Zoukei Mura 1/32 A-1H Skyraider

KIT #: ?
PRICE: $215.00
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


             The Skyraider began life as a 1944 Navy proposal for an airplane to replace the SB2C Helldiver and TBF Avenger, a single-seat aircraft equally capable as a dive or torpedo bomber.  Designed by the legendary Ed Heineman at Douglas, the prototype was ordered as the XBT2D-1 on July 6, 1944, with its first flight on March 18, 1945.  The airplane was “right” and passed manufacturer’s tests by the following April, at which time the Navy began testing it over the next year.  Redesignated AD-1 (Attack, Douglas), it was ordered into production in April 1945 as the BT2D-1, with 548 aircraft ordered.  This was reduced to 277 in September 1945.  In 1946 the aircraft was redesignated the AD-1.  VA-1B took the first AD-1s aboard USS Midway in November 1947.  Named the Skyraider, it was the first attack aircraft capable of lifting its own weight in ordnance.

             The Korean War saved the Skyraider, which was set to go out of production in 1950 following completion of the order for AD-3s. However, the A2D Skyshark was delayed, and there was no other aircraft capable of taking the Skyraider’s role aboard ship.  The AD-4 increased armament from two to four 20mm cannon in the wings.  The night attack version which first appeared as the AD-1N had two radar operators in the rear fuselage; each subsequent sub-type included the night attack version and others were modified for electronic countermeasures as well as airborne early warning aircraft with a large radome under the fuselage.  The Skyraider first saw combat immediately following the outbreak of the Korean War, and provided the heavy attack squadron for Navy carriers throughout the conflict.  One notable attack was breaching the Hwachon Dam in 1952.  Conventional bombing would be unable to breach the dam, so the mission was flown with torpedoes, the first (and last) use of aerial torpedoes in combat by the Navy since the Second World War.  RADM John W. Hoskins, commanding Task Force 77 stated “I am convinced the Skyraider is the most effective close-support aircraft in the world!”

             Production continued through the 1950s, as no other design was able to replace the piston-engined Skyraider in terms of capability and dependability.  The final version, the AD-6, appeared in 1953, produced in parallel with the multi-seat AD-5.  Production terminated in 1956 after 713 AD-6s came off the line.  The  AD-7 entered production shortly thereafter and the last Skyraider built came off the production line on February 18, 1957, by which time 3,180 Skyraiders had been produced.  The aircraft was redesignated the A-1E/H/J when the system was changed in 1962. It fulfilled every task from close air support to low-level nuclear strike, night attack, airborne early warning and electronic countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, troop-carrying and target towing, and even air combat against jet-powered opponents.  No other basic airframe has ever fulfilled such a multitude of roles in Navy service, and the last Skyraiders to see combat were operated in 1984.

             In 1962, Skyraiders were transferred to the Viet Nam Air Force of South Vietnam to replace aging F8F-1B Bearcats, and the Skyraider entered its second war.  With range, load-carrying capability and loiter time, the airplane was an unbeatable combination and was so good at what it did that the Air Force decided in 1964 to begin operating the airplane.  Navy attack squadrons entered direct combat in the spring of 1964, flying air support missions over Laos.  The aircraft took part in the attacks on North Vietnam following the alleged Tonkin Gulf “incident” (which never happened as official proclamations declared) in August 1964.

            The Air Force used the airplane for air support in South Vietnam, and to provide close air support for rescue operation in North Vietnam to pick up downed fliers.  It was also used in night attacks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Vietnam, Laos and South Vietnam.  While the Navy finally phased the airplane out in 1968, the Air Force continued using Skyraiders until the end of American participation in the war in 1972.  The South Vietnamese air force used the airplane up to the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.

             The French Air Force took delivery of AD-4N Skyraiders in 1958 under the Military Assistance Program to replace the aging F4U-7 Corsairs.  These were used on operations in Algeria up until independence was declared in 1962.  The French operated their Skyraiders in numerous small African wars for the next twenty years, with the final combat coming in the Chad civil war in the mid-1980s; this was the last operational use of the Skyraider by any air force.  The AEW version of the Skyraider was also used by the British Fleet Air Arm from 1955-64, during which the airplane saw combat during the Suez Intervention in 1956, and was also used at the end of its career to spot Indonesian ships and aircraft during the confrontation with Indonesia in 1962-64.

             Today there are several Skyraider warbirds in operation in both the United States and Europe.  These are almost entirely ex-French Skyraiders, since they were the ones used most recently with the greatest availability of spare parts.  At least two AD-5/A-1E multi-seat Skyraiders are still flown.  The A-1E flown by Major Bernie Fisher on his Medal of Honor mission in 1965 is on display at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio.

             Skyraiders appeared in the motion pictures “The Bridges At Toko-Ri,” “Flight of the Intruder” and “Rescue Dawn.”

