Monday, 27 August 2012

Build Review - Italeri 1/48 Panavia Tornado IDS

I love the Tornado, and if you want to build one in 1/48 this is arguably the best choice of kit. The Airfix offering is showing some age and the HobbyBoss one, although a great piece of engineering, is just too inaccurate to be fixed easily. I'll resist the temptation to do the "Black Panthers" scheme on the cover of the box, and go for a more traditional RAF offering, but it will still look fantastic. These planes always do!

The cockpit tub is quite nicely detailed and goes together with no fuss, only consisting of six pieces if you don't include the seats. I didn't include the seats since I had a couple of Pavla resin Martin Baker Mk 10 seats in my draw that would do nicely. The kit seats offer as reasonable a representation as you could expect from injection moulding, but the resins seats will, as ever, look so much better. I painted the cockpit light grey and blacked over the instrument panels and side consoles. I had resisted the temptation to spend a not inconsiderable sum on pre painted etch for the cockpit, and opted instead to crack out the fine brushes. I actually enjoy painting up cockpits and while it is unlikely to rival the pre painted etch for finesse and accuracy, I think I did a reasonable job - I hope you agree. I have to say that sometimes a hand painted cockpit actually looks better overall. It may not stand the scrutiny of the photographic close up, but in the flesh it looks as good, and arguably better in the sense the pre painted etch can look just TOO clean compared with the rest of one's handiwork.

As is usual with Tornado kits, the nose section is completely separate from the body and the cockpit fits nicely into the two halves of the front section. I jumped ahead of the instructions at this point and also fitted the nose cone, after pumping it full of lead shot, without which this model would be sure to squat on its tail.

Next is the lower part of the main body, which involves painting up the undercarriage bays and inserting them into place. The kit also thoughtfully provides a couple of strengthening and locating plates that get slapped into the side walls at this point. I did not realise what they were at first and was baffled by the lack of location marks or lugs, but once clear it merely requires them to be sufficiently proud of the side wall to help locate the top half when it is attached.

I put the wings together next, since they would need to be inserted before the fuselage top was closed up. Anyone who has built a Tornado kit will be aware of the various attempts the kit designers make to provide for swivelling under wing pylons to allow you to sweep the wings back or forward and line up the ordnance. I have not ever come across a serious modeller who has bothered. It is just too much hassle and risk. Choose the position you want your model to display the wings in and glue it up. Trust me, it's not worth it. So I left the pylons off altogether in the knowledge that I would hard wire them in later and I'd rather not have them on during painting. I decided to go with the wings fully forward, because I think it makes for a much more imposing model. However unlike most of you, I have a factor I have to bear in mind. This model will eventually be sold and shipped and so I decided to leave the wings swinging even though the pylons would be in "forward" position to aid in keeping the package size down.

Anyway, back to the plot. The wings are linked internally to ensure synchronised movement (not all kits do this, surprisingly) and they are placed on the body underside and locked in place with plastic plugs on the pivot points. The tail plane is also designed to be movable, but again, PLEASE do not be tempted. So I glued them in flat. There are also some internal plastic struts to be placed at this stage to keep the body the correct height and rigid. I wish more manufacturers were this thoughtful - it probably saved me a lot of trouble when lining up the front and rear sections of the model. The top of the fuselage then went on with no real problem, in fact the customised locating lugs worked a treat and very little seam was left to deal with.

So the front and back sections of the plane were now glued together and thanks to the thoughtful kit engineering, this was remarkably easy. Very little filler was needed to make it seamless. The tailplane also went on easily at this stage, with a little filler along the root where it joins the fuselage being required. The option is also given to model the air brakes open. I was tempted, but the detail inside the brake housing is woeful, so I closed them up.

Next came the only real problematic area of the main build. The air intakes. These are separately built out of three main parts, fixed to the side of the fuselage, and then a rather fiddly two part piece constituting the front of each wing fairing has to be glued around it. Just looking at the instructions told me this would be problematic and indeed it was. The air intakes do not line up very well at all with the main body, and once I had finally got this right, the wing fairing piece refused to sit squarely on either side of the plane. It needed some good whittling with the knife and a serious amount of filler to get things looking reasonable. But I got there.

I masked off the cockpit canopy using my favourite "trapezoid" method (I'll do an article on this soon!) and stuffed wet tissue into the pre painted undercarriage bays and air intakes. A final once over with the sanding sponges and she was ready for painting.

I gave the whole plane a quick blast with Tamiya primer then painted the nose black and the tail fin white (as per my chosen 9 squadron scheme) and these were masked off before a complete dark sea grey coat over the whole model. I then used Blu Tack masking to prepare for the camouflage pattern. Of course, being an "all over" camouflage this took some time. But once done a good blast of RAF green finished the painting. I then gave the whole model two coats of Klear and set aside to cure.

