by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Brief historyThe arrival of the Vought SB2U marked the critical period in the mid to late 1930s when the US Navy was moving away from obsolescent bi-planes to the new breed of low-wing monoplanes. The design grew from a requirement for a monoplane scout / dive-bomber replacement for Vought's earlier SBU-1 biplane but, nevertheless, the Navy hedged its bets and asked Vought to also prepare a new biplane design as a failsafe.
In the event, the V-156 monoplane was chosen and 58 were ordered, entering service as the SB2U-1 in December 1937, with Bombing Squadron Three (VB3) aboard USS Saratoga. The new aircraft incorporated a number of what were then state-of-the-art features for naval aircraft; an all-metal structure, a cantilever wing which folded for carrier stowage and a retractable landing gear. The 825-hp P&W Twin Wasp engine gave a top speed of almost 250 mph, and the armament consisted of 2 x .30 calibre machine guns, one fixed forward-firing and one on a flexible mount, plus a bomb load of 1000 lb.
In 1938 the US Navy ordered 58 SB2U-2s, followed in 1939 by 57 SB2U-3s - the majority of which served with the Marines. The SB2U-3 introduced a modified tail and increased fuel capacity, along with the provision for 4 x .50 calibre fixed gun and a .50 for the gunner. The increase in weight caused the SB2U-3's performance to suffer compared with earlier versions, but it was during the production of the -3 that the name Vindicator was chosen, which was retro-applied to all SB2Us.
In terms of its US service during WW2, the Vindicator is chiefly remembered for the defence of Midway. In the course of the action, Capt. Richard E. Fleming became the first Marine pilot in WW2 to be awarded, posthumously, the Congressional Medal of Honor. But the writing was on the wall for the Vindicator - it was clearly far too vulnerable to Japanese fighters and was withdrawn from front-line service as soon as more modern replacements were available.
Vought had also sought export sales and an initial order was received from France in 1939 for 20 aircraft for the French Navy, designated V-156-Fs. The French version featured a number of changes to the standard US machine, including a reversed throttle, metric instruments, French radios and machine guns. In the face of the German onslaught ion May 1940, the V-156-Fs were hastily thrown into action against land targets in heroic, but ultimately futile attempts to oppose the invasion.
With the fall of France, Britain took over the second batch of 50 aircraft which were intended for delivery in 1941. The aircraft were modified to British specifications and named Chesapeake 1s. The Chesapeake was broadly similar to the SB2U-3, the chief difference being the substitution of .30 calibre machine guns. The aircraft served briefly with 811 Sqn, but they were found to be unsuitable for use on British escort carriers and the type was soon relegated to training duties.
The basicsAs we've come to expect from Accurate Miniatures, the parts are very precisely moulded, showing exceptional detail both inside and out. The surface detail on metal areas consists of beautifully engraved panel lines and finely embossed rivets and fasteners. Fabric surfaces are subtly depicted on the fuselage, while the outer wings and control surfaces have rib-tapes which may be a little overdone for some tastes. The kit consists of:
109 x dark-grey parts
11 x clear parts
1 x fret of photo-etched lap belts
1 x sheet of canopy masks
Decals for 1 colour scheme
As befits a new kit, there is almost no flash and what little there is will only take a moment to deal with, but a few parts do show some sink marks.The most obvious is on the rear fuselage. The inside of the fuselage halves has quite extensive structure moulded on and this has led to a problem; namely sink marks on the exterior.
The chief culprit is a rather heavy frame behind the cockpit, which creates a very distinct dip right around the fuselage exterior. Filling sink marks is always an irritation, but in this case the job will be made much more tedious because the problem lies right across the fabric-covered part of the fuselage, so preserving the stringers will need some delicate filling and sanding - and, of course, the silver paint-job required for this version will only help highlight any sloppy workmanship. The cause of the problems is almost certainly down to the parts being removed from the moulds before they've cooled sufficiently. I've read elsewhere that the sinkage is very variable - some samples haven't had a problem, while others show sinkage to a greater or lesser degree. Hopefully, I was unlucky and bought a "bad 'un" - if this is a worst case, then the problem is manageable... still a real pain... but manageable.
There are also a fair number of ejector pin marks. Most are hidden, but some will certainly need dealing with - particularly on the cockpit detail parts. Two ejector pins have caused a small crescent-shaped marks on the fuselage exterior.
A test-fit of the major parts shows no real problems. The wing-to-fuselage joint looks good, but I noticed a bit of a gap along the top of the rear fuselage.
