Academy 1/35 Uh-1C Huey Gunship
Kit #12701 MSRP $39.00
Images and text Copyright © 2009 by Matt Swan
It’s almost impossible to watch any historical program or cinematic feature about the Vietnam War and not see a Huey in some capacity. Developed in 1955 by Bell Helicopter as a utility aircraft the type went into full production in 1959 with approximately 7000 of them seeing service in Vietnam in one capacity or another. The UH-1 was one of the first helicopters designed from the beginning to utilize turbine power and was created to fulfill a casualty evacuation role for the military. The Army designated it ‘Iroquois” but the Huey name was so popular that Bell started placing that moniker right on the anti-torque pedals directly from the factory.
It did not take long before field personnel began to modify the helicopters mission from medical evacuation to cargo transport and troop transport. The Huey made an attractive target to enemy soldiers especially when coming into a hot LZ and very quickly there was a guy stationed at the cargo door with an automatic rifle to provide some covering fire. Now the helicopter was expanding its role to search and rescue in addition to the basic evac role. Field mechanics started mounting fixed guns to the main body quickly followed by various rocket launching assemblies, these Hueys became known as Frogs and Hogs. The Navy and the Marines modified them to gunships as well which were referred to as Dolphins and Sharks. By this time the UH-1 that was devoid of external armament and used for the initial evacuation role were now referred to as Slicks.
Specialty tactics were developed for the effective use of the Huey by mixing gunships with observation ships and troop transports. Many different forms of armament were explored on the airframe and ultimately this experimentation prompted the development of the specialty attack helicopter like the Cobra and later, the Apache. 7000 Hueys of various model configurations were employed during the Vietnam War and over 16000 units were manufactured before production ceased in 1976. Slicks, Frogs, Hogs, Dolphins and Sharks …. I guess it’s no surprise that we see these show up so often in historic military video footage. While the military career of this pioneering helicopter may have drawn to a close the type solders on in civilian usage to this day around the world.
This is a ‘special’ edition release of the 1/35 UH-1C Huey that includes nose art. Other than that it’s the same Huey kit from the late 1990s. The kit looks good on the sprues with crisp molding but the rivets are a little over done. There is no obvious flash or sink marks apparent on any of the pieces and mold separation lines are about normal. Four crew figures are provided with possible arms and heads. Facial detail is good and fit to the model is good. We get some accessory stuff for the crew like a couple of M-16s and boxes of grenades. The helicopter comes with a selection of rocket launchers and of course the side mounted machine guns. The single sprue of clear parts display good clarity and well defined raised frame lines. Unfortunately a couple of the sprue gates are right into areas that need to be clear which presents some issues with cutting the parts free without causing damage. There is also a small sprue of flexible vinyl parts that cover the ammo feed belts for the door gunner and the fixed guns. The engine cooling tunnel for the C model requires some minor surgery to install as the base fuselage has an older version tunnel molded in place. The kit includes a basic turbine with open service door if the modeler cares to detail that area and display the engine. The rotor head is well detailed but the assembly instructions for this area are poor and if followed to the letter will result in a locked rotor.
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Decals and Instructions
If you don’t know anything about Hueys when you look at the instructions you’ll probably think they look pretty good, all the basic points are covered and there are plenty of color call-outs. Now no kit is going to be perfect and I am by no means a detail Nazi but once you start learning a few things about the real helicopter and get into the construction following these instructions you quickly reach a point where you just have to say ‘this is kind of screwed up’. I’ll go into more detail on these points in a few minutes but for now let’s just say that the instructions leave something to be desired.
The kit instructions consists of two parts, an eight panel fold-out that includes a reasonable history of the helicopter type along with a general paint color chart. There are twenty basic exploded view assembly drawings with a couple of sub-drawings showing some finer detail. The assembly instructions also include a complete parts map. In addition to the assembly instructions we have a single A-2 sheet that covers decal placement for three aircraft.
