Atlas MB-326K Impala Mk. II"
Esci 1/48 scale
by Sebastian Lim
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The South Africa Air Force (SAAF) was the largest operator of the MB-326 Impala Mk.II, and named it after the most common antelope found in South Africa. Nearly 100 Impala Mk. IIs were manufactured under licence by Atlas Aircraft Corporation of South Africa. Powered by a Rolls Royce Viper 540 engine, and spotting larger set of air intakes, the Mk.II were equipped with a pair of DEFA 30mm guns, along with various dumb bombs and Matra rocket pods. During the Border War, the Impala played a major role in air-to-ground operations. Flying a mere 50ft over flat and featureless terrain, the SAAF pilots became the pioneer of modern ultra low-level munitions delivery tactics. It was alleged that Impala pilots could fly 'free & easy' in harsh and flat terrain, despite equipped with a navigation system...a system they hardly use!
However, a couple of these were lost to ground fire due to their ultra low-flying tactics. In 1992, several Impala squadrons were disbanded and its ground attack roles were taken over by Cheetah Es. Many were either scrapped, served as gate guardians, or sold to overseas buyers. The last 2 units to operate them were 8 Sqn. at Bloemspruit and 85 Combat Flying School at Hoedspruit. During late 2003, the SAAF acquired the BAe Hawk Mk.120, replacing the very last Mk.I trainers.
About the kit
When I first picked up the ESCI 1/48 MB-326K more than 15 years ago, I was surprised to see those great looking recessed details and a nice decal sheet. Back then, such quality were almost unheard of. Even Hasegawa pales in comparison, where most of their kits then were those of raised panel lines and thick decals (still is!). Being a newbie, my butter fingers got the better of me, making a mess out of the kit. Colours were hand painted as I couldn't afford to buy a cheap airbrush. It sure looked crappy to me and I wasn't happy at all....until last year, I came across the same kit while on a business trip to Athens, Greece. Picked up without any hesitation and told myself I will give my best shot this time round. Ok, enough ranting, here goes :
Basically, the kit was built OOB since no aftermarket stuff are available. The only scratch building done were the Martin Baker Mk.IV seat, rearview mirrors, Matra F2 68mm rocket pods. Do not use the kit-provided Matra rocket pods & wing gun pods. These were never used by the SAAF.
Some issues to note
Add noseweight! This kit is a tail-seater.
Wing root requires some putty since they don't 'align' with the fuselage.
Decals - though they looked crisp, it shatters when placed in water!
Kit colour instruction - inaccurate. Check your references.
Large a/c number below wings to be omitted for late Mk.IIs. Some early Mk. IIs that I came across excludes that as well.
The model here depicts the early Dark Earth, Dark Green & Light Grey (later Blue Grey) underside, which took part in the Border War operations. Gunze H309 Dark Green FS34079 , H310 Brown FS30219 (mix to get correct tone) and H308 Gray FS36375 for bottom fuselage. A coat of Future was required to "treat" the matt-looking ESCI decals. Weathering were done using pastel chalk-dishwashing liquid. Since the Impalas were low-flying over dusty flatlands, I replicated the dusty look with pastel chalk.
A mixed loadout of 2x Matra F2 68mm rocket pods, 2x Mk.81 250lb bombs and 2x drop tanks were chosen, along with the internal DEFA 30mm gun packs attached to both sides of the front fuselage.
I highly recommend those who are into obscure subjects to grab this if you see them. Though not Tamigawa by today's standard, it sure looks good still!
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