Hasegawa 1/48 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero
Model and Text by: Fernando Rolandelli
Photos by: Marcelo Soria and Fernando Romay
The aircraft modeled was flown by LCdr. Shigeru Itaya, First Air Fleet, December 7th, 1941.
Invincibility of the Zero was something of a myth. A kind of complex myth, as well. It was compounded by its own strong points as an aircraft, the superiority of the training, and tactics of its pilots, and the failure of both the Allied command and the individual pilots to recognize the advantages and disadvantages of their own aircrafts, therefore working up improved tactics. All this created a kind of psychological edge, which didn't last long. Once Zero's weaknesses as an aircraft were known and understood, and new tactics developed to take advantage of them, as well as denying its own strengths, it was all over. Weaknesses were never redressed, trained pilots were killed, and Allied aircraft, tactics and training improved, to the very end.
Hasegawa's A6M2 Zero kit does not need an introduction. It is moulded in a tidy-looking grey styrene, completely flash-free. It sports an acceptably detailed cockpit, which has most of the main elements, though somewhat lacking in finesse. There are virtually no options save a spare engine crankcase. In a common Hasegawa policy, it is issued in several editions depicting different machines. Mine was a late machine in Dark Green and Light Gray camouflage, but another depicting early Pearl Harbour attackers exists. I bought a True Details cockpit set which looked very similar to the kit's but it's more detailed, and got an old Kendall control surfaces set. I wanted to lower the flaps, so I got Eduard photoetched flaps and some Kendall PE cooling flaps that were on sale. I completed the project with aftermarket decals for Shigeru Itaya's plane, who led the 1st- Fighter Combat Unit, from carrier Akagi, in the First Wave attack to Pearl Harbour.
Assembly: the Cockpit
Work began with a cockpit. In this case, I quickly assessed that the True Details resin set was very similar to the kit's parts, so much that I suspect they are copied on them. They do show better and finer detail, and they match perfectly the kit, so they are a good deal. Looking into Mikesh book, however, you realize even quickier that lots of details need to be added. Corrections include removing the big step at the cockpit's upper border, fitting the resin right console much higher, and opening/cleaning holes. You can see the resin walls added to the fuselage sides with some attachments. There is a deck behind the seat, which is a whole world in itself, and which must be at least suggested by means of a piece of styrene sheet, some structural detail and some bottles of CO2 and oxygen (contrary to my expectations, it all but disappear behind the seat's back). Wire make up for the missing details. The big hose and winged nut used to charge the fire extinguisher system was added to the right sidewall, Bunches of cables were shown hanging below the console and the instrument panel. Others were added coming out electrical boxes. Lots of wiring/piping were added to the floor on both sides, including two large multiple connectors. Various levers were also added or replaced. Photos 2 and 3 reveal this parts before priming.
I decided to have a go with a Reheat photoetched seat; it turned out to be a little wider than it should be, but scale-thin and cleanly perforated it looks great.
This heterogeneus group was grey primed to give it some homogeneity, and then, after preshading it black, it was lightly airbrushed in Aeromaster's Acrylic Mitsubishi Interior Green, including the instruments' panel. This color is deceptively (frustratingly?) similar to the US Interior Green FS 34151 (ah! the uncompromised search for authenticity!). Some radio boxes were painted in a darker, bluer green, as seen in the Mikesh's book; I used MM FS 34096. Others were painted Interior Black. Throttle was painted Aotake, in spite of being wooden, for Mikesh shows a photo of a bare wooden grip whose screw heads show traces of that primer. Zero fired its weapons through a bike-brake looking lever on the throttle! (no trigger cables going down the stick). Rear deck and fuselage interior were painted Aluminium, and most of the exposed interior fuselage parts (cowling, flaps, wheel wells, etc.) were finished a light coat of Aotake. Painted sidewalls can be seen in Photo 4.
The gunsight was a rather complex affair, combining two reflecting glasses and a ringsight on a small brace at the front. Glasses, being a bit on the thick side and having a mould mark right in the middle, cried for replacement, but, due to my lazy nature, they were merely sanded and polished. The ring was badly represented by a clear plastic circle; it had to be replaced by a photoetched item, an easy, great-looking improvement. A length of wire was added, and the entire unit painted Interior Black, with Light Gray wire and Yellow knob. It was added at a much later stage, after painting and decaling, just before gluing the clear canopy parts.
Having decided to show the control surfaces moved and the flaps lowered, I set to cut those pieces by repeatedly scribing on the separation lines with the back of a curved blade. Kendall resin tail surfaces coincided spot on , but the ailerons were another story: one was visibly shorter than the other. They were discarded. After having cut off the flaps succesfully, I discovered to my horror that the etched set I had was designed for the Tamiya A6M5! Those kits (o maybe the real machines!) have a different flap/aileron layout, so they were hopelessly unusable. Flaps down had to go, so I resorted to scratchbuilding the structure on both the flap and the upper inner wing. The base was the cutoff flap surface; structural reinforcements were plasticard and the ribs stretched sprue (I first fix them to the flap's surface, then sand them to shape). Once they received the Dark Gray- Aluminium- Aotake treatment, they looked good enough.
Cannon ejector ports were sealed from the inside with Black- painted plasticard; wheel wells and the insides of legs' doors received the Aotake treatment as well. The legs themselves were painted Interior Black, and some attention was given to replicating the very characteristic oleo pipes with copper wire. The pieces' breakdown in the wheel wells is almost irrational, and a way to build them without fuss cannot be seen. I employed the "basics of kit building", carefully aligning the pieces to minimize gaps, and blanked the joint lines with fine sprue, mimicking spurious structural detail. After painting and weathering it did not look bad at all. A very characteristic "S"-shaped oleo pipe was made from wire. A word about the legs: they have a very positive fit. You can slide them in their slots and place a drop of superglue; they will stay at the right angle a the first go.
