Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kit Review: Hobby Boss Fw 190 D-9

It’s not often you get to sample the wares of a company for the first time, and I have just finished my first Hobby Boss kit, their Fw 190 D-9 in 1:48th scale. To say I am impressed is an understatement. Maybe their earlier kits were more simplified or less accurate, but the state of their art has now equalled the big guys from Shizuoka City, certainly in terms of engineering.

When opening the box of a new kit, one makes an unconscious survey of the contents, making a lightning-fast checklist of what’s there and what isn’t, and this one checked the boxes with ease. Attractive packaging, colour markings guide, no flash, optional parts, engraved detail (of course, that’s standard these days), clear instructions, marking options, individually bagged sprues for zero scratching, crystal clear canopy… Then details peculiar to the subject, such as the engine accessory area visible through the open gear bays of the liquid-cooled Focke-Wulfs. Parts fit is exemplary, and the sprue gates are the best I have ever seen, not just very small, denoting high moulding pressures, but offset from the plane of the part edge so that the plastic scar left from cleanup is not even on the external face of the part!

This model built willingly and cleanly. It is true that Hobby Boss have essentially copied Trimaster’s parts layout from 25 years ago in some respects, especially the sliding canopy mechanism, but it is also true that they have made it work, while Trimaster failed comprehensively. This kit has a canopy that both slides on call and fits precisely and snugly against the windscreen the rest of the time, pretty fair engineering in this scale!

I did not use the kit decals, they looked a bit dodgy with a spotty, irregular appearance in their carrier film, the only real negative I can bring to mind (that and the landing gear suspension being moulded in the fully extended position, as is so often the case, giving the model a stance perhaps a shade too high at the nose). The instrument panel is a decal (rather than raised details, another quibble) and I used this okay, but from the beginning it had been my intention to use aftermarket markings, specifically Superscale 48-1163 to build Rudel’s bird when he was Geschwaderkommodore of SG-2. I had originally planned to use an Italeri (ex-Trimaster) D-9 for this project but stalled because that kit does not feature the ground attack hardware needed for the subject – the Hobby Boss kit does.

By the time construction was done I could already tell it was going to be one of the standout models of my 48th scale collection, easily as good as the Hasegawas and Tamiyas that predominate. All I had to do was pull off a decent paintjob and do the decals justice, and fortunately the process came together without too much drama. I had airbrush trouble along the way and spent time and gas bottle pressure on a great deal of cleaning as I mixed tiny quantities of paint and chased the demarcations and mottle effects back and forth, but at last had an acceptable coverage and the process of clearcoats, panel line accents and decals went very much as expected.

I’m more than pleased with this kit, and will be picking up some more examples. I find myself quite sold on Hobby Boss, suddenly my favourite of the newer brands, with something that bit more precise and professional, even more ambitious, than their Trumpeter progenitor. They have frequent genuinely new releases, are tackling unusual subjects that have been ignored by others, and their quality speaks for itself. I know their research has not kept pace with their technical skills, their F3H Demon kits are let down by a number of inaccuracies, as is their new F-84F, whose cockpit and wheel wells are far enough wide of the mark for after market replacements to be in the works almost before the kit hit the market.

That said, it’s probably a case of evaluating each kit on its own merits. I already have four or five more Hobby Boss kits in my stash and like the looks of what’s in the boxes. I’m looking forward to using Aztec’s decals for Amazonian Mirages on their Mirage III kit, and to putting some AW Seahawks into my FAA lineup, and finally adding the elusive Demon to my USN collection. Hobby Boss is a vigorous and ambitious company – their new 1:16th scale Tiger tank is evidence enough of that – and we may expect even greater things in future from this technically superb company.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Old Classics In Demand

Many companies give their old properties a new release from time to time – think of Revell’s 1980s “History Makers” edition of classic kits from the 50s and 60s, and they’ve appeared more than once since. Sometimes they are kits with special appeal such as unique subjects, and Airfix recently rereleased their “Angel Interceptor” from the 1967 TV series Captain Scarlet in this way.

