Minicraft 1/144 AC-130H

By Chris Banyai-Riepl

Overview

The impressive performance of the C-130 airframe lent itself well to adaptation to gunship status. The AC-47s and AC-119s in Vietnam proved the technique, while the AC-130 brought about a significant increase in firepower. The first C-130 gunships, the AC-130A model, were equipped with 20mm Vulcan cannons and 7.62mm miniguns. In 1969, tests were done in Vietnam, where the aft 20mm cannons were replaced with 40mm Bofors cannons, along with some avionics and detection equipment upgrades. By 1971, all the AC-130As were upgraded to this standard, which marked the maximum limit the C-130A airframe could handle.

The next logical step, therefore, would be to adapt a C-130E to gunship status. With its gross weight almost 30,000lbs heavier than the C-130A, the C-130E could carry heavier weapons, more fuel, and more ammunition. The first AC-130E was equipped with similar weaponry as the AC-130A and went to Vietnam in 1971. In 1972, the aft 40mm cannon was replaced with a 105mm howitzer. This remained the standard armament for the AC-130E and eight aircraft were built to this specification. The remaining three AC-130E aircraft had the more powerful T56-15 engines and received the designation AC-130H. As more of these engines became available, the earlier AC-130Es were upgraded to AC-130H standard, for a total of 11 aircraft.

Operationally, the AC-130 first saw service in Vietnam, where it performed quite well. Since then, the AC-130 had combat operations in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Afghanistan. During these operations, a total of eight AC-130s have been lost, six during the Vietnam war, one over Kuwait, and one over Somalia. The AC-130 family is getting a new infusion with the latest AC-130U, consisting of thirteen modified new-build C-130Hs armed with one 25mm Gatling gun, one 40mm Bofors, and one 105mm Howitzer. With this latest version, the AC-130 will continue to fly the skies for many years to come.

The Kit

Minicraft’s 1/144 C-130 series is one of the most anticipated models in 1/144 scale. Having seen test shots at Chicago last year, I knew it was going to be an impressive model, and now that I picked one up, I can say that the kit lives up to the hype in most areas. The kit is molded in a light gray plastic, with a single sprue of clear parts. It has recessed panel lines throughout, and the overall surface quality is quite good. It is clear that Minicraft is planning on getting as much mileage out of these molds as possible, as the fuselage is filled with various cut marks on the inside, most of which are used on this, the AC-130H release.

Starting with the fuselage, the left side needs to have quite a few openings cut out, as well as the entire forward section of the main gear sponson. Once these modifications are finished, the interior is fitted. This comprises separate main gear wells, a separate nose gear well, and a rear cargo deck, complete with forward bulkhead. There is no detail molded in the fuselage halves, such as the prominent ribbing that would be seen through the rear doors. For the various openings cut out for the gunship, there are inserts for the gun mounts. Finally, the new left side sponson front is put in place, and the fuselage is ready to be closed up.

The instructions note that eight grams of weight is needed to keep this on its nose gear, but it doesn’t mention this until the point where you put the canopy on. As there is plenty of space around the nose gear well, it might be better to put the weight there, and save the cockpit area for some scratchbuilt seats and basic details. Although the cockpit windows are clear, there is no interior provided to be seen through them. Interestingly, the fuselage windows are molded solid, yet Minicraft includes some interior detailing there.

Moving to the wings, these have a large plugs to fit into the corresponding large holes in the fuselage. Having come across these with the Minicraft DC-8, I find that they make alignment easy and should have a tight enough fit to warrant assembly without gluing. The engine nacelles are made up of four pieces and look nice in profile. Unfortunately from the front the shape of the intake scoop is way off, being a rectangle with rounded corners instead of a half circle (This photo of a Singapore C-130H illustrates the proper shape quite well). Separate exhaust pipes round out the engine assembly.

Looking at the smaller details, this kit has quite a few. There are two styles of beaver tails provided, as well as four wing fuel tanks. The main gear is robust, with nicely detailed wheels. The gear doors have separate clear landing lights as well. For the nose gear, this is also nicely done, with a separate oleo scissor provided. The nose gear door has separate retraction struts, adding to the realism of this small model. Add in the rear cargo doors and the propellers, and you are ready for painting.

The decal sheet is small, but then again, so is the model. The AC-130 does not have much in the way of markings, so although the sheet is small, it still provides markings for four aircraft. The first is camouflaged in Gunship Gray (FS36118) over Light Gray (FS 36495). It has low-viz gray national insignia and serials. Giving this aircraft a bit of color, though, is the nose art of the classic AC-130 insignia of a skeleton with a gun over a moon. The aircraft also has the name “Wicked Wanda”. The second option is overall flat black, with three-color national insignia. There are no other markings other than another piece of nose art, this time just the gun-armed skeleton over the moon. Option number three is also overall flat black, with the tail code of “FT” in red. The final scheme is finished in overall Gunship Gray (FS36118), with the tail code of “WR” in black. There are no decals for the fuselage windows, so you are left to either drill them out or carefully paint them with a contrasting color.

Conclusion

This is a decent kit overall. The surface detailing is crisp, the assembly straightforward, and although there is cutting required, there is no real challenge in building this model (unless you wish to correct the engine intakes). In fact, the only thing that might slow you from building a couple dozen of these is the price: at $36 retail building a collection of 1/144 C-130s will be a rather expensive proposition.

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