- Published on Saturday, 05 May 2012 00:00 Matt McDougall
1/32 B-25J Mitchell
Catalogue # HK01E01
Available from Sprue Brothers for $166.99
Today I have the twofold pleasure of writing my first review for Scale Plastic & Rail and reviewing HK Models' highly-anticipated 1/32 North American B-25J Mitchell. Originally slated to launch in early 2011 under the Wingscale brand, the big B-25 was delayed for some time by various backend business shenanigans that caused quite a furor across the internet. Now, a year and a handful of months later, its finally arriving, the first in a stream of big 1/32 releases that will include a "gun-nosed" B-25J, a cannon-armed B-25H, a B-17 and an Avro Lancaster. Is it worth the pricetag and the rather large footprint it will occupy when built? Let's find out...
Background to the B-25 Mitchell
The North American B-25 Mitchell – named for that pioneer of U.S. military aviation, General Billy Mitchell – was one of World War II's great workhorses. Originally developed for export to France and the United Kingdom, the medium bomber was instead picked up by the USAAF and ultimately served many roles – from medium bomber to ship-killer to close air support gunship and even photo reconnaissance – with just about every allied air force. In various guises, the B-25 flew with the USAAF, the US Marine Corps, the RAF, RCAF, RAAF, Dutch, Free French, Soviet VVS, and even the Chinese, Mexican and Brazilian air forces.
The B-25 first catapulted to fame due to its involvement in the Doolittle Raid in February 1942, when B-25Bs took off from the USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo.
The B-25J was the ultimate – and most produced – variant of the Mitchell, and took advantage of many improvements made in the B-25G and B-25H, while retaining the glass nose of the earlier B-25C/D.
A 1/32 B-25?
Before diving into review, I want to reflect briefly on the fact that this kit exists at all. For a long time, a 1/32 B-25 has been a "unicorn" kit, a "wouldn't it be cool if..." fantasy that no one ever really expected to become reality. And yet, here we are, with one of the first big bomber kits since Monogram's glory days more than thirty years ago. Whenever I hear someone bemoaning the death of this hobby, I look at kits like this – very ambitious projects from new players – and I can't help but feel that, far from death, we're in some kind of modeling golden age, made possible by computer aided design, better molding technology, the internet and a global market.
But enough of that. What's in the box?
When an established manufacturer releases a new kit, it's generally pretty easy to draw a few conclusions about what you'll find when you open the box. Trumpeter's latest 1/32 aircraft? Get ready for vinyl tires. Dragon's new smart kit? Packaged in a way that defies physics. Eduard ProfiPACKs? Beautifully produced instructions and some of the best decals in the industry.
With HK Models, we have the rare experience of "virgin territory", if you will. While apparently a major behind-the-scenes player for some time, this is their first kit boxed under their name. As such, uncertainty and conjecture about the kit contents has run rampant.
On beholding the box, the first impression is one of size. The box is massive. You could easily stuff a Revell Ju 88 inside and have room to spare for another kit. It's also quite sturdy, so no need to fear anything getting crunched during shipping. I will say, though, that the box art and design feels rather amateurish. Future iterations could certainly benefit from a designer's touch.
Once the box top is pulled off, the source of the sturdiness is revealed – the lower box has a hinged cover that lends an entire extra plane of rigidity. Nice.
Pop the cover, and you're greeted by a stupendous number of sprues, all sealed individually or in small groups in resealable bags. In general, larger sprues get their own bags, while the smaller sprues are bagged like-with-like, so the two engine sprues are bagged together, as are the three bomb sprues, and so on. The fragile cowl flaps and framing – each one a single piece – are bagged individually for protection. Cardboard compartments provide extra insurance and keep the smaller sprues safe from the truly massive fuselage halves. The instructions, decals, and small photo etch fret are tucked safely beneath.
All told, the B-25 contains a mind-boggling 514 parts. Looking through the sprues, however, very few of those seem particularly gratuitous. There are some small engine and exhaust bits, but you won't find tree after tree of fiddly parts like you would in most Dragon armor kits.
The detail ranges from good to outstanding. Particularly impressive is the ultrafine laser-cut rivet detail peppering the skin. It's among the best I've ever seen, and should add a nice complexity to the finished product, especially under a natural metal finish.
The canopy framing, control surface textures and canvas machine gun boots are equally impressive. The Wright R-2600 engines are superbly done as well, but could certainly be taken to a whole other level with some scratch and detail work. One small step down from that you have a wealth of internal detail, from the numerous .50 caliber machine guns to ammo belts seats, radios, bombs for the bomb bay, and so on. Since much of this will be buried beneath glass or tucked up inside, I feel the level of detail is entirely sufficient.
The only areas where I feel the detail falls off are areas where most manufacturers stumble – the tires and gun barrels. The gun barrels, particularly, are vague in their detail and solid at the end. I imagine many modelers will probably opt for resin or turned brass replacements.