To say the kit had a sitting marketplace is an understatement. Airfix could barely keep it on their shelves, and availability was intermittent on a number of occasions. It’s an old classic, to be sure, released to coincide with the series, but, unlike the tie-ins Aifix had tooled for the earlier programs Fireball XL5 and Stingray, this one had an appeal that left it in the range as regular stock after the primary marketing phase of the program was over, indeed the last time I was aware of it in the Airfix catalogue was about 1982. Since then it has appeared once or twice, one time modified as a snap-tight edition, and the model still carries some features from this reworking.

It’s not a unique subject. Imai in Japan did the same plane, though the two kits are a world apart in terms of proportion and approach. It’s a typical 1960s Airfix kit with no cockpit whatever, dodgy proportions against the “real,” thing, and raised surface detailing. So why should it have been so popular with the modelling community?

Airfix turned it out in their new sharp-looking red box edition, with quality plans and painting guide, excellent decals, and of course used Roy Cross’s classic box art, so all this was in line with the reborn Airfix’s branding and expected quality. The kit itself remains old and simple but a tie-in with a program which has become a cult classic, so it would have to be the special appeal of that cult status. There are a great many modellers devoted to the worlds of the late Gerry Anderson, and they must have fallen on this kit like the proverbial “seagull on a hot chip,” as we say in Australia. An AM cockpit set was produced for it in resin, and any modeller worth his salt can change raised to engraved panel work without undue cussing. A few modifications and the kit builds a pretty satisfying representation of the craft as seen on screen.

A few days ago Airfix announced the edition was being discontinued, and that remaining stock was being sold off at a special offer price. The item went OOS literally overnight as modellers stocked up, more than one bought a carton of them, ten or more, to have against the day when the urge to build one comes along. While it’s true that a great many of these will change hands on eBay for years to come, it’s also true that the demand was so remarkable, the kit’s status was immediately changed to pending by Airfix – maybe they rethought the wisdom of axing an item which is so popular, even if its target marketplace is a comparatively narrow one.

This reflects the trend to rework old classics. Consider last year’s Round 2 edition of the MPC/Airfix Eagle Transporter from Space: 1999, in new packaging, with celebrity endorsements and improvements in the form of modern, state of the art decals. There is a great deal of traction left in old kits if the will is there to exploit them, to bring them up to date in whatever ways are economically feasible, and to celebrate their subject matter once again.

For myself, I still need two more Angels!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Breaking Your Trimaster Virginity

Trimaster! 25 years ago it was a name to strike awe into the hearts of aircraft modellers. It was a company whose product was to be approached in an attitude of genuflection, because it embodied a quality never seen before. Well – I’m not sure if that was really the case, ‘Tamigawa’ were pretty sophisticated in the late 80s, and recessed panel lines were not unknown, if still comparatively rare.

Trimaster burst upon the scene with a flock, a veritable schwarm of German WWII subjects that captured the attention of the specialist market, focussing on the Fw 190 in many of its variants, but not ignoring the Me 262 in many of its own, and even the Me 163 rocket plane. The company had a high production value, a quality which in the end may have been its downfall, as Trimaster closed its doors eventually. Its moulds have had considerably longer life, though, being issued in large volume by Dragon, and in a later incarnation boxed by Italeri.

It was one of these latter that tempted me to “break my Trimaster virginity,” with the Ta 152 H-1, one of the last and most derived variants of the Fw 190 airframe, perhaps Kurt Tank’s ‘ninth symphony,’ a fighter so advanced that it was almost unmanageable by the barely-trained pilots left by the time it was delivered. Nevertheless, it is remembered for the extraordinary technical achievement it was.

