Adolescence is hard. It can be confusing to determine which way to go, what choices to make, and to foresee all the consequences of your actions. Sometimes, things are tried that work, and sometimes, well… I’m sure we can think of some things we’d never do again. This lack of direction, this vulnerability to bad decisions as a result of inexperience; this is what can lead to potentially dangerous decisions being made. While it’s obvious that this is, and always has been, true for people, it also held true for aviation and aircraft design.
World War I showed the power of aviation, and drove its development forwards. From its infancy as little more than fragile kites performing spotting work, aircraft grew into roles never before envisioned. From heavy bombers and high performance fighters and interceptors to recon and naval spotting, aircraft proved that they not only were here to stay, but also that they’d come of age. However, just like any teenager, aviation in the post-WWI period was a bit lost for direction and definitely more than a little awkward.
By the late 1920’s, though, some things had become largely clear. One was that the monoplane configuration held great promise, and was likely to become the standard arrangement for most aircraft. Another was that wood and fabric would likely be completely replaced by light metals for both frames and skins of aircraft. While these technical points were perhaps obvious on a global scale, the uses and types of airplanes for military applications were not clear to the planners of many nations. To some, the tactical aircraft was the be-all and end-all, yet the bomber proponents had faith that the aerial bombardment craft would truly be the deciding factor in future wars.
With such a wide variety of viewpoints, but only 4 real years of air war to draw upon for lessons, it’s no surprise that so many military planners supported aeronautical dead ends. One particularly painful example of this was the French government, the procurement decisions of which seem, in hindsight, to be painfully inadequate and horribly uninformed.
All Singing, All Dancing, All Alien:
Today, the concept of the “omni-role” fighter is commonplace. New fighters like the Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen are perfect examples of machines that can do pretty much any job using just one airframe. (Note that the F-35 was not in that list. JSF-fail is a separate rant.) This, however, isn’t a new concept. While the Rafale might be the latest French aircraft to fill this role, the requirement existed as far back as 1928! That was when the French decided that they wanted a plane that could do it all; bomber, recon and bomber escort/heavy fighter.
While it sounds easy enough today, back then, that wasn’t the case. There were no electronics, so cameras and people were needed for the recon role, and to be bomber required range, and thus size. Aero engine power was low, so it needed at least two engines, and then it was so big it would need defence, too. The outcome of this requirement, after some intermediate false starts, was the Amiot 143. This was a large, multi-place two-engined abomination that eschewed all good sense and any knowledge of streamlining. This cumbersome, ugly and slow craft didn’t even include features like retractable landing gear, and looked more like some of the hideous “colonial aircraft” put out by Britain. Needless to say, it was NOT a successful design, being woefully outdated and outclassed by the time the Nazis arrived in French airspace. This is about the only “heavy fighter” I can think of that would make a Bf-110 look like a nimble knife-fighter.
“So, if this thing is so obscure and sucked so hard, where am I going to find a kit of it?” That’s what I thought when I first learned about this plane more than 20 years ago. Even then, my need, my LUST for the bizarre and best-left-forgotten was strong. However, it took me a long time to find out that firstly, there was a kit of it, and then secondly, to locate a copy. Of course, it’s a French plane, so the good folks at Heller did their patriotic duty and kitted it. That was half the problem solved. The thing is, the plane is so ugly and unknown over here that finding a kit locally was a much longer-term project.
Like all good things, though, it came to those (i.e. me) who waited, and I now have a copy of this most ugly of ducklings in my stash! (I also have some of its contemporaries, to make a collection of horrible French airplanes one day.) So, let’s see what the finest French kit makers could do with the finest of French aircraft, shall we?
This box is typical Heller, being a top-opening affair of considerable length, but not much width or depth. There’s the black border as seen on all Heller boxes of this vintage (mid ‘70s, I believe) with the name of the plane on it, and a large unspoiled piece of artwork dominating the box.
