Arma Hobby General Motors FM-2 Wildcat USS Rudyerd Bay (CVE-81) 1/72 Scale

This FM-2 Wildcat from Composite Squadron 96 (VC-96) was finished in the late-war overall Gloss Sea Blue scheme.  It flew from the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Rudyerd Bay (CVE-81) during the Okinawa campaign in April, 1945. Other than correcting the curve of the wingtips this was built out of the box.

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Arma Hobby General Motors FM-2 Wildcat Build in 1/72 Scale Part III

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Wildcats on a stick! Here they are primed and re-scribed, ready to begin painting. The rudders and elevators are molded separately, I have attached them with random slight offsets.

 

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Here is the beginning of the Atlantic scheme of Dark Gull Gray over White. The White is masked off with putty and tape. The front windscreens are attached at this point to check the seam which was good.

 

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The graded scheme gets the same masking treatment. The foam protecting the cockpit is packing from Eduard aftermarket sets, something which you just knew would be useful for something someday.

 

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Painting is done and a gloss coat applied in preparation for decals. Notice I have put on the wheels, I try to put on as many parts as I can before the clear coats to ensure an even finish. In addition, the clear will act as a weak adhesive and solidify the glue joints a little more.

 

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The overall Gloss Sea Blue scheme is the easiest. I have added antenna wires from 0.004” Nitenol and IFF antennas from 0.005”. Outside of the rounded wingtips the build is OOB.

 

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All three finished models together.  Arma includes six marking options, there are variations of these schemes plus a Royal Navy Wildcat VI in the Temperate Sea scheme which is very attractive.  I should have bought one more kit!

Arma Hobby General Motors FM-2 Wildcat Build in 1/72 Scale Part II

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The landing gear on all Wildcats is complicated and there is really not a painless way to represent the intricate strut arrangement. I followed Arma’s instructions and had no major issues, but you do have to proceed carefully. Here is the first step with the firewall and internal bracing mounted.

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Here it is with the fuselage closed up. Technically there should be engine accessories protruding into the gear bay, but the view is obscured by the strut assembly so it would be very difficult to notice.

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This is the stage in the construction which is causing some confusion amongst modelers, I would advise studying the instructions carefully and making sure the arrangement of these parts is clear before proceeding. Part A18 is molded flat and has to be bent down to the proper angle, as can be seen by comparing the upper left and upper center assemblies here. Parts A11 and A12 are molded with a connecting bar which must be removed before the ends can be joined, seen in the lower left and lower center of this picture. In the end you want everything to look like the assembly on the right.

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The gear struts snap into place from below, the fit at the rear of the well was tight on mine but I was able to press it in (firmly) with a little MEK. The main gear legs (parts A28 and A29) mount to the firewall and then there are three attachment points to each leg for the struts. Just follow the instructions and let the glue set up firmly and you’ll have good alignment and a surprisingly strong assembly when you’re done.

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A valid criticism of this kit is the shape of the wingtips, they should be more rounded than they are molded. I was hoping for an out of the box build but felt obliged to fix this with some plastic stock. If you don’t want to go that route you could get an improved profile by rounding off the front and back edges of the wingtip.

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The engine from the front. The cowling will sit about a millimeter too far forward if you don’t do something, and this will be apparent as the exhaust stubs will protrude too far past the cowling when viewed from the side. I shaved off the mounting ridges inside the cowling and thinned the trailing edge which allowed the cowling to be pressed back enough. An easy fix but a trap for the unwary.

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Fit of the parts is excellent.  I used a little Mr. Surfacer 500 along the fuselage seam lines to counter the tendency of the seams to draw in when using thin glues.

