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Special Hobby 1/48 F2A-3 Buffalo Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review August 2005 Manufacturer Special Hobby
Subject Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo Scale 1/48
Kit Number 48032 Primary Media Styrene, Resin, PE
Pros Excellent detailing in the cockpit and inside the cowling Cons
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $45.00

First Look


Brewster & Company was founded in the early 19th century as a manufacturer of horse-drawn wagons and carriages. In 1920, the Brewster & Company Aircraft Division started out as a vendor to the Naval Aircraft Factory producing aircraft floats. Soon they were also producing sub-assemblies for Chance Vought and Grumman. Nevertheless, the engineers at Brewster wanted to develop an aircraft design of their own.

Brewster's first aircraft opportunity was for a low-wing, all-metal, two-place, torpedo/bomber/reconnaissance aircraft. The design was approved by the US Navy and designated SBA. Production of the SBA was diverted to the Naval Aircraft Factory and the production aircraft were designated SBN-1.

The next opportunity was for a new generation of monoplane fighter that could operate from aircraft carriers, this requirement coming in the late 1930s. Two designs would move forward out of this competition, the Brewster F2A and the Grumman F4F. Brewster succeeded in with their new design that was named 'Buffalo' and orders came in from overseas for this new fighter.

In the hands of the Finnish Air Force, the Buffalo was achieving 3:1 kill ratios against Stalin's fighters, while in the Pacific, the aircraft was faring better than its Japanese counterparts. What sealed the fate of the aircraft was its developer - Brewster. Aggressive marketing resulted in four times the orders than the production capacity of the Brewster factory. Federal directives for overseas deliveries meant that US Navy orders were a low priority in order to get aircraft out to allies in combat. The company was then caught in the middle of an arms scandal arising from the Spanish Civil War. The consequences of all of these woes put the company under government control, its production facilities were used to build sub-assemblies for Grumman and Consolidated, and it was ultimately shut down in 1944.

The full potential of the Buffalo was never realized due to the problems within the company. The US aircrews that would take the Buffalo into action against the Japanese at Midway were not yet combat seasoned, and the veteran Japanese pilots decimated the defending F2As and F4Fs. Nevertheless, proof that the aircraft was capable came out of that same battle.

Captain William Humbert, USMC, was attacking a Japanese bomber when his F2A was jumped by Zeros. A 20mm round blew a hole through the fuselage but the aircraft was okay. He dove the aircraft down to the surface of the ocean and used the airspeed gained in the dive to extend away from a single Zero that followed. When Captain Humbert had sufficient lead on the Zero, he reversed the aircraft and flew head-on towards the Zero. He opened fire with his machine guns until he passed the A6M2, then saw the aircraft fly into the ocean. In the right hands and with the right tactics, the Buffalo had held its own as it had in service with Finland, Dutch East Indies, Australia and New Zealand.

Buffalo 101

With the 'old' 1/48 F2A-2 from Tamiya, the 1/48 F2A-1 and Model 239 from Classic Airframes, and the 1/48 F2A-3 from Special Hobby, I thought we'd take a few minutes to look at the differences between these aircraft.

For export sales, the Brewster Model 239 was an F2A-1 without the tailhook or ventral window, and used a ring type gunsight. The Model 339 series were variations of the F2A-2, also without the tailhook or ventral window, and used a fixed or reflective gunsight. Some had pneumatic tailwheels, many had fixed (non-retracting) tailwheels. Other subtle differences existed between air forces, so check your references, but this brief run-down gives you a starting point.

F2A-1 F2A-2 F2A-3
Spinner Small spinner ahead of propeller Large spinner enclosing propeller hub No spinner
Propeller Hamilton Standard Prop Cuffed Curtiss-Electric Prop Cuffed Curtiss-Electric Prop
Engine R1820-22 @ 950 hp R1820-40 @ 1200 hp R1820-40 @ 1200 hp
Length 26' 0" 25' 7" 26' 4"
Wingspan 35' 0" 35' 0" 35' 0"
Mods Cowling shortened by 5 inches; vent removed behind cockpit; ventral window changed; array of dorsal air vents aft of cowling Nose lengthened by 10 inches between cowl and wing

Special Hobby has released the F2A-3 kit in 1/48 scale. If some of the parts look familiar, check out the Classic Airframes 1/48 F2A-1 kit review here. The Buffalo family is a joint project between Special Hobby and Classic Airframes. In 1/48, Classic Airframes releases the F2A-1 and F2A-2 (soon) while Special Hobby released this F2A-3. In 1/32 (that's right!) they will flip-flop with Classic Airframes doing the F2A-3 and Special Hobby doing the others.

The parts are molded in light gray styrene and feature very nicely executed surface detailing. All of the panel lines, etc., are scribed. The kit is presented on three parts trees, plus a single tree with the various clear parts.

The kit includes a small bag of resin parts, three parts actually, one is the rear of the engine as visible from the main wheel wells, and the other two parts are the internal wing frames that are also visible through the wheel wells.

A fret of photo-etched parts round out this kit that provide some great detailing in the cockpit and underwing bomb racks. An acetate instrument sheet fits behind the photo-etched panel adding further realism in detail.

The cockpit captures the look of the open floor that allows the pilot to see through the ventral window. Several canopy options are present on the clear parts, but these options are used on the export versions of the Buffalo.

In addition to the nicely detailed cockpit, the kit also provides a nice looking engine and lots of detailing for the insides of the main wheel wells. You can see all the way up to the machine gun mounts at the top of the fuselage!

The only real difference between the Classic Airframes kit and the Special Hobby kit, aside from mold differences, is the photo-etch. Classic Airframes went with Eduard color photo-etch and Special Hobby did their own.

I decided to compare the F2A-3 kit with the line drawings found in the Kagero F2A Buffalo book. The outline and shape appear to be spot-on.

Markings are provided for three examples:

  • F2A-3, BuNo 1553, VMF-221, MF-15, as flown by Capt William C. Humberd, Midway, June 1942
  • F2A-3, BuNo unknown, VMF-221, 2-MF-13MCAS Ewa, Hawaii, April 1942
  • F2A-3, BuNo 1549, VF-2, 2-F-18,USS Lexington, Nov 1941

This kit looks every bit as nice as the Classic Airframes Buffalos and should build into a beautiful rendition of this between-the-wars fighter. I can't wait for these two companies to release their 1/32 versions!


  • Brewster F2A Buffalo, Andre Zbiegniewski, Kagero, 2003, ISBN 83-89088-14-2
  • F2A Buffalo in Action, Jim Maas, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1987, ISBN 0-89747-196-2