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Mike

VH-34D "Marine One" HMX-1 Presidential Flight 1:48

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VH-34D "Marine One" HMX-1 Presidential Flight
1:48 Gallery Models


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Developed and manufactured by helicopter pioneers Sikorsky, the H-34 Choctaw on which this Presidential chariot was based were ubiquitous throughout most of the Cold War, even in Great Britain where it was re-engineered and re-branded as the Westland Wessex. First flying in the mid-50s, it saw widespread service with many nations including the US military in various versions from military transport (passenger and cargo) to Coastguard and even civilian uses.

Powered by a piston-engined Wright Cyclone engine, it was a versatile airframe that lent itself to many tasks, not least of which was the carriage of VIPs by the Marines. The VH-34D had an executive cabin fit that eschewed the simplistic canvas bench seats for a suite of comfortably upholstered chairs in the centre, with less luxuriant but still upholstered bench seats around three of the sides for aides and presidential entourage. The H-34 was used from 1958, initially using A models, which were phased out in favour of the newer D model, which were in-turn phased out in favour of Sea King airframes in due course.


The Kit
The Choctaw has been fairly well neglected over the years in 1:48 scale, although MRC's brand Gallery Models intend to fix that, having already released a slew of kits of the differing variants of this well-known aircraft. This one is of course the Presidential limo, and has additional parts to allow you to model it as such, or a more pedestrian US Coastguard machine in yellow. We understand that a well-known helicopter expert was heavily involved in the development of the kit, and as such accuracy should be good, and it looks like the moulding, instructions and boxing has been outsourced to a well-known Chinese manufacturer. The box states clearly that this is a special edition, so don't hang around if you're thinking of buying one, as it may not be available for ever!

Inside the box are twelve sprues in mid grey styrene, three sprues plus a separate windscreen in clear styrene, two sheets of Photo-Etch (PE), a medium-sized decal sheet, instruction booklet and separate colour painting guide. There are a number of options that relate particularly to the interior, as you can build it as either the President's ride, or the more austerely upholstered Coastguard bird, as already mentioned. The instructions for these could do with slightly larger "Option" text and symbols, as it's not immediately evident due to placement and having three options. More on that later.

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Construction starts with the engine, which is very nicely appointed and could be shown off with a little extra detail and some changes to the cowlings. Moving back is the flight-crew cab, which has a four-part tub, centre console that supports the clear instrument panel (with instrument decal), from which the pedals hang, and on top of which sits the small coaming. The pedals have small PE foot-rests, and the crew seatbelts are also supplied as PE, which fit onto two multi-part seats that affix to the quilted rear bulkhead along with an extension to the centre console. A pair of PE parts are curved into tunnels for the cyclic stick's control linkages, which brings me to a slight omission. There's no collective stick included in the kit, so you'll need to fabricate one from rod into a fancy handbrake-shaped contraption, using your references or internet pics as a guide.

The passenger compartment is where your options start, and you choose one of three interior fits, depending on which decal option you have chosen. The presidential cab has luxurious seats with arm-rests and lap belts with room to move about, while the two coastguard options have two rows facing each other down the sides of the cab. The webbed-back option has only ten seats with lap belts in PE, while the solid material backed seat option has eight on one side, with seven on the other. They all use the same floor, so take care drilling out the correct holes for your chosen option, or have some rod on hand to block up any accidental holes later.

The rotor base is housed above the passenger cab, and a basic assembly is included in the kit, which sits on a floor with rear bulkhead along with a small radiator panel, which fits to the topside of the cabin roof, while the engine clips into slots in the front of the cab floor. The interior walls for the Presidential cab as almost smooth, with a layer of insulation behind them to cut sound and heat loss, so the inserts are quite simple. The operational cabs have bare walls with ribbing visible, as well as some of the internal workings such as a heating conduit near the ceiling. It also doesn't have the luxury of a double ceiling between it and the rotor base, so has a rear ceiling section that fills the gap. The cockpit assembly slots into the top of the short forward bulkhead on both options, overhanging the cab quite a bit.

