As early as 1938 Grumman was looking for a replacement for the stubby winged F4F Wildcat. The contract was signed and work began on a prototype, designated XF6F-1, in June 1941. The prototype was designed to address many of the shortcomings seen on the Wildcat. A larger engine, wider track landing gear, folding wings, lower wings instead of the Wildcat's midwing design and hydraulically activated landing gear (as opposed to the Wildcat's hand cranked ones). The first flight took place on June 26. 1942. Operationally, the Hellcat went on to be one of the most successful fighters of WWII, racking up an incredible kill to loss ratio of 13.1 against the extremely agile but equally fragile A6M Zero and a 9.5:1 kill to loss against the Ki-84 Hayate. The Hellcat was an ace-maker, with 305 Navy and Marine Corps pilots achieving that status. Through it's operational life, the Hellcat underwent numerous variations including a dedicated night fighter.
I built several of Airfix's 1/24 kits in the 1970's. By 1970's standards they were quite good, with detailed engines and cockpits, moveable control surfaces and armament. They featured recessed panel lines and recessed, though fairly overstated rivets. By today's standards they would be considered a little primitive but can still be built up into outstanding and impressive models with a fair amount of scratch building and detail work.
Airfix's 1/24 F6F-5 Hellcat is literally light years ahead of those old kits. The first thing that gets your attention is the sheer size of the box. The box is 26"x14"x6". Upon opening, the size of the sprues is equally impressive. This kit is going to build up into a very large and highly detailed model. The detail is absolutely fantastic. The Hellcat fuselage was constructed of lap jointed panels. Airfix has faithfully replicated the lapped panels. The wings were butt jointed and Airfix faithfully replicates those too with fine recessed panel lines and rivets. Airfix went as far as to replicate the dimples observed in stressed skin construction. The engine is a kit all by itself with details very finely replicated. There is a provision to insert a small motor to spin the propeller but they are very difficult to find and I will not bother to install one. The instruction booklet (and it is a booklet, all 72 pages of it) is extremely well done with clear and concise drawings and even graphics. Apart from some engine and cockpit wiring, there is not a lot of extra work I will have to do on this. A very refreshing change of pace!
As I do before each build, I spend a good amount of time (usually a few days) familiarizing myself with all of the sprues and studying the instructions to get a good gameplan about what I am going to do over and above the normal construction of the kit. I study my references and decide what it is I want to add or correct to the existing kit. Often times there are videos on YouTube or other sources where people have built that particular kit and are often a good resource to point out any potential difficulties with fit, etc., in the kit. I will often also get some Waldron cockpit placards and instruments if I can find them. Since Roll Models bought Waldron, the availability of the various placards, instruments and seat belt hardware is spotty at best.
Something I have done on several large scale builds where I want to increase the level of detail in the finished model, I procure a PDF copy of the E&M (Erection and Maintenance) Manual for the aircraft. All WWII American aircraft have them. Mach One Manuals or other sources are a great resource to get downloads of these manuals. Most are under $20 and you might even manage to find one that is offered free of charge. They are a fantastic resource for adding additional details such as wiring, plumbing, avionics and additional aircraft details. As they are intended to be used by ground crew for maintenance of the actual (not restored) aircraft, they are a much better resource for how the aircraft looked while it was in operational service.
As is customary, I begin with the cockpit. Unlike with most kits I build, there is little I really need to add to the kit to bring it up to my usually standard. The seat may need to be rebuilt as it is kind of thick. Although Waldon Products did make a 1/24 scale Cockpit Placard set, an exhaustive search of the www yielded zero results. I have used the 1/48 and 1/32 versions on two previous Hellcats and they are outstanding. Fortunately, Eduard makes a cockpit set for this kit. It has all the placards and a printed instrument panel, which is the next best thing to the Waldron set. The rear bulkhead has a lot of detail but some of the items have some detail that is lacking. I will add what I need with styrene rod and strip, styrene, brass and aluminum sheet and wire or solder.
There is little detail on the back of the pilot's bulkhead but since I will be leaving the access hatch open, I decided to detail the back of the bulkhead as well. The numerous ejection pin marks also needed to be filled. There is an additional bulkhead provided in the kit as well as a shelf. I have detailed the rear bulkhead but will be adding additional boxes on the shelf with associated wiring once it is attached.
Given the level of attention to detail in this kit, I found it a little disappointing that the fuselage fuel tank, which will be visible behind the bulkhead if you leave the fuselage access hatch open, was left out. But not to worry, it is easily remedied. Using Grumman drawings and the E&M manual I constructed one out of sheet styrene.
With the fuel tank and the avionics boxes and associated wiring complete, the rear part of the pilot's bulkhead is complete. There is a lot of work to be done with flight control cabling and wiring for the radios and other avionics boxes to be done, but that will be completed as the build continues. The avionics, oxygen bottle and fuel tank are just temporarily in place for photos; they will be removed before painting. Next up will be to start working on the cockpit forward of the bulkhead.
The wiring and plumbing on the cockpit floor is done.
I have just placed the scratch built seat and modified rudder troughs in place. Next up will be painting both sides of the bulkhead and work on the instrument panel, front console and side consoles.
Details on both sides of the firewall are complete. There was an annoying amount of ejection pin marks which needed to be filled. They were not deep so it was not a difficult task. The area on the lower edges of the firewall was solid. In the E&M manual it is shown as a piece of stamped aluminum. I thinned the are to about 0.030" thickness and drilled out the holes. Most of the detailing is on the engine side. There is not much point of adding anything more on the cockpit side as the instrument panel and center console will cover it. The small pieces of PE on the tops of the rudder pedals are grooved and say "Grumman". They are out of the Eduard interior kit. I redid the linkages in the pneumatic cylinders for the brakes. I love to do the detail work but it is a waste of time to do it if it will never be seen. The electrical boxes are in place but I will wait until later when the engine is constructed to add the wiring and plumbing.