Meanwhile, I made up the undercarriage parts (which are surprisingly simple but no less detailed for it) and the ordnance, including the external fuel tanks. The tanks also needed a camouflage pattern so I sprayed them dark sea grey, masked up with Blu Tack and then applied the green.

Before decaling, I turned my attention to the Tornado's, ahem, rear end. The reversers needed to be sprayed with Alclad steel and the exhausts are quite nicely moulded. These got sprayed with Alclad exhaust manifold, which is one of my favourites for this kind of thing. So far so good. But then we come to one of the major weak points of this Italeri kit. The Tornado has a complex and very visible gearing mechanism between the exhausts and this is represented by a completely shapeless bump on a blank backplate. This is a real let down as it is completely unconvincing. I built the Hobby Boss kit a while back, and despite many other problems with that particular kit, this part they got very nicely using a combination of moulding and etched details. But this Italeri kit makes no effort, almost as if the kit designers got bored at this point and went home. I am not normally a compulsive super detailer, but this got me angry and had to be dealt with. So I cut some plasticard to shape and punched it with the appropriate holes to provide the back plate detail, and used some left over etch to make a rough impression of the gearing mechanism. Far from perfect, but a massive improvement on the basic kit.

The other bit of scratch building was to fashion some flex strips for the rear of the wing slots to cover the gap when the wings are swept forward. As is usually the case with swing wing planes, no attempt is made to do this in the kit so one's ingenuity must come into play to avoid an unsightly gap in the side of the plane.

Back to good news, the decals are really excellent. They went on very well and settled beautifully with just a little assistance from Micro Sol. After another coat of Klear, I applied a black oil paint wash to bring out the panels and then covered with two coats of matt varnish. Finally, a little panel bleaching with light grey gave it an air of authenticity. The next stage was to attach the undercarriage and ordnance, none of which presented any major problems. My final task was to paint up and install the resin seats, which came up really nicely and added a really nice finishing tough to the model.

So in summary, this is still (in my opinion) the premier choice kit for a 1/48 Tornado. It has a few faults but they can be dealt with and builds into something that looks very much like a Tornado to me, and that is always something worth looking at!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Technique - Airbrushing Your Models, The Rough Guide

I am frequently asked about airbrushing. What equipment do I use/recommend? How do I get that effect? What's the best way to get this pattern? So I thought I would post my thoughts down here for your benefit. If you are expecting to be an airbrushing expert after purely reading this, you may be disappointed. But please persevere, because if that's want you want to be, you need to hear it!

Let's get one thing out of the way first. There is NO easy way to becoming an expert if you are not already. I will use an analogy. I am a pianist, I play very well, if I say so myself. But I can only play the piano very well because I have been doing it since I was six years old. When I was six years old, you could have sat me at the most expensive Steinway grand that money could buy, but I would still not be able to raise a tune. These days, I can play that expensive Steinway and make it sound pretty good. But I can also get a decent tune out of the beat up old upright piano at the back of the local pub.

And so it is with airbrushing. Within reason, the equipment is secondary to the skills and experience of the person using it. And it never stops. To use the piano analogy again, if I am learning to play a new piece it will sound pretty rough the first time I play it. But I persevere and eventually I can play it as well as any of the other pieces I have learnt. And I am a slightly better pianist overall as a result because now I can do something I could not do previously. And so it goes for airbrushing. I consider myself a pretty experienced individual with the airbrush, but on many projects I undertake there is something I have not attempted before, be it a particularly tricky camouflage scheme or weathering effect, and sometimes I get it right first time, sometimes I have to try several times. But in either case, I have learnt something new.

Despite many years experience, I am still in awe of what some other people can achieve with this tool, be it on a model or any other artwork. I aspire to be able to do that, but I am realistic and know that just by spending more money on expensive gear, I will not be any better. In fact I will probably be worse initially since I am not used to the brush. The only way is by practice and experience, and getting it wrong countless times before I finally get it right.

Why use an airbrush?

You probably won't be reading this if you don't know the answer. Like all modellers, I started out hand brush painting everything and a perfectly decent result can be obtained for the majority of paint schemes if you are careful. But as we all know, it does not come close to the quality of an expertly air brushed model. Done well, airbrushing can give you a perfectly smooth and consistent finish, soft demarcations, intricate camouflage patterns and markings, and in conjunction with masking, near perfect hard lines as well, all of which are simply not possible with hand brushing. However hard you try, hand brushing will always leave the tell tale signs of brush marks, uneven paint thickness and trembling hands that mean your model will never look (to you at least) as good as the "professionals". These days, I only use hand brushing for small parts and details, and maybe the odd barely visible interior sections if I cannot be bothered to crack out the bottles, thinners and the other paraphernalia that goes with an airbrush session. There's no getting away from the fact that airbrushing is more hassle than hand brushing, but the results are definitely worth it.

