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Kitty Hawk # KH32016 OS2U Kingfisher 1:32 Scale


One of the most important U.S. Navy airplanes of the Second World War never operated from an aircraft carrier, dropped torpedoes, or sank anything.  Instead, the catapult-launched OS2U Kingfisher was the Navy’s principal light scout aircraft during the war, and played key roles as a reconnaissance, observation, and search-and-rescue platform.  The Kingfisher has been a popular subject with scale modelers with 1:48 scale offerings dominated by the classic but somewhat inaccurate Monogram kit.  This kit has appeared in many incarnations since 1967, including a reboxing by Hasegawa.  The Airfix kits in 1:72 scale, which also first came out in 1967, were probably the most accurate scale models of the OS2U for the last 48 years.  In late 2015, Kitty Hawk released the first injection-molded kit of the Kingfisher in 1:32 scale.  In this review, we’ll take a look at this new offering of a venerable airplane. 

By the late 1930s, the U.S. Navy required a new seaplane for multirole seaborne reconnaissance and observation.  A contract was issued to Vought and the Naval Aircraft Factory, and engineer Rex Beisel got the job to direct the design work on the “eyes of the fleet.”  This new airplane would be a modern monoplane, unlike the Curtis SOC Seagull that it was to replace.  The fuselage was relatively stocky in appearance, and underneath the fuselage was a large pontoon, and smaller stabilizing outrigger pontoons were suspended below the wings.  Even with the pontoons fitted, the OS2U could be based ashore.  The Kingfisher was to be the first production airplane to be assembled using spot welding, and it was fitted with innovative high lift-inducing spoilers, deflector flaps, and drooping ailerons.

The design gave the plane a range of around 1,000 miles and a maximum speed of 170-185 mph.  The plane would be lightly armed with a .30 caliber Browning M1919 machine gun operated by the pilot, and the observer/radio operator/gunner had either one or two additional .30-caliber machine guns on a flexible mount.  Hard points for small bombs and depth charges were also worked into the design.  The prototype Kingfisher flew in 1938, and deliveries of the first OS2U-1s commenced in 1940.

A total of 1,621 Kingsfishers were produced, spanning seven variants with the OS2U-3 being the most numerous and arguably the definitive production version.  If anything, the Kingfisher was somewhat underpowered, as it never flew with anything more powerful than a 450hp engine.  During the war, Kingfishers flew combat missions beginning with the defense of Pearl Harbor and they were there in Tokyo Bay when Japan signed the Instruments of Surrender on 2 Sept 1945.  Between those two events, OS2Us were ubiquitous on the back ends of U.S. Navy battleships, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, and shore patrol stations.  They scouted out the location of Japanese and German naval vessels in the Atlantic and Pacific, directed naval fire during shore bombardments, and conducted search-and rescue operations.  One famed Kingfisher rescue was the recovery of WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker and his B-17 crew in the Pacific in November 1942, where the Kingfisher made multiple taxiing runs across the water, picking up the the downed airmen and delivering them to the submarine USS TANG.  Also serving with the US Marine Corps and Coast Guard, additional Kingfishers were exported to Australia, the Fleet Air Arm of the British Navy, and the Soviet Navy.  The Kingfisher started to be gradually replaced by the Curtiss SC Seahawk in 1944, and after the war, surplus OS2Us made their way into the inventories of Chile, Cuba, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, and Uruguay.  The last operational Kingfisher was retired in service in 1959 from the Cuban Navy.

Kitty Hawk’s Kingfisher comes in a sturdy box with some impressive and eye-catching box art depicting an OS2U-3 on a catapult about to be launched into battle (but on closer inspection, nobody appears to be inside!).  The kit contains 335 injection molded light gray polystyrene parts on five sprues, 20 clear parts, and 46 photoetched brass metal parts.  The instruction booklet is a mixed color and black-and-white format.  The instructions are 28 pages long, detailing the construction of the model over 31 steps.  Decals come on one large sheet and a second, smaller insert sheet.  Markings are provided for six different Kingfishers:

- OS2U, 1-0-7, VO-1, USS PENNSYLVANIA, 1940
- OS2U-3, 2, USN, 1941
- OS2U, 1-0-1, VO-1, USS ARIZONA, 1941
- OS2U-3, 102, NAS Corpus Christi, 1942
- OS2U, FN768, 765 Sqn, RAF, 1943
- OS2U-3, Soviet Navy Light Cruiser MURMANSK, 1944

Strengths:  The Kitty Hawk OS2U is an impressive model kit in the box and has much to recommend to it.  It is a detailed kit with lots of parts and some relatively complex assemblies.  Airframe shape and size appear to be correct.  Overall surface detail, such as the recessed panel lines, screws, and rivets, are of a high fidelity and not over-done.  While the cockpit and observer’s position are very well detailed for an injection molded kit, the highly detailed engine, engine mount, firewall, and accessory gear is a true highpoint of this kit.  Even the cylinder heads are separate and nicely detailed (small) parts.  Engine cowling access panels can be displayed open so all that detail is not necessarily lost to a viewer in the finished product.

