Monday, September 27, 2010

Kit Review: Revell 1:96 Apollo-Saturn V

This beast set me back $115 a couple of years ago. It's easier to store than the real thing, but a four-and-a-half-foot plastic model lacks the towering scare-the-neighbors quality of a 365-foot-tall rocket stack.

Even at 1:96 the size, this is a big model, standing around 4 feet. It was originally produced in the 1960's, with re-issues by Revell Germany from time to time. Mine is boxed for 1994, the 25th Anniversary of Apollo 11. Kind of sad if it sat in various warehouses before I bought it in 2007. Even the dust is historic.

The kit's primarily molded in white; some parts that are supposed to have a "natural metal" finish (the Command Module, Service Module, and Lunar Module) are done in a dark silver-gray. There are four styrene sheets that get rolled into cylinders to form sections of each of the three booster stages; these come pre-printed with roll patterns, flags, and "USA" or "United States" insignia. Two packs of "Bare-Metal" foil are included to get the proper natural-metal finish on some of those silver-gray parts.

Assembly is easy, with a small amount of easily-trimmed flash on some pieces. You'll need to do some careful filing and trimming on the join-lines on all of the rocket engines, the Lunar Module, and the Service Module. Because of that silver-gray plastic, the joins are especially visible on the latter. Detail is reasonable for an entry-level off-the-shelf kit.

The three booster stages--the S-IC, S-II, and S-IVB--are each built up by rolling a styrene sheet, pinning the edges between parts that simulate external pipes, then cementing endcaps to each open end. The first stage uses two such sheets and three "caps." The second and third each use one sheet and two caps. Detail and fit are good, but those styrene sheets seem flimsy and thin. If you're not looking to super-detail the kit (just assembling it straight from the box), paint the inside surfaces of the sheets and the end-caps black to keep any back-lighting from showing through. I'd prefer that the exterior markings and insignia had been done as decals so that the whole thing can be painted the same color, but I'm lazy enough these days that I'd rather just put the thing together with the least amount of fuss and financial outlay.

One big howler common to most of the Saturn V models on the market: the black bands of the S-IC roll pattern extend halfway up the length of the stage. This was only seen on the 500F Facilities Integration Vehicle, not any of the actual flight ships (Apollo 4's first stage did have them originally, but most of the black was painted over).

The Command Module is too detailed if you're building the kit in "launch" configuration; the actual CM has a protective cover over it which is jettisoned a few minutes after the rocket has left the pad. Revell's CM doesn't have the cover. Fortunately, The Google can find aftermarket detail sets that will help make the beast more accurate. There's a detailed description of what's in the resin-and-etched-brass detail kit at Ninfinger Productions.

Another issue is that the Command and Service Modules are Block I items. Think of them as working prototypes not intended for manned operation. The correct Block II items are significantly different.

If you're really serious about detailing, you could end up replacing most of the Revell kit with aftermarket pieces. It'd make more sense to just buy the detailing kits and scratchbuild the rest. Either way, a visit to Rick Sternbach's Saturn V Clinic will give you more than enough to do.

If you want one that flies, you could scratchbuild a 25-foot beast like the Arizona Rocketry Team's 1/16 rocket (shots of the Command Module being built here) or shell out $450 for an EMMR 1/48 scale flying rocket kit that'll take up less room than theirs but still be twice as large as Revell's. And it'll fly. Did I mention that it flies?

Overall, the Revell model isn't a bad kit. It'll take up lots of room on your workbench, require plenty of rubber bands, clothespins, cement, paint, filing, filling, and all the other tools and skills you need for a model--just more of it.

Just don't detail it the same way whomever built the kit on display at Pensacola's National Museum of Naval Aviation; theirs is the same 1/96 kit with a sloppy white paint job (done with a house brush?) and a bright red escape tower (also sloppily painted). It really looks bad, especially given their modest space display that includes the Command Module from Skylab 2 and a moon buggy.

Pro: Impressively big; easily assembled; pre-printed styrene sheets simulate the original's black & white roll patterns; better detail than the smaller 1:144-scale model.

Con: Expensive; the solid pieces and the styrene sheets aren't the same shade of white; poor mating between some significant parts, leading to lots of time prettying it up; big footprint (you're gonna need a bigger desk); first-stage roll pattern matches the 500F; poor detailing or incorrect detailing on significant parts of the stack; no decals for camera targets, fin or stage markings.

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