Kit No. 897
Decals: Three versions, all U.S. Navy (a P2V-7S of VP-19, and an SP-2H of VP-21, both in two-tone paint scheme of white over dark sea blue; and a second SP-2H of VP-21, in a paint scheme of overall dark sea blue
Comments: Beautifully done kit with delicate raised panel lines and raised rivet detail; nicely detailed control surfaces; includes JATO pods; basic cockpit with decal for instrument panel; crew figures included; clear plastic parts contained in separate bag
The Lockheed P-2 Neptune (originally designated P2V until September 1962) was a maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. It is unique in that it is the only American naval land-based patrol plane ever designed expressly for this purpose. Both the Neptune’s predecessor, the PV2 Harpoon, and successor, the P-3 Orion, were first built by Lockheed as transports. The Neptune was developed for the United States Navy by Lockheed to replace both the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura and PV-2 Harpoon. Designed as a land-based aircraft, the Neptune never made a carrier landing, although a small number of aircraft were converted and deployed as carrier launched stop-gap nuclear bombers which would have to ditch or recover at land bases. The type was successful in export and saw service with several armed forces, including Argentina, Canada, and Japan.
The Neptune was the last radial engine powered bomber accepted for delivery by the U.S. From May 12, 1945 to the end of its production run in 1962, 1,036 Neptunes were built in seven major variants, with the US Navy receiving the vast majority.
Development of what became the Neptune, a new land-based patrol bomber, began early in World War II, with design work starting at Lockheed’s Vega subsidiary as a private venture the day the before the Pearl Harbor attack, December 6, 1941. The new design was initially a low priority compared to other aircraft in development at the time, such as the Lockheed Vega and PV-2 Harpoon patrol bombers that were tasked with anti-submarine operations almost before they were off the assembly lines.
A key factor in the Neptune’s delayed production was the diversion of its intended powerplant, the new Wright R-3350 Cyclone radial engine, to the B-29 Superfortress then in development. It was not until 1944 that production of the Neptune geared up, with a contract for an initial order of 17 aircraft being signed in April of that year. A major factor in the design was ease of manufacture and maintenance, which contributed to the type’s long life and worldwide success. The first Neptune flew on May 17, 1945, shortly after the German surrender. Production began in 1946, and the P-2 Neptune went into service in 1947. The P2V-7 was the last model of the Neptune, appearing in 1954.
The P-2 was one of the first aircraft to be outfitted with both piston and jet engines. The Convair B-36, Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, Fairchild C-123 Provider, and Avro Shackleton aircraft were also so equipped. The jet engines were fitted with intake doors that could be closed for economical piston-engine only searching operations. The jet engines could be employed for sprint or short field take-off, but were seldom used in typical operations. Armament included two torpedoes, mines, depth charges, and bombs carried in an internal bomb bay, plus unguided rockets mounted externally beneath the wings.
Prior to the introduction of the P-3 Orion in the mid-1960s the Neptune was the primary U.S. land-based anti-submarine patrol craft, intended to be operated as the hunter of a ‘”Hunter-Killer” group, with destroyers employed as killers. Several features aided this task:
1) Sonobuoys could be launched from a station in the aft portion of the fuselage and monitored by radio
2) Some models were equipped with “pointable” twin .50 caliber machine guns in the nose, most had a forward observation bubble with an observer seat
3) A Magnetic Anomaly Detector was fitted in an extended tail, producing a paper chart. Unmarked charts were not classified, but those with annotations were classified as secret.
4) A belly-mounted surface search radar enabled detection of surfaced and snorkeling submarines at considerable distances.
The Navy began phasing out the P-2 in favor of the P-3A Orion in active Fleet squadrons by the mid-1960s, with VP-23 being the last active duty Navy patrol squadron to operate the SP-2H, retiring its last Neptune on February 20, 1970. But the P-2 continued to remain operational with Naval Air Reserve units into the mid 1970s, primarily in its SP-2H version. As active Fleet squadrons transitioned to the P-3B and P-3C into the late-1960s and early 1970s, the Naval Reserve P-2s were eventually replaced by P-3As and P-3Bs and the P-2 was retired from active U.S. naval service altogether.
Brief Career as Nuclear Bomber
In 1948, when the Navy wanted a nuclear strike aircraft to remain a player when confronted with the Air Force’s increasing influence as the primary service that could deliver nuclear weapons, it improvised a carrier-based nuclear strike aircraft by modifying the P2V Neptune for carrier takeoff using jet assisted takeoff (JATO) rocket boosters. But the Neptune wasn’t a practical nuclear bomber for the Navy because it couldn’t land on a carrier; on actual operations, Neptune aircrews either had to make their way to a friendly land base after a strike, or ditch in the sea near a U.S. Navy vessel. The Neptune was replaced in this emergency role by the North American AJ Savage, the first nuclear strike aircraft that was fully capable of carrier launch and recovery operations; the Savage was also short lived in the role as the Navy was adopting fully jet powered nuclear strike aircraft, the first being the Douglas A-3 Skywarrior.