 Skyraider vs. MiG-17:

             Surprisingly, the Skyraider was the victor in two air combats against MiG-17 jet fighters over North Vietnam.  The first happened on June 20, 1965, when two Skyraiders of VA-25 operating off the USS Midway flown by Lieutenant Clinton B. Johnson and Lieutenant(j.g.) Charles W. Hartman III were jumped while on a low-level rescue attempt in North Vietnam, with the result that the one MiG that slowed to enter combat through the inexperience of its pilot was shot down by the two Skyraiders.  VA-25 never let the F-4 Phantom squadron aboard the Midway forget who had shot down a fighter.

            In April 1966, VA-176 went aboard the USS Intrepid (CVS-11) to form the first all-attack carrier air wing sent to combat in Southeast Asia, with Intrepid carrying two Skyraider squadrons and two Skyhawk squadrons.  Once in combat, the air wing was primarily involved in close air support operations over South Vietnam operating from Dixie Station in support of the Marines in I Corps.  That fall the ship moved north to take part in Rolling Thunder attacks against North Vietnam.

             On October 9, 1966, Papoose flight was launched to provide close air cover for a RESCAP operation in North Vietnam south of Hanoi in the Red River Delta.  The lead section was LCDR Leo Cook and his wingman LTJG Wiley, with the second section composed of section leader LT Peter Russell and wingman LTJG Tom Patton.  The monsoon season was coming, and the weather conditions were composed of low clouds and light mist over the region.  While maneuvering at low altitude between ridges and clouds to try and spot the downed pilot, Cook and Wiley were jumped by four North Vietnamese MiG-17s.  Calling out the attack, Cook and Wiley stayed low and used their low-speed maneuverability to turn into the attacks as they fought for their lives and called for help.  Russell and Patton, operating in a neighboring valley, popped over the ridge to give support and found themselves directly behind two of the North Vietnamese jets.  Patton, flying A-1H BuNo 137543 under the callsign “Papoose-409," was closest to the enemy fighters and opened fire with his four 20mm cannon from the MiG’s six o-clock.  The jet caught fire and went in from low altitude.  Russell fired at the second MiG and claimed the airplane, while Cook and Wiley put in a claim for a third.  The final credit was one MiG-17 destroyed by Patton, one probably destroyed by Russell, and one damaged by Cook and Wiley.

             VA-176 returned to the east coast on completion of this Southeast Asia deployment and went aboard the USS Saratoga that Spring. On June 8, 1967, the squadron’s aircraft were prepared for launch to bomb Israeli air bases following the unprovoked Israeli attack on and sinking of the USS Liberty off the coast of Egypt on the third day of the Six-Day War, but the mission was called off before launch.

            Following return to the United States that fall, VA-176 transitioned to the A-6 Intruder. 


            Zoukei-Mura’s 1/32 A-1H/J Skyraider is this company’s third release after a 1/32 Shinden and 1/32 Ta-152H; it is the only 1/32 Skyraider kit released so far, though Trumpeter has announced a series of AD-4, A-1E and A-1H Skyraiders, though with no announced release date.

             The kit follows Zoukei-Mura’s policy of providing the most interior detail in their kits of any company.  The R-3350 engine is completely detailed and is the proverbial “model on its own.”  The wingfold can be made to operate.  As is usual with Z-M kits, there is a great deal of interior detail a modeler can add that will never be seen once the model is completed.  Decals are provided for Tom Patton’s MiG-killer, “Papoose-409,” as well as the aircraft flown on that mission by his element leader LT Russell, “Papoose-405.”  Some modelers have complained that VA-176 has been “done to death” by companies, but the fact is their famous bumblebee and thunderbolt tail insignia is without a doubt the most dramatic markings ever carried by a Skyraider.  No underwing ordnance is provided, but a separate kit of bombs and rockets is available.

            It is interesting to note that the kit includes a nicely-done Yankee extraction seat and a larger tailwheel as was used for operation from land bases.  With these parts, a modeler can easily do an Air Force “Sandy.”  Zotz Decals has released two aftermarket sheets for this kit, one of Navy Skyraiders and one of Air Force Skyraiders including the colorful “Lieutenant America.”


            It is very important when starting one of these kits by Zoukei-Mura that one familiarize themself with the instruction booklet and the instruction sequence.  There are a lot of sub-assemblies here, and it is important that they be assembled correctly; with the large number of parts in the very big box, it is easy to forget something or misplace it if you are not carefully paying attention to what you are doing.

             This particular model was being built for display at the Planes of Fame Air Museum, so I knew that I wanted to have the wingfold option operational.  I also thought of displaying the cowling open to reveal the engine, but was defeated in the end by an inability to suss out how to successfully attach the very complicated exhaust system; thus the engine is enclosed in the cowling.  I had contemplated using aftermarket decals, but Ed Maloney told me he liked the “airshow paint job” of Papoose-409 (there’s a reason why three of the five flying Skyraiders in the country carry that marking).

