awed the model world in the early 1970s with this huge 1/24 Mitsubishi A6M5c Zero
. Bandai today is known by modelers below a certain age as a company that produces sci-fi military models, sci-fi movie models, and general sci-fi genre. Yet those of us who cut teeth on X-Actos of the 1960s and '70s know of a Bandai that was a serious contender of historic military models. Bandai issued a large range of 1/48 armor, infantry, and ordnance models; like Tamiya, Bandai issued large scale tanks, although scaled in the imperial unit of 1/24 verses Tamiya's metric-oriented 1/25. Thus Bandai's tanks were the same scale as the large 1/24 scale Airfix aircraft series. Bringing a taste of the orient to Airfix's occidental aviation, Bandai kitted a 1/24 N1K2-J Shiden
(Violet Lightning), a Bf 109E, and a P-51D.
Why spend bandwidth on an out-of-production model? First, this model is fun. Second, if you like 1/24 aircraft and Imperial Japanese aircraft, this is one of only three models I know of. Third, it's fun! Mitsubishi's Zero is the icon of Imperial Japanese aviation. Decades ago I built this big A6M5 Zero and now I want it again to grace my shelf of built models. A modeler here built a super-detailed example of this model in 2012; while his images are gone you can find the model via Click here for additional images for this review
Iconic of World War Two’s Pacific War and one of the best known fighter planes in history, Imperial Japan’s Mitsubishi A6M Zero earned such a reputation that the moniker Zero became synonymous with Japanese WW2 warplanes. As aesthetically captivating as martially effective, confidence in the Zero’s performance was a factor in Imperial Japan’s decision to expanded its war of conquest.
Contrasting the global air war in 1942 with an astronomical euphemism, the air war over the Pacific in 1942 was more like a shooting star than a European comet. Small numbers of aircraft predominately fought on-again off-again yet extremely intense clashes until the Allied invasion of Guadalcanal. It was over that island that the United States Navy (USN) and Marine Corps (USMC) met the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) in the type of fight the Japanese planned for, trained for, and eagerly sought: a campaign to slaughter the Allies into exhaustion.
Japan planned to exhaust the West with a grueling campaign featuring a cadre of superbly trained warriors equipped with world-class weapons. Fighter pilots in the IJN Kōkū Kantai (Air Fleet) and Kōkū Sentais (Air Flotillas) vanguard were equipped with a secret super fighter, the Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 reisen
, the Zero-sen. Those fighter pilots probably were the most thoroughly screened and tested pilots in history, assigned to an air unit only after a viciously rigorous training regiment unconscionable to Western societies. The survivors then learned on-the-job against the Chinese. Some IJNAF aviators arrived over Pearl Harbor with hundreds of hours of combat flying behind them. Many historians agree that the IJNAF Zero pilots of 1942 were the most formidable air superiority force in the world.
Against them flew Allied air forces with a polyglot of experience, tactics, training, and airplanes. Despite receiving some bloody noses, IJNAF Zero pilots swept the skies of opposition and established a legend (and myth) that reigns today. However, a few USN aviators took heed of an intelligence report sent to America by retired and discounted Army Air Corps (USAAC) fighter pilot Claire Chennault, commander of the Chinese Air Force. Chennault observed and accurately reported IJNAF activity, and even examined a captured Zero. While his warnings about the incredible A6M were met with dismissive disdain by most American air commanders, USN fighter pilot Lt Cdr John Thach took it to heart and, with great concern, began cogitating how to counter the A6M Zero (reisen
, or carrier fighter). His weapon was the Grumman F4F Wildcat, a competent fighter, although it lacked the performance of the A6M.
While USAAF (United States Army Air Force) fighter pilots suffered against the reisen
in a protracted campaign from the Philippines to New Guinea, USN VF (fighters) first met the dreaded Zero-sen over the Coral Seas in May, 1942. There the legendary VF leader Lt Cdr James Flatley came away with lessons-learned and confidence in the F4F. A month later near Midway Lt Cdr Thach successfully demonstrated his Beam Defense Position - "The Thach Weave", although Thach lost confidence in the F4F. Yet in just two battles the F4F was shown that it could, properly employed by trained pilots, handle the A6M. Those lessons and tactics would mean life or death for hundreds of carrier and land based USMC and USN Wildcat pilots in the sustained battle for Guadalcanal.
Japan never managed to plan for nor produce a realistic replacement for the Zero-sen before Allied resources destroyed Japan. Zeros faced increasing numbers of superior Allied fighters that killed veteran pilots able to employ the Zero. USN's F6F Hellcat was described by Zero designer Jiro Hiroshito as being able to take on the Zero "face-to-face". Even when potentially better Japanese fighters were fielded, because they were rife with problems, Zeros continued to be the most important fighter IJNAF had. Yet even in late 1943, Zeros were still respected by Hellcat pilots like ace Eugene Valencia, who told war correspondents
"When people here [At NAS Pasco in the USA] say the Japanese fighters are inferior, we get mad. People can say what they want, but we know the Jap Zero is still the best and the fastest aeroplane in the air."
Still, Japan failed to produce a high-power engine small and light enough to mount on a small fighter in time, and A6M5 remained powered by the 1,130hp Sakae 21 engine; A6M showed its age and fell further behind Allied fighters, eventually facing fighters with almost a 100 mph speed advantage! The brilliant A6M was expended as a kamikaze or in desperate near-suicidal dogfights against superior planes.
Still, the great fighter is an icon in Japan today. So much so that the JSDF F-2A version of the F-16 has the name Viper-Zero.
