Saturday, June 25

In Boxed: Bronco Models Curtiss P-40C (Hawk 81-A2) Fighter AVG

There has been a lot of talk about the many different Kitting’s of the Curtis P-40 AVG Hawk in 48th scale. Now Bruce has his hands on the new Bronco kit he thought he would show you what’s in the box before he builds it for us. Let’s see what he thinks so far…

In Boxed: Curtiss P-40C (Hawk 81-A2) Fighter AVG
From: Bronco  
Scale:  1:48 
Kit# FB4006
Price: USD40.00
Injection moulded plastic, photo etch,
decals for 6 AVG aircraft and fabric flag.
Product LinkPrice: ¥5,200/ USD $49.31/ €43.41 from Hobbylink Japan

The Flying Tigers, known officially as the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG), were a unit of the Chinese Air Force, recruited from U.S. aviators. From late 1941, the P-40B was used by the Flying Tigers. They were divided into three pursuit squadrons, the "Adam & Eves", the "Panda Bears" and the "Hell's Angels".
Compared to opposing Japanese fighters, the P-40B's strengths were that it was sturdy, well-armed, faster in a dive and possessed an excellent rate of roll. While the P-40s could not match the manoeuvrability of the Japanese Army air arm's Nakajima Ki-27s and Ki-43s, nor the much more famous Zero naval fighter in a slow speed turning dogfight, at higher speeds the P-40s were more than a match. AVG leader Claire Chennault trained his pilots to use the P-40's particular performance advantages. The P-40 had a higher dive speed than any Japanese fighter aircraft of the early war years, for example, and could be used to exploit so-called "boom-and-zoom" tactics. The AVG was highly successful, and its feats were widely published, to boost sagging public morale at home, by an active cadre of international journalists. According to their official records, in just 6 1/2 months, the Flying Tigers destroyed 115 enemy aircraft for the loss of just four of their own in air-to-air combat.
The Model F-40 B's received by Chennault and assembled in Burma at the end of 1941 were not well liked. There were no auxiliary fuel tanks that could be dropped before going into combat, and there were no bomb racks on the wings. Chennault considered the liquid-cooled engine vulnerable in combat because a single bullet through the coolant tank would cause the engine to overheat in minutes. The Tomahawks also had no radios, so the AVG improvised by installing a fragile radio transceiver, RCA-7-H, which had been built for a Piper Cub. Because the plane lacked a turbo-supercharger, its effective ceiling was about 25,000 feet. The most critical problem was the lack of spare parts; the only source of spare parts was damaged aircraft. The planes were thought to be what no one else wanted, dangerous and difficult to fly. 

- But the plane had advantages: its gas tanks were self-sealing and could take hits without catching on fire. There were two heavy sheets of steel behind the pilot's head and back. The plane as a whole was ruggedly constructed.  The 100 aircraft received by the AVG were taken off the Curtiss production line and were originally slated for the R.A.F. The R.A.F agreed to let them go in return for Curtiss building replacing them with more advanced models.  The H-81s sent to China were a hybrid of C and B models.  Unlike a pure P-40C, they were not equipped with the plumbing for drop tanks.  Nor were they sent fitted with guns or radios.  The ones for China were designated as H81-A3s. The American Volunteer Group played a hugely important role in the Pacific Air War at a time when the Japanese looked unbeatable.

The Kit:
Bronco……. forty-eighth scale?…… and aircraft? Three words you don't see often in the same sentence, but in fact, Bronco’s catalogue shows a range of only five other aircraft kits in this scale, their other aircraft being in 1/35 to accompany their armour range.  Bronco has always taken the road less travelled, and in a way that philosophy applies to this kit too, with only three other manufacturers having kitted the Tomahawk in 48th scale.  Maybe the Curtiss H81 appealed to Bronco as it did achieve most of its fame defending the skies over China.

Anyway, let's take a look at the kit. I was initially quite surprised at the size of the box, large for a 48 scale fighter - but then discovered the size has been dictated by the inclusion of a full sized “Blood Chit” printed on fabric, no less
AVG Pilots had these sewn on the back of their flight jackets to enlist the aid of the civilian populace in getting them back to base safely in the event they found themselves behind enemy lines.
 An interesting bonus, and I’m thinking it will make a nice base for the model to be displayed upon when completed.
Staying with the printed matter, instructions are in booklet form, printed on glossy paper, with some quaint translations, that shows the model being built over 19 steps.  With the exception of the landing gear being added in step 5 the construction progresses in a logical manner.  They are well drawn with good colour call outs, some of the parts even being illustrated in the colour they are required to be painted.
Painting and marking guides are provided in colour for five aircraft flown by Aces from the three AVG squadrons.

Bronco’s suggestions for the colours are, however wrong. The undersides should be a light grey, I use Tamiya XF19 Sky Grey with a bit of sky mixed in. Not neutral grey, and dark Earth should be used instead of the middle stone suggested. The AVG tomahawks were taken from an RAF order, so they were accordingly painted in close matches to the RAF colours using Du Pont paints.
The instructions also call for the wheel hub colour swirls (decal 75) to be applied to the inner hubs as well.  I can find no evidence to say otherwise, but I doubt this is correct.  I’ll be leaving mine off.

