HpH C-47 Skytrain–1:32 Scale

The Douglas C-47 Skytrain is a flying legend.  This seemingly humble transport aircraft shaped the course of WWII in a singular manner and carried on through the Vietnam War era and into the 21st century in active military service.  There have been many kits of the C-47 in virtually all scales, but in 2018, HpH Models released a 1:32 scale laminate and resin kit of the C-47.  Your reviewer got a look at this kit a few months back and that was enough for it to win Detail & Scale’s 2018  “Kit of the Year” Award.  I didn’t have enough time at that point to conduct a full, formal review of the HpH C-47.  Fortunately, friend of Detail & Scale and all-around great guy Kirk Wicker shared his HpH Skytrain with me.  And here it is: one of the most exceptional scale model aircraft kits you’ll likely ever see.     

In the 1930s, the Douglas DC-3 was revolutionizing air transport.  With a cruising speed of 207 mph, a cabin that could seat up to 32 passengers, and a range of some 1,500 miles, the DC-3 was also reliable and easy to maintain.  In the days leading up to WWII, the DC-3 pioneered many air travel routes including cross-country and international flights.  Yet, the U.S. entry into WWII loomed, and the United States desperately needed a long-range transport.  Douglas thus developed a military version of the DC-3 designated as the C-47.  It first flew in December 1941 and soon found its way into service.  The C-47 differed from the civilian DC-3 across various modifications, including the addition of a cargo door, hoist attachment, a strengthened floor, a shortened tail to accommodate glider-towing, and an astrodome in the cabin roof.  Over the course of the war, more than 10,000 C-47s were produced between the Douglas plants in Oklahoma City, Long Beach, and Santa Monica.

The C-47 Skytrain is perhaps best known for its iconic role in Operation OVERLORD, dropping airborne troops and towing gliders as part of the D-Day invasion of continental Europe.  In U.S. service, the C-47 gained the well-known nickname “Gooney Bird.”  C-47s also famously dropped troops and supplies during Operation MARKET GARDEN and the Battle of the Bulge.  In the Pacific, Skytrains were instrumental in the delivery of troops to Guadalcanal, New Guinea, and Burma.  Yet, the C-47’s most enduring contribution during WWII may well have involved flying “The Hump” from India into China and the Berlin Airlift following the war.

The USAF Strategic Air Command also operated Skytrains between 1946 and 1967, and many surplus C-47s were sold to air forces around the world and to airlines where they were converted into airliners.  Multiple C-47 variants went to war again during the Vietnam conflict.  Some were modified as AC-47 gunships while and others became “Electric Gooneys” serving in various electronic warfare roles.  Today, some Latin American air forces still operate armed versions of the C-47.  In 2008, the USAF 6th Special Operations Squadron retired its last operational C-47, capping a remarkable and unparalleled 67 year-long career in the service of the Unites States. 

The HpH 1:32 scale C-47 Skytrain kit represents the –D model variant.  It is a very complex kit intended for advanced scale modelers.  By my count, it contains no less than 1,838 parts (853 cast resin parts, 766 photoetched metal parts, 180 laser-cut microfiber parts, 35 clear cast resin parts, three hardware parts, and one sheet of printed instrument panel and cockpit detail parts).  The full-color instruction booklet guides the build over 59 steps.  Two decal sheets provide the markings and airframe maintenance stencils for two C-47s: 

  • C-47D 42-100521, “Kilroy is Here,” 92nd Troop Carrier Squadron, 439th Troop Carrier Group, Upottery, Devon, United Kingdom, 06 June 1944 (Operation OVERLORD)
  • C-47D 42-93087, “Camel Caravan to Berlin,” 86th Fighter Wing, USAFE, Neubiberg AB, West Germany, October 1948 (Berlin Air Lift)

Strengths:  The HpH 1:32 scale C-47D kit is stunning, and its size is just one component of that impression.  Most HpH kits evoke such a reaction and this one is no different.  The kit possesses a remarkable combination of detail, accuracy, and high-quality manufacturing.  You get what you pay for.  When you order your HpH C-47, the 1-3 week shipping time reflects the fact that much of your kit will be made by hand, specifically for you.

