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Classic Airframes 1/48 Scale Curtiss SBC-3 Helldiver


By Kelly Jamison





The Helldiver took to the air for the first time on December 9, 1935. It was originally designed to be powered by the Wright Cyclone engine and was designated the XSBC-2. Later, the Helldiver was fitted with the more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-1535 and its designation was changed to the SBC-3.

The Navy took deliveries of the new aircraft in mid-1937 with the first batch of carrier based aircraft going to the USS Yorktown, but time and technology caught up to the advanced bi-plane. It was relegated to hack duties and service as an advanced trainer for training units in Florida. The last aircraft was stricken from the Navy roster in October of 1944. However, it made a lasting contribution by serving as the key platform in developing dive bombing tactics and honing aircrew skills crucial to winning the war in the Pacific.

the kit

The box is small but the kit and all the extras are a perfect fit. It is a sturdy box that protects the kit well and fits on your 'Planes To Do' shelf perfectly. I really like the box art that Classic Airframes is using. It is not up to Tamiya or Hasagawa standards, but is not bad at all. All plastic, photoetched, and resin parts are bagged. The engine cylinders, crankcase and drop tanks are in one bag and the cockpit floor, bulkheads and other sundry parts are in another bag. The photoetched parts are packaged with a cardboard backing to keep them from bending. A small acetate instrument panel is included in the same bag as the photoetched parts. There are two vacuum-formed canopies on one piece of clear plastic loose in the box.

The instructions are done on clean white paper and sharp black printing is used. There is some verbiage on the top of the first page discussing that the kit is for experienced modelers and, due to the nature of limited run kits, requires additional time. I found it unusual that they strongly recommend that the builder get a Squadron SBC Helldiver In Action book to use as a reference. I second this recommendation. It is rare that a model company refers you directly to a product unless it is made by them, like Tamiya and their line of paints and accessories.

The painting instructions are vague at best. A triangle A is white, a triangle E is Olive Drab, and so on. Basic, universal signs are used to show where to drill or bend the photoetched parts. I like the exploded views on the assembly stages. They are clear and easy to understand. The front side of the instruction sheet has an individual parts breakdown with an associated part number next to the part. This is good for a pre-assembly inventory of all those little resin parts. There is a second sheet of paper that has a painting and markings guide. It has federal stock numbers for the paint and shows you the two choices you have: a red-tailed, red-cowl, yellow wing SBC-3 of the VS-5 Squadron based in California, June 1939 and a White-tailed, blue cowl, yellow wing Helldiver from VS-3 Squadron. The other side of the card has a brief history and some technical data to round out the information part of the kit.

The decals are custom made by Microscale and are up to their usual high quality. You can have the National Star with or without the red center by adding a small decal to the center of the star. They are in register and look opaque without being too thick. Time will tell how these decals work out. I have had good luck with Microscale and I hope these decals are not any different than their normal line.

I'm not very impressed with the vacuformed canopy set. There are two canopies on a small clear sheet. The clear plastic is thick and there are a lot of pit marks in it. This seams like a great area to replace with a set of Krystal Klear canopies from Squadron, whenever they get around to making a set. Because of the thick clear stock used the canopy frames are not very crisp. Use some left over True Details canopy railing and you can make a very nice canopy. There are a lot of scratches and pit marks made by dust and debris in the molding area. Classic Airframes should have checked their quality control and cleanliness in this area. I am glad that they give you two. I have been saved many times by this practice and am quite happy that it seems to have become the standard for manufactures and aftermarket companies.

I like the Photoetched fret a lot. There are very delicate seatbelts and instrument panels along with the side panels of the cockpit. They are separately bagged on a cardboard backing sheet. There is a small acetate instrument panel that all you have to do is paint the back white and place onto the instrument panel. They seem of the highest quality and very well done. Here Classic Airframes really shines. Eduard was the subcontractor for this excellent set that explains a lot!

The first bag of resin parts contains the engine crankcase, three rows of cylinder heads and the drop tank. These are very well done with almost no flash or casting lines. The cylinder heads are of first rate quality with very delicate cooling fins scribed into each head. The spark plug wire is molded into the top of the cylinder already. For you super detail nuts, a small file will knock this down and you can string your own set. I don't think you can see them under the cowl anyway.

The second bag contains the forward bulkhead with the oil tank, another instrument panel with a radio panel, a seat/floorboard combo, and other antennas, tail wheel, seat cushion, wheel well bulkhead and joystick. There is just a little flash here but by no means is it out of the ordinary for resin parts. The detail is very crisp and clean. I am not too sure of the fit of these components but I haven't built a mixed media kit that did not require a little sanding and fitting.

The kit itself comes on two trees with the bottom wing being of one piece and thrown loose in the bag. All plastic is done in a medium gray color. The panel lines and detail are extremely light. If you are not careful, a coat of primer and Future Floor Polish will make all the detail disappear. It is always a delicate balancing act not to make the detail too exaggerated, but to give enough detail to appear right to the viewer. I don't understand why Classic Airframes did not make a set of resin wheels, but decided to include two lumps that could barely pass for wheels. They are soft in their detail and come in half pieces that have to be glued together. I hope True Details is still listening. The landing gear struts also seem soft in their detail. I hope they look better when cleaned up and painted. You might even think about scratch building them out of brass tube or plastic stock using the originals as patterns.

There is an optional gun camera that mounts on the top of the wing, but it lacks any detail and just doesn't look right. The front cowling comes in two pieces and has the same fine detail that the fuselage halves had. The prop suffers from the soft mold look. The back sides of the props are flat and need a little shaping to look right. The tailhook looks like a straight rod with a little curve in it. I think I could scratchbuild a better one.

The wing halves have no alignment pins in them. I like this, because it allows you to get the exact alignment you want on the wings. There are deep injection stubs on the inside of the elevator halves. They will have to be ground down before the upper and lower halves of the elevator can be glued down. Why Classic Airframes made the elevators in two piece upper and lower sections but made the lower wing one piece will have to be filed in the same folder as the split wheels. The lower wing has some deep grooves in the leading edge and suffers from the soft detail of the other parts in the kit. The wing struts are also molded on this tree. They look to scale and are acceptable.


This review sounds negative in its content but I couldn't be happier with this kit. Limited run kits often have these types of faults. It is hard to make a perfect kit right from the start without the resources that Tamiya or Hasagawa have. Classic Airframes are on the right track. Although the kit has its flaws, I will continue to buy from this company. The Helldiver has a lot of room for detailing and aftermarket stuff (when it hits the shelf). If it was all done for you, what would be the reason for modeling anything! I can't wait to start building this kit. The early Helldiver is a fantastic addition to any collection especially all you 'Golden Age of Aviation' buffs. Look for the build up of this kit in a future issue.

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