This Bandai model is of the A6M5c, Model 52 (丙,Hei, c). The Model 52 had a new exhaust system, redesigned wing, belt-fed Type 99-2 Mark 4 cannons, different nose guns, some armor and some fire suppressant for the fuel tanks, and a new drop tank mount. A6M5c brandished the heaviest armament carried by Zeros with the two wing cannons joined by two 13.2 mm Type 3 machine guns, and a third 13.2 mm Type 3 in the nose.
This model arrives in a big box. Not as big as some of the new large scale models, but big for the time. The kit has two numbers that I know of: 8507
; I do not know if there is any different.
Inside the box are 8 sprues molded in a dark olive color:
1. Fuselage halves
2. Upper wing halves
3. Lower wing halves
4. Sprue A: Sakae 21 radial engine and drop tank
5. Sprue B: stablizers; Type 3 machine guns; Type 99-2 Mark 4 cannons; ammo boxes; access covers
6. Sprue C: cockpit parts; propeller and spinner; bombs; tail wheel and arresting hook; fuselage bottom
7. Sprue D: exhaust stacks x 10; control surfaces; landing gear; pilot
8. Sprue E (clear): canopy and gun sight
The sprues also hold miscellaneous pieces. You get an instruction booklet and decals, too.
Sprues and parts are all bagged and held in place by a decorated card strap stapled across the middle of the box.
Bandai molding was high quality for the time with minimal flash. Despite that, there are some sink marks, too many visible ejector marks, and some mold seams. Some sprue connectors are hefty, leaving burrs where the parts are removed, but such bedevils some big name kits even today. While slide molding was not then used by Bandai, the cowl is molded as a single piece, except for the multi-piece cowl flaps.
A pilot figure is included. Detail and molding are...well, let's just say you can identify the parts as representing a human.
The gear is made to retract.
Bandai got the overall shape of the airframe right but not perfect. The housing for the machine guns between the canopy and cowl looks a bit off.
By and large these parts have distinct edges instead of the soft detail of some models of the era. Surface detail is superior even by today's standard, with simulated lapped panels, fine recessed panel lines, and thousands of to-scale rivets. Unfortunately, those rivets are almost all raised.
Bandai engineered the model with separate positionable control surfaces. But the flaps are molded as part of their wing. Each fabric surface is simulated with fabric texture and sag between internal structure.
Two Type 99-2 Mark 4 cannons are included, each with ammo boxes, and three Type 3 machine guns. Their detail is fair; unfortunately the gun bays are lacking detail.
Completely lacking internal detail are the landing gear bays and interior of the gear doors. The gear is made to retract and extend. Vinyl tires are provided.
Cockpit detail is good. The instrument panel is molded as raised instrument housings with raised symbols. A panel face is set over that part. A semblance of the Type 98 gunsight is provided.
The two-row, 14-cylinder Nakajima NK1F Sakae
21 air-cooled radial engine is nicely detailed but the engine is not shaped correctly. There is too much taper between the cylinder heads and barrels. Unlike the Bandai N1K Shiden
there are no vinyl plug wires. The ignition ring has 14 ignition leads running to the cylinders but these are molded as tubes that look noting like wiring. Each bank of cylinders have their own push rod housings; each rod is topped with the front of rocker box covers. Additionally, the supercharger and oil tank are included. These assemblies are ringed by cowling mountings but otherwise housed in a cowlings devoid of any interior detail.
Clear but with some distortion. Sharp raised framing detail.
There is little interior structural detail. Plenty of room for detailing!
Instructions and decals
Bandai illustrated the instructions with green line art. A well-illustrated conventional instruction booklet includes the history of the Reisen
- if you can read Japanese. My instruction sheet from the kit I built in the 1970s is in English. It refers tho the A6M5c as "The Ultimate Zero."
A big decal sheet looks clear and clean even after 40-50 years. The decals are not surrounded by excess clear film. The decals seem to be reasonable thin. Colors are good and registration is too.
Decals for several airframes are included:
1. 201-123, 201 Kōkūtai (Naval Flying Group).
2. 131-121 131 Kōkūtai.
3. ƎD-1151, 302 Kōkūtai.
Four full color profile illustrations are included as a painting guide. Camouflage shown is Mitsubishi paint scheme M-02: dark green (FS-24052, FS-34084, FS-24079) upper surfaces and pale olive-gray [(hairyokushoku
- Ed.] (FS-24201/26350) on lower surfaces.* A black-green was also used in lieu of the dark green. Under license, Nakajima built more Zeros than Mitsubishi, and Nakajima varied the colors somewhat; Nakajima scheme N-02 (after early 1943) was dark green upper surfaces (FS-24079, or FS-24077) and pale tan-gray lower surfaces.* (The two companies also painted the cowl a different hue of black.) Also shown are several empennages in other camouflages and with tail codes not included on the decal sheet. I wonder if those are for a release of this kit with an expanded decals sheet, perhaps accounting for the two kit numbers?
Bandai's big "Zeke 52" was sensational when it was released and today it is still impressive. It is a dichotomy of old style and modern molding of surface detail, of toy-oriented movable features and highly detailed components. The attempt to model the lapping of airframe panels is impressive.
Bandai created a decent engine although the cylinders are misshapen. The airframe is covered with raised rivet detail. Much of the detail is not up to today's standards.
Cockpit details are respectable but could use some upgrading. The same can be said of the machine guns and cannon.
Even after forty years the decals look good.
Ultimately, this large-scale ultimate Zero can be built into a nice model out of the box. Or it can be the basis of a super-detailing project. I look forward to building it up again.
* James F. Lansdale. ZERO CAMOUFLAGE SCHEMES (Rev. & Edited 5/7/2013) FACTORY APPLICATION OF PAINT SCHEMES FOR THE MITSUBISHI TYPE ZERO CARRIER FIGHTER:
1939 - 1945
. j-aircraft.com. 5/7/2013.