MPM/Academy 1/72 P-40F
Model and Text by: Fernando Rolandelli
Photos: Fernando Romay
Though performance of the non-supercharged Allison V-1710 engine at low level was perfectly acceptable, it was clear that something better at higher altitudes was desirable. An engine change was on order, and the obvious choice was the Packard-built Rolls Royce Merlin engine. In 1942, two out of three American single engined fighters powered by the Allison made the change: the P-51 and the P-40 (the third, the P-39, was already a dedicated ground attacker). While the Mustang was turned into a war-winning, air-superiority fighter, the P-40, though improved its perfomance, was judged not worthy of the precious Merlin and, after a couple of short production series, the F and the L subtypes, reverted to the Allison to remain permanently stuck to the close support role at low levels. Air war in the Pacific developed mostly at tree-top heights, so there was nothing to lose, but in the Mediterranean German and Italian planes used to fly higher, so the whole production of Merlin-engined P-40s was allocated to USAAC, RAF and ultimately Free French units fighting in North Africa and later in Sicily and Southern Italy.
One remarkable operation was the deployment of 325th Fighter Group from USS Ranger, CV-4, during the Operation Torch, when they were flown off the deck to the Cazes airfield. The US Navy had acquired some experience in this kind of operation during the Malta reinforcements "runs", when at least twice RAF Spitfires had been flown from the USS Wasp. Some details of this operation can be found in the Detail and Scale book.
The Kit (or should it be "Kits"?)
There is only one kit of the P-40F/L in 1/72nd scale, from MPM, which depicts the long-fuselage F-5-CU. The more popular 1/48th scale is not better served, as only an Aeromaster resin conversion (including solid nose and rear fuselage plug) and a briefly produced AMT/ERTL kit were available, both discontinued, I am afraid. At the time of writing this, AMTech had announced the re-release of this kit, improved by a new resin nose, the earlier one was judged unsatisfactory (I cannot make any comments on the subject; all I can say is that though the earlier AMT depicted the short fuselage F-1, the new release will apparently be the long fuselage F-5, meaning that it will probably be a N/M kit with the new resin nose?) At least, there are (there were?) two very good Aeromaster decal sheets. The MPM kit is what you might expect from a typical early short-run kit: thick gates, uneven surface detail, brittle plastic, a general lack of finesse and a single vacuformed canopy. All in all, a kit marketed for the very brave modeller. On the other hand, there is a very good common stock Allison P-40 kit in the small scale, from Academy, which is a very detailed and tidy-looking P-40M/N kit (there is another depicting the E variant). The Detail and Scale book on the P-40 suggests taking the detail parts from it to improve the MPM kit and easily obtain a better P-40F. I decided to makea further twist and "mate" the F fuselage to the whole Academy wings. In so doing, it became obvious that both kits are dimensionally identical: fuselage halves could be cross-glued without any difficulty, so I decided to simply cut the F nose ahead of the wing and mate it to the M fuselage. This was made without undue difficulty, as can be seen in the photo: no sanding of any kind has been made yet. The same procedure made to an E model kit should render a short fuselage F-1-CU. Decals from the MPM kit are of the very good if temperamental Propagteam stock, depicting a P-40F-5-CU from 325th FG, in full Torch markings, which may have been involved in the ferry flight to Cazes, and a P-40L-15-CU from 316th FS, 324th FG, in Foggia, Italy, at a later date. This machine should have only four wing guns; the instructions do not warn you (though the painting guide does show four guns, it also shows incorrectly modified underwing panels), but you should simply erase the inner gun muzzle, all panels and even ejector chutes remained the same. The extra frame in the right side of windscreen, shown in the painting instructions, is correct and should be painted. A photo of this very machine in the aforementioned reference reveals that stars'n'bars should be present in six positions; strangely, six such insignias are included in the decal sheet, but the instructions show only four applied.
The first task was the cutting and mating, for it was the heart of the project: should it fail, all of it would have gone to the proverbial bin. Once I did not begin with the cockpit! The cutting around the wing's shoulder was made through the "hole and scribe" method, then filed and sanded to shape. I preferred to reconstruct the fuselage halves (including the area of the see-throughs behind the cockpit) instead of gluing the front and back halves and then mate: it is easier to sand or fill the mating surfaces longitudinally if a difference in width should occur than grinding down the fuselage skin. In fact, spacers had to be added to the radiator's belly, incidentally correcting the overly skinny look in that area. Only once it was proved feasible (say, when it was succesfuly done), would I proceed to the cockpit. Academy's office is well detailed for the scale, but the real modeller should always want more, shouldn't he? Well, let him scratch build all that extra detail. I am but a lazy-natured chap, so, after grinding down the kit's sidewall detail, I resorted to a True Detail resin cockpit, which is both cheap, well detailed and glove-fitting, so we could call it a good deal. However, I used the MPM's PE instrument panel, which, as expected, was too wide for the fuselage to close and had some of its sides cut to fit. Base paint was Xtracolor Interior Green FS 34151, with various details in Interior Black and Greys and Yellows and Reds and... Detail and Scale provides a wonderful reference material. Beware that recent data (from "Skipper", a P-40L-15-CU s/n 210847, rescued from the Mediterranean a couple of years ago) seems to show that cockpits in some P-40Ls were painted in a dark grey, like FS 36118, so watch out if you are building "White 70". You can read about "Skipper" in the SAMI magazine, Vol. 6 nº 1.
