Not so long ago, I'd have thought someone was pulling my leg if they'd said a Loire 130 would be released as an injected 1/48 scale kit. Then Fonderie Miniatures released a short-run model and proved me wrong. Now we're in the bizarre situation where a second kit of this quite obscure aircraft (outside France) has been released - this time by Azur. Of course, Azur being another French company might have more than a little to do with the renewed fascination with this almost gloriously ugly machine, which looks almost as though it's stepped out of some sort of latter-day Jules Verne novel.
I won't include a background history of the aircraft, because Jean-Luc Formery already did such a good job in his review of the FM kit
, and his review also makes for an interesting comparison of how FM and Azur have tackled the Loire.
A French company? Well, the kit is designed in France, but produced in the Czech Republic and the parts definitely show the hallmark of the MPM group - which, for me is very good news indeed. MPM have made great strides over recent years, with their latest kits being produced in metal moulds and hardly deserving the label "short-run" (with all that implies). These are now much more suitable for the average modeller with a bit of experience, instead of the experienced modeller with a masochistic streak.
Azur's Loire arrives in a sturdy top-opening box (another sign of progress) and consists of:
3 x grey styrene sprues containing 92 parts
11 x clear styrene parts
27 x grey resin parts
Decals for 3 x colour schemes
(The boxtop states the kit contains photo-etched parts, but none were included with my kit and there's no mention of them in the instructions.)
The parts are surprisingly well moulded. If you haven't seen an Azur kit for a few years, you'll be in for a shock. Even small details like control surface actuators are moulded in plastic (rather than resin, as you might have expected) and are quite well done, with little sign of flash or other flaws. Of course this isn't Tamigawa quality, but it really does show how much "short-run" production has advanced over recent years. There's no sign of sink marks and the sprue attachments are mostly quite small. There are, however, plenty of ejector pin marks to bring you back down to earth, but they're mostly kept out of sight and are simple enough to deal with.
Surface detail of the fuselage is excellent, with a combination of finely scribed panel lined, some raised panels and - wait for it - embossed rivets. Yes, the kit follows the current trend among some of the major companies, although Trumpeter and Dragon could do well to take a look at how delicately MPM have moulded them for Azur...
The flying surfaces have the Czech firm's trademark excellent fabric-effect, but this time there's another advance - the pattern-maker has run his "riveting tool" along the top of each rib to give a passable representation of stitching.
The transparent parts are nicely done - thin and crystal clear with a slightly frosted effect to highlight the areas that need painting over. What's not so great is that they weren't separately packed, being left to rattle around with the rest of the parts. In fact, in my kit the canopy had broken off the sprue during transit - but amazingly it seems none the worse for wear.
As you'd expect, there aren't any locating pins for the major parts, but the fuselage halves line up very well. The tailplanes are a butt-join to the fin and match the profile of the roots precisely.
The wing is a 4-part affair - a full-span upper piece, with separate lower panels and centre-section that fits on the cabin roof. The trailing edges are straight enough, but really can do with a good deal of thinning and you'll need to remove the ejector pin marks before the wing and tail parts can be joined. The upper and lower sections of the wing are a fair fit, but Part B3 extends a little too far inwards at the trailing edge - no major deal, but something to watch out for or you'll have trouble later.
The assembly diagrams are clearly drawn and include colour refs for Gunze Sangyo paints along the way. The instructions are broken down into 21 stages and there are plenty of additional info diagrams to help clarify things. Don't be complacent though - even from the word go in assembling the major interior items, it's clear that you'll to need to be prepared to adjust the fit of many parts.
The interior is quite nicely detailed, with raised platforms for the pilot and co-pilot, resin seats with cast-on harnesses and simple, but effective, instrument panels (which have looked nicer if the etched parts mentioned on the box had been included). There are a nice selection of radios and other consoles for the right-hand side of the cockpit and simple walkways for the cockpit and gunner's position. The mid section is very empty compared with some reference photos which Jean-Luc Formery has kindly provided to me, and there are a few differences throughout the interior between some of the kit parts and what's visible in the photos, so I'll add a bit of detail here and there - although how much will be visible on the finished model is questionable.
The nacelle is surprisingly complex, built up from 11 parts - largely so it can include resin exhausts and a separate radiator section (to allow for future versions). The prominent intakes are moulded solid, but it's only a few minutes work to open them up for a more realistic look before fitting some gauze covers.
Stage 8 looks to be the "make-or-break" moment - joining the wings to the fuselage and fitting the cockpit canopy. Matters aren't helped by the fact that the canopy sides have a certain amount of "spring" to them and a tendency to splay outwards slightly, but the glazing is thinner than the fuselage sides, so there's the chance to add a lip to support the canopy edges. With the canopy on, the roof must be fitted and its open cockpit lined up with the corresponding headrest on the top of the wing. It looks easy on paper, but I'm definitely bracing myself for some serious dry-runs and adjustment - and unless you've sorted the problem of the wing root (noted above) the whole assembly will be thrown out of alignment.
The complex struts and floats look neatly handled and there are bomb/depth-charge racks included (but no weapons to go on them!). You'll need to study the diagrams carefully to get the alignment right, but Azur score some bonus points for including a diagram of the simple bracing wires required.
Azur provide a good quality set of decals for 3 aircraft:
A. Loire 130M, HS 2 Squadron, from the cruiser Strasbourg, 1939
B. Loire 130M, HS 2 Squadron, from the cruiser Lorraine, 1939
C. Loire 130M, from the cruiser Strasbourg, 1939
The aircraft are all in identical schemes - silver-painted topsides with black undersides and n/m on the cowling. Photos I've found on the Internet all show the colour division on the floats set higher than Azur show, so check your refs on this.
The decals themselves are both excellent and frustrating. Excellent - being thin and glossy, with almost no carrier film and printed in accurate colours in perfect register... frustrating - in that the lettering for the rudder is printed directly on the decal stripes, which is a real bind for anyone (like me) who prefers to paint the French tricoleur.
Azur's Loire 130M looks as though it will build into an impressive model. It's not suitable for absolute beginners, because construction does hold a few challenges, but it certainly appears better produced than the earlier FM kit and modellers with a bit of experience working with short-run kits should have few major problems. The only real question is how to display it? The kit doesn't include a beaching dolly or any form of stand, so the temptation is there to attempt some sort of diorama with the aircraft moored at a quay or racing across the waves... with my record for actually finishing the kits I start, I'm doomed! LOL!