introductionThe Bell® Airacobra was an aggressively armed early war plane that was very different from most contemporary planes. Its engine was mounted behind the pilot to allow a 37 mm cannon to be placed in the nose. The P-39 found its niche in ground attack missions in the Pacific Theatre. Its main armament was devastating to ground targets and the unusual engine placement reduced the P-39's vulnerability to ground fire. This kit features two decal marking options for the U.S.A.A.F. 8FG 36FS
[sic]. - Revell of Germany
Bell joined the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) fighter competition of the late 1930s with their innovative P-39, the Airacobra. Powered by the new 1,000hp Allison Allison V-1710 in-line engine, P-39 was designed to be the smallest practical airframe around the engine. Into that airframe Bell incorporated several unique features, not the least of which was a mid-fuselage mounted engine that spun the propeller via a long shaft that ran between the pilot’s legs. Placing the engine there gave the aircraft a neutral center-of-gravity which provided good maneuverability. Intakes to feed and cool the powerplant were cleanly placed in the leading edge of the wings and the carburetor intake was eventually placed behind the canopy. The result was a clean, almost jet-like needle-nosed contour that afforded the P-39 with high performance. Indeed, the Airacobra was the fastest single-engine USAAC fighter until the debut of the 2,000hp P-47 Thunderbolt.
Airacobra was easy to handle on the ground with innovative tricycle landing gear. Pilots accessed the cockpit through automobile style doors. Pilots had great visibility through a raised canopy. Airacobras had a deadly bite; armed to massacre bombers, in its sleek nose was a 37 mm Oldsmobile T9 automatic cannon paired with twin .50-caliber machine guns. The wings bristled with a quartet of .30-calibers. P-39 bellies were hardened for drop tanks and bombs.
Despite all of the positive features of Bell’s Airacobra, the P-39 has a poor reputation with the Western Allies. It was crippled by the lack of a practical turbocharger for the Allison which could fit in the compact fuselage, condemning it to a mere single-stage, single-speed supercharger. USAAC doctrine foresaw an air war which would be fought just above the weeds during close air support (CAS); when America was dragged into the Second World War, USAAF (recently redesigned from USAAC) found the air war climbing higher than the 12,000-foot critical altitude the Allison powerplant maxed out at. Interestingly, P-39N and Q had an uprated V-1710 which allowed it to maintain 375mph at 20,000 despite lack of a high-altitude supercharger. (Bell eventually redesigned the P-39 into the P-63 King Cobra, with a high-altitude engine, sporting performance in the 400 mph-class. One P-63 shot down a Japanese aircraft over Reno, Nevada in 1945.) The unique internal configuration made the Airacobra tricky if stalled and led to the reputation that it would tumble, undermining pilots’ willingness to maneuver it to the edge of the envelope. The intimidating 37mm cannon had poor air-to-air qualities – when it wasn’t jammed. (The weapon eventually found favor with the United States Navy – on their PT boats!) Britain acquired P-39s and replaced the cannon with a reliable 20mm cannon; Britain was so impressed by the P-39 that they gave them all back. USAAF P-39s fought over North Africa in the CAS role, although they would fly CAP (Combat Air Patrol) over installations beyond the range of German fighters. USAAF P-39s did shoot down dozens of German aircraft, just not many fighters. (Except for the last European USAAF P-39 air-to-air engagement which saw Airacobras down several Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulfs over Italy on 2 April 1944!) Indeed, Japanese fighter pilots over New Guinea preferred to engage P-39s, describing the Airacobra as “Meat on the table”. P-39s on Guadalcanal became known as “The fishing fleet”: the Japanese would arrive and the Bells would head out to sea (away from the Japanese).
Yet, P-39 was very useful in ground-attack, USAAF and allies employing them in that role in Europe and the Pacific into 1944.
The majority of P-39s went to Russia under Lend-Lease. On the Eastern Front Bell’s P-39, like the maligned Brewster Buffalo, found redemption as an air superiority fighter. While Western Allied pilots created only one ace in type, the Red Air Force pilots loved the “Kobra” and used it in knife fights against Luftwaffe fighters, creating hosts of aces. It was a “Kobra” that popped Gerhard Barkhorn, the world’s second-ranking ace, out of the sky. One Soviet ace scored 48 of his 59 kills in type, almost half again more than the West’s leading ace; four of six top Soviet aces scored most of their kills in “Kobras”, and the Bell lasted on front line to fly over Berlin looking for trouble. Success can be attributed to the air war above Russia being lower than over Western Europe and the Pacific, so the P-39 was employed in the manner and altitude strata the Allison was optimized for, demonstrating how well things can work when employed correctly. P-39 was neither a world-beater nor a failure.
