AML 1/72 North American O-47A
Observation was the primary task of the first military aircraft, and during World War I they performed an important job. With aviation in its infancy and neither side having air superiority, the concept of the observer airplane was thought to be a good one, with limited vulnerability. This mentality continued until the Second World War, with just about every major military power producing dedicated observation aircraft. The United States came up with several designs, including the North American O-47, a pot-bellied mid-wing design that was slow and offered a great view. North American designed the O-47 to have a conventional pilot/crew arrangement under a large greenhouse canopy. The observer was positioned underneath this in a cockpit that featured a window in the bottom and two windows on either side right underneath the wings, offering an unobstructed panoramic view.
Production of the O-47 started in 1935, with 239 examples being built. Ninety-three went to the Air National Guard, while the rest ended up in USAAC service. The Air Guard trained extensively with the O-47, as did the USAAC and both eventually came to the conclusion that the O-47 was very vulnerable to the current crop of fighters. This led to the removal of the O-47 from front-line squadrons and they were pulled back to the continental U.S. Some remained on the Philippines and saw action against theJapanese, where their slow speed and limited armament quickly proved once and for all that the observation plane was a throwback to a bygone age. There is a place for everything, however, and the O-47 saw limited service on the Atlantic seaboard as an anti-submarine platform, where its slow speed and excellent visibility was used to great effect.
The AML kit of the O-47 captures the potbellied appearance of the real plane very well. Molded in a medium gray plastic, the detail is very crisp in some areas and soft in others. The level of detail varies as well, ranging from one of the best injection radial engines that I have seen in a long time to fabric stiffeners that look like 2x4s on the elevators and rudder. This is definitely not going to be a one-day kit, but with care, it should build up nicely.
The cockpit is separated into each of the three stations, and there is adequate detail throughout to give a decent representation straight out of the box. The instrument panel is a beautifully etched two-piece brass assembly done by Extratech. That,coupled with the relief etching on the brass itself, will result in a very realistic looking instrument panel. The seats could use some cleaning up and the addition of seat belts, which curiously are not included in the brass details. The observer's section comes complete with both seats, with the option of building one in the stowed position. There is plenty of bracing to add throughout the cockpit, and once finished and painted up should look quite busy. Positioning the finished cockpit inside the fuselage will be somewhat tricky, as there aren’t any locating pegs or marks. Some careful dry fitting and trimming will be needed to get all the bulkheads to fit snugly up against the fuselage stringers molded into the fuselage halves.
Once the fuselage is together, the next challenge is the wings. There are no locating tabs and no markings as to where the wings should go. The only thing you have to work with is the under-wing observation window. There is a notch on the wings that match up with those window openings. You'll have to be very careful here to make sure you get these things lined up just right. At least there aren't any wing fillets that you'll have to worry about smoothing down.
After that, everything is downhill. The kit provides two copies of the upper greenhouse canopy, but only one of the underside and wing canopies, and all are vacuformed. There is a little distortion in the plastic, but not much to worry about. A much more worrisome problem is going to be masking that greenhouse canopy. Don't expect EZ Mask to come out with a set for this kit for a while. There are a total of 45 individual window panes in the greenhouse canopy that will need to be masked off. That sounds like fun, doesn't it?
The O-47 came in two different color schemes. The kit provides markings for one in olive drab over neutral gray, with yellow serial numbers and standard star-in-circle national insignia. The other option not provided in the kit is the natural metal finish of the O-47s just off the assembly line and up to the early 1940s. You would have to dig through your decal spares box, but this option has the potential of being much more colorful, with the red, white and blue rudder striping.
Whatever the final choice in markings is, building the AML O-47 looks to be a great kit to practice those modeling skills on. While no box-shaker, there is enough detail to make a great example out of the box. That greenhouse cockpit will really show off a lot if you decide to go to town in superdetailing. Whatever your tastes are, this kit will provide a great example of an interesting plane.