Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Build Review - Tamiya 1/48 Mosquito FBVI

I absolutely love the Mosquito. It was one of the first kits I ever built as a kid (the old Airfix 1/72 mould) and undoubtedly not far off the Spitfire when it comes to recognisability by the man in the street.

Tamiya's kit is arguably the best offering in the quarter scale, I built one a year or so ago and my only complaint about it is that the paint colour specifications in the box are completely off. But anyhow, I shall ignore them and come up with what I already know will be a brilliant representation of this magnificent aircraft. The box art seems to have a bit of a perspective problem as well (as do many of these far east kits!) but fortunately the kit itself does not.

I had built one of these not so long ago in the "traditional" RAF camouflage markings and so this time I decided to ring the changes and go for the RS625 variant. Not at all because I didn't want the hassle of the camo masking, honest, but the yellow spinners and lettering seemed to add a little spice to things.

This is one of those rare kits where the instructions do not start with the cockpit, but instead with the engine nacelles and wings. So I dutifully put these together, ignoring the call out to paint the undercarriage wells in interior green, which is just plain wrong. So instead I gave them a more correct bare metal finish using metallic grey with a chrome highlight, which I find gives a great representation of metal structures.Works great on the undercarriage gear as well.

In typical Tamiya fashion, everything went together seamlessly (literally) the only thing needing a little filling was the junction between the rear of the nacelle pods and the top surface of the wing.

Then we finally get on to the cockpit. Well, actually this kit has you construct the cockpit, nose well and bomb bay in one long section before getting anywhere near the fuselage. But it all clicks together beautifully. I gave the whole piece a coat of interior green. There are many arguments about who's paint represents this colour best, with all the major manufacturers providing their own version. Tamiya recommends a three part mix in the kit, but you know what, you cannot beat the original Humbrol 78 offering. It is spot on, so that was used for this purpose.

The dashboard and other panels are very well represented. They got a coat of black, dry brushed with white and the dials filled in with a drop of clear varnish. Tamiya, in common with many other manufacturers, offer decals for the dashboard but I have never understood why they do that, having already provided you with a lovely detailed panel that you will never get decals to conform to. I have tried this in the past and it never really works. The only disadvantage of my method is there is no details within the dials themselves, but please, in this scale, and with a closed cockpit? You are wasting your time.

The instructions for some reason call for dark green seats. I don't think so. They got leather brown like pretty much all other wartime RAF seats. Tamiya provide seatbelts as decals, but these were discarded with a sneer and I raided my spares draw for a couple of sets of Eduard etch versions. Once in place, the cockpit was dirtied up a bit with some dry brushing and a black oil paint wash and it was ready.

The bomb bay is superbly represented and this received quite a lot of attention to make the most of the details. I left out the bombs for now, but these could go in later. Once glued to the cockpit section we were ready for the big moment in any build, putting the fuselage together.

Each fuselage half is in two pieces (presumably to allow for different versions) and the attachment lugs are very neatly hidden by the wings once on - nice engineering, Tamiya. So I put the pieces together and the cockpit/ bomb bay section slipped into the fuselage with no complaints. Once again, the quality of the kit engineering paying off in spades when the whole fuselage clipped together with no complaints at all.

Next on went the wings and tail plane. Again, there is a neat wing brace mechanism that removes any concerns about dihedral and the tails just slip in perfectly. There was a slight gap on one of the wing roots but I suspect that may have been more due to my over zealous sanding than to any fault with the kit. Nothing a smear of filler could not solve.

As per usual, I left off the gear, doors and bomb bay doors for later, and proceeded to prepare for painting. The fit was so good that other than as already mentioned, no major filling was required I just dribbled some primer in all the roots and around the nacelles for good measure. Other than that a good sanding with a fine grain was all that was needed to remove the last vestiges of the fuselage seams and wing edges.

