Matchbox 1/72 Consolidated PB4Y-2 With Cobra Resin Upgrade
By  Brian R. Baker, IPMS# 43146

[This is a photo of the box cover.] [Cobra resin conversion kit after washing.]

Matchbox 1/72 PB4Y Privateer; Kit PK-606; OOP - Ebay, show vendors, etc.
Cobra Resin Upgrade; $50.00; Web Site: www.cobracompany.com

History
The PB4Y-2 was a specialized Navy development of the Consolidated B-24 "Liberator" heavy bomber, which was acquired by the Navy early in the war in order to provide a long range anti-submarine patrol bomber for fighting the German U-Boat offensive in the North Atlantic. The original PB4Y-1 was essentially a B-24D, although some later models with different armament were also used under the same designation. A total of 977 PB4Y-1's was eventually delivered, and the type was operated by 24 Navy and Marine squadrons, but what the Navy really wanted was a specialized development. In addition, small numbers of a transport variant similar to the AAF C-87 were also operated by Navy VR units under the designations RY-1 and RY-2.

While the B-24 was used by the Army primarily for high altitude bombing, most Navy operations were done at much lower levels. Therefore, Consolidated developed the XPB4Y-2 to meet Navy requirements. Stability was improved by the installation of a single fin and rudder. The fuselage was extended 4 feet forward of the wing to provide a position for a flight engineer, the forward weight being offset by two Erco power turrets in blisters mounted in the waist gun positions. The superchargers were deleted, resulting in a change in the engine cowlings and nacelles. Gun turrets, all mounting .50 caliber machine guns in pairs, were mounted in the nose, tail, waist, and two dorsal positions. No belly turret was installed, as the waist blisters were assumed to be adequate to defend the aircraft from attacks from below. The original prototype had a standard B-24 type Consolidated A6B turret in the nose, while the production model had the round Erco 250 SH turret instead. The result was a very heavily armed bomber which could hold its own against most Japanese fighters.

PB4Y-2's were produced from March, 1944, until October, 1945, when 739 had been produced. The aircraft turned out to be an excellent patrol bomber, and served with distinction against the Japanese during the war. Following VJ Day, most PB4Y-1's were immediately placed in storage (I photographed one of the last ones out of Litchfield Park NAF in 1957), while the PB4Y-2 continued in service with front line VP squadrons and reserve units into the mid fifties. They were later redesignated P4Y-2, and later P-4B. The Coast Guard acquired a number of them, designated PB4Y-2G, later P4Y-2G, with B-24D type noses and no armament. The last Navy types were QP-4B's operating as target drones, and the last survivor was destroyed by a missile in 1964. A small number went to foreign countries, serving in the air forces or navies of France, Honduras, and Nationalist China.

Following Navy and Coast Guard service, the P4Y-2/P-4B's stored at the NAF Litchfield Park, in Arizona, were declared surplus, and a quite a few appeared on various civil registers throughout the world. Most stayed in the U.S.A., where they were eventually converted into air tankers to fight forest fires, some being modified with complete B-25J engines and cowlings. Several were briefly used as freight haulers, although they were probably uneconomical for this role. A few were used in Mexico and South America. The American tankers were quickly withdrawn a few years back when one aircraft suffered a wing failure in flight, killing the crew. Now they are to be seen mainly in museums.

The Kit
Any Revell, Academy, or Hasegawa B-24D kit could be used to model the PB4Y-1, but the Matchbox kit is required for the PB4Y-2 unless you are a true masochist. This kit first appeared in 1980, and consists of over 100 parts cast in clear, light blue, dark blue and white plastic. While Matchbox has produced some excellent kits, this is definitely not one of them. There are some inaccuracies, and although the basic outline is acceptable, many of the parts lack detail. I first acquired one of these kits in the early eighties, and it stayed in my stash until this year, when I finally gathered up the courage to attempt to build the thing. To attempt to build this kit straight from the box would result in a toy-like model. Obviously, some conversion is necessary, and Cobra came to the rescue a few years back with an extensive resin upgrade kit containing a new cockpit interior, engine nacelles, engines, cowlings, and all six power turrets. The clear parts are vacuformed, with the exception of a clear resin bombardier's window which is to be located underneath the forward Erco turret.