In 1954 under Project Cherry, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency obtained five newly built P2V-7’s and had the Lockheed Skunk works convert them into P2V-7U/RB-69A variants for the CIA’s own private fleet of covert electronic intelligence aircraft. These planes were painted dark sea blue but had U.S. Air Force markings. Two were sent to Wiesbaden, West Germany, and two to Taiwan. The latter two aircraft were given to the 34th Squadron of the Republic of China Air Force, a covert operations unit that used the planes for penetration missions into mainland China. They conducted electronic intelligence operations, including mapping out China’s air defense networks, inserting agents by parachute, and airdropping leaflets and supplies. The full scope and nature of these missions has yet to be declassified, but it is worth noting that while the 34th Squadron ultimately received five P2V-7U’s, all were ultimately lost on various operations with all hands on board.
Cuban Missile Crisis
During the Missile Crisis of October 1962, Navy P2V-7’s were an active component of the naval blockade imposed by President Kennedy upon learning of the presence of intermediate range nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba. The Neptunes conducted aerial surveillance and photography of freighters inbound for Cuba to enforce the blockade, and patrolled the waters of the Caribbean for Soviet submarines that were protecting certain vessels. Fortunately the torpedos and depth charges the Neptune carried in the event of the need for offensive action never had to be used. In the latter stages of the crisis, they also performed aerial surveillance and movie photograpy on outbound freighters to verify that the missiles were in fact being shipped back to the Soviet Union.
During the Vietnam War, the Neptune was used by the U.S. Navy as a gunship, overland reconnaissance platform, and sensor deployment aircraft, and in its traditional role as a maritime patrol aircraft. The Army also used it for classified missions into Laos and North Vietnam, including insertion and resupply of agents.
During the Falklands War in 1982, the last two airframes in service (2-P-111 and 2-P-112) played a key role of reconnaissance by aiding Dassault Super Étendards, particularly on 4 May attack against HMS Sheffield. The lack of spare parts, caused by the U.S. having enacted an arms embargo in 1977.
The most famous Neptune was, without a doubt, a P2V-1, the “Truculent Turtle”, which from September 29th — October 1st, 1947, flew non-stop, without refueling, from Perth, Australia, to Columbus, Ohio, a world-record setting distance of 11,235 miles. This piston engine powered record stood almost forty years, until Burt Rutan’s “Voyager” circled the globe non-stop in December of 1986. A more typical Neptune mission lasted ten hours, with a crew of ten. Because of the long mission capabilities, the P2’s were equipped with a small galley and an electric stove. The only bunk, however, was soon removed to make way for additional electronics gear, with the floor or wing being the only place to stretch out.
Hasegawa’s P2V-7 Neptune is molded in grey and consists of 117 parts, 15 of them clear plastic. The instructions have probably the most detailed history of a Hasegawa kit, in English, that I’ve ever seen — a full page. The cockpit is basic and contains spartan seats, no sidewall detail, but there is raised detail on the instrument panel, although curiously, a decal is also provided. A notable feature of the cockpit is the central instrument panel between the pilot and co-pilot, which bears raised detail. However, no control yokes are provided. Likewise the forward observer’s position features a basic seat and that’s it. Three reasonably detailed crew figures are included (although the Neptune had a crew of from seven to ten, in particular the navigator and radar/sonar operator’s stations are not covered by this kit ).
Although parts are included for a dorsal machine gun turret, and this assembly is included in the illustration of Step 2 of the instructions, neither the box art nor any of the schematics of the finished model show such a thing. The intent appears to be that the modeler get the hint that the P2V-7 did not include this weaponry, and use instead the round dorsal window that is also provided, to be used in place of the gun turret. The sheer length of the Neptune, with the wings and their main landing gear appearing to be forward of the center of gravity, indicates that it is probably a good idea to include a nose weight while working on the fuselage assembly.
There are pretty well detailed, double row radial engines, and airscrews featuring individually mounted propeller blades and spinners. The jet assisted take-off (JATO) pods are not especially detailed, and whatever detailed effect can be created will have to be done with painting and decals — the paint guide explicity references how to paint these pods. The separately mounted ailerons and rudder will add to the finished look of the kit. The high point of the landing gear are the wheels, which are impressively detailed considering the vintage of the kit (the copyright on the box says 2008, but I’m betting this is a re-release of a much older kit). The wing tip fuel tanks are faithfully recreated, including the clear searchlight dome on the forward end of the starboard tank.
It is clear that Hasegawa put a little extra effort into this kit, which appears to have been initially released as a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force aircraft, based on the diagrams for decal placement in the instructions (a separate set of smaller diagrams showing markings for the three U.S. Navy versions, which correspond to the decals provided in this kit, are included in the bag containing the clear plastic parts). The instructions, as noted above, include more than the usual amount of history on the plane, and are well thought out and clearly illustrated, providing good schematic detail on the positioning of the cockpit floor and other bulkheads in the nose of the aircraft. There is a nice paint guide on how to paint the propellers, as well as a drawing on how to position the exhaust pipes and cowling flaps on the engine nacelles — if only all kit manufacturers provided such detailed guidance! As an added bonus, the instructions are dotted with reference photos of an actual Neptune, the kind of pictures you would otherwise only find in a walk around book. The only criticism is that the cockpit in particular screams out for additional detail, which is where aftermarket resin comes in.
A beautifully rendered kit of an important Cold War martime reconnaissance aircraft. Highly recommended.
- Mid-Atlantic Air Museum ~ www.maam.org
- National Naval Aviation Museum – Pensacola, Florida
- CBS News video, “Thank You, Mr. President”