Thursday, 28 June 2012

Build Review - Airfix 1/48 E.E. Lightning F6

This is undoubtedly one of the very best kits that Airfix have ever produced, and belies their rather low end image these days, even though the kit was designed over 15 years ago. It builds well, is accurate, has lovely detail and what is more is the only practical option for this ever popular aircraft in this scale. The kit is cleanly moulded, very little flash and has relatively few parts compared to some similar modern offerings. 

I'm going to take the plunge and go for an aluminium finish. Wish me luck. But having finally tamed the impetuous beast that is Alclad II, I shall hopefully be able to do it some justice.

As ever, we start with the cockpit. I skipped the construction of the seat since I had invested in the rather fine QuickBoost resin offering that is made for this kit, and I would drop it in later after the rest of the work was done. The cockpit tub actually consists of only a handful of parts, but is nicely detailed, if not quite up to the standard of some of the very latest toolings. Decals are offered for the control panels, although for some reason they seem to bear no relation to the moulded detail. I rarely used these kind of decals, certainly in this scale, so proceeded to paint and detail the interior with my very finest brushes. Considering how much is visible in the final model, it came up very nicely.

We then move on to the air intake which consists of a very cleverly engineered system of ducts, incorporating the radome section in one go. However I was sure to fill the radome with lead shot before sealing up, as this plane will need a lot of nose weight to sit on its wheels properly. The tail pipes also need painting and construction at this stage since they sit deep within the fuselage. So far, everything was fitting very nicely with very little finishing required. But the acid test of fit is when you try to get everything in the fuselage, which was next.

I fitted the cockpit tub, intake housing and tailpipes inside the right hand fuselage half and to my relief it all clicks into place very nicely. Locating lugs help here and they are spot on in their positioning. Before closing up the fuselage, however, is peppered every unused hole in the nose area with more lead shot to be certain of avoiding a tail sitter. The fuselage then went together with very little pain in the end, just a little adjustment to the cockpit tub alignment.

Since I was planning a metallic finish, I then spent a lot of time smoothing down the fuselage seams since although Alclad produces an excellent finish, it shows absolutely no mercy when it comes to showing up your seams. The wings and tail went on with no fuss at all, only a small bit of thick primer being used to clean up the wing roots. I did, however, inadvertently use the wrong tail fin (there are two in the kit) and did not realise my mistake until it had largely set, so I had to very carefully remove it and replace with the correct one. My own stupid error, but look out for that if you are building this. Also, the elevator fit to the fuselage is not particularly intuitive, so best of luck with that as well. As usual, I left off the undercarriage and other surface details until after painting. I masked off the canopy and other orifices and turned to the paint booth.

Although I often don't bother with priming, when covering a large area with Alclad is it to be advised, so the whole plane got a good coat of gloss black. This is the best finish to use to prime for Alclad, it seems to enhance the metallic sheen very nicely. I then sprayed over a coat of Alclad Polished Aluminium as I was thinking that I would go for quite a shiny finish and I had not used this particular colour before. However the end result, whilst indeed coming up beautifully shiny and clean, had a very noticeable greenish hue which looked very wrong indeed. And after checking some more pictures, it was clear that Lightnings were never actually this shiny except in museums so I then covered it in another coat of normal aluminium and this toned down the shine and got rid of the nasty green as well. I did, however, leave the nose fairing untouched since this needed to be differentiated from the rest of the body.

Now started the very tedious task of masking off individual removable panels and spraying them with darker aluminium to make them stand out from the rest of the body. This is a painfully boring process but is well worth it as it adds enormous realism to the end result.

The markings scheme I had chosen is from the XtraDecals sheet, representing XR769/B from its days with 74 squadron in Singapore around 1970. This called for a black tail fin so this was masked off as well as the cockpit canopy and glare strip and these got a good coat of black. There was also a need for a white spine panel on this plan and so afterwards this had to be masked and sprayed as well.

I then gave the whole model two coats of Klear. Conventional wisdom says Klear spoils the Alclad finish but I don't agree and it also is rather necessary to protect from the subsequent weathering process as well. She was now ready for decals.

I placed the main decal markings in place from the XtraDecals sheet and used the kit decals for all the stencilling. Everything went on without protest and settled down nicely with setting solution. The only difficulty I had was the walkway markers on the wings which do not match the panel lines at all (take note, Airfix) and needed some adjustment. Another coat of Klear and she was set aside to dry.

Meanwhile, I put together the undercarriage and ordnance. I decided to use the kit supplied Redtop missiles so these were built, painted and decaled according to instructions. The wrap around decals for the missiles need trimming to length, preferably before soaking as I found to my cost.

Once cured, I gave the plane a black oil paint wash which brought out the panels and rivets very nicely, before finishing the whole thing with a satin mix of my own concoction which blended the finishes of the metal against the painted sections very well indeed.

Attaching the undercarriage was a little frustrating, there are no proper locating lugs for the leg support arms and the instructions are very vague, so I used reference photos and a bit of guesswork to get those in. That said, the undercarriage aligned itself very nicely which was a relief, so often one spends ages adjusting and modifying to get the wheels and legs lined up properly. I then glued on the missiles and the few remaining probes and sticky out bits and she was almost done.

The last, and most pleasurable, task was to paint up the resin seat - I love doing this as it really comes alive with a bit of carefully applied paint. But first, check the fit. Even having been supposedly designed for this kit, of course the resin seat did not fit the cockpit tub properly. The main problem is that it is too tall and so I spent some time shaving slices from the bottom of the seat until it sat correctly. Once happy I painted the seat using Tamiya acrylics. I did not use the overhead emergency handles provided by QuickBoost, as I find I can never get the yellow/black stripes painted convincingly. So I cheated and raided my stock of Eduard pre-painted etch frames and glued these to the top of the seat. Dropped in to the cockpit, and she was finished.

