Saturday, November 3, 2018

Recently Completed: Airfix 1:72 Spitfire Mk. Ia (#A01071A)

Airfix and the Spitfire have been partners since the firm’s beginning, around 1954. Though the Spitfire was not the very first kit they ever produced (a farm tractor has that honour), a Battle of Britain-eraMk.1 was a very early release, followed by the classic Mk. IX in the late 60s, a Mk. V in the 80s, and so forth. In  1:48th scale Airfix has filled in many of the gaps of the available marks, their super-accurate Mk. XIV due out soon filling a major hole – though many vocal hobbyists bemoan any new Spitfire from Airfix as a missed opportunity to kit something actually new.

The subject here is the kit that’s had a lot of folk talking in the last year. A UK newspaper did a promotion with Airfix, providing coupons for free kits, and some enthusiasts managed to wrangle as many as five or six, though to be fair others missed out. Accuracy is likely to be high, given the meticulous approach of the firm these days, and the availability of the originals for study. Compromises for the scale appear minimal, though panel lines are a little heavy. The kit is a great pleasure to build. There were no real issues except for the fit of the canopy (below), which is very tight and needed a lot of careful filing and adjusting to sit down properly into the aperture. When it reached final shape it literally snapped into place. The build was otherwise uneventful. The landing gear legs are molded integrally with the gear bay doors, which in view of the warped legs of their Mustang kit, was a good idea, as these are dead straight and drop home into their receivers with a comfortable solidarity.

Cockpit detail is entirely adequate, the canopy cannot be posed open and so little is visible it makes little difference – in this writer’s opinion – if one superdetails or not.

The cockpit was painted with MM Cryl British Interior Green, the the model was airbrushed overall with Tamiya Acrylics. The underside shade is a mix of Tamiya XF-21 Sky and XF-2 White at 1:1 (and it still feels a bit too green to my eye), the Earth Dark Brown is also mixed, XF-52 Flat Earth and XF-64 German Rotbraun at 1:1 (as their straight Flat Earth seems too drab), while the green is straight XF-81, one of the group of three especially accurised RAF colours released some years back. Microscale clearcoats followed, with the final finish being flat, though MS Flat is actually quite satin in lustre. I was uncertain about the general shades until the model was finished, but once it had the brilliancy of the decals in contrast to the paintwork, I was very happy.

The decals were pretty good but I found them rather inflexible and unwilling to conform to sharp curves – it took up to ten applications of Microscale setting solution to get the flank roundels to lie down close to the top curve of the fuselage, and at least as many to get the wing roundels to draw into the gun hatch detail, though still not by 100%. Note the red gun patches are absent, there was no way they would curl around the leading edge. If I find some decal material more willing to conform, I’ll add them at some point – I did not fancy backing up and painting them with the model essentially done.

The canopy was masked with the Eduard set, which behaved perfectly, plus Gunze masking fluid, and the camouflage was masked using the AML set for the type B+ scheme. Florey wash and MiG pigments provided the finishing suite. The antenna wire was rigged with EZ-Line, always the last job I do because it is typically frustrating in its delicacy, and so hard to line up accurately at this scale.

There’s not really enough weathering for a battle-used aircraft in the thick of it. The pigments don’t adhere well to a hard, bright surface, they are far better seen against flat where they can get a grip on the fine irregularity. The oil streaking on the underside is also very restrained – Merlins leaked oil notoriously and Spitfires became filthy beyond words on the underside during sustained action. However, I seem to have developed a great sensitivity to mineral spirits, as just enough to wet the brush and do the job in a few minutes left me with a cracking headache for the evening. I didn’t think the job was big enough to be worth pulling out the twin-cartridge respirator, but I was wrong! Okay, this plane was washed recently!

This is my first 1940, Battle of Britain-era RAF project since I did Airfix’s 1:24th scale Mk. Ia around 1976! I’ll certainly be doing some more subjects in these colours – they have a new tool Hurricane, the Boulton-Paul Defiant, and a couple of Curtis Tomahawks in 1940 RAF livery, all of which should looks very nice indeed (and are served by the excellent AML camouflage mask sets, which save a great deal of time and effort).

