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When the United States entered WWII in December, 1941, the stubby Grumman F4F Wildcat was the only front line fighter the US Navy had. It did not take long to find out that the Wildcat was inferior to the Japanese Zero in most respects. It could not turn or climb with the Zero. It did, however, have better diving speed, pilot armor and self self-sealing fuel tanks. The later versions, beginning with the F4F-4, when the armament was upgraded to (6) .50 caliber machine guns instead of 4, it had superior armament as well. It's greatest strength over the Zero, however, was its ruggedness. It could take a considerable amount of punishment and keep flying whereas the lightly built Zero, without pilot armor or self-sealing fuel tanks, was easily shredded by the .50 caliber machine guns. When fought capitalizing on the Wildcat's strengths to the Zero's weaknesses and in the hands of a skilled pilot, it was a worthy adversary 

The Kit

This kit has a rather storied history. When the kit was released in 2003, the fuselage outline and other details were so far off that Stevens International, Trumpeter's US distributor, refused to release it the US until they re-tooled it. Trumpeter responded and re-tooled the fuselage and other parts. Some parts, like the firewall, they did not re-tool so it has a big gap at the top.

This kit is reminiscent of Trumpeter's earliest 1/32 offerings. The cockpit is over-simplified, as is the firewall and engine. I am going to pretty much toss the cockpit and scratch build a new one and toss the firewall and scratch build one there as well. 

The Cockpit

I started with the cockpit floor. The basic shape was ok so I did not see any point in scrapping it and scratch building it. However the first thing I did was to take the Dremel and a carbide grinding bit and skeletonized it somewhat and removed all detail, including the hump that covers the control column and control linkages and cables. I cut a section from a piece of 1/2" styrene tube and made a new hump. The rudder troughs were wrong so they were scratch built from 0.004" soda can aluminum. When they are painted I can rub some steel wool over them to simulate worn paint. Trumpeter also left off two structural members on each side of the floor so they were scratch built from 0.005" styrene sheet. The fuel tank is not to scale but I made it only large enough that will be visible through the holes in the floor. 

Cockpit floor.jpg

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. The kit seat was too small, way too thick and the wrong shape. It got tossed and a new one scratch built 0.005" styrene sheet and 0.040" and 0.020" styrene rod.

Wildcat Seat.jpg

For reasons known only to them, Trumpeter left a large 1/8" deep recess around where the wings attach to the fuselage. This recess is visible not only through the cockpit but in wheel wells as well. I cut a piece of 0.005" styrene sheet slightly larger than the opening and covered this recess. The inside of the fuselage halves (and the wings for that matter) are covered with large ejector pin sink marks. Unfortunately, they are a good bit larger than the largest punch in my Waldron punch set so I have to cut them by hand. The one in the cockpit will be quite noticeable. 

Wing Root.jpg

Like the seat, the control column was in dire need of replacement. The control column grip is badly misshapen and the column itself is undersized in diameter. The kit control column depicts the canvas boot that covers the linkage. Often times, the salty environment and high humidity in the Pacific theatre resulted in the canvas boots rotting and in many cases they were either removed or not replaced when they were worn out. I chose to model this one with the boot off. The linkage below is fairly simple and straightforward to scratch build. 

Control Column.jpg

The rudder pedals were actually well depicted so not a lot of work needed to be done on them. The pneumatic cylinders on each were not well depicted so I scratch built them as well as some linkage on the bottom. I wrapped some 0.010 wire around a piece of 0.030 brass rod to simulate the springs.  The center console was also incorrect, being solid. I scratch built one from 0.010" styrene sheet with the cutouts in it replicated. 

Pilot center console.jpg

The cockpit consoles, on the other hand, were not well depicted. The detail was soft and in many cases, non-existent or incorrect. They are both going to need to be scratch built. I managed to find a set of Archer Transfers (no Waldron Placard set is available for the Wildcat) so they will spruce up the cockpit a little and add a level of realism. 

The left console took 2 days to complete, the right console is a lot more complicated. 


L Console 1.jpg

With the addition of the two pouches, the left side of the cockpit is now complete


L side cockpit.jpg

As expected, the right console was considerably more complex than the left console, taking about 3 days to complete. Currently there is no detail on the front of the electrical distribution box because there is an Archer Transfer that will go on it and then the toggle switches and knobs will be added


R Console.jpg

On the topic of toggle switches, though they are a little difficult to see because they are so small (there are two on the side of the electrical distribution box), I used cast resin switches by ANYZ. They are absolutely incredible. A set of them runs around 17€ (not bad now that 1€ = $1USD) but has 200 switches on them. I got two and will keep one as a casting master when I have used up the other set. They are made in Germany so it takes a while to get them. 



With the addition of the radio boxes above the console, the right side of the cockpit is complete. More work needs to be done forward of the firewall but I will do that when I get to that stage. I also opened up the access panel on the right side to be able to see the radio gear, which will also be scratch built. Cutting out the panel is one thing, but the thickness of the fuselage will be way out of scale so I thinned the around the opening to almost paper thinness to it is to scale. 