This is a great kit, and I will be building another one very soon. It stands its own ground perfectly against the very latest Far East toolings and restores ones slightly shaken faith in Airfix as a serious player. They have also reinforced that feeling with their very latest new releases but unfortunately they still try and sell us other kits that were moulded over 50 years ago and these are virtually unbuildable by serious modellers these days. There is, of course, a nostalgia factor in this and I am as swept up in that as most others of my generation, but let's hope they continue to release new kits of the current quality and they will win many new fans.

But in the meantime, keep the 1/48 Lightning in production as long as you like, Airfix - its a beauty!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Build Review - Italeri 1/48 Hawker Hunter Mk 6/9

This is a rebox of the Academy kit, but with a stunning new sheet of decals. On inspection, the flaws of the original have remained, unfortunately, predominantly the ridiculously undersized cockpit. This will need to be dealt with. But it is the best you will find in this scale, and is indeed a fine kit of this timelessly beautiful aircraft. There are six schemes to choose from, and I decided to go for the Mk74 Singapore Air Force version as a welcome change from the usual two tone RAF schemes!

I had read many complaints about the cockpit on this tooling. I decided to keep an open mind and proceeded with the cockpit as per the instructions. The instrument panels are very well represented and came up really nicely with some dry brushing and blobs of colour and glass. But the real problem is the seat and the associated depth of the cockpit. The seat fits just fine, but it is plainly a 1/72 scale seat and the depth of the cockpit tub matches it. Often one can live with minor issues of this type but this is unforgivable. It just looks absolutely stupid. The rest of the cockpit is in the correct scale, however, and so some corrective work was necessary.

I found a suitable replacement Martin Baker resin seat in my stash, but of course there was no where near enough depth in the cockpit tub. I know that after market cockpit tubs are available to fix this problem, but I was on a schedule and a budget! So I resorted to some major plastic surgery to remove the cockpit floor and build new side walls to lower the whole arrangement. The control column also needed extending but in the end this worked pretty well.

The next challenge is one that plagues all dual intake, single engine plane kits (e.g. the Harrier) and that is how to represent the intakes that flow into a single central duct. Italeri (or rather Academy, whose tooling this is) present you with an arrangement of duct panels that need to be glued into a coherent unit that sits between the fuselage sides. This took some care to get the individual parts lined up but I got there in the end and this piece then sits in the fuselage and the intakes stick out ready for the wings to be placed over them, which I suspected would be a recipe for some serious alignment and seam issues - and I was not wrong.

The nose wheel bay is a single part that sits under the cockpit and there are two versions, depending on the mark you are building. This, and the nose cone, were stuffed with lead shot before attaching since I know that the Hunter is a notorious tail sitter and I was taking no chances. I had to do some tricky adjustments to allow space for my newly deepened cockpit tub but there is just about room if you are careful.

The wing sections went together next with no problems, in fact the fit of the undercarriage bay walls is a magnificent piece of kit engineering. But now came the hard part - the wings are designed to now slip over the protruding intake sections. As expected, much effort was required to get the intakes lining up properly and the wing roots flush with the fuselage. If I was designing this kit, I would do a "top and bottom" fuselage rather than a side by side, this would eliminate most of these problems. But much sanding, wiggling and filling later everything was in place.

Flaps and ailerons are mercifully separate parts and I chose to display flaps down since I think it adds interest to any model aircraft. The tail went on with no complaints, as did the fuselage "under bumps" but as usual, I left off the small parts until after painting.

The only areas requiring significant filling were the wing roots although I gave all suspect areas a dribble of primer to be safe. The fuselage seams were particularly tricky to get rid of as well, and much re-scribing was needed after a major attack from the sanding sponges. Canopies masked and installed, and we were ready for the paint shop.

The instructions call for the underside to be painted light grey, but this is misleading. The actual colour is basically off white, so I mixed up a batch of white with a few drops of buff, and used that. Once masked off, then began the normally tedious process of Blu Tack masking the topside for the three colour camouflage scheme. In practice, this was not too onerous, the biggest problem was getting the right colours. I used dark earth for the brown, but I had real trouble matching the two greens used by the Singapore scheme and used two or three variants before I was satisfied that I had the right colours. A coat of Klear later and it was set aside to dry.

Once cured, decaling began. The decal sheet is superb, and contains some excellent detail but the down side is that it takes an age to get through them. Unusually, the Singapore scheme contains no wing markings. But the decals performed flawlessly and settled down with a dab of Micro Sol. More Klear to seal them in and another drying period later, I washed the panel lines with black oils. The panel lines are perhaps a little deep and wide but whilst it may not be totally authentic it does help to add interest to the final look. I finished the whole thing off with two coats of satin.

Next, on went the undercarriage. This is a rather complex and delicate part of this kit. The undercarriage details are superbly represented, but the pay off is a lot of careful effort required to get everything in place and strong enough to support the model. I also installed the air brake in the "deployed" position to add more interest.

Finally, the under wing stores went on. I decided to use the ubiquitous large fuel tanks on the inner pylons, these always seem to set off the Hunter's smooth curves beautifully. On the outer there are a number of options including a number of bombs and and seriously complex looking set of rockets but I plumped for the rocket pods in the end as I did not want too much going on to break up the clean look of this beast.

So there we have it, a kit with some flaws, and one huge one to boot, but with perseverance these can be overcome and it does indeed build into a beautiful model of a beautiful plane.