Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kit Review: Academy’s M51 Isherman (#1373)

When Academy learned their craft and got over the period when they pirated Tamiya’s range to flesh out their own (no, I will never forget or forgive that…) their inherent quality really began to shine. This kit was tooled in 1997 and shows up very nicely even now. Dragon tooled this subject, then retooled their kit (doubtless with typically Dragon over-thought engineering) and Tamiya have just issued an Isherman, probably with typically Tamiya simplified construction and great attention to detail. By and large, these models all look pretty similar when lined up – you need to be an M51 expert to pick the differences and know what they mean, and that means the older kit stands up well.

I pursued this model in subassemblies, building everything I possibly could before being obliged to move on to the main sections. Cans, stowage bin, suspension units, the turret, the engine deck and final drives were all made up long in advance, so when I came to drop the model together it was pretty much as simple as that. About two days work and she was ready for paint. There are minimal fit issues, the junction between the transmission cover and main hull at the front needed some filler, and the gap under the gun mantlet is a bit dubious (the canvas shroud behind the mantlet is perhaps the poorest part of the model and needs some pushing and pulling to get an even acceptable fit, plus there are no alignment guides at all and your down to the sticking power of glue to get it to hang together).

Options include open hatches and raised or lowered periscopes, choice of drive sprockets and stowage units, and the option of spare track on the turret sides, all of which go together for an early (Six Day War) Isherman or a late (Yom Kippur) vehicle. I built the latter.

Other than the points above, the kit did not fight me. The suspension units need filing carefully to line up level, if you stick them on as-is they will all sit up sharply at the front, which will look decidedly odd. But that’s what files are for, and while one might grumble that Tamiya’s HVSS subassemblies will probably assume their perfect alignment naturally, it really was not much of a modification to get these to line up, and the detail on the completed eight-part bogie units is excellent, even including foundry casting numbers. Suitably wash weathered, they provide an amazing visual texture when the Sherman’s twenty wheels per side (including drives, idlers and return rollers) are all lined up.

I mixed Tamiya Acrylics for the paintwork. I had obtained Model Master Acryl Israeli Sand, but cannot imagine where Testors got their research data for this paint. I have seen models finished in it and they look the least representational of the replicas out there on the net; they certainly don’t resemble either the Shermans in the museum at Latrun or colour photos of Shermans in service. The Acryl is a satin finish mustard yellow which by no definition could agree with the name “Sinai Grey.” I used the ratios published by IDF Modeling to mix a shade for the October 1973 conflict, being Tamiya XF-20 Light Grey, XF-57 Buff and XF-59 Desert Yellow (1:1:1), and airbrushed it overall, followed by shade and fade coats as usual for a monochrome subject. The result was a very pleasing drab desert scheme, which took weathering with oils and powder pigments very nicely indeed.

Academy’s decals are usually condemned as the worst in any commercial kits but I found these to behave quite well. The only major drawback was their shine, and as I was not planning on using clearcoats on this model I cut the shine by using a stiff brush to grind pigments into the decals, giving the impression of dust over the markings. It was not 100% successful, but visually very pleasing so long as the light does not catch the decals.

The kit provides a good selection of stowage in the form of ammo cans and crates, 105mm shells and an MG tripod, plus kitbags and rolled items such as groundsheets, which painted up very nicely. Unfortunately the kitbags are moulded with open backs which demands they lie against a flat surface, and they are arranged in the box photos in places where there are no tie-downs. Technically they should be hung from the rail around the rear of the turret, but if you do that you will see without much difficulty that they are open at the back. Packing the rear with some sort of putty, sculpting and repainting would fix this, but it was rather more work than I wanted to get into at this point.

A couple of wire radio masts, paint and fit the searchlight, and this beast was done. It’s one of the most textured models I’ve ever built, including an etched quality to the hull surface which suggests the original casting process.

I would recommend this kit to anyone with a few armour models under his or her belt – take it easy and enjoy the build, and don’t let it bite you in a few places!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rusting Metal

Creating convincing rust is an artform, every armour modeller knows how, and there are a plethora of techniques. Oil pinwash creates very convincing old rust that has been rain-streaked down vertical surfaces, and capillary action draws oils in a very visually pleasing way around all three dimensional detail to the same effect. Pigments and ground pastels can be used to generate very convincing rust staining, but these are all 2D colour applications. What about when the rust has actually eaten into and modified a surface?

I recently came upon a quick technique for making rust bubble up on tank exhausts. It’s a combination of methods but takes only a short while.

I first brush on liquid cement, then scatter the wet cement with saved sanding dust – yes, when I sand putty I tap the resulting dust into a container and save it for jobs just like this! The glue locks it in place and when it’s dry I overspray with acrylics in a colour close to that of the finished rust. Then I brush it over with Migs, a red rust shade, then a black for soot and to give it depth.

