by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Brief subject historyThe F2A-3 represented the end of the line for Brewster's much-maligned F2A in US service. In an attempt to bring the aircraft up to modern fighter standards, Brewster extended the fuselage by 9" to correct centre-of gravity problems, added a fuselage fuel tank and updated the radio and other equipment. The canopy was modified, with the bracing of the sliding section replaced by glued joints and, crucially, extra armour protection was fitted.
The results were disappointing, to say the least; with the addition equipment, the F2A-3 was almost 1,000lb heavier than its predecessor and, with no additional power provided, performance suffered accordingly. Even as the -3s left the production line, it was obvious that the F2A was fast approaching obsolescence. The US Navy began to re-equip with the F4F Wildcat, passing its F2A-3s on to the Marines.
The first combat for US F2As occurred at the Battle of Midway on the 4th June, 1942, when a mixed force of 19 F2A-3s and 6 Grumman F4F-3s flew out to challenge a Japanese force of 107 aircraft. The results were devastating; 36 "Zeros" escorting the Japanese bombers pounced on the American formation and shot down 13 F2A-3s and 2 F4F-3s. After the battle, one survivor made the chilling statement: "...any commander who orders pilots out for combat in an F2A should consider the pilot as lost before leaving the ground."
The kitSpecial Hobby's 1/48 scale F2A-3 is typical of the best short-run kits coming from the Czech Republic lately, with a mixture of good quality plastic parts, backed up with resin and photo-etched details. The kit comprises:
82 x injected plastic parts
4 x injected clear parts
4 x resin parts
45 x photo-etched parts with an accompanying clear film for instruments
Decals for 3 x colour schemes.
Plastic PartsThe main parts are cleanly moulded in grey plastic with finely engraved panel lines. The parts look like they originate with MPM and I've always admired the scribing on their kits. In this instance it looks a little stronger than usual, which is probably a good compromise between closer-to-scale accuracy and working well for washes etc.
Short-run kits have improved vastly over recent years and Special Hobby's F2A-3 is typical of the latest crop, with very little flash on the parts and quite small, well placed sprue attachments. There are three ejector pin marks inside each fuselage half, but they don't interfere with assembly. The wings are a different story; there the ejector pins marks definitely need attention before the wing halves can join.
The fuselage halves are extensively detailed with internal stringers and longerons - maybe a little shallow, but how much will be seen in the rear fuselage anyway?... If this was a Tamiya kit, it would be a safe bet that a clear-fuselage version was on the way; with Special Hobby... who knows?
It's become almost de facto when looking at short-run kits to describe the detailed resin interior; not this time... it's almost all plastic and etched! Special Hobby's Buffalo includes an incredible number of interior parts - by far the majority of the plastic parts for starters! This is one area where the kit really scores over the old Tamiya kit. The bulk of the first 12 stages of construction deal with the interior, which includes a detailed undercarriage / engine accessories bay, complete with fuselage guns, plus a well-appointed office. If anyone's disappointed that more resin isn't used, fear not... the plastic parts are nicely done and should clean up well.
The assembly sequence is really quite unusual, in that the basic cockpit and the engine bay / undercarriage-well are built into the wing. Once the engine is added in stage 7, the right fuselage is joined to the wings. Following this, a lot more detail is added before the left half is added in Stage 11. This really is an instance where it pays to read the instructions carefully, because I think you'll come seriously unstuck if you don't follow the recommended sequence; as unnatural as this sequence may seem, I can't see how else this little Brewster will fit together! It's certainly a lot more complex than Tamiya's old kit.
I test-fitted the major components and found everything lined up very nicely, with the fuselage halves being a perfect fit and the wing dropping into its slot very neatly. Of course, this amount of interior detail in a short-run kit usually means a fair degree of dry-fitting and trimming before everything will cram in. I can't say this will be the case here - only a full build will prove it one way or another - just don't take the fit for granted. The kit seems to match up to refs pretty well. The only parts which caught my eye as a cause for concern are the elevators - the shape is rather more angular than in a plans and photos.
Resin PartsSurprisingly, there are only 4 resin parts; a pair of wheel-wel inserts, the spinner and the piece de resistance... a really beautiful engine accessories pack. This will be visible through the wheel-well and is an absoutely fantastic casting.
Etched PartsThe etched fret is quite comprehensive and contains a couple of surprises.
Starting off with familiar items, there are etched instrument panel and side consoles, each with an accompanying backing film for the instrument faces. There is a nice 4-part seat harness - just lap-belts... it might be worth checking to see if -3s were fitted with shoulder harnesses too.
The 2 bomb racks each consist of an inner etched core around which is folded folded a metal face - it should certainly look delicate, but it might actually be a bit too thin for scale accuracy. The bomb fins must be folded to shape and will look far better than the clumsy plastic items found in most kits.
Finally, the strangest items are a pair of etched brake lines for the undercarriage - maybe they will look less 2-dimensional when painted, but I imagine most modellers will simply replace them with sprue or wire. In view of what's on the etched sheet, it's surprising that Special Hobby didn't also include an ignition harness to complete the engine.
Clear PartsThe canopy is injection-moulded and is thin and very clear with little distortion. The framework is nicely done. The sliding centre section is separate, so the option is there to display it open to reveal all the interior detail. It features fine "frames" on the inside - to represent the glues joints of the -3's canopy. Special Hobby haven't bagged the clear parts - the sprue sits in with the rest of the plastic parts, which is just asking for trouble. I have to admit I couldn't find any scratches on my sample, but for the cost of a bag, I wish Special Hobby would take away the element of chance.
Instructions and DecalsAs I've said, the assembly sequence is quite unusual, but the instructions do a very good job of illustrating the quite complex interior sub-assemblies. The exploded diagrams are very well drawn and the construction is broken down into enough stages to avoid confusion. Basic colours are tagged to each stage, but with so much interior detail I'm sure there's plenty of extra scope to add more splashes of colour with reference to photos.
Decals are provided for 3 aircraft, all painted in Blue Grey / Light Gray. Special Hobby provide Gunze Sangyo matches for the F.S. equivalents.
F2A-3 (BuNo 01553), piloted by Capt. William C. Humberd, VMF-221, Midway, June 1942
F2A-3, MCAS Ewa, assigned to VMF-221, Hawaii, April 1942
F2A-3 (BuNo 01549), piloted by AP1/c Howard S. Packard, VF-2, USS Lexington, November 1941
ConclusionThis is a great little kit. Apart from the concern over the elevators, it looks really nice. It's hard not to compare it with Tamiya's old kit which, despite being 30 years old, still provides a fine benchmark to judge things by. Special Hobby's new kit features more complete and consistent surface detail and, as for the interior, assuming everything actually fits... it really outshines its predecessor. This is definitely a much more complex model, so newcomers to the hobby would be better advised to go with Tamiya's kit, but what's really nice is that Special Hobby have released the -3 with a longer fuselage than Tamiya's kit, so there's still room for both in your collection. Recommended.
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