Trumpeter 1/48 C-47A Skytrain

By Chris Banyai-Riepl

Overview

Few aircraft are as iconic as the Douglas DC-3 and C-47. Revolutionizing air travel in the 1930s, the aircraft became an essential military transport during the Second World War on all fronts. License production in the Soviet Union added the Lisunov Li-2 to the DC-3 family, and gave the Douglas transport widespread usage in those nations not able to purchase the type from the West. Even today, one can find the DC-3 or one of its derivatives flying the skies, and it would not be surprising to find the plane still flying 100 years after its first flight.

With such a well-known aircraft, literally thousands of pages have been written about it. A simple search at any online bookstore will yield any number of useful books on the DC-3/C-47 history, and the number of websites devoted to the type are similarly expansive in count. I recommend following those avenues should you wish to know more about the history of this type, as they could do a much better job than I in recounting the past, present, and future of the DC-3.

The Kit – The Good Points...

Given the legendary status of the aircraft, it is surprising that there have not been more kits of the DC-3/C-47. Until this Trumpeter release, there has only been one 1/48 DC-3/C-47 kit, the old Monogram kit (first released in the late 1970s). Although quite old by today’s standards, that kit is still quite good and can build up into a very nice model. Still, many modelers hoped for a modern new-tool DC-3/C-47 kit, and with this latest from Trumpeter, we finally have one.

Like other Trumpeter kits, this one is molded in gray plastic, with recessed panel lines and extensive interior detailing. As this is a C-47, the kit has a military interior and the cargo door on the rear fuselage. In addition to the plastic, this kit also includes vinyl tires, metal landing gear, and a photoetch fret with additional details. The decal sheet provides markings for two aircraft.

Starting with the interior, plan on spending quite a bit of time here. The cockpit is nicely detailed, with a multi-part instrument panel complete with acetate instrument faces, detailed control columns and rudder pedals, and accurate seats. Right behind the pilots’ seats, the navigator’s station is likewise well done, and as the kit has the option of an open crew door, a surprising amount of this will be visible. Moving to the main cabin, this section has bench seats along both sides, as well as bulkhead details and even the overhead console with interior lights. With the rear cargo doors off, all of this will be seen, so paying attention to the detail painting here will really pay off.

With the interior done, the assembly is quite straightforward. The fuselage is split into the expected right and left halves, with a separate rudder. A note about the rudder, apparently according to Trumpeter’s references this was a riveted metal structure. Reality, though, shows that it should be fabric-covered, like the rest of the control surfaces, so be prepared to fill in all that recessed detailing and add some subtle rib detail. Speaking of which, the rib detail on the ailerons and elevators is fairly heavy, but some quick work with sandpaper should tone that down nicely.

The wings are split into three main sections: two outer panels and a center section. This is a good way to do the DC-3, as it follows the original construction and makes it easy to keep the flat center section and outer panel dihedral. The center section includes the engine nacelles, which are heavily detailed. The engines are quite nice, with both rows of cylinders, exhaust collector, and control arms. Behind this, the wheel well has plenty of additional plumbing and detailing, with the end result being a very busy assembly that looks quite nice.

With the wing subassemblies done, the remaining assembly is fast. The center wing section fits into the fuselage, and as long as this is parallel to the fuselage, the outer panels, with their integrated spars, will have the correct dihedral. The small details complete the assembly, from the fuselage antennae to the multi-part propellers to the photoetch oil cooler screens.

Marking options are straightforward, both being olive drab over neutral gray. Both have invasion stripes, so it is just the details that differ. The first is from the 92nd TCS/439th TCG and has nose art indicating that “Kilroy is Here.” The second is from the 61st TCS during the Market Garden operation, and has the name “Turf-Sport Special.” The decals are nicely printed and should pose no problem in application.

... and The Bad Points

With the good points out of the way, it’s time to take a more critical look at the kit. On the surface, this looks like a very nice kit of the C-47. However, a closer examination reveals some problem areas. Already mentioned is the problem with the rudder. The most noticeable problem, though, is the rivet detail. Like other Trumpeter kits, this one features petite recessed rivet detail. While this looks nice on the surface, it is really out of place on the C-47, as this plane was not flush riveted. Therefore all those recessed rivet heads should actually be raised. In addition to that, Trumpeter completely missed the characteristic diagonal rivet lines that are prevalent on the C-47, so not only are the rivet lines the wrong direction, but they are incomplete as well. Fixing this will be time consuming, whether you choose to fill in all the rivets or (gasp!) replace them with raised.

The second most obvious problem is with the engine cowlings. Quite simply, these match no cowling worn by the DC-3 family. There are two main cowlings for the DC-3/C-47, that for the Pratt & Whitney engine and that for the Wright engine. The vast majority of DC-3s and nearly all of the C-47s had the Pratt & Whitney cowling. This is characterized by a slight taper aft to fore, a narrow lip, and cowl flaps. The Wright cowling has parallel sides, a broader lip, and no cowl flaps. By extension, the Lisunov Li-2 had their cowlings adapted from the Wright cowling, so the Soviet aircraft resemble those.

This kit has a cowling with parallel sides, like the Wright cowling, but a much too broad lip. Unlike the Wright cowling, the kit has cowl flaps, as the Pratt & Whitney cowling does. To provide a comparison, I photographed the Monogram cowling next to the Trumpeter cowling, and the differences are obvious. When compared to the scale drawings from the Maircraft DC-3 kit (by far the most accurate DC-3 drawings ever done, as they were drawn from factory measurements and with the close assistance of Douglas), we can see that the Monogram cowling is much closer to the proper shape than the Trumpeter. Given the price of the Monogram kit, it would almost be worthwhile to just buy that and use the cowls on the Trumpeter kit.

Some other notes, the propellers (contrary to other reports) are accurate in shape and length, but they are a later style of propeller, more appropriate to post-war C-47s. The cockpit side windows appear to be a bit too short in length, but as these are flat panels that should be simple to fix. Just lengthen the opening and cut new ones from clear plastic card (a CD case would be perfect, as that would be almost the exact thickness of the kit parts). Given the extensive variations between airframes, I strongly recommend reviewing your references to make sure that you have all the smaller details right.

Conclusion

While this kit does have some problems, with some extra work it can be made into a very nice representation of the C-47. With a bit more effort, one could even backdate it into a DC-3, and this would really look stunning in American Airlines livery (note, they had their passenger door on the starboard side, so cut accordingly). Of course, the big question is, should that extra effort be needed in a $150 kit. That is a personal decision, but I hope that Trumpeter will take heed in the future and do more thorough research when producing a kit such as this. There are no shortages of full-size examples out there, and photos and documentation is vast, so the kit errors really should have been caught. Perhaps they will fix these in future releases, and maybe even grace us with a proper civilian DC-3 as well. My thanks to Stevens International for the review sample.

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