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KIT REVIEW


Eduard Bella Limited Edition P-39s -- 1:48 Scale



At the beginning of WWII, the Bell P-39 Airacobra was one of the front-line USAAC fighters.  In short order, the P-39 became obsolete, but other Allied nations still found the P-39 to be an invaluable asset.  In particular, the Soviet Union made extremely effective use of the rugged and well-armed Airacobra, and in their hands, it accumulated the greatest number of individual kills attributed to any American fighter in the Eastern European theatre.  In this limited edition kit set, Eduard provides parts for a pair of their P-39 kits in 1:48 scale, along with photoetched metal detail parts and a masking set for both, and markings for 10 P-39s in Soviet service.

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The origins of the P-39 date to 1937 when the United States Army Air Corps issued a specification for a new, single engine high-altitude fighter.  Bell Aircraft responded with a unique proposal to say the least – featuring a bullet-like, streamlined nose, an Allison V-12 engine mounted in the mid-fuselage behind the cockpit, and a 37 mm Oldsmobile T9 cannon that would fire through the propeller hub.  The design also featured distinctive “car doors” providing access to the cockpit.  The fuselage structure was unusual as it was  innovative, featuring a rugged central keel that incorporated the cannon, cockpit, and engine.  Two strong fuselage beams to port and starboard formed the basis of the structure

The XP-39 made its maiden flight in April 1938 at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio.  While the XP-39 was both fast and demonstrated exemplary climb performance, its development process involved lots of fine tuning to its engineering to coax out better performance, maneuverability, and speed, especially above 20,000 feet.  Yet, a turbocharger was never fitted, and its single-speed supercharger meant that its performance really fell off anywhere above 17,000 feet.  Guns were added in the wings, and depending on the production model, wing armament fits would usually involve combinations of .50 and .30 caliber machine guns.

As with many cases including the P-51, Great Britain was the first to order and operate P-39s in quantity, though they only filled the ranks of one squadron.  RAF evaluations found that Hurricane and Spitfire outclassed the P-39, and only four RAF Airacobras saw action in the Battle of Dunkirk attacking German barges.  In the Pacific, USAAF P-39s fought over Guadalcanal, and at lower altitudes, generally demonstrated parity with the feared Zero. 

The Red Air Force were perhaps the most notable P-39 operator of WWII.  They received nearly 5,000 via the Lend-Lease Act, and many of them were the improved N and Q variants.  More than 1,000 of those were lost in combat.  Soviet pilots effectively employed the cannon (either a 20 mm Hispano or a 37 mm Browning M4) in air-to-air and air-to-ground roles alike.  Russian P-39s were quite effective against German bombers and earlier generation Bf 109s and Fw 190s.  While the type had been retired by the USAAF in 1944, the P-39 flew on in Russian hands until the very end of the war in Europe.  The last plane shot down by the Luftwaffe was a Soviet P-39 (8 May 1945) and the last Soviet air-to-air kill of WWII was by a P-39 on the following day against a Fw 189.  Five of the 10 highest scoring Soviets aces claimed their kills in P-39s.  Grigoriy Rechkalov (see below) scored 44 kills in Airacobras, while Alexandr Pokryshkin (also see below) scored 47 of his 59 victories in P-39s, making him the highest scoring P-39 fighter pilot of all.  The airplane was finally retired by the Soviet Air Forces by 1949 as the dawn of the jet age was well under way. 

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Eduard’s 1:48 scale Limited Edition kit set Bella comes with parts to build two P-39s – amounting to six injection molded polystyrene sprues containing 248 parts, 12 clear parts on two sprues, 76 pre-painted photoetched metal parts on one fret, 53 additional unpainted PE parts on an unpainted fret, a die-cut self-adhesive masking set for two P-39s, a clear acetate sheet with six parts, and one large decal sheet.  The full color instruction booklet organizes the build over 40 (unnumbered) steps. Markings options for ten Soviet P-39s are provided:

Strengths:  Eduard’s 1:48 scale P-39s have been with us for nearly two decades, forming a large family of releases and boxings since 2000.  They stand the test of time, as the plastic parts fit very, very well, engineering is straightforward and relatively uncomplicated, and the detail (especially exterior recessed panel lines, rivets, and fasteners) is great, even considering today’s standards.  In short, the Eduard 1:48 scale P-39 really has earned its great reputation among scale modelers.  

The really impressive elements of this limited edition kit set start with the fact that you get TWO of these great kits in one box.  The photoetched metal detail sets are outstanding, especially the comprehensive pre-painted photoetched metal details for the cockpit.  The fidelity of the prepainting effects is very impressive, from the instrument faces with the additional raised glass effects to stitching and shading on the seatbelts.  The unpainted fret includes parts for radiator grills, cockpit door details, wiring, and multiple external airframe details.  The masking set will save a lot of time with masking the canopy, and as a really nice touch, masks for the upper wing walkways are also provided. In my opinion, decals are fine for wing walkways, but painting them is better, and Eduard masks are ideal for this purpose. 

Finally, you've got some awesome markings options.  The decal sheet and markings options really make this limited edition set even more impressive.  All the choices are outstanding for the scale modeler, and include many variations involving paint schemes, unit markings, and so forth.  Markings option B represents probably the most famous of all Soviet P-39s – Rechkalov’s Airacobra – at the end of the war.  The airplanes of other famous Russian P-39 drivers, such as a Pokryshkin, Klubov, Kozhevnikov, and others are represented on the decal sheet.  You will have a hard choice figuring out which schemes to do.  The decals themselves were printed by Cartograf, and they all look awesome.  I can see no technical errors in printing in any respect.  There are also two thoroughly comprehensive sets of airframe stencils on the decal sheet as well.     

Weaknesses:  Only a few things to consider here.  The exhaust stacks are flat-ended, and you’ll want to either drill them out or replace them with aftermarket parts.  While you have decals to represent the instrument faces if you opt not to use the photoetched metal parts, the kit cockpit by itself is pretty basic.  The same might be said for the detail about the gear wells – admittedly a bit on the basic side, though still nice.  Control surfaces are not separate pieces. 

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Eduard continues to get mileage out of their solid 2000-era P-39 molds, especially when combined with contemporary-quality photoetched metal parts, masking sets, paired with killer decals and markings options.  I’d call this a “must have” for fans of the P-39 and its nice balance between relative engineering simplicity, great detail, and outstanding markings options extends an solid invitation to a wide range of scale modelers.

Sincere thanks are owed to Eduard for the review sample.  You can visit them on the web at http://www.eduard.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/EduardCompany

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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