Reviewed: Oct 2022
Following the successful release of their 1/48 Lancaster, Hong Kong Models have now scaled down their 1/32 B-25J to the more practical 1/48 scale. This is a brand new tooling and has no ancestry to either the Monogram or Accurate Miniatures B-25 kits in 1/48. It's a good bet that HKM plan to follow up with the other B-25 variants in 1/48 as the box top points us towards their "Mitchell Series".
Like the earlier Lancaster release, this new B-25J (Glass Nose) comes in a deceptively small box with all the sprues neatly packaged separately with the critical clear sprue receiving its own cardboard backing. The 20 page assembly guide is printed in color on large format glossy paper and as a bonus HKM have included a nice colour poster. Also in the box is a small photo-etch sheet (seat belts etc) and because the B-25 has a tricycle undercarriage, HKM has generously included a pre-shaped metal nose weight (to help avoid tail sitting syndrome).
The North American B-25 Mitchell was an American medium bomber, introduced in 1941 and named in honor of Major General William "Billy" Mitchell, a pioneer of U.S. military aviation. Used by many Allied air forces, the B-25 served in every theater of World War II, and after the war ended, many remained in service, operating across four decades. Produced in numerous variants, nearly 10,000 B-25s were built. These included several limited models such as the F-10 reconnaissance aircraft, the AT-24 crew trainers, and the United States Marine Corps' PBJ-1 patrol bomber. [source: wikipedia]
Just as they did in 2012 for 1/32, HKM has chosen to release the B-25J Glass Nose variant as their first Mitchell in 1/48 scale. The final production version of the Mitchell was the B-25J, and it was ordered in larger numbers than any other variant. A total of 4,318 were delivered, and most of these had the framed glass bombardier's nose that had been standard on all versions prior to the B-25G. An additional seventy-two aircraft were completed as the war came to the end, but they were not delivered contractually. Later, some of these were modified for other missions and served in the post war years.
The B-25 series proved its worth in combat all over the globe during World War 2. Like other bombers of the period, it could take an unbelievable amount of punishment and remain airborne. It was capable of flying on one engine and was noted for its excellent handling characteristics. The aircraft was a viable candidate for a plethora of sanctioned and unsanctioned conversions leading to a myriad of official and unofficial variants being had. The tricycle undercarriage, coupled with the heavily glazed and stepped cockpit, provided excellent vision out-of-the-cockpit for the pilots during landing and take-off actions.
Unlike the HKM Lancaster 1/48 release, where much of the kit was redesigned for the smaller scale, the 1/48 B-25 seems to be mostly a smaller, simplified version of its 1/32 sibling. To illustrate this point, the 1/32 kit contains 549 parts whilst in 1/48 this has been reduced down to 294 parts. Much of this reduction has been achieved by combining multiple parts in 1/32 to a single piece in 1/48.
Like myself, many of you will already have at least one 1/48 B-25 in your stash. It's almost certainly based on either the 1977 Monogram or 1999 Accurate Miniature (AM) toolings, which have been re-popped by many other companies (including Italeri, Academy, Hasegawa, Revell and others) over the years. It's worth noting again that this new HKM kit is a brand new tooling, having no connection to the earlier kits. As I had one of the AM kits on hand I was curious myself to see the difference that 23 years might make. Well, this exercise showed me just how good Accurate Miniatures tooling were, with the recessed surface detail still holding its own today. Unfortunately AM never did release a late model B-25, giving us only the early B/C/D and G variants. For a late model J we had to rely on Monogram and that's another story altogether.
The Mitchell (like many of its peers in WW2) was assembled using overlapping aluminium sheets with rivets (not flush) securing them to the underlying framework. Look at any photo of a B-25 and the raised rivet heads just jump out at you. HKM have chosen to design their model with recessed holes to represent the rivets rather than tool for raised rivets. Would it be more accurate had HKM used raised rivets, yes, however this would also have introduced a number of challenges that we modellers would need to deal with during assembly, such as replacing lost rivet detail along seams, so I for one am happy enough with their decision.
