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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Painting decisions

As I mentioned earlier, the primary attention of the production line is shifting a bit from construction to painting. I’m still cobbling together cockpits when I don’t feel like setting up the airbrush, but most kits are waiting for their turn in the paint booth.

After having painted the International Orange band on the FJ-1 and Mauler a couple of days back, I was able to mask them and prep for the Gloss Sea Blue coat. Blue paint can be difficult to spray efficiently, as it can be naturally grainy. But the coat went on pretty smoothly. Examining the job later, I think it will require another coat to get a good uniform layer, but it didn’t look too bad.

Next came the Dark Sea Grey camo on the Meteor nightfighter (NF11). Again, a pretty straightforward job after all the masking.

The last job was overall White on the PV-1 Ventura. Although I do have the Carpena sheet for a Free French version (sort of in the lead since I’m currently reading “Allies At War” on the US and British relations with De Gaulle), I recently discovered a decal sheet I thought I had lost: the Zotz Ventura extravaganza with nose art including that famous green octopus. The paint scheme is more complex – Gloss Sea Blue, a middle Blue, with White undersides – but I usually will go with art if I have the option. Ah decisions.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Special Hobby L12 Electra Junior

This is the first of the Lockheed twins series to cross the completion threshold. It is the L12 Electra Junior, designed for a niche market; namely, users who thought the Electra itself was too large. It is roughly equivalent to a Beech C-45 and did have military application. But being a fan of airliners in 1:72, I had to put it in commercial markings.

I have owned the Special Hobby kit of the Electra Junior since it came out a number of years ago but always shied away due to key parts being in resin and a vac canopy, which means my personal bĂȘte noir superglue comes into play. Still, since I had a strange urge for this series of aircraft and had bought the massive yellow book Lockheed Twins published by Air Britain a few years back, I decided it was time to take the plunge.

This is what I would consider a mid-period SH kit. Not the early days of very basic shapes and bad fit, but not the current days of excellent detail where most of the parts are plastic injection, including the canopies. The cockpit is basic but adequate, and the passenger cabin has no detail at all. Though, given the small number of windows on the Junior – and the fact that I was going to use Kristal Kleer for the glass – I didn’t see that as a downside. The lower wing is one piece, which gives a very steady bond to the model.

I almost went for the Draw Decals TWA set for the type, but got interested in the “camotint” option that came with the kit. By common consensus, it seems that most of us consider this mysterious color to be very close to Sky, and the Xtracolour treatment of this color is what I used. The anti-glare panel was Dark Sea Grey.

It seems that this plane was used by pilot Sidney Cotton to do some surreptitious aerial recon in the early war period. Bulged windows (also designed by Cotton) were installed in the side of the cockpit to make it easier to get the photos. A very clever and sneaky use of a passenger liner.

While there were some struggles with the resin and vacform bits, I’m pretty pleased with the overall model. Certainly pleased enough that I almost immediately started work on the L10 Electra and did some prelim work on the PV-1 Ventura. Lockheed twins will figure large in this summer’s model output.

This is completed model #401 (#26 for the year), finished in June of 2012.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mauler and Fury

Construction is the headline story for today. I’m getting to the point where much of the action will soon be in the paint booth, since I must have 8 or 9 mostly-assembled kits in various spots on the workbench. But today is all building.

It mostly focused on the two postwar US naval fighters that I started last week. Both were kitted by Siga: the Martin Mauler and the North American FJ-1 Fury. These are both fairly traditional short-run kits: wide gates, chunky parts, and plastic that looks like it was made from melted down forks from the KGB cafeteria. Fit was pretty ghastly in some instances, and there will be a lot of cleanup and seam repair before they see paint.

The Mauler is a particularly solid model, with thick parts. Not one you’d take home to mother (assuming mother is a fanatical USN postwar modeller who only likes easy kits) but it’s not like we have a Tamiya Mauler to compare it with. You would be wise to sand the mating fuselage parts on a piece of sandpaper attached to a board, just like you would a vacuform. And be prepared to exercise your basic modelling skills to clean up the assembled kit.