Masking the cockpit canopy took a while, there are a lot of panes in there. Also Tamiya provide decals to represent the internal framing which is a good idea, but I am not sure how effective it is in practice. I went with them anyhow even if their colour is a bit bright and bold for the interior green required. The canopy appeared to fit perfectly and so I glued it in place with aplomb assuming Tamiya's engineering would not let me down. I was mistaken, however.

I first sprayed over the canopy with interior green to represent the insides of the struts, but this revealed some problems with the canopy fit. There was a major (relatively) gap at the back of the canopy. With a huge sigh, I had little choice but to prize it off very carefully and do a little re-shaping to fix this. That was the end of that, or so I thought.

So on to the main painting. I masked the wheel wells and bomb bay using the "wet tissue" method. The instructions call for the underside to be done in "Medium Sea Grey" but the Tamiya version of this paint that I had looked far to dark for my liking, so I used sky grey instead. Which is much nearer the historical colour, if truth be told. Once dry, and a relatively simple masking job later, the top half was then sprayed in Dark Sea Grey.

I next removed the masks, including the canopy and discovered to my horror a hugely obvious and unsightly smear on the inside of the canopy, which must have happened when I was messing about with it earlier. Every modellers nightmare on a kit where you have a completely sealed tub such as this. So there was no option but to remove it once again, clean the inside, re-attach it and spend a long time hiding the evidence on the newly sprayed bodywork.

The plane got a couple of coats of Klear and was set aside to cure. Meanwhile, I put together the remaining assemblies, i.e. the undercarriage, props and spinners, bombs and rockets. These all fell together beautifully although the cross members on the undercarriage are a little tricky to get in the right place.

After the gloss coat has cured, I started on my favourite stage, the decaling. This is not as tedious as on some planes as the Mossie has relatively few stencils to worry about. One tricky part however is that the letter coding I had selected is made up of decal overlays. A word of advice here, make sure the first decals are completely set in place before attempting to place the overlay decals, otherwise, as I found to my cost, they are very difficult to place on the tacky surface. So don't be impatient!

But I finally got everything in place. So after another coat of Klear and a curing, I washed thinned black oil paint into the panel lines, let it dry, and wiped the whole lot down with thinners. This is actually a long, tedious and dirty job but it pays off in the end with beautifully highlighted panel lines. Not that there are many of those on the topside of the Mosquito. It's plywood construction meant that there is not much detail at all even on the real aircraft. I left it to dry and then came two coats of my Klear/ Flat Base combination satin coat.

Highly pleased with the result, I finally placed all the furniture on to the plane. The undercarriage slipped in almost too well, and the rockets dropped in nicely. I pushed the props on and will finally a a completed aircraft.

But I was not done yet. I wanted a little grubbiness since the aircraft is otherwise really smooth and unrealistically perfect. So I dotted some thinned Burnt Umber oil paint randomly on some of the caps and joints on the top and the bottom. Dampened cotton buds were then used to smudge these in the direction of the airflow to give a subtle, but highly realistic, leak stains. I then used some weathering powder rubbed in to produced exhaust and gun staining and all was done.

I thoroughly enjoyed this build. This kit has been around a few years now, but is very near as good a kit as any you will find in the market today, relatively straightforward, clean and crisp parts and a perfect fit. No wonder this is the second one I have built within a few months. And I'm sure it won't be the last.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Build Review - Hasegawa 1/48 F104G Starfighter

The Starfighter has always been an extremely popular modelling subject. What with it's sleek, rocket-like, almost physics defying design that could have come straight out of any of the Gerry Anderson series.

I was landed with a commission to build one in 1/48, the customer wanted the German grey/green markings which look pretty cool, it has to be said. The choice boiled down to the Revell or Hasegawa offerings and the latter won convincingly on the basis of being a far superior kit for not a lot more money. We also agreed to dress it up a little, so I ordered in the Eduard cockpit detail set, a C2 ejection seat from True Details, and a couple of resin under wing tanks from Heritage Aviation since those do not come with the kit.

