(Webmaster's note: while this review is of a military C-97, most of the comments on construction are applicable to a Boeing 377 Airliner. When necessary, I will point out differences and things to watch for; my annotations will be in italics--Andy)
Minicraft is to be commended for their ambitious series of subjects in this popular airliner scale. Iíve always been a fan of the C-97, and three kits were announced: KC-97G, C-97G, and the airliner version Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.
Molded in light gray plastic with engraved panel lines, the first impression is not favorable, with quite a few trouble areas immediately evident. First, the engraving is quite heavy-handed. Not quite Matchbox-like trenches, but close. There are some molding flaws on the bottom of each wing and the vertical stabilizer that need to be sanded out. Secondly, the propellers are really badly executed. The blades are extremely thick, and the hubs are horrible misrepresentations of the real things. This kind of quality in a brand new kit is very disappointing. The landing gear and wheels are nicely done, demonstrating that Minicraft is capable of creating fine moldings when they put their minds to it. The landing gear doors, however, are way too thick. The nose gear door is especially bad, and it was left off the model in the pictures in this review. I have since replaced the door with a piece cut from a sheet of .010 styrene. Thirdly, Minicraft does not offer the slightest representation of the R-3350 engines. The forward area of each cowling is devoid of any detail whatsoever. There is also nothing inside the wheel wells, but that is forgivable in this scale, I suppose.
Like other aircraft in this series, the forward nose section is molded in clear plastic so the modeler can fill in the seams of the canopy area without interfering with the windows, a thoughtful touch. The rest the passenger windows are represented by decals. The Pan Am decals in the Stratocruiser kit are also of good quality, and represent the mid-1950s white top livery, with large "PAA" titles on the tail. All windows and door/exit outlines are printed over the cheatline. If you want to scribe in your doors and exits, the decals are a reasonably good guide for this.
The fuselage molding is sort of an "all things to all variants" work.
The fuselage does not have any of the main deck doors or exits scribed
in at all. This was probably done to accomidate the wide variation
in window and exit configurations not only within USAF variants, but within
the airline variants as well (see the variant briefing on the main page).
The lower deck does have the forward airstair doors scribed in, but on
both sides! To build an airliner, fill in the scribed door on the
left side; to build a USAF aircraft, fill in the scribed door on the right.
My first area of attention was the propellers. I tried to sand down each blade to reduce the thickness, then spent a couple of hours filing the propeller hubs in an attempt to represent their actual shape on the real aircraft. When I finished, it looked better than what the kit originally offered, but not nearly as good as it should have been in the first place. Aeroclub does offer a set of C-97 propellors, originally made for the Welsh vacuform kit. I have not seen these, however, so I can't comment on the quality.
I next worked on the engine nacelles. After gluing the two halves together, I found that I could not attach them to the wing, as the mounting pins are square in shape and their corresponding holes were round. Here, amazingly, we have a real-life example of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I cut the pins off and glued the nacelles on directly. The cowlings were applied next, followed by a lot of sanding and seam filling (I used thick CA glue) to make everything right. The alignment of the cowlings is not great, either, so be careful when you glue them on.
Aeroclub also makes a set of 14 cylinder engines. While the Wasp engines in the C97 and 377 aircraft have 28 cylinders, two rows are probably all that will be visible inside the cowling--and it's a damn sight better looking than the flat fronts on the kit cowlings! The metal moldings on the engines are well done, so these are worth purchasing.
The fuselage has its own set of problems, mostly dealing with huge (for this scale) gaps in the fit, especially on the upper rear of the fuselage. After gluing the two halves together, I loaded up the interior with BBs mixed in a slurry of five-minute epoxy to weight the nose so the model would sit properly on its tricycle landing gear. After this dried, I painted the interior flat black. The instructions mention that a ½ ounce of weight is needed, but my experience (unfortunately) is that more is needed. I put in what I thought was the right amount of weight, only to find later (after everything was buttoned up) that I needed more. This is a very tail-heavy model. My solution was to drill a hole in the fuselage just big enough the drop some more BBs in. My model now does a very good job of imitating a bean bag with all those BBs rattling around. Consider yourself warned: use more than enough weight.
Fitting the clear canopy section involved more filling of the prominent seam after masking the windows off to prevent scratching them while sanding. To improve the fit of the fishbowl-shaped clear part, cut off the alignment flanges on the rear of the molding; this makes good alignment easier and cuts down on the filling and sanding. The quarter windows are too squared off at the back, and should be painted in more of a circular shape on the back edge, as corroborated by photos.
The wings attached to the fuselage without problems, but the horizontal
stabilizers did not fit properly at the first attempt. I filed and sanded
the underside and finally managed to get them to fit flush with the fairing.
The decals, as mentioned
before, are of excellent quality and went on the model perfectly. I did
not use any sealers either before or after the decal stage. For final assembly,
I attached the landing gear and two antenna wires made from "invisible"
nylon thread. I drilled a hole with a twist drill in the nose to represent
the landing light.
My excitement about the introduction
of the Minicraft C-97 series was diminished by the disappointing fit and
finish of major parts. Perhaps Iím expecting too much for $10, but I wonder
how hard it would have been to produce more accurate propellers, representations
of the engine fronts, and less heavy-handed scribing. Academy has announced
a 1/72 scale version in the coming year, so perhaps we will see a truly
state-of-the-art kit of this non-mainstream subject soon. As for the Minicraft
series, I can reluctantly recommend them, but they really could have been
better without too much more effort.
This review originally
appeared on Scott Van Aken's Modeling Madness Webzine, and is reproduced
here with their permission.