Given Trimaster’s reputation, I expected big things. I got an unusual subject with engraved detail and fair parts fit… And that was about it. I say fair fit, but in many cases it was sloppy, and betrayed poor engineering appreciation for the realities of building. An instrument panel attached by a couple of millimetres of its edge would be impossible without superglue, and is barely practical even so. Sprue gates on the thin ends of parts, such as the pitot tube, anticipate a rare dexterity on the part of the modeller to even free the parts intact from the tree, let alone clean them up. The sliding canopy was conceptually good but engineered to tolerances too coarse for it to actually work, leaving you with a canopy which neither slides nor actually fits against the windscreen. The various parts of the main gear bay lined up so poorly that major filing and sanding was required for the wing to close at all, and with so much forcing happening it is unsurprising that the upper wing halves did not snug down accurately enough to avoid “overbite” at the tips, one way or another.

Add to that Italeri’s often vague instructions and indifferent decals, and you have a recipe for a lot of work to get a decent result. I ended up leaving some parts off – two oblique braces in the gear bay, to be added from the outside after main assembly, for instance – the plans gave few clues as to how they fit. Likewise, the aft-most antenna under the fuselage had no locator hole and the plans made no mention of opening one until it was essentially too late. Okay, I could have taken a needle and drill to the centreline of a perfectly mated, flushed and painted fuselage and made a hole, but at what risk? Likewise, the two short indicators that rose through the wings to tell the pilot the gear was locked down had no locator holes either, when finally examined in close detail, and were left off for the same reason. The main gear struts were moulded with the shock absorber in the fully extended – unloaded – position, giving the aircraft a distinctly nose-high attitude, though if they had been moulded compressed the moraine antenna on the underside would have barely cleared the ground. A small brace piece in the tailwheel assembly had no attachment points, and the plans gave few hints… The exhausts were moulded to be attached from the inside, but fitted so curiously, on long mounting lugs, that they would have resided entirely inside the compartment, while in reality they should be entirely outside.

I made a series of modifications and simplifications (alright, omissions) to get the job done. The exhausts I replaced with the Quickboost parts for Tamiya’s Fw 190 D-9, which needed some modification and clever use of styrene stripstock to mount them, but looked a lot better (although the resin of the parts is so fine on the open exhaust throats that it in fact broke away in many places, almost nullifying the object of improving a defect.) I added Eduard etched harness in the cockpit, a basic improvement that is pretty much second nature these days, then did my best to wrestle the beast into submission.

This finally involved replacing many decals with generic insignia, swastikas and data from an Aeromaster sheet, using the H-1 data and individual aircraft codes from the Italeri sheet but omitting the wing walk dashed lines as it appeared the decals were silvering badly, and, as I had seen the same subject depicted minus these markings, I felt justified in leaving them out. The same with the loading chart data on the outside of the gear bay doors – the decal as supplied is too large to fit and the subject is sometimes seen without them. The red flashes marking the trim tabs were far too large for the tabs on all tail surfaces so these were painted red by hand. In the end I did not rig the main radio antenna wire either; after a long process of soft masking and spraying the three-tone scheme and DOR bands, and wrestling with panel accents in lines which were inconsistent across the airframe and thus sometimes unable to hold a wash, I just wanted it finished. The landing gear reduced me to that state I call “superglue and prayer,” and, while it worked, it was a close thing. The next day, the  model was in the display case.

I certainly hope Trimaster lifted their game as they went. Perhaps this was one of their earlier efforts, part of a learning curve. I have at least 16 other kits which trace their origins to Trimaster in one incarnation or another, and I do not look forward to a fight like this again. In contrast, Hobby Boss has virtually copied their engineering in some aspects for their D- and C-series 190s, but tightened the tolerances until it works correctly. Not quite shake and bake kits, but close, and definitely playing the big guys from Shizuoka City at their own game.

I’ll have a review of Hobby Boss’s D-9 at a later date, and it will be written in light of my experiences on this current model, as a bench mark for the changes a quarter of a century makes in the state of this particular art and science. At the end of the day, I have a Ta 152 which looks good among its brethren in the case, the paintjob is attractive, and in many cases I can justify my choices at a research level rather than one of slack modelling, and that’s a good note to close on.

What Price Detail?

