Zoukei-Mura Inc. 1/32 A-1H Skyraider Kit First Look
By Michael Benolkin
|Date of Review||October 2011||Manufacturer||Zoukei-Mura Inc.|
|Kit Number||32003||Primary Media||Styrene|
|Pros||Beautiful molding, excellent detail||Cons||Nothing noted|
|Skill Level||Experienced||MSRP (USD)||$141.00|
In mid-1944, Douglas started work on an attack aircraft that was initially dubbed "Dauntless II". The AD was designed as a next-generation dive-bomber and torpedo aircraft with greater range and payload capabilities over currently fielded aircraft. The AD entered production side-by-side with the AM Mauler. The war ended before either could enter operational status, and production of the Mauler ceased after 171 examples were built.
The Skyraider, on the other hand, remained in production until 1957 with over 3200 aircraft produced. Each version of the aircraft incorporated improved engine, avionics, and payload capabilities. The AD-5 was the most unique of the versions in that it had a different fuselage that turned the single-seat attack aircraft into a multi-place, multi-mission platform.
The Skyraider had its baptism of fire over Korea, but it really came into its own during the early days of Vietnam. The AD-6 and AD-7 (redesignated in the early 1960s as A-1H and A-1J, respectively) were able to bring close air support (CAS) to a new level of precision and persistence thanks to the aircraft's range and array of weapons carriage capabilities.
As the US Air Force gained experience in combat operations over Vietnam, they quickly realized that they lacked a suitable CAS platform. The aircraft types currently in service were designed for the next push-button, guided missile, hi-tech nuclear conflict, not the down and dirty mud-moving battles in Southeast Asia. Where the Air Force was able to draw upon surplus P-51 Mustangs and adapt the straight-winged F-80 and F-84 into the CAS missions over Korea, these aircraft were long gone a decade later and it was going to take some time to get a new aircraft into service. The USAF made the painful decision to adopt the US Navy's aircraft - the Skyraider entered USAF service.
Not only did the Skyraider distinguish itself in the CAS mission, it helped to save numerous lives of downed aircrew as it would escort search and rescue helicopters into hostile territory, suppress enemy fire, and get the aircraft and crews safely back out of Dodge. The Skyraider remained in USAF service until its replacement came online - another USN adoptee - the A-7D Corsair II. While the A-7 brought the CAS community closer to the rest of the supersonic Air Force, experience once again showed that the best CAS platform was still the straight-winged gunfighter like the A-1 and based upon those experiences, the A-10 Thunderbolt II would become the next generation of true CAS platforms as it too approaches its 30th anniversary of service.
If you are a large-scale aircraft modeler (1/32 and larger) and you haven't yet heard of Zoukei-Mura, I certainly hope you had a good rest living under those rocks. Their first kit was the J7W1 Shinden and it is a magnificent example of kit engineering. This was followed up by the Ta 152H-1 and Zoukei-Mura once again proved that it could stand against the best in the quality of its kits. When they announced last year that they were going to produce the 1/32 A-1H Skyraider, I instantly pre-ordered one. While production of the kit slipped due to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters that hit Japan all at once, Zoukei-Mura has released the kit and it was definitely worth the wait.
Like their previous kits, Zoukei-Mura produced this kit in four colors of styrene. The kit is presented on 12 parts trees: seven in light gray, three in silver-gray, one in black, and one clear. Aside from a pair of metal pins, the kit is completely plastic. And as with their previous releases, there are a number of aftermarket options also produced by Zoukei-Mura that are available separately including metal landing gear struts, weighted tires, color-photo-etched cockpit (Eduard) set, two photo-etched exterior detail sets (also Eduard), turned brass gun barrels, MD3 tow tractor, and a separate weapons set.
The instruction book is printed to resemble the NATOPS flight manual for the A-1H though it is entitled ZATOPS Modeling Manual. As with the previous two releases, the instruction book is well-illustrated with color photos and CAD drawings with text printed in Japanese and English. Painting instructions are provided using Vallejo acrylic paints. So how does this kit look? Let's start with the features and options:
- Detailed cockpit (even without the color photo-etch)
- Choice of pilot's seat (with and without belt/shoulder harness)
- Cockpit subassembly also includes hydraulic service bay, main fuel cell bay, and avionics bay
- Canopy is movable
- Speed brakes are movable
- Detailed R3350 engine
- Cowling panels can be left off to show off engine
- Choice of open or closed cowl flaps
- Choice of open or closed cowl shutters
- Hinged wings can be folded and unfolded after assembly
- Optional parts can be inserted for folded wings (actuators and support struts)
- Detailed wing gun bays with removable access doors
- Detailed landing gear wells
- Choice of weighted or lightly weighted gear struts
- Positionable flaps
- Positionable ailerons
- Positionable elevators
- Positionable rudder
- Centerline external fuel tank
- Two inboard drop tanks
- Canopy masks included
If you build this kit per the instructions, you're going to have lots of details hidden inside the airframe. I won't call this over-engineered as there are panels like the dorsal fuselage panel that can be left off the model or left unglued so that the model can be displayed with those bays revealed. This isn't like the Trumpeter 1/32 P-38 Lightning kit with beautiful engines and no way to see them as there were no provisions for removable/separate cowling panels.
Out of the box, this kit produces a typical A-1H in US Navy service. The only real difference between the A-1H and A-1J was a slightly more powerful R3350 and stronger landing gear for a greater take-off and landing weight (useful load). If you want to arm this aircraft, you'll have to obtain the separately packaged armament set from Zoukei-Mura, rob some weapons out of a Trumpeter Skyhawk kit (or one of their weapons sets), or look to Fisher Models and their weapons sets.
For those who might want to build this kit in USAF service, you'll have a little more work to do. The main difference between USN and USAF Skyraiders was the pilot's seat. Navy Skyraiders didn't have ejection seats. The USAF wasn't thrilled about that when they adopted the type for CAS duties and aircraft was modified to accommodate the Stanley Yankee ejection seat. The kit does provide the parts though they are not mentioned in the instructions.
The movable speed brakes include articulating hydraulic actuators. I'll have to see how the ventral speed brake behaves after assembly. If I recall correctly, the ventral speed brake was locked closed when the landing gear was extended and didn't fall open on the ground when hydraulic pressure bled down after engine shutdown. I may opt to glue this closed since I don't intend to display this model in-flight.
Markings are included for two aircraft:
- A-1H, 137496, VA-176, AK/405, USS Intrepid, 1966
- A-1H, 137543, VA-176, AK/409, USS Intrepid, MiG kill, 1966
The decal sheet is nicely printed and includes a nice set of airframe stenciling and walkways.
This is another truly exceptional kit at a really nice price. What's more, this is easily the best A-1 Skyraider kit in any scale ever produced to date (except perhaps the 1:1 scale production models). I continued to be impressed by the beautiful kits that are coming from Zoukei-Mura and I am very happy with this kit. Zoukei-Mura has announced that the next kit in their series will be the P-51D Mustang which might have been a great idea a few years ago, but now that Tamiya has produced their outstanding kit of the P-51D, I'm not sure if the world is ready for another one in this economy. What would really be nice is to see two other installments in this Skyraider family: the AD-5/A-1E as well as the Yankee-modified USAF A-1H/J. In any case, I'm looking forward to building at least one of these beasts (especially since the wings can be folded for shelf parking and unfolded for displays.