What equipment do I need?

If you are serious about becoming a competent airbrush user, it is worth investing in the right equipment - and this will cost you some money. You don't need to buy the most expensive, you will not do it justice and believe me, it is not worth the money at this stage.

Ideally, buy two airbrushes - one siphon fed and the other gravity fed (see later for explanation). There is much debate about relative merits which you can read for yourself, but personally I use the siphon fed one for large area coverage and the gravity fed one for small area coverage, it works out more economical on mediums, if nothing else. This is going to be sacrilege to many "experts", but I don't find any practical difference in the results that they are capable of at the level I am working. If you only want or can afford only one, go for a siphon fed. There are some "dual" capability ones out there, I've never used one personally but I am sure they may be a good compromise.

You also need a compressor. This is probably the most expensive single investment you will make. A decent compressor ensures a smooth constant flow of air. More on the compressor later. Do NOT use those compressed air cans that you can buy for this purpose - they are a waste of time.

Invest in a good quality air hose from the compressor to the airbrush. These are normally of the "braided" variety. If you wonder why this matters (after all, its only a pipe?) then you have not yet had the pleasure of having a cheap plastic one spring a leak on you, or run over it with your chair castors and many other things you would not even think of that could go wrong. Trust me - get a good quality braided one. If you have more than one brush, you can also get "pop'n'lock" hose adapters that allow fast changeover of airbrushes without having to unscrew and screw the hose every time. If you do a lot of airbrushing, they are well worth the cost.

Buy a plentiful supply of siphon bottles (and get airtight screw lids for them as well), paint mixing jars, pipettes, thinners for your chosen paint type, disposable face masks, and airbrush cleaning solution. Treat all of these as consumables, you will get through them surprisingly fast.

Finally, you will need some form of painting booth and extraction system. Airbrushing without a dedicated extractor fan is plain stupid. Opening the windows is NOT sufficient. It is not just for your own health, airborne paint particles (and I know this to my cost) will, over a relatively short space of time, coat everything in the room and beyond with a fine sheen that looks like dust but will not wipe off like dust! Most people make their own paint booths/extractors perfectly successfully out of old fans, tumble dryer hoses and boxes. Personally, I invested in a professional paint booth and knocked a hole in my wall for the extraction hose which is probably a bit extreme for most people, but then I do this for a living.

The airbrush.

I have had a number of people recently ask whether a specific airbrush can give them results similar to something seen on one of my models. You probably know what's coming next. As long as it is of a reasonably quality, then probably yes, it can. But it's not the airbrush, it's the user. I am not going to recommend a specific brush or brand. Personally, I used to use Badger brushes, now I use Iwata. Not because Iwata is better, but because I got a good deal on them bundled with a compressor. Try and avoid "budget" brushes, go for a mid range brush. It should be double action and internal mix. Double action means you can control both the flow of air and paint individually as you brush. This is quite mentally challenging if you are new to it, but after a while it comes very naturally. Internal mix means the air and paint is mixed INSIDE the brush and ejected through a nozzle controlled by a needle as opposed to an external mix brush which technically should really be called a spray gun. These use the suction effect of the flow of air to pull paint out of the bottle and basically just blows it at the target. You may be able to patch up a scratch on your car using one of these, but you will not get far in the modelling world with it. Some of the cheap end units sold, misleadingly, as modelling airbrushes, are actually of this type and should be avoided at all costs since you have no control over the paint flow and they are brutal rather than delicate.

There are two main types of airbrush, siphon fed and gravity fed. Siphon fed ones have a tube underneath onto which you attach a bottle containing the paint. Gravity fed ones have a "hopper" on the top into which you pour your paint. Now I am not going to get into the detailed relative merits of these two in terms of their results - you will find as many opinions as people you ask. But I find that gravity fed ones require slightly less air pressure as they don't have to suck up the paint which can be good for close work. Siphon fed ones are better for large coverage if only for the fact that they carry a much bigger payload of paint but they can also be used very effectively for close work as well, as long as the bottle does not get in the way. Personally, I use both types and I would recommend you get one of each if you can stretch to it. You will find that your own experience will teach you which is best for different scenarios.

As I said, I am not going to recommend a specific model, but for reference my "go to" brushes at the moment are an Iwata HP-BCS and an Iwata HP-CS. They are both good, middle of the range brushes and I am perfectly happy with them. If you want more advice on what is available these days (I bought these a couple of years back) I can recommend getting in touch with The Airbrush Company who I have been dealing with for years and cannot recommend highly enough for sales, service and advice.

The compressor.