Instructions
The first major decision has to be the model being represented, as the kit provides decals and parts for three different aircraft:
  1. PB4Y-2, BuNo 59505, Codes X-505 "Redwing" of VPB-106, operating from Palawan, in the Philippine islands, during May, 1945. The nose art on this aircraft is very attractive. This aircraft has all of the standard turrets and radar antenna.
  2. RY-3, Liberator C. Mk. IX, JT973, Royal Canadian Air Force, "Rockcliffe Ice Wagon" 1948. This aircraft has no turrets, and has windows along the fuselage on both sides in addition to nice nose art. This would be the easiest model to build.
  3. P4Y-2, 28F.10 of the French Aero Navale, Bizerte, Tunisia, in April 1958. This aircraft has the dorsal turrets deleted, but carries the usual radar antenna.
I used the specialized markings on my model, and they worked OK. For stars, I used aftermarket decals.

The instructions (there are two rather large and detailed sheets) clearly outline the specific differences for each type. Assembly drawings are well done, and although there isn't a good three view drawing of the aircraft provided in the plans, adequate reference material is available for this. The Squadron-Signal B-24 "In Action" (#80, Second Edition) has several pages of coverage, while a special issue of the International B-24 Liberator Club newsletter, entitled "Privateer 50th Anniversary Issue" has good drawings and some excellent unofficial photos, although they are not too well reproduced. No source I found has good photos of the engines. Perhaps you might find more material on the web, but there isn't a lot available. One site had photos of a PB4Y-2 under restoration, but I would question some of the colors.

Basic Assembly (The Matchbox Kit)
One problem I had with this kit was the fact that it was over twenty five years old when I started to assemble it. The plastic was more brittle than usual, and I found that the main structure was very thin, resulting in a basic weakness that has to be taken into account when you handle it after assembly. I use Tenax liquid solvent, and it didn't always provide a secure bond, as it does on every other kit that I build. I found that several times, normal handling caused the fuselage seams to separate, resulting in the need for resurfacing and repainting. Drilling small holes on the seam lines produced the same result. It was frustrating. The fuselage comes with two options, with or without blister turrets. There are large side panels that must be glued in place, and these probably strengthen the overall structure. One part has the lower part of the blister turret, with the glass portion inserted later. The other is a plain section with several windows that must be hollowed out, or you can use the Cobra parts.

The wings go together easily, but the way the wings attach to the fuselage in a sort of a "butt into receptacle" method, I encountered problems. The left wing fit fairly well, but the right wing required a lot of trimming before it would fit into the hole. The wings do remain straight, but there isn't much internal structure to keep them rigid. The wheel wells have "detail", but the detail is so exaggerated that the wheel could never retract into the well. The engine nacelles fit properly, but apparently there are some detail omissions, as Cobra replaced these in their upgrade kit. More on this later.

The engines and cowlings are marginal at best, but the props are hopeless, although they could probably be reshaped into an acceptable form with a lot of effort, and used on some other model. The engines are just blobs, and there is some kind of a ring ahead of the crankcase, the purpose of which escapes me completely.

The horizontal tail surfaces are nicely detailed, and fit into the fuselage fittings with no problem, although getting exactly the right dihedral angle could be a problem without a good three view drawing. The vertical fin and rudder are also added after fuselage assembly, and these need to be carefully lined up. A bit of filler is required for the seams, but that is to be expected from many kits today.

