Much like Great Britains vaunted Spitfire, the elegant lines and elliptical wing of Mitsubishis open-cockpit A5M fighter (Allied code name "Claude") have always impressed with their grace and beauty. As the immediate predecessor to the renowned Zero, the Claude did not get the attention of its bigger brother, but it was a premiere fighter for the Japanese naval air force during the latter half of the 1930s and into the early forties. Some were still encountered in combat in the early contests of World War II, but by then the Claude had all but been replaced by the deadlier Zero. The beautiful colors and markings found on these fighters during the Sino-Japanese conflict make them outstanding attractions to build in model form. The A5M4 was the last major production variant of this sleek little fighter, and is the version represented in the Eagles Talon vacuform kit.
As noted, this is a vacuform kit comprised of some 36 parts formed on three sheets of white styrene about .040 inch thick. Delicate recessed engraved panel lines accurately represent those of production A5Ms. The parts break down is normal for a vacuform. However, it features separate rudder halves, so this part of the plane can at least easily be posed. But the ailerons and elevators come molded with their respective wing and tail surfaces. Here the separation lines could have been engraved a little deeper. The wheels also have been molded integrally with their spats. (I chose to cut them off and replace them with spares to get a more accurate look.) The parts provide for a late style belly tank, but no bombs, rack, or gun camera have been supplied on the sheets. The three propeller blades are separately represented, and I found them to be surprisingly good. The air-cooled radial engine sports separate cylinders slightly engraved to represent their cooling fins, but the part lacks other details. The crank case is OK, but it too needs extra work. Two rings represent the cowling halves, and these are very nicely done. A clear single piece vacuformed canopy also comes in the bag. But there are no metal parts or other pieces.
Kit instructions are printed in English on 6 pages of 8.5" by 11" green tinted paper. Page one depicts an illustration of a Claude in flight and contains a history of Mitsubishis A5M fighters which is carried over onto page three. Page two joins with page five to open into a full spread of 1/48 scale line drawings of the A5M4, portrayed in four views (top, bottom, side, front). These two pages also contain reduced printed reproductions of the illustrations for the left and right cockpit sides found in the Maru Mechanic # 28. Page three continues with the history of the A5M and contains brief written instructions on how to build this vacuform kit. Included is an exploded-view drawing showing how the pieces go together. More written instructions appear on page four, along with smaller copies of the two cockpit illustrations found on pages two and five. A map of the parts located on the three sheets is also printed here, as is a list of suggested references consulted for making this model. Finally, page six presents the paint and decal guide, showing the tops and side views of two aircraft represented in the kit decals. The two options include an A5M4, tail code VII-111 in overall pale gray, with red tail, blue chevrons and wheel spats from the IJN carrier "Soryu," early in 1941. The other aircraft represents tail code W-102 in overall natural metal finish (or possibly light gray), with red tail, while and black fuselage bands, solid black spats, and red wing chevrons, also based on the "Soryu," but in 1939.
The decals included in the kit contain sufficient markings for both planes represented, plus white stripes for ease of chevron markings. They are very thin but in register. The hinomarus (national "meatball" insignias) are deep red.
Construction is typical for a vacuform kit--from the simple to the complex. The cockpit contains a seat, slab floor, rear bulkhead, instrument panel, none of which is detailed. Since most Claudes featured open cockpits, youll probably want to add the details represented in the drawings supplied in the illustrations (otherwise, why tackle a vacuform kit?). Following these and any other references you might be fortunate enough to have, you will need to make ALL the necessary extra parts (and Claudes had a "busy" cockpit) from scratch or from spares. Drill holes in the seat back, make the instrument panel (shaped correctly) look like an instrument panel. And add seat belts and a gun sight that goes through the windshield.
The engine also demands extra attention. If you cannot find a spare 9-cylinder radial that fits, try engraving more fins in the cylinders and adding extra parts to spruce it up. It will need a spark plug harness, and the unique arrangement of rods that attach to the back of a round plate fixed to the front of the crank case. Note also that the two machine guns for this fighter protruded between two of the upper cylinders and were aligned with the cut outs in the top of the cowling lip. Furthermore, two exhaust stacks will have to be made from hollow tubing. There is no propeller shaft or even a prop hub for this kit, so again you will have to scratch build these or chop up a spare three-bladed hub and shape and detail it for mounting the kit blades.
Consider the following other missing details you may wish to make or provide for this kit, such as: tail wheel and its strut; tail hook; actuator rods for the ailerons and elevator tabs; fuel tank rack; the two nose-mounted machine guns; foot step; fuselage hand grips; wing and spat tie down rings; pitot tube; and radio mast. In addition, you might wish to add an optional gun camera or bombs and bomb racks. You can also cut out the wing tip formation lights and make replacements with clear sprue in the appropriate colors of red (port) and blue (starboard). Finally, there are no stencil or wing walk markings provided in the decals. These you may wish to represent from spare decals or paint your own.
As with all vacuforms, you must cut and snap the parts out of their backing sheet with care and then test fit their connections, sanding and shaping and filling where necessary. In most cases you will want to build the cockpit first and then build the rest of the plane around it. A trick Ive found very helpful in doing this is to do the following. Make scale drawings of the sides, floor, and instrument panel of the aircraft you are building. Cover the drawings with double-stick transparent tape. Scratch build the parts needed for your cockpit, then attach them to the double stick tape in their appropriate locations. Paint them and then transfer them to the cockpit, bulkheads, floor, or instrument panel when ready. Test and dry fit the larger segments, such as floor, bulkheads, and instrument panel to get a proper fit. Then attach the large pieces to one side of your fuselage half and glue the two halves together (while making sure that other details such as tail wheel, engine, or other parts that attach inside the fuselage have been finished and made ready). This tactic works for injection molded kits as well, enabling you to correct parts or add details to suit your tastes and abilities.
The investment of time and attention to detail can result in a very colorful and beautiful A5M4 to add to your collection. The parts matched up well, and although there are no locator helps, careful construction will get all the pieces in the right locations and angles. Done well, the model looks as good as any injection molded kit on the market today. And it scales out accurately in all dimensions according to Rene Francillons JAPANESE AIRCRAFT OF THE PACIFIC WAR. Other sources I used in building this kit include Donald W. Thorpes JAPANESE NAVAL AIR FORCE CAMOUFLAGE & MARKINGS, W.W.II, the MARU MECHANIC #28, and ZERO FIGHTER, by Robert C. Mikesh (Crown Publishers, 1981).
Mitsubishis little A5M did not have the speed and fire power to match that of its bigger brother and successor--the A6M Zero. But for an open cockpit fighter, vintage of the late 1930s, it was beautiful and sleek and superior to its American contemporary, the Boeing P-26 "Peashooter," in most all respects. About a thousand of all marks were constructed, and late model Claudes were still being encountered in combat in the Aleutians and central Pacific during the first six months of the war. Afterwards, the surviving planes were withdrawn and used primarily for advanced trainers for pilots transitioning to the Zero.
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