B-17F Memphis Belle

B-17F Memphis Belle

An In-Depth, Research-Based Review of the 1/48 Scale HK Models kit

The beautiful 1/48 scale B-17F Memphis Belle by HK Models arrived on Feb 12, 2021. The Belle, a B-17F, is a four-engine heavy bomber developed and designed by Boeing. Our aircraft in focus, the Memphis Belle actually came off the Boeing assembly line. Of the total production of 12,731 aircraft, only 6,981 left Boeing plant assembly lines. As Boeing shifted their interest to other bombers like the B-29 Superfortress, two other companies produced the bomber later on. Namely, Lockheed Vega and Douglas built almost half of the total output. During the ten-year span from its inception until 1945, the airframe saw significant changes that would ultimately culminate in late G variants. The aircraft may be best described by an official introduction in the maintenance guide of the B-17G model from 25 August, 1944.

‘The [B-17F] Heavy Bomber is a low wing land monoplane. It is an all-metal airplane of semi-monocoque construction powered by four Wright Cyclone R-1820-97 engines, equipped with three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propellers. […] The B-17 is a heavy bombardment airplane designed for long-distance and high altitude operations’.

Erection and Maintenance Instructions for Army Model B-17G – Marshall-White, Chicago August, 1944 -15,000 p 1

A Brief History of the B-17 Heavy Bomber

The second world war proved the strategists right that a long-range heavy bomber would eventually be needed. In August 1934, when the US Army Air Corps demanded a multi-engine battleship of the skies, this might not have been as obvious. Boeing began to shine with its development of a four-engine aircraft. Thinking far ahead, Boeing engineers decided to develop a four-engine aircraft. A smart choice that would surpass all expectations and, most importantly, the competition. Because as expected, they all developed two-engine bombers, and Boeing had a leading-edge, on paper.

Boeings Prototype Entry – Model 299

After only 11 months of development and testing, model 299 was ready in July 1935. The quick development of this bomber was in part thanks to Boeings’ participation in “Project A”. This was a project for an experimental strategic super long-range bomber of the US Army Air Corps from April 14, 1934. Boing used their knowledge from their four-month research, to make a smaller version for the new heavy bomber contract in May 1934. The contract yielded to replace the Martin B10 bomber.

Model 299 featured four Pratt & Whitney R-1690E Hornet radial engines with a combined hp reading of 2900. It had an all-metal frame, an internal bomb bay with a 1650kg bomb load and was armed with five .30 Calibre machine guns. Eight men made up a typical flight crew. Up to five of the crew members manned the defensive weapons when necessary. Model 299 weighed 11 tons empty and almost 16tons when fully loaded. The total wingspan of the aircraft was 31.6m and basically remained unchanged throughout later production batches. However, the total length of 20.8m would increase to 22.6m with the later Chayenne tail.

The Flying Fortress

The Model 299 took off on July 28, 1935 for its maiden flight and put the crowd in awe. Seattle Times writer Richard Williams was one of the many spectators and would later call the beast a “flying fortress”. In a 1935 caption for a picture, he expressed himself as follows.

“Declared to be the largest landplane ever built in America, this 15-ton flying fortress, built by the Boeing Aircraft Co. under Army specifications, today was ready to test its wings.

LA Times article from 1989 – linked February 2021

Other modern sources claim remarks done by Williams at the presentation of the aircraft. He is quoted with an exclamation of “it’s a flying fortress” upon seeing it with its initial defensive five guns. These sources include the Flight Journal and the official HCA Agency. Contrasting popular belief and as wrongly stated nowadays, even in the two above excerpts, the flying fortress term is much older. Ultimately, Mr Williams’ name will be forever associated with it, nonetheless.

The True Origin of the Flying Fortress Term

The name “flying fortress” had been used in 1931 by an author in Modern Mechanics in the August issue to describe the B9 bomber. I quote the first line of the article in which the author explains that “the latest addition to Uncle Sam’s Air Force is a veritable flying fortress.” I have added a screen capture of the August 31 edition’s section of interest. As a result, Williams should be credited for the association of the B-17 as a flying fortress, but not the term flying fortress itself.

Flying Fortress - Modern Mechanics
Modern Mechanics 1931 – Flying Fortress B9 – February 2021

Boeing’s victory over the competition

The Flying Fortress took its first step with its aforementioned maiden flight but next up were a series of competition runs with other manufacturers. The fly-out between Boeings model 299, Douglas’ DB1 and Martin Model 146 took place in August. This race to supply the military with a new bomber would be decided between these three aircraft and Boeing beat the competition with ease and won a contract of over 65 aircraft. Shortly after, during a second test flight, the aircraft crashed due to human error. To clarify, the crew had forgotten to disengage certain gust-locks on their tail controls which resulted in a stall after takeoff and sealed their fate. As a result, the contract with Boeing was cancelled and Douglas received an order for 130 of their aircraft.

Despite this setback, Boeing was back in the game with their slightly updated YB-17 aircraft and the first of 13 deliveries reached the USA Army Air Corps in mit to late 1937. After many test flights and the delivery of the 14th aircraft, the Y1B-17 (designation of the YB-17 from late 1937 on) aircraft were designated B-17 in 1939. From this moment on, the rise of the B-17 to the European skies could not been stopped, neither by German Flak, nor by Luftwaffe or Japanese kamikaze pilots.

After various changes to the airframe and its powerhouse, the four engines, the B-17F was stronger than ever. Additional changes to wider rotor blades further enhanced its flight characteristics. As a result, improvements of its defensive armament and crew capacity followed. B-17Fs featured 12 defensive machine guns and a crew of 10 modern self-sealing fuel tanks. Later F versions, not the Belle, however, had Toyko tanks for extended range. The modern and huge new dorsal fin replaced the original shark-style fin.

B-17F Memphis Belle

In July 1942 the Memphis Belle came out of the Boeing Co plant as production number 3470. This iconic airplane is featured in the 1944 motion picture of William Wyler’s “A Story of a Flying Fortress”. The movie crews collected over 13 hours of film material, which has also helped recently with the restoration of the Memphis Belle in Dayton, Ohio.

B-17F Memphis Belle In-Box Review

Kit Reviews
B-17F Memphis Belle – Box Art and Box Content

Piotr Forkasiewicz‘s beautiful box art decorates the 47×28.5×8.5cm box, which in turn is full of sprues. The 305 parts of the kit make up the 23 sprues. Additionally, there is one little PE fret with 15 parts, decals for two different airplanes, the instructions and a poster of the box art. The poster can be purchased from the artist’s homepage by the way.

Poster
B-17F Memphis Belle Poster

Before we dig into the box and comment on parts and detail, a few words upfront. Without a doubt, HK models wasted no resources on fancy pants interior extravaganza in this kit. Altogether this is totally fine, as we have aftermarket makers for this and most people will care most about the exterior, anyway. But, ISA Models is all about detail, so we will discuss the interior deficiencies in great detail, without criticizing the manufacturer. After all, the balance of price, detail and reasonability is great with this kit, in our opinion. As such, all discussions below are with this in mind. We will mention a lot of lacking detail, but the kit is truly great and awesome. Unquestionably 80% of the below-mentioned problems, will not be meaningful to most of us.

Sprues A1 and A2: The Fuselage Halves

The fuselage halves are nicely molded on the exterior and feature great details. All rivets are of great quality, and details such as the life raft cover sheets, the emergency life raft release door, camera bay cover and many more details are present.

The interior on the other hand lacks some details. This should be of no concern to most modelers, but for all super detailers, there are many things to pay attention to. With this in mind, major modifications might be needed, depending on the desired scope of detail and accuracy. Adding spars and adjusting circumference stiffeners, long. stiffeners and their size are some of them.

Sprues A3 and A4: The Nose Section

Just as the main fuselage parts, the nose section is full of exterior detail and rivets. It also shows great details in the interior and has some neatly molded parts added to it. Obviously, the stiffeners will need major reworking, as does the fire extinguisher and some other navigation equipment. However, this is a job only important to the super detailers, again. Admittedly, for all other folks, the model will make a great display, just as it is.

Sprues B1, B2, C1 and C2: The mighty wings

The wings are undoubtedly one of the key features of this model as you look at it in its unbuilt stage. Obviously the detail added is phenomenal and based on a few measures I took, very closely matches the rivet structure of Boeing tech drawings. Particularly the 8 rear wing vents are located perfectly, molded nicely and show incredible detail. Fuel caps and service doors and hatches are all included, also. With this in mind, a few problems appear to the enthusiast.

