Alpha Flight 1/48 Fiat Br.20 “Cicogna” Early Version
Kit #4806 MSRP $189.95
Images and text Copyright © 2006 by Matt Swan
This aircraft was first proposed in 1934 by Celestino Rosatelli with the intent of creating a standardized bomber for the Italian Air Force. Powered by a pair of Fiat A80 RC41 18 cylinder radial engines the Br.20 took flight for the first time on February 10, 1936 at Torino Alitalia and by November of 1937 20 aircraft had been delivered for operational use. The type demonstrated very good handling characteristics and sturdy construction but was to be quickly outclassed by new aircraft under development in Germany, England and even in Italy. By 1940 the aircraft was obsolete.
The Br.20 “Cicogna” (Stork) was partly skinned with light metal alloys and partially with fabric. It did see action it the Spanish Civil war and in the French campaign with Italy’s entry into the Second World War. Four basic version of the Br.20 were manufactured with the initial run being simply Br.20 followed by a modified version, Br.20M and a few Br.20 bis models and about 82 for export to the Japanese as the Army Type 1 model 100 “Ruth” – a short nosed version. The Japanese used these in the Manchurian War prior to WW2. The only serious problem they had with it was the chronic lack of power and the poor reliability of the Fiat engines. With a top speed of 158 MPH and three light defensive guns it was not going to show good survivability where air superiority was not maintained.
Even though an obsolete aircraft almost right from the start it was used by Axis forces throughout the war. The production run was cut short when Italian aircraft manufacturing decided to concentrate on the CANT Z.1018 bomber. Br.20s operated in Malta, Battle of Britain, Yugoslavia and the Balkans. The Br.20M saw action against Russia, Allied forces in North Africa and was even used briefly in the Battle of Britain but was withdrawn after failing to achieve any real results. By time production ceased approximately 594 aircraft of all types had been manufactured.
The Kit This is an all resin kit, well almost all resin. She arrives in a standard sized light duty cardboard box and within we have several bags of goodies. First are the primary aircraft pieces. The wing panels and fuselage halves look very much like what you would expect from an injection molded kit other than they are resin, and good quality resin at that. The material is light gray and slightly flexible with a nice smooth texture and no heavy mold release agent residues. While examining the fuselage pieces thin flash is evident across the windows and wing mounting holes but it is so thin that it virtually pops out with some light pressure from the fingertip. Around the nose are of the left hand side there are two very large air bubbles that must be filled before and construction could begin. A few smaller air bubbles can be found here and there but nothing very serious, better than found on most all resin kits. There are also a few air bubbles found within the wing panels and again, none of these are very serious in nature. Other than the light flash over the windows there is no other flash evident on the parts. All panel lines are fine and clean, fuselage fabric definition looks good, the inner sides of the fuselage displays complete framing and no serious warpage is evident in the large parts. Upon test fitting the fuselage all panel lines meet up nicely.
Also included with this kit are two medium sized bags of resin detail pieces. Here we have all the interior cockpit pieces, mass balancers, nacelles, separate flight control surfaces and individual propeller blades and hubs. Each engine includes eighteen separate cylinders to be mounted to the crankcase/gear reduction box. Wheel wells have excellent interior detail and the exhaust manifolds are like pieces of artwork. All the resin pieces have a most definite feel of quality to them. In addition to the resin pieces there is also a small fret of photo etched brass pieces. Here we have more cockpit detailing items and engine detailing items. The dash harkens back to the old MPM vacuform kits with a PE part that overlays an acetate instrument sheet mounted on a plain backing plate. The kit includes two sets of vacuformed clear pieces as well. While the clear parts have good clarity and well defined frame lines there are lots of little tiny dimples all through the pieces from the vacuforming process. On the plus side we do get two sets of these parts so there is some room for error. As this is a resin kit it will have some considerable mass once complete and to keep all this standing where it belongs the landing gear are provided in white metal. The main struts, retraction arms, rear strut and defensive guns are all done in white metal.
