Nope: A Rant About Awful Engineering

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When I started building models as a kid, I had no idea what I was doing. Gradually, that changed. And one of the first kits that I actually, legitimately tried at was Monogram’s venerable OS2U Kingfisher.

Since then, I’ve had a soft spot for the awkward floatplane. So when Kitty Hawk announced they would be making a new-tool Kingfisher – and in 1/32 scale no less! – I was thrilled.

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When sprue shots and reviews started coming in, I was still thrilled. When I got the kit and briefly pawed through the bagged plastic, I was still thrilled. So thrilled, in fact, that I decided I was going to build this sucker for an upcoming magazine article. I even found a rather battered Kingfisher I wanted to tackle:

Then, I actually got started on it. The front and back halves of the R-985’s cylinder banks didn’t fit together because – get this – the locating pin was too big. Okay, annoying, but no real biggie. Drill the corresponding hole out a bit wider and viola.

And then I looked at what came next.

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Really, Kitty Hawk? Really?

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It Gets Better Worse

Okay. So far, things just seem annoying. And the Kitty Hawk OS2U has two major dings against it:

  • Parts that don’t fit very well (cylinder banks, cylinder heads, pushrods that are too long…)
  • Awful sprue gating

If that were it…again…just annoying. But look at this shit:

So we already have sadistic sprue gating, mediocre fit and mis-sized locating pins. And with these ingredients, the kit asks you to build an overly complicated engine and mount subassembly that forces you to paint and assemble, paint and assemble, paint and assemble ad nauseum.

But wait, there’s more! The valve covers, which fit the cylinder heads only vaguely, are also the points by which you attach the forward cowl ring. And…they don’t fit the cowl attachment points!

And on the back side, you not only have to attach spindly engine mounts to the firewall, you also have to attach the instrument panel and IP coaming to the other side, and put sandwich all of this between the fuselage halves. I’m sure there’s no chance to fuck up any alignment of anything there! Or that one very slight misalignment five steps earlier could come back to totally screw you at this point!

After you for some reason attach the cowl flaps to the fuselage (WTF), we come to the icing on the cake. Around this janky assembly, you now get to install four cowl panels. Hiding all that work, and all I’m sure without introducing a single gap of any kind.

I would barely trust Tamiya with this kind of a job…and I have every confidence they’d size their locating pins properly. Kitty Hawk, with their track record and with the experience of the opening stages of this kit?

Nope.

Engineering and Fit

It’s funny. The modeling community at large will obsess over minor points of accuracy, will deem kits with small shape problems to be garbage, but engineering and fit rarely come into play. I mean…there’s a multi-part comparison extravaganza of various 1/32 Bf 109Es up on Large Scale Planes. And it looks at elevator shape and gear bay design…but it never mentions things like, oh, the disastrous fit of the cowl on the Eduard kits.

Eduard accidentally makes their 1/48 Bf 109G-6 a 1/46 scale kit and everyone dogpiles them. HK Models makes some goofs on the shape of the Mosquito B.IV and you’d think they were committing war crimes. Trumpeter does anything and they’re attacked for it.

But when a company screws the pooch with regard to engineering and fit, somehow it’s on us, and shit like “use your modeling skills” gets tossed about to quash any dissent.

Fuck that.

If I’m going to pay $90 for a kit, I expect some level of quality. I expect shit to be molded in a way that allows me to remove parts from the sprue without breaking them. I expect parts that fit most of the time. And as bonus points, I’d like to see engineering that takes into account not only the immediate step, but the larger build as a whole. If I have to paint and then assemble, that shit better go together like lego bricks.

Now, I realize that some modelers relish the challenge of a kit like this. Cool, bully for you. I’ll fully admit that building is more a means to an end for me. And that’s certainly driving my frustration with Kitty Hawk and Italeri and others.

