by: Jim Lewis [ ]
Originally published on:
IntroductionThe M1A1 AIM is a rebuild from the ground up of US Army Abrams tanks originally built between 1985 and 1993. AIM is short for Abrams Integrated Management for the 21 Century (AIM XXI). Instead of building brand-new tanks, the US Army sought to rebuild a portion of its Abrams tank fleet combining the best available equipment and technology in order to both improve lethality and longevity.
Launched in 1994, AIM XXI produced 17 tanks and sent them to the National Training Center (NTC) for testing in 1997. Test results proved positive, and the US Army approved full implementation of AIM XXI in 1998, with a goal of having only AIM XXI-standard M1A1 Abrams tanks remaining in its inventory by 2007. As part of the AIM XXI program, tanks that were previously upgraded to this standard could be recycled through it again in the future if needed due to heavy use.
A centerpiece of American armored forces since it’s 1981 service introduction, the Abrams Main Battle Tank has undergone many improvements in firepower, armor plating and equipment. It has enjoyed a long service life. A single Abrams Tank would have an interesting service history, and it is not unusual to see a lineup of tanks in a unit exhibiting slightly different fixtures and fittings at different times during their service lives.
Modeling the Abrams in scale can be as interesting and enjoyable as the venerable M4 Sherman Medium Tank, with more than enough detail to challenge all skill levels and comers – catching these little differences between tanks.
Just as it is a huge challenge for any model manufacturer to attempt to mass-produce a representative model kit of an ever-changing and diverse subject like the Sherman Tank, Dragon took on the challenge of creating a new miniature of a variant of the equally diverse Abrams Tank that does vary in minor details and fittings across military units. This much-awaited model kit is quite the effort, and the most impressive result in 1:35 scale to date.
Dragon’s M1A1 AIM does not represent the latest AIM XXI equipment fit, as it does not provide the modeler an Infantry Phone and MCBS (Mine Clearing Blade System) Electrical Junction Box opposite the Driver’s Hatch installed on AIM tanks within the last year. Despite that, Dragon’s model kit gives the modeler a wide range of AIM Tanks to render in scale.
Reasons for RatingsThis box is jammed-crammed – the box that cannot be closed once opened and sprues handled lovingly. Well, I can easily repack the sprues holding some 760-odd pieces back into the box without problem, so maybe I’m learning. Things are indeed tightly fit inside and there is potential for some of the delicately cast detail parts to suffer damage in transit. My Turret Bustle parts were slightly bent, and as delicate as they are, I decided that cleanup would be better accomplished after setting them into place on the model and allowing the glue to setup overnight.
The packaging and presentation is typical of the new Dragon standard – visual and functional all at the same time. Dragon’s traditional multi-fold, exploded diagram, instruction Sheet accompanies the multitude of parts in this model kit. There are no technical notes on the actual M1A1 AIM – it gets right down to business laying out the construction and decaling options at the end – except for flags citing some Abrams Tank lineage. What struck me in particular is how busy the Instruction diagrams appear. It pays the modeler dividends to read through them thoroughly. An experienced modeler won’t have problems following them, but a new modeler might find it a bit overwhelming.
Quality of PartsFirst off, there is some degree of thin flashing on the parts in the kit – more than I expected actually. None of the flash is difficult to remove, however. Some inspection and cleanup will be the order of the day during assembly for the fastidious modeler. Overall, the detail rendered on the parts is fine and in scale – in most cases beyond expectations, like the tiny text molded on the Plastic Fuel Cans – which are accurate and readable. These were designed using official DOD drawings – perhaps the most accurate versions currently available to scale modelers. The small weapons on Sprue #6 are very nicely cast, with small details sharper than on other parts included in the rest of the model kit. To a large degree, Dragon has made efforts to include fine details missing from all other scale model Abrams Tank kits. Some of the highlights are noted below.
The clear Periscopes are a very nice touch. I thought the clear Oil Hubs for the Road Wheels a bit gimmicky – until I looked at all of the other items in the model kit. I appreciated them for the detail touch, and think they will be fun to work with in finishing and painting. Photo etching is included for the most logical of applications – and not provided for the modeler just for the sake of adding complexity. The Decal Sheet/Placards are colorful and very well done. Abrams Tanks are not festooned with markings, but Dragon gives you quite a bit here for using on your model. Dragon went to great lengths to go where no other model manufacturer had gone before in producing an Abrams model kit.
