1:72 Bell P-39Q
By Chris Bucholtz
This set comes at an interesting time, as the Academy kit of the Airacobra is still fresh on hobby shop shelves. For that reason, we'll evaluate this set in relation to both the Heller and Academy kits.
The set includes 16 pieces: two .50-caliber machine gun breeches, gunsight, instrument panel, control column, seat, separate wheel wells, rear decking, nose gear well, left and right sidewall halves, rollover support framework, right-side door and cockpit tub. The detail is very effective on the gear bays and instrument panels particularly; real care was taken to capture the features of these components. The nose gear bay is sufficiently deep, with cutouts to compensate for the landing gear retraction arm locating points, and the detail on the rear decking is subdued but attractive. The set does suffer from four problems, however. The right-side door has the prominent map case molded into its interior, but is otherwise lacking in details that are most prominent on the real aircraft. The sidewall pieces lack any interior for the left side door, leaving a vast space of unimproved plastic that will require some scratchbuilding to match the level of the rest of the interior. The seat is identical to the one supplied in Neomega's Yakovlev UT-1 kit and is completely incorrect for an Airacobra, lacking any of the character of the rather industrial-looking metal seat used in the P-39. The set's most egregious omission is the lack of any instructions whatsoever--modelers are on their own in figuring out where things go.
Luckily, the parts fit the Heller kit fairly well. The sidewall details, which include the throttle in the appropriate "in the way" position on the left side of the cockpit, match the contours of the kit well, and the cockpit tub fits into place with only the slightest of gaps around it. The same goes for the wheel well inserts; all three fit almost perfectly. A little extra work by the modeler to eliminate these seams will be needed, but they are an effective shortcut to avoid scratchbuilding them altogether.
The instrument panel is meant to be mounted on the kit's flat control panel piece, with the .50-caliber breeches mounting in small notches at the panel's top. The control column fits neatly into the well-detailed tub.
The set leaves the modeler with some work to do--namely, finding an appropriate seat and filling in the blanks of the door details. An investment in a brass set might be well worth it if only to supply these parts. Also, the right-side door will need some glass to finish it off, and the fragile nature of the framing could make that a tricky proposition. Once this is done, the lower part of the door, molded to the Heller kit's fuselage, will have to be cut away if this door is to be used.
If one wants to use this set on the Academy kit, a few modifications will be in order. The mounting points for the kit cockpit will need to be removed so the tub can fit, but once this is accomplished, the fit here is every bit as good as in the Heller kit. Since the Academy kit is little more than a refined version of the Heller kit, other parts--control panels, sidewalls, rollover structure and rear decking--fit well, but not as well as on the Heller kit. For all its refinements, the thickness of the canopy sill in the Academy kit is much greater than that in the earlier Heller kit, so some scraping may be necessary. This may interfere with the kit detail, but since virtually all of the Academy kit's sidewall detail is spurious, this is a very small loss.
The main wheel bays are not needed for the Academy kit, since they are supplied in the lower wing with nearly as much detail as on the Pavla parts. The nose bay, however, is a must; thanks to Academy's cloning of the Heller kit, the part lines up with the attachment points for the retraction struts precisely.
Using the Pavla door, despite its shortcomings, will help add authenticity. The Academy kit provides an open left door molded in clear styrene; this piece includes the throttle on the door, while it was actually on the forward left sidewall and projected into the door opening. This knee- and shin-scraping feature meant that most pilots boarded the Airacobra from the left. The modeler will have to remove the molded-in lower door half once again, and make appropriate alterations to the overhead canopy. Scratchbuilding the left-side door interior is again a must.
The Pavla set, while a nice step forward, leaves a lot to be desired, instructions chief among them. The omission of the left-side door interior and the use of a generic seat are two more very questionable shortcuts. If modelers wish to dress up their P-39s, this set can be used, but only with the awareness that it only gets you about 65 percent of the way to an accurate and fully detailed model. For the unwary newcomer, a set like this could end all trust of aftermarket resin producers. If Pavla hopes for return business, it had better hope that the P-39Q set is not the one that customers buy first.
Aviation Brass Sets
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