VH-34D "Marine One" Helicopter
I've had a hankering to build an H-34 Choctaw for some time now. When the Gallery Models kit was released, I debated which version to build, but I've always had an eye for that distinctive Marine Green under White scheme on the VH-34 variant. When Dave offered up the 1/48 VH-34D Marine One kit, I jumped at it.
This is my first Gallery Models offering, and I am impressed by a number of things. First of all, the careful packaging. Not only is each of the many sprues individually bagged, all of the smaller and delicate parts on a sprue are molded together and protected by additional foam padding (see image). Clear plastic parts get an additional level of protection by being packaged in their own boxes nestled within the other sprues. Other builder-friendly features include a full color painting and markings sheet, decals that are bagged and protected with an overlay sheet, and two finely detailed sheets of photo-etch that are again bagged but also covered with a clear vinyl sheet on each side (which only became apparent to me when I cut the rudder pedals off the sheet and nothing happened. Take that, carpet monster!
Construction sequences should be reviewed in the multi-page instruction manual. Gallery provides a map to each sprue, and kindly lists which parts will NOT be used in the VH-34 build. As you progress through the build, you'll want to watch for variations between the USCG variant and the presidential helo. Some are obvious, others not.
You're offered the option of opening the engine doors (which I did, given the complexity of that lovely radial engine) and folding the tail. Since there's no option to fold the rotor blades, I stayed with the straight tail.
I followed the build sequence outlined in the manual, going off to work on smaller subassemblies such as the rescue hoist and external fuel tank only when other things were drying. You build the cockpit, engine assembly, and passenger compartments as subassemblies – each a small model in their own standing – and then, theoretically at least, combine these three into the main body of the helicopter, glue, clamp, and pray. I say theoretically because I really struggled to get a lot of complex shapes to come together and fit - but more on that later.
The engine is a jewel and consists of over 30 parts. Subtle details like the ignition harness, exhaust manifolds, and cooling fan are beautifully molded (did I mention that there was little to no flash anywhere in the kit?). I used a variety of metallic shades to pick out details, did my standard acrylic watercolor washes, and painted the air intake shroud in chromate green as seen in several references – besides the fact that it sets off the metallic structure nicely. Caveat - I'll state here, and say again throughout the review, that you need to CAREFULLY study the graphics in the instructions to ensure proper fit and alignment. Gallery's approach to modeling is to mold in alignment and locating features, but despite this, it's still possible to miss a subtle nuance that is being relied on to bring a lot of other parts into alignment later. I experience this on the engine, and had to grind away a locating pin to fit the forward and aft halves together. The instructions are good, but you have to really watch out for what mating surfaces are intended to actually mate. I think this is what bit me later on when assembling the passenger compartment.
The cockpit assembly was straightforward. The only bits that gave me any trouble were the two photo-etched cable guards that need to be bent into a tunnel shape and attached between the cyclic (control stick) and seats. These were tough to roll into shape and provided very little contact area for applying CA glue. The seats are beautifully molded and when the 4 piece p/e harnesses are added, really make the cockpit. I added a raw umber wash to the cockpit aft bulkhead to emphasize the insulation pattern molded into that part.
Construction of the cabin started next. I found a few online color photos of the interior, and wanted to replicate the carpet pattern as well as the funky 60's avocado, turquoise and cream-colored window curtains. I painted the seats in Vallejo Interior Green, and used a mix of cream and gray paint to replicate the interior walls. The carpet and curtains stymied me until I did a Google search for - you guessed it – 1960's carpet and curtain patterns. I was able to find images for both that were very close to the photos I found. I copied these images into a PowerPoint slide, scaled them down, and printed color copies. I cut the “carpet” to shape and used spray adhesive to install it to the cabin floor (which in stock condition, had cargo tie-downs and fastener patterns – not accurate for a VH-34D). To get the look of the curtains, I cut small pieces of my printed “fabric”, used tweezers to create pleats, and simply glued these in place on either side of the 3 windows. I was very pleased with the way the cabin turned out, but once assembled, it's hard to see all that detail. Well, as it's said – I know it's there.
The cabin walls and ceiling were added and this creates a small “box” that is inserted in the fuselage hull along with the cockpit and engine compartments. I'm not sure how it happened, but my cabin interior was about 1/16” too wide, and I spent a lot of time dry-fitting it inside the helo, along with the other two assemblies. Getting a good fit on the helo join line is critical for a number of reasons – there are large photo-etched grills that sit near the nose, leaving little room for sanding or puttying, and Gallery has chosen to model this helo with a large keel section that is added after the fuselage halves are joined. If the joint isn't flush at the bottom of the two hull halves, getting that keel piece to fit properly isn't going to happen. I fought with this collection of assembled parts for an hour or so before resorting to draconian measures – out came the Dremel with a sanding drum, and I carved away a lot of the outside surface of the cabin interior until I could get the fuselage halves to mate. I ended up “chasing the problem” (great engineering term) to the cockpit – now the cockpit tub wouldn't fit, and once again I had to carve away some of the (thankfully hidden) structure until I could get the cockpit inside the fuselage. In my picture of the partially completed fuselage and cockpit, you can see some of these gaps – fortunately, these are mostly hidden by the large window frames when installed.