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Mustang in Blue Diamonds

Earlier this year I completed Airfix’s 1:72 P-51D Mustang (A01004). This is the same kit I built around 2014, same original issue, though the kit has been boxed several times now with fresh marking options. This time I learned from my errors and did not try to include photoetched harness, though I succeeded in installing both joystick and radio mast unbroken. It remains to be seen if I can do that trick twice.

I have long wanted to do the varied post-war schemes and an old Superscale sheet (72-149) features the markings of the Philippine Air Force, who used Mustangs between the late ’40 and late ‘50s. The most famous of these was “Shark of Zambales,” the personal mount of the commanding general of the arm, B. N. Ebuen, and which has been the subject of numerous restorations over the years, including a standing display at the PAF museum at Villamor Airbase. Superscale included markings for a very particular phase in the original’s career, as the markings seem to differ in detail from one photograph to the next. Prolific aviation artist Gaetan Marie (check out his page here) has painted three different schemes worn by this aircraft, varying by the size, shape and colour of the shark-mouth, the scroll over the tail marking, spinner decoration, etc. and Superscale seem to have based their rendition on a single B&W photograph in which I am not prepared to swear the shark-mouth was actually applied. Angle and the nature of the filmstock make it dubious, but what’s not dubious is the unlikelihood of me applying the decals perfectly, so I left them on the sheet. I can always apply them in future if I feel justified.

The sheet must be over twenty years old and worked beautifully, I find myself thinking I’ll still be using decals from my stash decades hence, and they’ll still work as well as ever!

Another important factor, this is my first natural metal scheme in many years, as I have had the greatest difficulty in achieving a credible finish. I used Tamiya flat aluminium acrylic, overworked with 6B pencil graphite to vary the tonal values, then topcoated with Micro Satin for lustre. It feels quite good and I look forward to trying this technique again.

The landing gear of the Airfix kit is its only real disappointment – the plastic is soft and the main gear legs are irretrievably warped right on the sprue. The first time I built the kit I overlooked the problem and photographed it from angles that hid the gear, but this time I just couldn’t. I picked up the white metal replacement set from Scale Aircraft Conversions, beautiful castings in strong metal, absolutely straight, and they even supply two sets in the box so the next Airfix Mustang will get them too.

This bird came out very nicely and I look forward to adding more to my line-up – I recently picked up decal sets for postwar ANG birds and third world users, plus the Airfix edition with decals for Grenada, 1983, the last user of Mustangs in a combat role. I should think I’ll develop a long line of P-51Ds based on this kit and the ocean of decals I’ve collected over the years.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Keeping it Simple: Academy’s Hellcat

When the weather has hit 112 F out there and you need AC and fan in combination to get through the day, you don’t want heavy, complicated projects, and knocking off some quick builds is the right medicine to break up professional commitments.

I picked up Academy’s 1:72 F6F Hellcat (#2121) on eBay many years ago and it has hung around on my shelves for the last two years or so with some pre-painting done, therefore technically started. I would like to do a USN midnight blue subject in each year, along with another from the grey-over-white era, but my last blue was Academy’s F2H Banshee in 2015 – I was amazed to find years had gone by since the last time I uncapped the blue! This Hellcat is a surprisingly good little kit, very simple to put together (so long as you’re careful with alignments, the wing to fuselage can bite you on the underside) and has engraved detail so looks the part under a coat of paint.

Construction was not difficult, fit is generally okay, though the engineering is not quite up there with the big guys. Options include the small side panel windows to do the -3 variant, and you have bombs and rockets for the -5. Clear parts are well done, with a choice of windscreens for the two variants plus clear plug-in domes for the position lights on the spine an tail light under the rudder. The engine is a decent little rendition of an R-2800 and looks okay with a black wash. The prop shaft seems a bit thick and profits from a swipe with a file. Landing gear is reasonably strong for the scale, and undetailed gun barrels are moulded into the wing halves.