HKM has done a good job of representing the density of rivets on the wing surfaces of the B-25. As you can see both the panel lines and rivets are sharp and of a convincing scale depth.
A B-25J test fires its upper and side .50al guns. This graphically shows the awesome firepower that even the glass nose Mitchell could deliver and illustrates why the guns were often fitted with flash suppressors on the barrel tips.
Whilst the canopy of the HKM B-25 kit is not designed to be displayed open, the interior framework will still be quite visible, so its good to see that HKM have reproduced it. To help avoid an obvious tail-sitter the kit also comes with a shaped metal weight (62g) which slots nicely into the nose under the cockpit floor.
The interior framework detail runs the full length of the fuselage including the waist gun bay and the tail gunner compartment. The bomb-bay is included as a separate slot in sub-assembly with its own detailing.
As with the wings, the fuselage surface detail is all recessed, sharp and an accurate scale depth. The wing to fuselage mount is the same keyed friction interlock system we saw on the Lancaster and although I am yet to test it here I expect it will result in a near perfect join that will not require glue, making it much easier to paint, handle and transport the model once finished.
A quick visual comparison of the HKM surface detail placement against a section of the real aircraft has reassured me that HKM have done their homework.
The fixed vertical tail components are provided as two halves.The riveting, panels and general shape check out pretty well, at least to my eyes.
Both rudders on the Mitchell were fabric covered. I'm not convinced that HKM have done themselves a favour by using rows of rivets on the rudder to represent the ribbing on the real thing. Each rudder is molded as a single piece rather than two halves. The shape of the hinge cutouts (in particular the lower large rounded one) do not look quite right compared to the reference photos I could find. More research needed here.
Continuing the high quality mold detail found on the rest of the model, the horizontal tail surfaces are no exception. The kit offers separate elevators and wing flaps allowing the modeller more choice for positioning. The ailerons however are molded into the wing and would need to be cut should you wish to deflect them.
The engine nacelles are designed in two halves with cutouts in the lower wings into which they slot when assembled. The B-25 was one of those aircraft whose undercarriage doors were always closed unless the gear was retracting or extending. HKM have therefore molded the doors in the closed position as shown here. Once again from a cursory look the rivet and panel lines seem to match well with the real thing.
The engine cowlings are molded as a single piece in the 1/48 kit, unlike its bigger 1/32 brother where you have the option to display the cowling panels off (revealing more of the Wright R-2600-92 Twin Cyclone 14-cylinder two-row air-cooled radial engines). Unfortunately the exhaust stub shrouds, which are dispersed around the circumference of the cowling, are molded solid rather than open covers. As these are quite visible on the model I would feel the need to drill these out or cut them off and replace with new fabricated ones. Perhaps this is a good project for me and my new 3D printer ....
The cowling flaps at the very rear of the cowling are only provided in the open position. This does not bother me personally as its normally the way I prefer to display them anyway. The individual flaps are quite thin but like most parts in plastic would benefit from a bit of thinning.
The B-25 employed a fairly standard cockpit layout, with positions for both pilot and co-pilot. For a medium bomber the cockpit looks quite comfortable, especially when compared with photos of German contemporaries such as the Ju88, which look very crowded. The HKM instrument panel is nicely molded with recessed instrument faces and the decal sheet contains a single piece decal for the dial faces.
I like that HKM has not shied away from molding the fabric parts on this model. The control columns have canvas boots and I think HKM have done a very credible job of reproducing the look of the fabric texture.
A good wide angle photo of a restored (flyable) B-25 provides us a sense of the overall visibility afforded to the flight crew. The bulk of the interior is painted in Interior Green with the center console and main IP in overall black. I'm not sure if the wartime B-25s would have had the sound insulating quilted blankets on the sidewalls or if this is a post war modification.