In the hanger
The model is sealed in a plastic bag with the clear sprue inside its own seal-sealing baggie. A 12-page loose leaf instruction booklet and decals accompany eight light gray and clear sprues:
A. Fuselage halves
C. Cockpit, bomb, and other parts that did not fit on another sprue
D. Horizontal stabilizers, control surfaces, drop tank halves
E. Landing gear
G. Propellers and spinner; gunsight;
K. Clear parts
L. Exhaust stacks and parts
Sprues F and H – J are not included in this kit.
While I have never seen the Special Hobby 1/32 P-39D except on-line, I have read that Revell of Germany acquired the kit. That makes sense as the sprues appear to be identical. The only differences are that RoG replaced Special Hobby’s resin exhaust stubs with injection molded parts, and dispensed with the photo-etch S.H. included.
Regardless, RoG’s big Airacobra positively impressed me when I first unpacked the sprues. It is very cleanly molded with smooth external surfaces, with excellent fine surface detail, raised and recessed as appropriate. I cannot find any sinks, visible ejection circles or meaningful seam lines, and only a small amount of flash. The worst exception I found is a forward extension of the bottom wing, which blends into the underside of the nose, and along the edges of the pilot seat. A few other parts that bother me are the cockpit console and the machine gun butts: these have soft detail and a surface texture that looks like fingerprints. There is a raised circle on the rudder; after many minutes searching for photographs of real P-39s, I discovered that this is not a ghastly molding mistake, rather an access hatch. However, there should be a second one farther down, and close-ups of a captured Soviet P-39 displayed in a Finnish museum show these circles are recessed.
Scrutinizing the surface detail I am very impressed with most of it except for some of the simulated fabric control surfaces. The parts are molded looking quite solid. They appear to be aluminum with burly seams to simulate the reinforcing seams with not even a hint of sag between the ribs, sag that is apparent in the rudder in prototype photographs. I would prefer they over accentuated the sag as it is easier to fill the voids than to sand sag in. However, the kit parts may be authentic per this following 1943 description
Ailerons are fabric covered monospar structures of the "Frise" type with built-up ribs of extruded shapes in some cases and formed ribs in others. The built-up ribs, tied together with gusset plates, are capstripped with metal channel assemblies used in conjunction with thin metal retainer strips to tie down fabric skin covering, giving a flush surface. Leading edge ribs are formed and blanked sheet riveted to the .040-gauge Alclad beam. Trailing edges are formed strips enclosing the skin fabric. *
P-39 has unique rows of access hatches on both sides of the wings, along the leading and trailing edges. This model replicates these nicely. With all of the compound curves forming the contour of the nose, I am happy to see a separate panel for the nose panels with the .50 caliber muzzles.
Finally, a couple of quick test-fits indicate that this should be a fun model to assemble! I will leave it to others to match the contours to blueprints for accuracy, although I see nothing to support nitpicky criticisms on other sites.
Plenty! Dozens of pieces build the cockpit including separate rudder pedals, top and bottom instrument panels and switch consoles, turnover bulkhead, engine controls, fuse boxes, transverse windshield frame, N3 gunsight, and .50 caliber receivers. Instrument faces feature fine dial detail. Separate parts attach to, and inside of, the leading edges for the cooler intakes. One may imagine the cockpit by the fact that it is assembled in 15 steps.
Six pieces assemble the nose gear well, then two more pieces detail the interior – before the strut, fairings, and actuators are installed! While the main gear wheel wells are part of the bottom wing, the strut wells are separate inserts. Speaking of the landing gear, each strut features separate torque scissors. Both main wheels are four-part assemblies and the hubs have sharp detail. Landing gear fairings are separate parts and attach via brackets; both nose doors attach to the fuselage with three each individual hinges. Those fairings have good interior detail. Landing gear components are assembled with 17 steps although, granted, many steps only illustrate the adding of one part.
The drop tank is restrained with four individual anti-sway shackles. All seven gun barrels are individual parts. Finally, the gunsight reflector and nav lights are individual clear parts. On the subject of the clear parts, the canopy features slightly raised framing, is distortion-free and thin. Perhaps too thin – mine has a huge crack in it. I have found a review of the S.H. P-39D which suffered the same problem.
