Academy Boeing 377 Stratocruiser preview

by Jennings Heilig
Airway Graphics International

Photo of finished model, as seen on Academy's website.  Looks like we better get good at natural metal finishes!

Thanks to Dick Laurence for getting me a rush delivery copy of the new  Academy 1/72 Stratocruiser kit direct from Japan.  Apparently the kit was released there before even being released at home in Korea.  I assume by now that most of you who are interested in it have seen the "first look" review posted on the web  (Note: here is a direct link to the preview, as seen on Internet Modeler.)

  The kit, overall, is quite good.   As usual, it's molded in medium grey.  Upon first hearing about this kit I had some grave reservations about what Academy was going to do with its existing B-50 molds trying to make a Strat out of them, as the two types are more like cousins than brothers.  Fortunately, Academy seems to have done most of their homework, and as a result, the only B-50 sprues used are those for the wings, stabilizers, and some landing gear parts.  As a result of that, we still get B-29/B-50 cockpit floor, gun turret parts, and oxygen bottles.  Otherwise the kit is all new, and (thank goodness) incorporates the myriad changes made to the B-50 nacelles, etc, to turn it into the B-377.

  As has been mentioned elsewhere, the kit is designed to be issued as a 377, and as a USAF C-97 freighter and a KC-97 tanker.  Thus it is somewhat "modular", with a separate insert for the lower aft fuselage where the
boomer's pod would fit.  Another giveaway is the molded-in TACAN antenna on top of the fin tip.  Most later 377s had a simple red rotating anti-collision beacon there, so the TACAN antenna and its mount have to be
sanded off (easy to do).

  The cockpit interior is excellent, and is equipped with pilot, navigator, and engineer positions.  With all that glass up front, it's likely to be quite easy to see in there with a flashlight (torch).  No other interior detail is provided (nor probably needed).  All detail for the cabin and cargo doors are only provided as decals (black lines).  This also applies to the various (and numerous) vents and air outlets on the wings and engine
nacelles.  Not, perhaps, the best way to portray these prominent features in 1/72 scale.

  The fuselage is molded with round cabin windows on both decks, indicating that it's intended to be a Pan Am airplane.  It's unfortunate that Academy chose to mold the kit with open windows, or at least to have molded them in the way they did.  Since Strats were built in the days of specific airplane configurations for specific customers (unlike today's modular designs), you are limited to building airplanes which originated in Pan Am's fleet, or else you'll be doing some interesting repositioning and adding of windows.  If you're trying to do a BOAC (later a/c), United, or Northwest airplane, you'll be cutting new rectangular windows on at least part of the fuselage.  Not an easy task, and one for which trying to figure out what was where is highly confusing at best...  Interestingly, if you look inside the fuselage,  it appears that the strip where the window openings are located may be a mold insert.  Since the original box art shown for this kit in Japan showed a Pan Am airplane with rectangular cabin windows, I suspect we may at some point be in for a United or Northwest airplane with those windows.  If so,  it will make life a bit easier for those of us who want something other than Pan Am.
Some of the details on the kit reflect a bit of confusion on the part of the designers.  The kit is equipped with cuffed Curtiss electric props with small spinners.  The vast majority of airline Strats were equipped with
either square or round tipped Hamilton Standard hydromatic props, none of which had cuffs on the roots, and all of which had larger spinners  (Note: United did use the cuffed props on their Strats, but then you'll have to cut your own rectangular windows on the lower deck.  Oh boy, oh joy!).  This is not terribly easy to correct since the blade shapes were notably different.  Some enterprising resin manufacturer has a ready-made market there!

  The main wheels represent a type fitted late in the lives of some 377s, but many were equipped with one of several other types earlier on.  Not a huge thing, but noticeable in many photos.  Likewise, the nose wheel is not
correct, as it's the same one issued with the B-29 and B-50 kits.  It has 7 spoke openings, and the Strat's had 6.  I have no idea why, but that's the way it was.  Also, the nose gear strut is that of the B-29, and is missing a
rather prominent collection of hardware.  Another ready-made market for a white metal strut!

  One of the big things I was afraid Academy would miss was the vastly different shape of the engine nacelles on the 377.  Fortunately, they've done their homework here very well!  You get entirely new moldings for the
nacelles, cowlings, and turbosupercharger housings.  Also on the sprue with the engine nacelle parts are external wing tanks for the KC-97 variant to come.

  Decals are provided for a Boeing prototype (a Pan Am aircraft) in the house colors.  The lettering for the cabin titles is a bit of a rough imitation of Boeing's "Stratotype" company typeface, but otherwise the inclusion of a demonstrator scheme is laudable.  The other choice is for Pan Am's N1022V, Clipper Nightengale in the original natural metal scheme.  This scheme looks pretty good overall.  Decals are also provided for the
instrument panels for the pilots and engineer.  These are only in black & white, so some dabs of various colors of paint will liven them up.  Yellow decals are also provided for the tips of the props.  Nice touch!

  Overall, a very nice kit from Academy.  It's really big, so make plenty of room for the finished model.  Hopefully we'll see another issue with square windows at some point.  I'm anxiously awaiting the KC-97 variant.

Jennings Heilig
Airway Graphics International & Liveries Unlimited
P.O. Box 737
Blacksburg, VA  24063-0737

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