12 March 2017

HUP Retriever - Amodel Kit Review

1. Introduction
Aircraft: Piasecki HUP-2 / HUP-3 Retriever
Model kit manufacturer: Amodel
Scale: 1:72
Catalogue number: 72137
Release time: probably mid-2000s

Basic information on the HUP Retriever is available in Wikipedia (link) and will not be repeated here.

2. Kit
2.1. Box
The box is a top-opener of moderate size (26 x 18 x 5 cm), too large for the enclosed plastic frames measuring no more than 15 x 12 cm. The cardboard is thin and soft. The boxart is funny: it shows a U.S. Navy HUP-2 in inaccurate paint scheme (olive instead of historically correct Engine Grey), as well as in historically inaccurate setting: it is shown overflying a ship that is clearly the USS Wasp, LHD-1, commissioned in 1989 (that is 25 years after the last of the Navy's Retrievers was withdrawn from use).

2.2. Instruction
Instruction is printed in on one black & white A3 sheet. Guidance on assembly is clear enough. Guidance on painting is full of inaccuracies, but I will come to that later (see section 3).

2.3. Plastic Parts
The surface of plastic parts is smooth, engraved panel lines (very few of them, actually) are not too wide. Unfortunately, these are the only nice words that can be said about this kit.
1) The kit's fuselage is inaccurate in every respect. In particular,
 a) In cross-section, the kit's fuselage has a nearly flat top and a completely flat bottom (similar to that of, say, CH-47 or Yak-24). This is entirely inaccurate: the fuselage cross-section of a real HUP was a nearly perfect oval.
 b) Aft rotor pylon shape is totally incorrect: it must be taller, and both its forward and trailing edges must be closer to vertical.
 c) The kit's forward rotor pylon shape is incorrect; observe how smoothly the pylon blends with the fuselage on a real HUP: photo.
 d) Aft rotor pylon should have four large cooling openings, not two as presented in the kit. It should be noted that some machines had the two lower openings closed with special metal covers, but it was only practiced very early in this helicopter's service life.
 e) The main landing gear leg attachment points on the kit are put too far aft.
 f) Cabin door must be slightly wider and located a bit lower and more forward.
 g) The rescue hoist hatch in the cabin floor is totally omitted in the kit. The internally mounted rescue hoist and its requisite cabin floor hatch are very curious features of the HUP design and should not be overlooked.
 h) The shape of the ventral cooling opening is incorrect: it must be an elongated octagon, not a circle: photo.
 i) The indentation on the starboard fuselage aft of the main landing gear strut mount is not a transparent window, as suggested in the kit, but a refueling receptacle.
 j) The shape of the starboard cabin window is incorrect: it must be an octagon, not a rectangle, and positioned a bit more forward in the fuselage.
The following sketch is not a rendering of any of the Internet drawings; it is made by me and is based solely on historical photographs (photographs of preserved machines are inapplicable as the photographer is always too close to the subject):
2) Rotorhead detail is nearly non-existent in the kit. This is how the rotorhead of the real thing should look like: photo.
3) The shape of rotor blade tips is inaccurate in the kit. The blade tips must be square.
4) Most of the kit's cabin interior appears to be fictional. The pilot and co-pilot seats are inaccurate. The passenger seats are missing, although, in all fairness, it would be impossible to mold these webbed seats accurately in plastic.  Furthermore, it appears that the HUPs serving with the Navy's operational units did not have any insulation on the cabin walls and ceiling, so that the fuselage structure, the rescue winch and even some of the forward rotor transmission were clearly seen. As an example, here are some photographs that show what the cabin interior of a real operational HUP looked like: link and link.
5) The kit's representation of the engine and the aft rotor transmission is a complete fiction. For instance, the R-975 engine that powered the HUP had a single row of 9 cylinders, not two rows as represented in the kit. This is not a tragedy in itself, as on a real helicopter the engine is not actually visible behind a tangle of pipework and mounts; it just shows that the kit manufacturer did no research whatsoever: the R-975 is a well known engine (it was used to power Sherman and Lee tanks and Hellcat tank destroyers, among others), and even a cursory search will tell you it has a single row of 9 cylinders.
6) Landing gear legs, if used as given in the kit, will result in the fuselage sitting unrealistically high above ground. In other words, the kit's landing gear legs are "unloaded" and thus inaccurate for modelling the helicopter in a typical stationary / parked pose.
7) Quite a few of the smaller details are missing in the kit, such as the landing lights and navigation lights. However, considering the magnitude of problems with the fuselage, such smaller detail issues seem to be unimportant.

To conclude this section, it appears that the Amodel kit was designed basing on the quite detailed but very inaccurate drawings published in "AviO" # 2 (Kharkiv, 1992) magazine: the kit fits these drawings perfectly.

2.4. Clear Items
Clear plastic items are very thick; their transparency is seriously compromised by molding imperfections and distortions. 

