F8F-1 Bearcat “Gulfhawk 4”

by Kelly Jamison

Developed towards the end of WWII the Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat went from prototype to deployment in an amazingly short period of time. From its inscription the Bearcat's main mission was for carrier protection. The prototype first flew on April 21st, 1944 and established a reputation that would follow the Bearcat through its service life. First given to Navy Fighter Squadron VF-19, they were on their way to Japan when the war ended. The flight crews were still getting familiar with their new steed on VJ Day.

Its small size, smaller than its F6F Hellcat brethren and 20% lighter, giving it a 30% gain in climb performance making it ideal for carrier use. It also outperformed its stable mate in almost all areas. Bearcat production ended in early 1949 but not before being employed by 24 Navy squadrons and by the vaulted Blue Angels flight performance team from 1946 to 1949. In 1952 the Bearcat was removed from active service and many found a second life in other foreign Air Forces such as South Viet Nam, Royal Thai Air Force and the French Armee De l'Air. A total of 1,265 Bearcats were produced including two G-58 civilian versions. Gulfhawk 4th was one of the two built.



Completed on the 23rd of July 1947 the plane was handed over to Al Williams and christened by Mrs. Williams at Washington National Airport. This plane was outfitted with a JATO bottle that was demonstrated to astonishing effect in a brief first public flight of the G-58A. During the 17th Annual Miami Air Maneuvers Show on the 18th of January 1949 Al Williams was flying towards his home airdrome when he found out he had a landing gear problem. He flew back south to Simmons-Knott Airport at New Bern, NC and made an emergency landing there. On roll out the left main gear collapsed and the Bearcat settled onto its belly rupturing the aux tank and trailed gas behind the stricken plane. Bystanders helped Al Williams out of the cockpit but had no way to extinguish the flames that burned the plane to the ground.

The Kit

This is the same exact kit as the HobbyCraft offering. It is molded in the same dull gray as their other offerings. It has 60 parts with an optional tall tail and extra engine cowl for making the -2 version Bearcat. The Academy directions are much better and easier to read than the HobbyCraft printing.

Step one is to paint the interior cockpit area FS34151 Interior Bronze Green. I used Humbrol #88 Bronze Green. I used Scale Aviation Modeller International Vol. 7 issue 1 page 44-46 for cockpit reference. I airbrushed the back armor plate and control stick with Humbrol Matt Black #33. The floorboard, rudder peddles, backrest and seat pan got a coat of Humbrol #88. The instrument panel is not too bad so I painted it flat black and added white backed gauges to it. The whole assembly fits into the cockpit area nicely but the instrument panel needs better location pins or guides to help you center it. I painted the back plate behind the pilot's headrest next. The cockpit tub has small guides on the fuselage halves that do not give you a positive feel of where the cockpit should sit. It is the same problem the instrument panel suffers from. It was now time to glue the two halves of the fuselage together. It went together with no problems. I put this section off to the side and started working on the wings.

I am doing the G-58A version of this plane so I used Tamiya X-2 Gloss White to paint the wheel well area and tub along with this small ramp shaped piece that guides hot air out the bottom of the fuselage. It is a nicely done wheel well when you think of the old Hawk/Testors kit that had nothing but the upper part of the wing and no detail at all. It fits well and looks great but there is plenty of room for improvement.. The wing is a three-piece affair that went together with only one problem. The right side wing would not fit properly unless a few millimeters were trimmed off the top of the wheel well. A bit of sanding with a sanding stick corrected the problem in no time. The trailing edge is tapered off to scale nicely. I filled in the upper and lower formation lights, the small landing lights and machine gun ports to replicate Al Williams's famous civilian orange bird. There are large gaps that are real hard to fill inside the wing root cooler openings. I used liquid paper in these areas and the gaps disappeared! A small vent opening between the fuselage and wing coolers was drilled out to replicate the port seen on one of the reference photos I have.

The wings fit to the fuselage with no problems. There was a small gap that I used a bit of liquid paper then cleaned off with a towel to leave a perfect filled area. A few swipes with sand paper and it are perfect. There is almost no fillet here so I do not recommend filling it with putty on your fingertip. The wing meets the fuselage at almost 90-degree angles. I moved to the bane of this kit. The tail. The G-58 had a small tail unit installed. I did the same. The fit was not good. The separate tailpiece was thicker than the area to mount it to on the fuselage tail. I had to use a new #11 blade and scrape off the tail surfaces until they matched the tail surface on the fuselage. I had a hard time doing this without ruining the detail of the rudder so I decided to cut it off by scribing with the backside of my knife. I cleaned the rudder up and continued shaping and blending the two tail plane pieces together. Once satisfied the look of the tail was right, I re-attached the rudder into place. The end result looks great but it was more work than it should have been.

