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KIT REVIEW


Special Hobby # SH48158
AF-2W Guardian "Submarine Hunter" -- 1:48 Scale



Grumman Aircraft Corporation gained extensive fame for its TBF Avenger torpedo bomber in World War II.  The Avenger projected naval air power against enemy ships, including subs. Yet, it was not optimized to the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) role.  Grumman saw that a dedicated sub hunter could be developed in future designs.  Following the war, the Grumman AF-2 Guardian emerged as not one, but two planes that functioned as a sub-hunting team.  Long ignored by mainstream injection-molded kit manufacturers, Special Hobby released a 1:48 scale pair of Guardian kits, and even though they have been out for a while, they’re worth a serious look.  Here, let’s take a look their multimedia kit of the AF-2W “Hunter” variant of the Guardian in 1:48 scale.    

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In 1944, weight increases in the TBF Avenger began to degrade its performance significantly.  Grumman developed the XTB2F in response.  It was a twin-engined carrier-based torpedo bomber that could carry two tons of ordnance and had a range of nearly 4,000 miles.  Despite its promise, the XTBF2F was just too large, and the Navy terminated the program before it ever flew.  Still, many concepts developed for the XTBF2F resurfaced in the subsequent Grumman Models G-66 and G-70.  On paper, the G-70 originally fitted with a Pratt & Whitney radial engine in the nose and a Westinghouse turbojet in the tail. Designated as the XTB3F, it first flew in late 1946.  The turbojet was installed but was not operated in flight.

Mere days after that first flight, the Navy envisioned the Douglas AD Skyraider as its single engine attack aircraft, and the XTBF3 was shifted into the ASW role.  The airplane was re-designated as the AF Guardian.  Even though it was the largest single-engine propeller-driven airplane to be operated from a carrier deck, it was still physically impossible to cram all the required ASW gear into one airframe.  Miniaturized electronics were not yet available.  Thus, one of the more interesting “teams” in the history of naval aviation emerged.  Grumman would produce two variants: the AF-2W that was the “hunter” and the AF-2S, which was the “killer.”

The AF-2W represented the eyes and ears of this sub-hunting team that would identify contacts for the AF-2S to attack.  The AF-2W was unarmed.  It was fitted with a very distinctive ventral radome that contained the AN/APS-20 search radar.  An additional two crewmembers operated the radar, along with the APR-98 or AN/APA-69A ECM receiver and AN/APA-70C Bearing Indicator.  The production AF-2S did away with the cannons in favor of a bomb bay that could fit torpedoes, depth charges, HVAR rockets, and conventional bombs.  The -2S also had a searchlight and much smaller short-range radar used in close-range targeting.  

The first of 389 AF Guardian airframes entered fleet service in September 1950. Development of tactics were rather straightforward with the “Guppy” (AF-2W) guiding the “Scrapper” (AF-2S) to submerged targets.  Production ended in 1953, and the last was withdrawn from frontline service a mere two years later and Naval Reserve service in 1957. The Guardian hunter-killer team was seen as being effective in its role in maritime patrol in the Atlantic and Pacific as the mainstay of the U.S. Navy’s antisubmarine efforts in the early days of the Cold War.  It also provided Task Force 77’s ASW support during the Korean conflict.  And yet, Guardians were not particularly pilot-friendly.  Its size made carrier operations quite tricky with little margin for deck handling errors.  In the air, its relatively poor maneuverability and lack of power contributed to a high accident rate.  Not long after it entered service, Grumman was hard at work on the follow-on aircraft: the far more successful and long-lived S2F Tracker which drew upon lessons learned from the Guardian.

