Amiot 134 in 1/72 by Smer

Said by many to be one of the ugliest aeroplanes every made, the Amiot 143M was an evolution of the Amiot 140 which was designed for a 1928 French Air Force requirement for a ‘Multiplace de combat’ (multiplace combat aircraft) to be used as a day/night bomber, long range escort and reconnaissance aeroplane. The first Amiot 140 flew in April 1931 and 40 were ordered by the Armée de l’Air. Amiot refined the design to the 142 with an inline engine and the 143 with radial engines and the 143 was put into production (replacing the Amiot 140 order). The first Amiot 143 flew in August 1934, deliveries to the Armée de l’Air began in July 1935 and it remained in production until 1937 when the 138th and final aeroplane of the type was manufactured.

Sixty of these obsolete aeroplanes remained in service at the beginning of World War II and were used during the ‘Phoney War’ for night reconnaissance and leaflet dropping. With the beginning of the German invasion in 1940 Amiot 143s were used in night bombing raids on transport infrastructure in Germany, Belgium and France and proved fairly successful with two squadrons dropping between them 338 626 lbs of bombs for only four losses from 197 sorties. They were highly vulnerable in daylight and on their only day sortie against strategically important bridges 11 out of 12 aeroplanes were lost because of their poor performance, light defensive armament and complete lack of armour. After the French defeat some Amiot 143s remained in service as transports in the Vichy forces, the last ones being grounded in February 1944.

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The Eastern European company Smer has been doing fans of French aviation a favour by widely re-releasing a lot of older Heller kits. Heller, the French kit manufacturer, had made kits of a great many French aeroplanes during the 60s and 70s, many of them very advanced for the time and usually of a good quality. These days Heller is also re-releasing many of those kits so exactly the same moulds can be had from Smer and Heller. The difference between them is usually found in the decals, if anything the sheets with the Smer kits are better but the colours shades seem less accurate than those of the Heller kits. Having said that, I haven’t seen Heller re-releasing their Amiot 143M kit so you’ll have to look for the Smer version.

The kit is not terribly complicated so there’s not much that can go wrong with it. There are rivets everywhere so they have to be sanded down. There are, however (there’s almost always a however) two major challenges with this kit. One is the fact that it’s completely empty on the inside, the other is that there is an awful lot of glazing. If you peer in through the glazing there’s obviously nothing inside, this isn’t a problem for many large aeroplanes where any effort you put into detailing the interior is usually lost so it’s not worth going to much trouble, but with the Amiot something has to be done. I happened to be flicking through an old issue of Flight and came across a diagram of the interior of the innards of the Amiot 143 which are quite different from the actual aeroplane in some details but it was a useful guide. Most important is the bomb bay which is located on the port side of the fuselage, a floor between the upper and lower levels and something in the cockpit for the pilot to sit on and use. The spares box got a fair workout and bits of plastic card were shaped up for the bomb bay and the floor.

The French appear to have used a shade of very deep black grey for their interior colour in the late 1930s so a lot of the effort that went into filling out the fuselage disappeared into the darkness. Still, without the additions the model would have looked a lot less realistic than it does with them. There are still large naked areas in the fuselage lower level but photos of the actual aeroplane show the same thing, so that’s okay.

If you’ve got nothing to do for a weekend you might have just enough time to mask all the glazing properly. A lot of it is extremely fiddly and the turrets will test your patience. If you’ve got a very steady hand it would be easier to hand paint them, but I don’t have that attribute. After that it’s all easy. Aeromaster produce a good range of acrylics in French colours and the Amiot is overall chocolate brown. I used some of the decals from the kit, particularly the rudder stripes which have the serial numbers superimposed on them, but for the roundels and fuselage stripe I used the invaluable Model Art decal range which has slightly different shades of blue and red and are probably more accurate. The only break from solid brown is the engine nacels that are bright silver.

The kit comes with odd looking bombs that go on the external underwing racks. I’ve no idea how accurate they are or what colour they should be so I left them off.

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model b

As for ugly, I don’t know that I agree. Square, angular, ungainly perhaps, but to my eye the Amiot 143 has a certain stately and uncluttered elegance, the kind of thing that you’d expect from the French. Perhaps the huge spatted wheels dangling down from the wings are unbecoming, but in comparison to a lot of other aeroplanes designed and built around the same time I quite like it.

