Thursday, February 28, 2019

P-400 Airacobra

Bell P-400 Airacobra, BW156/12, 35th FG, New Guinea, 1942

This is another "shelf of doom" build. When I started this kit, my choices for a P-39 variant were the old Heller P-39Q or the Revell P-39D, neither of which are as accurate as I'd prefer today. I got as far as the paint scheme and had Microscale's sheet #72-134 with a plan to "build them all".

The Subject

The P-400 was the USAAF designation for RAF Airacobra I aircraft taken from the production line and quickly sent overseas when war broke out. Originally destined for the UK the RAF eventually got their aircraft, however by that time they'd decided the underpowered (for the European theatre) Airacobra could be redirected to the USSR, who loved the type's central large cannon.

Fancy Nancy was a P-400 quickly repainted with USAAF national markings and sent to New Guinea in early 1942. The external differences between a P-400 and P-39D were a 20mm cannon + 2x .303 inch guns in the nose versus 37mm cannon + 2x .50 inch guns in the nose, respectively. Okay, to be completely accurate, the .303 inch guns in the wings were .30 inch in the P-39D. The P-400 also had a 12 exhausts per side, not the 6 exhausts on the P-39D.

The Model

This is the very old Revell P-39D kit from 19-forgotten. The instructions date the kit from 1965. "When I started" is not something I remember, but in the 90's during my "understand the correct colors" phase I acquired some (poor at the time) knowledge of US substitute paint. But first about the "conversion."

Converting (backdating actually) any P-39D kit to a P-400 isn't exactly straightforward:
  • Replace 6 exhausts with 12 exhausts - source from Quickboost 72-145
  • Replace the 37mm cannon with thinner rod to represent the longer 20mm cannon barrel. I wrapped it in Tamiya tape to represent the recoil spring.
  • Drill out 2x holes and insert barrels to represent the .30 inch guns in the wings

I only did the 20mm cannon barrel simply because (at the time) the other 2 mods were just beyond my abilities or not available. Could I have done them today? Certainly the wing guns but the exhausts would have required surgery and I just didn't want to put that much work into an old Revell P-39D when a P-400 kit exists today.

The colors are my understanding, at the time, of paints used by US makers of RAF aircraft. I knew the P-400 was in the RAF scheme of Dark Green and Dark Earth over Sky (known to me today as the Temperate Land Scheme) and the colors were "off" slightly. I had read the Dark Green was bluer, more like the US Medium Green and the Dark Earth was lighter, more like Sand. So I chose a darker shade of green (not sure which) and a lighter shade of desert yellow from somewhere, and then chose (I believe) RAAF Sky Blue because for some reason I was convinced the underside was a blue color.

Yeah, I was way off! I've learned that in reality paints used for contractual requirements for MAP production (aircraft paid by UK gold) were very close to the MAP standards because the contract required it. I've found the paint charts for DuPont and supposedly the paints used were nearly identical to RAF MAP standards. There is a difference, but it's almost negligible and very hard to see. Today I'd use some paints matched exactly to MAP standards for Dark Earth and Sky, however I'd definitely use a slightly bluer Dark Green. For my next attempt at a P-400/Airacobra I.


While this doesn't look "bad" it's not going to be on my shelves forever. I have the RS Models P-400/Airacobra I kit and while it's not perfect it is much better than this one as a starting point.

Thanks for looking...


  1. 'Fancy Nancy' managed to use the red center dot on her roundel before the May's 1942 change?

    1. Based on the history of the 35th FG, likely not. In May '42 the FG was receiving the P-400 in Australia. It did not deploy to New Guinea until July '42, by which time all the aircraft should have had their markings corrected.

      I simply used the decals I had for this subject, because they were colorful. Given the Revell P-39D isn't accurate for a P-400 anyway, I'm ok having the markings just a bit off as well.