Test fitting between the fuselage halves and upper and lower wings show no problems.  The canopies are positionable, and the ailerons, elevators, flaps, and rudder are all separate pieces and can be positioned neutral, dropped, or deflected, respectively.  In one of the more delightfully unexpected options in the kit, the scale modeler has parts to also build the pontoon-less version of the Kingfisher that was fitted with non-retractable landing gear.  The kit contains beaching gear for the float-equipped OS2Us operating from land.  A pair of underwing 100-lb. bombs can be hung under the wings, and the large boarding ladder is also included.

The quality of the clear parts, which come in their own small protective cardboard box, is frankly stunning.  The optics on the clear parts are crystal clear, blemish-free, sharply cast, and lack mold seam lines.

The choices in marking options are very diverse, and on those grounds alone, the marking options are impressive.  Kitty Hawk should also be congratulated on their choices of some very eye-catching, historically significant, and unusual schemes (e.g., the Russian Navy Kingfisher, of which there were only two OS2Us in Soviet service).  The decals themselves appear to be very well printed and sharp in color and outline with very minimal carrier film beyond the printed edge of each decal.

Weaknesses: In the box, this model looks to possess only a few flaws.  For one, the instructions fail to make distinctions between the different variants (such as the -1 and -3 that are noted, but inconsistently, on the markings guide).  This is not a terribly significant issue, since the different versions of the Kingfishers were virtually identical on their interiors and exteriors.  The key difference between the variants involved which version of the Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior radial engine was fitted to the airframe.  Even those differences should not be notable in this kit, but still, some kind of informational heads-up would have been useful to most scale modelers.

As is typical with most Kitty Hawk kits, the pour gates that connect parts to the sprue are pretty large, so removing the smallest parts (and there’s quite a few small parts in this kit) will require some extra care.  There are also several large and prominent ejection pin marks on the inside surfaces of the fuselage halves, but these should be invisible – it appears that Kitty Hawk placed those strategically between bulkheads.  On the bottom of both the upper and lower fuselage halves of my sample kit, there was an anomalous line of flash that ran the entire length of the parts. It is easy enough to remove, but it does not appear that it should be there.

My research on the Kingsfisher found that two styles of outboard floats were used on the airplane – the original Vought factory floats and the later EDO floats that replaced the less-than-popular Vought components.  The kit comes with EDO floats only, but they are probably not appropriate for the early yellow-wing Kingfisher versions on the ARIZONA and the PENNSYLVANIA.  Check your references to make sure.     

            Kitty Hawk’s OS2U Kingfisher in 1:32 scale is easily the best plastic model of this airplane in any scale.  Even in more general terms, this kit is very nicely engineered and well detailed, and will appeal to a wide range of scale modelers. Insofar that this review is concerned with basic test fitting of major assemblies (and found no issues) at least one online build encountered fit challenges spanning the engine to the cockpit. These weren’t “show-stoppers,” but they did involve extra fine-tuning of parts (sanding, snipping) to achieve proper fit.  Since I have not yet built this kit, I can’t confirm this from personal observation - but these potential various parts fit conflicts will be on my radar when I start work on this kit hopefully in the near future.

            The Kitty Hawk Kingfisher has been on the market for only a few short months, but already, Eduard has released five different photoetch detail sets for this kit if you want to add yet more detail.  No doubt, more aftermarket products will likely be on the way – perhaps some resin cast Vought floats, and a 1:32 scale ship catapult to mount your Kingfisher on would be pretty neat, too.  But just out-of-the box, this kit has the makings of an outstanding replica of the OS2U, and hats off to Kitty Hawk Models for producing a large-scale kit of this unique and relatively unrepresented subject matter.

Sincere thanks to Glen Coleman and Kitty Hawk Models for the review sample of this kit.  You can find out more about them at


Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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