The HpH C-47 appears to be just about perfectly shaped and sized.  Casting is virtually flawless and free of defects.  Parts breakdown is fairly conventional with left and right fuselage halves and upper and lower wing halves.  There is an overall level of detail here that is unrivalled (except by other similar high-end kits by HpH).  It’s a little overwhelming and hard to figure out where to start, so let’s begin with the cockpit and work our way aft and then to the exterior.

The kit features an entire (and virtually complete) interior.  About the only things missing to my knowledge are a few wiring bundles in the ceiling of the troop/cargo compartment.  The flight deck provides a gorgeous representation of the real thing.  It builds up as a shell that is placed into the fuselage halves.  The detail is awesome and complex.  The instrument panel is built up in layers – starting with a really nice color printed decal of instrumental panel dial faces, a photoetched (PE) metal instrument panel, and then topped with individual photoetched bezels.  The cast resin seats, seat frames, quilted sidewalls, throttles, rudder pedals, control columns, and everything else in there is eye-poppingly great.  Many of these parts are cast with only a minimal casting block attached, and the small parts are cast on thin sheets of resin.  I think there’s some sundry wiring here that you could add as additional detail but there’s really not very much.  HGW Models, another high-end manufacturer from the Czech Republic, contributed the printed instrument panel details and the laser cut microfiber seatbelt and harness details.  

Further aft, the navigator and radio operator positions are reproduced in exacting detail, from the super detailed cast resin bulkhead, storage closet, fire extinguisher, seats, and radios.  The navigator’s station is particularly well done with his desk, lamp, and a photoetched metal analog flight computer, navigational plotter, and a stopwatch.  Such a nice set of subtle touches!  Other nice little items here include headsets and PE metal doorknobs.     

The troop/cargo compartment comes with all the seat buckets for a full compliment of paratroopers, but before you assemble that, several hundred cast resin and PE metal parts will be used together to create the ribs, stringers, and spars on the inside of the fuselage.  I would rate this part of the kit as the most complex part of the build.  The primary photoetched metal fret (measuring in at a foot wide – it’s HUGE!) contains 550 parts, and more than half of those are the fine PE metal stringers for this part of the airplane’s interior.  Fortunately, the inside of the fuselage has all the location guides for these stringers and ribs represented as lightly engraved lines that show you where everything goes and how everything aligns.  All you have to do is competently superglue the parts in place.  Troop seats can be positioned as folded (stowed) or extended.  The majority of the microfiber seatbelt parts are used here and their pre-painted detail is something to behold:  stenciling and stitching details abound.  To the rear of the interior, the lavatory is included with all the fixtures including the urinal and the latrine.  You might not see some of those details in the completed model, but at least you’ll know it’s in there!  Overall, the interior is complex, but not daunting.  It will keep you busy for at least a few nights at your bench.

The exterior of the model is just as breathtaking.  The exterior surface of the wings and fuselage feature many thousands of raised rivets.  This IS correct.  The surfaces of the C-47 featured raised, round-head rivets that protruded above the skin.  Readers may be familiar with the Trumpeter C-47 in 1:48 scale.  That kit incorrectly features recessed rivets, so it’s not a good reference in that sense.

Other notable features of the exterior are the separate and positionable control surfaces –  ailerons, rudder, and elevators (but see below).  The main gear wells are as detailed as the aircraft’s interior.  There are spars and stingers again represented as PE metal parts to be fitted to the roof of the gear well.  Other items include the prominent engine oil tanks, bulkhead, and aft engine firewall details.  There are, however, a good number of hoses, pipes, and wiring bundles that you can add to bring further, accurate details to these wheel wells.  The main landing gear, tailwheel assembly, and tires appear to be very accurate and well detailed right down to the Goodyear Silvertown imprimatur on the tire sidewalls.  Inside the cast main gear parts are are small steel rods, so you know that the gear will support the weight of the completed model.  All you can do is add a few wires and lines, such as the hydraulic line to the brakes.  Some other parts that need to be rigid, such as the pitot tubes, also have metal rod cores inside their casting.

The Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp 14-cylinder radial engines are both represented in the kit in complete detail.  They are knockouts – models in and of themselves.  Again, there are a lot of parts here.  You’ll build each cylinder from a cast resin cylinder body and head assembly.  The accessory gear (carburetor, pumps, etc.) at the back of the engine are not provided, since the engines here are deigned to be mounted to the firewall making such details truly impossible to see.  You’ll need to dip into your stores of plastic stock, and, as directed by the instructions, add the engine pushrods.  Engine ignition wires will also need to be added by the builder.  The exhaust pipes and single piece engine cowlings look great, and you can position the PE metal cowl flaps in the open position.  Overall, the completed engines will be something to really admire.   

You’ll note the box top calls this a laminate and resin kit, and the big fuselage and wing halves are the laminate parts.  They feature a layer of fiberglass sandwiched between a cast resin interior and exterior surface that all becomes a single integrated piece.  This eliminates issues such as warping of large parts.  It is also quite strong and lightweight.  Just remember – if you start sanding into the fiberglass layer during parts prep or seam work, take precautions as fiberglass is famous as a skin, eye, nose, throat, and lung irritant.

The joining of the fuselage halves is interesting.  The centerline panels are added atop the laminate fuselage halves as thin PE metal parts.  It’s accurate and it works.  It also reduces the amount of seam filling and smoothing work.  Clear parts are also cast resin and are very well done.

The decals were printed by HGW for this HpH kit and overall look quite good (but see below).  The stencils are also quite complete and thorough.  It looks like there’s one single piece of carrier film atop all the markings on both decal sheets, so you’ll need to cut out all the individual decals before applying.  Most of us already trim our decals down anyway, so it’s not too daunting or unusual a task.   

Weaknesses:  There are very few things that one could critique this kit for.  I think it is evident that this is a very complex kit and meant for specialized and experienced scale modelers.  Its very steep price tag reinforces that notion as well.  Some of those thin resin carrier sheets broke up and fractured and some parts were loose (but otherwise undamaged).  The big photoetched fret had some of the fine stringer detail parts slightly bent, but any such bent parts will be easily worked straight during assembly.

As noted, the clear parts are all quite nice, except for one of the wing landing light covers that seems to have a blemish in the clear cast resin (air bubble?).  There’s no guide for radio antenna placements, but that’s easy enough to research on your own.  I would also place a thin clear acetate sheet between the printed instrument panel dials and the PE panel to simulate glass.  The blues in the decal sheet as seen on the national insignias are a too light for my tastes.  Sure, paint fades, but I stand by this critique.  My biggest gripe is that the guide for assembly of those great microfiber lap belts and harnesses are not well illustrated in the instruction manual.  You can figure them out, but it could have been done with greater visual clarity.              

The HpH 1:32 scale C-47D Skytrain is a remarkable achievement in kit design and manufacturing.  It won Detail & Scale’s 2018 “Kit of the Year” award rather effortlessly.  It is in a class of its own.  It is the best C-47D model kit ever made, but its complexity and price mean that it’s not for every scale modeler.  For interested potential customers in the North America, I would seriously point them towards Greg Cooper on Facebook’s Scale Model Graveyard trade/sale/auction group.  He can often provide a really good deal on HpH kits.
I would say that for die-hard fans of the C-47, their passion for the Gooney Bird may rightly compel them to have one of these things in their stash and to one day build.  For the scale modeler who has never attempted such a complex build, this could be just the kit to inspire you.  For me, it’s a “bucket list” kit.  I anticipate I will build only one in my lifetime and that it will be very memorable experience.  Such a project will also be long-term build, and will no doubt test my abilities and help me develop new skills, too.  And if you seek even more detail, HpH also produces an aftermarket set for dropped landing flaps and wheel chocks.  Hats off to HpH for their remarkable C-47D kit, and we look forward to their next contribution to our hobby – a 1:48 scale B-52 Stratofortress.  

Sincere thanks are owed to Kirk Wicker for the review sample.  You can find HpH on the web and download a PDF of the C-47 instruction manual at http://www.hphmodels.cz/hph/?lang=en.  HpH is also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/hphmodels.  You can contact them by email at info@hphmodels.cz.

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale