1/48 Wildcat Assembly
Editor's note: This post is part of a series discussing 1/48 Wildcats by Tamiya (1994), HobbyBoss (2007), and Eduard (2022) from unboxing to final weathering. Along the way, I'll present an honest opinion of each kit and share a variety of tips, tricks, and techniques.
My bench is a mess! That's what happens when you build three Wildcats from three different manufacturers. I'm hoping that by the end of this post there will be an order to the chaos around me. That means internals tucked into fuselages and fuselages attached to wings. It's a lot to tackle in one post, let alone build. Brace yourself!
Tamiya's F4F-4 - This is the oldest kit I am working on and it has good overall fit, detail, and price point.
HobbyBoss's FM-1 - It is best compared to Tamiya, but doesn't appear to hold a clear advantage in fitment or details. I don't think the molding is as consistent as Tamiya's. It isn't bad, but I expected more with a 13 year technology advantage. The price point is also similar to Tamiya and more variants are on offer.
Eduard's F4F-3 - The newest kit and largest beneficiary of new molding technology. Parts tolerances are impressive (read tight)! The ProfiPACK that I am building includes photoetch and comes at a higher price point. I would recommend this kit for experienced builders.
Detailing internals on most fighter aircraft is often restricted to radial engine faces, small landing gear bays, and the cockpit. Anything beyond this is in the realm of scratch built cut-aways or the aftermarket. The Wildcat is different. It has a large interior space between the engine and cockpit, complete with engine and landing gear mounts. All of this needs detailing. Let's see each kit's execution:
From left to right:
Tamiya - The most spartan, but the bulkhead has nice detail.
HobbyBoss - A nice improvement over Tamiya's offering. We get radiators, a fuel tank, and mounting braces. Assembly was relatively easy and the result is visually interesting.
Eduard - Similar level of detail to HobbyBoss, but generally greater mold precision and finesse. I found it very tricky to align all the mounting struts to the engine. Honestly, it was a pain. It is best to glue strut by strut rather than all at once. In my opinion, this is the most striking visual result, but I wonder how much of the effort will be for naught once it's tucked into the fuselage.
As for painting, Tamiya's was brushed by hand and weathered using their Panel Line Accent Color. HobbyBoss and Eduard were both airbrushed with a base layer of Tamiya's NATO Black (XF-69), followed by Flat White (XF-2), a gloss varnish, and finally oils.
Scale model landing gear can be delicate and fiddly. The Wildcat's trapeze-like setup certainly fits the bill. Again, from left to right:
Tamiya - The main gear strut piece looks robust. The one piece molding should make alignment a piece of cake.
HobbyBoss - Basically a mirror image of Tamiya's approach which is unsurprising given what we've seen so far.
Eduard - Different again! The parts are noticeably thinner, and definitely have that ex-ante "fiddly factor" going on.
Here are the mostly finished landing gear with the exception of Eduard's. Given the way Eduard's is assembled, and my perception that it will be very delicate, I feel it will be best to attach towards the end of the build. I wonder if the gear will hold up for decades on the shelf?
I finally got smart and cut logos off the respective boxes!
Tamiya - The oldest and fewest parts. I do like that the wing is a single piece. That should make the dihedral easy to pin down.
HobbyBoss - Throwing in the machine guns is a nice touch. We'll see how the independent lower wing segments affect setting the dihedral.
Eduard - Independent control surfaces provide great optionality out of the box. Dihedral alignment issues should be mitigated because the main internal bulkhead has wing spars.
Wing fitment between each of the kits was generally good. Only a small amount of putty was required and was most attributable to my overeager sprue-detachment. I will also note that the Eduard tolerances are so tight that great care should be taken in proper parts prep. You will feel any bumps along the wing gluing surfaces. Light sanding on the leading edges rounded out all the kits.
And now the main event!
Tamiya - The two Tamiya fuselage halves fit great! However, the internal bulkheads left terrible gaps at the cockpit and landing gear bay. Putty and requisite paint touch-ups were needed. The bottom wing segment was easy to attach but still required putty and sanding. From what we have seen so far with the Tamiya fitment, I've go to say I am a bit disappointed.
HobbyBoss - I'm happy to report that the fuselage halves and cockpit fit well. Very minor putty and sanding is required to get rid of any seams. You can also see that there is no bulkhead gap in the cockpit like on the Tamiya kit. I had trouble with the belly piece where it meets the ventral fuselage and the wing roots. The wing dihedral was a bit more tricky on this build. For some reason the horizontal stabilizer gave me a lot of trouble, but I'm happy to report that the overall experience was better than expected.
Eduard - Always the outlier. Fitting all the internals was very difficult. Unfortunately, the stakes are high because the fuselage halves are meant to fit like a glove around the bulkheads. I'm honestly not sure if I lined everything up the right way because I had serious difficulty trying to close everything. Putty and sanding? Definitely. I'll note that the outer wheel storage depressions are molded on the fuselage unlike the other two kits. I missed this while painting the interior bulkhead. While the fix isn't hard, it will add more time. The horizontal stabilizers were the worst part of the assembly. They just wouldn't fit no matter what I tried. On the positive side, the wing dihedral and wing root fit is excellent. I can't help but feel frustrated with the unforgiving tolerances. This kit is not for beginners!
This project is teaching me that economies of scale don't necessarily materialize from building the same subject. Each manufacturer has their own idiosyncrasies, and while Tamiya and HobbyBoss continue on a similar path, Eduard is on a different plane entirely.
Each kit has their pros and cons. If I have to give an award for this particular stage of the build it would go to HobbyBoss. The kit performed above expectation. The bulkhead gaps on the Tamiya build are unforgiveable, even though readily fixable, and Eduard's tight tolerances made execution troublesome.
[Reader] "Now that the big assembly is over, what's to come for this series?"
[Mido] "Great question, and so glad you asked. I plan to make a separate post for each kit's painting and finishing procedures. Tamiya's kit will be brushed by hand while HobbyBoss's and Eduard's will get the airbrush treatment. Each kit will feature different weathering techniques.
You will also be treated to awesome historical context covering three distinct episodes of Wildcat service. Tamiya's F4F-4 will be done up as a member of the USMC's VMF-223 on Guadalcanal, otherwise known as the Cactus Air Force. HobbyBoss's FM-1 Wildcat will be sub-hunting in the Atlantic with VC-12 on the USS Core (CVE-13). Finally, Eduard's F4F-3 will belong to Lt. Elbert S. McCuskey flying off the USS Yorktown (CV-5) during the Battle of Coral Sea.
These are pieces you definitely won't want to miss!"
Thanks for reading,