With your choice on internals completed, the fuselage sides are prepared with windows, PE grilles around the engine compartment and crew steps up the elevated cab doors. The in-service passenger cab has an open door at the rear, which is "closed off" by a web of cargo strapping, which will allow theoretical viewing of the interior of the tail boom. As the fuselage is closed up, a simple floor and another bulkhead with hatch is added to the ribbed fuselage interior, with a choice of either the aft bulkhead for folded rotor, or a flat bulkhead that just provides extra strength to the assembly. With the fuselage closed, the underside of the fuselage has a long rectangular panel added with PE or styrene mesh insert, and here you will need to take care preparing the fit and finish before applying glue, to ensure the panel is flush with the sides when set. The bulbous nose cowlings around the engines have a few PE grilled and parts added before they are glued into place, but I suspect that some folks will be tempted to pose them open to show off the engine detail.

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At this stage the cockpit is a bit draughty, but a single-piece clear moulding is provided to create the main panels and their framing, with two side windows separate to allow flexibility of moulding flat or blown panes for different variants. An overhead console fits inside the roof, a pair of PE windscreen wipers and styrene antenna complete the exterior. Behind this the rotor compartment is closed off with some very nicely moulded louvers that do actually allow the viewer a vague glimpse into the interior in the right lighting conditions. Various external fixtures and fittings are added such as pipes, steps with PE treads, winch apparatus, and the two options for the passenger cab door, the presidential version having a larger widescreen window. The door glazing is moulded flat, however the aircraft has been pictured with a blown panel, so check your references if you plan on depicting it at a particular time in service. Curiously, the box art shows it as blown. The fixed main-gear each comprise two struts and a two-part wheel, with the tail-wheel suspended on a substantial piece of lightened metal on a single-armed yoke. Under the tail are optional bump/flotation bags with a soft serrated underside.

The tail and its rotor are the built up with either the bulkhead fitted if folded, or nothing if not. More mesh and a small stabilising fin are added before it is attached to the fuselage in the folded position with the help of three hinge-pieces and two mounting plates for stowage, or as a simple butt-joint with overlap if you are posing it in flight configuration. The main rotors have been moulded with their characteristic "pre-composite era" sag, and fit to a four-piece rotor-head on large pegs. The top panel of the fuselage is supplied as a four-pane frame with a central(ish) hole, the panes of which are filled with PE grilles, with the central hole mounting the rotor-head using a spacer and a styrene tube that holds the rotor axle in place once glued. A lot of helo modellers leave the rotors free for stowage/transport, so either leaving the panel unglued, or not using the retaining tube seems to be the way to go here.

Optional floatation gear in the shape of a pair of paddling-pool shaped boots for the main gear, plus a "drop-tank" affixed to the port side by tubular supports.


Markings
As already mentioned, there are two decal options supplied with the kit, one being for Marine One, with a green lower and white upper with white MARINES on the sides. The other is the more mundane US Coastguard scheme in a rather fetching overall yellow and the words US Coast Guard in black on the sides. If you want to do any weathering of this model, your only option is the coast guard scheme, as Marine One was doubtless kept scrupulously clean during its service as presidential cab. As usual the colours are given in Mr.Hobby, Vallejo, Model Master, Tamiya or Humbrol, which caters to most localities and their paint availability.

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The decals are well-printed, although some of the stencils have been portrayed as blocks of colour rather than words. The blue of the stars-and-bars is a bit light too, and I'm not sure about the inner terminator of the bars following the curve of the central circle, as the pictures I have seen show a vertical demarcation.

There are two decal layouts for the President's airframe, as there appears to have been some variation over time when an aircraft code was added. The Presidential Seal is sometimes set in a rectangular blue background too, whereas it is provided in a circular background with the kit. Marine One shone like a new pin, so you'd better get your gloss varnish ready for the finishing touches.


Conclusion
A nice kit with a few things to watch out for in terms of details if you plan on building Marine One. There's a lot of detail moulded-in, and if you Google Marine One you should be able to come up with some pictures of the interior and exterior of this Cold War Executive Taxi.

Highly recommended.

Review sample courtesy of
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