Both of these kits will be in Gloss Sea Blue, with an orange Reserve band around the rear fuselage. I’ll likely follow these up in the summer with a couple of Emhar kits, the FJ-4 Fury and F3H Demon. I’ve heard that the Emhar kits were originally Matchbox designs that were unreleased when the company went toes-up. They are certainly consistent with the later Matchbox efforts like the T-2. And there are Xtradecal sheets for both of the types, so I won’t have to go with kit decals.

The final bit of major construction was getting the bits of a partially completed PV-1 Ventura together. Basically, the fuselage was already sealed up, so I attached the wings and tail, then masked and attached the clear bits. No idea which markings I’ll choose, but I do have an old Carpena sheet with Free French markings and a one-color paint scheme, which my native laziness always prefers. This of course is part of the twin Lockheed series. I will eventually need to source a Lodestar kit, since it turns out that the only one of the MPM/Italeri series that I seem to have bought is the Hudson – from which I believe you can get a Super Electra since they provide the solid nose. But the Special Hobby Lodestar does provide a new lengthened fuselage and Draw Decals does some airliner markings for it. So it looks like the series has now become: Electra, Electra Junior, Super Electra, Hudson, Lodestar, PV-1 Ventura and PV-2 Harpoon.

And here is a photo of the partially built RoG Halifax, with the Freightdog improvement set radiator fronts and intakes. One prop is precariously balanced on an engine as well. It's not a great photo, but I hope it helps you to visualize what the changes that Colin has worked up do to improve the model.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Airfix Folland Gnat T1

And now for an official milestone. The 400th completed model in the 72 Land State Museum of Aircraft Design. It isn’t the best, nor was it the easiest, but it is the latest.

This is the new-tool Airfix Folland Gnat T1. I don’t have a copy of the original tooling, so I can’t give an opinion of where improvements were made, though I assume the old one had raised panel lines. Fit is a bit indifferent, especially around the cockpit and the piece that attaches the upper wings to the fuselage. In fact, if you aren’t scrupulous about dry-fitting the canopy while you are cement that seam, you are likely to end up in the same boat I found myself: with a canopy that resolutely would not fit snugly. In the end I got it attached as best I could and tried to make up the difference with a couple of coats of Mr Surfacer as putty. If, as some modellers have suggested, there is an A-team and a B-team designing Airfix kits, this has the hallmarks of the backup squad. Still, I do appreciate the opportunity to build a Gnat using recent kitmaking technology.

Decals were a mystery for a while. The kit decals didn’t do it for me, so I went looking for alternate schemes. There aren’t too many, but I decided early on that it would either be the Red Arrows or Yellowjacket version. And since I already have a finished Red Arrow Hawk, I decided that the Yellowjacket would do. I have an ancient – I mean, this must be 70s at least – Aerodecal sheet with serials for all the Yellowjackets. I wondered if their age would make them brittle, but they performed as well as any of the recent decals I’ve used lately. I did have some trouble finding the proper serial for the team leader (with the black tail), but a combination of a Google search and a query on 72nd Scale Aircraft gave me the info I needed. Thanks as always, gents.

400 may not put me in the league with Alan Hall’s Airpower Model Collection (a travelling exhibition of 1000+ in 1:72 that he used to show at different places back when he was editor of the original Airfix magazine). Or even in the 500+ collection of 1:72 WW2 models currently on exhibition at the Seattle Museum of Flight. But in a hobby where many participants haven’t actually completed a model in years, I can at least prove that I am a Profoundly Average Kit Assembler and not a Profoundly Average Model Collector.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A quick paint session

Despite a back-breaking couple of hours of lawn mowing today (our yard is not level and the evil blackberry bushes are constantly gathering on the outskirts and chuckling darkly whenever I come by) I did sneak in a quick airbrush session in the early evening.