I’ve had disappointing results from commercial canopy masks, they can pull up the paint as you remove them, and it’s frustrating indeed when that happens as the product adds several dollars to the build cost. This time I did it the old fashioned way, using thin-cut slivers of Tamiya tape and Gunze masking fluid to outline and fill in the areas, and the thin braces are custom decals – clear Superscale decal film oversprayed first with Interior Green, then Midnight Blue, and finally Micro Satin. I made a piece 30 x 48 mm and should be cutting strips from it for many years to come. I used my “Chopper” mini guillotine to precision-cut a single strip, which provided the four short pieces necessary (I didn’t get fancy with the 45-degree corners of the bracing strips – tis is meant to be a simple project, after all).

I went with a mixed version of USN Midnight Blue (An 607/FS 25042), as I had read and agreed with the observation that Tamiya’s shade (XF-17) was too dark. I tried the mixing ratio of XF-17 : XF-8 : XF-2 at 5:3:2, this producing a slightly brighter and lighter blue. The original was not a full gloss, so Microscale Satin was the perfect finish, right out of the airbrush. I used the Academy instrument decal and going by the way it went on the kit sheet would probably have been usable, but I intended from the start to go with Superscales for this build, 72-737 being my choice, simple markings for a -5 from an unidentified unit toward the end of the war.

The support straps running under the belly tank should be in natural metal, and if I ever locate my silver strip decals I’ll add them. Likewise with the bombs – lightened Olive Drab for scale effect, but the ordnance decals I remembered turned out to be 1:48th scale, so if I ever find smaller ones I may add them and perhaps a clear coat to dull down the weapons. In the same spirit, when I get some superglue in a fresher state I’ll look at adding a radio antenna, if I judge the mast strong enough to take the mild but constant pull of EZline.

It came out very nicely and is my first Hellcat ever – I built a Wildcat as a kid, if memory serves, but never its successor.

I can’t wait to get a Corsair into this mixed blue – it looks better, to my eye, than any I’ve had out of a jar or can so far. Mind, it’s a good job I wasn’t trying for a high gloss, or I’d have been very disappointed, as I have yet to learn the trick of keeping dust and micro-fine hairs out of the painting space.

Next up looks like being a Spit, and maybe a Phantom is impending…

Cheers, Mike

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Kit Review: Academy 1:35 M981 FIST-V #1361

Yes, I know, 22 years is a long time coming for a review, but this is a rare kit. I checked on Scalemates and though there are some videos and build-logs, there don’t seem to be reviews online, and no history of production beyond the original 1996 release of this variation of Academy's basic M113 moulds. So why now? I just finished it, my fourth completion for 2017.

I bought this kit on eBay many years ago and put it together way back—I built it in 2009 when I wanted to get in some gluing time, not painting, and just set it aside awaiting paint – and it’s been in its box ever since. I figured it was high time I lay this Shelf Queen to rest.

It took a remarkable amount of effort to get the job done. I laid on the base green of the NATO camo several months ago, then it went on the back burner yet again as the affairs of life clamoured for attention and my writing career occupied a great deal of my time. But the crunch point is what it’s always been for me – that moment of truth when you need to airbrush at reasonably fine definition to lay on the second and third colours. I’ve never been able to airbrush as tightly as I’d like, it’s true, and there’s a bone in my head doesn’t like to accept that, and avoids the reality. Hey ho.

I can say the early-ish Academy engineering was not too great, though probably in some aspects mirrors early Tamiya, knowing their habit of copying the great firm from Shizuoka shamelessly. When, at the very end, I went to fit the separately painted smoke grenade dischargers, I found the holes in their bases and the pins over which they plugged were both different shapes and different sizes and that’s what prompted me to check Scalemates – I suspected for a moment that Hobbycraft might be involved somewhere in its pedigree. But no.

The plastic did not react very enthusiastically to cement, and many of the small external parts which go to make up this variant were without positive location devices – “prayer and superglue” as I always call it. Outlines appear for the locations themselves, after that you’re on your own. Given the nature of the plastic, the indie track links were beyond even contemplation, and I picked up a vinyl replacement set from AFV Club that worked well. They could have been tighter, but that’s my only criticism, and as the vehicle is featured with side skirts, the lack of proper sag in the upper run is invisible.

