28 October 2015 Update: Added an AF-3S picture and a summary of the changes from the AF-2S.
17 May 2015 Update: For my assessment of a question about the length of the nose of the Special Hobby kit, see http://tailhooktopics.blogspot.com/2015/05/special-hobby-af-question.html
8 May 2015 Update: I've added information on the cockpit.
I've just finished up reviewing the decal sheets for the Special Hobby 1/48th Grumman AF Guardian kits:
I didn't have much to add because of the research that had already gone into creating them. I was, however, interested to see how difficult it was to be sure of specific details of markings, paint scheme, and configuration even given the short operational life of the airplane.
Here, for example, is an annotated photo of a VS-24 AF-2S circa 1951 (it still has the single tail wheel and early forward mast) showing some of the details which varied:
Going clockwise from the blue radome:
The APS-31 radomes were generally unpainted. The paint on this one is already eroding.
The location of the underwing marking of the side number and unit letter was not specified exactly so in some squadrons they were inboard as above or not on the airplane at all. More typically, they were well outboard, just inboard of the national insignia and branch of service, although in this case the unit letter is not present.
The early mast was simply an attach point for a wire radio antenna. It was subsequently replaced by a mount for an ECM antenna that appears to have only been installed on the AF-2W (but not always). However, the same mount, sans ECM antenna, was used on the AF-2S. The early mast is present circa 1950-51; the later, 1953-54.
The large expanse of a black anti-glare panel is unusual. My guess is that it was on the AF (and it is on most but not all of them) because the pilot was the only member of the crew that could do a visual search for a submarine or its snorkel; the nonspecular paint eliminated any glint he might get from the forward fuselage.
The appearance and painting of APS-20 radome varied. The radome itself appears to have been either off-white, a "natural" fiberglass tan (see above picture), or painted blue. The fairing above the radome that encompassed the bomb bay was either light colored or painted blue as in the picture above, whereas in the one below, the entire installation is an off-white.
My guess is that the blue-painted landing gear struts were a feature of early airplanes. They, along with the retracted side of the door, was subsequently painted white as a reference point for night operations, particularly for the benefit of the catapult gear. Similarly, white markings were added to the fins on the horizontal stabilizer.
More accurate localization by Magnetic Anomaly Detection (MAD) proved to be important to weapons effectiveness. The bad news was that MAD had a very short range; the good news is that a submarine detected using MAD was right under the airplane. Grumman built 40 AF-3Ss equipped with an extendable MAD boom scabbed onto the right side of the fuselage (it was necessary to extend the detector as far from ferrous metal in the airplane as possible when in use).
http://tailspintopics.blogspot.com/2012/11/things-under-wings-radar.html for the longer pod used on the AD-4N and 5N).
The added weight of the MAD installation and bigger radar required removal of some equipment and stores capability.
The best single reference for the AF Guardian by far is Naval Fighters Number Twenty: http://www.ginterbooks.com/NAVAL/NF20.htm
One error with the Special Hobby kit noted by Alan Weber (see http://www.arcforums.com/forums/air/index.php?showtopic=272400&st=40) is that it has an eight-spoke wheel, whereas the operational aircraft and all but one of the survivors on display, have a six-spoke wheel. David C. Jones reports that the Tamiya P-47 six-spoke wheels are a drop-in fit after you drill out the kit hubs.
Ginter's otherwise excellent monograph lacks detail on the pilot's seat. Note that it was located on the left side of the airplane (the original torpedo bomber was to have a crewman's seat squeezed into the right side of the cockpit a little aft of the pilot's seat). The right hand console was double wide as a result. The pilot's seat was not the standard bucket seat with a rounded top: it had a higher, square seat back.
Photo via Alan Weber
The seat and the aft bulkhead of the cockpit were probably painted interior green.
There was a rack of black avionics or electrical system boxes mounted behind the pilot on the aft bulkhead and another large panel to their lower right.
Do not be mislead by pictures of AF-2S BuNo 123090 or AF-2W BuNo 123091 that had an ejection seat installed for high-risk flight testing. No operational AF had an ejection seat.