Just a workmanlike series of three colors. First a surface coat of RLM70 on the upper surfaces of the Horten Ho-7 from Planet. It evened out the final surface pretty well, so I can now move on to some detail painting (wheels and props) and decaling.

Then the Black undersides of the Valom Bristol Brigand. It went on exceptionally well, so I was waiting for some sort of surprise disaster. Maybe when I unmask it. I have to say that I wasn’t sure about the choice of tiny recessed rivets all over the Brigand, but with a coat of paint on it it actually looks rather nice. Given the somewhat sour reputation Valom has gotten in the IMC with fit and engineering, I have been impressed with this kit so far. It’s got me looking with interest at their Albemarle, and bodes well for the upcoming Bombay.

Finally, I shot a first Dark Green upper surface coat on the Meteor NF11. It actually looked pretty nice when I was done, too, so it appears that I got the mixing ratio correct for this session at least.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Airfix Fairey Swordfish

The crop of Airfix kits in the years since their near-demise and purchase by Hornby, has been a curious bunch. Some, especially the early ones, were miserable in terms of fit. But as the Hornby philosophy – and presumably, investment capital – began to have an influence, the results have gotten better and better. I’m heartbroken that the TSR-2 in 1:72 belongs to the earlier category, but my modelling output this year has had a number of new-tool Airfix kits included, and I have to say I’ve been very happy with most of what I’ve built so far.

Though I have nearly no interest in some of their choices this year (I’m perfectly satisfied with the Tamiya version of the 109E and P-51 and the Fujimi A-4) I did raise an eyebrow when they announced a new-tool Swordfish. I periodically would take out the Matchbox rendition of this type, eye it dubiously, and then put it back in the stash. Now, of course, with the advent of this new kit, all former Swordfish kits can be sent to the superseded kit pile.

The new Airfix Swordfish is complex, detailed, engineered with interesting options, and since the aftermarket companies have started to supply decals and resin for it, you should be able to do just about what you want to with the finished model. I can’t say the model was a Tamiya-esque engineering marvel – the cockpit is a tough fit and the lower fuselage piece requires near-lethal force to keep it in place while it dries. Still, the way they molded the wing bits makes for one of the most solid biplanes I personally have ever built. Very often modellers will leave the top wing off until the painting and decaling is finished, but that isn’t necessary with the Airfix Swordfish. Even a ham-fisted fellow like me can handle the assembled model all day long and not twist or break a strut. Time for a follow-up Albacore, Airfix.

Xtradecal was first out of the chute with a decal sheet. While the SEAC version covered by handwritten graffiti was tempting, I couldn’t resist the 822 NAS example (HMS Courageous) with a red fuselage stripe and upper wing band. There was some tricky painting involved. Not just the Cerrux Grey (which is close enough to Lt Aircraft Grey for me) forward fuselage, but a Black dorsal area and fin. Worse, I had completely forgotten about the need to paint the upper fuselage Black when I unmasked the model after painting it silver. I had nightmares about paint pulling up if I tried to remask, but decided the paint scheme was unique enough to take the risk. Great care was taken in masking, and I was sweating when I peeled off the paint. Thankfully all was well with no areas to repair. Decals and even rigging went smoothly. Time to buy a lottery ticket.

I think that the Swordfish embodies all those things that the IMC claims it wants from a kit, and it deserves to do well in sales.

This is completed model #399 (#24 for the year), finished in May of 2012.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Paint and glue

Though the weather was nice enough this weekend to require some weed-killing, I did manage to move some models along the production line.

