The U.S. Navy was never quite sure what to do with the Curtiss Aircraft Company. To encourage competition between Boeing and Curtiss, the Navy often purchased nearly equivalent aircraft in similar numbers from both companies. The Boeing design team produced a number of very high performance aircraft in the late 1920s, and Curtiss was left out of Navy squadrons.
As Boeing began to produce larger aircraft, it became obvious the company might cease fighter designs. The Navy found it useful to look at Curtiss again. The Army had equipped squadrons with Curtiss’ outstanding Hawk P1, which the Navy evaluated as the F6C-1. Eventually the Navy decided to exclusively use radial engines, which led to the F7C series and later, the F11C series of aircraft. Curtiss converted the F11C into the BFC series of outstanding fighter-bombers.
The ultimate development of this series of Curtiss Hawks is the Hawk III, an export version of the BF2C-1. An unusual side effect of using a wooden wing structure for the Hawk III rather than the metal structure it replaced was the elimination of a resonant vibration, which rendered the Navy’s version unstable at higher speeds. This made the Hawk III a better aircraft, and an all-around good performer.
The Chinese purchased the most Hawk III aircraft, over one hundred units, while Siam fielded more than forty. While the Chinese Hawks acquitted themselves well early during the Japanese aggression, they were soon outclassed by the newer Claudes and were replaced by Polikarpov I-15 and I-16 series fighters. The Hawks were relegated to training duties, and must have been one of the most powerful advanced trainers in the theatre.
Curtiss continued to produce their Hawk line of fighters, the Hawk III would lead to the Hawk 75/P-36 and later, the famous P-40 series of fighters. This is an influential series of fighters, and shows the typical Curtiss attention to ruggedness, dependability and maneuverability.
Classic Airframes’ series of biplane Hawks fills a long-missing void in 1/48 scale kits, a precursor to Curtiss’ successful P-36 and, later, the P-40 Hawks. Though only partially successful, these Navy Hawks are well appreciated as a link to the familiar fighters of WWII. Classic Airframes is forging a niche with these 1930’s era aircraft, one which has been neglected for too long in 1/48 scale.
The kit is a combination of injected plastic, resin, two vacuform canopies and white metal landing gear parts. Initially I had planned to build it gear-up to take advantage of the unusual configuration of a retractable-gear biplane, but when I saw the white metal gear struts I knew I couldn’t resist. The plastic parts are typical Classic Airframes, a bit thick but pliable and fairly clean. The wings exhibited no warp, which apparently can be a problem with this kit. The resin is clean and well-cast, and the white-metal gear struts look very nice, particularly the tail wheel which is very pretty indeed, too bad they didn’t cast the wheel separately! Overall, if you are familiar with Classic Airframes’ kits, then you will have no surprises here.
One of the first items of note you’ll find upon opening the box is the resin engine. The 700hp Wright-Cyclone R-1820-04 is cast with separate gearbox, cylinders and exhaust pipes. One spare cylinder has been included, very considerate of CA. Not so considerate is the lack of inscribed labels for the 9 exhaust pipes. I just had to take educated guesses for each one. I also had a picture of the engine in Jane’s Aircraft of WWII book, which helps a lot. The spinner is also cast in resin. You’ll also notice suitably subdued fabric and framing details on the wings and fuselage.
I first must say that the kit instructions are lacking. This isn’t the first time I’ve said this about CA kits, but the fact that this is a biplane compounded the issue. The few pictures in Squadron’s Navy Hawks helped me a bit, but I was still frustrated.
I started by preparing the major fuselage and wing components. The upper wing assembly is straightforward, and fit together pretty well. I noticed slight differences between upper and lower halves, but these were merely sanded out. No filler was needed.
The fuselage is actually 4 parts. The left and right are joined by two ventral filets. This is a precarious fit. I sanded the sides flush with fine sandpaper on a glass plate, using the tailfin as a guide. I taped the sides together to check the fit and figure out the alignment of the dorsal fillets. I knew this would be very tricky.
The interior of the fuselage contains the cockpit and wheel wells. The wheel wells are huge resin chunks more than three times the size they need to be to fit within the fuselage. A lot of sanding was needed to make them fit within the fuselage and allow the halves to fit properly. These wells also obstructed the dorsal filet, requiring a little knife work.