3. Decal & Paint Instructions
There three decal options provided:
A) HUP-2, BuNo 128562 / UP20. U.S. Navy, squadron HU-1. Early 1960s.
B) HUP-3, Serial No 51-16621. Royal Canadian Navy, squadron VU 33. Late 1950s or early 1960s.
C) HUP-2, BuNo 130077 / 23S6. French Naval Aviation (Aéronavale), squadron 23S. Late 1950s or early 1960s.
Variant A:
1) The kit's instructions recommend painting the airframe Olive Drab, which is, of course, incorrect. Only the U.S. Army H-25A Army Mules were painted Olive Drab: example.
The U.S. Navy Retrievers, throughout their service life, were subject to the following paint schemes:
- Sea Blue (FS15042) overall: example
- Light Gull Grey (FS36440) overall: example
- Fluorescent Red Orange (FS28913) overall: example
- Engine Grey (FS16081) overall: example
- Engine Grey with Fluorescent Red Orange trim: example
As for the Red Orange trim exact placement, the kit's instruction is also incorrect: there must be a wide Red Orange band on the forward lower fuselage, and the "step" in the Red Orange trim on the top of the aft rotor pylon is in reality much less pronounced than the kit's instructions suggest.
2) The kit's instructions recommend painting the rotor blades black overall with yellow tips. This in incorrect. First, rotor blade upper surfaces must be Light Gull Gray. Then, as the Navy's SR-2e regulation states (taken from the definitive work on the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft colors and markings by John M. Elliot), "matched sets of main rotor blades" are to have the first 2 inches of each blade tip painted an identifying color - Insignia White, Insignia Red and Light Green – with a 6 inch band of Orange Yellow inboard of the tip color (while "unmatched sets of main rotor blades" are to have all blade tips in Orange Yellow). I don't know whether all of the Navy HUPs did use matched sets of rotor blades, but a number of available historical photographs clearly show that differently colored blade tips were in fact present. As an example, see color historical photographs here (search for "HUP-2" on this page).
3) The kit's instructions recommend painting the cabin interior Light Grey. Most probably this recommendation is accurate for BuNo 128562; however, we should remember that some of the HUPs had Interior Green cabin interiors.
4) The kit's instructions provide no recommendation on this, but all of the interior visible through the four large openings on the aft rotor pylon must be painted the same color as the helicopter's fuselage.
5) The proportions of the U.S. national insignia on the decal are incorrect: the red stripes are too thin, the blue border around the white star is too thick.
6) All of the codes on the decal ("UP", "20" and "128562") are printed using inaccurate font. Historical photographs of this particular machine as well as of other contemporary HUPs in Engine Grey & Red Orange paint scheme show us that all symbols had 60 degrees, not 45 degrees corner cuts.
7) The font for the "NAVY" fuselage side letters is inaccurate on the decal. The decal's letters are too narrow (in relation to their height), and the bars in "N", "A" and "V" have different thickness.
8) Historical photographs show that there were several variations of markings on the HUP fuselage lower surface. The kit's decal and instructions suggest the following variant (from nose to tail): "Navy" > "Rescue" > national insignia. This could have been the case for some of the machines; however, historical photographs show that HUPs in Engine Grey & Red Orange paint scheme, assigned to utility squadrons, had "Abandon Chute" or "Remove Chute" lettering, and not "Rescue". In particular, photographs of BuNo 128562 suggest that the markings on the lower fuselage were as follows, from nose to tail: "Abandon Chute" (white letters on Red Orange background) > national insignia > "Navy".
9) The "Rescue" arrows on the decal are orange. This is incorrect: these arrows must be Insignia Red.

Variant B:
10) The kit's instructions recommend painting the airframe light grey overall, which is incorrect. Royal Canadian Navy helicopters of that time period, including the Retriever, wore the two-tone scheme: Dark Sea Grey upper surfaces and Medium Sea Grey lower surfaces and sides.
11) The kit's instructions recommend painting the fuselage band and the top of the tail rotor pylon yellow. I could not find a single historical photograph that would confirm the yellow trim; available photographs show the trim color to be red.
12) The shape of the red maple leaf on the national insignia does not appear to be historically accurate.
13) The font for the black "NAVY" lettering is inaccurate on the decal. Compare the decal's letters with historical photographs.
14) The "147621" serial number present on the decal is historically inaccurate. Although Bureau Number 147621 was indeed allocated to a HUP-3, that particular machine has never served with the Royal Canadian Navy. The Canadian machines (three in total) were actually ex-U.S. Army H-25A helicopters, and, although all of them did receive the U.S. Navy Bureau Numbers, they carried their U.S. Army serial numbers while in Canadian service. Their respective Army serial numbers and Navy Bureau Numbers were as follows: 51-16621 / 147622; 51-16622 / 147609 and 51-16623 / 147617. Each of the three Canadian machines had its large fuselage tactical number changed several times throughout its service life, but the "621" tactical number present on the decal was, according to source [5], associated with s/n 51-16621 during its service with Utility Squadron 33.
15) The "Attention pales rotor" legend on the decal is incorrect, as well as its black & white color. Royal Canadian Navy Retrievers had technical stencilling in English, not in French, and this particular warning placard read "Beware of forward rotor blade" in white capital letters on red background.