Unlike modern jet fighters where we obsess about the amount of detail packed in the models very visible cockpit, a model like the B-25, with its closed framed canopy, can get away with a lot less detail. Having said that I think that HKM have delivered more than enough for all but the fussiest builder to be happy with achieving that feeling of business. In addition to the plastic pieces, HKM provide seat belts in photo-etch brass, which will add to the realism of the seats. No doubt in short order the aftermarket companies will provide us with resin and PE goodies galore.
Having only recently been doing some work on the ICM 1:48 B-26 Invader kit, I was surprised at just how small the Mitchell's bomb bay was. Overall I feel that the sidewall detail looks a bit flat but most will be covered once you attach the bombs to the racks anyway. Bombs were loaded vertically on racks that looked like ladders on both sides of the bay. The racks varied in type according to the size of the bomb to be used.
The front and top walls of the bomb bay contain molded on cabling and fastener detail which will respond well to detail painting and a light wash. A circular access hatch was available in the roof of the bomb bay so that the crew could access from above if needed during flight (if a bomb got stuck or some other situation).
The bomb bay doors were double skinned outwards opening. Distinctive lightening holes covered the inner skin.
HKM have simplified the bomb bay doors on this 1/48 kit, providing each door as a single piece and thus the double skinned look has been lost and now just looks flat. In their 1/32 kit the outer and inner skins are two pieces and when glued together look far more accurate. I would not be surprised if Eduard did a photo-etch sheet for the bomb bay and doors in the future to improve this whole area.
The tail gun position varied considerably between Mitchell variants. The B-25H/J used a fully enclosed streamlined canopy and a canvas boot which covered all but the gun barrels. Once again I was impressed with the texturing on the canvas that HKM have achieved in plastic.
All variants of the B-25 were powered by the Wright R-2600, fourteen cylinder, twin-row radial engine. It provided 1700 horsepower for take-off and 1300 continuous horsepower was developed for cruise at 13000 ft.
By todays standards the engines provided by HKM are pretty basic. Unlike its larger 1/32 brother, no provision has been made by HKM to remove the engine cowling covers and that's clearly by design as the provided engines would not be worth showing off.
The engine parts are very simplified with all the push rods and cylinders molded as a single piece. This volume of plastic has resulted in a significant number of sink holes, at least on my kit, on the front faces of several cylinders. It can be argued that not much other than the very front of the first row of cylinders will be seen once the cowling is on, but I am a little surprised that HKM have made the parts this basic. Not what I expected from a 2022 release.
The R-2600 utilised a single-piece gear reduction housing for the propeller shaft. This along with the ignition harness seems to be well detailed.
All versions of the B-25 were fitted with 12-foot-7-inch full-feathering, constant-speed Hamilton Standard three-bladed props. To my eyes, HKM have captured the shape pretty darn well, including the detailing on the central hub.
I very much like the detail provided by HKM on the main wheels. They have flattened the bottom to simulate weight and accurately molded the diamond tread found on the tyres. My only concern is that it will be virtually impossible sand the seam on the tyres without loosing or damaging the raised tread pattern. I suspect Quickboost, Brassin or CMK will come to the rescue is short order.
Sprues L,M,N,O,P contain the large number of clear parts needed to build the glazed nose B-25J. Other than a small short shot section in the corner of one of the waist gun windows, the parts are crystal clear and show no blemishes.
There were several different designs for the clear dome on the top turret used on the B-25H/J. Domes ranged from almost completely clear with no framework to extra framing styles and a mix of symmetric and asymmetric shapes. HKM have provided the symmetric dome with framing on the front and rear of the dome.
The canopy raised framing is nicely done, being well defined and deep enough for masking but not over-scale. Two styles of main canopy are included in the kit with the only visible difference I could see being the additional framing in the port front quarter window on one of them. The forward window of each side of the cockpit was designed to slide open and this would earn you extra credit if you took the time to cut them out on the model.
On B-25J-20-NC, 44-29111, and subsequent B-25Js, a second fixed .50-calibre machine gun was added on the right inside the bombardier's nose compartment as a production standard. This second gun had also been installed on many existing aircraft at the field depot at Townsville, Australia. On some aircraft, a second pair of fixed machine guns was installed in the left side of the nose in an arrangement that mirrored the guns on the right. This modification was also carried out at Townsville.
