P-47 Thunderbolt

Testors 1/48 Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

Kit. No. 520

Comments: Re-Issue of 1960’s Hawk kit; includes decals for all-Black 332nd Fighter Group - the Tuskegee Airmen; optional bubbletop or Razorback canopies; accurate lines but poor cockpit detail

Decals: Two versions

Cost: $10.00

 

History

The Republic P-47 was the culmination of the P-35 and P-43 Lancer designs of Alexander Seversky and Alex Kartveli, two Russian aviation designers who emigrated to the U.S. before World War II.  After its maiden flight on May 6, 1941 and further development, it entered U.S. Army Air Corps service as the P-47B in June 1942 with the 56th Fighter Group, then stationed at Long Island, New York.  The Thunderbolt had an inauspicious debut.  Teething problems, including loss of control in high speed dives and the need to replace the plane’s fabric-covered ailerons with metal ones, led to over half of the Group’s P-47’s being wrecked within a month.  After the bugs were worked out, P-47’s finally entered combat in a fighter sweep over France in April 1943, the first kill against the Luftwaffe occurring on April 15th.

Affectionately nicknamed the “Jug,” the P-47 was well-armed, large, extremely rugged and fast, qualities that made it stand out as a fighter in European skies despite its bumpy beginning.  P-47’s escorted B-17 bombers on raids into Germany starting in August 1943 with the Schweinfurt raid against ball bearing factories.  Nimble despite its massive size, the P-47 was the largest single-engine fighter of WWII and more than a match for Luftwaffe fighters.  However, with its huge R-2800 Pratt & Whitney air-cooled 18-cylinder radial engine, the Thunderbolt was a gas-guzzler and initially unable, even with drop tanks, to escort bombers all the way into Germany and back.  For escort duty on deep penetration raids into Germany and beyond, it soon gave way to the cheaper, more fuel-efficient and more lightly armored P-51 Mustang.  It was not until 1945, with the introduction of the P-47N, which carried an additional 200 gallons in new wing fuel cells, that the Thunderbolt could match the Mustang’s range.  But the war in Europe ended before the –N became available, so all of its war service was in the Pacific.

The P-47’s ruggedness was legendary -- in this area it outclassed the P-51.  In addition to high altitude escort duty, the Thunderbolt was often used in fighter sweeps and in the ground attack role due to its devastating firepower (eight .50 caliber machine guns, to the Mustang’s six), and ability to absorb extensive damage.  There is one account of a Thunderbolt having eight feet sheared off one of its wings by flak, and still getting its pilot safely home.  The Thunderbolt was a superior performer in the ground attack role -- its air-cooled engine could take more severe punishment than the P-51’s liquid-cooled Merlin, which would seize if any of its glycol coolant lines were hit by ground fire.  In addition, the Thunderbolt’s ability to carry underwing rockets and over 1200 pounds of bombs helped make it a formidable component of Allied airpower.  It was the most widely produced American fighter of WWII, with 15,600 examples built, compared to the Mustang’s 14,000.

After carefully masking the finished cockpit, I airbrushed on Alclad's Polished Aluminum to give the P-47 a realistic natural metal finish.

The Kit

Testors’ re-boxing of the 1960’s Hawk kit is molded in gray and black with clear plastic parts.  It has mostly raised panel lines, with the only recessed lines appearing in the cowling, rudder, elevators and ailerons.  There is a minor amount of flash and a few small sink holes in the wings and fuselage, easily remedied with putty.  

Optional Razorback or Bubbletop

Although crude by today’s standards, the feature that made this kit such a hit when first released was the option to build either the P-47 bubbletop or razorback versions.  This is done by providing two different center sections for the spine of the fuselage, with corresponding alternate clear parts for a bubbletop or traditional canopy. 

The cockpit is spartan, with a seat and an instrument panel tab on which the modeler mounts a decal. Given that this is 1/48 scale, it’s disappointing that there isn’t at least a control stick, and no effort was made to represent the cockpit sidewalls.  The propeller blades are individually mounted in a two-piece hub, and the engine is represented by a fairly detailed faceplate piece that is glued into the forward section of the cowling.  Ordnance consists of a pair of drop tanks with nice recessed panel lines and a single belly-mounted 500-lb. bomb, although most photos I’ve seen show the Thunderbolt carrying 500 pounders in tandem under its wings or not at all.  Overall the quality is fairly good, the only major drawback being lack of detail.  In addition to the not-quite bare bones cockpit, the tailwheel looks more like a hockey puck.  The decals are Microscale and of good quality, providing markings for either a P-47D Razorback of the all-black 332nd Fighter Group (Tuskegee Airmen), 15th Air Force, in the Mediterranean Theatre, or for a P-47D bubbletop of the 56th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, in the European Theatre – belonging to Col. Francis Gabreski.

