B7A2 Ryusei (Shooting Star)
Milton Bell is Editor of an IPMS Newsletter and brings us a detailed construction review of Hasegawa's recent 1/48 scale "Grace"
B a c k g r o u n d
The Aichi Ryusei (Shooting Star) was developed as a carrier-based attack aircraft to
fill the roles previously served by the torpedo carrying Tenzan (Jill) and the dive
bombing Suisei (Judy). It was the last naval attack aircraft to be mass-produced by Japan
for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Only 111 aircraft were built and none saw carrier
serviceall the Japanese carriers had been sunk by the time the Ryusei (allied code
name Grace) entered service in 1944.
The Grace was a big airplane with its inverted gull wing spanning just over 47 feet and fuselage of just over 37 feet in length. US naval commanders in the area of its operation should be thankful that it had no carriers to fly from and that only a small number were operationalthe Grace was an excellent weapons platform whether carrying bombs or torpedo. Its late appearance however had little effect on the Japanese war effort. Only one example survives today and it awaits restoration at the Garber facility in Maryland. Perhaps one day it will take its place in the Smithsonian.
I n t h e B o x ( a n d O n t h e B o x )
Hasegawas kit of the Grace is one of their best, following the fine example of kit engineering found in their Jack. Hasegawa offers the kit in three versions; torpedo carrying, dive bomber, and prototype. This review is for the torpedo version. Unfortunately, there are some accuracy problems in all versions, largely brought about by trying to simplify construction. The box art, a really lush and detailed painting by Koike Shigeo, seems to be dead-on accurate, so if you need some help, this is the first place to look. Too bad he wasnt involved in the kit design process!
Other than the box art, I didnt have many references. I consulted the old standby, Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings World War II by Donald W. Thorpe, for photographs and found several. Only one of these was of a combat ready aircraft (page 159) and it was the basis for my model. Decals for the same aircraft are included in the kit but I chose to depart slightly to show the aircraft at an earlier date. A fellow modeler I met on the Internet sent me some photographs he took of the Grace stored at the Garber facility and they were a great help, especially with the interior colors.
I enjoyed building the kit and learned quite a few things about the Grace along the way, so much in fact that I have now purchased the bomb carrying version and plan to build a more detailed, (and I hope, better) model later on.
C o n s t r u c t i o n
First off, the construction sequence begins with the interior. This consists of mounting various detail parts to a common floor. There are fourteen pieces here which gives you some idea of the amount of detail included. One thing I didnt care for was the two-part seat for the rear cockpit but this fit so well that little effort was required in removing the seam on the inside of the seat. The fit of the kit was very good overall.
The floor attaches to part B6, which is the top or roof of the bomb bay. Even though this was the torpedo version, the part is necessary for a correct fit. The sidewalls are separate pieces which, according to the instructions, attach to the floor before the cockpit is trapped between fuselage halves. (Next time, I may try adding the sidewalls to the fuselage halves and trapping the floor.) There are eight pieces which attach to the side-walls, including throttle, trim wheel, oxygen tanks, and other "black boxes" to make the cockpit impressively "busy." I didnt add much to the cockpit but next time I plan to do a little "wiring"
And now, a word about color. There seems to be a never-ending controversy about Japanese colors, particularly for the interior parts. It wasnt long ago that everyone thought Japanese interiors were metallic blue-green. Now we know that wasnt true...well, not entirely true. Hasegawa has given a formula for mixing the basic interior color, a mixture of blue, brown and green, of which only five percent is brown. This comes close to being the exterior color (which is how the Nimitz Museum Val was done). I used Polly Scale RLM 82 however, with a dark wash since I didnt want to have the interior too dark plus it matched the color photos I had a little better than the blue-green mix. This gives you a starting point and Im sure that there were variations in shade and tone this close to the wars end. In the box art, Shigeo accurately shows that the area between the cockpits and the bulkhead were indeed aotake, the clear blue-green preservative applied over bare metal. To simulate aotake, I used Polly Scale Interior Green Metallic for these parts as well as the wheel well interiors.
Eduard Photo-Etch, Accuracy Issues and Details
After I had begun work on the kit, Eduard released a photoetch detail set that I promptly bought. While I used parts of the set, this is not a review of the detail set because I didnt use it all. I used the instrument panel and the engine wiring as well as the small bulkhead that fits inside the rear canopy and is very visible, and the exterior steps. The instrument panel in the aircraft at Garber appears to have been painted blue-gray, something like USN intermediate blue that I used. The Eduard instrument panel went together well but you have to be careful to seal the edges and not get glue on the dial faces. I painted the back of the transparency white.
Here is one of the accuracy problems of the kit. All references I have (meager as they are) show a rather large torpedo-gunsight mounted atop the instrument panel. The kit has the sight mounted to part Q1, a coaming that fills the space between instrument panel and canopy. It seems that on the Grace, you could look straight down to the pilot's feet. One of the photos from the Garber Grace confirms this. Check out the box art. Two other accuracy problems have to do with the cockpit. The box art and one of my photos clearly shows a glass panel behind the pilot and it is not in the kit. Its easy to make; I used a piece of 1/32" thick clear Plexiglas and scribed the structural parts as shown in the painting.
