A Continual Rebirth
The year was 1961, and Monogram had just released their 1/48th scale F4F-4 (more or less) Wildcat to the modeling world and, perhaps more importantly, to 12-year-old Phillip. It was beautifully detailed---just look at all those rivets---and had working features too, what with its folding wings and rolling wheels. In later years we came to understand that a few things had been omitted here and there, such as the fuselage windows, the entire accessory section of the engine, and there was no cockpit to speak of. Fine detail, while good for its time, was on the sparse side as well (those universal head rivets were entirely accurate for the Wildcat's airframe, for instance, but were somewhat overstated) and it was, out of the box, a simplified replica of the F4F. To a skilled modeler it was an opportunity. To the aforementioned 12-year-old Phillip it was a gift from the gods.
Many years passed and that Monogram Wildcat remained the only readily available 1/48th scale kit of the type before the deities of the polystyrene world smiled once more and, in 1994, we were gifted with Tamiya's 1/48th F4F-4, a kit vastly improved over the one from Morton Grove. That Japanese kit still had a bunch of universal head rivets on its airframe but they were supposed to be there, and it was a revelation, for a while anyway. There was, of course, that little matter of a missing intercooler (a somewhat large and conspicuous item living in the engine's accessory section), and the sparse cockpit and simplified interior. There were some other things wrong with it as well but it was a quantum leap above the old Monogram kit and besides, the handful of errors could be easily corrected with aftermarket and the application of a bit of Modeling 101. The modeling gods had smiled again!
Times had changed between the release of that seminal Monogram kit and Tamiya's, however, and expectations were higher from those of us who actually built our kits rather than buying and hoarding them. It wasn't that the Tamiya kit was all that bad, mind you, but they only released it as the -4 variant, which left us all in the lurch for the other significant Wildcat variants. We could fix the minor issues with the kit, of course, and we did just that, while the somewhat skilled among our ranks could easily convert the kit to an early-War F4F-3 and the truly gifted could modify the kit into a passable FM-2 but, like we said, times had changed. The Monogram F4F-4 was now a dinosaur, suitable for entry-level modelers and small children on Christmas, and Tamiya's wunderkit had, through no fault of its own, entered into the realm of the has-been. We wanted something better in 1/48th and we were soon to get it, or so we thought.
2007 saw a relatively new company, Hobby Boss, release an entire family of Wildcats into our waiting hands. There, in one fell swoop, was an early F4F-3, a late F4F-3, an F4F-4, and, wonder of wonders, an FM-2! Life was Good and then, thanks to the realization that the company's research had been lacking, it wasn't good after all. None of the kits had those rivets that were so essential to the Wildcat's character and a great deal of detail had either been simplified or omitted entirely while the FM-2, that ultimate member of the F4F family that had never been previously kitted by a mainstream manufacturer (we call that opportunity), had a nose that was entirely inaccurate for the type. We began cross-kitting, the aftermarket guys began making aftermarket, and it became obvious that you could indeed get there from here, but only with a bit of struggle. It was time for another kit!
We got that kit too, boy did we ever get it! In fact we're now in the process of getting the entire Wildcat family, one variation at a time, from our friends at Eduard, and we finally have a decent shot at an accurate F4F-Anything or an FM-2 mostly out of the box. There are problems, of course. There always are; the short list includes ribbed tires which weren't used on carriers (at least not early in the War) and a missing main fuel tank, and those New and Wonderful Eduard decals which work really well except for when they don't. Still, the Wildcat that can be produced out of the box is little short of amazing. It's a wonder, a true revelation for the modestly experienced modeler. It's as good as it's going to get, until it isn't.
There are a couple of lessons we can learn from this 60+ years of 1/48th scale Wildcat kits. Each and every one of them, and that includes the now prehistoric Monogram kit, were considered state of the art when they were originally released and all of them, even the Hobby Boss offerings, raised the bar a bit higher. We seemingly have reached the pinnacle as far as that airplane is concerned, but even the new Eduard kit has issues, albeit minor and largely insignificant ones. Someday somebody will release yet another F4F or FM-2 that will push that truly amazing Czech offering to second place and we'll welcome that new kid on the block with open arms, after which the cycle will start over. It's the nature of our game, and it's a good thing.
Amazing things have been done with that 1961-vintage Monogram kit. I've seen the results that can be achieved with it and the thing can be done, if only by a special few who possess the abilities required. Everything that's happened since that year has been gravy for the scale modeler as the kits and all that goes with them has improved, almost exponentially, with the passage of time. What was once exclusively the province of the top tier of modelers is now within reach of almost anyone.
Here's our takeaway: The kits now available to us just keep getting better and better, and all of the older kits begin their fade into obscurity. It's the nature of things. The new whiz-bang kits age out and are replaced by something newer and astounding. The new kits are replaced in turn, and the cycle repeats itself. It's natural and normal. It's the way things are.
And it's good.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
And it doesn't always do it gracefully. Come down, that is. The military aircraft of the World War 2 era were particularly prone to being crashed, not because of any intrinsic flaw in the aircraft (usually!) but because so many were flying and, more importantly, being flown by pilots with varying skill levels. Even the most benign of airplanes could bite you, and the high-performance cutting-edge fighters of that era were often a handful for their frequently inexperienced pilots. The conclusion of hostilities reduced the number of airplanes in use and a larger percentage of the people flying them were possessed of a skill level vastly improved from that of many wartime aviators, but it was still a dangerous game. Here, from the collection of the late and greatly missed Jim Sullivan, are a few examples of times an airplane bit an aviator featuring Jim's favorite aircraft, the FG-1D Corsair.