Variant C:
16) The font used for the white "23.S-6" side number on the decal is inaccurate. Compare it with historical photographs, and also observe that Aéronavale puts an underscore (_), not a dash (-) between the squadron letter ("S" in this case) and the individual machine number.
17) The "Attention pales rotor" legend on the decal is incorrect. On Aéronavale Retrievers this particular warning placard read "Attention avec pales du rotor avant" (in capitals).

I have to conclude that, as is so often the case, this decal is apparently based on inaccurate color profiles from books or magazines and not on historical photographs.

4. Alternatives & Aftermarket
According to scalemates, the following other companies have released the 1:72 model kits of this helicopter: Siga (# 72-M07), YuMTK (kits # 005 and 006) and Mach2 (# GP.012).
The model kit from Siga, although different in some minor detail, is clearly based on the same master parts as the Amodel kit and, therefore, must share all of its inaccuracies. I could not find any pictures of the YuMTK product at all, but I strongly suspect that this is the same model as released by Amodel and Siga; it is also possible that the YuMTK product is the original, while Amodel and Siga are reboxes.
The Retriever from Mach2 is definitely their own kit, but, to put it short, it is very poorly cast and has a number of accuracy issues, as are most of the kits produced by this manufacturer (sadly, the people at Mach2 do not seem to have learned a single thing in their 20+ years of operations: their models released in 2016 have the same poor accuracy and poor quality of casting as their models from the 1990s).

As for the aftermarket items, it seems that only one is available: a vacu-formed canopy from Pavla. Its transparency is very good, but the flat shape of its bottom is tailored to match the incorrectly shaped Amodel's fuselage.

5. Conclusion
 - Moderate price (approx. $11 paid at a local model shop in 2012).
 - The accuracy of this kit is horrible. There is hardly a single part that could be considered accurate, but worst of all is the fuselage, which is wrong in every respect.
 - Very thick clear plastic parts with poor transparency.
 - Decals for all three variants are totally inaccurate.

6. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the HUP / H-25 in Wikipedia: link
[2] Brief description of the HUP / H-25 on Boeing's official site: link
[3] Full list of produced HUP / H-25 helicopters with construction numbers, Navy Bureau Numbers and Army serial numbers: link
[4] Several photo walk-arounds of preserved Retrievers: link
[5] A small but useful piece of info on the Royal Canadian Navy Retrievers: link
[6] An article in French, with some useful details on the HUP-2 service with Aéronavale: link

Some caution notes on the available information and sources:

a) There seem to be a persistent myth (repeated even in some of the printed books) that the Army's H-25A variant had larger cabin door. There are no indications that this was the case. Take a look at photographs of the real thing (such as these examples: H-25A and HUP-2) and see for yourself: the doors are identical in size, shape and placement.

b) Another Internet myth states that there were external differences between the U.S., Canadian and French machines, and that somehow the shape of rotor blades and engine cutout of the Amodel kit are correct for the U.S. and Canadian variants but not for the French one, or vice versa. This is totally unsubstantiated; there were neither "Canadian-specific" nor "French-specific" Retrievers. The French Naval Aviation (Aéronavale) received standard HUP-2 helicopters from the U.S. Navy. The Royal Canadian Navy received ex-U.S. Army H-25A helicopters, which are externally identical to the U.S. Navy HUP-3 variant (except for some antennae).

c) Take a particular note of the fact that as of early 2017, there seem to be no accurate line drawings of the HUP Retriever available on the Internet. All available drawings have multiple inaccuracies, and this includes drawings from such sources as the official U.S. Navy flight manual; wikipedia.org; "AviO" # 2 magazine; "An Illustrated Guide to Military Helicopters" book by Bill Gunston; "Helicopters. Military, Civilian and Rescue Rotorcraft" book by Robert Jackson; aviastar.org and various other sites.

d) When researching paint schemes and markings, do not trust photographs of preserved and restored aircraft. These are very frequently painted and marked without regard to historical accuracy. You can rarely see historically correct fonts on a museum aircraft, and sometimes even such basic things as the national insignia are wrong, which really grieves me: museum workers are supposed to be capable of doing at least some research, aren't they.

e) It would be wise to look at the technical condition of preserved and restored aircraft with a critical eye. Some of the preserved machines are sadly deteriorated. Yet others, while externally glossy and pleasing to the eye of a casual observer, do not retain their historically accurate configurations and may have some components removed and some replaced with non-authentic ones. For example, exhibits at the USS Intrepid, Kalamazoo Air Zoo and Fort Rucker museums all have non-authentic tail wheels.