Saturday, October 30

Construction Review: 1/32nd scale US Helicopter Pilots (Vietnam War) from ICM Models

ICM plastic model kits recent release of the Cobra in 32nd scale automatically posed the question - Where are the figures to match it? It hasn't taken too long for them to provide us with an answer in the form of three US pilots/crew in the same scale to suit. We build them, compare them to the soldiers of the time & their gear in our review...

Construction Review: US Helicopter Pilots (Vietnam War)
From ICM Models
Kit Number #32114
1/32nd scale
Number of parts: 36
Three figures in the box 
Price: $21 USD on the HLJ Website
ICM continues to bring new aircraft kits and accessories in 1/32nd scale in a smart move. We know that people think that 1/35th is a smart move, but being a traditional aircraft modeller, well, it seems simple to make some more good quality 1/32nd scale kit really doesn't it? 
Enter this new kit, US Helicopter Pilots (Vietnam War) from ICM Models, Kit Number #32114 in 1/32nd scale. Three figures to suit their new Cobra, and hopefully any other Vietnam Era helicopter to come during that time period and theatre.
The Subject: US Helicopter Pilots (Vietnam War)
From ICM's website, some historical context...
"Helicopters were rightfully considered one of the symbols of the Vietnam War. They played a significant role in providing support to ground units and subunits, carrying out the tasks of delivering and supplying troops, as well as their fire cover from the air. Helicopters were great for jungle warfare. According to some estimates, their number in Vietnam in the early 1970s exceeded the number of all military helicopters in the world. In some months, the number of their sorties reached 800 thousand, helicopters made 8-9 sorties per day. And one of the American commanders considered the helicopter pilots “… the most professional warriors we have ever seen.”
At the beginning of the Vietnam War, most of the entire fleet of American rotorcraft in Vietnam were transport helicopters. However, over time, the importance of fire support helicopters has grown, and their number has increased significantly. 
An analysis of the course of hostilities in Vietnam subsequently contributed to the awareness of the role of helicopters in armed conflicts of varying degrees of intensity and the rapid increase in their number in the armies of the world."

Colonel Matthew McGuire (U.S. Army retired) during his second tour of duty in Vietnam with the Cobra attack helicopter he flew while commanding the 334th Attack Helicopter Company in 1971. 
The Kit: 1/32nd scale US Helicopter Pilots (Vietnam War)
ICM's new kit comes in their traditional tp opening box with (again - with excellent box art) that sets the scene of three figures, two pilots or a pilot and his gunner talking to a serviceman or crew chief about their mount. They are seen inside the UH-1 Huey, but this could be set around any helicopter in the SEAC region in the '60s or seventies.

The box contents.
Three figures are supplied in this kit, with one sprue divided between them. There is also a small sprue of four helmets. Included also is the sprue map and instructions/colour guide. 

Colours are set out in the new colours from ICM, Revell and Tamiya shades.
The figures really do not bear a need for an instruction guide but the one offered does help with arranging the limbs and parts around the figure.
The sprues:
Sprue A features the three figures, with a choice of two hats, either a baseball-style cap or the Stetson used by the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam. Each figure's parts are divided lengthways across one of each of the three sections of the sprue.
The helmet sprues (x2)
There is a choice of two helmets on a pair of sprues, four in all, with radio mics and earphones from the inside of the helmets included, all you need is a wire or two to join them up.
The helmets are either the U.S. Gentex SPH-4 flight helmet (easy to pick out with the bulged sides) and ( I think) the APH-6 Flight Helmet.

APH-6 Flight Helmet
At the end of the '50s, the APH series helmets introduced a new generation of flight helmets characterized by the external visor covered with a protective shield. Improvement of the communication system, internal liner and oxygen mask retainers was also made and in some versions the dual dark and transparent visors system was installed. These types of helmets were the US Navy and USMC standard jet aircraft headgear during the '60s and throughout the '70s. In the late 1960s, the APH-6 helmet is issued in an improved single-visor version designated APH-6A and a double-visor version designated APH-6B.

Below on the left, an unusual early U.S. Air Force helmet used by an Army rotary-wing aviator, restored by Don Mong

U.S. Gentex SPH-4 flight helmet was used in the Vietnam War. The SPH-4 entered service in Vietnam in 1969 and continued to be used until the end of the war. The Sound Protective Helmet No. 4 (SPH-4) incorporated improvements on previous designs, and it has been used continuously since that time. (at least to 1991) The SPH-4, a single visor, lighter-weight version of the Navy SPH-3, replaced the two Army aircrew helmets then in use: The Navy-developed Aircrew Protective Helmet-No. 5 (APH-5) and the Army-developed Anti Fragmentation Flight Helmet-Nc. 1 (AFH-1). Both helmets were deficient in noise attenuation and retention capability. The SPH-4, which was specifically designed for sound protection, provided (and still provides) superior sound attenuation, but the 1970 version provided no more impact protection than the APH-6.
Here are the helmets made up with mics and earphones attached. I was not sure if they would go over the pilot's heads and I never checked. care must be taken to ensure there is no seam running down the centre of the helmet once made.
The Hats:
Included on the figure sprues are four hats. Two Stetsons and two Hot Weather Field Caps. 

