Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why Do We Persist?

I have written on a fair few occasions about what constitutes a good kit or a poor one, and speculated on where the line falls between reasonable expectations of the tooling company on the part of the modeller, and vice versa – reasonable expectation on the part of the firm of the skills and competence of the hobbyist.

I was recently inspired to build an early Bf 109, and Hobbycraft’s -D model was the affordable choice, as the Classic Airframes kit is off the Beaufort Scale when it comes to prices (you’ll easily see $80, even $90 US, on eBay, these days). I knew Hobbycraft would call for some ingenuity and extra elbowgrease, and I accepted this as the price of building on the cheap (not that you can’t be suckered into spending as much on one of these as for a Tamegawa -E or later, if you are simply unaware of what’s worth what.) I was not surprised when starting this one to be promptly drilling out, grinding back, chocking up and so forth. What I did not expect was that it would be at literally every step and involve virtually every part.

Hobbycraft has often been called a mixed bag – some kits are good and some are not, almost as if different engineers worked to fill their boxes at different times. While the Avia S-199 I built a few years back was good enough to bring me back to the brand, I would have to say their Bf 109 D is not one of their better outings. In fact the expression “an exercise in polishing a turd” probably sums up this build.

Maybe I’m being ungracious, but is it too much to expect that when a detail part is meant to fit a curved surface that it should be correspondingly curved, instead of flat? That the elevator trim wheels in the cockpit should have a hole into which their peg goes, instead of another peg? Or that the angle braces under the tail plane should be the right length, or that their locater holes should be in the right place so that they support the planes at zero degrees dihedral, instead of about ten degrees up? Or, for that matter, that there should be some way to tell which way round they go, given that they are subtly different from end to end? Or that the canopy should be the same width as the fuselage? Or the exhausts be more than triangular lumps of plastic? Or that the forward engine cowling actually be the same length and width as the aperture it fills?

Then there’s the cockpit, which apes Hasegawa’s assembly sequence, but the alignment of later parts depends on the accuracy of earlier ones, and the side walls do not even match the angle of the floor to rear wall part. The end result is a structure all over the shop in terms of geometry, and a great deal of filing and scraping to make the cockpit somehow fit into the fuselage. In the cockpit, it’s worth noting that the gunsight was attached to the sprue by the optical glass itself, which is a formula for disaster right out of the box. I’ll let the reader imagine what sort of hi-jinx that occasioned…

The radiator under the engine has no detail whatever, it is left to the modeller to scratch something to go into it, or buy the Airwaves detail set. Indeed some modellers buy an AM –E cockpit and drop it in, along with replacing the wheels with True Details substitutes. Decals are of course replaced with AMs, as “white box era” Hobbycraft decals are well known to be another heartache waiting to happen.

So I guess the question is, why do we do it to ourselves? Is it just a case of swapping economy for frustration? You get what you pay for, but if that is the sole deciding factor it must be noted that these frankly poor kits are out there on many a shelf at comparable prices to ones far better. There’s the challenge factor, certainly, the element of satisfaction that comes from actually succeeding in making a decent showing out of it; that should, ostensibly, be the object for every “engineer in miniature,” though frustration tends to make us not care so much about that factor when the company doesn’t meet us half way.

Meet us half way? I don’t think Hobbycraft even showed up on this one, from their poorly hand-drawn plans to their box art which does not match the painting instructions. It’s great to have a pre-war –D in my Messerschmitt lineup, but my next one will be a Hasegawa -G, not because of any specific predilection for the later models so much as simply in the name of mental health.