First of all, an apology: this post was written months ago and it simply slipped my mind that I had not posted it! Life has been both busy and fraught and even on the brightest side I have been more concerned with building models than blogging about them. Nevertheless, this blog is alive and well and here are two posts on the same day to make up for the long silence! So, without further ado:

We usually think of detail, and detail accuracy, as being rather the holy grail of the hobby. How faithful has a manufacturer been to the original subject? Have the fine details been captured? How well? Surely a kit that captures details others have missed must be a good one, and when there are many of them, it must be the preferred starting point.

That was my perhaps na├»ve outlook when I started Trumpeter’s old (2000 or so) kit of the M1A1HA tank. I used Vodnik’s site to compare the major brands and how well they had captured the fine details, and in almost every instance Trumpeter was well ahead, featuring a wealth of small details that I have in the past scratchbuilt onto Tamiya M1s to “complete the picture.” Some of them are details I have never attempted, such as the sides of the lower hull with their intricate bolt detail and what appear to be laminations of plate. The Trumpeter offering featured many moulded-in items the others do not, and the lower price was an added incentive.

The fact is, the lower price should also have been a warning, because this was perhaps the least friendly armour kit I’ve built in a while. I can safely say it fought me at every step, there are elements that were never going to line up, and for all its vaunted details, there were elements which were missed or improperly represented, so if accuracy was the goal there was still building to do on top of the battle royal that was the price of the details to start with.

Many would say this it is a good thing to be challenged, and I would agree. Certainly the construction sequence was different from what I’m used to, necessitated by the skirt armour being moulded in with the upper hull. This meant that the running gear and lower hull must be completed before the upper hull is mated, and this gave rise to the interesting process of, essentially, laying on the main paint scheme before the model was finished. When the top hull was snugged down over the lower and fixed in place, I simply touched up the camouflage scheme with a few spots through the airbrush and called it good. I make that process sound simple, but there was a great deal of filing and fiddling, of cutting with a razor saw and other adjustments to get the hull to join at all.

The proof of the model is in the viewing, I guess, and it sure looks like an Abrams. All that fancy detail behind the running gear is invisible, of course, and I still had to scratch a detail or two, and only realised after I was done that I’d missed one or two others that would have been easy to add at the right time. The doors of the main sight don’t fit, the lifting lugs on the rear hull should have been replaced with wire, the bustle rack and turret racks overall were warped and were a pain to get even as straight as they are… The rack outer face is sloping inward, which was not apparent until the tact board and stowage boxes were attached. I used these same parts on another model long ago and they behaved much better that time.

The decals, while quite glossy, were very thin and reacted well to Microscale chemistry, snugging down to the surface without complaint, and as such were one of the few elements of this kit that worked as intended. The non-slip texture moulded in is also excellent, but that’s about it for the compliments. The running gear is secured with central caps which did not fit the shafts they were meant to go over, neither in length nor width. I filed the axle stubs to get them into place but nothing would ever get them to sit down that extra couple of millimetres to where they actually looked like the real thing. As a matter of fact, almost no pin was ever the right size to enter a socket anywhere on this kit, including the main sockets that joined the hull, so it was always a matter of modifying and filing. It fought me to the bitter end, with the radio masts and tow cables, to the extent that I really did not care by then whether the details I was mounting were correct or not, so long as they were finished.

Trumpeter have come a long way since this kit, which was in their “middle era” of engineering. Today their new-tool products are world class, and their Hobby Boss subsidiary is right up there with Tamegawa in terms of crispness of moulding and accuracy of assembly. It all had to start somewhere, and this M1, while dated in its approach, was far from their first product even so. I look forward to a retool at some point, or even an M1 showing up in their 1:16th scale armour series, which would be majorly impressive.

This particular outing was an education in many ways, and I would have to say that I’m happy enough with the result. Tamiya Acrylics, Mig pigments, scratchbuilt radio masts and a steady hand on the decals, and she looks good in the line up with the others. Heck, for $7 direct from China, perhaps I really shouldn’t complain!