Hot Weather Field Cap
The baseball styled Hot Weather Field Cap replaced the M1951 model and was made from polyester dyed Olive Green shade 106. It was widely unpopular in Vietnam, due to its inadequate sun protection, and was replaced by the Tropical Combat Hat.
The Stetson “Cav Hat” 
The tradition of the “Cav Hat” began in the early days before the Vietnam War. The 11th Air Assault Division cavalry scout pilots were looking to distinguish themselves from other troops when they adopted the Model 1876 campaign hat for wear in a need to return to the traditions of the Cavalry so long forgotten. 

LTC Stockton with his Stetson and two of his mounts in Vietnam...
LTC Stockton transferred the “Cav Hat” tradition to the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam. By the end of the Vietnam War, many air and ground units were wearing the hat. The tradition was continued after Vietnam and has become the standard for all cavalry units in the Army. The Cav Hat is not an issued item and is not covered in any of the uniform regulations but it is worn by the Troopers of the 1st Cavalry Division and many other cavalry units for ceremonies and special cavalry events. The “Cav Hat” is a standard black Cavalry hat, Stetson or another appropriate brand, with a 3-inch brim and a black leather chin strap. The chin strap is fastened to the hat cord and goes through the brim. The chin strap is worn behind the wearer’s head unless mounted. When mounted the chinstrap may be worn under the chin to maintain the hat’s position on your head and keep it from falling off. If your “Cav Hat” does not have a chin strap, it is just a black hat commonly referred to as a “cowboy hat”.
The Stetson hats will limit your flyers to an Air CAV outfit, and even then they were an uncommon sight. Generally speaking, they wore standard baseball caps and sometimes Boonie hats.

The two hat types together made up, not bad for replicas in plastic. With these and the helmets, your pilots will be well supplied in headgear. An argument could be made that large hats weren't worn on the flight line and in action certainly not. These Stetsons were more decorative than everyday wear. 
Construction: The pilot figures
The first figure is of the pilot figure, carrying a map in his hand and sunglasses (aviators of course) on his face. 
Looking closer at the parts, his hands, flight jacket and pants are finely detailed with fingers, zips and pockets very clear to my eyes. The glasses on his face are well-executed (often a difficult task, esp in injection moulding)
This pilot wears the Vietnam-Era lightweight K-2B flight suit was made of cotton and was not fire retardant, unlike the Orange and Khaki summer coveralls. Instead, it was treated with a Borax solution in-country to ensure aircrew were fire protected. The suits would have to be regularly retreated with Borax to guarantee ongoing protection. This suit was a precursor to the Nomex two piece flight suits later worn by Helicopter pilots in Vietnam.
The choice of the baseball helmet here sits the aviators I think. Notice the map in his hand and the flight helmet in the other. In this photo, he looks a little gappy, but just a little firmer push on my behalf when putting him together and maybe a thin layer of putty ill cinch him up just nicely.

The second pilot/gunner is seen here in similar attire, this time with a two-piece Nomex flight suit. A much more common set of clothing especially later in the Vietnam War.
The figure has ten parts, with construction fairly easy, the front and rear of the long Nomex shirt sitting over the trousers. A little bit of sculpting was needed to remove the horizontal seam lines once he was made. Again, his face is well sculpted which helps massively in the finished product.
These are the Vietnam War Era type US Army two-piece, Nomex flight suit.  Also known as "Shirt, flyers, hot weather, fire-resistant nylon, OG-106." was the more common flight suit for helicopter pilots in Vietnam, especially as the war went on. These were more convenient, and the sleeves could rolled up easier and the jacket could be removed in hot weather. 
The figure was an easy build, with the parts going together very easily. The only parts that were problematic is where the bottom of the shirt was added on the rear, making slight horizontal seams to carve out and resculpt.
The body language of the flyer is nicely done, with him looking to where he is leaning/touching the aircraft.

The third figure is, (I feel) a crew chief of the aircraft the two pilots are looking at. He is seen in a very similar get up to the previous pilot. As you can see below, the pose is similar to this pilot/crewman sitting on the stub wing of his Huey.
Seven parts to make this figure go together easily. I think the only problem here is that you do not see his face unless you are looking from a low angle as he looks down on to his comrades.
His two-piece Nomex trousers and shirt are very similar to his comrades, and this time I put him in one of the hot weather issue caps. Feeling he is more of a crewman or chief I think the cap suits him very well. In hindsight, If I do decide to paint and use him I might trim some of his neck at the rear to angle his head upwards a little.
On a wing - here you can see a fairly suitable place to pose him. You have to be careful you get his balance right so his leg doesn't look too much like it is cocked up for no reason.
These figures only took an evening to put together. The plastic was soft but not too much so and the seames needed some attention, but no bad fits or big filling need here at all...
Here are the two pilots together if you choose to use them without the third man...
Finally, all three together. 
In summary...
These three were an easy construction and very well detailed, especially for plastic injection figures. I think the only extra feature I would add would be decals in the form of patches. Especially because with the Stetsons, for example, these could be the 1st Cavalry and I would expect to see patches on their arms denoting this. I would also like to see a revolver and survival knife and gear option on these, but that is just getting picky!

For three figures costing only about $21 USD on the HLJ Website you really, really can't go wrong here...

Adam Norenberg

Thanks to ICM for sending these to me to construct in a review for you. You can find out more about these and their other kits on the ICM Website...