Dragon has now released eight different versions of the Essex Class aircraft carrier. For World War Two variants there are four kits: Essex as mid-war short hull, Lexington as late war short hull, Randolph as mid-war long hull and Hancock as late war Essex class. For the post war variants of the class there are also four kits: Bon Homme Richard as the original axial deck carrier in the Korean War, Antietam as the one-off test bed for the angled deck, Princeton in the ASW version and Boxer as the renumbered amphibious warfare ship. American carrier design doctrine always emphasized the striking power of the big air wing and even with the initial converted battle cruisers Lexington and Saratoga the maximum size air wing was the foremost design requirement. Ever since the first Dragon kit of the class, USS Essex, was released, modelers were clamoring for additional aircraft. Each kit has had a good number of aircraft included but it was not enough for a massed strike. Dragon has listened to the modeler and now has released four different supplemental aircraft sets in 1:700 scale. Two sets are for World War Two variants and two are for Korean War variants. The sets are marked through Dragon USA under the Cyper-Hobby mark.
Set A – Mid to Late War World War Two Aircraft – This is the primary supplemental set for mid to late war aircraft wings. Three aircraft types are included. The fighter is the Grumman F6F Hellcat, which was the primary USN fighter of the war. Introduced in 1943 the Hellcat was the Essex class fighter. The Hellcat destroyed more Japanese aircraft than any other type but disappeared from the naval inventory as soon as the war ended. The second type is the Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. Introduced at the Battle of Midway, where the few that were available faired badly against Japanese fighters, this torpedo bomber was infinitely superior to the hapless TBD Devastator, which were on the carriers and which were massacred at Midway. Successful as a torpedo bomber and ASW aircraft, the airframe was not designed for dive-bombing. The third type included is the Curtis SB2C Helldiver. Known as the Beast for it’s unfriendly handling characteristics, the Helldiver replaced the earlier SBD Dauntless but was really not a successful platform. This set provides nine sprues of aircraft with three sprues of each type. Each sprue as parts for two aircraft so there are a total of eighteen aircraft in this set. All three types of aircraft can be built with wings extended for flight operations or wings folded for storage. Each aircraft has five parts; fuselage, two wings, propeller and landing gear. Molded in clear plastic, these aircraft facilitate painting aircraft but still having clear canopies. Panel lines are incised on each of these little miniatures. Also included are two decal sheets. One has white and blue national markings for wings and fuselage. The second sheet has the geometrical wing and fuselage markings for the first three units in the Essex class, Essex CV-9, Yorktown CV-10 and Intrepid CV-11. Each WWII carrier air wing was assigned a unique geometrical shape to differentiate the aircraft from each carrier.
Set B – Early War World War Two Aircraft + Corsair – This is a secondary supplemental set, although two of the three types of aircraft were on the Essex class. The stubby Grumman F4F Wildcat is included. The Wildcat was the fighter of 1942 on the carriers as well as ground based at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. Developed prom the biplane Grumman F3F, the Wildcat was inferior to the Japanese Zero in most operational categories, it was far better protected and could absorbed tremendous punishment. Innovative tactics allowed the USN pilots of 1942 to more than hold there own, as the navy waited for the superior Hellcat to appear. The F4F was on all carriers in 1942 but was not on the Essex class in 1943. The Wildcat did nit disappear as they still could be found on escort carriers in late war but not on the fast carriers. The dive-bomber included is the fabled Douglas SBD Dauntless, which destroyed the four Japanese carriers at Midway and turned the tide in the Pacific war. The Dauntless was the carrier dive-bomber of 1942 and midway into 1943 when the Beast replaced it. The dive bomber squadrons of the early Essex class carriers were equipped with the Dauntless. The third aircraft type included is the Vought F4U Corsair. Initially the Corsair was a failure as a carrier fighter. Its high nose precluded a good view downward on the approach to the carrier and the USN relegated what they thought was a failed design to ground based USMC squadrons, where it proved highly successful in combat operations. It was the Royal Navy that developed a curving approach for a carrier landing that allowed the Corsair to be deployed successfully on the Essex class. Although Corsair squadrons were fielded on Essex class carriers, they never supplanted the Hellcat as the primary USN fighter. As with Set A, there are three sprues of each type of aircraft with two aircraft per sprue. The Wildcat and Corsair each have five parts and can be assembled with wings extended or folded but the Dauntless aircraft only have three parts, as the wings are fixed. The same set of decals included in Set A is also in this set.
Set A – Early Jet Aircraft – The William Holden Set – It is Toko-Ri time with this supplemental set. Who doesn’t love the wonderful lines of the Grumman F9F-2 Panther. With its beautiful curves and glossy blue paint job all modelers are budding Brubakers. Its straight wings put it at a handicap against the superior MiG-15 but its primary mission in the Korean War was as a fighter-bomber. The replacement for the Panther was the Grumman F9F-8 Cougar. As can be seen from the nomenclature, the Cougar was a refinement of the Panther. It used the Panther fuselage but slapped on swept wings and tail giving a much better performance. The Cougar was not used in the Korean War. The king of heavy lift fighter-bombers was the Douglas AD-1 Skyraider. The Able Dog may have looked anachronistic as a propeller platform developed for the jet age but it could pack a huge load of ordnance. This primary characteristic enabled the platform to survive far longer in the naval inventory far longer than contemporary fast movers, which had a short shelf life. The Skyraider was still a primary attack aircraft for the next war in Vietnam. Again there are nine sprues, three of each type with two aircraft on each sprue. Both the Panther and Skyraider come in two variants, one with folded wings and one with extended wings. The Skyraider also includes two drop tanks per aircraft. The Cougar only comes with fixed wings. This set includes a very nice set of decals, obviously different than that found for the WWII sets. There are actually two sheets. One has the wing and fuselage markings and the big "NAVY" decals. The second sheet gives letters for tail squadron identification and aircraft numbers, although they are only in the 100 range, which would indicate the first squadron of the wing. Dragon should have included a mix of 100s, 200s, 300s, 400s and 500s, so the modeler could have mixed types with proper squadron numbering sequence. Nonetheless, this is still a great addition, as the modeler can find other decals for other squadrons other than the first.
Set B – Early Jet Aircraft – The Mickey Rooney Set– This set also includes Korean War Aircraft. The F2H Banshee was used in two capacities. Larger than the Panther, the Panther was an all weather/night fighter but was used in far fewer numbers than the Panther. Additionally there were photo-reconnaissance versions of the Banshee. Although the F4U Corsair was a World War Two design, unlike the Hellcat, the Corsair had a long life after that war. For the Korean War the Corsair was still a fighter bomber found on the Essex class carriers employed in that conflict. It’s days as a fighter were over but it still made an excellent ground attack platform until finally replaced by the Skyraider. Lastly there is the Dragonfly helicopter. You almost want to drill a hole into the cockpit from below, so you can insert a little green Mickey Rooney. It may have been replaced quickly by more capable platforms but the Dragonfly still had nice lines. As with all of the other sets, there are nine sprues with three sprues of each type and two aircraft per sprue. The Banshees and Corsairs each have one extended wing and one folded wing per sprue, while both dragonflies on each spure are identical. This set has the same decal sheet as found in Set A Early Jets.
Whether you are swarming Kurita’s fleet at Leyte Gulf or going for a massed attack on those pesky bridges at Toko-Ri, Dragon/Cyber-Hobby has the extra aircraft to give you the big strike. Four different aircraft sets, each containing 18 aircraft, provide additional 1:700 scale aircraft for eleven different types of aircraft.