Right Fuselage.jpg

Because the left side of the cockpit will be visible from the access hatch, I decided to replicate the formers and stringers. The formers are constructed of 0.060" wide U-Channel and the stringers 0.010" x 0.040" strip. Next will be to fabricate the radio and avionics boxes. 


L side cockpit 2.jpg

I had initially decided that I would use the kit piece and trace it onto 0.040" styrene sheet but thought, why not just use the kit piece and grind off all the detail, it should fi......... Oh wait, this is Trumpeter, NEVER assume something "should fit". And I was not disappointed. I do, however, think I know what happened here. When Stevens told Trumpeter to fix the profile gaffes or they would not distribute it in the US, Trumpeter, to their credit, did indeed go back to the drawing board and re-tool the fuselage. However they forgot to re-tool the firewall, resulting in big gaps on the top and side. Apparently they did not re-tool the instrument panel either. I built up the top with some strips of .030" x .040" styrene strip until I got it to fit snugly. Granted, the glare shield on the Wildcat is pretty deep and the gap would probably not even be visible, but I just cannot let stuff like this go. 


Inst Panel.jpg

The instrument panel is complete. The details on the instrument and side panels was soft and lacking so I scratch built them. The panels are held on to the bulkhead with some two sided tap to check fit and photograph.  Waldron instruments will be inserted once assembly and painting is complete. The main instrument panel actually sits out a bit from the rest of the panel so a few pieces of styrene. The kit gunsight will take some work.


Finished Inst Panel.jpg
L fuselage half2.jpg

The supports for the radio/avionics platforms are complete, as well the aux fuel tank, pneumatic accumulator and rudder/elevator cables have been added. The cables will be pulled taught when all is done. Next up is to build the radio/avionics equipment



The avionics are for the most part complete. Most of the boxes are constructed of 0.010" sheet styrene. A couple of the smaller ones are cut from strip stock. They will be painted along with the interior of the fuselage and installed then. To give some idea of scale, the small, cube-shaped box all the way to the left is about 0.25" (6.35mm) cubed. Even in 1/32 scale, some things can still be very small. 


Completed Avionics.jpg

The avionics boxes have been tacked in place with double sided tape to check fit. They will be removed and painted and installed with all the "wires" once the inside of the fuselage has been painted as well. 


Forward Bulkhead.

Firewall Comparison.jpg

The forward bulkhead has numerous issues which have been well documented on the web so I will not rehash them. Suffice it to say that the detail is rudimentary and inaccurate in places and there are shape issues for the same reason the instrument panel did, mentioned previously. I used a contour gauge and to make a template and corrected the outline with 0.040" styrene sheet. I then took a Dremel and large cutting bit and ground it smooth. I will cover it with a piece of 0.005" styrene sheet to get a perfectly uniform surface and also allow me to add raised "rivets" from behind using a ponce wheel. I have been unable to find any 1/32 aftermarket chain so it looks like I will be scratch building the chains used to raise and lower the landing gear.


Firewall before and after.jpg

The bulkhead is now complete with the exception of the chains. The difference is marked.  I am still deciding how I am going to duplicate them


Firewall slant.jpg
Wheel well mismatch.jpg
Finished Engine.jpg

I have a change of heart on the engine. There are casting issues with the fronts of the rear bank of cylinders in the resin engine so I will take the time to bring the kit engine up to snuff as best I can. The accessory section, though is going to get pitched and scratch-built. In addition to somewhat fictional detail, it does not include the carburetor so that will be scratch-built as well. There is also a major (at least in my opinion) gaffe regarding the location of the exhaust manifold. Trumpeter has the exhaust manifolds coming out of the center of the rear sides of the cylinders. Nearly all radial engines had two spark plugs per cylinder, and the P&W R-1830 is no exception. The exhaust manifolds exited the cylinders on the left side (looking from rear to front) and the air intakes on the right side of each cylinder. I will construct the air intakes out of solder and rotate the exhaust manifold and move the exhaust stubs. I have drilled holes in the front of the cylinders and inserted pieces of 0.040 hexagonal rod to simulate the bases of the spark plugs, I will just use the holes already present in the centers of the cylinders for more hex rod for the rear set of spark plugs.

The engine is finally done, a week long project. It was a major undertaking but I think the finished result was worth the effort. 


Cowling front and rear.jpg

I started with the cowling. The inside of the cowling is devoid of any detail, the carburetor scoop is solid and the intercooler inlets are at the wrong angle. I added u-channel and strip to form the skeleton of the cowling. The carburetor scoop and intercooler trunks were constructed of styrene strip and sheet. I also removed a panel from the left side of the cowling some  of the engine will be visible. As anyone who has worked with clear styrene will attest, it is very brittle compared to the rest of the kit styrene. To cut out the panel I first deepened the panel line with a scriber and eventually used a small X-Acto saw blade. CA Accelerator crazed the clear plastic but that is of no consequence since it will be painted. One advantage of a clear cowling is that you can see the stryrene through it which made lining up the strip and u-channel with the panel lines a snap. 