Speaking of which, we needed a "G" version since that was what the Luftwaffe mainly used, and no single offering matched the needs precisely, the CCV being the nearest but for ease of build, I opted to bag the "Taiwan Air Force" version since it is identical in every way, and also ordered the simply brilliant decal set for German F104Gs from DACO.

The kit itself is well up to Hasegawa's usual high standards - crisp and clean, almost perfect fit (with one exception - see later) and any decent kit that manages to get its instructions clearly into four pages is all right by me! Having just come from the MPM 1/48 He177, this looked like a well earned holiday.

Starting with the cockpit, as ever, I threw away the majority of the parts since I had third party replacements to hand for them, just using the kit supplied tub and stick. The Eduard self-adhesives went on without any fuss for the side panels and dashboard and I had a thoroughly nice time painting up the True Details resin C2 seat, although this would come back to haunt me later. The tub slotted perfectly into the fuselage halves along with the undercarriage bay (which includes spectacular detail out of the box, by the way). I also took the trouble at this stage to glue some lead shot around the cockpit area since although no nose weighting was mentioned in the instructions, I was going to take no chances with this one.  The fuselage went together with a satisfying click. Virtually no visible seams at all!

Then came the first elephant in the room. I had followed the instructions rigidly and not yet installed the cockpit dashboard which they claimed would just drop in to the tub in the completed fuselage. Would it hell! No way on earth that was going to happen. A serious error in the instructions here that ultimately resulted in me having to re-open the front of the fuselage to install it. Something I hate doing, this, since such a significant re-gluing generally is never quite as clean as the original. However I was pleasantly surprised that no sign of the break in was evident afterwards. I also filled the nose cone with lead shot and attached it, being delighted with the lack of seam that resulted without any effort on my part!

The wings and tail are very nicely engineered and adopt their correct dihedral with no fuss thanks to well structured braces so there was no issue there. I made up the wing tip tanks but kept them off for now so they could be painted separately. I also put together the resin tanks at this stage, these, unfortunately, were not so well engineered and getting the fine tail fins from the casting block without damage and in a state to be attached to the tank body was the work of a couple of hours. But eventually I got there.

On to the painting, and the under body needed to be aluminium. I toyed with a number of options, but as usual, ended up cracking open the bottles of Alclad II.This gave its usual lovely smooth metallic finish. Many people are really scared of this stuff, but you know what, just use it like any other paint - it's fine! If you want a really shiny finish you should prime with gloss black, but in this case I did not bother since the actual German planes had a dull finish. A few random panels were masked out and sprayed in a darker shade to give some variety.

Masking was easy, its basically one big straight line down the side, and I then sprayed the whole topside with a mix of 50/50 Tamiya Neutral grey and Tamiya Dark Grey, which gives exactly the right "basalt" hue needed. I then masked the camo scheme, again an easy one here since it's all straight lines with sharp edges, and sprayed over with Tamiya Olive Green. The DACO sheet calls for Olive Drab, but that's too dark and brown. The tanks all got a topside of Olive Green as well, after which the wing tip tanks received their distinct orange jackets. Once all masks were removed and a bit of touching up done, I then masked off and sprayed the air intakes in a mix of black and mid grey - the sheets specifies black but if you look at any photos you will see it is actually more like anthracite. Then the whole lot got a couple of coats of Klear and was set aside to cure whilst I sprayed the exhaust piece (which is mercifully separate) in Alclad burnt iron and then went off to build the undercarriage.

The undercarriage parts are of superb quality, and are engineered to fit using poly plugs rather than the usual "best of luck" holes in the plastic floor, which is actually a brilliant piece of design by Hasegawa, it should be done more often!