At the time of this writing I cannot find any serious fault with the decals. They have good vibrant colors, seem to have good registry and cover all the basic points of the models marking needs. I have not checked them against any reference sources yet and based on the discrepancies in the paint color charts and other detail points would not be very quick to trust them. It appears that the guys from Academy went to a museum where they looked over a helicopter that had been restored very loosely to any historic reference. They do look nicely thin and probably will settle down nicely.
It looks like a Huey, I cannot deny that. The individual parts look good and the general fit is fair. Interior detail is reasonably good in most areas with some issues around the seat armor. The side mounted seat armor is way too low and upside down. The angled corner of the plate should be toward the top front corner and the top edge of the plate should be even with the top of the pilot’s shoulder. This guy is getting shot at and will be making himself as small a target as possible behind this plate. The plate should also be olive drab in color, not gray as the kit instructions indicate. The instrument panel is a highly visible piece here and does offer some raised detail. An instrument decal probably would have been a nice feature but no, the modeler will have to hand-paint all this or go hunting through the spares box.
The instructions direct you to paint the crews boots black but in every color picture I’ve seen from the period they are all wearing brown boots. Okay, not a real big issue but if you don’t know better ….. While the rotor head is well detailed the kit instructions take you down a bad road that will result in a rotor that is locked in place. In the construction segment I’ll address the correction to this problem for your benefit. Overall I can only give this kit a fair recommendation at best. For a UH-1 of this scale the kit is only a starting point, be prepared to do some work to fix the glaring issues and definitely take a look at some reference material before getting too happy with the paint.
I’m not really a helicopter guy, I’m an airplane guy. I know I’ve built a few of them now but still am not an authority by any means. I work with a guy who was a door gunner during Nam and wanted to build a helicopter for him, this one looked like a perfect choice so I jumped right into the water before checking either temperature or depth. Let me tell you, it’s cold and deep in here.
I began construction with the interior cabin module and things started off pretty nicely. I carefully followed the directions for building the seats because they looked somewhat complicated and I wanted to get them done right. I went to my spare decal box with a Waldron punch and detailed the instrument panel with items from Mike Grant and a few other odd places. Once the interior was together I immediately went to close the fuselage up and that’s where the problems began. The interior module is just a little too large for the fuselage. I had a terrible time getting the thing to close up around the interior and ultimately ended up with a gap along the bottom that had to be filled with superglue. If that was the only problem I was going to face I felt I was in luck but no, no luck for me. The next problem was of my own making.
So now I’ve got this fuselage closed up and a big old bead of superglue cured along the bottom when I remembered that I wanted to include the crew inside the model – DOH! Okay, I can deal with this I told myself. I put the pilot and co-pilot figures together but left the heads off figuring I can worry them into the seats then attach the heads. This actually worked and once they were painted I was able to, with some choice curses, get them both into position without breaking anything. The door gunner and standing figure were completed and set aside until the end of the build. I was planning on displaying this just ready to launch so the engine was not detailed and the door was closed. Found out the door does not fit well in the closed position and had to do some careful sanding to achieve a reasonable fit there. It was at this point that I took some pictures and posted some in-progress shots to a local forum. Remember that part about no luck for me?
Now I start getting on the Huey learning curve. It does not take long before I am talking to a real life Huey driver and he is telling me, in a real nice way, where things have gone wrong. He points out the issues with the seat construction and coloring. I’m totally floored now, there’s just no way I can fix this issue without tearing everything apart. Fortunately my door gunner friend did not spend a lot of time up front in one of these and it has been about 40 years so I’m counting on that to hide my error, that plus the front doors will be closed so this stuff is not as highly visible. One more thing was discovered at this time, it would have been a good idea to add a couple grams of lead shot into the floor of the nose, she wants to sit back on the skids a wee bit.
Well, enough of that for the moment. I think I’ll work on the rotor head now. I want this to be right and since I’m not a big helicopter builder I studied these instructions carefully before starting to glue stuff together. Remember that thing about no luck for me? The only thing I’m lucky about is this will end up in a glass display case so you won’t be able to try and spin the blades. Here’s the scoop; looking at the exploded view here parts B4, 6, 7, 10, 17, 35 and 39 can all be glued together and slid over shaft B11. Parts B20, 38 and 46 can all be glued together and slid over shaft B11. Whatever you do, do not glue part B20 to part B39 because there are later pieces that connect to the upper assembly and then to the rotor blades.
