Along with most other European nations prior to WW2, Italy sought to produce a twin-engined fighter. Italian designers were frustrated by their country's lack of high-power engines, but packing a pair of radials into a small airframe promised to overcome this problem to some extent. Indeed, the resulting IMAM Ro 57 did prove slightly faster than the Regia Aeronautica's standard fighter, the Macchi C.200.
The Ro 57 is sometimes described as Italy's "Westland Whirlwind", but this seems largely unjustified as it was armed with just a pair of 12.7 mm machine guns compared with the Whirlwind's 4 x 20mm cannons and was almost 50 mph slower. Perhaps thankfully, for the sake of Italian aircrews, the Ro 57 didn't enter service, being deemed too vulnerable against single-engined fighters.
But that wasn't the end of the story, because the type was redesigned as the Ro. 57bis for the dive-bomber role, fitted with dive brakes and carrying a load of 1 x 500 Kg and 2 x 250 Kg bombs, with armament increased to a pair 20 mm cannons. Performance suffered accordingly and while 200 of the new design were ordered initially, this was reduced to 90 and only 60 were actually produced.
The aircraft entered service with the 97º Gruppo in February 1943. From the few accounts I've found, the aircraft was unpopular with the unit's pilots and hardly used operationally. Looking at the Ro 57bis's layout, it seems very unsuitable for its intended role, with the large engine cowlings and long nose largely obscuring the ground so, despite the belly window, finding targets must have been all but impossible. It's perhaps telling that the Ro 57bis wasn't among the types thought worthy of serving with either the Co-Belligerent Airforce or the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblica following the Italian armistice.
Special Hobby's IMAM Ro. 57bis arrives in an attractive and sturdy box with the sprues and other parts bagged separately. The kit comprises:
83 x grey styrene parts
5 x clear injected parts
62 x beige resin parts
21 x etched parts, plus a film for the instruments
Decals for 3 x aircraft
The immediate impression is very positive. While this kit is still produced using short-run moulding technology, it represents just about the current state of the art, with cleanly moulded parts showing minimal flash, no sinkmarks and generally little by way of cleanup required. Sprue attachments are small, but as you might expect there are one or two ejector pin marks to remove assembly.
In common with the latest kits from the MPM stable, the overall finish is silky smooth with crisply defined panel lines and some embossed fasteners and rivets. This is done a bit heavier than on their earlier models and personally I prefer their old approach for scale appearance, but the new style brings the kit much more into line with current mainstream fashion.
A basic test fit promises a straightforward build. The main parts are warp-free and the fuselage and wings halves line up perfectly, the wings having nice thin trailing edges. The wing/fuselage joint looks good, although it is an unsupported butt-joint, so you might want to add some reinforcement.
A few details
Construction kicks off with the cockpit, which is neatly detailed with a mix of styrene basics, plus resin consoles and etched levers, seat harness and main instruments.
The engines and cowlings are all-resin. Each engine comprises a separate crankcase and individual cylinders, needing just pushrods and wiring (not supplied) to really spring to life. The cowls are excellent, thinly cast complete with the characteristic bulges that would be a struggle to produce in styrene.
The undercarriage is quite a complicated affair and it's here that the short-run nature of the kit is most evident. Whereas a mainstream producer might have done things simpler, Special Hobby have had to resort to no less than 9 parts for each main-gear leg, including a separate axle. It's all build in two stages, which is inviting fit problems, so for once I'd probably break my "golden rule" and fit the complete undercarriage early and make a pair of simple shields to protect it during the rest of assembly.
I've moaned in the past that some of Special Hobby's earlier kits didn't include any ordnance, so it's nice to see that the Ro. 57bis comes complete with a trio of nicely detailed bombs with etched tails, plus racks and etched dive brakes.
The transparencies are well produced - thin and clear with crisply defined frames. The canopy is moulded closed and I'd be careful about trying to pose it open, because it looks like it may well sit too high over the rear decking.
Instructions and painting
The assembly diagrams are very clearly drawn and the sequence is logical enough (except for the aforementioned undercarriage concerns). Gunze Sangyo paint matches are recommended throughout.
Decals are provided for 3 aircraft wearing standard late-style Regia Aeronautica camouflage - so that means simple green and grey in each case:
A. Ro. 57bis "Red 9", 97º Gruppo Autonomo Tuffatori, Rome-Campini, July 1943
B. Ro. 57bis "Red 5", 97º Gruppo Autonomo Tuffatori, Rome-Campini, July 1943
C. Ro. 57bis MM 75326, Naples-Capodichino, 1943
The small sheet of decals is excellent quality. Thin and glossy and printed in perfect registration.
Special Hobby's Ro. 57bis is a very well produced short-run kit. It's a measure of just how far this type of model has advanced that I don't feel it's necessary to brand it "for experts only" - anyone with average skills should find this an enjoyable build that offers a bit of an additional challenge compared with mainstream kits. Highly recommended for anyone who likes to include more exotic subjects among their collection of WW2 aircraft.
Special Hobby's Ro. 57bis is available from Modelimex - specialists in Eastern European short run kits.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE