Monogram Pro Modeler 1:48 SB2C-4 Curtiss Helldiver
Bomber Squadron VB-12 aboard USS Randolph (CV-15), 1945.
Build Date: Start May 13, 2019, Finished July 13, 2019.
The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was intended to be an advanced and better dive bomber to replace the ageing SBD Dauntless in November 1943. After the war in the Pacific in 1945, the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was relegated to second-line units, and eventually soon retired from service entirely in 1949.
The Helldiver was not a much-liked aircraft by both pilots and carrier Commanders. The first SB2C-1 were delivered to the Fleet in fall 1943 after an exceptionally long gestation period. The “dash one” was rushed out without proper pilot transition time and host of performance problems such as lack of carrier qualification, underpowered, poor reliability issues, and short-range. Struggling and disliked in the Fleet, the optimal SB2C-4 finally arrived in time for the first Tokyo strikes on February 1945. The dash four had a more powerful R-2600 engine, a four-bladed Curtiss electric propeller, improved dive flaps and addition of rocket rails. The final variant, SB2C-5 entered service in summer 1945. The improvements to the dash 5 were:
- A larger fuel tanks capacity which helped to improve the short-range issue,
- The bomb bay was lengthened. The bomb bay door had a cutout or a notch on the leading edge.
- The formation light on top of each wing tip was changed from the small teardrop type to a large round flush type. However, the dash 5 was not used in combat during WWII.
- Inside the cockpit, side consoles were used for the first time to declutter the controls.
- A frameless canopy for the pilot cockpit was introduced.
After WWII, the SB2C had a second chance in combat life when SB2C-5s were sold to Italy, France, Great Britain, Australia, and Greece. Despite a lacklustre life in the US NAVY, the Helldiver proved itself worthy when the Helldiver was used in Indochina where the French were fighting against the Viet Minh Communists who wanted to free the Vietnamese people from French colonial rule.
The Pro Modeler 1:48 SB2C-4 kit was issued in 1999. It was one of Monogram‘s new production issued under their high-end brand – ProModeler. This kit has both recessed panel lines and some raised rivets details. It accurately depicts a dash 4 aircraft. This same kit was reissued under the Accurate Miniature brand around mid -2000, as I recall. Bert Kinzey has an excellent review of this kit in his Detail and Scale SB2C book.
Using the base kit, one could backdate it to a late model dash 3 without a lot of work but anything prior to that would be a chore. Doing a proper dash 5 from the kit will require a bit of work as well. Specifically,
- Scrape off the inner frames from the pilot’s canopy. This will be very difficult to achieve a good finish with the kit’s canopy. It would be better to make a new canopy from scratch.
- Scratch build a new side console (cannot use the pilot’s cockpit side details in the True Details resin cockpit set),
- Lengthen the bomb bay and scratch build a new bomb bay door, and
- Delete the spinner.
The kit is fairly detailed as-is. However, since both cockpits are very open and highly visible, I opted to use the True Details (ex-KMC) resin cockpit set.
This set is inexpensive at only $17 Cdn and it provides more detail improvements over the kit parts. Note that this set is accurate for an SB2C-4 only. As with all early True Details resin products, their packaging is just a bag full of resin and does not have the protection of a plastic box. As such, small and thin protruding parts are broken and I have to scratch build a few parts to replace the broken pieces. In later years, Squadron began to package the parts in a clear expanded plastic case which reduced the occurrence of broken parts.
Installing this resin set requires only minor work on the kit fuselage to remove the existing raised details so it’s not so much effort. However, locating where to glue the new resin side panels, rear radio boxes, and other stuff is challenging as there are no locating marks to guide me. I spent about four hours of trial and error attachment of all the resin parts along with the kit parts before I felt safe enough to permanently attach them together. A word of advice here is that it is absolutely necessary to have a few clear reference photos to use as guides when using this set.
The Observer/Gunner swivel seat and gun ring mount are enhanced by adding seat belts made from wine bottle wrapper. The gun ring mount from the kit is too thick and the holes are not open. Although the kit’s photoedge set provides a replacement metal ring, which looks better than the plastic one, I opted to scratch build the ring mount from styrene.
The next improvement to the kit is to cut the wings and scratch build the wing fold details. I think aircraft carrier planes look the best and purposeful when their wings are folded. Also, I cut the elevators from the stabilizers and posed them in the drooping position as they would normally be when parked.
KMC has a photoedge wing fold set and Wolfpack has a resin wing fold sets for this model. Based on photos of these two sets I would say the KMC set provides a much better visual presentation of the wing fold, but it might be difficult to use and the joints might be weak due to the photoedge parts. The Wolfpack’s resin details are very basic and certainly, do not do justice to the 3-D depth of details. However, it would easier to assemble and would provide stronger folded wings. To save some money, I will scratch build the wing folds myself. The details are not all that difficult and I certainly enjoy the challenge of scratch building them.
I begin by tracing out the wing rib pattern at the wing break using a contour gauge and then draw it onto a sheet of styrene. Lightening holes in the ribs are drilled/cut out in the ribs as per reference photos. Then, I glue a backer strip in each piece of the wing to support/align the rib. Once the ribs are secured, I cut and glue on the rib strengtheners. Everything else is pretty much just trial and error fitting and careful build-up of various parts. The photos are pretty much self-explanatory.