I used my standard armour techniques, with a few tweaks. I used Micro Flat to tie the camo (Tamiya Acrylics NATO shades – I lightened the green for scale effect but then forgot to do the same for the others – my bad) together, though the jury’s out on how bright an idea this way; I’ve done it a couple of times before on NATO camo to suggest the low lustre of a well-maintained modern vehicle, but the feel is not necessarily how I like armour to be. I also tried 6B pencil graphite over flat black to create a metallic effect on the tow cable, and while it may not be too great for bowden-cable I think it’ll work well in future for the barrels of light canons.

The kit was very fiddly at times, and I omitted the stowage accessories in the interests of getting it done – likewise the early Academy decals were not impressive at all (scalding hot water needed to get them off their backing, then they had almost no stick to the model) and I left off the large exercise markings in the name of sanity. Too many parts, too few attachment devices – that sounds like 1990s asian kits to a T.

I also forgot that the M113 is an aluminium vehicle – it does not display rust. The streaking in the images here is mostly done with MiG pigments, so it’ll wash off, and when the day comes I can think about this project again I’ll have a go to tidy it up and correct it.

It looks pretty fair on the shelf, a decent addition to my NATO/modern armour collection, but I’d have to say I look forward to whacking together Tamiya’s old M113 for comparison – a Vietnam era paint job with lashings of red dust. In conclusion, if you want the M901/M981 fire team combo, Academy is your source, and with care they build into nice looking models.
Cheers, Mike Adamson

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Lifetime Since My Last Skyhawk

The Airfix 1:72 A-4B Skywawk (A03029) is the first Skyhawk I’ve done since I was a kid – and that one, some 44 years ago, was also an Airfix, the ancient-tool original! I’ve wanted to add those classic Douglas lines to my display case for a long time, and the new Airfix seemed an inexpensive place to start.

This is a nice kit to put together for the most part, but can bite you here and there. Alignment is generally fine but there were gaps at the wingroots and intakes. The former I dressed using white glue and capillary action, which seemed to work quite well, while the latter received traditional filler, though the repair is by no means invisible. The canopy fit is fair but can wander around in terms of seating the windscreen, while the main hood is too deep – it stands high at the rear hinges, as if designed to be displayed in the open position. There are delicate and fiddly parts, the landing gear especially, and I had to take a few days break to let my frustration settle down before resuming the job. The secondary strut on the nose gear snapped on the sprue and was simply omitted, in the interests of sanity.

Paintwork is MM Acryl Gull Gray over Tammy flat white, with Microscale Satin for the lustre. The decals are very good, but large ones grabbed very fast, resulting in the loss of one of the large NAVY titles – I’ll replace it next time I do one of these kits. Areas where multiple markings lie close together are served by single decals, which is a good idea, except that with the grab of these thin, lovely printings I dare not even try them – I cut away the modex numbers from the front insignia and applied them separately. The same would likely work for the rear flank decals – separate the elements and maybe they’ll slip better.

There are a number of omissions in this build – mine, more then the company’s. There is no decal for the “barbershop pole” effect on the arrester hook, and after attempting to cannibalise strip decal, which shattered at the first attempt, I dropped the hook into the receiver without glue so I can come back to it at a later date if the means comes to hand. Likewise the red edges of the gear bay doors are ignored – way too hard to freehand paint and I’ll need strip decals of some sort (reliable ones…) before I try. The intake warning markings are painted freehand around the curve (the sheet provides straight decals for them, which must be some sort of hobby company joke), and masking the correct narrower area for brush painting simply did not work. So it was brushed up to the adjoining panel line, and that was as good as it was going to get.

I’m more or less amazed that the landing gear is actually strong enough to hold the model up, but it seems to be. I had visions of its collapsing once the tanks were on, but superglue seems to have pinned everything up well enough. The Eduard masks for the canopy were their usual breeze to use, and their usual frustration when they pulled up both paint and decals as they came off. There are times I wonder why I bother to use them when the result is so shoddy -- then I imagine trying to hand paint canopy struts and I remember why.

Overall, a good model that looks the part on the shelf, but I’m reminded yet again that 1:72nd scale is a real trial, and I prefer 1:48th – so long as there’s somewhere to put the finished article. While doing this one I had the urge to grab a late-tool F-16 in the larger scale and just do it, but sense prevailed. Until that fabled new display case puts in an appearance, I must restrain my urge to build bigger!

