As I have started a collection of Shanghai-built pens with hooded nibs, here's the first of my reviews.
Much has already been written about the Hero 100, introduced in 1958. The firm Hero - then trading as Huafu Pen Factory - decided to create a pen to equal - or surpass - the iconic Parker 51, and in many ways they succeeded. The earlest 100 pens were fitted with 12K gold nibs, soon afterwards 14K was made standard. In Hero's product line, the 100 remains the king of all the 51-derivatives, and stays in production even though some cosmetically different variants have been made. From the 100 a vast family of 51-inspired pens was spawn, and also inspired those by Xinhua - later trading as Wing Sung - and others. Among these only the Wing Sung 101 has the pre-ordained rights to challenge the Hero 100 (some even claim a TKO), but since the firm's closure in 1999, examples are harder to acquire.
Over the past years, there are numerous reports on the drop in Hero's quality control standards, for the 100 it's about the section (hood) developing hairline cracks, leaking ink Exxon Valdez style. As the 100 carries lifetime warranty, Hero would be happy to fix it but the afflicted pen has to be returned to their service department in Shanghai; this makes some prospective customers a bit wary. Another factor is that Hero is now greatly vexed by fraudulent pieces, among the 100 models the standard version with plastic barrel is apparently most prone to that. It pays to acquire it from a reputable vendor, and this also explains the skyrocketing prices of early examples. This 2008-built example tested was bought lightly used and in very fine condition, the comments apply to this example only, the usual disclaimer.
This pen was obviously modelled on the 51 "Flighter", but apparently it does not incorporate the extra features allowing the original to withstand air pressure variance, although there are some suggestions on how to achieve this end, up to a point.
A direct comparison is inevitable; while I do not have an example of the 51 "Flighter" in my possession now, I can quite safely say that the design of the 100 is superior. Instead of a bare steel shell, the barrel is a molded plastics core encased in a steel shell, and the thread to which the barrel is screwed is all metal and finely cut too. The Aerometric sac sheath is as good - and even better - than the Parker equivalence. I can go on, but this is one seriously constructed pen. If one has to split hairs, the conical turned metal jewels at the ends of the barrel and the cap show a bit of tool marks; in appearance terms it would have taken a point off.
The pen itself is 125.5mm, capped 140mm, posted 151mm, at the thickest it is 11mm in diameter. Dry weight of the pen itself is 19g, with cap it is 22g, and when filled it adds 1g to its weight (I use the standard Parker method: four squeezes of the filling spring and wait between squeezes). Centre of mass is 69mm from the tip pen only, and 86mm posted, no difference is found between dry or inked states. The significant shift of centre of mass is expected due to the weight of the cap, but I found it comfortable to write posted or unposted, albeit they feel a little bit different in the hand.
Using Parker black Quink as a commonly available standard, this pen lays down a luscious wet line, fast writing and tight twists and turns never seem to faze it at all. While the hooded design tends to make the nib quite stiff - almost like a ballpoint pen - the gold nib here gives a definite feedback. The smoothness in writing makes it hard to distinguish between it and the Parker original, and it will definitely improve further with use; I would have no problem with using it all day, as if it's still the 80s where I wrote magazines articles and several books in longhand with a fountain pen - a Montblanc by the way.
In terms of construction and performance it is hard to fault the Hero 100 "Flighter"; it is a touch heavy for its size, hence some people favour the standard version with plastics barrel, even at the risk of running into fraudulent examples. While the spectre of cracked hood might be a bit frightening, in absolute terms it is not really a very expensive pen; perhaps not one for impressing the unwashed masses, but certainly a great performer for actual use. Of course, enthusiasts unfamiliar with Hero tend to think of the brand as a maker of very inexpensive and perhaps questionable products, but they would not have thought that they all have an ancestor who was - and still is - the king.