Taking a quick review of the package contents we have one hundred sixteen resin pieces, thirteen clear parts (duplicated for twenty six), seven white metal pieces, ninety five photo etched brass pieces and three acetate panels for a total of two hundred forty seven pieces in the box.
You may click on the small images above to view larger pictures.
Decals and Instructions
Instructions for this kit begin with a full sized A4 booklet with a brief historical background of the aircraft on the cover. Following this is a complete parts map and twenty six exploded view construction steps. Within the exploded views are a few interior painting tips and some limited construction tips. For exterior painting and decal placement we turn to two A3 sized full color spreads folded in the bottom of the box. Here we have three-views of four Japanese aircraft, an Italian aircraft and a Spanish Condor Legion Aircraft.
This kit actually comes with four sheets of decals; a primary sheet and three small auxiliary sheets (you may click on the image at right to view a larger picture). The primary sheet covers the four Japanese aircraft and the Spanish bird. The three smaller sheets cover the single Italian example shown in the instructions. The decals are by Cartograf of Italy and look to be of exceptional quality. The print registry is dead-on, color density looks very good and they seem to be properly thin on the paper. The Italian set shows some real nice metallic gold in the insignia as well.
A price tag of $189.95 can make most modelers think twice before reaching for the wallet but one should first consider just how much cash is involved in putting together a large modeling project that would include resin and PE details and decal options for multiple aircraft. Starting with a middle of the road kit and adding all the appropriate aftermarket items can easily reach this same amount, if not more, quite quickly.
A unique aircraft and one not commonly found in this scale (other than the M version also by Alpha Flight) this is most definitely something to acquire for the discriminating Italian and Japanese aircraft collector. Other than a few air bubbles the resin parts are all well cast, the photo etched pieces will add a wonderful level of detail and the metal gear will ensure it maintains its stance in your display. At this point in time there are no aftermarket items for this kit and in truth it does not need any – it truly is a complete model kit.
The first order of business is to remove as much flash as possible before breaking out the razor knives and sanding sticks. Most of this stuff easily snaps off with a little pressure from the fingertip. Once a good degree of flash has been done away with the model makes a trip to the kitchen for a warm soapy water bath to remove any residual mold release agent, is rinsed off under cool running water (I have a fine screen mounted in the drain in case something gets dropped) and is allowed to air dry.
There are a couple of seriously large air bubbles in the forward area of one fuselage half and those get filled with medium superglue followed by some accelerator and a quick sanding before the glue gets too hard. Actual construction begins with the interior floor pan of the aircraft. This is also pictured as step one in the instructions. It is a really good idea to flip the page and check the interior parts alignment while putting the floor pieces together. The bottom of the flight deck pieces is slightly convex so before any bulkheads are glued to it the part is sanded flat on a large sheet of aluminum oxide sandpaper. While some modelers like to use epoxy to assemble resin kits I personally like to use medium gap filling superglue and that is exactly what I’ll be using throughout this build unless otherwise specified.
While assembling the floor pieces I dry fit them several times to the right side fuselage to help keep everything aligned. Once the main pieces are together I test fit both fuselage halves with the floor in place and find a serious problem – the alignment points from the left to the right sides are not correct and there is about a 3mm variance between the two halves. In image #1 below you can see just how bad this misalignment is and also take note of the blue arrows indicating some of the air bubbles that I have to repair. In picture #2 the seats and fuel tanks have had the pour plugs sanded off and are mounted on toothpicks for painting. Arrows marked “A” here are where I trimmed the left side alignment points to correct the fuselage pieces and arrows marked “B” are more air bubbles. Many of these interior bubbles have destroyed sections of interior framing. Before repairing all these sections take a good look at how the interior components will fit and you’ll find that many of these problems will be hidden which will reduce the repair load somewhat. Also take note of the throttle quadrant – while there are plenty of little photo etched brass levers to install the instructions give absolutely no hint as to where they should be placed. I placed several in pairs in places that made some kind of ergonomic sense. And finally in picture #3 the floor pan has been painted and assembled. The entire piece was washed with a basic sludge wash then weathered with some ground pastel chalks. I was not real thrilled with the PE seatbelts as they seemed to be very long and did not fit well to the seats.
