Build Report: Dual Airacobras Build, Pt. II- Monogram’s 1/48 P-39

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Monogram’s P-39 kit is a true classic. I remember building it back in the late 70’s or early 80’s. The detail in it was incredible at the time. I thought it was the coolest thing being able to see the engine, open cockpit and gun compartment. For its time, it was a very detailed model.

And it was versatile. It had parts for several versions of Airacobras, and with just a little work, a skilled modelers could use it  as the basis for any variant of the P-39, from the D through the Q. For the time, it was quite the kit.

When I decided to build Eduard’s 1/48 P-39N weekend edition, I thought it would be neat to also build Monogram’s venerable kit, and see how it compared.

This is Part II of of a two-part build report. You can read Part I here. You can also read the Conclusion here.

Additionally, I later published a review of the Hasegawa P-39, and provided some additional insights comparing all three kits.

The boxing of the Monogram kit I had was not the recently re-issued plastic, but one of the “white box” kits from the 70’s. The kit was molded in a dark olive green, and the plastic was a bit hard and brittle compared to many of today’s kits. But the detail was very good, with most of it being raised. And one of the great things about Monogram kits was how smooth the plastic was. So many of today’s kits, even from big names, is cast with a slightly pebbly texture that requires some sanding out to get a good finish. But Monogram’s kit was smooth and shiny.

I decided early on that I would build the kit with the gun bay and cockpit open, but glue the engine covers shut. The engine detail was not very extensive, and I did not want to take the time to add any super detailing.

The cockpit detail was very good, especially given the kit’s age. It would compare favorably to many of the most modern kits, and in a few cases, exceed many modern kits. The gun bay was also nicely detailed, though comparison with photos showed it was a bit simplified.

Assembly of the kit was very easy. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it all fit together. There were no problem areas, no filler needed, no gaps… nothing.

I did use exhausts from the Eduard kit (which has several options included) as I thought they looked better than the Monogram kit. (Although the Monogram kit’s were not too bad.) Because I decided to have the gun compartment open, I wasn’t able to get enough weight in the nose to keep it from being a tail sitter. Making use of the clear prop for the undersides righted things.

Already being in the mood to build Russian Airacobras (see Pt. I), I decided to build this one as one of the Airacobra I airframes originally supplied to the RAF, but later sent on tot he Russians. I compared photos of the RAF Airacobra Is, and some photos of the same type in Russian service do work out the paint scheme and a few other details. Paints were Tamiya (XF-81,82 and 83… what I call the “Spitfire Trilogy”), and the base paints had various fading and shading done, as well as some oil effects and paint chipping applied.

As mentioned in Pt. I of this dual-build, decals were from a manufacturer I’d never heard of, Authentic Decals. Their Bell P-39 Airacobra Lend-Lease set (48-18) is an excellent value, as it has markings for eight aircraft. The decals are very high quality, and I was very pleased with them. You can pick up a set at scale-model-kits.com, or find them on eBay at RebelAlpha’s online store. I’ve received orders from both and highly recommend them.

Overall, I was very happy with how this kit turned out. When I showed this to some folks at my local IPMS club meeting, several asked “Is that the Eduard or Hasegawa kit?” I smiled and said “It’s the Monogram kit!”, which inevitably brought some double-takes and closer looks. I think sometimes folks forget that these old kits can really be built into something special right out of the box.

Conclusion

It’s almost impossible to do a dual build of the same type of kit and not draw some comparisons. To be fair, the Monogram kit is old enough to be the father of the Eduard kit, so to speak. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Monogram kit did in comparison.

In the cockpit, I’d give the Eduard kit (the Weekend Edition, anyway) only the barest edge as “better”. Both are nicely appointed, well cast, and look very good. The Eduard kit has a few more fine details.

Of course, the Monogram kit gets bonus points for the open gun bay. Simple as it is, it looks kind of cool. I actually wondered if the parts could be fitted into the Eduard kit.

Fit wise, the winner was….. the Monogram kit. Believe it or not. The Eduard kit was not bad, but I had to deal with some wing root gaps on it. Not bad, really, but they were there. The Monogram kit fit Tamiya perfect. It actually clicked into place.

In small details Eduard fared better. Air intakes in the wing roots were open, the underwing vents were better detailed, the wheels and nose gear leg detailed much nicer. I’m sure many of those items are due as much to advances in casting technology as anything else. (I’ve always thought it would be awesome to see what the Monogram team could do if given today’s technology and techniques!)

Of course, a big differentiation is the raised panel lines of the Monogram kit versus the recessed panel lines of the Eduard kit. Ignoring the accuracy debate, I preferred the recessed panel lines simply because it works better with my personal weathering and finishing techniques. But I have no problems building a raised panel line kit, and have built quite a few. (And of course, you can always rescribe, as so many people have done for years.)

Ultimately, it’s hard to declare a definitive “winner”. I think it comes down to price and nostalgia. Either kit will give you a great looking Airacobra. The Eduard Weekend Edition kits can be purchased for $17 dollars or so, while the Monogram kit can be found for $15. If you’ve not built an Airacobra before, and you are looking for a recommendation of one kit to purchase, I suppose I’d give the nod to the Eduard kit, but only if you have no fondness for anything Monogram, or just prefer recessed panel lines.

To be quite honest, given how inexpensive both kits are, I’d say buy both and do a dual build like I did. You won’t be disappointed!

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