Well the rotor head is complete and airbrushed with Alclad Magnesium and set aside. The clear parts are treated with Future and allowed to cure before being masked. The upper clear panels are airbrushed with Tamiya clear green. Sadly this is not an easy thing to do and I ended up stripping and repainting these parts three times before I had a transparent green finish I was happy with. A bit of good luck here in that by treating with Future first made stripping these in a bath of Future a piece of cake. With the clear parts masked first they were then installed using clear parts cement. The front doors were carefully trimmed to fit closed and then glued in place. Most of the external arms hardware was completed and attached prior to paint. From here I just mask the side doors and stuff some damp tissue in the engine areas and I am ready for paint.
I decided to do all my panel fade as post shade with no pre-shade involved this time. I started with a solid layer of olive drab then lighted the base paint with a few drops of white to dust the centers of the upper and side panels. Once this has had a few minutes to harden up the masks could be removed.
Moving right along I started work on the mini guns and rocket launchers. The instructions show certain parts for the guns yet the actual parts are not quite the same. Some locating tabs are missing and assembly takes some careful dry fitting before glue is applied. I also found at this time that it appears the ammo feed holes in the fuselage floor are too far forward. Not sure if this is correct but if I was making this kind of modification in the field I think I would have made a more ‘straight out’ feed rather than twist the belts all over the place. Like I said in the beginning I am not a helo expert so could very well be wrong.
This kit is the ‘Nose Art’ kit but I need something a little different for this build. The guy I’m making this for cannot recall what was on the helo he flew on other than it had a skull and was from the 1st Cavalry. I cruised the forums asking for some advice here and there and one guy linked me into some nice pictures of a Huey with a really cool skull on it. I took that image and fixed it up a bit and made it into a decal. How did I do this you may ask? Once I had artwork to my satisfaction in the computer I printed it at 300 dpi to white paper and checked the scale against the model. Once happy with that I took this printed page along with a sheet of white decal paper to my local print shop where they used a color laser printer to copy it. Next I treated it with some Testors decal fixative and it was ready. Since I used white decal paper I had to be very careful when trimming it.
When I was looking for nose art I saw many color pictures of door gunners wearing what looked like brown boots so I went ahead and painted my guys boots brown – not a good idea. Seems the brown boots were phased out during Korea and what I was seeing were actually black boots covered with so much of Vietnam’s wonderful red mud that they looked brown. So when you see brown boots keep it mind that they are fixed later on in the build. Another detail I had to fix was the tail rotor. I started with black but turns out it should have been O.D. and that is fixed later on also.
And now a word about the decals, the kit decals that is. They suck! Every single one wanted to silver. I put these on ever a coat of Future and with each decal dipped in Future AND a puddle of wet Future laid down first AND STILL they silvered. I fought for two days with these things trying to eliminate the silver then finally gave up and said ‘they are what they are’. Not long after that two different Huey mechanics from the period confirmed that the actual service stencils were some kind of Mylar transfer and looked just like silvered decals. Also on this matter to other Huey mechanics who may take issue with this, some markings were indeed spray painted on with stencils such as the ARMY stencils, the silvered markings I’m talking about are the smaller service and warning stencils applied at the factory. Again, I am not a Huey expert so cut me some slack.
Getting back to the build, the main rotor is completed with flat black on the lower surfaces and gunship gray on the uppers. For presentation I wanted to put this on a small dio base that looked like the red mud found in Vietnam. I mixed some plaster of Paris with burnt sienna water paste and achieved a very convincing color that looked great when dried. Unfortunately I had a terrible time with the moisture causing the wooden base to warp badly. I ended up using some NOCH grass mat rubber cemented to a wood base then added some long grass in drilled holes and smaller patches of MiniNatur tall prairie tufts. It’s not as cool as a mud Vietnam scene but ‘it is what it is’. All I have to do now before presentation is put together a Plexiglas dust cover. All of my diorama materials with the exception of the wood and the Plexiglas were purchased from Scenic Express.