The model and molding are not perfect. The turnover bulkhead had several holes in it but these are not molded open and will need to be drilled out. Photographs show more detail inside the cockpit doors than the kit provides. Yet, most of the “not perfect-isms” are interior items. The exterior quality is very high.
Modelers who want a good look at the P-39 can view Cannons on Wings
, a half-hour color film produced by Bell Aircraft during WWII, by clicking Click here for additional images for this review
, at the end of this review.
Instructions, decals, paint
Revell of Germany’s instructional booklet is quite impressive, printed in German and English and 16 other languages. The front page is a history of the P-39. This history is good except for the part about the fighter in the Pacific,
…enabled it to dominate the A6M Zero in a dogfight. Its maneuverability in combat became equally as legendary with the pilots as its performance.
Uhhh…something most have gotten lost in translation. In the PTO P-39 was known as "The Iron Dog".
Regardless, the instructions are 12 pages long, including all of the usual Read This
disclaimers and warnings, graphic symbols guide, and paint list. RoG includes line art showing all of the sprues with unused items shaded. In each of the clearly illustrated 57 assembly steps, parts are shown and keyed, as are paint colors to be used.
Only Revell paint is listed. RoG has simplified the painting of the model. Follow their guidance and you will have a nice looking P-39D. Pick up a book or browse the internet for further sources and you can paint an accurate and authentic model with Bell’s unique color variations.
Decals fill up a big 11” x 6” sheet. They are precisely printed, opaque, and thin. However, while the carrier film is closely cropped along the markings, visible clear areas have that frosted appearance that I have only encountered in RoG models. I am curious how this generation of RoG decals will work as previous examples have been disappointing due to the frosty clear film.
I did not count how many decals there are but 103 are keyed, with several duplicates. Many are maintenance stenciling for all of those interesting wing access hatches. Markings for two Airacobras are provided:
1. AIR A CUTIE
, tail number unconfirmed, 36th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force, Milne Bay, New Guinea, 1943
2. ”UMP”, ”Black 4”
: this is the 31st Pursuit Group (Interceptor) Commanding Officer’s P-39 during the 1941 South Carolina wargames. RoG misidentifies it as 36th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group, New Guinea, 1943 (Something most have gotten lost in translation again, or perhaps the saucy Air A Cutie
nose art distracted the editor?)
Once upon a time a young modeler in awe of Monogram’s P-39 and overjoyed by their release of the 1/48 B-17, wrote to them requesting 1/32 models of his favorite airplanes. Some three decades and a vacuform and a resin 1/32 P-39 later, Special Hobby filled that wish. Now Revell of Germany continues the dream. Yes, this model fulfills my desire for a big scale Airacobra and pleases me with its level of detail and quality. It looks very accurate. The surface detail and quality of molding is very high. Interior detail is impressive, too. That decal sheet – I can’t wait to start putting on those dozens of stencils! The model should be easy to build with the excellent instruction sheet.
Disappointments are the soft molding and odd texture of some interior parts. Some components need to be drilled out for accuracy, and some interior detail (cockpit doors) lack detail. The thin clear parts perhaps suffer from being too thin. RoG printed inaccurate decal information. The simplified painting guide could be better. And the frosty carrier film of the decals disturbs me, based on prior RoG decal experience.
Those foibles notwithstanding, I am very happy to have this model and look forward to building it! While I have not seen a built example in person, I have complete confidence that I will find the 30-some-year wait for a 1/32 P-39 well worth the wait! I happily recommend it.
Revell model kits are available from all good toy and model retailers. For details visit www.revell.de/en, @RevellGermany or facebook.com/Revell
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.
Bell Aircraft Corporation. Cannons on Wings.
Video. [http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc13628/]. n.d.
E. Eugene Miller. Design Analysis of the Bell Airacobra. From Cannon to Tail.
Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 5, pp 126-155. May, 1943. [http://legendsintheirowntime.com/P39/P39_Av_4305_DA.html].
P-39 Index. [http://legendsintheirowntime.com/P39/P39_index.html]. n.d.
37 mm Automatic Gun, M4, Bell P-39 Airacobra . [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfDXbe6Rcx8].
Revell model kits are available from all good toy and model retailers. For details visit www.revell.de/en, @RevellGermany or facebook.com/Revell
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE