Hobby Boss's first release in a series of 1/48 scale Wildcats hit the UK stores just in time for Christmas so, needless to say, I grabbed one to tinker with over the holiday! The first impression is surprise at the size of the box - it's very big considering the size of the resulting model, and the parts seem a bit lost inside. Still, everything is very nicely presented, with separately bagged sprues and decals, while the delicate landing gear struts have been wrapped in foam to protect them. The kit comprises:
74 x pale grey styrene parts on four sprues
7 x clear parts on two sprues
Decals for 2 x colour schemes
The kit is quite cleanly moulded. There's a touch of flash here and there, and some mould separation lines to take care of. There are a few largish ejector pin marks, but these are mostly kept out of sight. The parts are largely free of sink marks, although I did find a couple towards the wingtips in my example. The main surface finish is a combination of engraved panel lines, plus embossed rivets. The inevitable comparison will be with Tamiya's long established F4F-4, and I have to say the Tamiya kit wins in terms of general finesse - the new Hobby Boss version seems slightly "heavier handled". The rivet effect is bound to be a bone of contention among some modellers, because the Wildcat was noted for its raised riveting - as depicted correctly by Tamiya. So, Hobby Boss's embossed rivets aren't strictly correct, although they should give a reasonable effect and will prove rather easier to apply decals over. One anomaly is that the gun camera (represented merely by engraved lines) is positioned on the starboard wing, whereas all my refs show it on the port wing.
The big difference between the two kits is how the wings have been tackled. Obviously, Tamiya's parts represented folding wings, whereas Hobby Boss's kit depicts the F4F-3's fixed wings - but Tamiya included a full-span lower wing that incorporated the lower fuselage and ensured the correct dihedral. Hobby Boss's approach is different - still with a separate lower fuselage panel, but with the wings attaching with a butt joint. I presume this is because Hobby Boss are planning ahead for the full series of F4F and FM Wildcats, as the parts breakdown will allow combinations of folded and fixed wings with belly panels with or without windows. The result does mean that the kit isn't as simple to build as Tamiya's.
The fabric control surfaces are rather strange, being tackled in three distinctly different styles. The elevators are the best, with subtle representations of ribs and tapes (although, strangely, the effect isn't quite consistent across both elevators). Next come the ailerons, with very crisp ribs, but a rather deep sunken finish between them. Finally, there's the rudder, which is ghastly, with very heavy raised ridges that will definitely need reducing to produce a more scale effect. Again, bizarrely, one side of the rudder is different to the other - so quite how the kit came to feature three distinct fabric effects - and then differences within each effect - is rather bewildering.
The main parts all fit together well enough, although they don't have the same crispness as the Tamiya kit. I was a little wary of the separate fuselage belly section - because, if Hobby Boss had messed up, any miss-match in cross-section would be obvious - but it fits well and the panel lines just about (i.e. not quite...) line up. The wings have very short locating tabs because the front of these is just visible in the wheel well. The stabilizers clip into place very neatly.
Turning to the interior, the cockpit bulkheads match the fuselage contours well, but the firewall which forms the rear of the wheelwell wasn't a great fit. Hobby Boss suggest attaching the undercarriage and engine bearers to this before dropping it into the fuselage, but I chose to fit the firewall into the fuselage belly first, to deal with any resulting gaps before attaching the delicate detail parts.
Problems up front
The cowling features cheek intercooler inlets and the carburettor intake above the opening, while the engine and landing gear bay is pretty complete, with an oil tank and intercooler, along with engine bearers. The engine is made up of two rows of cylinders, plus a separate accessories pack and crankcase front. The latter includes magnetos and a wiring harness ring. This is a bit overscale, extending halfway out the cylinders and I also found the fit very vague - using the propeller shaft as a temporary jig helps keep everything aligned.
So it's reasonably well detailed, but as supplied, the engine represents a P&W R-1830-86 with the magnetos mounted above the crankcase. Early F4F-3s, such as the subject of one of the kit's decal options, were powered by a P&W R-1830-76 which had the magnetos mounted at the rear on the engine accessories pack - so you'll need to modify it to look correct. The problems continue for the second decal option - an F4F-3A; in this case, the original aircraft were powered by a P&W R-1830-90 which only had a single-stage supercharger, so you'll need to modify the cowling to remove the intercooler scoops and omit the intercooler itself from the wheel well.