Arma Hobby General Motors FM-2 Wildcat Build in 1/72 Scale Part I

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Arma Hobby is beginning to make a name for itself by releasing subjects which have been long overlooked in 1/72 scale. On my bench are a small batch of just such a subject – the FM-2 variant of the Wildcat. This version was produced by General Motors so Grumman could focus on Hellcat production and was produced in greater numbers than all the other marks of Wildcats combined. The FM-2 had a more-powerful Wright 1820-56 Cyclone engine, a taller tail, and a four-gun foldable wing – in other words Arma will need a new tool for the fuselage and wings to kit the earlier F4F Wildcats.
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Here is the main sprue. All details are crisp and sharp. Panel lines are recessed, but there are a few panel lines missing so check your drawings if such things bother you. The engine features separate push rods. There are two propeller bosses and you have the option of mounting up to six rockets under the wings.
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The second sprue has two drop tanks, the FM-2 often carried an asymmetrical load of only one. You get two types of wheels and the elevator is molded separately from the horizontal stabilizer. This boxing is the “Expert Set” which contains PE and Kabuki tape masks, a welcome touch. The clear sprue contains the windows under the fuselage which were used on the F4F Wildcats, so a little foreshadowing of things to come there!
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The sprues are designed to stack! I assume this was done to help Arma with their production or packaging, but it sure is convenient if you’re building these kits in batches. But that’s just crazy talk!
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Construction begins with the cockpit. I actually hate that phrase because you read it too often, but here it is true. I drilled out the limber holes behind the seat. The PE fret includes a replacement part for the instrument panel but I saw no advantage in using it so I stayed with the plastic part. The other PE parts were useful and not overly fiddly so they were added.
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Here are the cockpits all painted and washed. Arma does a good job with decals for the various panels and placards which is a nice touch. Their decal labeling is also thoughtful – cockpit decals are marked DC, rocket decals are marked DR, engine decals are DE, etc.
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The PE for the engine and firewall is useful and fits well. The landing gear retraction mechanism on all Wildcats was driven by a “bicycle chain” type linkage. The engine PE is nicely done and will save time in wiring.
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Here is the engine all painted and washed.  Arma has included decals for the prominent placards on the engine, a nice touch.

Grumman F4F Wildcat Mishaps, Part III – USS Sable

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The USS Sable (IX-81) was a coal-fired, paddle-wheeled, fresh water aircraft carrier used by the U.S. Navy to train carrier aviators during the Second World War.  She was converted from the passenger ship Greater Buffalo by removing the superstructure down to the main deck and installing a steel flightdeck.  No hanger deck or armament were installed. She and the similar USS Wolverine (IX-64) were homeported in Chicago, Illinois and together qualified almost 18,000 Naval Aviators in carrier landings.

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An FM-2 Wildcat has nosed over on Sable’s flightdeck.  This photograph provides an excellent view of her rather Spartan island structure.  Flight operations were sometimes restricted as Sable’s maximum speed was limited to eighteen knots.  On days without wind she was unable to generate enough air flow across her flightdeck to safely operate some kinds of aircraft.

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A similar incident involving another FM-2 as viewed from the island.  This Wildcat has engaged the barrier after missing the arresting wires.  Barely visible at the top of the picture, a second Wildcat goes around to wait for the flightdeck to be cleared.

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This FM-2 has suffered a landing gear collapse and a bent prop.  One of the many advantages of training on Lake Michigan was the proximity of several airfields, if aircraft could not land aboard the carrier there was always another field nearby.  Since the paddle-wheel carriers were converted without hanger decks, the aircraft flew out to the ships from NAS Glenview.

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A different FM-2 in the barrier with Sable’s island in the background.  Sable was equipped with eight arresting wires.  If the aircraft missed these a wire barrier would stop it from going over the side, although this often resulted in damage.

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This Wildcat has spun into the island.  Unlike the wooden flightdeck built on Wolverine, Sable’s deck was made from steel so she could be used to test various non-skid coatings.

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Deck crew right an F4F-4 Wildcat, giving a nice view of the underside markings standard in the summer of 1943.  Many of the aircraft initially used for training were timed-out “war weary” planes which had seen extensive combat in the Pacific.

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In what must have been a frequent occurrence, deck crewmen shelter in the catwalk as a student pilot careens down the deck.  For all the mishaps, only eight pilots and forty crewmen were killed while training on the Great Lakes carriers.

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“Mobile sand bags” rush into position to weigh down the wing of this FM-2 after the port gear has collapsed.  Many of Sable’s original crew came from the USS Lexington (CV-2) after she was lost in the Battle of Coral Sea.

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An F4F-4 begins its journey to the bottom of Lake Michigan.  More than 130 naval aircraft of several types are known to be at the bottom of the lake.

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More than thirty five aircraft wrecks have been recovered so far, most have been quite well preserved by the cold fresh water.  Many of the naval aircraft on display in museums across the U.S. have been recovered from Lake Michigan including the F4F-3 on display at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

Grumman F4F Wildcat Mishaps, Part II

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An F4F-4 of VF-9 hung up in the catwalk aboard USS Ranger (CV-4).  Note one of Ranger’s smokestacks in the lower left of the photograph.  Ranger’s stacks hinged down to clear the flightdeck for air operations.

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Flightdeck crewmen rush to clear a Wildcat after a landing gear collapse.  Crews were trained to move quickly as other aircraft could not be recovered as long as the deck was fouled.  The tailhook has successfully engaged the arresting wire.

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Sailors vs. an overturned Wildcat in a tug-of-war aboard the USS Makin Island (CVE-93), a Casablanca class escort carrier.  Fifty Casablanca class carriers were built for the USN in less than two years, making them the most numerous class of aircraft carriers ever built.

