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Special Hobby Grumman Guardian

For some modelers, it’s Paper Panzers, for others Luft ’46, but what trips my trigger is what I refer to as U.S. Navy ’46. Experimental designs, one-off prototypes, second-line World War II aircraft, and lesser-known postwar prop planes of the Navy are just too cool and have a strange, utilitarian ugliness. So, I was excited when I heard Special Hobby was releasing a 1/48 scale Grumman Guardian.

The Guardian started life as the XTB3F, designed as a torpedo bomber to replace the Avenger. With the war’s end, the Navy decided it no longer wanted dedicated torpedo and dive-bombers, so Grumman quickly redesigned the Guardian for anti-submarine warfare. Although it was the largest single-engine piston-powered aircraft to serve on U.S. carriers, it wasn’t large enough to carry both search radar and a weapon bay. Instead, Grumman developed two different aircraft from the same design: the AF-2W hunter and the AF-2S killer.

Special Hobby’s kit of the AF-2S Guardian is close to being a multimedia kit, with more than 200 plastic, resin, and photoetched-metal parts. The components for the -2W and -3S versions are included on the sprues. (One of the drop tanks for the -2W was short-shot in my example.)

Before starting construction, I thoroughly cleaned the parts. I also photocopied pages 2 and 3 of the instructions for easy access to the parts map, because are no part numbers on the sprues.

Starting with the well-appointed cockpit and sparse aft compartments means using photoetched metal. Although I’m a novice with the medium, I found the kit’s parts easy to work with. I folded the chart cases using two thin metal rulers. Paint the inner surfaces before folding them, because you can’t afterwards.

The resin radar scope for the instrument panel was oversized, so I made a replacement with wire, aluminum tube, and putty. The kit’s cockpit exactly matches photos and drawings in Naval Fighters No. 20 — Grumman AF Guardian (Ginter, ISBN 978-0-942612-20-2).

I considered leaving the sparsely detailed aft compartments out, but the bulkheads bolster and help align the fuselage.

I think the instructions for the resin engine incorrectly flipped the individual cylinders between the front and rear banks. I reversed mine to match references.

To attach the engine, I glued styrene blocks to the firewall, then pinned the engine in place with stainless-steel wire. Pay attention to the engine’s alignment as it’s easy to get it off a few degrees. I sanded the firewall enough that I could rotate the engine into proper position.

The instructions don’t show the instrument panel being fitted, but it needs to be attached inside the fuselage before the halves are joined.

Despite test-fitting, I ended up with steps between the canopy and fuselage. I built up the fuselage behind the cockpit with several applications of Mr. Surfacer 500 to match the clear part. Sanding fixed a misfit between the cowl and body but damaged engraved Dzus fasteners on the nose; I engraved new ones with a small drill bit.

The auxiliary vertical stabilizers require special attention for correct alignment.
There was a gap between parts E6 and E7 and parts E13 and E12 in the landing-gear bays where the wing fold would be. Styrene bulkheads would close the gaps.
Aligning the panel lines produced a step at the starboard wing root ­— the top of the wing fit the fuselage perfectly, but there was a ⅛" gap underneath. I super glued the wing in place and filled the gaps with Bondo.

The main legs are flimsy for the size of this kit; cast-metal replacements would be an easy fix. The landing gear legs slot into place with a twisting motion but act like a hinge until locked in place with parts E3 and E15.

I painted the antiglare nose section with Testors Model Master interior black and mixed Tamiya gloss black, royal blue, and blue for a gloss sea blue camouflage.
The decals went down fine over a coat of Pledge FloorCare Multi-Surface Finish with a little help from setting solution.

Special Hobby’s Guardian needs just a little more attention than a mainstream plastic kit. It’s not for beginners, but patient, experienced builders can produce a great-looking replica. It scales out almost perfectly and looks every bit as pretty as the real thing. Now, Special Hobby: How about a 1/48 scale Douglas Destroyer or AM Mauler?

Note: A version of this review appeared in the December 2015 issue.
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