With the wing folds completed, I decided to add some three-dimensional depth to the voluminous landing gear bays. I added some of the more noticeable hydraulic tubings. I made them from 0.3mm solder wires and stretched sprue.
I thought about riveting the entire model but I doubt if the recessed rivets will show up well on a dark blue surface. So as an experiment I will rivet only the wing surfaces and selected parts of the fuselage and see how that will turn out.
I painted the cockpit, wheel wells, and bomb bay with Model Master Zinc Chromate Green. This is the correct colour to use. Here’s a period photo of a Helldiver that will verify that zinc chromate green is the correct colour to use for these areas.
The fit of this model is good, but it still needed some putty to fill smooth the seams. Area such as the windshield does require a bit of Tamiya putty to bridge the gap. To reduce the amount of sanding of the putty, I soften and smooth out the putty with a bit of nail polish remover applied on a Q-tip. When the putty is dry, I softly sanded the remaining putty smooth.
The bomb bay is posed in the open position and the opened bay doors are very visible. The doors, with it’s lightening holes, created a visually pleasing and obvious 3-D effect highlighting the gap between the two metal panels that make up the doors. The kit’s bay doors are moulded in one piece and lack this 3-D depth effect. I think it is worth the effort to recreate this effect and so I proceed to build a set of new bay doors from styrene.
The “correct” paint tonality for WWII aircraft is a topic that can turn super nasty on Website discussion groups and at model contests. I don’t give a shit if somebody thinks my colour on a model is a shade off: as long as I’m in the ballpark then that’s good enough. I just want to create a model that looks good and mostly resemble what we see on historical photos. So on that note, most late war US NAVY aircraft, especially at the time when the war was brought to mainland Japan, were painted in overall Glossy Sea Blue (FS 15042) in an effort to simplify painting of aircraft.
A website called Pond5 has a video which clearly shows the Helldivers of USS Randolph which can be used for reference. On the photo above, note the clean and gloss finish on the USS Randolph’s Helldiver number 2. One can preview this video at this link https://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/86821385/uss-randolphs-flight-deck-activities
Even in 1945, some Helldivers still retained the tri-colour camouflage consisting of gloss dark sea blue/non-specular sea blue and non-specular white. I have read that the meaning of “non-specular” is another way of saying flat sheen.
On this project, I am replicating a SB2C-4 Helldiver aircraft number 2 from Bomber Squadron Twelve (VB-12) aboard USS Randolph CV-15 from February to May 1945.
The Helldivers from that carrier were in overall Gloss Sea Blue (GSB) as confirmed by the colour photo above. Unit markings consist of white strips on the tail and solid white on the ailerons. I used Model Master Dark Sea Blue (FS 15042) to paint this model. When compared to most reference photos, I feel that this paint best represented the dark blue tone of GSB. The other option I have on hand is the Tamiya XF-17 Sea Blue. However, when I spray a test patch and compared the tonal variation against Model Master, I find the Tamiya colour is a bit too green for GSB, but if you like it then use it. The other option is Xtracrylix Glossy Sea Blue.
Looking at period photos of these Navy aircraft, I noted from many pictures that the gloss Sea Blue paint is often slightly lighter than the stars and bars markings on the upper wing and fuselage. To achieve this effect, I made a batch of paint to use as the base paint by adding small amounts of a white to the Model Master Dark Sea Blue.
The top surfaces of the wing under the wing slats were painted with the same dark sea blue as the wing: not red nor green chromate. The underside of the wing leading edge slats was painted in the same colour as the underside of the wing. The prove is found on the below colour photo found at Axis and Allied PaintWork web forum and World War Photos. These websites have a treasure trove of photos of SB2C. In the below photo, note that there is no paint scratches down to the metal along the wing leading edges, however, there could be superficial paint scratches near the walkway area and that is backed up by some photos.
I begin the painting process by spraying green zinc chromate to all the masked off canopy frames.
To paint a monochromatic finish so that the GSB paint finish will look a bit sun faded, I mixed a lighter shade of the base paint by adding some Intermediate Blue to the Dark Sea Blue.
The model is first sprayed with a coat of Dark Sea Blue. After letting the base coat dry enough to the touch, I randomly sprayed on blotches of the lighter shade all over the airframe. This is followed by a light overspray of the base colour over the lighter shade to help blend them in. I keep repeating this process until I obtain the desired discolouration effect of minor tonal variation. These carrier aircraft were kept in good condition so I don’t want the effect to be over exaggerated. The blending will continue when I apply a wash over the panel lines and the semi-gloss clear coat.
The engine is provided as just one bank of cylinders, but that is good enough since you won’t be able to see the aft cylinders bank once the cowl is installed. The ignition wires are provided as a sheet of photoedge and it looks effective.
The white unit tail stripes are masked and painted.
The surfaces under the diving brake flaps are painted with Inginia Red and installed. The photoedge brake surfaces provided by the kit is nice and look very realistic when installed.