Well, it’s almost unspoiled. It would be a nice view of a cloud-covered French countryside if not for this chocolate-brown abomination taking up most of the space! That’s right, smack dab in the middle of this placid scene someone has decided to doodle what must be one of the most ungainly craft to struggle feebly aloft in that era in which aerodynamics was apparently typified by a shrug and a twisting of a finely-waxed moustache. Looking like a cross between a toad, a melted chocolate Easter Bunny laid on its back in some obscene ritual sacrifice scene and a luckless albatross after a night of far-too-heavy drinking, the Amiot 143 presents itself in all its glory. It’s as if someone crossed an ox cart with a windmill, save that even Don Quixote himself would give up on this monstrosity!
There’s really not a lot you can do with an Amiot 143 to make it look good, or even less comically sucky, other than to just drawing it flying sedately along. I mean, that’s really all it was good at. (Check off that “recon” requirement as met, boys!) So, the good folks at Heller did just that. The illustration itself is good, if by no means dynamic, and it is an honest rendition of the rather unrefined aircraft kitted within the box. You can quickly see that the poor beast more resembles the passenger car of a blimp than it does any kind of realistic fighting aircraft, and the wings are just ponderously huge. Add that draggy undercarriage into the mix and you’ve got a good aerial gunnery target!
At least the plane’s redeeming features of enclosed cockpit and powered turrets (Yes, British colonial bombers, I’m looking at you!) are also well represented. Sadly, so is the aircraft’s quilt-like skin, held in place with an almost uncountable number of heavy, draggy rivets. Of course, in a kit of this age, when they show the rivets on the BOX, you know you’re going to be in for a treat when you pop the top! On that note, the top of the box, like all Heller kits, is very weak and thin, being more akin to heavy card stock than cardboard. The bottom, though, is heavy gauge corrugated cardboard, and I suggest keeping the bottom part when done for storing parts of annoying side-opening kits while working on them. Heller box bottoms are awesome parts trays!
The side of the box is super-boring, almost. You get a side view of all the different paint schemes offered… which is precisely ONE. It’s a brown plane, that’s it. Yes, it looks like a turd. Stop laughing, it’s unbecoming. Come now, let’s be mature about this, shall we? Why, you ask? Well, if you look to the right of the paint scheme pic, you’ll find something else amazing: the cross-sell for another kit, in this case, the Potez 540. Why is this amazing? Well, it’s about the only airplane I can think of that actually makes the ungainly Amiot look good! That alone is worth the price of admission. Oh, and don’t you worry, I also have the kit of that, so we can have a good laugh together again later, too!
The Kit: One Warty Toad
Lifting the lid one is immediately greeted by some good, old-school Heller love. That means, for the uninitiated, an MPC-like bag of sprues and loose parts, all tossed together. They are, as expected, all brown, meaning that this kit did employ full-colour moulding. HAH! Take THAT Bandai. Think you’re so smart?? And what about you, Tamiya? Eh? Not so advanced now are you? That’s right, bow to Heller’s far-advanced modelling technology! Now, in all seriousness, there’s a lot of brown in this box, but there’s also an instruction sheet, and a clear sprue.
Spreading it all out, you can see the parts to this kit are not many, although many are huge! This is NOT a small aircraft, and the fuselage halves come as full pieces. The wings also come as halves, and are also quite large, both in span and chord. There are a few detail pieces, include some simple bombs and simple engines for the nacelles, and about half the single brown sprue is dedicated to the landing gear! The propellers look perilously thin and tiny. They are also very brittle, so great care will be needed to cut them from the rack. If you compare them to the broad blades of other aircraft (say, a Bf-109) the props look even more ridiculous.
The single clear rack contains the copious amount of glazing on the fuselage sides, as well as the turrets and flight deck “canopy”. This is unfortunately moulded in halves, meaning a lot of delicate gluing, sanding and painting is required on this little beast. The internal detail is woefully lacking. Actually, that’s too kind. There’s just nothing in there. For a plane sometimes referred to as the “flying aquarium”, this is a bit unfortunate. (Yes, the idea of making decals of a fish scene for the windows has already crossed my mind…) the flight deck fares no better, being devoid of such basics as a floor, seats and controls.
The clear parts are surprisingly clear, albeit thick and rather prone to distortion. If you wanted to build an interior, I guess you could scratch one out of styrene, but I’d consider if it’s worth it. Think about it before you get bitten by the “superdetailing flu”, though. Is it really worth it?