First up is “Dick” Rossi’s machine from the 1st Pursuit SQN “Adam and Eve”
For a read of Rossi’s AVG memoirs go here

Then we have Charles Bond’s aircraft, also from the 1st PS
“Tex” Hill’s machine from 2PS
Erik Shilling’s 52, which was a photo-reconnaissance machine, hence the instructions stating to leave off the wing guns.  This aircraft should also have a camera port under the port wing fillet just aft of the flaps.  Some sources seem to suggest, though; Schilling's photo aircraft was number 53
Charles Older’s 68 is marking option 5
#68 is one of the more photographed AVG aircraft which is also the box-art shot.
...and finally Bill Reed’s 75 is the last option offered
Decals are sharply printed, for the most part in register (a very small US star used on Dick Rossi’s a/c has its centre red dot slightly misaligned) and appear to match pictures of the various shark mouth styles I have found on the web, there are even two small blood chit decals that you can apply to the back of figures (decal 80) although no figures are supplied. Colours look good, perhaps the Chinese roundels being a bit too light.
The finer detail is printed nicely as ou can see by the comparison with this (regular sized) matchstick
On to the plastic - The parts are spread across five separately bagged sprues, four in a dark grey soft plastic, and one clear, plus a small photo etch fret.
Each sprue is labelled with a letter and all parts are numbered and laid out in a logical manner, making parts very easy to locate.  There is also a sprue map on the second page of the instruction booklet.

So, looking at the sprues one by one, “A” sprue contains all the parts for what looks like, a well detailed Allison engine with associated plumbing radiators and engine bearers. Not a feature found in most 48 scale kits of planes with in-line engines, although it would have been nice to also include alternative parts like blanking plates to mount the exhausts and propeller to, should one choose not to build the engine.
Detail looks sharp and true to scale, exhaust pipes are one piece and hollowed out slide moulded. What a great time and energy saver for detail that is always scrutinized highly by other modellers.
 Exhausts are hollowed out and the notches locate them in positions securely and correctly. The use of slide moulding has enabled this very positive feature.
Elevators and stabilisers are also included on this sprue with the stabilisers exhibiting some crisply engraved panel lines and VERY refined rivets. A pity the same can’t be said for the fabric depiction on the elevators which are too deep for my tastes and could do with some sanding to make them appear flatter.

Sprue B, contains the parts to make up the fuselage. The top cowling is a separate part so you can display the engine should you wish.
Again sharply engraved panel lines and barely perceptible rivets, which will probably require deepening to avoid disappearing under coats of paint.
The reverse sides of the fuselage and wings have all the ribs and stringers moulded in! I have to wonder why Bronco expended the time and effort as none of it will be seen.
Parts are provided for both open and closed oil cooler flaps, with the open ones looking decidedly gap-toothed and not at all like the real ones, as the inner set of flaps are missing.
The same mistake Trumpeter made on their kits.  Speaking of mistakes Trumpeter made on their kits, Bronco too has chosen to give us a cockpit that is about as half as deep as it should be. On the real Curtiss H-81, the floor was the top of the wing centre section, and the side walls extended from the sill down to the wing.
It certainly was not as Bronco has depicted it with a separate floor halfway up the fuselage.  If you want to depict an accurate H81, you are going to have to either replace the entire cockpit with an aftermarket set or scratch build a new one, especially if you choose to have the canopy open.

This is incredibly poor research by Bronco, either they have just used Trumpeters kit for research, or they have misinterpreted photos without an understanding of the actual aeroplane. The shallow cockpit leads on to the seat being ridiculously undersized.
Finally, the propeller and spinner, both of which look fine, perhaps the propeller blades are a tiny bit narrow and the spinner is a little too pointed, but a few swipes of a sanding stick will correct the spinner.

Sprue C has most of the parts for the wings, including the wheel wells. It would have been nice if Bronco had included optional parts for the canvas liners, as this would have stood the kit out from other Tomahawks on the market, but what is there is fine.
Again, the wing interiors have all the frames and ribbing moulded in. Provision is made to have lowered flaps, but those injection pin marks will need removing first.
I don’t know what that square on the aileron is supposed to represent, possibly, an inspection hatch, but it needs to go. It certainly does not stand proud like that on the actual machine. (It may be from a museum, this block is used to support the moving surfaces on static aircraft.)
Again, look at the representation doped fabric on those control surfaces!!
An actual P-40 rudder
The kit rendition
My garden fence - You decide which one the Bronco rendition more closely represents...

Sprue D contains all the “sticky out bits” as well as the cockpit interior parts,
Also on this sprue, are wing guns, which the instructions correctly call out as not being needed on one of the marking options, the flaps, which will need pin marks removing, some very petite in scale undercarriage doors and legs, for either wheels up, or wheels down, 3 piece wheels with separate hubs for the brake side
 The sprue includes a weirdly shaped 75-gallon drop tank, which is too squared off at the rear end, so looks nothing like a P-40 droptank
Academic, in this case, as it will not be needed if modelling an AVG machine, however, it and the bomb’s inclusion hint at future releases.

Sprue E are the clear parts
Two complete canopies are provided, a one-piece canopy and windscreen if modelling a closed canopy, and a separate windscreen and canopy if modelling the canopy slid back.  Very clear and very thin, however, those frames on the windscreen will require sanding off.  The H81 windscreen was frameless. I think Bronco have mistaken the armoured glass frame behind the windscreen for frames on the windscreen itself. Note, some AVG aircraft were also fitted with rear view mirrors, which is not included in the kit.
More reinforcement for my theory some companies research involves just looking at pictures on the internet without actually reading anything about the aircraft!

A small PE fret with the ring and bead gunsights and interior skinning for the undercarriage leg fairings rounds out the parts count the parts count.
Initial Thoughts
I’m going to have to say disappointment.  That cockpit ruins it for me. With all the flack (s’cuse the pun) that the Trumpeter kit copped for the same mistake.  I find it amazing Bronco has done exactly the same, but there are some things I do like about this kit. However, a kit is best reviewed when built – so….

 The card table has been set up and I will be building it, so I’ll reserve further thoughts until its completion.

Bruce Anders

Thank you to Bronco Models for the review kit – We’ll have more on the review in Pt.II when Bruce builds this kit.