal sheet provides the markings for any of the three aircraft, plus a complete set of maintenance stenciling which also will be more visible in this scale.

I love this kit! I'm sure that we'll be seeing some aftermarket decals and details following this kit as well as future variants from Special Hobby. I do hope that this kit will be as popular with a large number of builders as it is with me since I really want to see (and acquire) the later versions of the Airacobra for both the USAAF and VVS color scheme opportunities!