The modern French frigate La Fayette is a striking design. Sleek, clean, stylish, one could almost call it a work of modern sculpture. The French model company Heller did not waste much time in preparing a model of La Fayette in the traditional Heller scale of 1:400. That kit was released in late spring 2003. It is a nice kit (Click for a Review of the Heller La Fayette) but as is true with almost every plastic injection molded kit, could use finer detail in some areas.

Today is June 6, 2004 and sixty years ago, British, Canadians, Free French and Americans landed on the beaches of Normandy to free Europe from fascist tyranny. Although it would be entirely appropriate to review a subject that was present for Operation Overlord, it is equally appropriate on June 6 to review a model warship from the location of the invasion, Normandy. L’Arsenal of Normandie, more specifically the Caen area, British AO for Monty and Operation Goodwood, now produces a resin and brass detailing set for the Heller La Fayette. Do you need one for your frigate, only you can answer that but the photographs of the new parts will speak for themselves.

First of all, this is not a complete kit but provides resin replacement parts for the Heller plastic ones, a complete brass photo-etch fret where Heller had none and a new set of decals. To state the obvious, you must have the original Heller kit to take advantage of this new product from L’Arsenal.

Replacement Resin Parts
L’Arsenal provides ten new resin parts to replace the plastic parts found in the Heller kit. There are nine parts with one part, the 20mm guns, having two copies. Both the forward and aft macks are replaced with new resin parts. OK, so what’s the difference? Well it depends on the angle in which you compare the resin and plastic parts. Seen from the side it may not appear to be that much difference. Seen from the front it may appear that the big difference is no seam to fill on the resin parts. However, seen from a top angle the differences are extreme and patently obvious. With the design of the La Fayette the exhausts are placed in a well in the macks in order to retain the stealthy characteristics of the frigate. How do they appear in the Heller mack parts? They don’t. Just a flat area to be painted black. With the new L’Arsenal parts, you have the exhaust wells on both macks, you have the exhaust pipes in the wells of both macks, you have no seams to fill, plus you have crisper detail then the Heller parts.

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L’Arsenal provides a new bridge. With the Heller bridge, the company tried to provide an open bridge, see-through, look. However, the windowpanes were framed by circular columns of plastic, so that it almost looks as if the La Fayette bridge is supported by round columns. L’Arsenal provides the new bridge to accurately reflect the windows, the glass of the bridge. You may loose the open bridge look but you also loose the round columns and gain the look of the prototype. L’Arsenal also provides the rear face to the helicopter hangar. The difference between the resin part and plastic part is in the detail. Again the resin part is significantly crisper. The windows overlooking the flight deck are indicated by thick incised lines on the Heller part but are actually recessed on the resin part. If you have a 1:400 crew for your La Fayette, they had better be midgets if they are serving on the original Heller La Fayette. The two main doors on the hangar of the plastic part are so short that they appear more appropriate for a ship’s mascot than the matelotes. L’Arsenal not only provides the two main doors in a larger more appropriate size, but also provides a small exit in the sliding hangar door that is entirely missing in the Heller part.

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The 100mm gun and gun house are entirely replaced in resin. The resin gun tube itself, is far superior to its plastic cousin and the gun house is superior as well. The gun house seems slightly larger and has features not found on the plastic piece, specifically the raised ridges flanking either side of the gun opening. Also, another significant benefit of the resin part is the lack of dimples. Anyone familiar with injection molded kits is familiar with the "Dimple" found in most plastic kits. You’ll find a sinkhole in the flat surface of some plastic parts, that resembles a dimple. This unsightly dimple mars the plastic gun house from Heller. You can either fill it or replace the part with the resin part from L’Arsenal. The two piece plastic crotale turret in the kit is completely replaced by a new assemblage. L’Arsenal provides a new multimedia crotale turret. The turret itself is a one-piece resin part augmented by brass super-detail parts. The Heller open 20mm guns are also entirely replaced and here, the difference is very striking. The plastic 20mm gun barrels looked like gigantic bazookas or short telephone poles rather than the thin 20mm barrels. Now your crew can stand proudly at these new weapons, knowing that they are working the best 20mm ordnance that the industry can produce, rather than the former ungainly relics of a bygone era. L’Arsenal also gives you an entirely new multimedia Dauphin helicopter to replace the plastic version. He plastic Dauphin is bulkier and has very large incision lines to delineate the windows. The plastic main rotor is so thick, there would be so little lift that the bird couldn’t leave the flight deck. Even if it could get airborne, the plastic Dauphin has no well for the tail rotor, and would auto-rotate into the ocean. The Dauphin from L’Arsenal has a sleeker one-piece resin body with an open tail well for the tail rotor. She comes with brass detailing parts such as the landing gear and thin rotors.