Here the entire airframe except the forward cowl and tail section is masked in preparation for airbrushing on the Red that gave the 332nd Fighter Group aircraft their nickname "Red Tails."  Note that the cowling interior has been stuffed with tissue paper to protect the Interior Green there. 

Construction

Assembly starts in an unusual way.  You start not with the cockpit but by assembling the bomb and the drop tanks, perhaps to divert your attention from the fact that there’s not much to the cockpit at all.  I quickly finished this step and moved on to the True Details resin P-47 cockpit, which I used to replace the crude example in the kit.  After washing the resin pieces, I let them air-dry and then airbrushed them with Polly Scale U.S. Interior Green.  I did the detail painting for these parts, and superglued the floor, seat, rear bulkhead and instrument panel together when dry.  I scuffed up the fuselage interior with sandpaper to ensure a good bond for the resin sidewalls, then glued them in.

With the cockpit finished, it was time to glue it in and seal the fuselage together.  The pins projecting from the right side fuselage interior were not sufficient to keep the cockpit floor level, so I used Permaplast putty to support the left side of the cockpit and keep it horizontal when I glued the fuselage together. 

I chose the bubbletop version but decided to paint it in the natural metal Tuskegee Airmen markings, though there’s no evidence that the 332nd Fighter Group flew the bubbletop during the few weeks it operated the P-47 before transitioning to the P-51.

The center spine section for the bubbletop covers up too much of the forward cockpit area, and after checking some reference photos I did some cutting and sanding to make the instrument panel more visible from outside.  Also the center section is a little too bulbous up front around the cockpit, and the whole piece required a great deal of sanding and repeated applications of putty before I achieved a smooth, seamless surface.  This is a critical and time-consuming stage; getting a smooth surface along the seam of this part – or not – can affect the finished look of the entire model.  Small amounts of filler were needed for the wing roots also.  

The machine guns are mounted into the apertures provided in the wings, and the wing halves are glued together, which requires that you simultaneously glue in the landing gear, which I’d painted in advance.  I made sure I’d completed the sanding on the fuselage to my satisfaction before attaching the wings.  While the spokes are visible on the kit wheels, most photos of Thunderbolts in the European Theatre that I’ve seen show smooth hubcaps instead.  It seems P-47’s operated without the hubcaps mainly in the Pacific and Far East Theatres for some reason.

Painting

The next major step was the painting.  I protected the cockpit using brown shopping bag paper cut to fit the opening, together with Elmer’s glue, rolled bits of Blue Tack, and Scotch tape.  The wheel wells, which I had already airbrushed Interior Green, I protected with dampened tissue paper packed in solid.  Invariably this results in small bits of paper sticking to the interior surfaces when you pull it out, but a dampened stiff-bristled brush took care of the excess bits.  To ensure a dust-free paint job, I went over the plane with Polly S Plastic Prep and a large paintbrush, let it air-dry, then went over the entire surface with a lint cloth several times.  I planned a natural metal finish, so I used Alclad Gloss Black Base as a Primer, letting it dry for 24 hours.  Then I airbrushed on Alclad’s Polished Aluminum.  While the fumes of Alclad paint are more caustic than most, I highly recommend it if you want a professional looking natural metal paint job.  Aside from the fumes, one quality about Alclad is that if you spill it or apply too much pressure to the airbrush trigger, it will run everywhere.  I’ve never seen a liquid like it.  

Next I masked the cowling and tail sections and airbrushed them in Model Master acrylic Navy Red.  Once the two sections dried, I gave them a light coat of Microscale Micro Flat.  With the flat coat dry, after a second round of masking the nose, I painted the anti-glare panel forward of the cockpit, airbrushing it in Gunze Sangyo Olive Green.  Once that dried, I gently broke off the cowling, which I’d attached with Elmer’s Glue, in preparation for the painting of the nose art and insertion of the engine and propeller.

