Alone of people I know, I enjoyed this kit. The trick is to keep it simple and I thoroughly recommend building it straight out of the box.
Manufacturer: HK Models
Subject: B-17F Flying Fortress
Extras: Eduard seatbelts, Eduard engine PE, Master gun barrels
I was quite excited when HKM released their B-17G a couple of years ago. I like Second World War heavy bombers, but there was no way I was going to build the ancient Monogram kit because I rescribed an entire kit once and that is enough for one lifetime. It just wasn’t my kind of fun.
Unfortunately, build reviews quickly established that while this new kit had beautiful surface detail, it seemed to lack interior detail and to be a very frustrating build. However, over at the Scale Modelers’ Critique Group on Facebook we decided to have a group build of it for… self-loathing I guess, and I picked up the newly-released F model because I quite fancied the early Olive Drab camouflage schemes.
The B-17F was the first version widely taken to Europe for strategic bombing. A few earlier versions had ended up with the RAF and Coastal Command, but in 1942 the USAAF started to build up forces in the UK.
There are too many misconceptions around the B-17 and the daylight precision bombing strategy to deal with them all here, but a few are worth mentioning. One is that while the pre-war concept of unescorted bombers was not viable, the B-17 was able to fly high and fast enough to make escorted daylight bombing viable. Another is that the very high early loss rate was caused by politics within the USAAF preventing the use of existing aircraft for escort over the entire mission distance: the P-47 would have been capable, but after some initial incompetence and intransigence among the generals, this was hushed up and the P-51 was later hailed as a miracle fighter. Many crews died unnecessarily to protect generals’ reputations. A final one worth correcting is that the precision bombing was reasonably precise: it is often argued that the percentage of bombs falling in the target area is similar between the USAAF daylight bombing and RAF night bombing, but this fails to consider what that target area was. During the day, targets were specific facilities such as a rail yard or factory, whereas at night it was an entire city.
Looking for an interesting B-17F to model, I found “War Eagle”. This was a 1941 production bomber that was initially sent to the RAF. In June 1942 it was transferred to the USAAF and spent a few months working up in the UK before shipping out to Maison Blanche in Algeria within days of the Operation Torch landings in November 1942. It flew 125 combat missions in early 1943 from Chateau-du-Rhumel in North Africa, then a further 12 missions from Tortorella in Italy before being returned to the US in May 1944 to be sold for scrap. Since the return to the US came about a year after the move to Tortorella, I assume the plane was either damaged or surplus to requirements as newer G models arrived, and probably cannibalised for parts. Even among the “Century Bombers” this 137 mission total is very high and War Eagle is one of very few F models to complete 100 missions.
I couldn’t find any photos of War Eagle but there was a nice colour profile which I used as a base for the nose art. The markings are all cut on my Silhouette cutter, including 135 individual mission markings which are tiny bomb-shaped stencils measuring 1mm by 3mm.
The build began inauspiciously when I opened the box to find one of the nose halves had arrived snapped in two. Not the world’s hardest fix but not a good sign.
The interior is quite a dauntingly complex assembly which requires all the compartments to be painted and assembled with just the bulkheads and walkways for support, the whole thing then being enclosed by the fuselage halves. At this point I decided it was in fact so complex that I couldn’t picture it going together if I added all the photoetch extra that you can get like ammunition belts (not to mention, where does the far end attach?). Therefore I decided to just build the interior out of the box, adding only a few seatbelts as appropriate.
I did however carefully paint and weather the inside. The walkways, cupboards, and many floors are wood in the original, which was reproduced using Tamiya acrylic over MRP light wood to reproduce grain. This works much like the method using oil paints, but the acrylics dry fast enough that you can quickly handle to parts. It’s easy and looks great.
The guns are probably the biggest headache with this kit. They arrive in two halves: the big blocky part, and the barrel. After building, I think the expected method of sticking the block to the inside of a gun port and then threading the barrel in at the end of construction is the best approach. It is very fiddly but at least it is less fragile. I used some Master barrels which look nice but are a slightly tighter squeeze, hence I wanted to put them together before closing the fuselage. This was a mistake as I kept catching them for the rest of the build.
The nose is the most difficult sub-assembly to get together. If you are building this kit, I suggest you start by plugging the floor into the cockpit bulkhead, building everything up and then closing the nose halves around it. Otherwise it is hard to get the floor and tables to line up into the bulkhead and the whole thing tends to disassemble itself.
The fuselage closes up surprisingly well considering just how complex and unsupported the interior is. I had a few issues but suspect they are just ham-fistedness on my part getting erverything to wiggle into place. There was a bit of a step in places which took a few passes to smooth. The turtleback – the ceiling of the fuselage from the cockpit back to the radio station – drops on and fits quite well. A small step which would be very noticeable if you were finishing this in bare metal, but not really visible on a camouflaged aircraft. Do note at this point that the interior is all but invisible once closed up: to me this supports the idea that out of the box is the way to go.
Sidenote: visible interior
The tail gunner’s station doesn’t really work. The gun blocks attach to a post which isn’t strong enough to hold them steady when you push the barrels in. Eventually I just stuck the barrels into the end part replicating the fabric cover.
The wings and engines went together quite easily, but I noticed that the ignition wires are quite prominent in photos but not present on the kit. I added the ones from Eduard’s engine PE set.
This model got the most extreme weathering job I’ve done and one that actually came out quite nicely. I used “E-Rat-Icator” as a model for the surface and a few camouflaged Gs to get a sense of how much oil leakage should be visible. If anything this model is still too clean as the references had about half as many missions…