Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kit Review: Tamiya 1:48 Gloster Meteor F.3 (Kit #61083)

The Gloster Meteor was Britain’s first service jet fighter and the Mk. 3, evolving beyond initial teething troubles, was deployed forward to Belgium before the cessation of hostilities in the west. The Meteors did not encounter the Me 262 in action, which may be a good thing as analysis generally comes down in favour of the Messerschmidt being the faster, more advanced design.

The type has not been all that well served by kit makers. Airfix produced it in the early days of the company in 1:72, Dragon tooled a new Meteor F.3 to the same scale in 2010, to a high standard and garnering excellent reviews, and there are limited-run and resin specialist kits of some of the later marques, but Tamiya’s F.1 and F.3 kits are pretty much alone to this day if we’re talking large scale and loads of detail.

Tamiya’s eighty-third release in its 1:48 aircraft series came out in 2002, and I can only describe it as a delight to build. The mouldings are high quality and fit is near-perfect, though the one-piece lower wing and separate top wing sections can bite you a little bit when dropping in the engines and fuselage. Take lots of time to study the sequence “dry” and only commit to glue when you are absolutely sure.

The cockpit could be accused of being spartan, with a decal seatbelt, but not much is visible through the canopy if closed, and Tamiya offer some great twists, such as a cast metal weight which is installed in the fuselage to bring the centre of gravity forward and avoid the model being a tail-sitter (much more precise than loading it up with lead sinkers or whatever and hoping you’ve glued in enough!) and landing gear which locks very solidly into place to be sure of carrying the necessarily greater weight of the previous item, as well as ensuring its own perfect alignment. The engines are nicely detailed and can be left visible either via detachable parts for the top of the nacelles or the supplied clear equivalents.

Decal options include one of the aircraft deployed to Belgium, which were painted gloss white for recognition purposes, as they were in essence only there to gather experience, they were not intended to fight; plus two camouflaged options from perhaps later in 1945. The kit will also build the F.4 model, as it includes the teardrop-shaped conformal fuel tank characteristic of early Meteors, and while some reviewers have finished their F.3s with this tank, it did in fact first appear on the following version.

Assembly was quite straight forward with the exception of that previously mentioned fiddle with lining up the wings and fuselage to close tolerances, and if I have a particular criticism it is that the gear bays, moulded in with the top wing halves, generate distinct and quite wide gaps in a place they are impossible to really do anything with. The side walls of the bays are also undetailed, and I would not be surprised if there was an etched metal set out there that plates the bay walls, hides the joint lines and beefs up the detail level in one go.

I used a number of finishing techniques on this one, starting with pre-shading all panel lines in black. I used Humbrol enamels for the Medium Sea Gray underside and Dark Sea Gray topside, but by then I had really had enough of the solvent fumes and the model lay fallow for a while. I soon discovered that Tamiya had already produced very close equivalents for these shades plus the topside RAF Green 2 as XF-81, 82 and 83, providing an acrylic option for late-war RAF subjects, and I decided at once to complete the model in acrylics.

Camouflage was masked with innumerable pieces of tape, the hard-edge wavy scheme being drawn onto de-tacked tape laid onto the demarcation zones. These pieces were then peeled off carefully and the wavy lines cut with scissors. They were reapplied, then the gray areas backfilled with more tape. The process took at least three days to complete, which is one reason I put it off for so long.

Next, I refreshed the preshading in the remaining areas, then overcoated with the green. When everything was comfortably dry, I unmasked everything but the canopy, nosed gear bay and engine intakes, touched up as needed, and coated the model with Microscale Satin. I had intended to use Promodeler Dark Dirt weathering wash, which was fine for the underside, but against the topside camouflage their Black was necessary to stand out as tonally different. More Satin sealed the accenting.

At this point I brought out the Eagle Strike Late War RAF Roundels (48136) set I bought, replacing the kit insignia as the fuselage roundels were slightly off register. I found the ES set included three sheets and decided to use the full suite as the colours were much truer than those on the kit sheet. They behaved very well and laid down into recessed detail tightly with Microscale chemistry.

Squadron codes and serials came from the kit sheet, along with the stencil data, which is exceptionally small and fine. In all there are eighty decals on the model, though the stencils largely disappear unless viewing from very close range. The model was carefully washed with soap and water in an effort to remove the invisible decal residues, even bathed with saturated tissues, which was mostly successful; a little more Satin was misted on over the decals to seal them. I had considered drawing the lustre down and experimented with Microscale Flat, but could distinguish zero difference between them (I have heard this on forums, their Flat is notorious for being semi-gloss) and having no other flat to hand I decided lustre was good!

