Hasegawa | ST27: P-47 Bubbletop
Reviewed by Chris Sherland
A brief history of the P-47 Thunderbolt Republic's big heavy-hitting P-47 Thunderbolt holds the distinction of being the most mass produced single-seat fighter aircraft in US history. From humble beginnings it was an evolutionary path rather than design innovation that brought the Thunderbolt to the light of day. Based on tried and true standards set by Seversky in the late 1930s, the P-47 shared design and construction elements with the Seversky P-35 and Republic P-43 Lancer.
Tying these successful design elements to the massive 2000hp Pratt and Whitney R2800 engine gave the P-47 its sheer size, without doubt the heaviest single engine, single seat USAAF fighter of WWII. However as its size grew so did the evidence of the Seversky design genius. The rugged production practices pioneered by Seversky and carried forward to Republic Aviation translated this size into unprecedented survivability, and the proven elliptical wing design gave the Thunderbolt unparalleled maneuverability for its size as well as profoundly docile handling at extreme altitudes.
All this translated into a fighter that brought the right combination of performance and durability to every theater it deployed to. While not as downright sexy as a Mustang or Spitfire, the P-47 earned its prestige the hard way, through combat. The folks who understand the importance of the role that the Thunderbolt played in the air war of WWII are the types that have taken the time to look deeper than a pretty profile; the P-47 was a workhorse. There was an old saying amongst ETO fighter pilots that said "If you want to get girls; get your picture taken in front of a Mustang, but if you want to get home, drive a Thunderbolt." Indeed the pilots who flew the P-47 were endeared by a bond between man and machine that grew more and more personal with every bullet the Thunderbolt absorbed.
And while the glory goes to the prettier fighters it should be noted that the highest scoring fighter group (air to air victories) in the ETO flew the Thunderbolt exclusively, in fact when asked to turn in their P-47s for the newer P-51 Mustangs, the CO of the 56th FG (then Col. David Shilling) flatly but politely refused, preferring to stay with what the group knew best, and perhaps pay some homage to the fighter that got them home time and again.
When its time, its time. The first 1/32 release of the P-47 was done in Revell's large scale heyday in the late 1960s. Both Razorback and Bubbletop versions were released, and while these were accurate and full featured for their day, they had grown long in the tooth by the mid 1980s as technology and design standards advanced. Jerry Rutman stepped in and offered first detail sets, then full resin kits in which the Revell's shortcomings had been fixed. However full resin kits are not for the passively dedicated modeler, and Rutman's Thunderbolts never made an impact on the mainstream market. However he did offer extended wings and correct gear bays for the long-range N model, and you can bet this reviewer will be checking the fit of these on this new Hasegawa kit!
With the P-47 consistently riding high in the "1/32 most wanted" polls on nearly every webzine online, someone was bound to step up. Early in 2006 a relatively unknown company out of France, Redux, announced a 1/32 Razorback kit. I was lucky enough to receive a test shot of this model and was convinced that the era of the 1/32 Thunderbolt was about to blossom. This kit went through some teething pains and as of this review still has not seen the production line.
Trumpeter announced late in 2006 that they would be releasing an entire line of P-47s from the Razorback, through the late Bubbletops, including the N model! This might have been the news that slowed the Redux effort down, but it again seemed as though the modern large scale Jug was going to happen…finally.
Well, walk beats talk every time, and Hasegawa quietly snagged the market out from under Trumpeter with this release of the P-47D Bubbletop. It seems that the wait was worth it, not only for the end result, but the entertainment value of the run up to this release. Now we shall see if Trumpeter responds, and where Redux is left. If bets were being taken I'd have to lay money on a race to the Razorback between Hasegawa and Trumpeter starting this Summer (2007)!
Hasegawa has released an excellent kit here…but then again that's what they do. With the quality, accuracy, and ease of fit common to their recent 1/32 releases, this fully new tooled Thunderbolt kit brings a long awaited maturity to the subject in 1/32. Tamiya's release of 1/48 and 1/72 Thunderbolts literally brought new standards of engineering to the industry, and while many thought a "scale up" of these was the fastest way to a new 1/32 P-47, Hasegawa has taken the lead instead. The old saying is that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and Hasegawa has quoted Tamiya's engineering paradigm liberally here. And why wouldn't they? It worked great.