You may click on the small images above to view larger pictures
Now that I have all these pieces together I discover a major mistake. It seems that the alignment slot in the right side of the floor pan is cast in the incorrect location and by using the right side to line up all my pieces I have created the fuselage misalignment – ouch! So now let’s fix this. First the lower bulkhead must be removed from the main floor pan and moved a few millimeters forward and this time I use the left side fuselage to line things up. Now the right side fuselage rib that would fit into the preformed floor pan slot must be cut out. I could have made a new slot in the floor pan but this seemed much easier to me. Now when I test fit the fuselage with the interior assembly in place everything lines up much better. To sum this all up, DO NOT be temped to use the right side fuselage for aligning the interior parts, remove a small segment from the interior rib that crosses the floor and line everything up on the left side fuselage.
While test fitting the interior assembly to the fuselage I found that the fuselage halves would not close completely. Through a series of careful sandings I took small amounts off the sides of the floor pan until I had a good fit with the fuselage closed. When I first started working on this assembly I was wondering just where the rudder pedals were supposed to be and it was not until I looked at the dash did I find the answer. The rudder pedals are provided as PE parts and attach to the lower side of the resin dash backing. The dash itself is a combination of three PE pieces and three acetate instrument panels. I mounted the dash backing plate to a toothpick to act as a handle before installing the rudders and then painting the resin and PE pieces flat black. The rudder pedals were then brush painted light gray and interior areas of a few select instrument faces were lined with red and yellow enamels before the acetate sheets where attached.
Time to return to the fuselage; the interior of the fuselage panels are first primed with Mr. Surfacer 1000 cut about 30% with lacquer thinner. Once this has dried it is followed by two coats of interior gray and allowed to dry completely. Once it has dried (overnight) I wash the fuselage with a basic acrylic sludge wash, let that dry and wipe it gently with a slightly damp paper towel to clean off the upper surfaces and create some highlights. The floor pan is test fit one last time then secured with medium gap filling superglue in several locations followed by some accelerator.
I started to work on the various gun stations but decided to take a detour and work on an engine. Each engine is almost a mini kit with a central resin gearbox and eighteen individual cylinders. Each cylinder has a front side and a backside but the instructions do not tell us which is which. After careful study I noticed that one side of the cylinder has rounded surfaces on one side and flat truncated spots on the other. I have made the assumption that this flat spot is where the photo etched push rod is supposed to connect. Now that I have determined which side is front I can proceed with parts clean-up. There is a considerable amount of flash between each cylinder on the pout stub and it is carefully removed with a fresh razor knife leaving the parts attached to the pour stub. There is a backing piece that connects the gear reduction box to the wing and on it is a large central mounting stud that should go into the back of the gearbox – unfortunately there is not only no matching hole but the backside of the gearbox is the pour surface and mush be sanded down considerably. Once it is sanded flat I place the part on some white paper and trace the circle, this is now cut from the paper, folded twice to locate the exact center of the circle and then placed over the backside of the gearbox. The center is marked with the tip of a razor knife and then drilled out to fit the stud on the backing plate. These two pieces are superglued together. Two complete sets of cylinders are airbrushed with Model Master Burnt Iron Lacquer and the central gearbox assembly is done with medium gray.
