1/72 Heller Helldiver

by Caz Dalton

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VMO-151, U.S. MARINE CORPS

SAMOA, DECEMBER 1941 JULY 1943

Model Subject: 1/72 Curtiss SBC-4 "Helldiver"

Kit Used: Heller; kit number 285

History on the aircraft modeled:

My model represents one of the twelve SBC-4s assigned to Marine Observation Squadron 151 (VMO-151) and used to patrol Samoa for Japanese submarines that usually preceded invading forces in the months just after Pearl Harbor. These twelve "Helldivers" represented the last biplanes to serve combat duty with the United States and were replaced by Douglas SBD "Dauntlesses" in July 1943. It should be noted that VMO-151 (Squadron Marine Observation) was redesignated VMSB-151 (Squadron Marine Scout Bombing) in September 1942, while still flying the SBC-4.

Additions, modifications, etc.:

Interior:

Heller's kit included an instrument panel placard with overstated raised gauges. I sanded the placard smooth and after painting it black I applied individual decals from a left over SuperScale sheet for Mustangs. The kit also included a floorboard, pilot's control stick, pilot's seat, and radio operator/rear gunner's seat.

I added rudder pedals from sheet styrene for the pilot and rudder pedals for the radioman from wire stock. I also added radio equipment to the rear cockpit from sheet styrene and the hollow stub for the radioman's control stick from drilled-out styrene rod (the control stick was stowed when not needed). An antenna reel was simulated with a Waldron punched disk of sheet styrene. The pilot's headrest was constructed of a Waldron punched disk and copper wire.

The rear gun mount was constructed from sheet styrene and Plastistrut U-shaped strip. The radioman's 30 caliber machine gun was scratch-built from hypo tubing and sheet styrene with a FotoCut photoetched brass sight ring. It was also displayed in the stowed position.

The directional finding antenna between the pilot and radioman was constructed from copper wire wrapped around a Waldron punch of sufficient size, cut, and then soldered to a straight piece of like-sized copper wire. After the solder had cooled, I sanded the antenna on three grades of sandpaper double taped to a sanding block. This was painted semi-gloss black and set aside for attachment just before the canopy.

The entire interior, including the wheel bays and engine cowling interiors, were painted Model Masters Zinc Chromate Green acrylic. The antenna reel and radio boxes were picked out in flat black, whereas the pilot's headrest was brushed in red-brown and given a little skin-oil wipe to sheen it.

The pilot came from some surplus figures sent to me from an IPMS member in California. I first primed the figure in Tamiya Medium Gray and hand painted it using Tamiya and Gunze acrylics. The entire figure was given a black wash and highlighted where needed. The radio operator/rear gunner came from the same batch of surplus figures. I primed this figure and painted it in the same manner as the pilot. Both figures were cemented to their individual seats and then to the cockpit floorboard, with the pilot being shimmed so as to sit higher in his seat. Thin strips of masking tape painted Tamiya Buff were attached once the figures were in place to represent shoulder harnesses. Harness buckles were cut from True Details photoetched belts and cemented to the masking tape.

The kit's engine was given some push rods constructed from fine wire. The ends of the two exhausts on the exhaust collector ring were drilled out. I painted the engine Polly-S Metalline Pewter, picked out the push rods in semi-gloss black, and the crankcase in neutral gray. A one inch section of 3/32nd brass tubing was installed to the engine to serve as a prop shaft holder.

Although barely seen, all main landing gear struts were altered and assembled as they would appear in the retracted position. These were painted Polly-S Flat Aluminum just before joining the two fuselage halves. I also engineered the struts so that each would be sturdy enough to attach the main wheels after all painting. I cut card paper masks to fit the struts and wheel openings during painting.

Exterior:

This is where Heller's kit is a charm. All pieces, with exception of the canopy, fit as well as any kit today. I replaced the horizontal stabilizer supports and aerial wire attachments on the top wing and vertical tail with copper wire.

Before adjoining the fuselage halves, I opened up the forward machine gun port and cemented a block of sheet styrene at the rear of the opening to except a hypo tubing gun barrel after painting was done. The radio operator's reel antenna was simulated with wire stock also and coated with epoxy to give it the bulb-shape seen in references. This was painted flat black and attachment held off until final assembly. Aileron trim tab adjusting rods were done with fine aluminum thread wire.

The kit's rear wheel represented that of a carrier-borne SBC with the small solid rear wheel. Land-based "Helldivers" used a larger wheel with a pneumatic tire. I simulated the rear wheel with a front wheel from some left over 1/144th scale stock and copper wire. The wheel strut door was cut from sheet styrene.

The bomb came from True Details resin cast bombs and the bomb cradle was constructed from soldered copper wire. The pilot's telescopic gunsight/bombsight was constructed from two sizes of hypo tubing and attached in final assembly through a predrilled hole in the windscreen. The forward scope mount was made by wrapping the hypo tubing with aluminum thread.

The kit's propeller was used after cutting off the prop shaft and replacing it with a one inch section of 1/16th inch brass tubing. The lower port wing landing light was sanded flush and drilled slightly. All landing and flying wires were done with stainless steel wire, whereas all aerial wire was simulated with smoke-colored invisible thread. Landing and flying wire stiffeners were done with stretched sprue. All aerial insulators were done with small drops of epoxy painted flat white.

Painting and decaling:

The entire aircraft was first primed in Polly-S Light Gull Gray (FS 36440), which was listed as the undersurface color for patrol aircraft of this time period. After masking the lower surfaces all upper surfaces were painted Navy Patrol Blue Gray. In the IPMS color guide this is listed as FS 35189, but other references show it as FS 36118, which to my eye looks more like British PRU Blue. I mixed 3 parts Polly-S Ocean Gray to 1 part Polly-S Duck Egg Blue and achieved a very good match for FS 35189 and this is the color I used.

All National Insignia were from SuperScale's 1/72nd scale sheet for early World War II. The squadron identification letter and numbers were done with black dry transfers applied to clear decal film.

All recesses for control surfaces, cowling slats, and foot steps were shadowed with a technical pen and india ink. After a final coat of Polly-S Clear Flat I rubbed the finish lightly with cotton swabs and cotton cloth strips.

The port wing landing light was painted bright silver and given a drop of epoxy after the paint had dried. Likewise all wing, rear deck, and rudder navigation light were represented with epoxy and painted clear red, clear green, and clear white as required.

Caz

Photos and text by Caz Dalton