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Michael Smith
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1/72 Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat – Airfix New Mold

October 4, 2021 · in Aviation · · 10 · 2.8K

This build has a story.

In 1992 I attended the “1942: Issue in Doubt” symposium by the Admiral Nimitz Museum (now the National Museum of the Pacific War). Featured speakers at the event included several pilots who had fought at the Battle of , including retired Rear Admiral William N. Leonard, Richard Best, and George Gay, I was fortunate to have Admiral Leonard autograph a photo of his aircraft in a book I had with me, and to have George Gay inscribe his book to me. I happened to have a framed R.G. Smith print of the Japanese carrier Akagi at Midway with me in a pillowcase for some reason. I honestly don't think at the time I realized the connection with Best and Akagi, but I may have after he spoke, and when I handed it to him during a break, he inscribed the matt "Dick Best, CO, Bombing Six, U.S.S. Enterprise, Midway, 4 June 42."

Oh. That's who this is.

Anyway, it wasn't until many years later that I realized I had a signature by a pilot from each of the U.S. carriers at Midway, as well as a pilot of each of the three aircraft that flew from the carriers. So in 2019 I built models of Best, Gay and Leonard's aircraft, and display them with scans of the signatures.

By 2021 I realized that the paint colors I had used were not quite right, the kits used were poor choices, and my modeling skills had improved with experience. So I have started replacing the 2019 versions, starting with Bill Leonard's -4. The retired kits will be repainted into other subjects - the Academy will become a beat-up Guadalcanal veteran, the TBD will unfold its wings and move to the Lexington at Coral Sea, and the Airfix SBD will likely shift to mid-1943 on the new Lexington.

The 2021 Bill Leonard F4F-4

Lt. Bill Leonard was XO of VF-3 on Yorktown at Coral Sea and Midway. On 4 June he flew CAP over Yorktown during the Japanese attacks on the carrier, and after she was torpedoed landed on nearby Enterprise, where as the senior VF-3 pilot he reported to Admiral Raymond Spruance about the condition of the stricken carrier.

For his updated mount I chose the new mold Airfix 1/72 F4F-4, which includes the option for extended or folding wings, as well as a canopy in the open position. I opted for the folding wings because I already had two extended wing versions, and, candidly, I'm running short of display space. As with the other new mold Airfix planes, the kit is an absolute joy to build. I used Vallejo airbrush paints (which I am switching over to) and Starfighter's Midway decal sets. They don't actually include Leonard's "13", but do include enough numerals that I could cobble it together.

The folded wings really do conceal most of the detail, but as I mentioned, I'll have several other Wildcats with extended wings, so one with folded wings will be a nice change.

The build log is at

Reader reactions:
19  Awesome

11 additional images. Click to enlarge.

10 responses

  1. Looking forward to seeing the photos, Michael (@mcsmith1964). Thanks for the background stories. Dick Best figures prominently in the most recent Midway movie. I don't think the reviews for the movie were great, but I like it. :o)

    Never mind. The photos popped up when I posted the comment. Great looking model. I have this kit lurking somewhere, so I think I need to put it in the build queue.

    • George,

      I reposted as a new article with the back story, including meeting Best at a conference. I knew he'd been a pilot at Midway but didn't realize his significance until later! Fortunately I got a nice inscription on a print of his strike on Akagi. I think his B 1 will be my next kit to upgrade using the Hasegawa kit and some photoetch dive brakes.

  2. Beautiful build and great background story, Michael @mcsmith1964
    Hard to believe it is 1/72, looks definitely like a bigger scale.

  3. An excellent result out of the seemingly good Airfix kit, Michael!
    Loved the "historical" part.

  4. That's awesome Michael - and a beautiful piece of history you have to go with those wonderfully built kits. Nicely done.

  5. Looks great! How fortunate it was for you to connect with participants of history. I did the Airfix Martlet and it's a gem of a kit.

  6. Great builds and story!

  7. Outstanding work! @mcsmith1964
    I once attended a short lecture by a former pilot who had been a Flying Tiger, but sadly, I can't for the life of me remember his name!
    It's really cool you got to see & talk with these old gents ... or should I say Heroes!

  8. Looks great! Cool story/experience and a great collection.

  9. Very nice build and great story.

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