A few jobs remained, painting, assembling and installing the landing gear and oil wash weathering the detail in the gear wells; removing my from-scratch masking of the canopy and hooking out the tissue protecting the intakes and nosegear well; fitting the jet exhausts; painting and adding the radio mast and pitot tube; and painting and glossing the formation lights. The clear parts for the three vertical lights on the underside will be added when the clear sprue shows up again on my chaos of a bench…

Tamiya brought their signature quality to this under-celebrated subject and I would recommend it to anyone wanting a larger, highly detailed replica of this subject in its immediate post-WWII configuration. One or two aspects are tricky but there is nothing even a moderately experienced builder should not be able to handle, and the seasoned modeller can turn out a really impressive piece incorporating aftermarket cockpit dress-up sets and decals, as a stand-alone display or diorama subject.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kit Review: Academy (Tamiya) StuG IV, #1332

It was about a year ago that I was posting on building this kit and being stunned to find that Academy had thieved most of their early range from Tamiya. I mentioned one or two minor differences that appeared in the building stage, then this kit lay fallow for a long time waiting for its paintjob.

Having just this summer got back to the bench after a quite protracted absence, I have been finishing some shelf-sitters, this one being my fifth in a row. This was my first tri-tone “ambush” scheme and I enjoyed it very much.

The basic vehicle was sprayed overall with XF-60 Dark Yellow, then a slightly darkened version was applied to the hull sidewalls and underside as a shade/dirt colour. The airbrush was changed to the fine tip and needle and Redbrown (XF-64) and Dark Green (XF-26) were sprayed, following the pattern seen in the box photos. Some extra yellow was used to touch up overspray, then a pattern of blowing leaves was applied in the three colours by brush. More yellow was mixed for the fade coat, being thinned 800% overspec as a glaze which was misted onto the upper surfaces, creating the impression of faded paint, and visually tying all three colours together.

The usual suite of techniques was used, being drybrushing with lightened shades of the three main colours on all edges, then drybrushing silver to represent areas of bare metal, washes of black and dark brown oil paint to create rust streaks and dirt accumulations, some washes of orange here and there for fresh, bright rust, graphite dust around the gun muzzle, and so forth. Alliance Modelworks German Vehicle Templates were used to spray the wheel hubs, .015” wire was used for the radio mast, and the muffler was treated with applications of liquid glue and sanding dust to create the bubbled rust effect.

Another variation from the Tamiya original showed up, the spare track links on the lower forward hull had to be back-ground to reduce their thickness by a considerable amount before they would fit the rack, whereas the originals just dropped into place. There are probably other subtle differences here and there, but to all practical ends the model really is identical.

The paint scheme I used is featured on the box photos but the decals for this vehicle, of the Grossdeutschland Division by the looks of the insignia, are not featured in the kit. I brought out the spare markings from the Tamiya example I did about two years ago and did some online research for which StuG IV units were operational in the west in late ’44, and thus good candidates to be wearing the “ambush” scheme. I chose the 251st Assault Gun Brigade, whose colourful eagle badge was on the Tamiya sheet, and while this is obviously a best-guess situation, I feel it’s a reasonable one.

In conclusion, Academy’s knock-off of Tamiya’s StuG IV is an enjoyable build with a few quirks not found in the original but nevertheless a straight forward prospect for anyone with a few projects to their credit. I’m very happy with the result, it looks good, aggressive in its dust and rust, colourful in its blowing-leaves autumn paintjob, and demonstrates once again how much versatility there is in the early Tamiya kits. That’s two of these so far, and I know there’ll be more. Winter markings, full skirts, heavy weathering, mud, stowage, there are plenty of options for depicting these hard-used, hard-fighting workhorses of the Wermacht.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Brain Cells? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Brain Cells!

After a lifetime in the hobby you can become inured to the stink of the chemistry. Enamel paints, liquid glue designed to be a plastic solvent, cyanoacrylate glue, even the supposedly nontoxic acrylics which have a pleasing odour but can be rather not-good-for-you in an enclosed space.

I recently began to experience headaches after airbrushing. As readers of this blog will know, I more or less retired enamels a couple of years ago for reasons of toxicity, and because dragging the whole rig outside to spray was too much trouble. However, even with a window open and some moving air, after sessions spraying acrylics I was starting to get persistent headaches, and that tells me I was suffering mild toxicity effects. I’ve completed half a dozen models in the last two months so there has been more painting packed into a shorter time than any other in the last year, so perhaps a problem was due to show up. A paper dust mask was not stopping much so the only solution was to buy a professional respirator mask.

As it happened, I was on the last gasp of my compressed air cylinder and needed a changeover, so when I took the tank into the depot I asked about masks and was shown an excellent unit made by 3M Corporation. This is the real deal, with chemical scrubber cartridges and dust filters, and a fully sealed fit to the face. When you’re breathing through this you’re on cleaned air only!

I trialled it promptly and the results of are as follows: easy fit and adjustment, comfortable to wear, not too heavy, does not obstruct the fit of glasses. No faintest whiff of chemical odour penetrates the mask, and breathing is easy and regular. The most important point is that after two good sessions of painting no headache had occurred, which seems to demonstrate the point.

The chemical scrubber cartridges come in a sealed package because they are permanently reactive with air and will exhaust. The tip from the retailers is that whenever the mask is not in use the cartridges are removed and sealed in ziplock bags with as much air squeezed out as possible. Hopefully this will extend filter life to a reasonably economical degree.

The whole rig (mask, chemical cartridges, dust filter pads) set me back Aus$80, which is a fair bit of cash, but how do you put a price on your health? I would like to still be building models when I’m 90, and doing so with as many brain cells left alive as possible!