Cactus Air Force Deluxe Set – F4F-4 Wildcat and P-400/P-39D Over Guadalcanal
Arma Hobby continues to build on their 1/72 scale inventory with the release of this Cactus Air Force Deluxe set. I have previously had the pleasure of reviewing their F4F-4 Wildcat Expert Set (kit 70047) as well as their P-39Q Airacobra (kit 70055) and this release essentially combines the two kits albeit with a different version of the Airacobra. With the addition of 3D printed parts for both aircraft, the already great level of detail is improved for some key areas. I highly recommend this kit to modelers experienced in handling small parts looking to represent the Cactus Air Force planes between August 1942 and February 1943.
The “Cactus Air Force” was the name given to a combination of Marine, Army Air Force, and Navy planes that operated from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal between August 8, 1942 (the airfield was captured from the Japanese roughly 36 hours after the Marines landed on August 7) until the last remnants of the Japanese forces on the island were evacuated or defeated on February 8, 1943. The F4F-4 Wildcat entered service in 1942 and was armed with six 0.50 caliber machine guns and could also carry bombs. The P-400 Airacobra was to be an imported version of the P-39 for the Royal Air Force but were declined as the US Army required Bell to remove the supercharger from these planes. This aircraft was armed with four 0.30 caliber machine guns in the wings (they would have been 0.303 caliber for the British), two 0.50 caliber machine guns in the nose, and a 20mm cannon (replacing the typical 37mm cannon used in the P-39) that fired through the propeller. The Airacobra could also carry a single bomb or external fuel tank.
Upon opening the box, you will find two light gray plastic sprues for the Wildcat, a single large sprue for the P400/P-39 as well as masks for both planes, three steel balls for the Airacobra, two 3D printed part sets, color instructions, and a nice sized decal sheet. The box shows markings for four aircraft of each type as follows:
- P-400 Airacobra, white 13 “Hells Bell”, serial number BW151, 67 Fighter Squadron/347 Fighter Group, pilot Lt. Robert M. Ferguson, Guadalcanal, August – November 1942.
- P-39D-2 Airacobra, white 12 “Beth”, pilot Cpt. Paul Bechtel, 12 FS commander, Guadalcanal, December 1942.
- P-400 Airacobra, white 12 “Fancy Nancy”, serial number BW156, 67 FS/347 FG, pilot Lt. Richard Johnson, Guadalcanal, August-September 1942.
- P-39D-1 Airacobra, yellow 56, serial number 41-38400 67 FS/347 FG, pilot Lt. Vernon Head, Guadalcanal, December 1942.
- F4F-4 Wildcat, black 29, pilot Lt. Samuel Folsom, VMF-121, Guadalcanal, November 1942.
- F4F-4 Wildcat, white 2, pilots Mjr. Marion Carl and Lt. John L. Smith, VMF-223, Guadalcanal, February 1943.
- F4F-4 Wildcat, black F12, Bureau Number 5192, pilot Lt. James “Pug” Southerland II, VF-5/USS Saratoga, August 1942.
- F4F-4 Wildcat, white 19, BuNo. 03417, pilot Lt. Stanley W. “Swede” Vejtasa, VF-10/USS Enterprise, October 1942.
Being a Deluxe Set boxing, I mentioned the inclusion of 3D printed parts for both planes. The prints each have a base of 5/8 inch square and the two have corresponding pins and holes to allow the prints to lock together as an ingenious way to ship the parts safer and only requiring one piece of bubble wrap to provide the final protection. From the base rise the printed parts consisting of 17 total for the Wildcat and 13 for the Airacobra. While the instructions provide information for installing the printed parts during the applicable steps, a single sheet of paper is also included showing one plane on each side with all of the printed parts shown along the top edge and placement of the parts shown below. Referring to this sheet along with the directions was helpful in some instances.
Having built the planes previously, I had some operating experience to use building this kit. The 3D printed parts are beautiful, and greatly enhanced both planes. The printed chains for the Wildcat landing gear worked much better for me than the photoetched ones in the Expert Set kit as they did not block installing the landing gear legs to their posts on the firewall. The printed seats include the seatbelts, and they look great installed in both planes. The Wildcat includes a printed ignition ring for the engine, but no mention of the wires between the ring and the cylinders. I personally used UMM 0.15mm Copper-Silk Wire (product UMMC015) to represent the 28 ignition wires on the Wildcat engine. The Airacobra exhausts include openings on the ends of both the 6 and 12 stack options and they both look fantastic. I learned during this build that 3D printed parts are incredibly fragile especially as I immediately broke three of the four 0.30 caliber machine gun barrels after gluing the wing halves together (I replaced them after painting was completed with 0.5mm OD brass tubing).
There are some 117 or so decals in all for the Airacobra (depending on the squadron markings chosen) but only around 18 total for the Wildcat. While most reacted well to Micro Set and Micro Sol, I needed to apply multiple coats of Solvaset to the larger decals to get them to set properly, and this was also my experience during previous reviews.
The instructions provided paint recommendations for both planes including the color name and applicable Federal Standard (FS) number (in some cases a DuPont number) along with the applicable Hataka, AK Real Color, Humbrol, Ammo by Mig, Mr. Color, Vallejo, and Tamiya products. I used a combination of Ammo by Mig, Vallejo, and Model Master Acryl paints (all of which were specified in the paint chart) for my planes along with Stynylrez Black and White primers.
As far as my hits are concerned, the molding detail is again fantastic for 1/72 scale, and these are again two of my finest WWII planes in this scale. The canopy masks worked well and were appreciated; I did elect to paint the wheels by hand, so I did not use those masks. The main wheels are molded with a slight flat spot and bulge, which again shows detail that is not typical for this scale. The 3D printed parts are all phenomenal and were a pleasure to add to the planes to raise the level of detail.
While not misses necessarily, I do have some items to watch for during construction to aid modelers in their enjoyment of the kit. First, I will again comment that some of the attachment points on the sprues were large, which I have noted on previous reviews. This just requires some planning when removing parts from the sprues to prevent creating indentations on the removed parts. On my sample, I did note some flash being present on a few of the plastic parts which I do not recall seeing previously on Arma kits. As mentioned earlier, I ended up using Solvaset over the larger decals to get them to settle (this was after trying Tamiya Strong and Ammo by Mig Decal Fix solutions). Finally, as with the P-39Q, the three steel balls were not adequate to prevent the Airacobra from being a tail sitter so I added four very small steel balls in the nose section before I attached the 3D printed nose gun cover.
In conclusion, this is really a fantastic kit, and I highly recommend it to experienced modelers (due to the number of small parts) wanting to add a pair of Cactus Air Force planes to their collection. The detail is incredible, and the kit allows you to produce two great looking planes out of the box. My thanks to the folks at Arma Hobby for providing this kit to the IPMS USA for review, and to Phil Peterson for allowing me to perform this evaluation!