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Aichi D3A1 'Val'

by Andrew Johnson


Aichi D3A1 'Val'


Hasegawa's 1/48 scale Val is available online from Squadron.com




Planning to became the dominant power in the Pacific and Asian rim was very ambitious for a small country with limited resources. Facing the colossal distances of the Pacific theatre Japan invested wisely in aircraft carriers and highly trained Naval air groups. How do you make world-beating warplanes that can strike over huge distances when you have engines of limited power and limited materials?

Japanese engineers came up with aerodynamic lightweight airplanes, with large fuel capacities and reliable radial engines. As we all know, the result was excellent high performance aircraft that shocked the allies. The downside was aircraft that were dangerously vulnerable to catching fire in combat.

Pre-war the British and Americans assumed Japanese technology would be of a much lower level then their own, but in the inter-war years Japanese engineers had been carefully evaluating foreign designs. The Aichi team had formed a working partnership with Heinkel, so the elliptical wings of the D3A1 drew heavily on the Heinkel 51 'Blitz' mail plane. This design also gave it good maneuverability, as one P40 pilot ruefully recorded that he was consistently out-turned by a Val.

Despite its spatted undercarriage the Aichi D3A1 was quite fast for its type with 240-260 mph top speed. Before the war the dive-bomber pilots were amongst the most highly trained in the navy, having much practice placing dummy bombs on the radio-controlled battleship 'Settu'.



For the Pearl Harbour operation, the relatively new air groups of Shokaku and Zuikaku were given the counter-air task of neutralizing the American airfields, whilst the more experienced crews of the other carriers were to go for the US carriers. The main role envisaged for the 250 kg bomb of the D3A1 was to neutralize the flight decks of opposing carriers. The Japanese knew the best weapon to actually sink opposing battleships and carriers was the 21" torpedo of the B5N 'Kate'. At the outset of the Pacific war Japan arguably had the best naval air force in the world. But one thing the Japanese could not afford to lose was their highly trained aircrews. Within a year of war, however, American fighters and anti-aircraft guns did just this and the Japanese Empire was eliminated.



Hasegawa's 1/48 Scale Val


If you haven't already guessed, I am a fan of this aircraft and the kit too! The cockpit is good, but if you want a treat, buy the CMK cockpit set for this kit. It fits well and is beautifully detailed. Apart from the resin, you get photo-etched instrument panel, seatbelts and gun sights. From enquires posted at the Japanese aircraft modeling site I went with a green-khaki-bamboo colour mix for the interior. Particular thanks must go to Pearl Harbour expert David Aiken. Knobs were wood brown and lamp hoods aluminium. 



I had the observer's seat facing the radio, figuring this is where it would be for take-off and operating the radio. The Japanese film footage of Vals taking off for Pearl Harbour show that the rear 7.7 mm must be stowed for take off and landing, so mine is down too.

The Mitsubishi Kinsei radial engine was detailed based on a picture in the Crowood Aviation book on the Val. The push rods were painted gloss black and 5 amp fuse wire used for the ignition wiring. Careful examination of the picture suggested each cylinder had only one spark plug! I displaced and offset the rudder and elevators. To help with getting scale thickness on the slid back canopies I used Squadron signal vac forms, but stayed with the kit parts for the windshield and central canopy.



Painting and Markings


For the painting I used Aeromaster IJN overall grey, although this is not considered a perfect match of actual 'ami-ro'. Although later Japanese aircraft had their paint applied to bare metal without a primer, this 'ami-ro' was considered one of the most durable paints in the pacific, so no need to go overboard on paint chipping.



As a template for the cowling blue-black I used a circle set from a protractor at 100o . At a show I managed to get hold of one of the much-prized Aeromaster 'Tora, tora' sheets, so my Val is depicted as that of Lt Cmdr Takahashi, based on Shokaku which led the first wave of dive bombers. I used then red decal lines on the tail planes as drift indicators, having first put marks with pencil as to where they should go. His section of 9 from Shokaku dived down on Pearl Harbour NAS at 07.55 on Sunday 7th December 1941, the bombs starting fires amongst the PBYs' and Kingfishers.

Following Johnson's Clear varnish I carefully applied a panel oil wash. Some modelers spurn this technique whilst others go in for it in spades. The best solution is I think differential panel oil washes. Looking at photographs, panel lines are most evident at areas where ground crews do the most work, i.e. cowling, fuselage near the cockpit and wing root areas. The paneling in the outer wings and fuselage between cockpit and tail is much less so. The answer is to mix different shades/dilutions of oil washes. The control surfaces need the darkest black oil wash to stand out as clearly separate moving parts.



For the blue-black cowling I used both silver-grey artists pencil and silver oil paint wash. The aircraft was then finished with Johnson's Clear as Pearl Harbour aircraft looked a bit shiny in the Japanese newsreel of the event. I learnt from the experts at the Japanese modeling group that the radio antenna was black and the under wing bomb carriers were removed leaving only the attachment studs which were red in colour.

I somehow managed to lose my carefully painted bomb, so you have to imagine the plane has just returned from its strike! The figures are from the Hecker and Goros range. The carrier deck is my own contraption of painted cardboard polystyrene and balsa wood.





The only fit problem I encountered was the wing underside to the fuselage, but its not that bad. 



The aircraft seems small and graceful, like a two seat radial engined Spitfire. The kit fits together well and looks well, overall highly recommended!


Model, Text and Images Copyright 2001 by Andrew Johnson
Page Created 24 June, 2001
Last Updated 04 June, 2007

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