Classic Airframes 1/48 Curtiss SBC-4 "Helldiver"

Aircraft 151-MO-9, USMC MO- 151, Samoa, 1943

Model, Text and Photos by: Joe Frazier

The 1/48th scale Classic Airframes kit (97-408) of this classic U.S. Navy dive bomber is a welcome addition to the growing number of models depicting between the wars biplanes. The SBC series were the last of the American combat biplanes, seeing limited service with the Marine Corps early in the Second World War. First flown in 1933, they had disappeared from front line service by the end of 1943. Sadly, there is no known airframe left anywhere that could be restored and placed in a museum to mark the passing of this old warbird.

The Classic Airframes Kit consists of 33 injection-moulded plastic parts, 32 resin pieces, a photo etched fret, and a vacuformed canopy. The surface detail is very well done, with fine recessed panel lines. Fabric representation is excellent. No longer in production, kits can still be found on modeling websites or vendor sales at model shows.


Fuselage and Stabilizers

Ibegan construction with the fuselage and interior components. Some careful sanding of the mating surfaces will help, especially in order to slightly thin down the trailing edge of the rudder. The resin inserts for the cockpit sides and floor will take some adjusting. I had to "cut and paste" a little to make things fit. I added the seat and included the photo etch shoulder harness, since the model I was building was of a Marine SBC fitted for combat duty. The instrument panel will also take a bit of adjusting to fit properly. When everything is finally in place, the forward cockpit parts provide a nice representation. Take care that you get the cockpit assembly fitted so that the floor is level. You might want to make some mark on the inner fuselage side to show you where to glue the floor to the resin sidewalls, since there are no locating points molded in. The rear area does not have nearly as much detail, and in fact the more visible parts provided are not accurate, especially the gun mounting, which is represented with a flat piece of photo etched metal. Very little of this area shows clearly once the canopy is put in place, so it is not a matter of great concern, except for the detail modeler. I did replace some of the machine gun mount pieces with a gun ring I had left over from another kit and with some scratch built parts. The interior was painted with flat aluminum. Various colors and washes were used to highlight the pilot and observer areas.

Upper Landing Gear Strut attachment

At this point, I had dry fitted the landing gear parts and other resin parts which go between the fuselage halves to form the interior of the landing gear housing and gas tank area. The strut itself is very fragile, and the attachment point inside each fuselage half is very small and very difficult to reach once the fuselage is assembled! I decided it would be safer and much stronger to measure out a piece of hollow stainless steel tubing and epoxy it in place to take the gear strut later on. I can strongly recommend this for anyone building this kit. It will definitely save a lot of headaches later on. Once the fuselage is glued together, you don't have much room to maneuver around up in the wheel well area!

Cowling and Engine

The cowling needs some attention in the area of the air intake at the top of the front section. If you don't reinforce it with plastic stock, you cannot get a nice "oval" appearance, since some of the kit plastic is very thin or missing at the join line. With a bit of plastic stock and putty, you can reshape this area very nicely. I also added a bit of screen material to the front of the intake.

Horizontal Stabilizers

Now is a good time to add the horizontal stabilizers. Since there are no locating pins, it is a good idea to dry fit them to the fuselage attach points, and do a little sanding to ensure a good fit when they are cemented. I marked a dot on the fuselage joint and the inner edge of the stabilizer, and after being sure they would line up, drilled out a hole in both places. Then I placed a small rod in the stabilizer that served as an alignment point and also strengthened the glue weld. I did this for both sides. After gluing these parts, a little putty and some light sanding made a very good join line.

Landing Gear

Although the landing gear struts are nicely represented, they are not very strong, and there is enough flash around them to require a good bit of clean up. I decided to build the gear from hollow tubing, using different thickness to represent oleo struts, etc. This takes a lot of cutting and fitting, but the end result looks good. I got a lot of help for this sub-assembly project from the excellent pictures in my Squadron Helldiver In Action book.

Lower Wing

Not much by way of problems here. I would recommend that the outer wing strut be glued to each lower wing at this time and properly aligned by dry fitting the upper wing.

Upper Wing and Center Section Struts

The upper wing will fit very nicely if the outer cabane struts have been properly aligned and glued. It helped to open up the receiving slots in the underside of the wing. This should give you a good fit. The inner struts are another story. You will have to dry fit them several times and trim them to get a fit between the fuselage and the upper wing. I ended up scrapping them and making struts from plastic stock which I then faired into the original locating holes with putty.

Landing Gear

The remaining parts of the landing gear struts were fabricated from hollow stock after measuring the plastic pieces. When the main strut was inserted into the previously glued hollow tube epoxied inside the wheel well, it produced a very strong landing gear platform. I had to do a lot of alignment and fitting to get both sides even, but it worked out well.


All rigging was accomplished by measuring the distance required between attachment points and cutting piano wire to fit. Where possible, I had pre-drilled holes in the fuselage and wing areas to receive these wire pieces. I like piano wire because once fitted, it does not sag or break. It takes a lot of time, however!

Antennas were made from stretched sprue and anchored at the rudder tip and outer wing tips, using fine wire anchors.

Painting, Weathering, and Decals

The model was painted with Model Master enamels. The upper blue-grey was lightened with white to help represent the fading which occurred rapidly to aircraft in the Pacific Theater of operations. Weathering was done mostly with pastels and a fine brush. A very light wash of oils and turpenoid was used in some recessed panel lines. Kit decals were used, and worked very well with Micro-set. The entire model was finally given a light coat of flat finish.

Closing Comments

This is definitely a model that will appeal to the builder who likes a challenge and who enjoys having to figure out problem areas as they occur. It is a hard build. There are lots of fit areas that require filling and some realignment. Some assemblies are tricky. But if you stay with it, the end result can be very satisfying. It is not likely that the "big boys" at Tamiya or Hasegawa will manufacture this airplane, so my hat's off to Classic Airframes for making it available and for the fine job they have done in the process.

My thanks to Brent and Mike at Roll Models for inviting me to produce this article. I hope it will encourage others to find this kit and add it to their collection of truly significant American biplane aircraft.

Joe Frazier


Squadron Signal: SBC Helldiver in Action (1151)
Air Enthusiast/Five (England) date unknown
Dave Neale, "Sugar, Baker, Charlie" article in Quarter Scale Modeler . (issue unknown).