Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Immortal Classics: Polar Lights’ Seaview

There are always kits we remember from childhood, or kits we never knew when they were available but heard about long after. Aurora’s Seaview, from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, is one of those for me.

I only heard about it 15 years after the moulds were lost in the neo-legendary Amtrak wreck that destroyed so many of the old classics, when it was featured as the very first instalment in the “Classic Kits” series in FineScale Modeler. I checked around to see if anyone had one and located one at Hobby Bounties in Singapore: if I remember correctly, the price was equivalent to $1000 Australian dollars in the early 1990s, the highest price I personally have ever seen on a classic kit. Needless to say, I didn’t buy it! My memory may be playing tricks, but I remember it being a three-figure sum of some sort.

Imagine my excitement when I heard several years later that Aurora-retool firm Polar Lights, in the course of recreating many of the lost classics, were resurrecting the Seaview!

I determined to have one at once, but it never happened. The kit was ‘new stock’ and thus ‘around’ and there was no urgency to buying it if dollars were tight for other reasons. In the odd way things happen, the retool has itself become a traded commodity and I recently picked one up on eBay for a good price. The precise recreation of the original is amazing, the actual box art and design from 1967, the identical plans with a few extras to denote the 2002 issue.

Here’s a piece of history brought back to life and itself now a thoroughgoing legend in its genre, something few would have ever expected to happen, the remanufacture of a classic. Of course, there are many who would point out that in regenerating a classic product one regenerates all the shortcomings of that product. It’s the 1961 movie version of the sub, not the configuration of the series (which itself varied in detail between the 110 episodes), the detail level is sparse, and at around 13” long she’s not very big. A resin update set was made for it to build the series window configuration and the Flying Sub hangar: the AM guys will always ride to the rescue! There have of course been plenty of much larger versions produced in resin in the last decade and a half, and we now have Moebius’s ultimate kit, injection moulded and nearly 40” long, for which a plethora of after market add-ons have been produced – even including complete radio control and power system to build a sea-going Seaview that will dive in your swimming pool!

Next to that, the old classic pales to insignificance, but you know what? Nobody will build the operational boat, or even the 40-inch display masterpiece, in a weekend, and have at on shelf or desk, beautifully airbrushed and weathered, by Sunday night. And there’s the fun part: there are many small scale submarine kits and this one falls right in to that range as a science fiction classic that has sailed on in the hearts of it’s fans for all 45 years since the series premiered (on September 14, 1964, at 7:30 PM, EDT, on the ABC Network, for those who like their facts - with thanks to those who keep track of such things!) So there’s room for all the versions and all the kits.

I have only one criticism: Polar Lights moulded it in black plastic. Maybe they were being true to the original, but black is very difficult to work with, and I find it rather depressing. It’s a good job she’ll be a quick build, I can get her into some nice grey primer, and relax into painting and weathering thereafter.

I finally have that Seaview I always wanted! The companion piece to the Aurora 1:64th scale Flying Sub that was reissued by Monogram in the late 1990s and which has been part of my stash ever since. And … I guess it’ll tide me over until I can assemble the big bucks to tackle the Moebius masterpiece. So keep watch and I’ll post a review when I build her.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Persnickety on the Details

Should we build in details we can’t see?

When I was a junior I used to take a strange pride in adding details to the interior of models, so that I could say the seats and radios inside that bomber fuselage were present, and maybe even painted some colour which more than likely was not correct. But they were there, as if the model came ever closer to depicting the real thing with such additions. Maybe it does, but surely that principle has been taken a bit far these days.

I’m thinking of the engines in Trumpeter’s jet kits, in which considerable time and effort has been invested, serving to jack up their already high prices that yard further. Not only that, the fuselage does not assemble properly if the engine is not inside, meaning you can’t invest time in finishing the engine and then displaying it alongside the aircraft: finish it realistically or not, it must disappear inside if the model is to be assembled complete, the most-usual state for the aircraft, and that seems a perverse logic.

The built-in option is to display the engine with the tail of the aircraft separated, in maintenance mode, but not every modeller wants to do this, and certainly not with every entry into his or her big-scale jets collection, any more than every modeller wants to fold the wings of carrier planes merely because that feature is engineered into some kits (which don’t build cleanly if you don’t take that option, which is at least as perverse as the engine business…)

But we’re all guilty of this to some degree. I religiously fill and smooth off the holes in the bottom of tank models for the controls of motorized versions, so popular long ago and still made by Trumpeter (I have quite a few of their motor/battery packs in my stash now, and am not quite sure what to do with them!) But there are other details that sometimes get by.

Having a hard time finding a few bench hours, I was recently stalled by the painting stage of various projects and just wanted to do some gluing, so I broached a subject I’d been looking at for a while, Academy’s M981 FISTV, a laser designator vehicle for guided munitions that fought in Desert Storm, based on the M113 A3 chassis. The model assembles from multiple subassemblies which can be tackled as small projects evening by evening, but the first thing I spotted was the raised company logo on the bottom of the hull. I usually scrape and sand this away so I’m comfortable in the knowledge that my tanks don’t say Tamiya on the bottom, or whatever, but it occurred to me that in all my years I’ve never actually picked up one of my tanks and looked under it.