These four guns, along with the flexible gun in the center of the nose, generated considerable gas inside the nose when fired. As a result, a gun gas extractor had to be installed in a fairing under the nose to remove it. This extractor was also added to some B-25Js having only the two right side guns and the flexible gun in the nose. This extractor is included in the kit as part P1.
To cater for either the two gun or four gun configurations, HKM provide two nose blisters on sprue M.
The greenhouse tail gunner canopy is molded as a single drop in part. Fastener detail can be seen on the framing and the clear parts are super clear and should afford a good view of the internal details.
The final major clear part is of course the upper nose glazing. Like all the other parts, HKM have delivered us a well designed and detailed part.
Sprue G contains all the parts which are specific to the J model. When you see a kit engineered this was its a good bet that more variants of the B-25 are in the pipeline. The main part on this small sprue is the lower nose fuselage, designed as a single section rather than two halves needing to be joined.
A Norden bombsight was installed in most versions of the B-25 that were fitted with the standard bombardiers nose compartment, however it was often deleted from Mitchell's used primarily or exclusively in the strafer role. Later variants of the Mitchell, such as the J, had a .50cal flexible gun in the nose replacing the .30cal weapon of the early versions. Due to its extra weight it required a dedicated mounting frame and metal plate for the swivel ball socket.
Sprue G also contains the extra specific guns, ammo boxes, seat cushions needed to model the J variant. All of these part look nicely detailed and will be worth some extra wiring etc as much will be seen under the large clear glass.
Both the B-25H and B-25J had staggered waist gun windows that were slightly bulged and covered with clear perspex. The M2 .50cal gun was mounted through an opening in the lower aft corner, sealed by a canvas boot.
The plastic gun bodies and barrels are quite well done for 1/48. I will be planning to replace all the plastic barrels with metal parts from Master as this really adds that touch of realism as the separate cooling jacket stands out in brass.
Once again the look of the canvas material has been captured very well by HKM.
Two small photo etch brass frets are included in the kit, containing seat harnesses, the cockpit exterior armour plating and other assorted parts.
HKM provide a total of two (2) marking options in the kit. Over the years many aftermarket manufacturers have released decal sets for the Monogram and Accurate Miniatures 1/48 kits so if neither of the HKM options suit you them you won't have search too far.
Each paint scheme is provided in full colour on glossy A4 pages and colour callouts are provided using AK, Tamiya and Gunze/Mr Hobby paints.
The first markings are for "Cactus Kitten", a B-25J-11-NC, s/n 43-36041 from 501th BS./ 345th BG. This aircraft had 5 nose guns and was lost during an attack on the Kanju Maru near Saigon. This aircraft is finished in Olive Drab over grey.
The second markings are for "She's Engaged", a B-25J-2, s/n 43-27559, flown by Lt. John W. Allen of the 380th BS, 310th BG and based at Ghisonaccia, Corsica. This overall natural metal B-25 had blue propeller hubs and blue and yellow stripes on the vertical stabilisers.
The Cartograph sheet is printed with very thin and precise decals. The carrier film is minimal and the color register looks good.
Well here we have the fruits of Hong Kong Models labours to bring us more great models of popular subjects. It makes perfect sense for them to leverage the original investment they made in the 1/32 B-25 toolings and the end result is a welcome addition to their lineup of 1/48 kits.
The release schedule for HKM is certainly not as fast as other manufacturers, but when they do release a kit its been done well and not rushed out the door, which is exactly what we have with this new tooled B-25J.
Given that the only option we have had previously for a 1/48 B-25J was the ancient 1977 kit from Monogram, last re-popped in 2013 by Revell, I think this modern tooling will be well received by 1/48 modellers.
If you are a fan of WW2 medium bombers, then this release is right up your alley. Many thanks to Hong Kong Models for providing us with this early release review kit.