But…I have a larger philosophical problem with giving kitmakers a pass for shitty engineering. And it’s a simple one. I don’t like carrying water for others’ mediocrity. If I’m going to invest my time, effort and passion into a build, I want to invest it in a kit that was invested with the same in its design. It’s why I like Tamiya and Wingnut Wings so much. It’s why I’m a big fan of what Tanmodel is trying to do.

And it’s why it’ll be a long, long time before I buy another Kitty Hawk kit.

43 thoughts on “Nope: A Rant About Awful Engineering

  1. And it gives us newbie modellers a massive feeling of inferiority when the bloody things won’t go together properly. It must be us, mustn’t it? So I’m pleased on several levels with your comments. Great article.

  2. I purchased Kity Hawke’s Aircobra. It’s 90% finished, sitting with gloss coat on my spray table. Fuck it, straight in the bin tonight. You have reinforced how bad it went together, and like you, unlikely I’ll buy one again.

    The reviews I read did not mentioned one of the build ability issues.

    Tamiya or Wingnut, thank you.

  3. Given the ever increasing cost of new kits, solid engineering should baked right in from the beginning. The best we might hope to do is to “flog and shame” the shit out of the bad designs so that the rest of us know what to expect if we’re still going to spend that kind of money.

  4. I recently built a 1/72 Macross VF-1 Valkarie by Bandai. The fit and engineering was so good that you could put the entire kit together without glue (or paint – the sprues are multicoloured) if you were that way inclined. I realise that scifi *gundams* are not everyone’s cup of tea but it just shows what can be accomplished. Tamiya (and Bandai) are to be commended for leading the industry in that respect.

  5. Mind you, the HK Models Mosquito doesn’t just h Ave a few minor shape issues – it’s a complete fucking disaster. I’ll generally take decent assembly and engineering over absolute accuracy every time, but sometimes it’s a fuck up too far to be worth the effort and money. That caricature Mosquito, Trumpeter’s Mig-23BN. How well they build is irrelevant to me, when they won’t even look like the real aircraft when finished. Trumpeter’s DH Hornet currently takes the biscuit. Every single shapes is laughably off. But I assembled it in 65 minutes with no trouble (for shape assessment prior to throwing it in the bin).

    As worn all things there’s a year off very often. Sometimes you can accept it, sometimes you can’t.

  6. I REALLY want you to do the build review for this abortion on FSM, but somehow i don’t see them rushing out to publish it.. Great article! it’s a shame, as I was looking forward to buying and building this one too.. now.. not so much.

  7. I agree with you although I don’t build such big models. I have one in 32nd and it’s Tamiya’s superb Spitfire Mk.VIII. I once wrote that I don’t like the way Eduard designed some elements in their otherwise excellent Spitfires and I was told that I should start building easy kits from Hobby Boss. If I only could, I’d build Tamiya’s models exclusively for their fitting and general quality.

  8. Dang! I just bought this kit!
    Eduard will likely produce a Brassen engine set for this kit soon, but it’ll cost $60+.

  9. I also think part of the problem is that a majority of kits now are CAD designed, and the build process is secondary to getting everything on sprues and in the box. Looks like TanModel actually thinks about the build when the kit is designed. Another problem with a lot of the companies now is the layout of the instructions. Some of them are just shitty – I have to put the image under my magnifier just to decipher the drawings.

  10. As I’ve said in the past – do these bloody kit manufacturers actually take a production kit from the line and actually build it or get an ‘average’ modeller to build it? This is common production engineering practice. Answer would appear to be a big fat ‘no’.
    I suggest Tamiya engineering is so good because they actually build the kits. You see pictures of Japanese at Tamiya building and painting the kits. Tamiya catalogues showed pictures of the actual completed and painted models. The stuff-ups were found at the factory. Tamiya’s production quality is excellent and is reflected in the quality of the kit and their attention to getting the details correct. Take for example, the 1/32 Mosquito where they added a small slip of paper in the kit as a correction to the cockpit door – all the slip illustrated was a small part to be painted a different colour to what the instructions stated! That’s attention to detail for you.