The landing gear is not very detailed, but can be enhanced easily. It is sturdy enough to hold the weight of the model, although the nose gear strut doesn't allow the nose wheel to line up properly. It sits off to the side no matter how you install it. The instructions say nothing about balance, and it is essential to weight the nose in order for the airplane to sit properly. I ended up using buckshot and white glue, poured through the forward dorsal turret position before the turret was in place. It was an easy solution to what I thought would be a difficult undertaking.

[Basic fuselage assembly.] [Cockpit assembly; this is the Cobra upgrade.] [Side turret panel and part of turret assembly.]
[Side turret assemblies.] [Gun turrets.] [Wheel well detail.]
[Wing and fuselage assembly.] [Basic assembly completed.]

The Cobra Upgrade
The instructions are printed on five standard sheets of paper, and provide photos of the parts, kind of like sprue diagrams given with most kits. There are also instructions on how to assemble the parts, and in some cases, photos of the parts partially or fully assembled. The instructions are not always clear, so be sure to pay attention to the photos, and get as much additional information on the interior of the aircraft as you can.

Cobra's upgrade consists of a new cockpit, all turrets, nose section detail, machine guns, props, engines, and nacelles, wheels, and a bombardier's window cast in clear resin. New windows replacing all clear parts are provided in vacuform. In general, the resin parts are excellently done in exquisite detail, while the vacuform parts are still better than the originals, but require a lot of skill and test fitting.

The cockpit is probably the best part of the kit. It includes a new floor, seats, armrests, center console, instrument panel, and side panels. The kit control wheels can be used, although these are not mentioned in the instructions. Painting instructions say to paint the entire area in "gray with black upper surfaces on pedestal and instrument panel". I found this unclear, but the overall effect of the assembled unit was excellent. The floor required some trimming, and the original kit sections needed some serious whittling to get the new unit to fit, but it was certainly worth the effort. The cockpit is certainly the best part of the kit. The downside is that the vacuform cockpit canopy does not fit after trimming on the lines, and I wound up using the one provided in the kit.

The interior of the nose section has also been provided in the conversion kit, and it is again excellently done. The only problem is that when completed, it can't be seen from outside the kit unless you don't install the small side windows in the forward fuselage. A rear bulkhead, floor, side panels, storage locker, bombsight, and some radio equipment are included. Even a small mattress type cushion is provided for the bombardier. The only detail you can see from the outside is the back of the bulkhead, and this is only if you pick up the model and look underneath.

The upper turrets are done in duplicate, as there are two. Instead of being installed before the fuselage halves are joined, they can be dropped into their mountings after the airplane is almost finished, thus simplifying the overall assembly. This is a plus, as the turrets are VERY delicate structures. The upper turrets contain a basic structure, two machine guns each, and a well-done "pop-on" clear vacuformed cover. After assembly, I pondered painting and masking them, but opted for the coward's way out. I painted some clear decal sheet, cut it into strips, and used decal strips for the turret framing. It worked like a charm, and the results are truly impressive.

The Erco nose turret consists of six resin parts and one clear vacuform cover. There is a lot of trimming required, but the overall effect is impressive. The kit parts being replaced are very "toy-like", but the Cobra unit is very realistic. The rear panel can be detailed, and even the small control wheel is included. This is another of the highlights of the conversion kit.

The rear turret is the Consolidated type, as used on most models of the B-24. It provides a lot of detail, and the internal structure is impressive. There are side panels as well as a seat and other mechanisms, and these go together very nicely. The main problem here is that the vacuform transparency does not cover the sides, leaving some details exposed which should be covered up if the photos of the airplane are any indication of the actual shape of the unit. I used the unit as provided, but I'll probably revise it someday when I have the time and inclination.

