by Werner Scheibling
This model started its life a few years ago. First I came across the (then) brand new AIRES F6F-superdetail set, which I couldn't resist buying. The only suitable kit in the shop to go along with it was Hasegawa's (limited edition) F6F-5N 'Night Hellcat'.
And suddenly I found myself modelling an aeroplane that had never really thrilled me all that much before. That was to change thoroughly.
The -3N nightfighter was basically a standard -3 model with additional radar equipment. My references are not clear on what type radar was used with the -3N. 'In action' says 'AN/APS 6', Detail & Scale says 'AN/APS 6' with the picture on page 28 and later in a table on page 44 'AIA'. Perhaps someone out there knows the answer?
The scanner dish was housed in a teardrop shaped radome that was faired into the outer section of the right wing leading edge.
The radarscope for the pilot was installed centrally in the instrument panel, underneath the gunsight. This was normally the place for the compass, which moved to the far left. The controls for the radar unit sat in a square black switchbox mounted to the sidewall next to the throttle quadrant.
With the help of this equipment the pilot was able to pick up the radar echo of another aeroplane up to 3 miles away. The radarscope display would then enable the pilot to close in on his enemy until visual contact could be established.
The Subject Aircraft
# 6- Hellcat of VF(N)- 76 sported rather unusual markings. Assuming that the date given in Squadron/Signal's 'in action' is correct (5th Oct. 43), the fuselage and wing insignias' red border should have been deleted by more than a month. Some sources say that often the upper wing insignia did not have a red surround. The national insignia on the right wing's underside, wrapping around the radome, clearly shows a blue border. The early style fuselage codes (squadron number - mission letter - aircraft number) were obsolete when the three-tone camouflage was introduced. And - even more confusing - I found a photo in a very fat library book that shows VF(N)-76 Hellcats with the fuselage code repeated in black underneath the left wing.
I'm not sure whether the 'Night Hellcat' is still available in some places. To my knowledge it is out of production at the moment, which is a pity.
Apart from the windshield, the kit is engineered in a way that either a -3 or -5 version can be built. Additionally to the regular parts the kit came with two injection-moulded barrels for the -5N's two inboard 20mm cannons. The radome and the instrument panel with the radarscope were reproduced as rather neat resin castings. While the fit of the radome was nearly perfect the part itself had a slightly rough surface.
When I tried to smooth it with fine steel wool, lots of tiny air bubbles appeared that had to be filled and sanded. A rather annoying problem.
This generally pleasing kit has one really obvious inaccuracy that is hardly ever mentioned. The wheel wells are simply boxed in, following the contours of the wing cut-outs. This is unfortunately as wrong as possible and it is visible. In reality the wing fold ran right through the wheel well and there was lots of open wing structure to be seen. I wonder why nobody has bothered so far to produce an update set.
I decided to go the stony path, remove the box-ins and rebuild the visible wing structure to an acceptable degree from styrene sheet (still being far from perfect).
On the other hand a well-known aftermarket producer offers a resin cowling for the Hasegawa Hellcat, describing the kit part as 'horribly misshapen'. I've looked at reference photos and the kit from all sides for hours during construction and must admit that I haven't found this horror yet. The only visible detail that should be added is the ducting that leads away from the chin intakes (carburettor and oil cooler air). It's all relative, isn't it?
As the kit comes with the late style windscreen (flat armoured glass), the rounded windshield of the -3 model had to be scratchbuilt. I built up the contours with putty, sanded the part to the desired shape and crash moulded the windshield from clear plastic sheet (from my favourite cheese, as always). The inner armoured glass panel was cut from 1 mm clear polystyrene. The sliding part of the canopy was crash moulded as well.
This set is a little precision kit in its own right. The level of detail is incredible and the fit is nearly perfect. The main components in resin are a complete cockpit, a fully detailed P&W R-2800 with engine bearers, exhaust piping and detailed firewall.
The wings get two gunbays with six highly detailed 0.50 Colt-Brownings. A big sheet of photoetched brass holds all the really fiddly parts for the not-so-fainthearted. Two styles of instrument panels with acetate film backing are included as well. I decided on these and transferred the resin radarscope onto the PE panel.
Anybody who dares could build a Hellcat with all panels forward of the firewall detached. But as I don't want to sound like an AIRES representative I have to also niggle that the beautiful 'Double Wasp' is missing the intake manifold which would be very hard to build from scratch, as the pipes were forked in reality.
Anyway, my patience factor was not high enough for all this abundance of detail and I decided to open only one gun bay and leave the fuselage as it is.
Only the visible front row of the 'Double Wasp' was taken from the AIRES set and after a bit of surgery joined to the second row from Hasegawa's kit. As long as no cowl panels are opened this solution works perfectly fine.
I decided to use syringe tubing for the machine gun barrels, as most Hellcats had smooth barrel sleeves.
The three- tone camouflage (Semigloss Sea Blue, Non-Specular Intermediate Blue and Non-Specular Insignia White) was achieved with Aeromaster acrylics and Humbrol #130 (satin white).
This was my last brush painting effort and I knew that it was time to buy an airbrush. Now, after two years of airbrushing experience I thought my Hellcat deserves a little improvement. I touched up the paint demarcation lines very carefully to achieve feathered edges and now my Hellcat can happily present itself in amongst my later airbrushed models. The decals were scavenged from various Aeromaster sheets. The National insignias are from Dauntless and Corsair sheets, the fuselage and wing codes came from the (invaluable) '45-degree ID numbers and letters' generic sheets.
The heavy exhaust staining, seen on most Hellcats, was in reality caused by the high percentage of tetraethyl- lead in US aircraft petrol (100/140 octane).
To replicate this, I've made myself a mixture of very light grey-tan acrylic paint that I use on most Allied aeroplanes of WW II. This mixture was airbrushed free hand and after the paint had dried, a light treatment with various brown pastels finished this subject. The nice thing with Aeromaster/Polly acrylics: if you muck up this job, the fresh paint can be removed without a trace using only a little bit of soap and running water. And then you just try again. I certainly don't manage it on the first time.
I never realised what a big, solid and massive aeroplane the Hellcat was until I put it on the shelf next to the other WW II fighters. Very impressive, gentlemen!
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Model, Text and Images Copyright © 2000 by Werner