The result can be surprisingly realistic for minimal effort. It doesn’t always come out perfectly, much depends on the randomness of the powder scatter in the first part, but it’s never less than an interesting and unusual effect. The accompanying photos show the exhaust of an Academy M51 Super Sherman (kit review coming soon) and the muffler of my Academy/Tamiya StuG IV, which is finally taking shape.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Kit Review: Fujimi 1:72 British Phantom F-4K (H-8)

About two years ago I posted about the face-off between Hasegawa and Fujimi in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s period, and particularly their battle for the Phantom marketplace (see The Great Phantom Shootout.) It’s taken me a while but I finally have a review of the Fujimi product to offer.

This particular kit, though undated, is contemporary with their Phantom FG.1 “Silver Jubilee” kit (H-6) which was reviewed in FineScale Modeler in August 1987, and is substantially the same kit with different markings (offering 767 Squadron, FAA, c. 1969-1971, based at RNAS Yeovilton, one of the original units that worked up the Phantom for the Royal Navy. Their distinctive yellow eagle on the tailplane is quite unique and attractive).

Having worked on a couple of other Fujimi Phantoms (as yet unfinished) I was impressed that the company had refined their moulds and engineering approach to simplify construction so the model exhibits minimal seams, and lines up very comfortably. The kit is highly detailed, featuring finely recessed panel lines and tiny elements such as the pressure sensors in the intakes. The cockpit features raised instruments, for which a decal option is offered, and the seats are perhaps the best styrene representations of MB.7s I have seen to date. There are a number of alternate parts on the trees, as Fujimi, like Hasegawa, always pushed its mouldings for maximum versatility, in this case giving you the option of the hyper-extended nose gear leg, open canopies (a single piece canopy is provided for the closed option, which unfortunately does not fit very well at the front, leaving a noticeable gap around the windshield) and open engine auxiliary air doors (which fit so poorly they cannot be posed in the closed position without looking phony). Three other marking options are included, featuring the short-lived 700P Squadron (which only received five planes) and the fleet-service 892 “Omega” Squadron, plus an aircraft of the Phantom Training Flight that replaced 767 in 1972 when they transferred from RNAS Yeovilton to RNAS Leuchars in Scotland.

See the web for histories of the squadrons involved: ACIG Database for a general history of Phantoms in British service; and a close-up on 892 Sq. at Wikipedia. Wikipedia also offers a very useful look at international operators of the Phantom which touches on 767 Sq. FAA.

Parts breakdown is logical and straightforward, with full fuselage halves (as opposed to Hasegawa’s answer to covering the variants, their fuselages being separated into forward and rear sections, which inescapably gives you an extra seam to deal with), and the wing roots are a close, tight fit, requiring minimal dressing. The fuel dump at the tail is moulded with the fuselage halves and is so delicate that if you can avoid breaking it off, you’re a better modeller than most (this is a pet peeve of mine regarding most 1:72 Phantoms, I even wrote to Quickboost to suggest they produce a resin replacement, they would be sure to sell thousands of them…)

Detailing is correct for the British bird, with the recontoured fuselage to accommodate the Rolls Royce Spey engines, slotted tailplanes, and a choice of 600 gallon tank or Vulcan gunpod for the centreline hardpoint. I had been going to mount the gun, but the central pylon is moulded with the wing undersurface, and situated in the declivity between the engine bays makes carving it away impossible without a powertool. I ended up leaving the centre station empty but going with a full battery of missiles, so the aircraft is configured for a medium-range combat air patrol/interception sortie.

Eduard’s Phantom canopy masks are designed for the Hasegawa kits, and while the Fujimi may be very similar, I was more confident to go with a set of vinyls designed specifically for these kits, made in Canada. I've mislaid the backing sheet so can't quote the maker -- unfortunately, as they are an excellent product that worked very well. I mostly airbrushed Tamiya Acrylics, XF-2 for the underside, and substituted XF-63 German Grey for the Dark Sea Grey. Gunze 333 is an exact match but can be hard to find here; Gunze is also a brand I have no experience using so far. XF-63 may be a tad dark, but RN Phantoms look a different shade in every picture, from pale grey to royal blue… The metallic areas were painted with Model Master Chrome Silver enamel as my metallic acrylics have been misbehaving lately. The radome was Tamiya X-18 Satin Black, the afterburners X-10 Gunmetal. With prepainting thoroughly dry a long round of masking ensued to protect metallic areas, intakes, canopy and radome, then the underside was sprayed, along with gear bays, doors, struts, pylons, rails, tanks and missiles. Another round of masking established the wrap-around of the topside grey under the leading edge, then the XF-63 went on. Main coats were allowed to dry overnight before further attention. Next was to unmask the last round only, do any touchups required, then get arty with black and dark brown oil washes, laid on with a small flat sable brush. This simulated the Phantom’s characteristic oil leaks that stain the pure white of the underside from the front of the engine bays backward, and behind the flaps and airbrake junctures. This was a surprisingly easy task, and when complete and dry I laid on a coat of Micro Satin acrylic clear to protect everything.