After curing, I spent nearly two whole days applying the extensive decal sheets. The customer had suggested the "Richthofen" squadron markings and so I chose to number it 20+68 which was a Richthofen plane. But the majority of the time was spent on the stencilling. Barely a square inch of this plane is left without some little tag. By the end of this I was pretty bored, I must admit, but it really does look the business as a result.

Another coat of Klear followed by a panel wash and then a satin coat mix of Klear and flat base and the finishing was done. I attached the undercarriage with no problems, and all tanks similarly went on without argument. I was worried that the under wing tanks would be a nightmare, but with help from some Gorilla glue they went on with no complaint.

Finally, the second elephant appeared. My lovely C2 ejection seat was not specifically designed for this kit. I had left it off to be dropped in at the last minute, and had of course verified that it would. However, it's too tall just being dropped in, and this meant that the canopy could not be closed. The main reason is that Hasegawa have moulded a box in the floor of the cockpit which supports the kit seat to the right height, whereas my resin option was not expecting this. Cutting away the box was not an option at this stage, so I had to spend an hour or so shaving bits of the base of the resin seat (not actually very easy to do, I can tell you) until it sat low enough to be in the correct position. But we got there in the end.

In summary, this is an absolutely superb kit with the exception of that really annoying and unnecessary issue over the dashboard (please correct you instructions, Hasegawa!) and I shall definitely be building another one soon.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Build Review - MPM 1/48 Heinkel He 177 "Grief"

This is one of those kits that many of us modellers either have in our stash or on our watch lists, and is firmly in the "get around to it one day" camp although most of us fail to do so. There is no denying the appeal of this aircraft, one of the very few "heavies" produced for the wartime Luftwaffe although plagued with operational problems mainly around its rather "too clever for its own good" coupled engine arrangement. But the sheer size of a model of this plane in 1/48, along with its rather suspect kit quality, is enough to put most of us off spilling it out onto the workbench.

So anyone wanting such a model to grace their (suitably large) shelves either has to bite the bullet and go for it, or else commission someone else to build it, i.e. me. Thus I find myself turning out the large number of soft plastic sprues onto the workbench and wondering where to start. And its a commission, so it had better turn out well!

But I am always up for a challenge, and actually had built one of these some time ago. But I had forgotten what a pig of a kit it is. The plastic is very soft and the kit has a definite "limited run" feel about it. There are no locating lugs or pins to be found anywhere, the detail on the parts is very shallow and the instructions are suitably vague in many places. The wings appeared rather warped and misaligned and there is significant flash throughout. That's the bad news, on the upside there is an exquisite amount of detail supplied on the "K" sprues including control levers and other details that rival the best etch or resin possibilities and will undoubtedly look great when painted up carefully. This is not the "High Tech" version so there is no etch and only a few bits of resin to work with, but there is a commendable attempt here to provide levels of detail to rival it. So in summary something of a curate's egg of a kit that will undoubtedly prove a challenge but should scrub up well with a little care.

Starting with the cockpit area, as is the norm, I carefully put together the main structure. I immediately ran into issues with the lack of positive locating marks and extremely vague instructions, and constantly have to keep test fitting the results into the fuselage to make sure I was doing it right. After a few tries I was happy that the cockpit structure was correct and the whole thing got a coat of RLM02. There then follows a long period of painting in the details and constructing the furniture. The seats, controls and other internal details actually go together pretty well, and after some careful painting and dry brushing and pretty good interpretation of the office results.

Having been caught out before when building models of this size, my next step was to firmly brace the fuselage halves with spare sprue to add strength, and also used sprue cuts to fashion rudimentary lugs around the edges. This is essential if I am to have any hope of getting the fuselage together without some real alignment problems. This worked, after a fashion, but I still found that once the fuselage was together some serious seam filling and sanding was required to hide the joins. I also noticed that the tail fin alignment was way out and so some judicious heating and bending was required to put that right.

