Atomic City 1/12 Project:Mercury
Distributed by MRC
Review by Steve Jantscher
I have wanted this model since I first read about it in Fine Scale Modeler a year or more ago. I eagerly followed the development cycle and postings on the Atomic City web site. This is the first injection plastic kit from Atomic City. Their previous models were some of the best resin science fiction kits available. This has clearly been a labor of love, and we can only hope for another follow-on real space subject (I'm personally hoping for a Gemini capsule).
I ordered this from Roll Models as soon as I knew it was going to be available, a few weeks ago. When they came in, and John brought it to our weekly lunch, I was tickled pink. For me, this is one of those fun projects that you just want to dive into and assemble some plastic. This should be pretty easy as there aren't too many pieces. In fact, there are less than 150. Molded in three different colors of plastic and clear, with four metal parts and a vinyl type of plastic astronaut, this is a colorful kit right out of the box. Of course, most all modelers will want to paint it all. This kit is molded in China, and in common with other major kits recently out of China (read, Trumpeter) the packaging is outstanding. The box isn't quite Trumpeter strong (who's are?) but the packaging is multileveled with the instructions, decals and metal parts safely below the layered and individually bagged parts trees. Even the main body shell, a large 5 by 6 inch truncated cone piece is in a separate plastic bag. The Chinese model makers are certainly the best at kit protection through excellent packaging.
The kits builds up to an impressive 26 inches tall from the retrorocket pack below the heat shield, to the capsule through to the red escape tower. I've taped the capsule together and it fits just fine. The surface detail leaves nothing to be desired. The cockpit interior will accept allot of super detailing. The instrument panel includes the rear side if the instruments, needing only some fuse wire or solder to simulate the electrical connections coming out of the instruments (mostly cable bundles and "clutter"). Instrument decal faces are included.
Markings are included for all six flights. The decals initially look to be a bit thick, but as has been the case for some of my previous Chinese decals, they eventually laid down to an almost invisible presence. As may be expected, and the instructions warn, care will be needed when attempting to apply the decals to the corrugated spacecraft skin.
The instructions look to be comprehensive at first glance, but upon closer inspection show some questions in placement detail. For one, there is no detailed placement of the astronaut's hoses and umbilicals. Perhaps they will just disappear to out-of-sight areas of the capsule interior. I'll know soon enough if there are any more grey areas after I start construction.
My second and really only continuing gripe about this kit centers again around the instructions. In a nutshell, there aren't enough painting directions included to do a good job. A rough instruction saying that the interior was light grey doesn't help much, especially since a quick Goggle search for Mercury photos shows some interesting color on the instrument panel perhaps suggesting color coded areas of the panel, as well as various differently colored switches. The instructions seem to indicate that since the colors changes with each mission, it would be too hard to include any color data. That is a strange answer for again what appears to be a labor of love. I would have liked data on at least one capsule, perhaps the most famous Friendship Seven, or the capsule that was intended to go up but is now stored at the Air and Space Museum. The creator of this kit, Mr. Alexander offers a separate CD full of photos of this last bird (http://p197.ezboard.com/fatomiccityfrm13), and I feel that a better solution might have been to give us something in the way of more detailed instructions. Exterior decal placement and painting instructions are covered in an excellent fashion. The box does offer a life-size color photograph of the completed model, which will also be of great help as a painting guide. But alas, no cockpit photos. There are many places throughout the instructions where color callouts could be called for, but don't appear. The retrorocket pack has an interesting zebra-like black striped markings. I can't tell if only one of three conical structures (as shown in the instructions) is supposed to be so marked, or if all are supposed to be so marked, and just shown in the instructions under progress. There is no photo or drawing of the whole finished model from all angles where one can answer such questions. There are also no painting instructions for the astronaut, even though I figure I can freeze frame my DVD of The Right Stuff to get more details. (After contacting Mr. Alexander, he posted the color photograph of the instrument panel shown below.)
Of course the enemy of most model builders is AMS (Advanced Modeler's Syndrome), and I made the mistake of trying to find more detailed data on the capsule through online searches. One look at the cockpit through the open hatch makes one realize that there is allot one can add to the area on the back side of the instrument panel. Even so, I'm going to attempt a quick build, and will post that on this site as soon as possible. This kit right out of the box will make a superb closed hatch exterior model of the Mercury project capsule. If you want to show the interior, there is enough cockpit detail to make most modelers happy, but this kit's real potential will be when taken to the next level by a little judicious addition of what Shep Paine calls "creative gizmology".
In conclusion, I really love this kit! If this review seems any bit otherwise it is only that it could have been so much better by the addition just a little more information in the kit instructions. I've contacted Mr. Alexander prior to posting this early look at the kit, and he has been kind enough to post an image from the last Mercury capsule's instrument panel (this is aircraft MA-10, which was to be flown by Sheppard, but never did). I've included that image below in addition to the kit parts.
So stay tuned. I'll have a detailed build up hopefully before the first of the year (fingers crossed).
PS: Since writing this "first look" I have started building the escape tower. My initial surprise, or take of anything out of the ordinary, is the very soft plastic used. More on the build to follow.
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