As expected, the aircraft is completely covered by rivets. Like ants on a spilled box of cinnamon buns, rivets cover almost every surface of this aircraft. Building this is going to be hard, because some of these are going to get sanded away, leaving the rest behind. So then the question becomes one of either sanding as lightly a possible, or of just getting rid of them all together. Complicating this is the fact that I can almost guarantee that this kit SUCKS for fit tolerances. Thus, you can bet you’ll need putty on this one, and that means that the panel lines have to be re-etched and the rivets ALL sanded off. At least, that’s what it means to me!
As for other details, such as the defensive guns and bombs, these are of only the most rudimentary kind. The guns are almost just 2-D shadows of guns, and the bombs look more like a suppository than anything else. There’s no engine detail to speak of, and the wheels are just disks with a slight hub in them.
A quick test fit shows my initial impression to be true: the fit is horrible. There are a lot of raised edges at the interfaces of the two fuselage halves, never mind the fact that the fuselage is warped and will need significant work. As expected, there are also numerous sink marks all around the aircraft. I don’t think saving the rivets is going to work out, but thanks for trying, Heller… the few panel lines that are there are raised, as if you need to be told.
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions for this model are entirely in French, and come on one triple-folded piece of paper. This is a fairly large instruction sheet, but the problem is that there are no steps to the instructions! Rather, like old Airfix kits, the instructions show two exploded views of the parts and how they go together. This kind of instruction sheet is, to my, almost totally useless. The drawings aren’t great, and the parts aren’t well represented. The whole thing smacks of amateurism, but that’s how it was “back in the day”, and clearly Heller liked it that way.
Unfortunately, it’s not clear from the pictorial instructions alone in what order the building steps are to be undertaken; at least not at first. However, closer inspection reveals that the numbers beside the parts are, in fact, in order of their use in the build! Thus, while they appear rather amateurish and not supremely accurate, the instructions do, in fact, their best to convey some assistance to the builder. For additional help, you can refer to the instructions in French at the left of the page.
The decals aren’t anything to write home about; there’s only a single marking option as stated on the box. Now, since this kit was procured second hand, and is pretty old, the decals aren’t in the best of shape. The clear parts of the film have yellowed, and these will have to be trimmed as closely as possible. Also, it wouldn’t surprise me to find they want to break up. I will likely hit them with some Testors Decal Bonder spray, which, at least for MPC Decals, is literally a new lease on life! That having been said, though, the decals ARE quite good. They are perfectly in register, and while the blue looks a bit pale, at least it’s not RAF-dark!
This kit can be summed up in one word. “WHY?” It’s a question, a statement and a cry for deliverance, all in one. Why was this plane ever designed and put into service? Why did someone think it was a good idea to kit it? Why do I do this kind of thing to myself? I mean, I excitedly chose this kit, heck I QUESTED for this kit. I knew it would suck, and it does. I knew it would be primitive and it is. It’s all the worst things about the French aviation and modelling industries, right? Then… Why? Why do I LOVE IT so much!
I think the answer is obvious. It’s so strange, so bad, so weird, that you can’t not love it. It’s like a plush centipede, or a sushi roll with ice cream on it, or any episode of the Jerry Springer show: it’s a train wreck and it can’t help but drawn you in. There’s an innate loveability to just being so out there that it’s clear you’re just being yourself. Maybe that’s something that the Amiot has in common with a lot of us?
As a kit, though, I can’t recommend this for beginners. It’s going to frustrate those without a lot of patience and/or experience, and it’s going to take a tonne of work to make this beast even half-presentable. It is, though, perfect as a trainer for total novices. If you want to teach basics like gluing and sanding, and you don’t want to waste a good Frog or Farpro kit, then this one will fit the bill. Most people won’t feel badly about ruining it for that purpose, I suppose. I, personally, am obviously not going to do that, mind you.
For anyone who is a fan of that awkward period of aviation’s evolution between the wars, though, this kit is a good one to have. It makes an excellent comparison with its contemporaries and serves to show just how fast things change in the crucible of global conflict! Also, it’s one of those great kit that’s going to make people stop and look and say “What the what is THAT??”, and for that alone it’s worth having!