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.

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