    • I don’t work in the model industry, but my educated guess would be that all manufacturers, even the lousy ones, perform all kinds of fit checks on first article runs. But you have to understand, once the injection molds are fabricated, it may not be a simple matter of a tweek here or there. Major changes to a mold could cost, I’m guessing, upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. At this point, it’s a business case. Smaller, lower volume manufacturers may not be able to afford revisions for what they consider to be minor problems.

  11. This is why the Asian companies like Kitty Hawk are rushing to get 1/32 kits out the door – there is no competition. Without competition, they can put trash out the door and people will eat them up. What are you going to compare them to? A Combat/Roberts Model vacform?

    What pushed me off the Kingfisher was the rivet detail that is just not on the real thing. Preposterous

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  13. I’m totally with you on this topic Doogs. I think I am a competent modeller and well capable of dealing with the occasional fit challenge, but with a £70-100 pound kit I don’t think it unreasonable to expect the challenges to be few and far between.
    I am currently building Revell’s Ju88A-4 in 1/32 scale and while it’s quite nice kit, if it had cost £75 I would not be a happy bunny, but hey, it isn’t. At £25 (special offer from Hannants!) I’ll accept some shortcomings, it’s still going to look good on completion (I hope!). My point is that some of the Chinese manufacturers (You all know who they are) seem to think they can churn out sub standard engineering and we’ll buy it by the truckload cos they release types that are not well represented by other makers. What really pisses me off is that the bastards get away with it!!
    As your rant started off with Kittyhawk, I have to admit I have never built one of their offerings because whilst the release of new subjects by them has been applauded by many, I haven’t read a single build review yet that doesn’t take them to task for inaccuracy, thoughtless engineering issues and significant build issues.

  14. Thanks for the heads up cuz this one was on my list even though it was 1/32nd scale. I, like you, have always liked this bird and wanted one. Not now I’ll tell ya that.
    It’s a shame when we spend good money on a kit like this expecting to get what we pay for. Too bad. It’s REALLY too bad.

  15. I’m struggling with an HK B-17… same rant – if you want to charge me tamiya money, you had better supply me with a tamiya like kit. HK is far FAR from that. Oh – I’ll finish it but I will never buy another HK kit ever again.

    • Haven’t built the 17, but I did the B-25 and it was an absolute joy in terms of engineering and fit. It was a big bastard…that part was a bit unwieldy…but it went together in a fashion approaching Tamiya-like. And absolutely blows the Kingfailure out of the water.

  16. I’m glad you have given us the benefit of your experiences with this kit. It does seem strange that a company that can make the B-25 so well, can turn around and drop the ball on this one. Guess I’ll just wait until one of the big US mail order companies puts this beast on sale. Then I can feel good about all the $$ I’m saving, as I stick it all together….mostly

    • Just for clarification, HK Models did the 32nd scale B-25, and it is excellent.
      KH Did the Kingfisher.

      2 completely different organizations. Don’t have the HK B-17 yet, so not qualified to comment on that. Just don’t want HK to get more blame than it deserves.

  17. I’m fighting against 1/48 F-35C from KH! A real nightmare… Plastic, instructions, fitting, decals and a long, long etcétera! So expensive! Unfortunatelly I’ve got the F-35B and the French Jaguar A… They probably will be soon forgotten in the stash… But KH alredy got my money!

  18. This is a pet peeve of mine as well. I’ve seen people’s comments online about certain kits I’ve cursed my way through, and literally wondered “are we both talking about the same kit?”

    A badly engineered kit can be fixed up with enough work (and I’ve done it at times), but it bugs me endlessly to have to fix something because the manufacturer made bad design choices in the first place.

  19. There are a lot of thoughts voiced in this article that are way overdue. I’m glad to see it said publicly and to see that I am not alone in appreciating good engineering over rivet counts.

