For the last few years, ship modelers have eagerly awaited a 1/350 scale plastic injected kit of a U.S. Navy Aegis destroyer - the Arleigh Burke class (DDG). Panda Models is the first company to produce a 1/350 scale plastic injected Arleigh Burke destroyer kit, which was released in early 2003. The Panda Arleigh Burke DDG51 kit can build a Flight I version (DDG 51 through 58).

Upon opening the box, you will find a very nicely packaged kit. It contains the following:
- Four plastic frets, each individually packaged in plastic.
- One sheet of photo-etch parts, packaged in plastic
- One decal sheet with a protective sheet cover, packaged in plastic
- Instruction set

This review will highlight major features of the kit and any broad or general items that a modeler would be interested in before purchasing the kit.

What is labeled as Fret A is the full hull, molded in a single piece. From a kit quality perspective, the hull mold is excellent with zero pit marks and the only mold seam is on the very bottom, which would never be seen anyhow. From an accuracy perspective, the hull mold appears to be shaped properly and is an excellent basis for a build. There are two relatively minor "flaws" to the accurately shaped hull. First, should you wish to build a waterline model, the bottom half of the hull would have to be cut off. There is no pre-molded in seam inside or outside to help make cutting the bottom off, so the cut would be through plastic about 1/16" thick. Second, the entire hull contains what I will call "raised rivets" and "vertical bars." It is my understanding that these raised rivets have something to do with attaching scaffolding on a real Burke. While both the raised rivets and the vertical bars are featured on a real Burke, they do appear to be molded too large and too heavy for scale, as can be seen in the photo below. Expert modelers will likely sand both of these off and potentially make replacement modifications.

The Hull
Gurkefret-aTB.jpg (27417 bytes) Burkeflaw1TB.jpg (56599 bytes)

Fret B contains the deck in three pieces, with the raised aft deck, and some other minor pieces. From a kit quality perspective, the molds are of an excellent quality with zero pit marks or mold marks to sand. From an accuracy perspective, everything visually looks correct. Expert modelers will likely want to make at least two modifications. First, there are molded anchor chains, which could be shaved or sanded off and replaced with photo-etch. Secondly, the stern helicopter deck has molded and very raised warning stripes, as can be seen in the photograph below. There are surrounding tie downs, which could interfere with sanding down the warning stripes. The tie downs might have to be cut off and subsequently replaced with plastic rod. Other normal ship building modifications are obvious, such as cutting off the molded stairs/ladders on the raised aft deck and replacing them with photo-etch.

Burkefret-bTB.jpg (58353 bytes) Burkeflaw2TB.jpg (77801 bytes)

Superstructure & Smaller Parts
Fret C contains some of the superstructures, mast, and weapons. From a kit quality perspective, the mold is excellent with zero pit marks or mold marks to sand. From an accuracy perspective, these parts are an excellent basis from which to build from. The superstructures do contain raised doors, life preservers, and other raised details. These superstructures and weapons provide an excellent starting point for any modeler, including the experts.

Fret D contains additional detailed parts, such as the rigid hull inflatable boats, lifeboat cannisters, and radars. From a kit quality perspective, the molds are excellent with zero pit marks or mold marks to sand. From an accuracy perspective, these parts are an excellent basis from which to build from.

Superstructure & Smaller Parts
Burkefret-cTB.jpg (83296 bytes) Burkefret-dTB.jpg (78012 bytes)

Photo-Etch Parts & Decals
The kit contains a fret of photo-etch railings and safety nets. At the price of this kit, the photo-etch parts are a surprising inclusion! Expert modelers will immediately observe that the photo-etch railings are a bit thick, and would likely substitute them with "thinner" photo-etch parts from a third party, such as Gold Medal Models or Flagship Models. At the price of this kit, a beginner modeler or someone inexperienced with photo-etch, might elect to use these parts which would add definitive detail to their first ship model or first ship model with photo-etch.

The decal sheet contains decals from which to build DDG 51 through 58. The sheet contains some nice "extra" markings, such as the DESRON markings and the E awards. Though probably not visible in the above photo, the red warning circles actually contain embedded wording in white letters.

Photo-etch Parts & Decals
BurkephotoetchTB.jpg (69827 bytes) BurkedecalTB.jpg (63834 bytes) BurkeboxTB.jpg (81554 bytes)

Instruction Sheet
The instruction sheet appears to be clearly laid out and easy to follow. As any expert modeler knows, there are always variations between ships of each class. The instructions and kit parts appear to have recognized some of the differences in DDG 51 through 58. For example, there is a stern part that they indicate is only on DDG 51 and another part is provided for DDG 52 through 58. They show another weapons/radar area on the port side with a variation for DDG 51 through 53 and other parts are provided for DDG 54 through 58.

At an amazingly low $25 list price, the Panda Burke should be a pleasing and welcome addition to the modern U.S. Navy ship modeling family of kits. From an overall kit quality perspective, the potential buyer can be assured that the Panda Burke is at minimum of the same kit quality as the previous 1/350 Ticonderoga and Spruance class kits from Dragon (Note: on the box, Dragon is listed as the "export agent" for the kit). This is the first Panda kit that I have seen and the quality and packaging of their product is excellent.

Though there are a few relatively minor modifications that expert modelers will likely change and improve to the kit itself, there are no major modifications and/or no major scratch-building that appear to be necessary at the time of this review. Depending on the modeler's build desire, it should be noted that the kit does not include a Seahawk helicopter.

Expert modelers will find this as an excellent and reasonably accurate basis from which to "super detail" a 1/350 scale Arleigh Burke destroyer. Beginner modelers will find this a quite affordably priced kit with included photo-etch. I'm looking forward to building the kit, and seeing the rumored Flight IIA from Panda in the near future.