Special Hobby 1/48 Grumman AF-2S and AF-2W Guardians
The Grumman AF-2 Guardian series were the largest single engine piston-engine aircraft to ever operate from carriers, which is pretty surprising since they flew from CVEs for the most part. The Guardian was the first purpose-built anti- submarine warfare carrier- based aircraft to enter service with the United States Navy, and used two different variations of the same airframe, since all the required equipment could not be fitted into a single aircraft. The “hunter” was the AF-2W, which carried two electronics operators and a ventral radome for APS-20 search radar and electronic countermeasures suite consisting of an APR-98 Countermeasures Receiver and AP-70 Bearing Indicator. The “killer” was the AF-2S which had a bomb bay, a searchlight and short-range radar. First flown in 1945, the Guardian entered service in September 1950 and remained in service until August 1955, when it was replaced by the twin-engined Grumman S-2 Tracker. It remained in service with the Naval Air Reserve until 1957.
The Grumman Model G-70 was selected by the Navy with the designation XTB3F. It was designed with “mixed power,” using an R-2800 radial engine and a Westinghouse 19XB turbojet. This was found to be unsuitable, and the jet engine was removed without ever having been used in flight and the role of the aircraft was changed from torpedo bomber to ASW. The XTB3F-1S carried a crew of two seated side-by-side and an armament of two 20 mm cannon and 4,000 lb of bombs, torpedoes and/or rockets, and made its first flight on 19 December 1945.
The Guardian provided ASW coverage for Task Force 77 in the Sea of Japan during the Korean War from 1951-53, to face the threat of Soviet submarines operating from Vladivostok. It proved unpopular with pilots because it was underpowered and heavy on the controls, which made things “adventurous” for crews when operating from CVEs in heavy seas, and suffered a high accident rate.
VS-37 had operated the TBM-3S and TBM-3W in the ASW role until after the Korean War, when they took delivery of the AF-2S and AF-2W Guardians. Their “sunburst” markings were the most striking unit markings the airplane ever carried. They were operated until late 1955, when the squadron took delivery of the new Grumman S2F-1 Tracker.
I first saw one of these huge airplanes at the Navy Day airshow at NAS Buckley Field in Denver, Colorado, at age 10. Its bulk was impressive. I have always wanted to see kits of the airplane in 1/48, but had resigned myself to never having the Guardian in my collection since I wasn’t interested in spending $500 to acquire the two kits from Collect-Aire. Fortunately, Special Hobby has come to the rescue of we lovers of esoteric naval aircraft with their release of the AF-2S and AF-2w.
The two kits are exactly the same in the box and differ in that you assemble the AF-2W using the radome parts, while using the bomb bay doors for the AF-2S. Both kits include underwing ordnance, which is only used on the AF-2S.
Special Hobby has done their research with these kits. They have designed in the 3-degree right offset and 3-degree down angle of the engine correctly; the engine is the now-standard resin with separate crankcase and cylinders. The fabric detail is very petite and is the most accurate representation of fabric covered surfaces I have seen. The rest of the surface detail is of equal quality. Test-fitting of the major airframe parts shows that the kit goes together easily. The forward cockpit is provided in good detail and includes seatbelts with the photoetch details. The clear parts are very clear and the canopy can be posed open if you desire. The kit also comes with the later upper radome for the late-production AF-2W, though the instructions say these parts are not to be used.
The kit decals are like too many of Special Hobby’s recent decals – they can come off the sheet quickly once in water, and fold up faster than a cheap suit. Several modelers have already complained about the problem with this kit. Additionally, the national insignia on the kit sheet are wrong, with the wing markings being much too large. For those wishing a decal alternative that allows them to do two aircraft from the same squadron, Caracal Decals has released Sheet 48078 for these kits that include two airplanes from VS-37, an AF-2S and an AF-2W, (as well as other options) which had the most spectacular markings of any Guardian squadron. The markings on the sheet are sufficient to do one airplane, so if you choose to do both versions, you’ll need to get two sheets. These are printed by Cartograf and are of the excellent quality one has come to expect from Caracal. If you want to use these, I suggest you order quickly, since Caracal decals tend to sell out fast.
Overall, this is the best Special Hobby kit I have done. All the parts for the main airframe fit correctly, and I only found it necessary to use a very little bit of filler along the fuselage centerline, and the centerline of the radome.
The color callouts for the cockpit in the instructions are wrong. According to Tommy Thomason, the Guardian cockpit is Interior Green below the tops of the side panels and black above on the sidewalls, with Interior Green for the rear bulkhead and the seat. The cockpit is well-appointed, with photoetch seat belts and a decal for the instrument panel. The rear cockpits aren’t going to be seen unless you decide to open the door and the hatch, so I didn’t worry about them other than to install the bulkheads for stability.
I sanded down the interior of the trailing edges of the wings, and got a nice sharp trailing edge.
Each kit took approximately an afternoon to assemble. I assembled and attached the landing gear before painting. The very clear sliding canopy can be fitted in the open position, but you likely won’t want to unless you have done some extra detailing for the cockpit.
I painted each model with Xtracrylix Glossy Sea Blue, after I painted the black anti-glare section on the forward upper cowling and masked it off. I hand-painted the white gear and door interiors afterwards, when I discovered that all the later-production Guardians featured this.
The radome of the AF-2W was painted Tamiya “Buff,” then “blotched with super-thinned Tamiya Hull Red to get to the “weathered” look I found in some color photos, then masked off before applying the GSB. I also painted and masked the upper radome with Tan but didn’t weather it that much.
I then gave both models a coat of Future. The Caracal decals went down without the slightest difficulty under a coat of Micro-Sol. I found the sunburst just a bit small, and had to touch up the centerline of the vertical fin on the forward section of the decal with some gloss white after they set up.
I unmasked the canopies and attached the underwing ordnance for the AF-2S and the drop tanks for the AF-2W. Be careful when attaching the blades to the prop hub, that you get the curved surface of the blade in front, it’s easy to make the mistake with these blades the way they are molded. Those who have to have everything just right say that the kit mainwheel hubs are wrong and suggest use of main wheels from a TBF to correct that if it’s important to you. I didn’t worry about it. I then re-attached the antennas on the top of the vertical fin, which I had mistakenly attached (and then broke) during the original assembly. Photos of the VS-37 airplanes show them very clean and I didn’t see any exhaust stains.
As I said, I have wanted to have a model of the Guardian since I was 10. It’s good I stuck around long enough to get these two kits, which are among the best Special Hobby has done. Anyone with experience of doing a limited-run kit should have no problem with these kits.
23 additional images. Click to enlarge.