So who cares? Am I enough of a bean counter to be bothered if the logo is there? This time, no. But, perversely, I blanked and filled the holes as well, done carefully with two rounds of filler for a good job. If I can be motivated to do one, why not both?

It seems to be a question of steam – how much enthusiasm is there on the night? I just wanted to get to the swing arm assembly, I would need to carve away the logo with a blade parallel to the belly plates first, and the bone in my head rebelled at that … so this one has an Academy logo on the bottom. But no motor holes – they I could tackle later!

Academy produced a complete engine for their 1:48th scale Sabre which disappears when the fuselage is closed, and there are many tank interior kits which are visible only through hatches, so where should the line be drawn? It’s a very individual thing, I think, and a question we can only answer for ourselves. For myself I have begun to buck at the thought of investing hours and eyesight in cockpit details that are obscured by a canopy which is distortive or simply not clear enough, or trying for details that are at the edges of my own visual resolution, but that’s just me. There are plenty of modellers who set up their vision aids and go to work on minute photoetched bits which will barely be visible, a scale realism they want, to bring their work closer to an accurate replica of the real thing, and this is a skill and a dedication to be applauded.

Where does that leave the modeller’s own sense of persnicketiness? That is probably the ultimate personal aesthetic, and what drives us, in many ways. How we face the challenges of the kit, what compromises we make and how much work we’re willing, or able, to invest in a project in return for what we learn from it and the pleasure of both the build and displaying the model ever after. So long as that equation balances up for each of us, relative to our skills and resources at any particular time, then we’ve been true to our hobby and done our best.

“Rivet-counters,” however, are a whole other matter, and a whole other post!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Kit Review: Tamiya F-51D Korean War #61044

It may seem odd to review a kit released nearly 13 years ago, but there’s always room for a retrospective. For many years Hasegawa’s P-51D was the standard, and it remains a very good and entirely competitive kit, but Tamiya’s builds somewhat easier and is superbly detailed. The Hasegawa cockpit is slightly better, but unless you have the canopy open you really can’t tell what’s in the pit anyway.

The 81-part kit features optional parts for the Inglewood or Dallas canopies, Hamilton-Standard or Aeroproducts propellers (blades and spinner cones), and features 6 5” HVARs and a choice of 2 500lb bombs or 2 75-US gallon droptanks for the wing racks. The kit comes with decals for three aircraft of Korean vintage, the famous FF-943 (“Was that too fast?”) of the 12th FBS, 18th FBG; the CO’s aircraft of the 18th FBG; and “Buckeye Blitz” of the 36th FBS, 8th FBW.

The clear parts are crystal clear and barely-distorting, while the overall fit of the model is outstanding. I needed only a little filler on the underside seam where the fuselage halves trap the cockpit/radiator assembly. The cockpit is quite adequately detailed for the scale, and while no harness is included, not even as a decal (as with Tamiya’s Corsair), there is a gunsight glass and the canopy frame brace. The propeller seats back onto a stub which engages a poly cap trapped between the hub parts, which means the prop can be mounted in the final assembly round, after all major handling is done, minimising the chances of breakage.

Tamiya must use very high-pressure injection moulding, as the sprue attachment points are as small as technically possible. They are also located in carefully-considered locations where the inevitable inconsistencies where the sprue is cut and filed back show as little as possible.

Alignment and fit are of a very high standard and the kit pretty much builds itself, certainly for any experienced modeller it should be a breeze. There were no problem areas to speak of. The decals were thin and opaque and reacted well to setting solutions, but were not particularly ‘sticky’: three small stencils simply disappeared during subsequent handling, underlining the desirability of clearcoats.

I finished the model in Humbrol enamels, mixing #11 Silver Fox 7:3 with #56 Flat Aluminium to create a weathered metal look evocative of the beating the aircraft took from the severe weather conditions in Korea. The yellow accents were sprayed in a mix of Tamiya Acrylics (XF-3 Yellow, warmed with XF-7 Red and brightened with X-22 Clear Gloss). The prop blades, anti-glare panel and rudder trim tab were sprayed XF-1 Flat Black. The cockpit and gear bay interiors were sprayed Interior Green, mixed 1:1 from Tamiya XF-3 and XF-5 Green. The overall recessed panel lines were accented with ProModeller Dark Dirt panel wash, and the natural metal finish was varied with graphite, burnished into the paint with a stiff brush, and masked (with the greatest care!) with Tamiya tape. MiG pigments were used to add dust to the gear bays and underside, plus gun carbon and exhaust staining.

This was a very enjoyable build, the model looks proud in the display case, and I’m sure I’ll be building many more, working through my decal stash to collect the elegant Mustang in many of her historically famous schemes.