By Terry Miesle
Prior to the Second World War, French aircraft manufacturers produced some of the most advanced and most effective aircraft in the world. One of these manufacturers was Morane-Saulnier, who had a long history of effective fighter aircraft stretching back to the First World War MS.1. As a leading manufacturer, they generated a good deal of export sales. Their major pre-WW2 design was the MS.406, a stubby single-engined aircraft with good maneuverability, speed, fair armament (two 7.5mm machine guns and one 20mm cannon) and typical ruggedness. Switzerland and Finland purchased a number of MS.406s to bolster their defenses in the late 1930s.
By the outbreak of all-out war in Europe the little Moranes were becoming more obsolete by the month. The Finns were fighting against increasingly effective Soviet fighter designs. Though the MS.406s maintained their maneuverability, they seriously lacked in performance. Experimental replacement in February, 1942 of the 850hp Hispano-Suiza 12Y engine with German-captured, Soviet-made Klimov M-105P engines coupled with ViSh-61P propellers proved successful, raising the top speed to 326mph and providing substantially better climb rates. Full conversion began in earnest, but only two examples were finished before the Finn-Soviet conflict ended. The conversions continued, and the Morko (Ghost) Moranes served until 1948. The Morko Morane is little more than a footnote in the history of WW2, but in these heady days of high quality limited-release model kits, even footnotes are being given fine treatment.
MPM's Morko Morane release is a re-tooling of the Classic Airframes Morane Saulnier MS.406 kit with a different nose section. As such, it contains two styrene sprues, numerous resin pieces and a vacuformed canopy. The plastic was about what we have come to expect from limited run injection-molded kits these past few years, in other words, thick major parts with little flash. Surface scribing is clean but shallow. No injector pin marks are evident anywhere. All resin bits were clean and intact, and the vacuform canopy was also acceptable. Only one canopy is provided, unlike the Classic Airframes kit, which provides two. In short, upon initial inspection, this is a very nice presentation which promises relatively easy build-up.
Instructions are in four languages, English, French, German and Czech. Symbols and pictures are the only detailed instructions you get, which will cause a couple of problems I'll detail later. Painting guides are in Humbrol Enamel numbers, which I had to translate using Testorís color charts in their excellent modeling Modeler's Technical Guide.
The resin cockpit was painted overall grey with Gunze-Sangyo GS305 Gray. Bear in mind that part of the inner lower wing area is visible through the cockpit floor, so paint those as well. I had a few difficulties during construction, many of which would have been solved if I had thinned the fuselage sides before construction. As it was, I found it necessary to thin the cockpit floors and walls to get it to fit within the fuselage. This makes a suitably tight cockpit, but may have been avoided had I thinned the plastic.
The seat was slightly miscast, which I had to fix with CA glue. The seat cushion is leather, and was painted with Tamiya Middle Stone, and dirtied to look used. The cockpit was washed and drybrushed as usual and the instrument panel was painted with a basecoat of Testor's Model Master (TMM) Euro 1 Grey and highlighted with greyshades and black bezels.
Notation for placing the cockpit sides is obscure. There is information about how far from the canopy rail the parts should be placed. No information is provided about where to place them in relation to the bulkhead, however. This is a difficult problem, partially solved by consulting the Classic Airframes MS.406 instruction sheet. It would definitely have helped to have a molded guide in the plastic. It's not easy, you'll need to figure out where to place the front bulkhead and work from there.
Of note here, you will probably want to leave parts 32 and 33 (cockpit braces or 'roll bars') off the model until the end. This will allow better masking during painting, and prevent damage to these fragile plastic bars.
The fuselage was glued together with Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) using a capillary applicator. The fit was very good for most of the fuselage. The only exceptions I found were in the nose section, where there was a slight step on the radiator/intake and the interior of the same area.
The wing has several points of concern. First, make sure all injector stubs are removed from the wing interior. Second, the landing gear wells are much too high to fit into the wing. They will need to be sanded significantly to fit within the wings. Third, on my sample the machine-gun holes in the gun pods were not deep enough to accept barrels. They were drilled out.
When the wing bottom was glued on the fuselage, a step was noted at the rear. This was puttied easily. One oddity I found was the instruction to replace a section of the lower wing/fuselage section with part 34. The instructions indicate removal of a section of plastic, but on the actual wing part, that bit had already been removed. This part fits fairly well, but needed some sanding.
Once the upper wing sections were attached, the front wing section fit very well, however the wing root and rear wing sections needed filling. This was primarily done with styrene strip and finished with putty (see pictures).
The tailplanes and their struts were attached with MEK. The instructions indicate the struts should be added later, but I found it easiest to paint with them in place. Guns, antennae, exhausts, canopy and gear would wait until the primary painting was done.
One serious problem with the instructions is the lack of any alignment information regarding the landing gear. Fortunately, I had the Classic Airframes instruction sheet to consult. The main landing gear suspends straight down, but the wheels have a significant outward cant. This is not indicated in any way in MPM's instructions or box art.
The underside light blue-grey was mixed from Gunze Sangyo light blue 323 and a light grey. This was mixed to match a color sample in the Testor's Modelers Technical Guide. Upper surfaces are Tamiya XF-26 Deep Green and Gunze Sangyo gloss black. The prop and spinner are Gunze Sangyo Schwarzgrun.
The decals are interesting. The aircraft ID numbers are printed in two colors, matching the slope of the green/black interface. This is a nice touch and is not immediately evident when you look at the decals on their sheet. Of course this means you will need to be very careful when painting the black areas, the green numbers will need to overlap.
The decals, however are very difficult to work with. I found silvering even over very glossy Future Floor Wax (liquid acrylic polish). I removed the adhesive from the decals in water, but still found a disturbing opacity. The only method which worked was to use a drop of Future under the decal, press the decal down with a cotton swab, and cover it with more Future. Finally, the film disappeared and left only the decal print. This was extremely frustrating, and could have seriously marred the surface of the model.
Testor's Acryl (TA) Flat was sprayed over the model. This was the first time I've used TA flat coat. I don't particularly like the semi-gloss finish it leaves. All remaining details were glued on, including the landing gear and canopy.
Although not for a beginner, this is a good kit. Certainly if you are familiar with other releases from MPM, ICP, Classic Airframes or HiPM you will not have significant problems. However, the poor decals and less-than-helpful instructions seriously detract from the satisfaction of the base kit. It will certainly help if you have Classic Airframes MS.406 instructions. Aftermarket decals are another likely choice to make this kit more enjoyable.
Size, design and construction of the Morko Morane will make an interesting subject placed near Hawker Hurricanes and Yak-1s.