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!

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