Of course it should also be mentioned at this stage that there is no practical way to install the guns in the fore and aft sections after the fuselage is created so these "sticky out" bits had to be in place throughout the build. By some sheer miracle, I actually avoided breaking them off during the rest of the build - that has to be a first.

The wings were slightly warped, and so more heat treatment was needed to correct this. There is no real engine component to worry about, just a front plate that represents them to a reasonable degree which wont be too visible behind those massive props and so just a bit of dry brushing does the job there. Putting the wing halves together, though, was more of a challenge. They simply don't align properly. After much foul language and strong tape, I got them to the best compromise, and after setting got through a couple of sanding sponges cleaning up the mess.

The next challenge was the wing fixing - never an easy task on a model of this size. There is very little support for the wings and of course they don't fit particularly will either. So much shaping, sanding and packing was needed to get them on with a strong joint, and after an overnight curing balanced on paint pots to get the dihedral, much filling and sanding to hide the resulting scene of destruction.

As you can imagine on this plane, masking the canopies was no easy task - this took the best part of a day and at this point I wished I had the "High Tech" version which includes canopy masks, but it was not to be.

After giving the whole model a good sanding and rescribing some panel lines, the next stage was painting. The customer wanted the black underside "night bomber" scheme and so I started by spraying the whole thing with Tamiya XF-1. Copious reels of masking tape were then used to leave only the upper surfaces for the RLM76 base coat. I used a combination of Tamiya XF-19 (sky grey) XF-23 (light blue) and XF-2 (white) in equal parts to replicate this, which I have found to work perfectly in the past. This went on with little trouble, followed by a couple of hours adding the mottling pattern with a heavily thinned mix of XF-24 (dark grey) and XF-53 (neutral grey). Serious wrist strain followed, but notwithstanding I then applied a filter of RLM76 on top to tone it all down a bit. Now it was starting to look the business.

Couple of coats of Klear and an overnight dry later, decaling was very easy. The kit decals were to be used and they worked wonderfully well. They are pretty thin and loosened quickly, which I always like, and settled down nicely with a couple of applications of Micro-Sol. Even the multitude of step marker line went on like a breeze, no breakages to report!

After another coat of Klear, I applied my traditional black oil paint wash to the upper RLM76 colours, (there seemed little point doing so to the black underside) and this brought out the panel lines rather nicely. But then I was faced with the perpetual modellers challenge - how exactly do you weather black paintwork? Chipping marks seem to be conventional wisdom but I feel they never look convincing except in the largest scales. So I dry brushed the raised details with Revell steel and highlighted selected panel lines with a silver pencil. This all resulted, to my eye, in a pleasing slightly worn look, and then the whole thing was brushed with my custom matt varnish. Is say "brushed" deliberately since I find it gives a better look if you apply the matt coat on with a large brush working in the direction of airflow. Sprayed matt finish always looks too perfect for my liking, and what brush effect remains (which is very little) adds a little something to the weathering.

Fitting the undercarriage needed a bit of patience. The dual leg approach of this plane combined with the lack of positively locating parts makes for some interesting work, especially since you cannot afford to risk weak joints given the weight of this model. But I got there eventually with a few wings and prayers and finally she was on her feet.

The only post completion drama was when the customer pointed out that the lower half of the canopy should be painted over on night bomber versions, so some overtime was required to re-spray and finish this section. To be fair, I completely failed to notice that the kit diagrams do point this out and I could have saved myself a lot of masking hassle, so a self inflicted wound here.

So overall a mixed experience with this build. The kit leaves a lot to be desired in the macro scale but also has some really nice detail touches that are worth spending time on. I have to say though, the "high tech" version of this kit, which includes extra resin and etch detail and some more goodies is probably not worth the extra money since I don't believe it will fix the major shortcomings, i.e. poor fit of he major parts and this could spoil the super-detailing experience.

But when all is said and done, there is enormous satisfaction from producing such an imposing model and if you have the shelf space, and plenty of time and patience, maybe you should get your one down from the loft.