In the paint shop, I put a coat of Medium Sea Grey on the lower surfaces of a Meteor NF11 and the upper surfaces of a Bristol Brigand. Though Valom has something of an uneven reputation in terms of engineering and fit, I thought the model went together well enough. The resin engine vents don’t fit very well and there is some significant filler on the nacelles themselves, but the fuselage and wings went together with minimal adjustment. The Brigand is a fairly large aircraft for a twin-engine type, so after I get the surface work done on the MSG coat it will be time to mask it up and apply the lower surface Black paint.

Another plane that got the lower surfaces painted was a Horten type Ho-7 flying wing. The choice here was RLM65. I think it will take some cleaning up too, so it may be some days before these planes get to the decal stage.

In terms of construction, I continue to fight my way through the Sword P-47N. I am told that the Sword kit is considerably more accurate than the Italeri version, but it isn’t scoring very highly on the buildability scale. Just about every seam has required extensive filling and sanding, the resin engine did not want to go in straight, and the cowl ring was a fit nightmare. Given that much of the surface will be a NMF, adjustments like this require a lot of finish work.

Plus I have a couple of new projects entering the production cycle. Both are Siga kits of US Navy postwar jets, the FJ-1 Fury and the Martin Mauler. At this point I’ve barely got the cockpits together, but they will loom larger in the days ahead, along with the series of Lockheed twins.

Some statistical information for those who enjoy it: I’ve finished 25 models by 31 May 2012. Last year by this point I had only finished 21, so it appears that unless I completely keel over or lose all my free time (which, if it means returning to employment, I’ll accept in the interests of financial security) I should beat last year’s record of 39 completed models in the year.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Airfix BAe Hawk T2

Having finished something like 14 BAe Hawk T1s, I decided it was about time to do a Hawk T2. This was not an easy decision, since I feel that the T2 has done serious damage to the attractive Hawk lines. That clown shoe nose, that clunky tail. Still, if one is going to keep up with current RAF types, you sometimes have to accept the unpalatable.

Recently, Xtradecal came to the rescue with the first set of squadron markings for a T2 (other examples had flown in basic markings with no squadron bars). It was part of one of their very popular squadron history decal sheets, this example being for 4 Squadron. The paint scheme is still basic black.

This was actually the first T2 I have built, and decided to use the new-tool Airfix kit. I have put together a number of T1s with this new tooling, and thought the fit and engineering was first-rate. The T2 variant differences – fuselage, outer wings, nose gear doors, and a variety of new antennae – are covered in two new sprues. They fit as well as their predecessors, and it was no time before I was ready for paint.

Given that the paint scheme is really one color, that didn’t take long either. I stopped experimenting with tan colors for the internal canopy seal and went back to my original choice of a light grey, and I think it looks measurably better. And the decals went on with no issues, working their way into panel lines with a small application of AeroSet.

This has to be a record for minimal time between a marking scheme’s introduction and the issuance of a decal sheet. Hopefully the RAF will continue to work with Hannants to get these new markings available quickly. We could use a set for the 95-Y Hawk in Lancaster markings, or the anniversary Eurofighter that recently appeared in public. I’m sure both are on the radar screens of at least Xtradecal, and I’ll hopefully get them applied to a model shortly after they become available. While we’re at it, I wish someone would do the very slick markings that were used on a South African Hawk T1 during the airshow season in 2010. Most of the job is masking the colors, but there appear to be a couple of badges that would be required. It wouldn’t be hard to stash them on an unused corner of one sheet.  

This is completed model #398 (#23 for the year), finished in May of 2012.

Friday, June 8, 2012

An epic paint session

Construction has picked up in the 72 Land production line, so it was time to turn some attention to the paint shop.

First order of business was to put the matte topcoat on the relatively new Folland Gnat. The model did have some fit issues, culminating in big problems with the canopy. Normally I would blame this on personal ham-fistedness, but I have heard of others having problems in this area as well.

Next came a couple of projects that needed some RAF Gray Green portions. The primary victim was the internal bits of the Valom Bristol Brigand: cockpit and wheel bays. The cockpit will still need some detail painting, and then I’ll finally be able to get the major construction on this one completed. I think it is an interesting plane – sort of a steroid-bloated Beaufighter.

