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Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver

by Jeffery S. Harrison


Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver



Then and Now...


Some time ago I had an idea for a project that I called "Then & Now,". The idea was to build kits from the 1960s in conjunction with a 1990s counterpart of the same subject. 

Several pairings that came to mind were the Monogram TBF Avenger and the Accurate Miniatures TBF Avenger, Monogram Hurricane and Hasegawa Hurricane, Monogram FW 190 and Trimaster FW 190 and one of the best pairings for this project was the Monogram SB2C-5 Helldiver with the Pro Modeler SB2C-4 Helldiver. The last one is a natural for this project because it represents a model of the same subject made by the same company 30+ years apart. 

What better way to show how our hobby has developed? For me the decision to start with the Monogram Helldiver was easy because this was the first model I ever built. It was a birthday present that I received in 1966 and of the literally thousands of models I've assembled since then it's the only one I've never built a second time.

Another reason I have for this particular project is a recent change in modeler attitudes. You all know it, and we're all guilty of it to some extent. It is the idea that unless a model is molded to the current Tamiya/Hasegawa/Accurate Miniatures standard then it's junk. It is also almost universal believed that if a kit has raised scribing or, heaven forbid--RIVETS, it's junk. The bottom line is that engraved scribing is no more accurate (in the scales we typically deal with) than the raised scribing and rivets of the past. Not to mention that this idea that most of the kits out of the past are junk is hardly fair to the people who designed the masters for those kits. Many of these 'pieces of junk' were state of the art and the level of detail they included awed us modelers when they were introduced. The fact that they've been eclipsed by newer kits does not mean that you can't still build an attractive model (even if lacking in absolute accuracy) from them. Not to mention that in some cases these 'antiques,' such as Monograms P-47D Thunderbolt, are still considered by many to be the most accurate representations of the subject in the market.



I'll stop editorializing now. When I started this kit I had the rather vague idea that the goal of the project was to show how models looked then compared to how a model of the same subject would come out today. I knew I wanted to use the tools and techniques of the period (nominal target build date about 1970) but didn't quite know how to go about that. I could get the supplies I needed easily enough. The problem was in 1970 I was 10, didn't know anyone else who built models, never heard of a hobby shop and didn't know anything about any hobby magazines. Likewise, I would only be using reference material published on or before 1970. Consequently I don't know how I would have built a model in 1970 if I was 40 and had the kind of experience that I have now. The way I settled on building the Helldiver was to build it out of the box in the strictest sense of the word. I wanted to use the kit decals, did not fill any seams (though I did take care to minimize them as much as possible), and I followed the painting directions or the kit box for all color recommendations. The only things I used that I didn't think really fit the criteria I had set was an airbrush and liquid cement (I used liquid cement because my tube glue was unusable).






Construction of the kit couldn't be any more straight forward. The model was built out-of-the-box according to my plan. The goal was to build this model exactly as Monogram intended when they first released this kit back in 1961. 

I didn't encounter any serious assembly problems. The parts fit relatively well with no horrendous seams to clean up. Yes there are seams and yes filling them using putty or super glue with all those rivets would be a medium to large nightmare, but most of the seams could easily be hidden with white glue which would eliminate most of the problems by being able to clean up the excess with water. 



The worst seam on the model is a product of the folding wings. You can see all the way through the wing at the joint and I found it particularly difficult to stick to my build criteria at this stage. I was (and am) tempted to build a second one to see just how much of this seam can be hidden while retaining the operating wing fold. It appears that using some sheet plastic to make a shim attached to the fixed portion of the wing would allow you to retain the feature and practically eliminate (ok, greatly reduce) the seam. The other area that could have done with a little help is the bomb bay doors which don't fit as neatly as they could. Overall though, construction presented few problems and progressed quicker than I originally anticipated.






Paint proved to be another interesting diversion from my 'normal' building processes. 

The paints used to construct this model
Shortly after starting this project I came across 3 virgin bottles of Pactra Authentic international Colors, one Sea Blue (IU91), one Medium Blue (IU90) and a bottle of white whose label fell off so I can't give you its part number. These 20 year old bottles of paint just happen to be the three colors I need to paint my favorite WW2 US Navy camouflage and it also just happened to be the camouflage scheme Monogram used on the box top of the model. These paints solved half my problem to painting this model with 'authentic' period paints (since they ARE authentic period paints) by giving me the major camouflage colors, the rest are readily available in Testors line of small bottles of enamel paints. The only 'modern' paints I used on the model are a bottle of Testors Model Master Flat Black which I felt was allowed since flat black hasn't changed any over the years and a bottle of Model Master Green Zinc Chromate. I don't feel that using the zinc chromate is cheating because Pactra did used to have a bottle of this color in their military flats line so it was an available color, I just didn't happen to have that particular color from Pactra.

The aspect that gave me the most trouble was the fact that I really felt that the model should be brush painted. Unfortunately I didn't know exactly how far my camouflage colors would stretch so I decided that I should airbrush those. I then went back and used a paint brush to paint the color demarcation lines freehand to give it the appearance of being brush painted. For the rest of the model I used a paint brush and followed the kit directions for what color various components should be painted. This is also the first model I painted in about 10 years that I did not use scale effect for the colors.






I was unable to use the kit supplied decals. I tried, but it was hopeless. As soon as the glue was softened it released from the backing paper and nothing I tried (within reason) would convince them to stick to anything after that. 



Instead of resorting to gluing the decals to the model with future I stole some marking from a Micro Scale sheet almost as old as the kit (I think the date code on the price tag was from 1985 or so). While they're not technically accurate for the model I built they're innocuous enough to not really scream "I'M WRONG" so they were acceptable for this project.






Is this an award-winning model? No, but it was a fun project. 



Monogram's old Helldiver is not an accurate model by any stretch of the imagination. The dimensions are off, the internal detail is a joke, it has many 'operating features" - landing gear and arresting hook retract, canopies slide open and closed, bomb bay doors open and bomb drops out, propeller turns, wings fold, just as on the real plane, but even with all that against it the surface detail is nicely done and the finished product does look like a Helldiver (even if it is what the RC flyers would call 'Stand Off scale"). 

These older kits are not always terrible models. For the most part they're decent kits even if they were not produced to today's standards. They can be fun to build and for me this project proved surprisingly enjoyable. It helped me remember why I got started building models in the first place.

Models, Description and Images Copyright 2000 by Jeffery S. Harrison
Page Created 18 February, 2000
Last Updated 26 July, 2007

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