Cheers, Mike

Friday, December 15, 2017

Seasonal Bench-Time: Making an End-of-Year Effort

It’s almost a cliché that pressures of life cut into our hobby time, and my 2017 experience has been probably the most extreme example of this to date. I finished one small kit early in the year, then, despite having a great many underway, found my energy, attention and time drained away to other things. Losing a parent at mid-year was one of life’s milestones and put a great dampener on things as trivial as creative entertainment… Then there was work – teaching the second semester anthropology course for First Years was quite a commitment, and my writing endeavours have certainly taken up time and application – I should finish the year with better than sixty new short stories, in quest of that fabled occupation, professional science fiction writer.

So it’s hardly a surprise that the hobby bench took a back seat this year, and only now, at the end of the year, have I been able to set things aside and make an attempt to finish up a few projects before the fireworks at New Year.

The one that wanted to be finished first was Tamiya’s vintage Brummbar, 35077, from 1976. This kit has long been eclipsed by the Dragon offerings, but, having built one of those a couple of years ago, I can safely say this one is a much easier build, for all its proportional problems. It depicts a first- to early-second series vehicle, and in reality these were delivered with zimmerit, without exception. However, I did not fancy a zimmerit job on this model, I wanted to explore painting techniques on an un-rippled hull, try to push my chipping approach in oils (inspired by some build photos I found on the web of an amazing chipping job performed on this very same kit.)

So, historical inaccuracy aside, I built the model straight from the box (the easy part), and decided on detailing. I grafted in some Dragon bits – the schkurtzen hangers, for instance, finer and more exact than the Tamiya parts, but they simply would not line up anything like accurately, therefore plans to add the Dragon etched skirt plates were also shelved.

As usual with old Tamiya Pz. IV kits, I added some detail inside the fenders in strip and rod styrene. These details were omitted from the kit for reasons of tooling limitations, but are easy enough to add.

By the time the model was “finished” and photographed, I realised I had also forgotten to paint the jack block and prep a Dragon braided-wire tow cable – these details are to follow whenever I get around to them!

The soul of this job was always going to be the painting. I got the project as far as the base colour overall (Tamiya Acrylics XF-60, lightened for scale effect with 25% XF-2, then given a slight lustre with 20% X-22). And there she sat for many months as I struggled with the other things life set before me, never quite feeling up to doing the rotbraun camo overspray, until recently.

I had been away from the hobby so long I made a number of mistakes – the first camo overspray was okay, but the mist coat to pull the finish together was the wrong shade, resulting in too light an effect and the rotbraun developing a pinkish tinge. I then realised I had used NATO brown instead of the WWII shade anyway! Talk about disconnected from the job… So, back up, mix a fresh round of base colour by the numbers, respray and start again, correct camo (XF-64), followed by XF-60 mist to tie it together.

Finally I got to grips with the oils, gave the whole beast a very thin wash of dark brown in enamel thinner (stinks to high heaven, gives me blazing headaches unless I have a wind blowing through the place and use a respirator mask), then switched to unthinned oils to profile all edges in a pale ochre, followed by the rust work – dark brown, red-brown, and the slightest touch of orange. This took about three sessions over some days, and the sheer extent of the work always left some bit needing more. I need to try the old scotchbrite-pad method for extensive areas of random chipping, it would really improve the result and speed things up.

More oils, pin washes around details, then dry pigment work on the muffler, and back to the air brush to spray the road grime coat on the underside and running gear. Here I made a mistake again, taking it too dark/heavy on the roadwheels so there was too much contrast against the drives and idlers. I didn’t spot this mismatch until the running gear was mounted, and with the Tamiya polycap attachment method they absolutely did not intend to come off again, so respraying was out. Instead I darkened the drives and idlers with a black oil wash to create a more even gradient between upper and lower areas and this seemed to suffice as an eleventh-hour save.

Decals are Archer crosses and Dragon numbers. I added a little pigment over them to tone down the brightness of the white, which always seems to work visually. The pioneer tools were sprayed on the sprue, given a dark brown wash to tone back the metallic, then fitted and treated with pigments for rust effects. The jack was sprayed hull colour and weathered appropriately.