I really liked the single-piece lower Hull casting. No warpage, horrible ejector pin marks, manufacturer logos and nomenclature – and – the sponson floors are cast in place. It just doesn’t get better than this. I don’t anticipate much difficulty in assembly, just a need to pay attention to the fit because of the thinness of the upper hull casting and the cutout engine panel sections that you add later.
As the Arms can be easily be de-keyed, I immediately considered the option of posing the Suspension to accurately model an MBCS-equipped M1A1 AIM Tank. All of the Suspension Arms are separately cast, allowing the modeler to simulate the added weight of the mine blade on the front of the Tank. The Suspension Arms and Holes have little keys cast into them allowing for finer positioning on simulated uneven terrain – don’t think this is flash and clean it out when you build the kit. The Drive Sprocket Hub has the mud lightening holes cast in place, and along with the Road Wheels, exhibit fine detail that will enhance the appearance of the final miniature.
A tricky part of the casting, Dragon made concerted strides in capturing the many odd angles of the Turret itself – beyond just including Anti-Slip coated surfaces in the detailing. Turret Storage Boxes can be modeled open without a great deal of extra effort, and the Skirts can be posed as well for modelers using the kit in a diorama setting.
When you closely inspect the parts in the model kit, you’ll notice some interesting contrasts in the level of details included by Dragon. Though the plastic Tow Cables left me unimpressed, the option replace them with metal cable brought a smile to my face. The EAPU (External Auxiliary Power Unit) is the first I’ve seen with an accurate base plate and underside details. Dragon includes a workable Tow Bar subassembly that mounts accurately to the Hull. The inclusion of the finely done aluminum Gun Barrel is great, but the plastic barrel is just as nice. Perhaps a better option in the end for most modelers, actually. Giving the modeler Smoke Grenades for the correctly spread-angled Launchers and pre-bent Fender Springs are examples of the fine detail Dragon gives the modeler in this kit – items that are normally added after the fact by modelers wanting a more accurate miniature. There is an extra set of Smoke Grenade Launchers in this kit, allowing the modeler to include them on some other model in their collection.
I really appreciated the tiny casting numbers included on many parts all around the model kit’s Hull and Turret, though I was struck how soft the casting of the Handles appeared in relation. The casting numbers are so fine, in fact, that you’ll miss the detail on the CWS (Commanders Weapon Station), hatches, fuel filler caps, etc if you don’t look carefully. The anti-slip texture is subtle and present on all appropriate surfaces – and the best done in this scale – in comparison to other manufacturers who included this feature on their model kit parts.
Code “7201 U”. This is not entirely an accurate detail feature on the Dragon M1A1 AIM model kit – but I didn’t have a big problem with it. Beginning in 1988, all M1A1 Abrams tanks came from the factory equipped with internal depleted uranium armor inserts, behind the various types of ceramic armor already installed on the Turret faces. If you want to correct this detail, I have seen “9509 U” in this position.
Dragon supplies a bag of Magic Tracks with this model kit – from the earlier M1 Panther II release. The T158 Tracks are cleanly cast and detailed, with a couple of ejector pin marks on the inner faces of the rubber track pads needing to be addressed. I think modelers would have appreciated inclusion of a poly-vinyl track run to easy assembly, especially considering how far technology has advanced in the modeling industry. Original plans to include T158LL Track as an option for the modeler did not make it into this model kit, however. It would be great if Dragon included the T158LL in their upcoming M1A2 SEP Abrams model kit. I’m anticipating even more smaller and finer details coming from Dragon in this upcoming release – hold on Abrams Tank fans – it’s going to get better!
ConclusionsI tend to bypass reviews laced with “amazing”, “stunning” and other expletives to describe the product – so I won’t use them here. This model kit is a tour-de-force of fine detail and novel features. It is beyond gimmicks – it sets a standard that is difficult to beat. The details are quite accurate and match all the photos and references I have of the actual vehicle. I highly recommend this model kit for serious fans of the Abrams Tank. It might be a tall order for the novice modeler, and appears to demand a certain amount of modeling experience to bring out the best in the kit because of its complexity. The modeler will be pleased in the end, though. Dragon’s M1A1 AIM is the finest detailed scale model kit of the Abrams Main Battle Tank yet produced.