All details of the wing’s structure are amazing, but they are one part of the Ailerons. In short, this needs major cutting and filing to separate and angle slightly. As a result, the display of most models might show them in a similar way with limited variation. For the most part, I would have wished to have the Ailerons as separate parts. In fact, this would make it easier to angle the plane in flight and giving it some bank.

Sprue D – Horizontal Stabilizers, Elevators and Bomb Door

While the aforementioned parts are all individual parts, we can finally take a look at a sprue. Sprue D contains nicely molded horizontal stabilizers with fixed elevators and trim tabs. Admittedly this is a true setback for a 1/48 scale kit and deserves a rebuke. The remainder of the exterior detail, as with everything on this kit, is exceptional and up to tech-drawing dimensions, and is also true for the rivets.

The bomb doors, on the other hand, show some dispersion from drawings on the interior’s detail. It might be ok when modeling it in a closed state, but they could be nicer. Especially the shape of the outlining interior rib is off.

While it’s great that the forward radio compartment wall part D11 includes the aileron hand cranks, it’s sad that the bulkhead is one part with the doors. Also, the hinges and location of the door handle are on the wrong side. Firstly, there should be three hinges on the righthand side looking aft. Secondly, the door handle should be lower. And last but not least, a closed-door had a horizontal, no vertical door handle.

Flaps Hand Crank B-17F
Flaps Hand Crank B-17F Memphis Belle

Additional parts, like the oxygen tank for the ball turret, are fine. The same applies to the catwalk and the pilot’s and copilot’s chairs. A follow-up article about specific compartment details will explain more about his, but for standard sprue parts, I render them ok, with the armor plating sloping forward, correctly.

Sprue E – Bulkheads, Fuselage roof, fuselage interior side walls

The bulkheads, especially the bomb bay ones, show some good basic detail and will allow a fine basic interior for all modelers. Fuel transfer valves and a rudimentary bomb door mechanism are present. The oxygen tanks in the cockpit bay and fire extinguishers in the navigator compartment are also quite bad.

Bomb Bay Doors

The doors on bomb bay bulkhead stations 3 & 4 are actually quite correct, regarding the handles. While the aft (E4) door has the correct horizontal orientation, the forward (E3) one has none, however, the cockpit side has the correct, vertical positioning. They are also molded to the correct sides. That is on the left on BLK STA 3 looking forward and also on the left, looking aft on BLK STA 4. A minor issue are the hinges, as they are wrong way round. The STA 4 door should open into the radio compartment, while the STA 3 door should open into the bomb bay. HK Models switched it for some reason. These are features the B-17F shares with the B-17G actually. Both technical manuals for maintenance and tech drawings confirm this.

Bomb Bay B-17F
Bomb Bay Forward (BLK STA 3) and Aft (BLK STA 4) Erection and Maintenance Instructions of B-17F (December 1942 p.130)

Fuel Transfer Valves

Continuing with the forward bomb bay bulkhead (E3), it contains the fuel transfer valves of the G variant, which looked a bit different. See the graphics below which compare them based on the B-17F and B-17G erection and inspection manuals from December 1942 and August 1944 respectively. Differences are minor but exist. You might also notice the missing step in the aft catwalk section. As HK Models used their G model sprues, this is not included in the kit and needs to be added to many B-17F planes, but not all.

Fuel Transfer Valve B-17F
Erection and Maintenance Instructions of B-17F (December 1942 p.255) and B-17G (August 1944 p 196)

We step into the cockpit finally and notice that the cockpit side of the E3 has a fire extinguisher molded into it. It looks quite bad and the super detailer needs to get to work here.

Instructions

The instructions are easy to understand and well laid out. They contain the cover page 14 pages with construction steps and one sprue page.

Camouflage Patterns and Decals Placement

Additionally, there are four pages of camo and decal themes and one page with the paint index in the instructions booklet. In summary, I have added the sticker set as well. Without a doubt, the two lady stickers will go onto my FDM printers Caroline and Carla.

In conclusion, I can reiterate that the exterior detail of the kit is great, the interior has some amazing parts and features, but lacks some details for the crazy detail lovers like me. But that’s where aftermarket parts come in place.

A detailed discussion, together with Dave can be seen on Instagram here. Together with him, we discussed the differences between the older G version by HK Models with this new release kit.

A big thank you to HK Models for this sample.

Alex

All shared images and files are for educational purposes only. After all, these sources, links and include all necessary caption and citation for your transparency and fact checking possibilities.

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