by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver
A note from Tom Cleaver:
This article was written originally for navismagazine.com, and is presented here so that all modelers can take advantage of the information. I hope you will all come visit us at INTERNET MODELER, where similar articles will be available without requiring you to pay for them.
I n t r o d u c t i o n
As anyone with more than a passing knowledge of U.S. Naval Aviation history is aware, Grumman's F4F Wildcat was the loser of the first design competition to produce a modern fighter for the carrier air force. Fortunately, a major redesign on Grumman's part and second thoughts by the Bureau of Aeronautics resulted in production of the F4F-3 Wildcat in 1940. The Wildcat entered service with the Red Rippers of VF-41 in December 1940, and by the time of Pearl Harbor, the F4F-3 formed the backbone of the Navy's carrier-based fighter squadrons.
I, for one, was very happy when Tamiya released their F4F-4 Wildcat in 1994, which provided a definitive model of this famous airplane. I looked forward to Tamiya capitalizing on such a good decision with later releases of the F4F-3 predecessor and FM-2 successor, but sadly, to date nothing has appeared; it has been left to the aftermarket manufacturers to supply us with the means to model the full Wildcat line. Thus, when I was able to purchase a KMC F4F-3 conversion kit (Kit No. 48-5083), I was really looking forward to doing the model, and I wasn't disappointed.
KMC's kit provides the complete 4-gun non-folding wing and full cowling for the F4F-3; the instructions detail the differences between the three major sub-types (by powerplant) and their visual cues: one uses the entire cast-resin cowling, one combines the front kit cowl with the rest of the resin cowl, and the last vice-versa for the version that actually saw combat. Given that I loooovve the aircraft of Naval Aviation's pre-war "Golden Age," and that the early Wildcat was the last type introduced to wear these markings, I decided to use the decals from Aeromaster's "Neutrality Patrol - USN 1941" (48-028)to do the aircraft flown by the Second Section Leader of VF-41 aboard U.S.S. "Ranger" (CV-4) in early 1941.
M o d i f i c a t i o n a n d A s s e m b l y
Step One is to detach the lower wings from the lower fuselage part, easily accomplished with your handy razor saw, cutting along a panel line.
Step Two, for this particular sub-type of F4F-3 Wildcat, is to separate the front of the kit cowling from the rest, and to glue it to the resin rear cowling provided by KMC.
Once these steps are accomplished, assembly of the remainder proceeds according to the kit instructions. Tamiya made one big mistake in their F4F-4, and that was failing to make the cockpit floor correctly. A modeller can either use the KMC cockpit conversion which provides the correct floor, or can save money by taking the trusty razor saw and cutting off the offending sections immediately outboard of the rudder pedal foot guides and using some plastic sheet to make the necessary modifications. Since the rest of the kit cockpit is wonderful, I elected to save my money for another kit and use the razor saw method. I spent some of those savings on the Squadron vac-form F4F canopy specialized for the Tamiya kit, since I planned to open it up.
Do pay attention to the instructions KMC provides, since there are parts to be left off the kit, depending on which version of F4F-3 you are doing; in this case, that meant the small fairings above the gear wells ahead of the wing root. Once the fuselage has been assembled per the Tamiya kit instructions, it's time to attach the resin wings. After being certain that the mating surfaces of wing root and wing matched up, I used 5-minute epoxy, which allowed me time to make final fiddlings for dihedral, etc. I did not assemble the tail at this time, due to the way I planned to finish the model.
P a i n t i n g
Navy aircraft of this period were basically aluminum, with yellow-orange upper wings, and tail surfaces in the carrier color, with fuselage bands and wing chevrons color coded by flight within the squadron. They were not natural metal, but were painted overall, including the cockpit interior in aluminum lacquer in order to deal with corrosion in a saltwater environment. I spray painted the white areas for the nose and fuselage stripes with Tamiya flat white, masked them off, then painted the upper wings with Gunze-Sanyo H-24 Orange-Yellow, which I always use for Golden Wings aircraft. After allowing the wings to dry overnight, I masked them off with the leading edge overlap, and then painted the rest of the airplane with Gunze-Sanyo "Mr. Metallizer" #218 Aluminum, which looks more "aluminum" than aluminum acrylic does, but has better handling characteristics than Model Master Metallizer, which I used to use. Once everything was dry, I sprayed the model with Future, which made the Mr. Metalizer look like smooth aluminum paint, and was ready to decal.
D e c a l i n g a n d F i n i s h i n g
You'll notice I said nothing about painting the wing chevrons or the tail color. That's because I did those with decals. I used white 1/8" stripes for the chevrons, with 1/32" black stripe surrounding both chevrons and fuselage and cowling bands. I then took a sheet of SuperScale Willow Green, a difficult color to match with paint, but the proper color for "Ranger" aircraft, and decaled the tail, keeping the horizontal tail and rudder separate until fully finished. Leaving the chevrons, bands and tail to dry overnight, I proceeded the next day to add the standard insignia from the Aeromaster sheet, including stencilling from an Accurate Miniatures Avenger kit I had in the decal box. I used the Aeromaster instructions regarding decal placement, after confirming them with two photos of this aircraft that are found in "F4F Wildcat In Action."
Once everything was dry, I washed the model to get rid of setting solution, then gave a final shot of Future. When that was fully dry, I assembled the tail surfaces, landing gear, and propeller per Tamiya's instructions, and added the vac-form canopy. Note that this early Wildcat still used the telescopic sight, which I was able to scrounge from the parts box where I found one from a Monogram TBD.
The final result is a colorful airplane, the last the U.S. Navy would ever see in these markings, as they were replaced with grey that summer and never returned. This was my first experience with a KMC conversion, and I recommend it to any modeller with enough hand-eye coordination to wield the razor saw as necessary.
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