The side turrets are highly detailed and accurate, and they are impressive when installed. They consist of a basic backing structure, the turret inside, a mounting ring, a power turret unit, two machine guns, a gun sight, and several other small mechanisms that fit inside the turret. They are covered by a large vacuformed turret window cover. Cobra replaces the large side panels with thin resin units, and they fit perfectly. The problem is that they are resin, while the fuselage halves are styrene, and they require superglue. I had soaked all of the parts in dishwasher detergent, which usually cuts grease such as used in the resin molding process, but in this case, apparently that wasn't enough, as the joints between the two materials kept cracking. Part of this was due to the inherent weakness of the kit fuselage structure, not the resin parts, and it required some delicate handling once the side panels were installed. I'm still not really satisfied with that part of the model, but this is, I feel, more the fault of Matchbox than Cobra. There are a couple of parts, SB15 and SB16, which apparently are intended to hold the turret in place, but I found these unnecessary, as the turret mountings stay in place without them. Once the side turrets are installed with the machine guns attached, the blisters can be installed. These require some careful and tedious trimming to allow for the guns to traverse sideways, but once installed, they can be masked and painted. I painted them separately, masking off the openings, before mounting the power turrets. At the front and rear of each blister turret, there is a small streamlined cone that mounts on the fuselage. By the way, the photos show only one gun mounted in the turrets, probably to show what the unit should look like before the guns are installed. The effect of the completed blister turrets is impressive, and they are certainly an improvement over the parts provided in the kit.

The PB4Y-2 has a lot of side windows, and these are different for each version. They are marked and need to be cut out for each different model. I cut them out and used Crystal Clear rather than using the kit parts, which aren't that transparent, looking somewhat like glass bricks. This is easier, since the glass can be added after painting and weathering.

[Nose section before installation of turrets.] [Turrets.] [Side turret mounting.  Note repair to seam with superglue.]

The Cobra kit provides four new props, engines, cowlings, and nacelles. These require some trimming, but they are much better than the kit parts. The props are especially well done, and fit nicely into holes in the engine crankcases. Be sure to flatten the front portions of the nacelles, as they are solid, and if they aren't absolutely straight, the engines will tilt at a strange angle. The same goes for the rear parts of the cowlings. A little filler was required on one of my nacelles, and the cutouts for the landing gear also required some filing to make the gear and gear doors fit. But they are certainly an improvement over the parts provided in the kit.

The wheels can be installed directly on the kit landing gear. They require the usual trimming and sanding, but are definitely an improvement over the monstrosities provided in the kit. Some gear detail could be added if you are so inclined. The nose gear is the only problem, as the nose wheel does not line up in the center of the wheel well, no matter which way you install it. This is the fault of the kit, not the conversion parts. At this stage, I just left it as it was, slightly off center.

[Finished turret assemblies.] [Cobra and kit tail turrets.  Something is missing on the Cobra turret.] [Closeup of Cobra and kit dorsal turrets.]
[Basic assembly completed.  Painted and decalled.] [Side view after weight installed in forward fuselage.]

Overall Impressions
I've never actually succeeded in making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but on this kit, I did my best. If you plan to do the transport version without the turrets, your job will be much easier, as the kit provides a lot of parts for the RY-3. A lot of windows need to be cut out, but this is easier than making the turrets. The French Navy version dispenses with the dorsal turrets, but these are the easiest to install, and besides, who wants to do a French aircraft in one color when you can do a U.S. Navy version in the three color scheme, which is much more colorful.

But the overall effect is good, and this is a model that will probably never be manufactured again. I understand that they are going for premium prices on E-Bay, and I'm glad I got two of them before inflation set in. The kit is worth getting, and the Cobra conversion really makes a difference. I would recommend this kit mainly to experienced modelers who have the time and patience to make this into a work of art. It looks especially good next to a B-24 model, as the differences are very apparent. Don't pass this one up, but get the Cobra conversion and start the project.

Thanks to my wallet for the kit, and to Alex Bernardo for the Cobra conversion. Alex did the moldings for this conversion kit, and his work is a true art form. You're on your own for the Matchbox kit, but the Cobra conversion can be ordered from Cobra Company, P.O. Box 3966, Crofton, MD 21114. The phone listed is (301) 261-3216.

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