The tires do manage to capture the B-25's raised tread pattern, but the diamond treads appear too spaced out, and don't blend down into the sidewall the way they do on the real thing. These are far from the worst tires I've seen, but they strike me as one of the few places on this kit that could really benefit from aftermarket replacements.
Speaking of tires, there has been a lot of concern about the landing gear struts, given the amount of weight they will need to support. After seeing them in the plastic, I'd have to say such fears are unwarranted. The nose strut, the most fragile of the lot, is still a solid, beefy piece of plastic in its own right. The only weak point I see is the point where the wheel mount meets the strut, but I don't know that white metal gear would provide any additional strength, given its malleability. As for the main struts, they are massive – probably close to ¼" thick – and should have no problem supporting the finished plane.
Looking beyond the plastic, the small photo etch fret is, in this reviewer's opinion, superfluous. The seatbelts are no great shakes, and you'd do better to either make your own or purchase some aftermarket belts.
The decals, likewise, are a massive letdown, and this kit's Achilles' heel, such as it has one.
Included are markings for one plane, the 340th bomb group airfraft on the box, and then just the bare essentials. Sadly, none of the currently available aftermarket decals include much beyond that, either, and I will say there is a huge opening for someone to offer a stencils and placards set.
The instructions, on the other hand, are quite well done, tackling the rather involved build subassembly by subassembly over sixteen pages. Flipping through them, I didn't find anything confusing or poorly illustrated. The instructions also cut against the grain by acknowledging the existence of the internet, and thus foregoing a "history-lite account" of the B-25, and instead use the front cover to warn you not to glue your fingers together or stab yourself.
It's one thing to gaze at several hundred of parts. But how do they go together? Whenever I start a new kit, I like to test-fit the major airframe components. This gives me a sense of how it builds, and alerts me to any fit issues that will need to be accounted for.
In test-fitting the monster B-25, I came across a minor frustration. In the same vein as Trumpeter – and Tamiya with their 1/32 releases – HK Models has opted to place their sprue gates along the join lines. I understand the rationale of preserving detail and all, but the extra cleanup time is tiresome. For the purposes of the test-fit, I just clipped them as flush as I could with my Tamiya side-cutters.
Even with the minor gaps created by the stubborn remnants of the sprue gates, the fit is very good. The fuselage halves want to pop away from each other, but fit snug with minimal pressure. The tail assembly is very solid on its own, with big, beefy sockets for the fins, and seats right onto the fuselage with no gaps or weird fit issues. The separate control surfaces just slot into place – no fiddly rod-and-PE-hinge silliness here!
The biggest issue I encountered was also, arguably, the kits biggest strength – the wing joins. The wings fit to the fuselage with a slide-lock arrangement that is very snug and very firm. The only issue I had is that, it's so firm that I had to lock the lower wings into place first, then cram the upper pieces on top. I'm sure it's possible to loosen things up with some strategic sanding, to make it possible to install the wings after painting, or keep them removable for easy transport, but I'd be worried about sacrificing the very snug, no-gap fit.
While I didn't test the forward class, the main canopy seats perfectly over the cockpit. Got to love it when the glass just fits!
Looking beyond the test-fit at the various subassemblies, clever touches abound.
Consider the Wright R-2600 engines. While you have the usual ring-of-cylinders arrangement, the entire engine assembles around a cylindrical core protruding aft of the crankcase. This way you can paint and detail the crankcase, cylinders, pushrods and exhaust piping separately and then just slot them together. The engines also include injection-molded ignition wiring, Not a wiring harness like you might see with other kits, but the individual wires.
Or, consider the guns. One headache particular to bomber kits is the guns bristling from all manner of clear parts. Most kits more or less force you to install these before you install the glass, leaving a fragile barrel poking out, getting in the way of masking and easily prone to breaking under clumsy fingers. HK thankfully realized this and engineered the kit so that the barrels are separate from the machine gun bodies, making it a cinch to install them near the end of the build, or substitute them with drop-in replacements. No slicing barrels and carefully boring holes with this kit!
That said, the kit isn't without a drawback or two. The biggest, in my opinion, being the necessity of attaching the gear struts in the midst of the build (the main struts must go in before the engine pods, and the nose strut before the fuselages are joined). The other being the lack of a nose weight. With so much plastic, the B-25 promises to be a crazy tail-sitter, and requires a whopping 80 grams of weight to put it on its nose. A shaped weight would be a nice touch in a kit at this pricepoint.
I could also see the props being a bit of a hassle, as the individual blades plug into the hubs with short, narrow pins. This should make it possible to feather the props easily, but the tininess of the pins could also pose problems with wobble and alignment. Hard to say without actually being in the build, however.
So What Do We Think?
There can be only one word to describe this kit – epic. Sheer size aside, the detail, engineering, and sheer thought that have gone into this kit place it in the upper strata of 1/32 releases. While it does drop the ball in a few areas – the decals in particular – those areas are nothing like dealbreakers. If big 1/32 kits are your thing, the HK Models B-25 is a can't-miss.
Review sample courtesy of my wallet.
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