             I had wondered if all the interior structure would be necessary.  I found as I went along that the additional strength of these parts was necessary given the size of the exterior airframe parts.  I was puzzled by the breakdown of the fuselage, but it leads me to think that there might also be an A-1E in the company’s future plans.

             I had already decided I wasn’t going to make the dive brakes operational, since they are almost always closed when a Skyraider is parked.  Ditto the flaps, which are always raised after landing.

             I began by gluing the fore and aft parts of the fuselage halves together, being sure to give the joint as much strength as possible from inside. If you are careful there is no seam filling to do here, since the break is along a panel line.  The same is true for the upper and lower parts of the fuselage as construction continues.

             I painted the cockpit and detailed it, using the kit decal for the instrument panel, then assembled and attached the cockpit and the interior bulkheads.  I did not add the various pieces of internal equipment, since they will never be seen.  I then assembled the fuselage and glued the dive brakes in the closed position, then attached the engine mount and finally the lower forward panels of the fuselage.  When this was done I set the entire sub-assembly aside.

             The wings were next.  I first glued the gun bay covers in position from inside (if you’re going to open the gun bays there is a lot of extra detailing that will be necessary, such as the addition of wiring and such, to get a realistic look), then assembled the wings per instructions, attaching the lower wing center section to the fuselage before gluing the upper halves on after assembling the internal structure.  The parts breakdown and assembly sequence for the wings are very straightforward, and I had no problem getting the wing fold to work.  The wing assembly was glued to the lower center section and the fuselage, and the horizontal stabilizers were attached.  I then attached the control surfaces all in the neutral position they would be in when the airplane is parked.

             The engine is indeed a “kit on its own” and fully deserving of being seen.  Assembly of the very complicated exhaust system is not fully shown in the instructions, and I ended frustrated that parts were not fitting as they should.  At that point I decided to attach the cooling flaps and close them, and close up the cowling around the engine.  This made things much easier.


             The model was painted with Xtracrylix “Light Gull Grey” and “White,” after being pre-shaded with flat black along all the panel lines.  The coroguard on the leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were painted with Tamiya Aluminum and then masked off before further finish painting.  I finished off with a coat of Xtracrylix Gloss varnish.

            The kit decals went on without problem, but I made sure to have lots of water on the surface as I slid the large bumblebee insignia onto the tail.  I let that fully set up before proceeding with any more decals.  All the decals worked well when soaked to the point they were ready to float off the backing paper, and went down without problems under a coat of Solvaset (since they are a bit thick). 


             I gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Satin, then gave the upper surfaces a coat of Xtracrylix Flat.

             The Skyraider is a “dirty bird.”  If you get the exhaust stains and oil stains right, it looks like nothing a pilot would climb into.  Using the in-flight photo of a VA-176 airplane I am providing here, I applied Tamiya “Smoke” over the fuselage and inner wing and lower fuselage.  I then applied several brushfuls of thinned “Smoke” and let them drip down to get the really stained look of most operational Skyraiders.  I also applied thinned “Smoke” in the wheel wells, the interiors of the gear doors and on the landing gear to get that “used” look.

             VA-176 operated in Southeast Asia during the “bomb shortage.”  With the lack of available ordnance, the propeller attack aircraft were armed with World War II-era “fat” bombs so the “streamlined” bombs could be saved for jet aircraft.  Rather than get the ordnance kit from Z-M, I raided the spares box and got bombs left over from Trumpeter P-47 kits.  Be aware that the Aero-14 racks on the outer wings can carry a maximum 500 pounds each.  I used four 500-lb bombs, and two 750-lb bombs that I mounted on the inner pylons.  All the photos I have found of VA-176 Skyraiders (there are a lot at the squadron’s official website) show they operated primarily with the single centerline tank, keeping the wing stations open for ordnance.

             I attached the landing gear and doors, then the prop. I unmasked the canopy and posed it in the open position.


             I have not been impressed with Zoukei-Mura’s previous efforts.  I didn’t want to do the Shinden after seeing it in the box, and friends who have done it report lots of fit problems.  I was so unimpressed with the Ta-152 that it sits half-completed on the Shelf of Doom, likely never to see the light of day (I personally think the PCM kit is far superior, since it can be built without using an entire tube of Green Stuff to hide the poor fit of this badly-designed kit).

            That said, I like this Skyraider.  I only had about 10 percent of the parts left over after assembling it without worrying about what wouldn’t be seen in the end.  The kit is complex but not complicated in assembly (other than that ferschlugginah exhaust system), and the end result is a very impressive, big (nearly 3/4 the size of the H-K B-25J!) model.  A modeler who wanted to take their time on the detailing of this kit could end up with a show-stopper.  If they release an A-1E, I’ll be interested in doing it.  Recommended for experience modelers with a good attention span and patience.

Yes, it’s expensive, but you definitely get what you pay for with this model.  It’s not produced in huge numbers.   

February 2012

Tom Cleaver

Review Kit courtesy of Cooper’s Models.  Order yours at: www.coopersmodels.com

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