There were some detail bits in the Meteor NF11 that needed a metal color: wheel wells, landing gear, etc. I tried using one of the bottles of Alclad I’ve had issues with. Although it seems to work better on smaller pieces than it does on the exterior of an aircraft, I was still less than pleased with the result. I do hope that whatever is causing these variations in formula evens out soon. One of these days I’ll buy a new bottle of Alclad and it will go back to being the best airbrushable natural metal paint out there. Or so I hope.

In any case, I didn’t have any fully functional Alclad to put on a B-50, which was going to require a lot of paint in any case. I took a stab at using Model Master Metallic (aluminum) and wasn’t really too impressed with it either. Not a very smooth, even finish. So that has me in the quandary again – is it my airbrush? My technique (or lack of same)? The Northwest’s humidity? A personal hatred by the airbrush gods?

Finally, I got some of the interior green into the gear bays of the Revell Halifax. I’m getting close to beginning the overall paint work on it, but I’m dithering on whether to order the Eduard masking sheet. I do love those sheets, but I don’t have a local source for them and postage for one item kind of negates the savings of buying online. I know I can do basically the same thing with regular Tamiya tape, but the pre-cut masking sheets make things so easy. Insert whine here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fujimi LTV A-7E

I have never had an overall grand plan for the models that I build. I do have a sort of loose backstory: my collection of finished models is the world’s largest aviation museum. At least that is my rationale for not building dioramas and never developing a talent for weathering. But it is not like I know exactly which kit will land on the workbench when a space opens up.

My interest in aviation is fairly wide and deep: everything from a Wright Flyer to the latest in next generation fighter jets. And I am as likely to go mad for an obscure one-off experimental or Luftwaffe 46 type as the most commonly used fighter in WW2. Sometimes a project will get started due to something I saw in a hobby magazine, or perhaps a book I have been reading. And occasionally it is as prosaic as something I found in a box on one of my periodic trawls through the garage stash.

Today’s completed aircraft falls into that category. I was out in the garage, idly passing a few moments after a visit to the gym, when I came across a Fujimi A-7E. It was partially completed in some earlier modelling age: cockpit assembled and painted, fuselage together, everything else in a plastic bag. I decided that since the Fujimi kit had a pretty good reputation, that I knew that A-7s have a lot of attractive paint schemes, and that I did not yet have a completed model of the type in the collection, it would be next on the list.

While the A-7 is not on a par with some of Fujimi’s best (their F-4s, F7U, A-4s) it is still a well produced kit with engraved panel lines. The engineering is such that very little filler was used during construction. Painting was a simple affair with standard postwar USN colors of Light Gull Gray over White, with control surfaces also in White. I checked my decals and was nearly persuaded by a special scheme for an ANG type in large patches of red, white and blue. If I ever do another A-7, that will be the one to go for. But this time I settled on the Stingers scheme, since I had never used that on an aircraft before. It’s a bit like the Sundowners sunburst markings (which I used on an F-14): somewhere in your collection you need to save some space for that big ol’ bumblebee of VF-113. Or is that a hornet?

This particular A-7E was based on the USS Ranger in the 70s. According to the VF-113 website, they were involved in Linebacker 2 in South Vietnam and deployments in the Western Pacific. Although the kit comes with Stingers markings in the box, these Fujimi decals resolutely refused to detach from the backing sheet without literally 15 minutes of soaking. So I used some bits from an old Microscale sheet. As it happens, I liked their interpretation of the light blue anyway.

Finishing the A-7 has got me eyeing the Academy F-8 Crusader, also in the stash. I seem to have been doing a lot of work in the postwar jets arena (though mostly British) in the last 12 months, and that would give me the chance to add another type that I’ve never built before. I guess I’ll have to wait to see if inspiration strikes again.