A few details
The cockpit is nicely handled and Hobby Boss score over Tamiya in depicting the cut-away floor correctly. The layout of the main instrument panel matches photos, although engine instruments to the right hand side are missing. The instrument bezels are plain recesses and there's no decal provided, so it's an ideal opportunity to use Mike Grant's excellent instrument decals
. The side consoles are well detailed, with throttles, transmitter, landing gear and trim controls. Superdetailers might want to add some wiring and gun priming handles, but the only really noticeable omission is a seat harness.
The wings feature complete .50 calibre machine guns and the gunports are correctly above the centre line. There's no other detail for the guns, because they aren't intended to be displayed. I found the barrels seem too spindly and the inboard guns seem to protrude too far.
The main undercarriage captures stalky appearance of the original well. The retraction mechanism is a bit heavily done, but it's mostly hidden by the quite delicate "cat's-cradle" arrangement of mainwheel struts. It's worth taking some time to dry-fit the parts to make sure everything lines up correctly. As noted above, the parts are intended to be completed as a sub-assembly before adding them to the fuselage, but they can be fiddled into place without any problem if you chose to add the firewall first. The mainwheels have detailed hubs, although they don't seem to match those in my references. The tyres are treaded with a diamond pattern - something that may be correct, but which I've so far only spotted on preserved machines. The tailwheel is the larger, land-based variety with a pneumatic tyre. Carrier-based aircraft were fitted with a small solid rubber tyre.
The transparent parts are nicely done, being thin and very clear with crisply defined canopy frames. The windscreen is separate and depicts the style fitted to early Wildcats with extra frames and a telescopic gunsight. A reflector sight is also included, but no corresponding windscreen.
Instructions and Decals
The assembly diagrams are very well drawn and feature Gunze Sangyo paint matches keyed to most parts. The construction is mostly logical and clear - with, maybe, the exception of the landing gear, where it pays to get a feel for the assembly before committing any cement.
The kit comes complete with a well printed sheet of decals. The registration is spot on and the items are thin and glossy with a crystal clear carrier film. Two attractive colour schemes are presented on a full-colour painting guide:
1. F4F-3 1180 of VF-72, USS Wasp (CV-7) in overall silver with yellow wing topsides, black tail surfaces and Lemon Yellow section stripes.
2. F4F-3A 3814 of VMF-111 in overall Light Gray with red crosses from wargames.
There's a mistake on the decals for the latter - the "F4F-3A" tail marking is misspelled as "F4F-34".
Unfortunately, there are also wider problems with each scheme, both of which are featured in Squadron's "In Detail" and "Walkaround" books on the Wildcat.
The aircraft in Scheme 1 is shown in a B&W photo and is clearly fitted with a late-style windscreen (not included in the kit), without a telescopic sight and with a carrier-style tailwheel (again, not include in the kit). Interestingly, Squadron's colour profile depicts the aircraft minus the wing stripes included in the decals, and the kit's boxtop shows plain black wing stripes. The kit's engine will need modifying to mount the magnetos at the rear as noted above.
The aicraft in Scheme 2 is the subject of an early colour photo. As an F4F-3A, it would have been powered by a P&W R-1830-90, so you'll need to modify the cowling to remove the intercooler and its scoops. While the aircraft in the photo is fitted with a land-based tailwheel and early windscreen as provided in the kit, there's no sign of a telescopic gunsight sight. On the kit's decals, the wargames crosses are the same colour as the red of the national insignia; in the colour photo, the crosses appear lighter and more vermilion.
Aftermarket parts decals will no doubt appear very soon, but the in the meantime it does mean that the kit can't be built accurately as supplied in either of the decal schemes provided - rather bewildering, given that the aircraft featured are prominent in two of the most commonplace modellers' references.
Apart from the muddle over the engine and markings, this is a nice kit. It's great to see an early Wildcat in kit form at last and Hobby Boss have been canny in releasing this version first, rather than the later folding-wing models. But, that said, I still prefer Tamiya's approach for its crisper moulding, ease of construction and more accurate surface finish. Seeing the interest which has surrounded the release of the Hobby Boss model - it sold out immediately in the UK - Tamiya should be kicking themselves that they've never seen fit to develop their excellent F4F-4 into a whole series of Wildcats!
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