Radiator front is provided
as a PE part, and this, coupled to a circular oil radiator (or a filtered
carburettor intake?), looked great. I have read a lot of criticism to AMT
(though I have not actually seen the part) for depicting two circular intakes
under the main radiator, but a direct frontal photo in the Detail and Scale
shows them both, though drawings show only one! Another piece of the F puzzle
here, which I did not solve.
Beware of the nose cone spinner. The Academy one has a slightly wrong shape, but the MPM, more of a straight cone, is better. When you see an out-of-the-box Academy next to the MPM the difference is small but noticeable. Fortunately, diameter is exactly the same. I even used the Academy back plate mated to the MPM spinner. I also used the Academy exhaust pipes, which required but a minimum of sanding to fit in the MPM forward fuselage.
Construction of the wings
would have been completely straightfoward had I not decided to drop the flaps.
To do so, I first cut the flaps, using the "hole-and-scribe" method.
Two styrene strips (glued to the top wings inner sides) sufficed to box the
front of the flaps' bay, plus a piece of styrene sheet to blank the hole left
where the wing joins the fuselage. Ribs were made of styrene sheet cut in
shallow triangles (a bit longer than the actual flap's lenght, then glued
and sanded to shape), and a peculiar perforated reinforcement plank from the
same material was added as per my references. The actual flaps were made of
styrene sheet laid on the Detail and Scale plans, a spar and ribs made of
stretched sprue (the latter were glued and then sanded to shape). The whole
was primed and painted Green Zinc Chromate. All in all, it is a relatively
easy (if tiresome), great-looking improvement.
Other "bread-and-butter" improvements included opening the guns' muzzles, adding wiring to the wheel bays and landing gear legs and making the lightening holes seen on the gear doors' inner surfaces.
On presenting the wings to the fuselage, I began suspecting that more conversion work had to be carried out. To my dismay, when I looked carefully to photos of "Skipper", I discovered some discrepancies in the forward fuselage belly, just aft of the cooling vents. It may even be possible that Detail and Scale plans are wrong! Cooling vents seem to be much more forward (in fact, exactly where MPM has placed them!) the belly bulge much deeper and wider, and an intake of some kind can be faintly seen in some photos. The area was treated with epoxy, sanded, puttied and polished until a new belly bulge took shape. I must admit that the area remains under suspicion, as I have not seen a clear photo of it.
Initially, I had planned to use the vac canopy included in the MPM kit, even though it was not the best I had seen. The windscreen was awful, so I replaced it for a Squadron piece. The middle section had to go, for my Squadron canopy was a leftover from a P-40N project and thus unusable. Take care when you are detaching it, for the sides are marginally shallow; the smallest mistake, and they will not sit on their rails. I had to apply some extensions, actually. The rear windows are problematic: the logical solution would be using the injected Academy windows (though the framing is presented as oversized ridges which must be sanded and polished), but I wanted to use the much thinner MPM vac ones. I had a terrible time trying to make them conform to the window cutouts, which was not completely successful in the end.
The camouflage applied is the standard RAF Desert Scheme. I thought of altering the colours a little to resemble a US made machine, but I decided it would not be worth the effort, and often such excesses end up seeming mismatched colours! I primed the aircraft in FS 36495 preshaded Black, which showed wonderfully under the Azure Blue and Middlestone. Then I liquid-masked the camo pattern and sprayed Dark Earth lightly and in an uneven fashion, to use the sand undercoat as "instant fading": As usually happens, in the end the coat was too thick for the effect to show, and some weathering with a lightened mix proved necessary. Demarcation remained hard, almost too hard, but approppiate for the scale.
Weathering was performed by the aforementioned light base colour, applied both free-hand and masking some panel lines, and painting the fabric covered flying surfaces in a consistently lighter colour (a very pleasing effect). Moving surfaces hinge lines were subtly stressed in an airbrushed dark mix, as well as some panel lines. The same mix was used to mimick the exhaust stains. A reasonable quantity of chipped paint was painted in Silver by means of a fine brush. Details included the traditional wing position lights in Clear Red and Green paint, those in the fin, as well as the landing light in the left wing undersurface, in a thinned Clear Yellow, plus two extras at the sides of the fuselage, just under the windscreen, in Clear Blue, all previously painted in Silver and the lense created by a small drop of white glue.
The look of the Merlin nose makes a F model distinctly different from its Allison bethren, and the desert scheme really stands out among Olive Drab and even Dark Green-Dark Earth machines, so it makes a very attractive model. The more Academy parts you use, the better the model will result, with a few exceptions, so the conversion work really pays off, without being overly difficult.
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