The cockpit is a resin floor, seat, panel and assorted details combined with plastic bulkheads and side ribs. It is important to note that the side ribs may be indicated upside-down. I don’t have pictures of the cockpit, and pictures are rare, but a friend told me after I had assembled the cockpit that the horizontal bar should be on top. Assembly is straightforward, and placement indications are adequate. The cockpit is silver colored, I presume aluminized paint. This was all painted with Tamiya Chrome Silver, and washed with Tamiya Smoke, highlighted then dullcoated with Gunze-Sangyo Flat Clear. A few instruments and bits of equipment were painted flat black as per the instructions.
The engine is also a bit troublesome. The cylinders appear to be too long. I sanded the interior of the cowling a bit, sanded the cylinder heads a bit, removed some of the cylinder base (they stick out a little too much) and still found the engine too wide for the cowl. I inserted a bit of styrene rod to increase the cowl diameter, and found it looked a bit closer to circular. I think the cowl as molded in the kit is not quite right, and required an increase in diameter. I added wires to the cylinders to flesh out the engine.
The exhaust pipes are even more difficult. They extend just past the cowling, and it is very hard to figure out which tube corresponds to each number. Remember, the pipes bend to either side of the fuselage, away from the windscreen and centerline.
I painted the engine cylinders Testors Model Master (TMM) Aluminum and the gearbox is painted Testors Acryl (TA) Gunship Grey. The assembly was weathered with GS smoke, which is more grey than Tamiya’s smoke. I lightly dry-brushed the engine with appropriate shades to complete the engine. It’s a nice looking rendition, I think. The cowl and engine are not attached to the model until after painting.
To portray the training version of the Hawk III delete the armament, including the fuselage bulges, parts 25 and 26. The Chinese Hawks also had a different landing gear, which will require you cut a notch out of the fuselage just forward of the tailfin. This is obvious in the photographs.
I glued the rear bulkhead in place first, then the cockpit assembly, then forward bulkhead and instrument panel. I superglued all of these parts in place, as well as the wheel wells. The fit wasn’t great, particularly the wheel wells, so I epoxied everything to make sure all gaps were filled and the parts absolutely would not fall out.
I used Methyl Ethyl Ketone (in a well-ventilated area) applied with a capillary tube to glue the fuselage halves together, followed by the ventral fillets. The fit was fairly good, with a step gap atop the fuselage forward of the cockpit and a step between the two ventral fillets, which I didn’t catch in dryfitting, or I would have inserted styrene shims. The engine firewall is the last fuselage part to be attached.
I glued the lower wings in place starting with superglue, then applying MEK. Small gaps needed filling, barely notable on one wing. At this point, I attempted to do a bit of dryfitting for the N-struts and became a little confused, as it seemed the interior cabane struts didn’t quite fit. I decided, after looking at photographs, that the N-struts were probably correct, and attached them to the lower wings with superglue. While the glue was still pliable, I attached the upper wing to the indicated attachment points. This meant the cabane struts were a bit too long, so they were trimmed with a knife until they fit from the attachment points to the panel line. This looks pretty good compared with photographs, so I’m pretty confident it’s correct.
The tailplanes do not benefit from any guiding pins, so be careful while attaching them. Their support struts run from the edge of the trimmed fuselage to mid-plane. The elevator actuating struts in the kit are a bit short, and I broke one while sanding it, so I had to replace them with a bit of rod.
The beautiful white metal struts and actuators are given good treatment in the instructions, a welcome change. I inserted the M2 A-frame brace first, and aligned the main strut with it. That creates the correct angle, but makes the insertion of the actuator M5 a bit trickier. No big surprises were found with this assembly. The wheels are two-piece plastic units, which were not installed yet.
The tail wheel is a white metal part which, must be wedged in place. Drilling a hole and thinning the plastic on the fuselage will help this installation and make the model look better. I left the landing gear doors off for now, to facilitate weathering later.
The pictures I have of Chinese trainers lack drop tanks. They also lack the circular venturi generator, which allowed drop tanks to be carried. That’s unfortunate, because it is an interesting feature.