Construction sequenceSteps 1 - 3. Enough of the bad news! One thing we expect from Accurate Miniatures is great interior detail and the Vindicator certainly lives up to the company's reputation. The pilot's and gunner's compartments are superbly detailed, with some amazingly delicate parts contributing to a quite complex assembly. The seats are dressed up with very nice etched lap-belts (the US Navy didn't fit shoulder harnesses at the time).
The instrument panels are moulded clear, as in earlier Accurate Miniatures kits and decals are provided for the instrument faces. Presumably, the intention is to paint the panel, leaving the gauges clear, and apply the decals to the rear of the panel to give a "glazed" look, but this isn't explained in the instructions. Also, unlike in the earlier kits, the decals aren't printed in reverse, so they may need some PVA or varnish to help glue them down.
Step 4 deals with the engine and cowling. The cowling halves are incredibly thin and, at first glance, look rather distorted. It test fit shows there's no need for worry - they are a perfect fit and a real credit to the designers. The reason for the thin cowling is to allow the engine to be as close to scale as possible. This is moulded in 4 parts and has nicely detailed cylinders and a beautiful crankcase with a moulded-on wiring harness and push-rods. Perhaps the wiring is a little heavy, but it is an amazing bit of moulding.
Step 5 - turns to the wings and tail. The wings include a separate spar to maintain the dihedral.
Step 6 - covers the landing gear, which may be positions retracted or lowered. The lowered gear is very nicely detailed with separate retracting arms, oleo links and springs. Accurate Miniatures give a choice of weighted or unweighted tyres. The weighted versions aren't very bulged - quite correct for the high-pressure tyres used on carrier aircraft.
Step 7 - covers the ordnance, which includes a 1000lb bomb, a drop tank and a pair of 100lb bombs or practice bomb dispensers. The fins on the 100lb bombs are pretty thick and would look better replaced.
Step 8 - adds the final details, including a choice of open or closed canopies. The clear parts are separately bagged and packaged under a false bottom to the box in classic Accurate Miniatures belt and braces style. They are thin and pretty clear, but I spotted a bit of distortion and some flow marks on my examples. The framework for the canopies is pretty complex, so the inclusion of a set of masks is a real bonus. The centre part of the canopy is something of a mystery; it's moulded clear, with a framework like the rest of the canopy, but the box top and painting guide show it as a solid panel. I've looked through Squadron's In-Action for the Vindicator and I can't find a reference for this full "greenhouse" - certainly, photos of the subject of the kit's decals show it with a solid mid-section.
Mystery PartsThere are a couple of other oddities in the kit too. The inner surfaces of the wings have flap detail - but there's no mention in the instructions on displaying them open - and it will require careful surgery to do so. Even stranger are a pair of inserts for folded wings but, again, these aren't mentioned and there's no scribing inside the wings to indicate where to cut. Maybe a folded-wing option is planned for the future, but the necessary wing-braces aren't among the parts.
Instructions & DecalsAccurate Miniatures have always been unique in supplying detailed assembly instructions with fully-written notes. Happily, they've maintained their tradition in the Vindicator. The style has changed slightly (and, maybe, they aren't quite as detailed as previously), but they are well-written and definitely worth reading - particularly the warning about how fragile the interior parts are. On the down side, I did spot a couple of typos including a mis-numbered part. The instructions include detailed painting instructions for every part and a useful paint reference chart with appropriate colours from some leading model paint manufacturers - but, surprisingly, no Humbrol, let alone Xtracolor or White Ensign matches. Nevertheless I think modellers anywhere will find available paints on the list.
Decals are provided for one aircraft;
SB2U-1 s/n 0773, the personal aircraft of the Air Group Commander, USS Ranger (CV-4), Atlantic Squadron Neutrality Patrol. This aircraft also appeared in a display at the Cleveland Air Races in 1939.
The decals are superb quality, custom printed by Microscale, but the option for just one colour scheme is a bit disappointing, particularly as Accurate Miniatures supplied such extensive decal sheets with their F3Fs.
ConclusionsIt's great to see Accurate Miniatures back with such a superb kit! If the review has seemed a little harsh in places it's because I rate the company as pretty much the best in the business and judge their work accordingly. Is is odd to give 90% to a kit I've criticised? Well, to be fair, the problems with sinkage are really down to the contact moulding company in Korea, but it's something that needs addressing as it lets down an otherwise beautiful model which will certainly warrant 90% once this is sorted.
This isn't a kit for beginners and it isn't one to be rushed - the complex interior warrants time and careful assembly - but the results should be truly spectacular and give the chance to complete an almost "museum quality" replica out of the box. Highly recommended for experienced modellers.