By Chris Banyai-Riepl
I had never heard of this particular plane, but after reading that wonderful one-line description shown above, I had to see what it looked like. The Kokusai Ki76 was high-winged monoplane designed along the same lines as the Fieseler Fi156 Storch. The wing featured leading edge slats that greatly improved short field takeoffs and landings, while the large greenhouse canopy made for great visibility. The Ki76 first took to the air in May of 1941, and from then on many were produced and ended up being used in a wide variety of tasks, from observation to artillery spotting to sub chasing. This last task is how the kit is portrayed, with markings for Ki76s flying off of the Akitsu Maru for ASW work.
The kit is cleanly molded in light gray plastic and has hardly any flash. The fabric areas are very well done with nicely done rib and stringer detail and no fabric texture to sand off. Like most limited run kits, this one has some very prominent ejector plugs, but for the most part they aren't a problem. The one place where you'll have to work with them is in the cockpit.
The cockpit is very well done, being a combination of plastic and brass. With the huge clear canopy, anything that is inside the cockpit will be very clearly visible, so this attention to detail is welcome. Even still, I think that there will be room for additions, mainly because of the great visibility.
There is one problem with the canopy, though, and that is that it is vacuformed. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but with the Stella, the wings are mounted to this canopy. Since the wings are solid, they are a bit heavy, and it will be difficult to line them up on the thin vacuformed canopy. I'll have to check my sources, but I think upon construction I will create some brass rod wing spars and run them through the canopy and attach the wings to that for some added sturdiness.
The kit engine is a front half of the 9-cylinder radial engine, and has brass wiring for detailing. The molding of the engine is very well done, and with the addition of the wiring it should look the part quite well. The cowling is split in half, so there will be an additional seam to deal with, but it doesn't look to be too tough of one to work with.
The struts and landing gear are very thin and look the right size, which is both good and bad. It's good because it looks right, but it's bad because it might be too frail for the finished model. The main landing gear strut is a solid piece, so with some care, this may not be a problem. The main wheels are a real treat, featuring a photoetched wheel front that fits over the plastic hub, giving an incredible-looking spoke effect.
The decal sheet is very nicely done, with the decals being very thin. Hinomarus are provided for all locations, as well as markings for three different Ki-76s: two off of the JAAF carrier Akitsu Maru; and one black-cowled Ki-76, unit unknown.
Overall, this isn't a bad little kit. As it says quite clearly on the box, this kit is recommended for experienced modelers, but that doesn't mean you have to have decades of building behind you. If you've built some Eastern European kits or turned a Frog or Airfix kit into a showstopper, this model will be no trouble at all for you. As this is the only injection Ki-76 in 1/72 out there, if you want to build this interesting "STOL Sub Stalker", better call Unca Tom today.
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