I primed the model with GS Flat white, corrected various problems, re-primed and coated the model with GS Olive Drab Green. I then painted the upper surfaces with Aeromaster’s Faded Olive Drab to simulate sun bleaching. This makes a good combination, which I’ve used in the past to differentiate panel lines and control surfaces. The tires are painted Polyscale Grimy Black, an effective rubber color.
I glued the propeller blades on the resin spinner, painted the tips GS Gloss Yellow 4, masked the tips and painted the entire assembly GS Gloss Black (my favorite black) . After a spray of GS Flat Clear I handbrushed the spinner TMM Aluminum and overcoated the spinner with GS Smoke Grey. This was attached later.
I coated the model with glosscoat, a mixture of 50% Future Acrylic Floor Polish, 25% water and 25% Isopropyl Alcohol, a mix which sprays very well and dries quickly. I have not had puddling problems with this mix as I did with straight Future.
Decals were applied at this time. The 88s are from an Aeromaster F7 Tigercat Nightfighter sheet, they are standard 60 degree numbers. I remove all adhesive from decals in water, and apply them over a drop of the diluted Future mix on the model. After pressing the decal in place and making sure I trapped no bubbles, I brushed a bit of the diluted Future mix over the decal. I have found this the best method to make the decal film disappear. Be warned, however, that if the decal must conform to severe curves, this mixture doesn’t act as a decal set. After I sealed the decals, I applied GS Clear Flat to prepare for weathering.
Drybrushing and pastels were used for weathering, including a healthy dose of browns to simulate the dust from gravel taxiways.
One quick note about the windscreen. Typical Hawk III fighters used a semi-enclosed cockpit with a small sliding windscreen to the rear. This was deleted for the Chinese trainers, leaving only the front windscreen. The kit windscreen was too narrow for the fuselage. I don’t know whether I had sanded too much material off the fuselage, or it is manufacturing mistake. Whichever the case, I found it easier to make a new windscreen using the dimension of the fuselage area. The height was taken from the kit-provided section, and I used the triangular side screens from the kit. These were attached with Elmer’s white glue.
For the first time I tried a method recommended by a friend, music wire. I bought two sections of K&S wire, the smallest diameter available. It looks about right for a guitar E-string, which can also be used if stretched straight. The K&S wire is cheap enough and straight. I simply measured the required lengths, cut the wires and installed them with superglue. The Hawks had double parallel riggings on the wings, with weight rods to prevent flutter. I placed two precut wires on a length of 3M’s Post-It Note tape and glued the weight 1 inch from one end. This small weight kept the pieces relatively well aligned, though I should have left a thin section of tape in place to help. The weight rods are also wire.
I must say I am very satisfied with the wire method and have thanked my friend. In fact, I may dust off some biplane kits and add some WW1 kits to my hangar. The entire process of rigging the Hawk took me about 3 hours, far less time than monofilament line or stretched sprue would have taken.
The last stages of the Hawk assembly involve installing the engine, cowl and propeller. The cowl fits tightly over the engine, without glue.
I also made a base to show off the aircraft. This is a sheet of Plastruct Cobblestone coated with Minwax Cherry woodstain. Once dry, I sanded the surface with 600 grit black sandpaper to allow the base color show through. I then sprayed it with TMM Dullcoat Lacquer and adorned it with diluted ink and Tamiya Clear Smoke oil stains. This will be a generic gravel display stand for shows. No radial engine aircraft is complete without oil stains, after all.
This is definitely not a kit for beginners. However, if you are familiar with Classic Airframes’ kits or other limited-run manufacturers and are undaunted by biplanes, you will definitely like this kit. It is an important member of the Curtiss Hawk lineage, a direct ancestor of the Hawk 75/ P36 series, and grandfather of the P-40 Warhawk series. It is also eye-catching in no small part with its landing gear.
Again, I find myself criticizing the instructions in this kit. Though definitely better than some Eastern European limited-run kit instructions, I feel Classic Airframes needs to provide better alignment information. Squadron’s book is a good reference, but doesn’t have any cockpit pictures of this particular aircraft, though there are pictures of earlier Hawk cockpits.
If Classic Airframes continued a line of Curtiss aircraft, I wouldn’t complain. In particular the P-6E fighter used by the Army would be very welcome, it was a beautiful, colorful fighter. My thanks to Classic Airframes for this review kit!