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 Model and photos by Wilfried Eck

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Grumman AF-2W Guardian, Special Hobby 1/48

Anti Submarine Squadron 21, on board of CVE-115 Bairoko, 02-04/1953


The Original:

The unseparable pair.

Conceived in 1944 as a replacement for the TBF Avenger Grumman's new two seat XTB3F torpedo bomber with mixed propulsion (Pratt&Whitney R-2800-34W radial in front, Westinghouse J-30-WE-20 jet engine in the rear)  offered a speed advantage of 100 knots and a considerably higher weapons load, but difficulties with the jet engine and its air intake led to a protracted development. On Jan. 29th 1947, the war was over by now,  the BuAer of the US Navy having discarded the category TB meanwhile,  Grumman was offered a new contract for an aircraft fitting into the new category "Attack". Both parties agreed that  the mission search and destroy hostile U-boats could not be fulfilled efficiently by a single aircraft.

Deleting the jet engine offered ample space for equipment and associated crew.  One version of the new AF-2 named Guardian would be the search aircraft (AP-20 radar and associated electronics, no weapons), the other one carrying the weapons, one torpedo in the internal weapons bay as well as water bombs and rockets under the wings, but also  with auxiliary electronics for fine tuning the course (and a periscope behind the weapons bay). In June 1950 evaluation units received the new AF-2W search/warning aircraft (1 pilot, 1 ECM, 2 alternate radar operators) and AF-2S strike (1 pilot, 1 ECM, 1 radar operator/bombardier). In September 1950 regular US Navy squadrons began to utilize their new mounts. Quite astonishingly embarked on the small escort carriers of the Commencement Bay class (CVE-105 ff.). With a wing span of 60 feet the Guardian was the largest carrier capable aircraft on the smallest carrier. With an associated accident rate. 1952 de mothballed fleet carriers (USS Leyte and others) took over the hunt of Russian submarines.  In 1955 the Guardians were replaced by Grumman A2F Trackers, the remaining aircraft soldering on in the Naval Reserves  until 1957. Afterwards two aircraft were used by the Californian Aero Union as fire bombers (the sole surviving Guardian in the Pensacola museum is one of them).

For a day or night mission one might assume the AF-2W search aircraft flying at a high altitude to cover a vast portion of the search sector. But, in contrary, the actual height was no more than 1000 to 1500 feet, for a periscope or snorkel presented a rather small radar reflecting area.  In the search mode one of the two radar operators watched his screen while his crew mate rested on a separate seat. In the after compartment the ECM operator sought to lock onto a sub radio message through which a relative bearing to the target could be found. If a firm contact was established the AF-2S flying in parallel got course information and now it was its part to take over.

How many Russian subs were actually detected in the vicinity of Korea and other locations all over the world is open to question, but actual destruction would have raised a diplomatic storm.


 Modell AF-2W



According to the wingspan of the actual aircraft one gets a model of considerable size. On a first look it could be taken as 1:32. A closer look reveals Special Hobby's love for detail. What I liked most is the representation of the fabric covering. No hanging waves, no prominent ridges à la Cessna. The slits in the outer wings aren't as may be expected the usual depressions, no, there is a cutout in the wing to be filled with an inner and an outer part to create a very convincing representation with thin edges. The vertical "finettes" on the horizontal tail were a delight to fix. Hardly was there any putty necessary. To make it short there are many thoughtfully made parts too, partly resin, partly photo etched (i.e. separate cylinders for the engine, scissors for the main u/c, and so on).  Though locating pins are missing as is usual with so called short run kits fit of parts is excellent. Building this kit was a delight. Special praise goes to the construction leaflet with detailed painting instructions in color for each step.

But as usual there are some points not so well. The cockpit is rather sparse and most decals are incorrect (see remarks below). One point escaped my attention when building this model. The main wheels show eight spokes whereas the real ones had only six. Correction was easy, see AF-2S page, also for additional detailing of this model.

In case you intend to build this interesting "off beat" aircraft type/s there is something that separates airbrush artists from real modelers: AF-2W and AF-2S were based on aircraft carriers. As can be seen in every picture or movie there are two decidedly different situations on an aircraft carrier:  Either aircraft are preparing for launch or having landed seconds ago, or parked aircraft. In the first case wings are spread with a pilot in the cockpit. Parked aircraft are empty and wings are folded. Folded wings are mandatory to get as many aircraft as possible onto the confined space of a carrier deck. As the Guardian kit doesn't have a pilot figure you either need one or you have to fold the wings. Sorry, an empty plane with wings spread is very, very unrealistic.  But don't panic, making folded wings is easier as you might think. - Just try!

As scale parts of the hinge are fragile and tend to break another solution is needed: A steel or (preferably) brass wire is inserted instead of a hydraulic actuation arm or if such a part doesn’t exist the wire is inserted in a place not visible from the outside. How it is done in principle see page "folded wings".

In case of the Guardian it was made as follows: 

At left: Outer wings separated from the inner ones. Also the small flap in the lower wing that went down to make room for the folded outer wing. The flap is cemented in afterwards.

Shown reas at the cuts were sanded to wedge form to create scale thickness and to accept appropriate bulkheads (Strength of the original skin being thin sheet metal).