The parts are molded in a medium gray styrene and feature very delicate surface detail, quite delicate in fact. Some care will need to be taken on assembling the fuselage spine areas to keep from sanding or filling some of the detail. Panel lines are mostly recessed and only raised were appropriate for the ubiquitous "lap joins" featured on almost every surface of the P-47. Detail in general is exquisite and accurate. Small parts are well mastered, and the sprues reveal a beautiful "scale feel" across the range of part sizes and complexity.
The fit is quite tame and very little effort is needed in test fitting to show that an easy build lies ahead. Engineering is very well done and elements that are specific to the Thunderbolt's shape and form have been carefully considered in parts layout and assembly. This allows for the replication of complex features to be supported rather than compromised such as the asymmetrical turbo shroud located at the rear of the belly, and the box style gear bays.
The cockpit is well detailed and can be used right from the box with little additions needed. A harness is not provided. Two gun sight types are included, the later (larger) K-14 sight was standard on the D-40, but some pilots retrofitted these on earlier models as well. The floor is the later smooth style and is not appropriate for the D-25. A decal film of the full instrument panel is provided as well as individual instrument decals to be punched out and used separately. Individual parts for the seat, seat mounts, throttle, trim wheels, seat adjustment, wheel brakes, rudder pedals, headrest and panel combing are all provided making cockpit detail superb.
The fuselage is very well detailed and features a double spar insert (again; quoted from the 1/48 Tamiya release) that insures dihedral and a tight trouble-free fit of the wings. Both open and closed cowl flaps are provided. The cowling is a multiple piece affair but the engine assembly features a mounting ring that should help make a trued assembly fairly easy. Two pairs of turbo exhaust doors are provided as well to pose open or closed. Separate parts are also provided for the distinct "cheek gates" found on the lower front of the fuselage just aft of the cowling. In possibly the best representation of the Thunderbolt's elliptical flapper waste gates the Hasagawa team must be commended for getting this quirky detail right on.
A dorsal fillet is supplied in the kit parts as well, but isn't featured on either of the two airframes covered in the decals. This fillet was applied to many later model Thunderbolts in the field, and was standard on the D-40.
The wings feature separate flaps that can be posed in the dropped or raised position. During test fitting both poses were practically flawless, and the raised position is so well engineered that it is almost impossible to tell that the flaps are separate parts. That said; the rudder, ailerons and elevators are all molded into the flying surfaces. If the modeler wishes to pose these they will need to be cut away and posed. It seems that Trumpeter has spoiled this reviewer's expectations along the lines of posable flying surfaces. Under wing panel plugs are provided to support a distinct change in the features between the early bubbletops (D-25 to D-27) and the later models (D-28 through D-40). The plugs feature the dive brakes (compressibility flaps) that were fitted to the later models, this feature also forced the landing light to be relocated. Follow the instructions carefully here. The leading edge gun plugs allow for the unique alignment of the Thunderbolts guns. The gun barrels themselves however are possibly the weakest element of the kit, they are not hollowed.
The engine is well detailed and features separate push rods and a molded in wiring harness. Two propellers are provided, Hamilton and Curtiss.
Tires are molded in styrene and provide no weighted effect, two wheel types are included for spoke and flat covers. The tail wheel assembly features molded on tail wheel doors and a stylized canvas boot. Be warned that the tail wheel doors reveal the worst sink marks on the kit in my opinion.
Two canopies are provided, a single piece "closed position" piece, and a separate canopy/windscreen set for posing the canopy open. They are both beautifully rendered and offer excellent fit to the fuselage.
A nicely detailed pilot figure is included, featured in an 8-part assembly. Many smaller parts and assemblies are of note as well. The separate shrink linkage on the main gear legs, a first for any Thunderbolt kit, and a completely unique feature to this fighter's legs are a thoughtful addition.
The kit has been laid out to support D-25 through D-30 (and -40) versions but is lacking the corrugated floor used in the cockpit of the D-25. However variations of gun sights, propellers, under wing panels and a fin strake allow the kit to cover the majority of variants from D-25 through D-30. With a simple outsourcing of a new reduction case and magnetos for the later Pratt and Whitney R-2800 engine one could even squeeze an M version out of the kit easily. It should be noted that the entire run of production M models were made in-between the D-30 RA and D-30 RE production run so they almost certainly had dive brakes. M versions also used the late Curtiss propeller. New wings and gear bays would be required (along with the later reduction case of the M) to get the kit to reflect the long range N model.
