Monday, 18 February 2013

Castle of steel and Dorchester, part 1: QRF Challenger 2A1 review

My latest order from QRF included a Challenger 2A1 because nothing says "tank support" like a big Chally! QRF has four Challenger variants, with each of the Challenger 1 (Op Granby) and 2 (Op Telic) available in a plain vanilla or up-armoured versions. Three of these variants are unique to QRF since the only other 15mm Challenger, that offered by Skytrex and Old Glory, is a plain vanilla Chally 1.

Despite some minor quibbles (and one not-so-minor one about the turret's shape), the up-armoured Challenger 2 is a nice model of the "world's best protected tank" (cue dispute of this claim by fans of the Abrams, Leopard II and Merkava, not to mention Leclerc).

Please note that in my haste to start this model, I forgot to take photos of the out-of-the-bag turret so all of this post's photos feature a turret in the process of being modified by myself. I'll update this review if I buy another model but, in the meantime, there are some good photos of Challenger 2s with what I think are mostly unmodified turrets (though they look like they have been deepened with Milliput because mine came with cleaner lower edges) on the Big FoF blog: here and here.

The model is quite well cast and comes in 11 parts: hull, turret, main gun, two track assemblies, two external fuel drums, commander's hatch cover, roof machine gun and two smoke grenade dischargers. There may in fact be a 12th part which I have lost as the turret roof appears to have a locating hole for the fire control system's meteorological sensor but I'll simply replace it with some brass rod.

The good points first. The overall shape and size of the Challenger 2 hull is well captured and the attention to details is nice. All the features specific to the Telic versions such as the frontal ERA package, Dorchester side armour, and Thermal Exhaust Cowls are also there and nicely sculpted. In addition, the roof machine gun is very finely reproduced as is the gun's thermal sleeve. The only thing missing are the dust skirts and rear mud flaps but these would certainly have made casting a real headache and are best added with plasticard if you want them.

Next, the minor quibbles. The general fit of parts is pretty good except for the turret to hull fit because the hole in the hull is too wide and gives a very loose fit. This isn't much of an issue for me since I use rare earth magnets to secure the turrets to the hulls of all my models.  As is often the case with metal models, the tracks also need care to get them nice and level. The hull comes with a molded-on camo netting stowed in the left front corner and, while it is nicely sculpted, I prefer to add my own stowage but that's a purely personal preference. Another weak point is the thermal imaging ID panels on the side and rear of the turret which are too small and missing one on the rear face where there should be two on either side instead of a central one.

The not-so-minor gripe I have about the model is the turret shape which looks decidedly off. When this model was briefly discussed on TMP, someone mentioned walking around a real Challenger 2 at Bovington RAC Centre Trials and Development unit with the QRF model in his hand and not being able to fault it. Well, I guess he must have walked around a Challenger 2 Driver Training Tank because the profile of the QRF turret is simply wrong when viewed from the side.... ;-)

The Challenger 2's turret roof has some rather complex angles and major companies have produced inaccurate plastic models in their tens of thousands. If you are interested in seeeing how both Dragon and Trumpeter have both managed to get the turrets wrong on their Braille-scale models, check out On the Way's excellent comparison article.

The Challenger 2's big slab-sided turret is a major recognition feature and I feel this hasn't been captured very well. At first glance, the QRF model's turret looks like it lacks height and is rather reminiscent of a Leopard 2 turret with an angled front. The problem is, in fact, that the roof is much too flat. The photo on the right clearly shows that the Challenger 2 turret has a sharply angled front face while the front of the roof is at a shallow angle. It is then horizontal until the rearmost stowage bins which are angled downward slightly. In addition, the central part of the roof is raised where the tank commander and gunner's cuppolas are located. On the left side of the turret, the transition between the front of the roof and the horizontal part is even more dramatic and there is in fact a small step in front of the gunner's cuppola.

The photo on the left shows the QRF Chally's turret in the early stages of modification with 1mm plasticard added under the turret and 2mm under the stowage bins. I've highlited where it differs from the original: from rear to front, the bottom of the stowage bins was lightly filed, the sides were filed smooth removing the ID panels and at the front I made the mistake of cutting the plasticard flush with the metal when I should have left it proud and then filed it to the same angle as the front face, an error that was compounded by filing away some of the metal and removing the original chisel angle of the front face. However, the roof was left untouched at this point and it is totally horizontal and flat from where it meets the front face right to the end of the stowage bins.

While the possible additions to the hull (dusts skirts and mud flaps) are completely optional and belong to the realm of geekery, I think the turret needs some serious file work to restore some the angles that are missing in order to make it looks rather more like a Challenger 2. It's quite a bit of work but this model can be turned into what I think is a pretty good likeness of a 2003 Challenger 2. You can judge by yourself by having a look at Part 2: Building a better Telic 1 Challenger.

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