Thursday, 29 March 2012

Build Review - Academy 1/72 Spitfire Mk XIVc

I love doing these "little" kits. As long as they are decent quality, of course. If your experience of 1/72 scale Spitfires goes no further than the old Airfix toolings from the 70s then think again, there are some amazing small scale kits available nowadays. And this is one of them.

In the box, you get a couple of sprues and a transparency set, but it is immediately apparent that you have some great quality to work with here. Apart from the prop blades - more on that later.

Starting with the cockpit, you get separate parts for all the key elements, i.e. seat, armour, seat back frame, a pretty good representation of the cockpit floor and an exquisite instrument panel. I chose not to use the kit supplied decal for the panel (I rarely do) since the relief detail on the panel is lovely. I simply painted it black, dry brushed with light grey and blobbed some Tamiya Clear into the dials. Looks as good as you will ever get in this scale. I made up some seat belts from Tamiya tape and put the whole lot together. Painted cockpit green, dry brushed with Revell acrylic steel (that is some great paint, by the way - not far short of Alclad for metal finishes) and the "office" was ready.

It all slotted beautifully into the fuselage halves. Had a mild panic when I noticed that the instructions called for the installation of a spinner pin before closing the cockpit and there seemed no way to hold it in place. But I was fooled because it looked like one of those old Airfix "do not glue" pins - it isn't though. Glue it in place and the fixing happens within the spinner. Neat trick - although to be honest I prefer props that can be easily removed after the model is finished.

Next the wings go on, utilising the traditional Spitfire method of single piece under wing and two top halves. On less well engineered kits this can be a nightmare to fit properly, but this one snapped into place perfectly. Tailplane on and canopy masked, on to the finishing. I used no filler to speak of at all, just a light sanding although I trickled a small amount of Tamiya primer in to the wing and tail roots for good measure.

I painted the underside in Tamiya XF-19 (sky grey) and the top in Dark Sea Grey. Blu-tack was used to mask the camo lines and the green added using my own concoction of a mix of Tamiya Black Green and Flat Green which is the nearest I can get to the right shade. This all worked pretty well, although it is fiddly in this small scale. Just a few minutes spent touching up and then I smothered the whole thing with Klear.

When set, I applied the decals, opting to use the kit decals for the roundels and squadron codes, but raided the spares box and used a TechMod sheet for the stencils. The kit sheet contains virtually no stencilling so I always have plenty of such things in my stash. Techmod decals are good for stencils, but their larger decals are horribly thick and don't really respond to decal solution very well - even my Micro Sol.

Decaling done, another coat of Klear preceded my usual black oil panel line wash. The panel lines on this kit are delicate and I was worried that they would not have survived the painting and copious amounts of Klear but fortunately enough of the wash stuck to make it look about right.

While this was all drying, I put together the undercarriage, which is well represented with sharp detail, although I suspect the wheels are a little on the large side. But no matter, I went with them. These bits all slotted in to the body with little protest, just a little wiggling to get the plane balanced and correctly aligned as is normal.

The final part is the prop. This is the only major downside of this kit. The blades are ridiculously wide and I had hoped that this would not be too much of a problem but once assembled it looked more like a turbo fan than a WWII propeller. Too poor even for my relatively laid back approach. So I disassembled the spinner and trimmed and sanded down the blades, re-painted them and they looked much better now. Probably not perfect, but passable.

So in summary, other than the prop blades and the sparse decal sheet, this is pretty much a perfect kit.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Build Review - Tamiya 1/48 A-1J Skyraider

Cluttering up the workbench recently has been Tamiya's masterful 1/48 rendition of what is arguably the ugliest (yet somehow rather appealing) and testosterone fuelled plane to have been designed since the Stuka, or maybe some of those WWII Italian efforts. But don't criticise it's looks to it's face, this is one seriously tooled up trooper.

I've took the trouble to order in the Eduard photo etch detailing set for this one, I think she needs all the make up she can get. I was really (not) looking forward to tackling the three tone camouflage, but these U.S. brown/green tricolours are definitely worth the effort as they look great when done well.

The kit is classic Tamiya. Clean, just crisp enough in its detail, with clear instructions and detailed colour call outs. The decals are slightly disappointing on first inspection, consisting of the main markings and very few stencils. I don't know about you, but I like a lot of stencils in this scale, they add a lot to the final authenticity (even if I usually end up regretting it spending hours and hours battling with tiny decals). But I had decided to do this one out of the box and so resisted the temptation to go to the market.

As usual, we start with the cockpit.  A bit of sanding down was required to bed in the Eduard etch details on the dashboard but otherwise they slip in very well. The tub fitted into the fuselage perfectly and in no time the halves were together.

Following the instruction sequence, the engine went together next. It is a pretty good representation, could probably be improved with some additional detailing if you are that way inclined, but personally I was quite happy with it, giving it a coat of Tamiya XF-56 followed by some vigorous dry brushing with chrome silver to give some highlights. Finally I smothered it in a lamp black oil paint wash and when dry, put the whole nose section together. I didn't bother painting the exhaust stacks since they are semi-exposed and will be impossible to mask - so I would have to take my chances after the main painting.

The wings and tail sections went on pretty darn near perfectly. Overall, very little filler was required. A little Tamiya primer was dribbled into the wing roots and there was a small ridge under the front air intake than needed filling and sanding to dispose of. Otherwise very little sanding was needed either, much less than most kits, to be honest.

I sprayed the underside with Tamiya XF-19 which is a near as dammit to U.S. light grey. Then the undersides were masked and the top side sprayed with Tamiya XF-78 which is a pretty good approximation to the U.S. Tan specified. Then the fun job of masking in two stages for the tri-colour camouflage. I used the Blu-Tack method since I wanted sharper lines than freehand airbrushing would allow. This was a painful process done first to accept XF-58 followed by XF-27 as the third and final layer. A little cleaning up was required once the masks were removed, as usual, but the result looked just right to me.

After a couple of coats of Klear and an overnight set, the decals were applied. The tail decals are very delicate, as I found out to my cost, but managed to piece them together again, and I don't think anyone noticed. Micro Sol was used to bed them down, and as ever, this performed perfectly. Another coat of Klear and a good few hours curing.

I then applied my traditional lamp black oil pant wash to the panel lines and left to dry for a couple of hours before wiping down with thinners, kitchen paper and a vast number of cotton buds. Its a really messy process but it pays off. Once dry, a couple of coats of my custom mix of flat base and Klear gave the final finish.

While all the drying was going on, I set about the slightly tedious process of putting together the undercarriage and the vast array of ordnance. I have yet to find a manageable method of holding bombs whilst painting them but I did my usual method of painting on the sprues and then touching up later - still tedious but gave the right results. All the ordnance and tank slotted into the underside just fine and with the prop inserted all was done.

I can find no faults worth mentioning with this kit - no flash to speak of, perfect fit and all that ordnance really makes this plane look the business. Only thing I would like to see is more detail on the decal sheet, but this is by no means a deal breaker - there is always third party stuff available if you really want to go mad.

Another thumbs up from me!