For the most part, I admire Gallery's approach to how this kit is engineered, but proper alignment depends on a lot of assembly decisions that you, the modeler, make in prior construction. The wounds may have been self-inflicted in my case, but I caution the prospective builder that a little misalignment early in the build can compound itself when the final assembly is underway.
Back to our story. Once I wrestled everything into submission, things moved along nicely. There are many, many photo-etch parts in the kit – over half of them being delicately etched grills for airflow into the engine and tail rotor transmission areas. The p/e in this kit is among the finest I've seen, and I tried very hard not to block the grillwork with glue. In most cases, I was able to flow CA glue along each edge of the brass without it flowing further into the part. On some of the flat grills, I used Future to tack down the p/e, avoiding any issues. I replaced the molded plastic air intake on the bottom of the fuselage with its p/e counterpart, and built a frame for it out of some Plastruct angle stock I had – this enables you to look up and see the intake trunk. The prominent engine compartment access doors use large pieces of p/e mesh, but unfortunately, are molded with solid surfaces that you glue the mesh to. I debated cutting away the plastic, but I was concerned I would remove material that I needed to bond the photo-etch to, so I just glued it atop the solid surface. That's the only area where the grillwork doesn't look realistic, and I wish Gallery had found a way to model this as an open surface.
The box art depicts an HMX-1 bird on the White House lawn (with a slightly different paint scheme than shown on the painting guide, btw). There are prominent flotation bags on each of the three wheels. I elected not to use these as they are modeled as the bags only, without the inflation canisters shown in the artwork. I may go back and scratchbuild the canisters and piping one of these days.
I treated the kit as a series of smaller modeling projects that came together at the end, so I built the main and tail rotor assemblies and set them aside. The tail rotor is very intricate and delicate; study the orientation of the various pushrods and linkages carefully (ask me why...) before committing the superglue. I painted the yellow main blade tips first, masked them, and shot the blades with rattle can black. The tail rotors have red/white/red stripe markings; after thinking about how to do this I painted the white first, dipped each blade into the cap of a Testor's Red paint bottle to get a consistent edge, and added some red decal stripes from an old Scalemaster sheet to replicate the other red stripe. After drying, these were masked and the remainder of the blade got the rattle can treatment.
I painted the upper body of the helicopter with Testor's Flat White, and then used a combination of Tamiya and some auto body masking tape to get the demarcation line. Because this feature travels across a number of contours, it's challenging to achieve a consistently straight line (in aircraft parlance, the demarcation line is a “waterline” that's parallel to the keel line of the helo). I eyeballed this as best as I could but I'm a little dissatisfied with my results. In any case, once I had the tape burnished down, I brushed a small amount of Testor's Acrylic semi gloss Clear against the tape edge for an additional margin of safety.
The paint for Marine One is called out as Field Green FS34097. I mixed this color using Marine Green 34052 as a base, adding about 10% Flat White, and a few drops of Testor's 1224 Green, until I got a color that approximated my references. After stripping my masking materials, I was pleased to find only a few minor areas requiring touchup. I shot two coats of Glosscote in preparation for applying decals. There are many (repeat, many) small maintenance and operational markings all over this helicopter. I was surprised that while some of the decals were legible, a large number of them were just “squiggles” - it was almost as if two different people were at work when the artwork was developed. With a few exceptions, all the decals laid down with some encouragement via Solvaset, although I experienced some frosting of the clear coat that required me to go back and shoot some touchup areas.
I couldn't button up that lovely radial engine, so I elected to display the clamshell engine doors open. This was problematic – as fellow reviewer Keith Pruitt has noted, there's just not enough surface area to glue the doors to the fuselage. After a couple of false starts, including trying to make hinge arms out of sections of Evergreen tubing (shown in the photos but abandoned later) I followed his lead and drilled 2 small holes into the edge of each door and match-drilled them to the appropriate locations on the helo body. I superglued in two small pieces of craft wire, bent them to get the correct amount of swing on the doors, and superglued them into the holes on the body. I really have to fault Gallery here – there's no excuse for giving us that lovely engine and not providing some sort of structure – even some p/e to bend up – to show the doors open.
Since all the subassemblies were completed, final assembly was anticlimactic once I got past the door issue. I eyeballed the demarcation between green and white paint on the fuel tank and hoist mounts, did some touchup, shot one more coat of Glosscote over the decals, and attached the (now unmasked) greenhouse using CA. There is some misalignment on the copilot's side of the greenhouse due to the fit issues I encountered as described above but if I didn't tell you about it you might not see it. Oh – one other minor nit – the overhead instrument console that mounts to the greenhouse actually extends forward into a clear area, and if left uncorrected stands out when looking down into the cockpit. I CA'ed a small bit of scrap plastic onto the back of the console and painted it to match the interior.
I couldn't bear to cover up all the cockpit detail so I took advantage of the option to display the crew side windows open. Rather than masking and painting their white frames, I used pieces of white Scalemaster decal stripes to replicate the framing. Worked like a charm. A small dab of CA holds each window in place against the upper railing.
And that's it! I'm very pleased with the results. I wish that all the interior work I did was more prominent, but Maryan's photos serve as evidence. I want to thank IPMS/USA and Gallery Models for a chance to build this iconic predecessor of today's presidential helicopter fleet.