As the Guardian wings rotated back there was no hydraulic arm to fix the outer wing onto it. Instead the steel wire (was a mistake as it was too rigid, brass wire would have been better) to fix the outer wing onto would run on the insides being concealed by the wing skin and bulkheads.

To fix the wire “bungalow houses” were inserted in the appropriate places. Is to say: Plastic strips in height of the wire are cemented alongside and closed on top with another strip (may be thinner to get a close fit for the upper and lower wing part). The position of the wire depends on the situation in the actual aircraft - invariably in the top half of the wings, in case of the Guardian at the edge where the hinge of the original was. As the wire had to pass the wheel well in the outer wing the wire had to be bent accordingly.

Next came narrow longitutinal strips as rests for the bulkheads to be fitted in later.

To get the correct shape of the bulkhead a simple method was used: A small sheet of paper was pressed against the provisionally mated wing parts to get the outer shape, then cut out and the outline drawed on thin plastic. As the cross section of the wings in this area is sloping inwards, the bulkheads had to be of slightly smaller size and therefore were sanded accordingly, sloping edges taken into account.

Then the wire was inserted in the stub wing and the outer wing was shoved onto it to check correct alignment. Bend wire if necessary.

In the next step the bulkheads were glued in the lower wing parts, upper wing parts following. Finally the bulkheads were detailed with scratch made parts of very thin plastic and thin brass wire.



Inner wings are now fastened to the fuselage, bulkheads detailed, outer wing to be placed on the wire (awkward upward angle due to the necessity of passing the wheel well).

Also visible are the exaggerated rings around the landing gear (in the original legs strips of thin sheet metal).





 "Glossy Sea Blue" (FS 15042) on airframe, wheel wells, undercarriage and wheel hubs. Naturally except the radar radome which had a light wood colour (differing in the original). Antiglare black was used in front of the windscreen, extending down halfway of the fuselage. Concerning the outsides, please note: "Sea Blue" is not dark blue, as it was composed of five components including 5% green. "Black-Blue" comes closer. As the original color makes the model appear too dark (it's fine for a 1:1 model in bright sunshine) I mixed Revell Midnight Blue 54 and 7 Black with a tiny amount of Green, radome tan and white, also Revell.




Cockpit colour varied. Early Guardings still had an "Interior Green" bottom, extending to the lower edge of the instrument panel (rest black), later on black all over. I chose the former one though not absolutely sure how it looked in the original VS-21 plane (internet photos show wrecks, Grumman photos of early aircraft show only black and white).


One point not so well done by S.H. are the panels on the side consoles, showing small holes instead of protuding knobs. A throttle is missing too (on the other side a ventilating tube on the instrument panel hood is furnished). To make a panel with knobs standing out I used sheet aluminum from a food tray, with a needle I made depressions in the appropriate places on the back side. Then the front side was painted "Dark Gull Gray" (FS 36231). After this had dried thoroughly thinned black paint was applied. This made the knobs to appear again, some slight rubbing made them visible even more. From the usual viewing distance it looks quite right (in the photo larger than the original).


Contrary to the construction leaflet the shoulder straps did not go over the back rest of the seat (it would chafe). As was usual Grumman practice the straps went over a horizontal bar behind and slightly above the seat (kit PE parts modified by adding the loose part for adjusting). A seat cushion was added after this photo was made.



The resin-motor is another highlight of this kit. Finely engraved separate cylinders, five part crankcase with separate ignition ring; the pushrods have to be added from wire or plastic, exact measurement is given. To get the lower ends of the ignition cables (thin copper wire) fixed I had to make a new ignition ring.


Contrary to the construction leaflet cylinder color is not "Dark Iron" as Light Gray as was usual on all P&W motors. Ignition ring not black but either chrome silver or brass (color differing sometimes). The front of crankcase was often painted in the outside colour (Sea Blue paint after photo wss made).




Very thin with much adhesive power, but nevertheless the weak point of this kit. Discernible on the first sight are the to thin red bars in the national insignia. Height should be 1/3 of the white bar. On the wings the numbers inside of the squadron letters should be 2/3 in height not of the same. On the underside of the right wing "NAVY" is loo large, the maintenance stencils being a trifle on the large side too, but acceptable.

The red bar could be covered with a strip cut from an old decal of appropriate colour. The rest came from spare Microscale decals.



No bleached paint, no exhaust stains, no chipping paint. All this never seen on an actual Guardian. As missions lasted only weeks there wasn't enough time for bleaching and Korea waters aren't famous for their tropical climate. As the exhaust tubes extended well outside the fuselage, openings outward, exhaust gases were blown clear. Paint chipping on USN aircraft? - Never! Corrosion protection is mandatory on carrier aircraft.



As mentioned above parked carrier aircraft need folded wings. And a deck. Though US carriers had wooden decks at this time they never showed bare wood. Decks were always painted in a so called  "deck stain" (early WW II blue-gray, later blue-black,  see page Ship Camouflage). Painting was for two simple reasons: A tan deck against a dark blue or blue-gray ocean gives a very noticeable contrast (concealment needed); secondly water overspill would soak wooden planks making them heavier and so influence the balance of the ship. - Well, US Navy is not US Air Force.