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Another Wildcat suspended in a catwalk, giving a good view of the underside.  The arresting wire is still caught on the tailhook.

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Deck crew struggle to right an F4F-4 early in the Pacific War.  The tail stripes were ordered to be removed on 06MAY42.

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An FM-2 of VC-68 ditches as the pilot quickly leaves the aircraft.  The Wildcat was originally designed with floatation bags in the wings which would deploy automatically when the aircraft entered the water, but these were deleted as a weight saving measure.

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One of the lesser known Wildcat variants, this is an F4F-7P of the U.S. Marine squadron VMO-251, damaged after ground looping on New Caledonia.  The -7P was a dedicated photo-reconnaissance version which traded all armament to carry additional fuel tanks and cameras.

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Crewmen hit the deck as an F4F-4 crash lands aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6) during the Battle of Santa Cruz on 26OCT42.  The Enterprise was hit by two bombs but remained in action, however her sistership Hornet (CV-8) was sunk.  At that point Enterprise was the only U.S. fleet carrier left in the Pacific.

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A rather violent crash as a Wildcat misses the barrier and impacts the aircraft spotted forward.  Flightdecks remain one of the most hazardous working environments in the Navy.

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An F4F-4 of Escort Scouting Squadron 12 crash landed on Guadalcanal.  Note the tents on the hillside in the background.

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In the debris field of the USS Lexington (CV-2) the RV Petrel discovered this F4F-3 resting on the seafloor, her paint remarkably intact after seventy-six years under water.  The aircraft has been identified as that assigned to LT Noel Gaylor, his kill markings and VF-3’s famous Felix the Cat insignia are still visible.  Gaylor was awarded three Navy Crosses for his service with VF-3, and eventually rose to Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC).

Grumman F4F Wildcat Mishaps, Part 1

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During testing the XF4F-2 prototype experienced an engine failure on 11APR38 and was damaged in the subsequent forced landing.  The rugged airframe was salvageable, and Grumman rebuilt it as the XF4F-3 with many improvements.

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Another Wildcat on her back, this is an F4F-3 from VF-41 at NAS Glenview.  Note the small size of the national insignia on the fuselage.  The overall Light Gray scheme was authorized from 30DEC40 and superseded by the Blue Gray over Light Gray scheme on 20AUG41.  VF-41 was assigned to the USS Ranger (CV-4).

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Ranger supported the Allied invasion of North Africa during Operation Torch on 08 – 09NOV42.  For that operation U.S. aircraft received a yellow surround to their national insignia, and British aircraft were painted in U.S. markings in the hopes that the Vichy French would not fire on American aircraft.  Those hopes proved to be in vain, VF-41 wildcats claimed 14 Vichy aircraft shot down for the loss of 7 of their own.

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British carriers operated the Wildcat as the Martlet.  Here a Martlet has gone over the side of the HMS Searcher, a Bouge-class escort carrier provided to the Royal Navy under the Lend-Lease program.

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Wildcats were also operated by U.S. Marines from land bases.  This is a well-known photograph of a damaged Marine Wildcat from VMF-221 taken on Midway Island shortly after the battle.  Less than a month before the battle ALNAV97 directed the red centers to the national insignia and the red and white tail stripes be painted out to avoid confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru marking.  Blue Gray paint was apparently unavailable to the Marines on Midway, many of their aircraft had the rudder stripes painted out with a darker blue.  The SB2U-3 Vindicators of VMSB-241 display the same improvisation, as can be seen here: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2018/11/25/the-sb2u-3-vindicators-of-vmsb-241-during-the-battle-of-midway/   Note the bombed out hanger in the background.

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Two shots of an FM-2 Wildcat missing the wire and slamming into the aircraft spotted forward aboard the USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95).  Bismarck Sea was a Casablanca class escort carrier.  She was sunk off Iwo Jima on 21FEB45 by a pair of Japanese Kamikaze.

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This Wildcat has gone over the side of the USS Charger (CVE-30) on 28MAR43 but has become entangled in the catwalk.  Charger served in the Atlantic, primarily as a training carrier.  The pilot can be seen climbing up the starboard side of the aircraft.  Note the stenciling on his seat cushion still in the cockpit.

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This pilot has found himself in an even more precarious position and is being hoisted back aboard the old fashioned way.  Floater nets can be seen hanging behind the aircraft.

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This Wildcat pilot is less fortunate still.  Going into the water directly ahead of the carrier adds the significant hazard of being run over by the ship.  The ocean immediately forward of the bow is not visible from the bridge, the OOD must guess where the aircraft crashed and turn immediately to avoid hitting the aircraft.