Included in the kit is a sight (drift sight/compass?) for the back-seater but the instructions have you install it on centerline with the base of the mast fitting onto it. I dont think so! The painting and the photos both show it looking over the pilots left shoulder. The Eduard kit gets this right so I used it in the kit. The only problem was getting the canopy to clear the rather large sight. I eventually had to lower the sight. Everything between the cockpits, except the sight, the RDF loop, and mast base, are painted aotake.
The last kit omission, shown in the painting and in the photos, is the small bulkhead that fits inside the aft canopy. Its in the Eduard set and so I used it. Then I found that the machine gun would not fit as designed so I had to find a new position for it! Eduard does not mention the gunwonder why.
Wings and Engine
Construction proceeds in a very logical and familiar way with the wing top and bottom trapping blast tubes for the 20 mm wing guns. Be sure to paint them and the gear wells before assembling the wings. Be very careful too in gluing the wing halves together, being sure to align the fuselage mating surfaces so very little fillerI needed nonewill be necessary when the wings are joined to the fuselage.
The engine is good but simple so I decided to add the Eduard wiring harness. The natural brass color matches pretty well the color used by the Japanese but after getting everything installed, you cant really see it. The kit offers open or closed cowl-flaps and I chose the open version. There is a little detail to be seen inside, mainly exhaust pipes. I added the exhaust pipes to part D7 and messed up on placement. Next time Ill probably add them last so I can finish them separately and not get them too far in to the fuselage.
Detail Parts, Painting and Finishing
The torpedo supplied with the kit was replaced with one from the Tamiya Betty kit. I
found the one in the kit to be oval in cross section. Greg Springer was building the Betty
and wasnt going to use the "fish" so he was kind enough to give it to me.
Adapting it to the Grace was simple.
The five-piece canopy is very clear and reasonably thin. Unfortunately, it is not designed to be built in the open positionit wont fit over the adjacent sections. All canopy parts were dipped in Future a couple of times to ensure crystal clarity before painting. I masked with bare-metal foil, painted with metallic green for the inside color and then finished with Polly Scale IJN Green after the canopy was attached to the model with white glue. The fit was very good. I vac-formed the sliding parts of the canopy but since the acetate I used was too thin to mask easily, I painted some clear decal filmfirst with metallic green then over-sprayed with the IJN Green, cut it into strips and applied to the canopy parts after they were dipped in Future. A touch of decal set secured the strips. A fine brush and exterior color helped blend the overlapped areas.
After painting the propeller ends yellow and masking off the tips, I painted the propeller blades and spinner red-brown and used a flat aluminum on the propeller hub. I used the same yellow to paint the inboard wing leading edges and used the same red-brown to paint portions of the aft fuselage and spots on the wing to simulate primer exposed by striped paint and wear. I also used Alclad dark silver (shade V) to simulate exposed metal since all the photos I have seen of the Grace show a very worn finish. I chose to show white surrounds to the hinomarus rather than the later green painted-over surrounds and I decided to paint them rather than use the decals since its hard to weather and fade decals convincingly. For the red color I used RLM red, darkened with red brown. I used PollyScale IJN Green for the top color and IJN Sky Gray for the undersides. The anti-glare portion of the forward fuselage was IJN Green darkened with black.
I used Micro Mask to mask off the major areas of worn off paint and bare metal, then lifted them off with tape after the model was painted. The green topsides and part of the lower surfaces were "chipped away" to show the aluminum underneath and smaller bits of damage were done with a silver Prismacolor pencil, often adding panel lines which were not molded in but were shown in photos. I painted the arresting hook flat silver. Photos show the hook was retained.
The torpedo was finished in IJN Green and black with steel propeller blades.
Since it would have been in storage, it was not weathered. The mounting/release gear
included some parts from the Eduard set and some scratchbuilt from thin styrene and lead
foil. Just check the box art.
The landing gear includes flattened tires only so mounting them so the flat is on the bottom can be a little tricky. Dont use a fast setting cement! Also, the small outer gear doors should be mounted first, otherwise there isnt room to get them past the main doors. I painted the main gear struts dark silver although the instructions say black. I have a photo that shows them to be something other than black so I chose natural metal. I also added brake lines from thin lead-free soft wire. Thorpe notes that the usual scheme for the Grace as S-3 or IJN Green of natural metal but most photos I have seen, including the ones from Garber, show a light gray lower surface.
Thats about all for building the Grace. Its any easy model to build but if you want to make it accurate there are some corrections to bear in mind. Just remember to look at the box art no matter what version you are doing. Final weathering consisted of giving the bottom and control surfaces a wash of oil paint (burnt umber) dissolved in mineral spirits followed by a wipe-down, front to back, to remove the excess and simulate blown-back oil, mud, dirt, and whatever. The pre-painted guns and pitot tube and antenna mast were added.
After the paint had dried well I strung an antenna wire made from "invisible" thread. Done!
C o n c l u s i o n
How does it look? Well, it looks like a Grace. The only fault I can find with the kit,
besides previously mentioned accuracy problems, is that the nose may be a little big and
not have the drooped look seen in the photos and drawings, but I can live with it. After
all, its the only game in town.
For More Japanese Aircraft Visit:
Mark T. Wlodarczyk's Japanese Aviation Page and
Dave Pluth's Japanese Aircraft Modelling Page
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