Many (including this writer) would argue that the Hellcat was the finest fighter of World War II: easy to make, easy to fly, and attuned perfectly to the weaknesses of its enemies. In stark contrast to the Japanese aircraft it opposed, it was tough enough to get young pilots back to their carriers after significant battle damage, and its versatility led to its extensive use as a fighter-bomber. Of the 6477 air-to-air kills scored by Navy and Marine pilots in World War II, 4847 were scored in Hellcats, and the type enjoyed a 19 to 1 kill ratio.
Modelers have long lamented the lack of a really accurate, state-of-the-art Spitfire in 1/72; the same argument can be made for the Hellcat. When Italeri’s kit arrived at my local hobby shop, I was in the process of kitbashing the Hasegawa and Academy kits. The Italeri kit solves one of the thornier problems, but introduces a host of new ones.
The kit is billed as an F6F-3, but clearly Italeri will release a -5 later. The fuselage halves have the rear windows flashed over, and these need to be opened for a -3. Unfortunately, Italeri wants the modeler to leave the front frame on the fuselage, making this task much more difficult than it needs to be. Academy’s approach provides the rear windows and front frames as part of the clear piece, allowing the modeler to mask and paint the frame, a far easier option.
The cockpit consists of a tub, a rear bulkhead, seat with molded-in straps, and a stick. The control panel has the shape of the panel right, but the gunsight is too high and the center pedestal is connected; in reality, this is separate from the main panel. The rear bulkhead lacks the curved cut-outs of the -3 (these were needed to see through the rear windows). All detail is provided by decals, which look rather poor.
Shape-wise, the fuselage looks good, although the tip of the fin is too rounded (no kit has gotten this right). The panel lines are all scribed. Two signal lights on the spine are cut in half astride the seam; why kit producers can’t figure out a way to move the seam off-center to preserve such details is beyond me.
The kit’s biggest problem is the texture used on the control surfaces. This looks like it was done with thick Celluclay or moistened toilet paper; while the ribs are slightly visible on the real Hellcat’s control surfaces, the fabric covering is tight as a drum. Every control surface in the kit needs to be puttied and sanded out in order for the model to not look like a neglected wreck.
If the control surfaces are the weak points, the treatment of the wheel wells and flaps are the strong points. The wheel wells are boxed in, except for at the rear. The rear of the wells was made up by the leading edge of the flaps, and Italeri cleverly provides dropped flaps, a first in any scale. Some of the scribing, like the shell ejection chutes, is a little weak, but in exchange the rocket rail holes are flashed over, unlike the Academy offering. Also unlike the Academy kit, there are no bomb racks provided.
While the propeller is good, the engine reduction gear cover is incomplete, blanking out from the magnetos on up. The cowling is decent in shape, but the open cowl flaps are unconvincing and provide a view of the incomplete engine area. Also, the cowl needs to be cut and modified to represent a -3 with two additional flaps at the bottom of the cowling. These are provided as separate pieces, as are the exhaust pipes and -3-style exhaust bulges.
The landing gear struts are nice and have only a hint of flash. The wheels are of the correct pattern but lack detail. The one-piece tailwheel is a real mess; for some reason, the lightening holes on the strut are represented as raised cylindrical projections. The drop tank depicts the version with the vertical reinforcement band, and external straps are provided.
The clear parts are another problem. The windscreen and sliding canopy are the later F6F-5 style, although an armored glass plate (a la the -3) is also included.
Decals are provided for three schemes: A U.S.S. Princeton-based VF-27 machine with the familiar snarling mouth in the markings of LT Richard Stambook (although the decal provided calls him “F.LT Stambook,” as if he had been shanghaied by the RAF); a second three-tone aircraft in the colors of U.S.S. San Jacinto’s VF-51, which carries nose art identifying it as “Little Joe;” and the Hellcat of LCDR Stanley G. Orr of 804 Squadron on H.M.S. Emperor, which is finished in the standard Royal Navy scheme of slate gray and dark sea gray over sky, although the box calls out European Green, Flat Gull Gray and Pale Green! Any modeler following these instructions will end up with a very weird looking Hellcat! The patterns shown for the three-tone scheme are also way off. To Italeri’s credit, the roundel red and the VF-27 markings are in different shades.
Anyone hoping for the ultimate 1/72 Hellcat from this kit will be disappointed. Still, for less than $10, you can get a reasonable starting point for a kitbash or super-detailing effort, as long as you keep your references handy.