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Well maybe you are happy with the plastic parts that come with the kit. Maybe your favorite actor is Kirk Douglas and you like the dimples in the Heller kit. Or maybe your favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz and you plan to crew your La Fayette with munchkins. Maybe your favorite city is Athens and the columns on the plastic bridge piece remind you of the columns on the pantheon. Maybe the lack of an exhaust system doesn’t bother you since your La Fayette will ride at anchor as a harbor queen. Does L’Arsenal provide anything else with their La Fayette detailing set to induce you to acquire this product? Mais oui, certainment Monsieur!

Brass Photo-Etch Fret
Needless to say Heller doesn’t provide a photo-etch fret for their La Fayette. As far as I can recall, no fret producer has manufactured a fret for this kit until now. Does the Heller La Fayette need photo-etch? Look at the photographs. Can your La Fayette afford to be without these parts? How will your La Fayette built right from the box stack up against one with the additional parts and photo-etch from L’Arsenal?

L'Arsenal Brass for La Fayette
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The photo-etch fret provided by L’Arsenal for the Heller kit provides reason by itself to purchase this detail set. Your La Fayette will not be complete without it. Start with the exocet launchers. L’Arsenal provides not only relief etched exocet stands, that are pre-scribed on the back for easy folding producing crisp angles, but also sun shields for the missile canisters. As noted earlier many of the brass parts are used in conjunction with resin parts from the set to create replacement fittings and equipment, such as brass parts for the crotale and Dauphin. With this stealth design there is almost a total lack of railing that could return a radar pulse. However, there is some railing found on the flight deck. L’Arsenal provides the necessary fittings. While we’re on flight operations, what about safety netting for the flight deck. There is none in the Heller kit. You have to get this set for this crucial and prominent item. The La Fayette design covers the boat wells with sliding/folding doors, otherwise an open well would return a radar pulse. Heller provides smooth doors in the kit with the surface detail to be provided by decals in the kit. L’Arsenal provides textured relief-etched doors, so you can see the shadows of the three- dimensional doors, rather than just a flat decal. Cage safety ladders in two lengths are present on the brass fret. The upper portion of each ladder has a folding cage assembly designed to prevent the crewman from falling off the ladder at a dangerous height. Where else will you get these features except for this set? Also included are minute arrays for the yards and mast so fine that they are impossible to model in plastic. Do you need the brass fret in this set? You answer that question. Look at the photographs of the parts provided by L’Arsenal and determine how your La Fayette will look with and without these parts.

Decals and Instructions
provides a decal sheet for the La Fayette. Since Heller also provides a decal sheet in their kit, the L’Arsenal sheet will not be the prime reason to get the detail set. As a minimum the sheet supplements the kit decals in providing detail not found in the Heller decals, such as the helicopter roundels. Most of the decals on the sheet from L’Arsenal duplicate items found on the Heller sheet. The biggest difference comes in a change of the appearance of the flight deck markings. 

Box, Decals, & Instructions
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L’Arsenal provides a full five-page set of instructions even though this is a detail set for an existing kit. They must print two versions of the instructions. As a French company producing a detail set for a French made model of a French warship, one would assume that the instructions would be in French. However, the instructions are completely in English. There has to be a French edition as well but for modelers whose native tongue is English and whose French is limited, this is no problem with the English version. The instructions are top quality in text and drawings and cover each replacement module and part in detail. They clearly delineate by part numbers each substitution or addition that is made to the Heller La Fayette when using the L’Arsenal detail set.

Will the 1:400 scale La Fayette from Heller be dramatically improved through the addition of the detail set from L’Arsenal? You will have to answer that question. To me, the answer is blindingly obvious. The detail parts in resin and brass provided by L’Arsenal will take the beautiful La Fayette to a far higher level of detail. In World War One American General Pershing stated "La Fayette, we are here", when American troops landed in France in remembrance of the key roles that France and General La Fayette played in the American War of Independence. With the detail set for the La Fayette by L’Arsenal, the French company has stated, "America, La Fayette is here."