Next went the elevators. They lined up well and look right. I didn't fill them in at their attachment point because on the real thing there was sheet metal lapping this area. The next thing I did was dip the forward wind screen in Future and allowed to dry overnight under a small glass jar to keep any dust particles from landing on the clear piece. I blended the two pieces together then polished out the windscreen. I then used masking tape and a brand new blade to cut out the frame pieces for painting. I will temporary install the back bubble later for the painting.

The engine comes molded in five pieces. The prop shaft, forward gearbox, aft gearbox and two rows of pistons sandwich together. The first row is a stand alone row and the second row is molded into the firewall for a nice effect. When painted flat black you cannot tell where this last row ends and the firewall begins. It is very convincing and unless you open up the engine cowling you would be wasting money on an aftermarket engine. The magnetos on the front of the engine casing have pits in the top of them that need filling and a bit of clean up on the front and back of the casing takes just a few minutes. Put the prop shaft on now because you will not have a chance once the back half of the case is glued on. I added brass wiring to accent the engine a bit more. You can really detail the engine out to be a very nice piece with very little work.

While that was drying I took care of some other details like the auxiliary drop tank that was instrumental in the demise of the G-58A. I also filled in the place where the carrier-landing hook would have gone. I also added a small ADF antenna on the bottom of the fuselage that I had seen in a couple of my reference photos. I painted the wheel well covers on both sides and the wheels, landing gear, drop tank and pitot tube got the same treatment. I cleaned up the landing gear and glued it onto place. I used liquid paper to fill any gaps in the wheel well and tail wheel. I went over the whole plane with soft mesh to take out any missed scratches then got ready to shoot a coat of white paint. I used Testors Model Masters Acryl FS17875 Gloss White and gave the whole plane a liberal coat including the wheel wells and canopy frames. I allowed this to dry overnight.

Once it was completely dry I painted the plane Testors Model Master Acryl 4682 International Orange. Again another night passed to let the plane dry. I installed the engine and an Obscureco corrected cowling, part # OBS48002. I had painted the inside Humbrol #88 Bronze Green earlier. This is a very nice front cowling that corrects the terrible miss-shaped Academy/HobbyCraft unit. It fits like a glove and looks fantastic bringing the look of the Bearcat back to its classic lines.

 The wheel wells needed some touch up along with the canopy frames so I loaded up the airbrush and re-shot the white. I gave the landing gear another coat of the gloss white while I was at it. Don't forget to paint the landing gear down lock struts while painting the rest of the gear. A swath of Testors Chrome Silver finished off the oleos. I used Testors Steel for the brake calipers and drilled a small hole at a 45-degree angle on the backside of the strut right below the oleo and ran a small copper wire from that point into the wheel well. I painted the copper wire flat black. The wheels come flattened already and paint up real easy. Next came the Gulfhawk's distinct decals, which were supplied by a friend who was not going to use them out of his Testors kit. They were very fragile and needed lots of care getting them in place. I trimmed the wing flashes to minimize the amount of carrier film that would be applied. In the long run I needed two sets of decals because the orange showed through the white too much.

The prop needed just a bit of cleaning up and it was ready for paint. I used Acryl Flat Black on the blades with the tips painted Testors 1169 Flat Enamel yellow and the prop boss painted Testors Silver and center hub painted the same International Orange as the rest of the plane. The whole thing got a liberal gloss coat. I saw a small antenna on the spine of the fuselage right before the fillet for the rudder begins so I replicated this out of stretched black sprue. The tail wheel was next and was easy to place in the slot provided in the fuselage tail wheel area. The plane was setting on its own legs in no time. I spent extra time getting the gear just right. They are at 90-degree angles to the wings and stick almost straight down. You really need to check out your research material for the gear alignment. It is critical to give the Bearcat its proper look, much like the Fw190's complex rake and trail. I decided that I would also install the drop tank that helped the “Gulfhawk 4” to its early demise. It went together with no trouble but you have to be careful not to damage the small ridge that runs around the middle of the tank.

Conclusions

After completing the build I think I would have gotten an aftermarket interior set along with a vac-u-formed canopy. The kit canopy was very thick and distorts the cockpit detail when you look through it even after multiple dips into Future. I didn't like all the time I had to spend on the tail or the wing root to fuselage connection and the misshapen nose is a problem but easily remedied with the fantastic Obscureco resin cowl. The decal manufacturers need to be just a bit more aware of the potential of this kit. The fit was about a 7 out of 10 and I think the overall ease of build is about an 8 out of 10. I spent approx. 22 hours on this kit and I believe a novice with good results could build it. I thought it made a striking aircraft and a real eye catcher in the Gulfhawk Orange colors. Don't bother with the old Testors/Hawk kit again. If you are going to build a Bearcat in 1/48 scale, this is the kit for you.

References:

  • Squadron Publications "Bearcat In Action" #99
  • Flight Journal Magazine (Fall 1996)
  • EAA Sport Aviation Magazine Jan 1993
  • Confederate Air Force Dispatch Magazine Spring 1995
  • Scale Aviation Modeller International Vol. 7 issue 1
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