    After reading this and the comments I am saddened to think I spent money on the KH P-39. I haven’t started it yet, so, I’m not pissed off…yet

    • I sold mine (and my F-86D). It’s maddening. I want nothing more than to like Kitty Hawk kits. The Kingfisher is a dream subject of mine. But not like this…

  20. Thanks for posting this – it was funny as well as useful. My husband was really psyched about building that kit, but now his birthday present is going to come from Wingnut Wings. Side note re: model companies actually building their own kits to test them: I don’t know if this is still the case, but a few years ago Eduard didn’t test them in-house, but had the guy at the local fire station build them!

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  22. KittyHawk is the ISiS of the modellers world…. They deserve a global internet ranting campaign against them.. After the first two-three released overpriced disasters, a sane mind running the company would have fired the responsible engineers. But no, they still push the bullshit on us modellers while robbing the crap out of our wallets…. I hope more and more people turn to the net, reconsider a K.H purchase thus avoiding falling in their trap.

    I once wrote KittyHawk with some soft minor complaints and actually got a reply.. “You should not worry dear modeller, in 5-6 years our company KittyHawk will have killed the competetition.. It will start with Japan”… Speechless….

    • ISIS of the modelers world………………now THAT’S funny! HAHAAAA. Woooo Hoooo! I’ll have to remember that one. lol

  23. I find Kitty Hawk’s stubbornness truly puzzling, especially given the involvement of people like Bert Kinzey and Tommy Thomason on some of their projects. Really not sure if they’re listening to comments from the US Market, or if they have selective hearing in just a limited frequency range…

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  25. The first KH kit attempted was the attractive “looking” 1/48 Sepecat Jaguar A (French variant); absolute disaster in kit form…needless to say it was far from cheap… so nothing until earlier this year – with the cheaper 1/48 Super Etendard…well, that’s an equal disaster… so, KH would need to pay for Salvomodels to do any more of their junk…

    To beat the Japanese, KH need to sell their kits first…here’s one that won’t be buying their stuff any time soon…

    To see my reviews of both kits, check out Salvomodels’ facebook page

  26. Hi.

    How do Hobby Boss kits go together? I see they are about to release a Fliescher Storck – after building Tamiya’s 1/48th, which is probably my best ever build, I’m keen to do one in 1/32nd.

    However, if the quality is shit, I won’t buy it.

    Cheers

  27. I honestly think that Kitty Hawk design their kits on some 3D CAD sort of software, then basically just send it off to some sub-contractor with a post-it note attached: “Get this done in 1/32. Budget as low as humanly possible”.
    They don’t seem to believe in test-shots or even test-builds, as they would highlight the vast majority of the problems they seem to produce. It’s all just designed to be moulded as cheaply as possible and bugger the consequences. If that means a part has to be split into 2 and joined in an – I’m being charitable hear – unique method, then so be it. As soon as the box leaves the factory, it’s the customers fault if it fails to glue together without a crowbar and acetylene torch.

    • There’s definitely a, “Now Now Now!” mentality with Chinese manufacturing. Knock it out quick, and if its crap, negotiate down the purchase price. And it’s not just us Americans who’ve picked up on this; the Taiwanese are keenly aware of it, too.

      Tamiya moves at a glacial pace when it comes to kit development, but the quality of the end product is usually worth the wait. Considering how long it takes me to finish a model, combined with the size of my kit stash, i think slower is better. Hasegawa is kind of the same way.

      This is not to denigrate Chinese companies like Kinetic, AMK, Great Wall or even (in limited cases) Trumpeter/HobbyBoss. Those people do have some talented engineers and with one exception they usually get things right more often than they get things wrong. KH seemed to have a hit with the OV-10 Bronco, and the early F-94C was not too bad but from that point on they’ve been lurching from release to release.
      Nobody wants to see a company like KH fail, but by the same token nobody wants to see the same mistakes being made over and over again.

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