When the United States entered WWII in December, 1941, the stubby Grumman F-4F 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the addition of the two pouches, the left side of the cockpit is now complete
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The firewall 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.
The firewall is now complete with the exception of the chains. The difference is marked. I am still deciding how I am going to duplicate them
This brings us to the biggest problem with the firewall by far. The kit has the firewall 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 firewall 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 firewall 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 firewall 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.
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.
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.