This is completed model #397 (#22 for the year), completed in May of 2012.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Halifax and Electra(s)

Since I have completed a few models in the last two weeks, the production line is growing a bit thin of late. So construction has dominated the proceedings rather than paint work.

The main new projects are the Special Hobby Lockheed Elektra (both 10 and Junior 12) and the Revell Halifax. The Halifax has been discussed endlessly elsewhere, so I won’t go into the accuracy issues here (other than to mention that they seem to revolve mostly around mis-sized engine nacelles, props, and wheels). In terms of parts fit and detail, it holds its own with any of the newly produced kits of large aircraft. Not unlike their B-17 (and Airfix kits too for that matter) some don’t like the engraved panel lines, feeling them to be unnaturally deep, though I should stress that this isn’t the second coming of the Great Trenchmaker of Matchbox fame.

I bought the Freightdog replacement resin. This provides revised nacelle fronts, props, wheels, and a number of nice little vents and intakes. So far (I just applied the nacelle fronts) they have fitted perfectly, and even the application of superglue, something of a bugbear for me, has been calm and easy. It doesn’t solve the problem – the nacelles on the wings don’t change – but the look is noticeably better. A couple of different flavors of the set are available on Colin’s Freightdog site. He seems to be a good chap, and definitely a supporter of the 1:72 universe, and I can recommend this improvement set highly.

I should note that the Revell Halifax instructions are not for the weak. There are a lot of options to this kit – props, radiators, clear bits, exhausts – and the pictorial instructions don’t do a great job of making all the fine distinctions between them. They generally inform you when an option is available, but you’re often on your own as to which types they belong too. Another layer of complexity comes if you’re using aftermarket decals, and you need to keep track of the details on the aircraft you are modelling. I’m sure I’ll manage at least one boneheaded mis-step; gotta keep the cult of the Profoundly Average Modeller alive.

The Elektra, smallest of the famous series of Lockheed twins, is a start on a leisurely series that will eventually take in the Lockheed 10, 12, Hudson, PV-1 and PV-2. The Special Hobby kits come with vac canopies, not my favorite, but I’m working my way through the process.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Eduard Grumman F6F3 Hellcat

The first completed model to be displayed in the month of June is one that has received a huge amount of praise since it was released earlier this year. It is the Eduard Grumman F6F3 Hellcat. And I must say that it deserves all the kudos it has received. The fit is excellent, detail restrained but perfectly visible, and there are nice little engineering touches all over the model. The way the rear cockpit windows fit together is sheer bliss (I assume they are solid panels in the F6F5 since that doesn’t have the same windows) and even the landing gear doors are given solid attachment points.

Over on the 72 Scale Aircraft forum, this has to be the most built new kit of 2012 so far. There have probably been half a dozen displayed in the few months that the model has been available. Not necessarily what you would expect for an aircraft type that had been kitted competently before and has a fairly limited number of paint scheme options. But it is nice to see high quality actually getting some love on the forum.

But of course my markings had to be somewhat out of the ordinary. A couple of years back I bought a copy of the Draw Decals F6F3 racer “Little Nugget”, owned by one of the operators of Alaska Airlines. As you can see by the pictures, it is overall White (I used Model Master semi-gloss) with some seriously delicate gold leaf decals down the side. Even the instructions mention how delicate they are, which would seem to be setting up for one of those occasional decaling disasters that have been known to occur here on the 72 Land production line. However, they behaved flawlessly – with a lot of water to float them in place and focused handling.

About the only kits I’ve been buying in 2012 are the ones I know I plan to begin work on immediately, so my percentage of recently released kits has been high in the last year (F6F, Swordfish, Gnat, Valiant, with a Halifax in process). And I can say unreservedly that this is a kit that is well worth your attention. Hopefully this will encourage Eduard to revive their 1:72 programme, which has languished a bit in the last few years.

This is completed model #396 (#21 for the year), completed in May of 2012.