I prepped the two-piece canopy, masking it with Tamiya tape before airbrushing it in Alclad Polished Aluminum.  The main landing gear doors are the same color, and once they dried I flipped them and painted their insides Gunze Sangyo Interior Green, first taping up the Polished Aluminum sides with Tamiya tape – incidentally, Tamiya tape will not lift the Alclad paint when you pull it back up.  I airbrushed the auxiliary drop tanks for the wings in Alclad’s plain Aluminum, which looks quite different from the polished stuff since it lacks the high sheen that lets you almost see yourself. 

Next I did the nose art.  “Rat Hunter” is painted entirely in Model Master enamels (Gloss Guard Red with a Flat Black outline), with the exception of the brown for the rat itself, which is Floquil Roof Brown – directly over the Alclad.  This is a fictional aircraft of the Tuskegee Airmen’s 332nd Fighter Group, since although the paint scheme is accurate, there is no evidence that they ever flew the bubbletop version of the P-47, or that any of their planes bore the name Rat Hunter.

Once the rat had been painted on, it was time to drop the engine and propeller in and re-attach the cowling.  The interesting thing about the propeller assembly is that the blades are individually attached, so care must be taken to set them at a realistic angle. Although they are molded in black plastic, I gave them a coat of primer, then airbrushed them in Tamiya semi-gloss black with flat yellow wing tips.

I did touch-up painting on the landing gear doors, tail wheel and wheel wells, attached the landing gear doors, and painted the wing machine guns with a thinned mixture of Model Master Gun Metal and Flat Black.  Then I added the drop tanks and the tail wheel.  I turned to the cockpit last, removing the masking and doing touch-up with a small paintbrush.  Removing the Tamiya tape with care, I saw that although it will not lift the very liftable Alclad paint, it does leave an adhesive film on clear plastic.  Windex applied with a Q-Tip took care of the adhesive residue but left a fog on the bubble top; a clear plastic cleaner called Brillianize cleared most of it up.  One significant complaint I had about the bubbletop canopy is that the bottom frame for it is a bit flimsy, and you will need quick drying cement to attach it to the clear plastic piece.

Decals

The kit’s Microscale “Invisa-clear” decals are of high quality but are extremely delicate.  They are wonderfully thin but also break with surprising ease, in some cases while still soaking in the water.  Since I’d painted the kit in Alclad, the P-47’s surface was already prepped for decals, and they went on and in most cases laid down with surprising ease.  It took only the gentlest of pressure with a Q-Tip to get them to hug the Thunderbolt’s raised panel lines; too much pressure caused them to crack and break.  I used Microset and finally MicroSol to get the national insignia to hold to the contour of the intake vents toward the rear of the fuselage sides.

Conclusion

Testors’ P-47 is an older kit that, built right out of the box, is a good cheap starter kit for beginning modelers.  With extra effort and aftermarket parts it can look truly accurate and build into an impressive model, despite its age.  Its exterior lines are basically accurate and it appealed to me because it’s a piece of modeling history.  It was once the best P-47 kit available in 1/48 scale, considered state-of-the-art from its initial release in the 1960’s until Monogram came out with its own 1/48 P-47 in 1973.  The decals are high quality but must be handled with extreme care.  The biggest challenge is the extensive puttying, sanding, and patience required to hide the long seam on the fuselage sides resulting from the two options for the separate center spine piece.  For this reason, I have never been a fan of kits where the fuselage is composed of multiple pieces, as opposed to a straightforward two halves.  I bought this one only because of the Tuskegee Airmen markings.  If you want a cheaper Thunderbolt to hone your skills, or don’t mind the extra work to get it up to standard, I recommend it.  But if you want a quick, trouble-free build that’s both accurate and simply falls together, look elsewhere – and expect to pay more.

References

P-47 Thunderbolt in Action, Squadron/Signal Publications © 1984; Goodbye, Mickey Mouse by Len Deighton, Alfred A. Knopf © 1982; Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II, pp. 253-54, Random House Group Limited © 2001.

The P-47 in profile. The Thunderbolt was the largest single-seat fighter of World War II.

The original 1960's Hawk P-47, featuring optional bubbletop or Razorback versions.

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