The Brummbar had a plate over the muffler, possibly to protect the spare wheels from the heat and soot of the exhaust, but this plate is omitted here – there is  no way to fit the muffler with the plate installed, and the plate will not fit if the muffler goes on first, apparently. It strikes me as an unhappy consequence of driving the original Panzer IV kit’s lower hull engineering beyond its original design intent (either that or this bit was too fiddly for me, a very rare event in an early Tamiya kit!)

Last washes and pigments completed the dirt and rust effect all round, I added a radio antenna from wire, and she was essentially done. A great many unused parts went into storage, on which I will draw for future projects – the ample supply of individual track links will serve on a StuG IV at some point, the crew helmets will find service, the skirt plates also perhaps.

Okay, it’s not super-accurate, but it’s also neither super-difficult nor super-expensive, and it’s a fun model to build. The painting aspect is king here – as an example check out the last photo – the finished Brummbar against a Pz. IV J as far along as the scale-adjusted base colour. This really brings home to what degree the finishing techniques bring a model alive.

There’s a fortnight left in the year and I’m going to try to finish another couple of projects before the calendar turns.

Cheers, Mike Adamson 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pressed for Time!

We all have patches when we can’t often get to the bench, and this year is shaping up to be a short-production record like 2016. At the end of March I have my first completion (others underway, of course), and I can only say I’ve been especially busy with other concerns since the beginning of last year to excuse my distance from the hobby. That, and being in sore need of a new display case, which is also painfully true.

What to do when you’re craving a build but have only a few hours here and there to give it? Well, armour takes less prep painting than aircraft, so I usually gravitate to a tank. I recently completed that very early Tamiya Pz.II F (35009) from about two years ago (seen with the new build in the bottom photo), it had been awaiting decals as I didn’t fancy the kit sheet and was interested in going with dry prints. I collected a number of sheets but ended up using the much, much better waterslide sheet from a later edition of the same Tamiya kit – and liked the result so much I decided to build that new copy at once and do a project in grey.

The kit builds in a trice – three sittings, a “one day build” by all reasonable standards, but the finishing techniques were the full monty, all my usual suite of tricks, and I took a couple of weeks over completion. The grey was the same mix as that Pz. III F I did last year, airbrushed in Tamiya acrylics (XF-24 Grey tinted with XF-8 Blue at a ratio of 5:1, plus 30% X-22 Clear Gloss to put a fresh-paint sheen on it. I did not bother with a scale-colour effect as the next step was to spray a 5% solution of XF-23 Grey-Blue to fade the top surface. Over this went an oil wash job, pin-washes around raised detail, streaking of rust in simple dark brown, some condensation streaking in white, some tiny spots of orange for fresh rust, then an ultra-fine brush was used to install paint chips and dirt spots in rust-brown and black. I used the new Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black for the tires (though I can’t actually tell the difference from XF-69 NATO Black!) The running gear was stencilled into the mixed dunkelgrau, then the running gear and lower hull received a road grime coat of the same mixed shade as the tracks – XF-64 Red-Brown plus black at 2:1. I built up the grime gradually, and must remember to go with a thicker mix over grey in future.

I did not have much luck with the dry prints this time out, the balkenkreutzer were very difficult to align and prone to shattering – maybe the Archers are getting old? Dry prints should have a very long lifespan, so I’m not sure what was wrong. To be fair, the alignment issues were entirely down to myself, and I wasted four decals in the process, and used a kit waterslide for one of them anyway.

Mig pigments finished the effects, with ‘standard rust’ and ‘black smoke’ applied sparingly in a few places. I did my usual trick with the muffler, roughening the surface with a hard brusgh after softening the plastic with liquid cement, followed by shaking on sanding dust over wet glue to create the bubbling effect of severe rust, which looked good under paint and pigments.

The markings I chose for this one are those of 18th Panzer Division, and the grey scheme marks this vehicle as operating before the switch to dunkelgelb ordered in February 1943. She is certainly hard-used and the weather has taken its toll since the last respray. I might accessorise her with some helmets, maybe a flag, one day. She looks pretty good on the shelf and marks my second panzer grey project. I look forward to adding some halftracks to the collection in early war markings too.

Cheers, Mike Adamson