Tamiya 1/48 Republic P-47D
Model, Text and Photos by: Mark Smith
If you're looking for the closest thing you might find to "instant gratification" from a modeling standpoint, I can't think of a better choice than to build this kit. You end up with a large, exotic, detailed, and accurate conversation-piece right out of the box.
Admiral Yamamoto's dread of awakening a sleeping giant at Pearl Harbor is well known. Such prescience eventually led to projects like the Seiran, but in typical Japanese WWII fashion, actual combat engagement was postponed due to technical problems with the hardware and waffling on the part of a military leadership increasingly overwhelmed by disasters on all fronts.
Only twenty seven of these submarine-borne floatplane attackers were built - for all practical purposes by hand - and though their crews were intensively trained and battle-ready by war's end, the type never saw combat. The original pipedream - frighteningly possible in retrospect - was a sneak attack on the locks of the Panama Canal in order the stem the flood of American war materiel pouring through from late 1942. After a clandestine surfacing, a ten-man complement of Seiran technicians from the unique 631st NAG would assemble the three elaborately folded a/c in the hangar tubes of the giant I-class subs (at the end they assembly time down to seven minutes) and launch the aircraft, which could be done either with or without attaching the floats. After the attack, assuming any of these fragile airframes and their temperamental Atsuta engines managed to find their home submarine, they would ditch alongside, be recovered by their crews, and reassemble for a sake toast a hundred feet below the surface.
All right, I take it back, maybe it was more "faintly feasible" than frighteningly possible, but the aircraft designed for the mission has always been one of great interest to me, and such a highly unlikely release on Tamiya's part seems to indicate that this sprawling company had a soft spot for it also. According to an American rep I talked to at a model show, it has sold slowly, but they expected that, and were determined to do it, anyway, having exhaustively researched the one remaining airframe in Washington, D.C.
This is the first model I have built "box-stock" in a long time, and I was amazed at how complete the kit was in every aspect. The interior is exquisite, the panel and rivet detail comprehensive and only a little heavy for the type, and the engineering and parts breakdown ingenious - particularly in the area of the under-fuselage air intake scoops and their shutter doors just forward of the wing, and the fit just about perfect except for the gap where the leading edge of the wing meets the fuselage at the area of the intake just mentioned.
The floats are gorgeous, with a AAA battery-sized weight provided for one which will keep the model from sitting on its tail. The floats are extremely prominent on the finished model, so care taken to do the centerline seamwork is particularly worthwhile. Because of their circular cross-section at the top, I found this more difficult than the fuselage seam.
The clear parts are an odd breakdown - the windscreen is a separate piece and the rest of the cockpit greenhouse is in one piece. But this allows for an alternate windscreen, provided if you wish to build a Seiran with the original bombsight protruding through the glass.
You get a petite boarding ladder (that looks like it was designed for an early jet) optional prop spinners, fine exhausts you don't have to drill out, and superb molded-on detail that most manufactures could not approach with separate moldings. You get two-piece wing flaps with separate airfoils that are a snap to install and have the correct angle when dropped. I refuse to whine about this kit in any way. It's the best model I've built in thirty five years of modeling. And the orangest.
Yes, there's our segue to color options, which are authentically mundane. (Green over grey, but you get your choice of K6-01 or K6-02!) Just for a change, I built one of the prototypes - the fourth one - in experimental orange overall with a black anti-glare / cowl sweep. Known pictures exist of only the fifth prototype, so building another one allowed me a little artistic license. Most of Japan's wartime prototypes, including float types, had that pretty black cowl sweep from the wing root to the windscreen, and though "Ko-A-15" didn't appear to have it (hard to tell from the "daguerreotypes" available), I felt sure in my mind that "Ko-A-14" did. I can't explain it...:>) The "Invisa-clear" Scale Master decals in the kit were thin, opaque, and relatively easy to use even for a decal klutz like me.
The beaching dolly included in the kit is real piece of work, and if you use it, the contrast between its wooden crudity and the sleek and bizarre machine it supports will really set this model apart from its neighbors on the shelf. Again, few parts but much detail and easy assembly.
What a wonderful vignette one of these models would make over a choppy ocean base, sans floats and hugging the waves with both crew members hunched over and headed for Panama, certain death... and eventually the pages of Model Arts we'll never see. Any takers out there?
- Mark Smith
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