(July 2000)

North American Mustang IV in 1/72 by Academy

The North American P-51 is one of the most written about aeroplanes in the history of aviation. Designed and constructed in 120 days to meet the desperate needs of the British government in April 1940 it was a good aeroplane which became great when powered by the famous Rolls Royce Merlin engine. It was the primary fighter in use by the USAAF by the end of World War II in Europe and the Pacific with outstanding range and performance. Other allied nations also flew it and in Australia the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation began constructing it from 1945. In appearance the major difference between the earlier P-51B and the later P-51D versions was the replacement of the rear decking with a bubble canopy, giving it a modern and highly efficient appearance.

A large number of P-51s were handed over to British forces where it was called the ‘Mustang’. The earlier versions were numbered Mustang Mk.I to Mustang Mk.III, the P-51D (and later P-51K) were called the Mustang Mk.IV in British service.
The Royal Australian Air Force’s 3 Squadron flew Mustangs with allied forces in Italy in 1944 and 1945. Deliveries of Mustang III’s (P-51B/C’s) and Mustang IV’s (P-51D/K’s) began in November 1944, replacing the Kittyhawks that the Squadron had flown previously. The squadron flew mainly ground attack missions as the Luftwaffe had largely disappeared in the region and used the Mustang’s exceptional range to fly as far as Yugoslavia on the other side of the Adriatic to support partisan operations there. 3 Squadron was operating its Mustangs from bases in Italy right up to the end of the war in Europe.

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Academy are making some of the nicest little kits available these days, generally highly accurate, well detailed and very cheap. There are some faults (and the reviewers in the magazines will let you know if they are significant) with some of the kits in the range but overall they are not serious and at the price it hard to go past them in comparison to the more expensive Japanese kits. There are, however, so many P-51D models around that I wanted to make something that was a little bit different, not just another of the hoards of all-silver P-51Ds that crowded the skies over Europe at the end of the war. The solution to this little problem came with Aussie Decals set which provides decals for Mustang III’s and Mustang IVs flown by the RAAF’s 3 Squadron in Italy. With the good Academy kit and what looked like good decals it should have been an easy little job.

The kit is pretty accurate and there is no need to do anything serious. I could have opened up the outlets from the radiator that would have improved the look of the model, but I didn’t. The radiator inlet needs thinning down by carving away the excess plastic to make it look good. The kit offers the options of two slightly different shape canopies and the experten at the MOB assure me that the slightly humped one is the right one for a Mustang IV flown by 3 Squadron, The experten also assure me that these Mustangs also go without the little housing on wing leading edge for the inner machine gun. It is an easy matter to remove them and drill a hole for the machine guns. I was shown a plan for the Mustang with the inner housing missing but all of the photos I could find of Mustangs shows all three housings – and I couldn’t find any photos of 3 Squadron Mustangs with the right angle to be sure – but it was too late by the time I started to feel suspicious that somebody might be playing a hoax on me. The experten also assure me that 3 Squadron Mustangs didn’t have cuffs on the propeller while the kit does. Photos suggest that they might be right this time but taking them off the prop supplied in the kit would have been difficult so I peered into the spares box and discovered the prop of on old (we’re talking 1950s here) Airfix Mustang that looks as though it was salvaged from one of the first kits I ever made. I decided to use it instead (partly for its nostalgia value) but after an hour or so’s filing I was starting to wonder if it was a good idea. It still looks a bit chunky in comparison to more modern mouldings, but there it is.

The colours are standard RAF fighter camouflage from the late war period as supplied by Aeromaster, with the exception that I don’t like the extreme greeness of their ‘Sky’ so I consulted my colour references and found something a little less green, FS 34424 from Modelmaster. The reference for the decals gives Humbrol G47 for the rudder which looks a bit too light to me, but I can’t argue since I didn’t have a better reference. The colour drawing with the decals (shown here) doesn’t show the starboard view, neither did any of the photos I had easily to hand, so I guessed.

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The decals are excellent, sufficient for a Mustang III and two Mustang IV’s. They only supply markings for the fuselage, you have to rummage around in your collection of spares to find the roundels for the wings. The decals also proved to be very fragile so I had to coat them with a clear varnish before getting them onto the model properly. I didn’t test them in advance and one of the serial numbers just disintegrated, so I had to use a serial that isn’t correct for the larger squadron codes. There’s a message there somewhere – actually there are a lot of lessons I learned with this model.

(June 2000)