Other features to note are the inclusion of clear formation lights with colored decal inserts making this important element easy to get right. An interchangeable "no-glue" ordnance system allows for drop tanks and bombs to be swapped out, quite novel.
When compared to "trusted" plans Hasegawa's P-47 stacks up quite well. A clear feeling that the research and production team assigned to this project "did it right" comes across.
The decals offer two aircraft, but three distinct schemes. The D-30 of Glen Eagleston is an eye catching natural metal 9th AAF P-47. The D-25 of Frances Gabreski (the highest scoring ace of the ETO) is represented in two different marking options, one as his aircraft appeared shortly after D-day, and another with markings changed to reflect the way his aircraft looked the day he pranged in while strafing a German airfield, captured and held as a POW. Take special care in selecting the correct decals for Gabby's schemes.
The sheet is accurate, well printed, and provides a mild spattering of maintenance stenciling including markings unique to both the Hamilton and Curtiss propellers. As stated before decals are also provided for the instrument panel.
The decals also provide two sets of invasion stripes but only provide the "black" stripes for the fuselage, the modeler seems to be held to guess this as there are no clues in the instructions or painting guides.
Well with all the good news there are a few drawbacks that must be mentioned. Granted many of these are noted through the eyes of a Thunderbolt fanatic, so take this next section with a healthy dose of salt.
- The landing gear scissor links are poorly molded and lack detail, in fact the smaller gun sight parts reveal much finer detail!
- As noted before the flat floor is incorrect for the D-25 version called out in the decal and painting guide.
- The gun barrels are flat-ended and feature no hollowed ends (slide molding could have helped here).
- The P-47 used many variations of drop tanks, and while the famous "Pancake" belly tank and stylish "P-38" wing tanks are included, the hugely common "Paper" tanks (108 gal) are not included.
- Neither are the triple tube Bazooka Rocket launchers that were used widely by P-47s in the ETO.
- In an almost eerie quote of their Fw 190-A series kits cowling, Hasegawa has replicated the fiddly four-piece cowling on the P-47. With a nod to the way the cowling panels are broken out, one can easily feature extra detailing in the engine area and show it off with correct panel layout.
- In order to install the clear wingtip lights the modeler is instructed to cut out the wing tip sections on the main wing parts, this seems to be unwarranted tedium.
- The instructions call out for the modeler not to install wing pylons on the D-25 version (Gabreski's aircraft) but these pylons were indeed used widely on ETO D-25s, and so check your references if you are picking an alternate scheme! But be warned that installing the wing pylons calls for a tricky removal of some delicate under-wing splitters.
- The wiring harness on the engine is incomplete and will not support a full and accurate wiring scheme for the R2800.
- There are two inconvenient sink marks on the tops of the tail wheel doors, these will be quite obvious and should be filled and sanded.
This is a fine kit that represents the state of the art and market. It is decently appointed and appropriately priced. Not quite a perfect release, this kit does come close, awfully close. An aftermarket floor and engine will be required to stretch the kit from D-25 to M, but in that light Hasegawa may not need to pause for another bubbletop release before heading directly to the Razorback.
Out of the box this kit will build up exceptionally well, and many should be showing up on contest tables this Summer. Eagle Editions has already announced a new decal sheet, and the LSP staff is considering new decals as well. Teknics, Contact Resine, and Vector all offer excellent resin R-2800s both early and late versions allowing this kit to be used for an M model, and it can only be a matter of time before aftermarket detail sets for the gun, ammo and engine accessory bays begin to appear. At that point this kit will become an excellent canvas for further detailing. The aftermarket folks would do well to offer up some focused sets for this kit hopefully including the missing 108 gal "paper tanks" and the triple tube bazooka rocket launchers.
The wait has been very long for an accurate and modern kit of the Thunderbolt in 1/32, and to have Hasegawa fill the gap so well is quite a prize for those who have longed for a large P-47 for all these years.
I highly recommend this kit.
Review sample courtesy of Great Models.
© Chris Sherland 2007
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This review was published on Saturday, July 02 2011; Last modified on Wednesday, March 09 2016