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Special Hobby’s 1:48 scale AF-2W contains 128 medium gray injection molded polystyrene parts across 8 sprues, with an additional 15 clear parts on one sprue.  About 40 parts in total are not used here as the sprues overlap almost completely with Special Hobby’s AF-2S kit.  The kit also contains 39 photoetched metal parts and 36 cast resin parts.  The full color instruction booklet guides the build over 27 steps.  Decals for two AF-2Ws are provided:

Strengths:  For a long time, the only 1:48 scale Grumman AF Guardian kit was the Collect-Aire resin kit – expensive, hard-to-find today, and not necessarily everyone’s favorite medium to work in.  This Special Hobby kit brings the Guardian into the injection-molded mainstream.  Personally, this delights me - not only as someone with many connections to Grumman, but more broadly as this airplane has been a long-neglected subject in the world of plastic kits that cover 1950s U.S. naval aviation.

Overall kit quality is somewhere between “very high-end MPM” and Special Hobby’s current production standards.  Shape and configuration all look good to me including the ventral radome.  If there are any errors here, I do not see them.  Surface quality is smooth and a bit shiny.  Yet, there’s also a widespread fine grainy texture on many parts (i.e., fuselage, wings), so some fine sanding would be a good idea as part of one’s basic parts preparation. Panel lines are engraved.  The engine cowling and engine maintenance access panels feature recessed fasteners, but that’s about it.  There are no other surface fasteners or rivets to speak of on the surface of the kit.

Parts engineering is rather standard, with left and right fuselage halves and upper and lower wing halves.  No real special challenges in terms of construction are evident.  The two most detail-intensive parts of the kit are the cockpit and engine.  The instrument console and side consoles look pretty good, but the knobs and buttons are recessed details.  No detail painting here, and probably the one technique to use here to bring out those details is a light grey wash to get into all those recesses.  A good number of the photoetched metal parts also make their way into the cockpit including pilot restraints.  They do a fine job of enhancing cockpit detail.  Most of the resin parts (aside from a few external air scoops) do a fantastic job in representing the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 powerplant.  One does have to add pushrods on their own, but the detail on everything from the spinner, cylinder heads, and engine body are just beautifully executed in resin.  Clear parts look great in terms of their optical quality.  The decals sheet by AviPrint likewise looks like a winner, and all the markings in white appear to be appropriately thickly printed to avoid any transparency issues when placed on a dark sea blue airplane. 

Weaknesses:  Sprue gates are of the typically large variety seen in a lot of Special Hobby kits.  For some of the connections between sprues with the fuselage and wings, I’d suggest using a fine razor saw simply because part removal and cleanup will involve a whole lot less work this way.  You’ll get cleaner separation, too.  There are also no mounting tabs or alignment pins, so as usual, I would suggest making your own in this situation with some styrene stock.  In most places, ejection pins are relatively well hidden and out-of-the-way except for a few in the main gear wells that will require removal.

There are parts for the radar operator stations behind the cockpit.  Yet, they each consist only of a forward bulkhead, floor, and seat. Granted, these assemblies will be virtually invisible inside the completed kit, but the lack of detail is still a bit disappointing.  The instructions also show the separate canopy being placed on the model in only the closed position, but simply sliding it back on the rails should allow the builder the easy opportunity to position the canopy open.  Also, do note none of the control surfaces are separate parts and the wings are not foldable.     

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Overall, this is a strong kit and there are a lot of positives to report here.  The resin engine and PE details are indeed a highlight and will help to produce a very good replica of the Guardian.  Along with Special Hobby’s AF-2S kit (SH 48135), many scale modelers will be quite pleased to now have the Grumman AF Guardian family finally available as 1:48 scale plastic kits.  For those scale modelers looking for some more detail, Scale Aircraft Conversions does a set of metal landing gear, Barracuda Studios produces resin main wheel replacements, and Caracal Decals offers one aftermarket decal sheet with eye-catching alternative markings.  To save some time masking the clear parts, Montex offers a pre-cut vinyl masking set.        

Sincere thanks are owed to Special Hobby for the review sample. You visit them on the web at http://www.specialhobby.info and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/specialhobby.

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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