The panel lines on the underside were accented with Promodeller Dark Dirt, as were lines on all the other white-painted items. The topside could have been treated with their Black wash, but I was in two minds about whether it was necessary, given the way the clear makes the panel lines visible. If I change my mind I can always treat them in future. More clear sealed the panel lines, and I tackled the decals.

The decals as supplied in the kit are extensive, with hundreds of items of stencil data complimenting the unit markings. The kit plans are fairly inaccurate in terms of placement, especially as data placement varied among the four units on offer and they only wanted to provide one full set of data drawings. The boxtop art is in fact far more accurate and I followed it in conjunction with photographs sourced from the web. Three kinds of ejector triangles are supplied, and the plans recommend large ones with heavy white outlines. None of my reference photos show this type, and I used the regular, borderless style.

A major difference is that the plans suggest the underwing serials for 767 Squadron should be wholly situated on the fixed portion, however photographs clearly show that all aircraft of 767 Squadron have serials overlapped the folding outer panel by a large margin, which translates into a discrepancy of nearly two metres! I have in fact so far found only a single reference photograph that shows a British Phantom of the period without the serials overlapping the outer wing panels (an RAF FGR.2 in the camouflage era). I have found at least two examples of profile art showing 892. Sq. planes without evidence of serials on the outer panels, but artwork can be based on incorrect information. 767 Sq. is firmly supported by the photographic evidence and if the serials are correctly positioned according to these sources, some stencil data supplied in the kit must be omitted as it is designed to be used with serials positioned closer in... The jury is out, as they say, but I’m going with the photos for this subject.

The big underwing serials are also potentially hairy to apply as they cross the attachment points for the outer pylons and fractionally overlap the gear doors as well. Obviously, the pylons go on after decaling is complete, for which one may be glad the fit is pretty excellent and tiny dabs of CA at the locator pegs alone will do the job. All serials begin “XT 8…” so these characters are supplied as one decal, with a set of extra digits to depict any of the four aircraft. The parts that overlap open gear bays, well that’s up to your creativity. Cut the decals and apply the slivers to the doors? Shave away the overhang and paint the disembodied bits?

All this is excellent and quite clever, the decals separate cleanly, albeit after a lengthy soak, but I can honestly say I have never seen decals “silver” so badly. Not all of them, certainly, but many, and mostly the tiny stencils. Even over clearcoating and using the Microscale chemistry they were not all that keen to conform to underlying detail, and after a day’s drying the silver bloom in the clear film was a great disappointment. The needle-prick method helped, but was by no means a cure. Using a sharp blade and Future also failed to improve matters. Decaling took four days, a total of 154 items being applied (plus a dozen pieces of coloured strip from an AM source for the missiles, and fragments of the large numbers that ended up on the bay doors), and while it’s pretty comprehensive, some of the decals are also out of register. The British roundels are perfect, but the yellow in the eagle is notably “over the line” and some small items backed with white show a distinct rim of their base. I did check online for an AM sheet depicting Phantoms of 767 Sq. but could not find any currently in production, nor early FAA stencil data, and I also wanted to get this project off the bench, so persevered. I found stencil data by AirDoc, but only for RAF birds in the camo and grey era, so again the kit sheet was the practical alternative.

I made a mistake when clearcoating the decal work, in underestimating the tenacity of the decal fluid residues. I did not wash the model adequately and though the fluids are invisible against the paint they show up instantly a clear is applied. There is also zero you can do about it other than strip the whole job and start again, which I was not willing to do. There are random flat patches in the finish now, though I managed to spot the problem and properly wash remaining areas, so the left wing at least is free of the issue.

Fitting the landing gear when all painting was complete reveals a lack of proper alignment. The assemblies are detailed and look great but there is no way to adjust their alignment. When they drop into the locator holes, that’s it, and the main gear plus retraction struts sit toed-in and canted in, which looks wrong. To combat this in future I would assemble the legs and struts, trim the locator pin from the strut and seat it with CA wherever it falls when the gear is straight, and leave it at that. Retraction struts are also supplied for the inner doors but I left them off as there is no way I could see for them to ever line up with their locators. The small doors are also very weak and I could not count how many times they simply fell off in the course of handling.

This model is not one of my best and some of the problems can be attributed to the kit, some to my own skills. It looks good on the shelf, but under the magnifying glass the issues with uneven paint, masking problems, decal silvering and residues, and visible gaps where the pylons meet the wing despite all filing and pushing and pulling, plus the gear stance, make this one a learning piece. Applying the lessons learned here to a larger scale may return a much better result.

In conclusion, the Fujimi F-4K is a good kit, though not a perfect one, and a skilful builder with experience working with paints and decals can produce a very nice looking model, though there will be a fiddle in a few places. The kit counts as “vintage” but can be picked up on eBay from time to time for reasonable prices.