Academy - M163 Vulcan Air Defense System
Currently, United States Army air defense relies on ground launched missiles ranging from hand-held to vehicle mounted systems, composed of mainly air defense systems such as the PATRIOT Missile System, Terminal High Altitude Air Defense, and the Avenger Air Defense system which fires the FIM-92 Stinger missile. The different systems fielded since WW II comprised a combination of gun systems, such as the the now-retired M42 Duster and M163 Vulcan, and missile systems such as the MIM46 Mauler and M727 HAWK, up to today's systems such as the M1097 Avenger and MIM104 Patriot.
Academy's newly retooled M163 VADS (Vulcan Air Defense System) is one of two current releases of this system, the other being released by Italeri. The Academy kit uses sprues from Academy's M113, along with sprues for M163-specific equipment, mainly the gun tub and weapon system.
The eight page instruction sheet begins with a boxtop photo, the usual safety warnings, and paint index - see the First Look Review.
NOTE: You will see three photos of the painted kit that appear to be out of sequence, because they are interspersed with photos of the unpainted kit. I am not yet confident enough to paint the roadwheels or tracks after completing all construction, so I took those photos after all painting was done. The side view of the painted range-only radar assembly attached to the gun turret assembly was because I simply forgot to take a picture of it before I painted it.
Step 1 is building up the fuel and water cans; deciding which option for the rear fenders will be used and attaching them, as well as attaching the rear lights and grab handles. The grab handles seem overly thick, but without reliable references other than internet photos, I attached the kit ones. I left the fuel and water cans off until the overall painting was finished. I also plated over the three (motorization?) holes in the hull bottom with scrap styrene.
Waiting for the putty to dry on the three holes ... note that on the back of the suspension arms, there are three knockout holes that must be filled and sanded. You can just see one of the holes on the back of the far side's arms.
Step two is attaching the road wheel axles and outer rim (A11 and A12) of the final drive. There are no positive attachment points for those rims, so you have to use your Mark I eyeball to line them up. There is no play in the axles, so if you want to depict the vehicle on rough terrain, you'll have to trim off the stops and glue them as you wish. Note the pre-drilled holes along the hull side for attaching the sand skirts.
Step 2 continues with building up the rear hull plate and door, mainly tow points and door handle.
Step 3 is building up and attaching the sprockets, idlers, and road wheels. I am not yet confident enough to paint them on the vehicle, so I left them off until after all painting was finished.
Step 4 is choosing which track type you'll use - rubber band or individual track link. For the purpose of this build, I used rubber band on right hand side, and individual tracks on the left. The individual tracks went together without any problem, using Tamiya Thin Cement, although I had to do some emergency gluing while placing them on the vehicle so they would dry with the appropriate sag; having learned by past mistakes, I left all the wheels unglued to facilitate track placement. The rubber band tracks use the old school method of flattening the rubber pins with a heated flat blade.
Step 5 is building up the front right hull and engine deck, attaching headlights, horn, and engine access hatch. Note the knockout holes on the inside of the hatch, which are only a problem if you're showing it open; not likely, since there is no engine or interior detail provided. Be careful here and don't get glue on the hinged part, so it can open/close, should you choose to use aftermarket engine/interior. I used the optional part b2 (note small "b") instead of part U31, and used the optional PE screens. They went on without any problems. There was one part, D28 grab handle,ttaches on the other side of the hatch, which I found out later in the build prevents part B29, swim vane, from fully closing, so I snipped D28 off.
Step 6 is two sub-steps, attaching the three two-barrel sub-assemblies to each other, adding the muzzle assembly at the end of the barrels, and attaching the breech mechanism at the other end, then attaching the base plate and rubber 20mm ammunition belt and expended rounds belt. The directions show a cross-view of what it should look like, pay attention to the orientation of parts J22, J26, and J32 on parts K21/K22.
Step 7 is building up the trunnions for the gun mount and attaching the optical sights and elevation mechanism; note that the gun cannot actually move up and down, and you must choose one of two options: K40 if you want the gun elevated, and K41 if you want it horizontal. Since the M163 is designed to kill aerial targets, I chose K40, which is the part on the left side of the above photo that looks like a shock absorber.
In Step 8, you insert the gun mount in to the gun tub, along with the gunner's seat and the back part of the gun tub. It's a tight fit in there, so paint the gunner's seat first, and then glue it in the tub before the gun assembly. Attach top edges to the gun tub, radio antenna, intercom switch box, and what I think has something to do with the optical sights.
Step 9 is three sub-steps: attach the brackets for the AN/VPS-2 range-only radar on the gun tub's right side; the top rear of the gun tub, along with the VHF radio and antenna, along with a left-hand side storage bin; finally, attach the AN/VPS-2 and it's mounting hardware to the brackets.
Step 10 is choosing which of the three vehicles is being built and either removing or adding equipment to the hull roof, along with a rear hatch cover.
Step 11 is attaching the various pioneer tools, commander's hatch, left hand side light assembly and brush guard, as well as the front hull engine access hatch plate.
Upper engine deck grills and engine hatch assembly
Sand skirts, swim vane, on-board pioneer tools, gun turret attached
Step 12 brings it all together - first, attach the upper engine deck grills and engine hatch assembly - note the handle, D28, which has to be removed so the swim vane will fit properly. Also attached in this step are the sand skirts (Parts B2 and B30), and if desired, the flotation skirts (parts K1 and K2), and the gun turret assembly.
Another view of the swim vane and vehicle decals
Fuel and water cans attached, along with tow cable
Back view of the gun turret and radar assembly
Left side view of the gun turret
The last thing the enemy helicopters would have seen ...
Pros: Relatively quick and easy build, good fit except for a couple of small parts (noted above).
Cons: Instruction sheet's drawings are actually blurry in a couple of steps, like a photocopy of a photocopy. Some illustrations are so crowded, it's difficult to immediately determine where a part goes, so take your time and dry fit.
The kit uses sprues from Academy's M113 kit, and the detail on some parts is soft; some parts, like light guards and grab handles, seem overly thick.
No interior and three motorization holes in the hull bottom that should be filled, unless an aftermarket interior and floor is installed.
Individual track links have 5 connection points, so at 60 links per side, that's 600 snips and sanding in order to use them, as well as a knockout hole on each link, so that's 120 holes to be filled, sanded, and painted.
Gluing the three two-barrel gun parts together was fiddly, could have used an extra hand, but they finally went together.
Step 7 cautions against gluing the gun assembly and optical sight assembly to the trunnions, but once you have selected either K40 or K41 for the gun elevation and glued them in place, you may as well glue those other parts for stability during handling, since the gun assembly will no longer raise or lower now.
Step 9, building and attaching the radar assembly, was the worst part, as there are no positive connection pins/holes, just very slight depressions on the gun tub, or very shallow cut-outs on the brackets, so it required careful dry-fitting and patiently holding the part in place while the glue dried.
Recommended for Beginner to Advanced builders.
Thanks goes out to Model Rectifier Corporation for this review kit.
Reviewed by Joseph "Mac" McDaniel
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