It proceeded as smoothly as you can desire. The fuselage front upper decking did not pose much trouble, nor did the traditionally problematical wing to fuselage joint. Watch out for the wing diedhral, for it is quite pronounced. I chose to leave the cowling until the very end, after painting everything as subassemblies; it proved easier. I finally decided against the cooling louvres brass replacements, thinning the ones in the cowl and deepening their separation lines. A very thorough polishing must be done to get ride off the many moulding marks which are present, which, however subtle, would be evident after painting the cowling. Cowling attachment is rather flimsy; never hold this model from its nose!
There is a lot of controversy around Zero's overall gray finish, the colour now known as Ame-iro. The previously uncontested pale light gray, almost an off-white colour, is now put at stake. The modern doctrine assures that not only the gray was considerably darker, but that it had a definite colour strain as well. However, what colour it had is still under debate. Part of the doctrine supports a gray-green, just a bit lighter and possibly warmer than the well-known RLM 02 (but darker and greener even than the standard Nakajima undersurface Light Gray-Green); some in this party say that Aeromaster Nakajima Interior Green as the colour that best mimicks it out of the bottle. The other part of the modern scholars supports a bluish gray, more in the line of FS 35237, fading quickly to a kind of 36495. Finally, some say that there was a definite difference between Mitsubishi- and Nakajima-built examples. If you are interested in this subject, you should really see the j-aircraft site and read the articles in the SAMI magazine.
For my Zero I chose the Gray-Green approach,
the one most favoured by modern scholars. Sure, the paint used was the Aeromaster
Nakajima Interior Green. Aircrafts taking part in the Pearl Harbor raid were
new, but friends of mine advised that no aircraft keeps being new after the
shortest period of service on board. Monochrome models can be very boring unless
something is made on them, so I made a light fading and weathering, mostly making
use of a Black-Rust preshading. Over that, I painted lightly the base color,
and then lightened it a bit with White and overpainted the centers of most panels,
then selected a few which I masked and overpainted again completely and also
made the same with the outer angles of a few others. All this gave the model
a busy and interesting look (Photo 8). Rear deck was painted Interior Black,
following Mikesh, and so was the cowling. It lacks the bluish tint usually related
to Mitsubishi cowlings, but references are also conflicting regarding this hue.
To give it (in an equally arbitrary fashion) an unmistakably Nakajima look, I had thought of painting the fabric control surfaces in Nakajima Light Gray-Green, but the effect was too harsh, so I dropped the idea. Instead, I first painted the fabric covered control surfaces a very lightened version of the overall paint. Then, I masked the ribs and structural details and painted the rest with a less lightened one (but still considerably lighter than the overall finish). Last, I shot a dirty dark grey directly over the masks, specially over the actuation hinges. Once the masks were lifted, a very interesting relief effect was achieved. To further differentiate the fabric surfaces from the metal wing surface, I masked all of them during the spraying of the gloss topcoat, to keep them a bit duller than the metal parts (disaster struck here, and due to the tape residue I had to redo the wing's ailerons upper surfaces, but, well, things happen).
Canopy was painted by masking; I managed to blotch the job, so I was forced to clean and polish the entire canopy; Bare Metal liquid plastic polish did wonderfully here.
Weathering proper was kept low, specially
in view of the results obtained with the preshading and the painting of individual
panels. It must be kept in mind that any shipboard naval aircraft is cleaned
often, to prevent corrosion from salt, and that this early IJNAF planes were
often new and very thoroughly painted. Thus I only showed limited stains, and
no chipping at all.
Propeller was NMF on the front, and Black on the back. I painted it in Humbrol Dull Aluminium, both the spinner and the blades; but had the latter polished with SNJ Aluminium powder to give them a different look; it worked well. Back of the propellers' blades were painted Interior Black. Decals were applied over the polished surface, with no varnish and no fuss, neither were they varnished afterwards, to avoid spoiling the nice metal look. Propeller was installed as a last fitting.
Yellowhammer decals were used. They were not new, and, even applied over a thoroughly glossed surface, they gave some trouble, conforming unevenly on panel lines; I resorted to gently pressing them down with a fingernail, and it worked!. In the end, the result was acceptable with almost no silvering. Final topcoat was semi-gloss, it has been acknowledged that Japanese naval aircraft received a rather heavy varnish topcoat. Fin codes are made in Black, whereas Aeromaster renders them in Red. Without judging accuracy, I think that they look better in Black.
Another sure-fire kit. I should say that the interior is frankly unacceptable with the level of detail provided either by the kit's pieces or by a simple resin detail kit like the True Details used, but it is a common occurrence, and, with the very good information now available, detailing it from scratch is a quite enjoyable task. Decals included in my edition did not seem the common "armour-plate" Hasegawa decals, and, had I not wanted an Ame-Iro painted machine, I would have used them. The conflicting information on this colour's tone adds to the challenge. All in all, highly recommended.
- Pearl Harbour 1941 The day of Infamy,
Carl Smith, Osprey Campaign Series
- Japanese Aircraft Interiors, 1940-1945, Robert A. Mikesh, Monogram Publishing
- Camouflage and Markings, Imperial Japanese Air Forces, 1937 -1945, Part III: colour Notes, 1937-1942, Ian K. Baker, Scale Aviation Modeller International magazine, Vol. 5 Issue 6 June 1999.
- J-aircraft.com Web site.
Accessories: Kendall Control Surfaces, True Details Cockpit.
(ed.note: There are a number of Zero kits available from Hasegawa in 48th scale. Here are some of them)
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(click to order)