Unboxing 1/48 Wildcats
Grumman's F4F Wildcat was the US Navy's premier carrier fighter during the opening stages of WWII. It is drenched in history and will always be a popular modeling subject. How popular? Well, I've got 3 1/48 scale versions in my stash.
And importantly, they are all relatively new toolings beginning with Tamiya's F4F-4 Wildcat (1994), HobbyBoss's FM-1 Wildcat (2007), and Eduard's brand new F4F-3 Wildcat (2022). I emphasize the year because since I returned to the hobby, I have only built legacy kits. You know, those kits from the 1960s and 1970s that don't provide the best building experience, but do provide the best inspiration for new expletives.
In building these 3 newer kits, hopefully as a batch, I want my fellow builders to get a feel for which Wildcat is best for them. Through a series of posts I will assess the following:
Approximate price as of September, 2022 (US)
State of the mold
Instruction clarity and ease of assembly
For example, Tamiya is known for great fit, HobbyBoss tends to have a low parts count, and Eduard is an incredible maker of aftermarket parts. Do these generalities hold up or were there any surprises?
Going forward, I hope to present my batch-build work in installments that focus on the big subassemblies in aircraft modeling. Picture 3 cockpits, 3 engines, 3 sets of landing gear and 3 assembled fuselages.
Then, once the basic assembly is complete, I will try to paint the aircraft using different techniques. I'm not exactly sure how just yet, but there is a lot of time between now and then. Wow, this is going to be a lot of work!
Without further ado, let's kick things off with some unboxings, shall we?
Tamiya's F4F-4 Wildcat
This is the oldest kit of the bunch (1994). Despite its age, I don't see signs of flash or mold seams. I guess that's Tamiya. Instead, I see a classic two sprue set-up of nicely detailed plastic. My guesstimate is 55-60 total parts. There are recessed panel lines, albeit maybe a little too recessed, and rivet dimples. At first glance, I think the kit will give a great foundation for some panel lining.
The kit comes with marking options for 4 different squadrons, one of which, VMF-223, took part in the battle of Guadalcanal as part of the "Cactus Airforce".
HobbyBoss's FM-1 Wildcat
HobbyBoss released a number of Wildcats in 2007 and the one I have is the FM-1 variant. The box indicates 80 parts which is more than the Tamiya kit. The FM-1 has nice surface detail with shallower panel lines than the Tamiya kit, but I think the rivets are slightly more pronounced. The box also indicates finished model dimensions of 256.4mm long by 350.6mm wide. By my calculations that would equate to a 37 foot long by 55.2 foot wide Wildcat. But (!) a 1/1 scale Wildcat measures 28.75 feet long by 38 feet wide (Wikipedia). I don't want to extrapolate what this might mean for the instructions (I'll take a look at those as I build), so make of this what you will.
Markings are provided for 2 Wildcats, and there is a beautiful color insert with suggested paint schemes. It should be noted that FM-1 Wildcats were produced by General Motors. not Grumman, and were mostly used in anti-submarine and shore patrol operations while they operated from escort carriers.
Eduard's F4F-3 Wildcat
Eduard's Wildcat is a brand new tooling from 2022 and the initial release is a "Profipack" which comes with extra goodies, like photoetch and canopy masks. In addition to these goodies, it is easy to see that the kit has a ton of plastic, far more than the Tamiya and HobbyBoss kits! This suggests different Wildcat releases in the future, or a few different options during assembly. The plastic also looks great. Recessed panel lines and very delicate rivets are abound. It definitely looks like it will build up nicely.
One of the parts that caught my eye is the engine's firewall bulkhead because it includes inner wing struts. I assume these struts will produce the correct wing dihedral with the fuselage. In contrast, the Tamiya kit has a one piece lower wing/fuselage whereas the HobbyBoss kit has a more traditional glue-wing-to-fuselage approach. Time will tell which kit delivers the best results.
Rounding this kit out are decal options for 6 different aircraft spanning pre-WWII through the most famous battles of the early war. Markings for specific airframes flown by famed aviators like Butch O'Hare and Elbert McCuskey are included options. Everything is laid out in a robust color instruction manual. This looks like the type of kit where one might need to purchase multiples!
Editor's note: Eduard usually releases kits as a cheaper "Weekend" edition that are pared down of goodies like masks, photoetch, or decal choices.
Surface detail comparison
Here we have a few head to head comparison shots of the Wildcat fuselages and wings. As a reminder, Eduard is the grayish-blue color, HobbyBoss is in light gray, and Tamiya is in gray. It looks like the surface detail on Eduard is more subtle, and by my eye, truer to scale than the other offerings. I'm not a rivet counter, but if I must make a comment about them, Eduard has the most.
The fuselage and wings look very similar in shape across all three kits. You can also see hints of how the construction process will unfold. Eduard has a fully formed fuselage underbelly and a hole in the wing-root for those previously discussed wing supports. Meanwhile, HobbyBoss goes with a traditional left and right top and bottom wing assembly. Lastly, Tamiya sports a mono-piece lower wing. Going off this alone, I am slightly worried about achieving the correct wing dihedral on the HobbyBoss kit. I'll be sure to report back on what happens during the build. One last feature of Eduard's kit that I would like to mention are the separate ailerons. This should allow the modeler to create dynamic displays with greater ease than with the integrated ailerons found on Tamiya's and HobbyBoss's offerings.
This Wildcat post is meant to provide first impressions on parts and in-box contents across 3 widely available 1/48 Wildcat lines. To be clear, I have not assembled anything for any of the kits. In reality, this means the most important aspects of this review series, namely the build, are still to come. Until those posts drop, these are my thoughts:
In terms of plastic and goodies in the box, there is no question that Tamiya's offering appears the most modest, followed by HobbyBoss, and finally Eduard
Unless you are a rivet counter, I think all the kits come with nicely molded parts and surface detail
The number of markings for each kit differ, as do the Wildcat versions. A reminder, HobbyBoss has several variants available. If you are interested in modeling a specific Wildcat, or a Wildcat at a specific point in time, you should pay attention to the particulars of each box's contents, unless the aftermarket or conversions are your thing
HobbyBoss provides a nice color painting reference card and Eduard's instructions come in a well printed color booklet
From the looks of it, the Eduard kit will afford the modeler with the most ready-to-choose build options. It might also be the most complex to build
Curiously(?) none of these kits come with a pilot
At the time of this writing (September 2022), the Tamiya and HobbyBoss kits can each be found at online retailers for around $25 in the United States while the Eduard Profipack kit is closer to $50
In summary, I think there are 2 Wildcat flight paths here: a "value" path in the Tamiya or HobbyBoss offering, and a "premium" path with Eduard's current Profipack release. Time will tell if the value paths provide real value, or are merely cheaper options chock full of headache, and whether or not Eduard's premium path is worth the extra expenditure.
Lastly, if you've already built one of these Wildcats, I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments below!
Thanks for reading,
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