After the paint has dried I can continue with the assembly. Each cylinder is sawn off the pour stub leaving enough material behind to use as an alignment point going into the gearbox. Once the first cylinder is cut off I run into a slight problem; the hole in the gearbox is round and the stub is oblong. With a diamond needle file each cylinder’s mounting stub must be sanded until round and able to insert in the gearbox. The entire back row of cylinders is installed then the front set is placed. There is barely enough room to get everything in here. The cowling is test fit and so far everything looks good. I want to add ignition wires at this point. I use invisible thread cut to short lengths and superglue TWO to each plug location on the cylinder. The opposite ends are glued to the gearbox beneath where the pushrod ring will mount then they are painted white. Overall we have thirty six pieces of ignition wire. Next come the photo etched push rod assembly provided by the kit. It does not fit well or align with the cylinders at all. I end up cutting all the rods off the central ring, mount the ring to the gearbox then reinstall each rod in the correct location. Up to this point everything I did looked very good but this pushrod assembly looks cheap and out of proportion to the rest of the engine. I’m going to try something different with the second engine and if I like the results I will retrofit this engine. This engine is actually an assembly of seventy six separate pieces at this point – see, I did say it was a mini kit.
As I said, I’m not happy with the look of the push rod assembly and am trying something a little different. As with the first engine I have installed an ignition harness made from invisible thread painted white (and after I finished all this I found out that this model engine has the ignition harness on the backside of the cylinders) then cut all the flat photo etched push rods off the central ring. I’m using the original ring then cutting new push rods from magnet wire and super-gluing them in place. With the ring in place I can slide one end of the push rod underneath it which means I do not have to be extremely accurate when cutting them. The ring and the outside ends of the push rods were painted silver then the engine was washed with black sludge wash.
I really like the look of the second engine much better than the first so now all those flat rods have to be removed from the first engine and replaced with the new magnet wire rods. Shortly after completing this retrofit I learned of the ignition wire placement problem but it is too late now – I do not feel like tearing all this stuff off and moving it. During the assembly of the engines I found a lot of small air bubbles had taken residence in the upper front sections of the cylinder heads and had to rebuild about six heads per engine with spots of super glue. Oddly enough the backsides of each cylinder came out perfectly but you’ll never see these once completed. Next I’ll paint the interior of the wheel well pieces and begin assembly of the wings.
The wheel well interiors were airbrushed with interior gray and sludge washed before being glued into the lower wing panel. The upper wing panel was attached with a bead of medium superglue drawn around the perimeter then hit with some accelerator so I would not have to hold everything together for a long time. There was some minor warpage but it pulled out nicely during the glue process. The leading edge wing seam was cleaned up with a sanding stick loaded with 320 grit paper before the superglue had a chance to fully cure. There were several large bubbles around the engine nacelle areas that needed to be filled and sanded also.
I did a little prep work on the various gun positions but am not feeling very pressured to get these complete yet as they can all be installed after the fuselage is together. Speaking of the fuselage, I think it’s about time to look at finishing off that part of the build. Before gluing anything together here I need to remove the lower nose clear part and the main canopy from the vacuformed sheet. I want to have these handy as a sizing guide when the main pieces come together. These are removed with my Dremel and a cut-off wheel. I leave a reasonable amount of flash on the part until it is clear of the master sheet then use the flat edge of the cut-off wheel to trim things up. I begin the assembly in the top center of the fuselage making sure those panel lines match up then flip it over and glue the bottom center section. Next the tail is glued together. As each section is glued I am using accelerator to speed the set time of the glue and immediately trimming off the excess with a fresh razor blade.
I saved the nose seams for last because I still need to install the instrument panel. By flexing the nose open very gently I can slip the instrument panel in place and secure it with a spot of superglue applied through the nose with a toothpick. One side only is glued because I still need to test fit the canopy and a good thing to as the fuselage is just slightly narrow at the front and the canopy would have bulged out. I installed a small 1.5mm shim into the fuselage seam directly in front of the cockpit then finished gluing things together. A final test fit of the canopy showed this shim was perfect for the job. After all the large excess amounts of superglue had been removed and sanded smooth I applied a good layer of Mr. Surfacer 500 along the seams and let it cure for a couple hours. So far the only panel lines that will need repair are those directly over the seams.
