by: Jean-Luc Formery [ ]
HistoryThe Grumman F6F Hellcat was a carrier-based fighter aircraft developed to replace the earlier F4F Wildcat in United States Navy service. Although the F6F bore a family resemblance to the Wildcat, it was a completely new design powered by a more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800. The Hellcat and the Vought F4U Corsair were the primary USN fighters during the second half of World War II .
The Hellcat was the first US Navy fighter for which the design took into account lessons from combat with the Japanese Zero. The Hellcat proved to be the most successful aircraft in naval history, destroying 5,271 aircraft while in service with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps (5,163 in the Pacific and eight more during the invasion of Southern France, plus 52 with the Royal Navy 's Fleet Air Arm during World War II). Postwar, the Hellcat aircraft was systematically phased out of front line service, but remained in service as late as 1954 as a night-fighter in composite squadrons. In late 1952 Guided Missile Unit 90 used F6F-5K drones, each carrying a 2000lb bomb, to attack bridges in Korea. The French Aéronavale was equipped with F6F-5 Hellcats and used them in Indochina. The Uruguayan Navy also used them until the early 1960s.
The kitOne can't say the Grumman Hellcat is underrepresented in 1:48 scale. Amongst the most recent offerings, we have one very decent kit made by Hasegawa in the mid' 90 and of course the new Eduard version which is probably the best representation in quarter scale to date. So it was rather a surprise when Hobby Boss announced they were doing their own tooling of the Hellcat in 1:48 and to be honest, most of the people in the modelling community thought it was an unnecessary effort and a waste of time from the Chinese manufacturer... until the first CAD pictures appeared showing a wind fold mechanism! Since neither the Hasegawa nore the Eduard kits have this option in the box, the new kit suddenly became more interesting. Now that it has been released, how does it compare with the two others?
The 1:48 scale Grumman F5F-3 kit from Hobby Boss comes in a medium sized and very sturdy top opening cardboard box. Packaging is top class I must say with every sprue bagged in it's own plastic pouch. Even the single cowling piece and a small sprue with the instrument panel and the exhausts are protected separately. Obviously, the Chinese manufacturer has also made an extra effort on the cover artwork which is not always their strongest point. The kit is composed of the following items:
- Four sprues of light grey plastic.
- One smaller sprue with the exhausts and the instrument panel.
- One separate front cowling part.
- Two small sprues holding the clear canopy parts.
- Decals for two options.
- One sheet with painting and decalling guides.
The overall quality if the mouldings is quite good and I found no traces of flash or sink marks on my sample. The surface finish is inconsistent being a bit soft in some places and heavy in others. The wings' panel lines are acceptable though but I think the representation of some screw heads, especially on the fuselage bottom, are not very realistic, being way to large. The plastic is not very smooth in some places, as if the masters haven't been cleaned before getting a coat of gloss varnish, so some light sanding will be necessary prior to painting.
The overall level of detail is very good. With what is provided in the kit, it is possible to obtain a nice cockpit interior and a nice engine. However, here also, representation is soft in some places. The engine cylinders and some instrument consoles are affected while the wing fold mechanism and the landing gears are looking much finer. The tyres look very nice but it seems as if the variant provided in the box is of late type. It is easy to rectify with some sanding though. The fuselage halves have internal ribs represented on the inside but I'm afraid not much will be visible on the finished model in the end. The sprue attachment points on the big parts are located on the matting edges and will need to be carefully removed. It seems this is becoming a norm in the model kit industry.
The wing fold mechanism is a real plus of the kit and it seems as if it has been very well designed. It is reasonably well detailed from the box, but there is no doubt that more can be added to make it look even more realistic. A system of spars will ensure a strong fit between the inner wing stubs and the outer movable parts. This feature of the kit is clearly the highlight of the Hobby Boss model.
The instructions are printed in black & white on a big panoramic sheet of paper. They are well done and the construction drawings are easy to follow but I prefer the booklet format as it takes less space away on the workbench. One decal sheet is provided for two aircraft:
- Grummann F6F-3 Hellcat, VF-27, USS Princeton, 1944.
- Grummann F6F-3 Hellcat, VF-9, USS Essex, 1943.
The decals are well printed and in perfect register but the painting instructions are misleading for the first option. Indeed, the wings are shown with their top color in intermediate blue which is of course wrong, it should be dark blue. One has also to wonder why the presentation of the first aircraft is partially written in... Polish language!? Are the people at Hobby Boss adept of copy and paste?
So what's the problem?If the review would end here, one could think the Hobby Boss Hellcat kit is nearly perfect. Well, that's sadly not quite true. Indeed, there are a lot of problems with it, some are small and easy to overcome but sadly there are also much glaring ones. Here is a list of what was found so far:
- The cockpit is way too large when compared to the real aircraft and this has a big influence on the clear parts which are clearly oversized (see accompanying photos). In fact they look more 1:32 than 1:48 scale! Of course, this has a dramatic impact on the overall look of the model and it is something that is almost impossible to correct without major surgery and scratchbuilding.
- The fuselage is too fat in the upper front area and the engine cowling is also too bulbous. Of course all this is in relation with the oversized cockpit. Here too, correcting these shape problems will prove very difficult. The cowling doesn't look too bad at first sight (see comparison picture) but it is nevertheless not quite right. One will also have to open the mouth like air intakes which have been represented in a simplified way on the model.
- The openings for the underwing rocket rails should be obtured since early Hellcats didn't carried those.
- Believe it or not, there are no guns provided in the kit!?
- The external fuel tank has an odd shape when compared to the real one.
- Tyres are of late style.
- To be continued...
I have made some comparison photos with the Eduard and Hasegawa 1:48 scale Hellcats and I must say that in term of overall accuracy, the Hobby Boss kit is behind both. If you are looking for the best quarter scale representation of Grumman's famous fighter, no doubt that Eduard takes the lead. If you really want to do an accurate F6F-3 Hellcat with the wings represented in the folded position, It is possible to kit bash the Hobby Boss and the Hasegawa kit since they have been designed in a similar way (see accompanying photos). I think it is even possible to use a spare Eduard fuselage (there are some in several of their boxings) and adapt the Hobby Boss wings to it. It will require a lot of work though. I may appear a little bit harsh but I see the kit more like a super wing fold set than a serious representation of the real aircraft.
ConclusionThe 1:48 scale Hobby Boss F6F-3 Hellcat is a great kit... if you don't consider that accuracy is an important aspect in modelling. I'm not a rivet counter (far from it), but in this case I must say that the shortcomings of the kit are simply too important not to be taken into account. I will probably use it as a wing fold mechanism set and trash the fuselage which is simply to far away from the real thing. This is a real shame because the overall package could have been a real winner. Next time, Hopefully, the Hobby Boss designers will be more careful...
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