by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundFor me, the Arado Ar 196 is one of the all-time greats among floatplanes, with classic "if it looks right it'll fly right" good looks. Designed in 1936 to provide a replacement for the biplane He 114, the new Arado was tested with both twin floats and a centre-float w/outriggers configuration (like the Vought Kingfisher). Both worked well, but the twin floats were chosen as there was less likelihood of them "digging in".
The Ar 196 went to become the mainstay of the Kriegsmarine's shipboard reconnaissance force and, with the eventual loss or hemming-in of the surface units, continued to fly as a coastal reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft until almost the end of the war.
The kitItaleri's Ar 196 arrives in a most unusual box. From the outside it looks like it's an end-opening type - attractive, but not much use for keeping the parts together once you've opened it. However, lurking inside is a tray like the bottom half of a top-opening box. In my kit, this "double packaging" was so tight that I thought I was opening it wrong in my eagerness to get to the contents, but it does answer critics of end-opening boxes (although anybody concerned about wasting resources might not be too chuffed).
The kit itself includes 4 x main sprues, with a small clear sprue bagged separately for protection. It comprises:
105 x grey styrene parts (2 spare)
3 x clear styrene parts
Decals for 4 x colour schemes
The moulding is pretty clean, with just a touch of light flash here and there. I did find one or two shallow sink marks, but they'll be easy to take care of. The designers have managed to keep ejector pins out of harm's way for the most part, one notable exception being the cockpit sidewalls, where they will be visible unless cleaned up.
The surface finish is very much a curate's egg, i.e. good and bad in parts. On the plus side, most panel lines are quite finely engraved (although those on the wings don't quite match from one side to the other), and the fabric finish on the fuselage is very good - a really nice representation of a taught doped surface. However the control surfaces are heavily exaggerated and aren't done in a consistent style. There are some quite delicate raised panels and details here and there, but these are countered by other items that would look more at home on an armour model, including gun-covers that stand about 1 scale inch proud of the wings' surface.
Test fitWith relatively few parts, Italeri's Ar 196 promises an easy build, and this is borne out by a quick dry-fit of the main parts. The fuselage halves fit together neatly, and the wing clips in with good tight roots, although a bit of sanding will be needed to match the fuselage contours at the lower trailing edge. The tailplane slots in well and sits square. The floats are each made up of three main parts with and lock together with one-piece strut combinations that make for a pain-free assembly, and encouragingly the model sits nice and firmly on them.
However...And I'm afraid it is rather a big "however". In the course of test-fitting and comparing the kit with the photos in Waffen Arsenal's book on the Ar 196, more and more doubts crept in about the overall accuracy.
My most serious concerns are about the wings. Just in clipping them together, the airfoil seems very suspect (almost symmetrical and as rounded on the underside as above), and as with Italeri's recent Re 2002 there's a slight "ballooning" of the cross-section (although it's nowhere near as bad). In terms of shape, there's a "P-51-style" kink in the leading edge toward the roots which I can't see in any photos of the real thing. The biggest problem though is the chord and sit of the wings relative to the fuselage - there's no incidence. Basically, the wing looks both too narrow, and to match its angle to the real thing, you end up with the kit's nose pointing upwards. It's clear in photos that the trailing edge should be much lower and the overall trailing edge of the wing root bears little resemblance to the real aircraft.
The fuselage has a few problems too. Although the fabric-effect is nice and subtle, it's immediately clear that there aren't enough stringers and, looking at the tail, the fin looks rather narrow.
The floats? Compared with some shots they look a little bit small - although, to be fair, if there is a problem here, it is nothing like the classic old Monogram Kingfisher saga. Compared against photos, you'll need to be careful to get the angle of the float-struts correct.
How much these problems worry you (and note: this is only on the basis of an initial check - there may well be more) is obviously very subjective. I can imagine three main approaches:
1. Leave everything alone; for inexperienced modellers, the kit should be quite an attractive easy build.
2. Tackle the easiest to deal with issues, like removing the overscale items and generally refining things.
3. Go the whole hog; re-skin the fuselage and correct the tail, re-profile and re-seat the wings, and build up new wing-roots to accept them.
The last option reminds me of a major project by Harry Woodman in the 1970s, where he corrected Monogram's Bf 109E - a stunning piece of work, but certainly not for the inexperienced or faint-hearted.
A few detailsThe cockpit is reasonably well fitted out with 21 parts, although the details are rather on the heavy side. There's a choice of moulded or decal instrument panels (the shape of the bezels looks more accurate on the decal...) and a busy rack of radio sets. The pilot's seat is very thick, but attached to separate support frames and the gunner gets a 3-part MG 17 with plenty of ammo drums. Decal seat harnesses are provided.
The engine is made up of just 2 parts, with simplified cylinders, but a moulded-on ignition harness. The designers must be proud of it though, because they've included the option to display it with a section of the cowling that can be cut away. The cowl itself is split into 3 sections and there's an annoying prominent mould-seam across the cylinder head bulges. The propeller shouldn't look at all bad after a clean-up.
A pair of simple bombs in provided, along with underwing racks. The fins are very overscale and should be replaced with thin styrene card for a better appearance.
The clear parts are nice and thin with well defined framing.
A very nice touch is the inclusion of a 12-part beaching-trolley. There's a heavy moulded-on wood grain effect that you'll either love or hate, but this can easily be filled.
Instructions and decalsAs with other recent Italeri kits, the instructions are done in their distinctive "modern retro" style, with what appear to be photos of the actual parts illustrating each of the 12 stages. The format works well enough and there are a number of supplementary views backing up the main illustrations, including a rigging diagram for the floats. Paint matches are given for Italeri's licenced ModelMaster enamels and acrylics.
Decals are provided for an interesting quartet of colour schemes:
1. Arado Ar 196A-5, 2/Sagr. 125, Crete, 1941
2. Arado Ar 196A-2, 1/BordfliegerGr. 196, Battleship Bismark, 1940
3. Arado Ar 196A-2, Auxiliary Criser Vidder (HSK-3), October 1941, in Aeronavale markings
4. Arado Ar 196A-2 Auxiliary Cruiser Thor (HSK-4), Malaysia, 1941, in Japanese markings
The decals are quite nicely produced with a silk finish and minimal carrier film around most items (however, unit code letters are printed on large patches of film). The items look thin and the registration is excellent. Unfortunately there is a problem with the Aeronavale option: the blue used doesn't look correct, and for some reason the roundel centres are originally printed in red, then over-printed slightly smaller in blue, leaving a fringe.
ConclusionI've found it very hard to apply an overall rating for this kit because, depending on how important they hold accuracy, people would feel I'd been either too lenient or too harsh. (If you aren't worried and just like an easy build, then around 75% might be appropriate. For the ardent rivet-counter, it'll be more like 60% (or less)). For me though, it's hard not to feel very disappointed by Italeri's Ar 196. Regardless of the accuracy problems, with a UK r.r.p. of £25.99 it's overpriced for what is really a rather basic kit.
If you can overlook the dimensional issues and occasionally clumsy details, it will build into an attractive enough model of an aircraft that's been overlooked by mainstream producers in this scale until now and I'm sure it will sell well. However I've a nasty feeling that rivet counters will tear it to pieces - and correcting just the problems I've found already will be a really heavy undertaking that will be beyond the average modeller. It's a kit that I was very excited to see released, but I'm afraid I can't really recommend it.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.