Mitsubishi A6M3 Model 32

in 1:72 scale
from ModelArt

by William H. Geoghegan

Model photographs by the author



ModelArt A6M3 cover art
Image used with permission

Click on a thumbnail for a larger image

A6m3 photo 1 A6m3 photo 2 A6m3 photo 5
A6m3 photo 3 A6m3 photo 4 A6m3 photo 6

Model: Mitsubishi A6M3 Model 32 Type O Naval fighter ("Reisen" or "Zero" -- Allied code name "Zeke")
Kit: ModelArt A6M3 Model 32
Scale: 1:72
Price: US$ 3.95, downloaded from Paper Paradise
Difficulty: Medium (3 out of 5)
Number of parts:  117
Instructions: Good, though brief. A few sentences were apparently garbled during generation of the PDF file.
Diagrams: Excellent. Addition of a 3-view would be helpful.
Fit: Outstanding
Coloring: Excellent, though actual results will depend upon your computer and printer set-up.
Resources: There's a wealth of material about the Zero on the Web, including drawings, photos, and even a sound bite of a low level fly-by. You might try the "WWII Imperial Japanese Navy Aircraft" site at http://www.skypoint.com/members/jbp/ijna/ijnaf.htm, or the "Internet Museum of Imperial Japanese Aircraft" at http://home.interlink.or.jp/~katoh00/. Wayne Cutrell's Photos from the Smithsonian and Mark Johnson's reviews (both referenced on Saul Jacobs's Web site) were helpful. I also used Basil Collier's Japanese Aircraft of World War II (Mayflower Books, New York, 1979).


Background:

Well over 10,000 Zero's were produced by Mitsubishi and Nakajima for the Imperial Japanese Navy during WWII. The A6m3 was an improved version of the A6M2 Model 21, with a more powerful engine and (in production) without the folding wingtips of the Model 21. The Model 32 was commonly used in the Southwest Pacific from the late spring of 1942. The ModelArt kit represents a plane using the green on grey blotch camouflage scheme common to that theater.

The ModelArt kit:

The design and fit of this 1:72 scale kit is absolutely flawless -- which means that any imperfections in the finished model are pretty much the responsibility of the builder: whether due to choice of paper, quality of printing, errors of commission and omission in construction, or whatever. On the other hand, this jewel of a kit can be purchased as a downloadable PDF file, which provides real security. Mess up an assembly? Just print another copy. I did this frequently: a second attempt at the wing assembly to correct poor glue application the first time; two tries at the spinner (first attempt was just too gross); two tries at the aft fuselage cylinders (I didn't like the glue seams the first time); etc. You get the point. ModelArt kits are extremely dangerous in the hands of perfectionists, and should be locked away from persons with compulsive tendencies.

All that aside, a kit of this accuracy and size requires more than the usual amount of care in building. After a couple of false starts, I began trying to cut on the inside of lines rather than down the middle, for example--especially where the construction lines had no counterpart in the original (e.g., the forward part of the prop spinner). I used Wausau 90# Exact Index card stock for most of the model, but found that lighter weight paper was needed for some of the smaller 3-dimensional pieces. For example, I used a 37# bond for the prop spinner, and regular 20 or 24# bond for the gluing strips used to connect fuselage sections. Each of these requires another pass through the printer, and demonstrates once again the value of downloadable kits.

Some of the parts are truly minuscule. The exhaust ports (which have to be backed on .35 mm card) are 1.0 mm by 0.5 mm ovals! The guns and pitot tube were provided, but I could not roll them to a scale diameter using any paper that would work in my printer. I settled on .032" and .020" brass wire as a substitute.

I felt very little need to color the cut edges on this model. A little sky blue watercolor wash on the cut edges of the landing gear struts was about all that was needed. The fit is excellent; Exact Index card stock is only .007" thick (ideal for this model); and the color scheme is relatively light in tone, making cut edges less noticeable. I used a burnishing tool to round the trailing edges of the wing and tailplanes slightly (see my P-35 review for details), and that helped to eliminate one of the major sources of the "cut edge" problem.

Fuselage:

The fuselage is built up from cylinders with formers and connecting strips. The fit is extremely accurate, and therefore very tight. Dryfitting is essential. Have a sheet of spare parts available.

The cockpit canopy is flawless. Take your time, and butt glue each seam very carefully. Clamp each seam and allow it to dry before moving to the next one.

It's a good idea to drill holes for fuselage machine guns into the front of part #5 before gluing the cowling in place. Cut the gun ports in the cowling before assembly, as well. I waited until the end; and, although, I got it to work, I wasn't happy with the ragged edges I had to fix as a result of trying to do the cutouts at the end.

Empennage:

Rudder and stabilizer assembly is straightforward. I used small pieces of bulkhead scrap to insure a slight airfoil in these pieces. Just be aware that the Zero's stabilizer has no dihedral. Its placement above the mid-line on the fuselage encourages about 10-20 degrees of dihedral if you're not careful.

Wing:

The wing is also straightforward. The main spar is in three sections. Spend some time fitting these before gluing, since this will determine the accuracy of the wing dihedral. There is a single inboard rib for each of the port and starboard wing sections. A separately formed folded tab is used to join the trailing edges. I mounted it slightly inboard of the trailing edge and shaped the T.E. around it for a tighter fit that required no touch-up coloring. Take care in shaping the wing tips. Slight errors here really show up in the finished product. Mounting the fuselage to the wing went off without a hitch.

Landing gear:

Landing gear assembly is straightforward. It can be done without reinforcement, and the resulting assembly, though fragile, is adequate to support the weight of the finished model. I had to go to outside references to find information on positioning of the main gear. This is where a set of 3-views would have helped.

The tail wheel assembly (cut carefully!) is very fragile and weak. I stiffened it with cyanoacrylate glue.

Propeller assembly:

The propeller hub is the only part of the finished model that I'm unhappy with. It's not a problem with the kit, but rather with the size of the parts, and the difficulty of avoiding construction lines showing up in the final assembly. My second attempt was a lot better than the first, but still with construction lines (i.e., cutting lines) visible. I chose not to touch up the prop hub, thinking that the remedy might be worse than the "problem."

I did not build the optional external center mounted fuel tank, mainly because I liked the clean lines of the basic model as is.

Summary:

This is not an easy kit to build; but the difficulty is due to the scale rather than to printing and design, which in this case are as near to perfect as you can get. The kit has 117 parts--on a par with the PMI P-39 and the ModelCard P-35--which are several times the Zero's size at scales of 1:32 and 1:33, respectively. Overall, this is a challenging, but extremely well designed kit. Like Mark Johnson, I was so impressed with it that I bought at least one example of each of the other ModelArt 1:72 models. And now that I've got some experience with the Zero, I'll pick up one or two of the other Zero variants that ModelArt has made available.