The Engine

Fixed wheel cut out.jpg

This brings us to the biggest problem with the bulkhead by far. The kit has the bulkhead slanted at about 3.5º. It should be vertical and not slanted. This is easily seen in the engineering drawings.

This is actually a big deal, not that it would be difficult to correct, it would be very easy to correct the slant. The main issue with this is it changes the angle of the landing gear and especially, engine mount, both of which will have to be corrected in order for the landing gear to sit correctly and the engine to be centered in the cowling opening. It will also facilitate moving the landing gear cutouts.  At this point I am still debating the real benefit of going to all the trouble to correct this. As it is I am still going to have the change the tire cutout a small amount. The indents on the bulkhead should be flush with the edge of the fuselage skin. What would be the point to have an indent for the wheel to fin in if there is fuselage skin covering some of it? With the bulkhead placed where it is intended to be on the side of the kit fuselage, there is about a 2mm overlap mismatch. To make it correct, I will have to remove some of the cutout to get it to match the bulkhead and then add it back to the front so the cut out is correct. I am hopeful that it will not interfere with the landing gear linkage or there will be even more work that has to be done. The cut out is supposed to be round not oblong.

I ground away the plastic in the rear so it lined up with the indent and replaced it in the front with 0.040" styrene sheet to keep the cut-out round. The cut-out in the fuselage is exactly 0.75" in diameter. I used a drafting template to get ensure the wheel cut-out remained perfectly round.


Port .50 cal gun bay

Nifty Fifty masters.jpg

With the engine finally complete (save the exhaust manifold, which will be easy) the last scratch building project will be the port .50 cal installation. For kit guns, Trumpeter's M2 are not too bad. 15 years ago I made a 1/32 scale M2 master complete with vented and non-vented barrels and receiver with the feed tray cover off as well as a separate feed tray cover. The molds are worn out so I made some new ones out of silicone rubber.  They are far more detailed than the kit pieces plus I can model the guns with the feed trays open. Also, the F4F-4 had stainless steel blast tubes that ran the full length of the barrel but were flush with the leading edge of the wing. Trumpeter left these out so I will use hypodermic tubing to replicate them. I also cast 4 belts of M2 ammunition from the 1/32 Eduard Bressin resin ones I have. The kit gun bay covers have lots of ejector pin parks. The real ones were lined with some insulation so I will just grind the kit doors flush and add the insulation with sheet styrene. I will just cover up the starboard set.


M2 ammo belts.jpg
Resin M2s.jpg

With 3 M3's and feed tray covers now cast, the scratch building is for all intents and purposes complete. It is now time to start priming and painting and putting this kit together!


M2 Sx.jpg

I cast 3 complete M2's and when I dry fitted them, nothing lined up correctly and they were too long to fit in the bays. When I made these masters I used the M2 engineering drawings so I know they are correct. The AN/M2, like all M2's has a 29.48" receiver and a smaller and lighter 36" barrel and is 65" long. In 1/32 that machine gun from muzzle to the end of the buffer tube should scale out to be 2.03" long. The kit M2's are 1.5" long, which scales out to 48", a full 0.25" or 17 scale inches too short. This puts me in a conundrum. I can either just go with the kit guns, or redo the entire bay and relocate the shell and link ejection chutes as well as the ammunition boxes. At this point I really don't want to go to all that trouble.

What I wound up doing was a compromise. I added a 0.20" plug to one of the kit M2's. It is still short scalewise but it looks better than the straight kit part. I also enlarged the feed tray and removed the top of the receiver and scratch built another feed tray cover. Now my 1/32 M2 ammunition belts will fit the feed tray. I will not worry about the barrel because they were inserted in blast tubes which ran from the end of the receiver to the wing leading edge. I will just insert the barrel into a piece of hypo tube. 

I will now cast 3 of these M2's. It is not perfect but it is the best compromise without having to relocate a lot of other things to accommodate guns of the proper dimensions. I will add the buffer spring tube once they are cast. I will also carve out the forward part of the receiver and add a scratch built bolt.


I guess this is on me, before I did something to scale I should have checked first to see if it would fit, this is a Trumpeter kit after all. The AN/M2 had light barrels which were 36” long. That scales out to 1.125”. So I cut pieces of 0.062 styrene rod and added a piece of 0.5mm hypodermic tube to the end. I attached them to the receivers and this is what I got:

M2s in place.jpg

The penciled lines on the barrels are where the kit barrels would have come. I guess I have to chop about 0.3" off the scale barrels so they fit where Trumpeter's carbine barrels would have come and add the blast tubes past that. I thought the gun bay would be reasonably quick and easy, silly me!


Finished Fuselage website.jpg

Questions or comments? Email me

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