Both the pilot's round oxygen handle and elevator trim wheel were solid but the references clearly showed both as spoked. The parts were pretty small but I made a template with 3 cutouts 120º apart. I marked the 3 spokes on both wheels and then used a 0.015" carbide drill bit to cut out the spokes.
At this point it is ready to begin painting.
The sidewalls are finally complete. Since I could not find any Waldron cockpit placards I settled for the Eduard set. The quality of the placards is outstanding, even the finest stenciling is well delineated. I did not use the kit throttle quadrant and levers, opting to use either the Eduard piece of just scratch building the levers. I used styrene rod to add the control rods for the throttle, mixture and supercharger, as well as the rudder and elevator trim control rods. The fact that the Eduard stuff is already painted saved a lot of time. The interior green they used matched the Vallejo acrylic I am using perfectly.
Last up is the instrument panel and the cockpit will be complete. From there it will be on to the engine.
The instrument panel and gunsight are finally done. I added another yellow tinted reflector glass to the gunsight and the yaw spirit level. The cockpit is finally done. Now it is onto the radio and avionics area behind the pilot's bulkhead.
I took a slight detour when my decals arrived. I plan on finishing this model in the markings of CAPT. (then CDR and CAG) David McCampbell's "Minsi III", the leading US Navy ace in WWII and CMH recipient. But there is a hitch. Although CDR McCampbell's Minsi III was an F6F-5, it was an early one that still had the F6F-3 windows behind that cockpit. They were found to be basically useless so they were eventually deleted. The decals I found, by Aerocraft also had a resin conversion to backdate the -5 for McCampbells aircraft, at least as far as the windows go, but I chose not to use it. The clear resin is very clear but the detail work, especially the rivets, does not match particularly well. And it would mean making a big cut in the fuselage which would require a redo a lot of rivets. Instead, I chose to just use the -3 drawings and cut out the windows myself. I marked them on the fuselage in pencil and use my circle template to get the right curvature for the corners. I drilled out the corners and then cut the rest of the window with an X-Acto 1" razor saw. Doing this meant adding some bracing between the pilot's rear bulkhead former and the next one aft. I will cut the windows from the styrene from a CD jewel case. The thickness of the styrene from the jewel case is almost exactly the same as that of the kit so it will work out perfectly.
I added the radios, wiring, control cables and permanently attached the cockpit and aft bulkheads. With that the starboard side of the model is complete with the exception of the tail landing gear. There is some additional detailing in the tailwheel well and the fuselage halves will be ready to be joined.
The tailwheel area is not very complex, but Airfix did leave off two of the four bulkheads so I added them with styrene sheet. I added some details to the tailwheel strut and drilled out the holes in the tailwheel. I cut the tailwheel off and reworked it so it will caster. I also added the extension, retraction spring by winding 0.010" soldier around a piece of 0.020" brass rod. There is a chain drive to extend and retract the tailwheel but unlike the 1/32 Hasegawa Hellcat I did, I chose not to bother here. The Hasegawa Hellcat tailwheel well was painted interior green so a black chain will be very visible. In a glossy sea blue wheel well like this one, a black chain will barely be visible. It would be a lot of work for something you really won't be able to see. I already have over 2 months in this kit at this stage of construction, I don't see any gain in spending hours on things that will not be visible.
The right side of the fuselage is now complete so it is off to the engine and engine mount.
Nearly 3 whole sprues are devoted just to the engine and propeller. Strangely, the tips of the prop are somewhat squared off. The Hamilton Standard 13'1" diameter propeller mounted on the Hellcat had rounded tips. It will be a simple task to correct the shape.
The propeller governor was pretty basic. The two areas of the model which are the "Showcase Areas" are the cockpit and engine, especially if it is a radial engine so I will spend the majority of my time there. I started with the front of the engine and will work backwards. The propeller governor is pretty basic. I found an excellent photo of one so it formed the basis of the work. This was 6 hours worth of scratch building. The cooling fins are pieces of 0.005" styrene sheet. The propeller shaft was solid, though it should be hollow and the splines to hold the propeller in place were flush with the sides of the shaft, which of course would do no good. I drilled out the center of the shaft, drilled 8 holes around the top and added pieces of 0.010" x 0.020" styrene strip to build up the splines. There is a hexagonal nut at the center of the spinner so I drilled out the rod in the center and replaced it with a piece of 0.040" styrene hex rod. I also added the "bolts" to the nuts that are holding the spinner halves together using pieces of 0.010" styrene rod.
The other component of the propeller governor is now complete. There is not much work needed on the magnetos so after that next up is the carburetor/accessory section.
After about 2 weeks of work the engine is finally complete. The exhaust piping still has to be installed but that should not take long. Radial engines are notorious "leakers" so I dirtied this one a good bit
I spent the better part of a day doing the exhaust stubs. They are very convoluted and each piece had two parts. The first two were an exercise in frustration but once I got into a rhythm, they went pretty smoothly. It was here that the very tight tolerances in this kit became the most apparent. It took some fiddling to get the stubs past push rods, heat shields and spark plug wires until they fit into their respective holes. I really did not have to do much here, I drilled out the exhaust stub ends to a more scale thickness and filled seams in the pieces. I painted them Testors Metalizer "Burnt Iron" and then weathered them with pastels. All of the supercharger bits are together and painted, I just have to connect everything up. The large oil tank that attaches to the bulkhead is well detailed, but strangely enough, has no oil line piping. Not to worry, a little bit of solder will fix that.