The Vindicator was an attractive airplane, and one that gained some none-too-complimentary nicknames from its pilots: the "Wind-Indicator," based on its relatively slow speed (250 mph), and "Vibrator," a reference to the sensation caused by the Pratt & Whitney R-1525 Twin Wasp Engine on the long, streamlined fuselage. In reality, pilots liked the SB2U, and it was a revolutionary aircraft. Its pioneering status is indicated by its competitor, the Vought XSB3U, a biplane design ordered as a contingency against the monoplane's failure!
When the SB2U-1 entered service in 1937, Pilots loved the airplane, which provided them a stronger, more long-legged aircraft and gave them better all-around visibility. As war clouds gathered in 1939, Vought and the Navy worked to make the SB2U-3 more battle-ready by adding armor, provisions for four forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns (although only one was usually carried), and a greater internal fuel capacity that increased range from 635 miles to 1,120 miles.
The Navy never took the Vindicator into battle, and in fact the first planes of the bloodline to see service were 34 V-156-Fs of the French Navy. These performed well despite hopeless odds. However, when these few planes encountered German opposition, the situation was grim; a mission on May 20, 1940 to bomb bridges across the Oise River by 11 V-156-Fs was intercepted by Bf 109Es and five were shot down.
In the Pacific, the Vindicator saw its moment of glory, not in Navy markings but in those of the Marine Corps. On June 4, 1942, a PBY spotted aircraft from the Japanese Kido Butai and Midway's defenders launched all aircraft. The last aircraft launched in the first wave were 12 SB2U-3s. The Midway response was disorganized; the SBD-2s of VMSB-241 attacked the Hiryu on one side of the fleet, while the SB2U-3s arrived some minutes later and found themselves with virtually the rest of the fleet between themselves and the carriers!
On June 5, the remaining planes of VMSB-241 were dispatched to attack the cruisers Mogami and Mikuma, which had collided the previous night during an unsuccessful attack by the U.S. submarine Tambor. Six Vindicators attacked the Mikuma, but Capt. Richard Fleming's aircraft was hit almost immediately. Nevertheless, he scored a hit amidships on the cruiser, destroying the ship's aircraft on their catapults and causing flames from burning fuel to be sucked down an intake system, detonating fumes in the starboard engine room and killing every sailor in the compartment. Mikuma was finished off the next morning by a strike from Hornet and Enterprise.
VMSB-241 eventually transitioned to Dauntlesses, but when it made its final transition to the current model SBD in September 1943, it still had three Vindicators on strength!
This long introduction to the Vindicator is important, because the MPM kit is the best injection-molded kit to capture the SB2U-3, arguably the most important variant. Your editor has kits from Meikraft and Pegasus on his desk along with the new MPM kit, and this new Vindicator is a -3 while Meikraft kit is a -1 and the Pegasus kit provides an attempt at doing a -1, -2 or -3 but comes up a little short (the wings are -3 all the way). In addition to far superior detailing and molding, the MPM kit has the longer horizontal tail, which allows you to build a -3, Chesapeake or V-156 but not one of the more colorful -1 or -2 models.
The kit contains 41 injection-molded parts, ten resin parts and an injection-molded canopy. Two of the things MPM has done in the recent past--omitting the photo-etched parts and replacing the vacuformed canopies with single-position injection molded parts--have not been steps in the right direction, and you can clearly see in this kit how they're affecting MPM's design strategy.
The interior consists of a cockpit floor, a pair of plastic seats, the decking for the radio compartment, a scarf ring in plastic, a resin machine gun, a two-piece plastic control panel and a pair of sections of the tube structure of the cockpit sides. There are small and poorly detailed plastic parts that attach to the tube structure to replicate the throttle quadrant and electrical distribution panel. A rollover brace goes behind the pilot's seat. There are also two control columns, which is odd because the SB2U-3 was a single-control aircraft. Leave out the radioman/gunner's stick, and figure out how to plug the hole in the floor! To be frank, since thekit includes resin parts, the provision of such parts as these and the equally mushy-looking control panel really lets down MPM's efforts on the rest of the model, and the single-piece canopy, while it may be clear, wouldn't allow viewers to look inside. This is a far cry from MPM's past efforts, where the interiors were often the highlight of the kit.
Externally, the kit's a beauty. The panel lines are recessed, with features like the reinforcement strip at the wing root in restrained raised detail. The wings and fuselage have a lovely fabric effect--not overdone, but visible. The lower wings are missing panel lines for the flaps, instead providing one long, unbroken flap that spans the entire bottom of the plane. The landing gear and bomb displacement gear are okay, but need some attention to clean up mold flash. The wheels are very nice. A 1000-pound bomb is provided in halves, and two 100-pounders are provided in resin. Small pylons for the wings, and a tailwheel are provided as separate parts.
The resin parts include a bomb sighting telescope and bomb cradle hardware, which are both very well done.
The engine front is another resin piece, which goes between the two halves of the cowling. A reasonably good propeller goes into a hole in the engine crankcase, and two stubs of plastic simulate the exhaust stacks. Metal tubing would be a better alternative.
All is going well until we reach the most challenging part of building an SB2U-3: the oil cooler/carburetor air intake scoop on the cowling. This was a wide, square-mouthed fairing on the starboard side of the upper cowling. MPM's part is too long, too narrow and rounded at the front, making it completely inaccurate. The modeler is going to have to scratchbuild this part; MPM's attempt is absolutely useless.
The decals include Marmande's aircraft #6 from VMSB-241 at Midway, a VMSB-2 aircraft at Ewa from March to December 1941 and a VMSB-131 plane based at Camp Mitchell, North Carolina in 1941. The Midway bird wears a worn scheme of non-specular blue gray over non-specular light gray, while the North Carolinian and Hawaiian SB2U-3s are overall non-specular light gray. These two planes are also historically interesting; the VMSB-131 plane was flown by CAPT Jack Cram, who won the Navy Cross at Midway for attacking the Japanese fleet in a PBY, while the VMSB-2 plane was destroyed at Pearl Harbor.
The decals are quite nice, and include optional red centers as well as pink centers to replicate the effect of painted-out red centers.
This effort is by far the best SB2U in 1/72 scale, but it's still a disappointment. The substandard interior parts and grotesque carburetor/oil cooler scoop mean that anyone serious about building an accurate Vindicator will have to do a bit of scratchbuilding. However, your editor is serious about building a "Wind Indicator," and MPM hasn't provided any challenges a determined modeler can't overcome.