I have had to fill lots of micro bubbles all during the assembly process and now that the fuselage is together I must address those along the lower surface. In the image below red arrows indicate the first round of the most serious holes that need filling. To fill these I am first opening them up with the tip of my razor knife then placing a drop of Mr. Surfacer 500 into the hole with a toothpick. Once this has cured I sand it smooth and then add another layer of fill as the Mr. Surfacer has a tendency to shrink when filling these size holes.
I’m sure there will be plenty more holes that need filling and expect these to show up once primer hits the model. The aircraft has a very solid feel to it now. The wings are test fit to the fuselage and some slight adjustment needs to be made to the fuselage holes and then they fit just fine. The dorsal gun ring is test fit and looks good; the nose gun station is also test fit, slipping in from the bottom and also fits well.
At long last the time to attach the wings has come. First I dry fit the wings to get a good idea of how they will align and right away I can see that I will have some fit issues as far as wing thickness goes. The leading edge of each wing is slightly thicker than the corresponding area on the fuselage. I decided to make the upper surface flush and deal with filling on the lower surface. I elected to use a good quantity of medium gap filling superglue as my bonding agent for this step and for attaching the elevators and rudders. The small image at the right will open with a new window so you can follow along with the various issues.
When fitting the rudders I found yet another issue with part thickness, the rudder, port side in particular, is marginally wider than the mounting point. Both rudders needed the alignment stub shaved off in order that they could be lined up. Arrow marked “A” indicates where a small amount of Mr. Surfacer 500 was needed to fill the small seam on the rudder. Arrow marked “C” is where I had to mix some Milliput to fill the rather large step on both sides of the rudder to the mounting surface. When the elevators were placed I did not have much of any problem there and only needed a single coat of Mr. Surfacer 500, arrow “B”, to fill the seam. It is important to ensure the elevators are perpendicular to the fuselage and that the rudders are perpendicular to the elevators. Do not rely on the support struts to position the pieces. Moving right along, arrow “D” indicates where more Milliput was needed (on both wings) to fill a small opening at the joint of the wing to the fuselage. Along the underside of the wing at arrow “E” I needed a small amount of Milliput to fill the step from the wing being too thick and this was done on both wings. Arrows “F” are some more huge air bubbles that were filled with superglue and sanded smooth. Arrow “G” is not a gap but evidence of the superglue used to attach the wing, it shows up like this after Mr. Surfacer 500 has been brushed on and sanded down.
Both engines had already been completed and are attached at this point in time. I have test fit the engine nacelles and they are just slightly snug sliding over the cylinders. I think they will be just fine as they are. Not all seams have been sanded yet but my elbow is starting to wear out right now so I’m taking a break. Once all the seams are completed I’ll attach the last two rudder braces and start positioning the flight control surfaces.
Bet you guys thought I forgot about this build didn’t you? The kit has been setting on my sideboard for a while now taunting me but no longer. The remaining rudder support struts are glued in place and several applications of Mr. Surfacer 500 are used to fill the seams around the tail surfaces. The elevators and rudders are attached with some incidence as are the ailerons. Now it’s time to start working with the clear parts. After they are treated with Future the side window panels are cut to size and masked prior to being glued in place. I used thin strips of masking tape to hold the clear part in position while the clear cement cured. This ensured that they would be flush with the outside surface when all was said and done. The main canopy and the navigator’s dome were masked and glued in place. I was quite pleased to find that these pieces fit in place without giving me a lot of trouble. The lower nose glazing will not be as pleasant because we have a rounded nose and an angled glazing that will need some careful preparation before things fit correctly. Hopefully we will be talking about primer and paint before too much longer.
You may click on these small images to view larger pictures
Review sample courtesy of Pacific Coast Models