This may be your single largest investment. As with airbrushes, you can spent a little or a lot on this, but as a general rule, make sure it is designed specifically for hobby modelling and that it incorporates an equalisation chamber, a water trap, a regulator and a pressure gauge. The cheapest compressors will have none of these and are a false economy. The equalisation chamber smooths out the flow of air from the piston in the compressor - without it the airbrush would receive pulses of air which are exactly what you DON'T want. This may be fine to inflate a tyre on your car, but good airbrushing needs a smooth and consistent flow of air to the brush. The water trap collects water that naturally condensates as the compressor squeezes the air and believe me, you don't want drops of water flying through your brush as you work on that delicate Luftwaffe mottle. The regulator allows you to control the pressure of the air coming from the compressor - sounds obvious but actually some very basic compressors don't include this. It is vital that you are able to do this as you will find that different techniques and paint mediums work best with different air pressures. The gauge allows you to actually see what the pressure is, and is very useful as you gain experience to remember what pressures work best for you in different scenarios and you can simply dial it in on the regulator using the gauge for reference. Another point not directly related to your output is the dB rating. This is, quite simply, the amount of noise the machine makes. Cheaper ones can be very noisy as they pump into the chamber and whilst in itself this makes no difference to the result, it does if like me, your best work is done late at night when the rest of the family is trying to sleep!

Whatever you do, don't use compressed air canisters, either industrial ones or the ones you can buy off the shelf in your local hobby store. Their only advantage is that they make no noise. But the are unpredictable, lose pressure as they empty and are difficult to regulate. They also don't last very long and a proper compressor will pay for itself remarkably quickly if you do a lot of work.


Cleaning and maintaining your airbrush is paramount. Ideally, at the end of every day that you have used it, pull the airbrush to bits (make sure you note how to put it back together - experience talking there) and clean every part using airbrush cleaner or thinners. The needles also benefit from an occasional application of lubricant. I am as guilty as most modellers in ignoring this advice since it is such a pain but it will pay off. Over time, the airbrush rapidly becomes gunged up with paint residues and at best it's performance will be reduced/impaired and at worst it will refuse to operate. A clean airbrush is a joy to work with, a dirty one will drive you mad.

When taking the airbrush apart, the golden rule is don't touch the point of the needle. Not just because it will injure you, but if it becomes bent or damaged in any way your airbrush will start behaving very strangely. If this ever happens, replace the needle. It is the most sensitive and critical part of the airbrush and should be looked after carefully. When you wipe the needle, wipe towards the pointed end.

With siphon bottles, as soon as you have finished and you are sure you are not going to use that paint again, empty and clean the bottle. Otherwise the bottles get covered in old paint and the siphon tubes start to get blocked. If this happens, they are near impossible to clean out.

Paints and technique

This section will disappoint many of you because I am not going to give you any magic bullets. The internet is chock full of advice from modellers on how to achieve various results. They will specify precise mix ratios, air pressures, nozzle distances and so forth. By all means try them, but remember, these may have worked for the person who wrote the piece, with their paint and thinners, their airbrush, their compressor, their fingers, their experience and most importantly their idea of what a good finish looks like - it does not mean they will work for you. So experiment before you commit the paint to you prized model. So bear that in mind before you heed my tips below.

So to raise the first contentious debate - I used to use enamel paints, now I generally use acrylics. Why? Because they dry faster and can be easily cleaned up with water. End of. If you are using varnishes and other finishing products on top, there is no benefit to the arguably smoother finish of enamel paints. But don't let me sell you either way - use what you like using. Both can be airbrushed very successfully. Personally I prefer Tamiya acrylics for airbrushing, they seem to give me less clogging and spluttering problems than other brands, but that may just be the way I use them. Use what works best for you. And that is really my overriding point in this article - only you will discover what techniques and paints work well for your technique.

ALWAYS thin paint for airbrushing. If you don't, it will likely clog your airbrush and will certainly not give you a satisfactory finish. You will read many different opinions on thinning ratios, but what they all miss is that it is all relative to the consistency of the original paint, which can vary wildly even in factory fresh, unopened pots let alone ones that have been opened many times and left to evaporate. You will often hear the phrase "consistency of milk" although no-one ever specifies whole or skimmed. But anyway, I usually go for semi-skimmed and that works for me :). The "milk" consistency works well for general coverage uses.

Be patient. Apply a thin coat, let it dry for a short while, then apply more thin coats until you have achieved the consistent coverage you want. Don't try and cover it all in one sweep. You will just end up pumping far too much paint into a single area and end up with pools and runs and splatters. All those things you took up airbrushing to get away from.

Light colours such as whites and yellows are notoriously difficult to achieve good coverage (especially on a dark base) and you have to be extra patient. You may afford yourself the luxury of a slightly thicker paint mix, which will help, but at the end of the day there is no substitute for patience and multiple thin coats. Fortunately, paint out of an airbrush tends to dry very quickly, if not instantly, on contact and so you can re-coat almost immediately, but make sure it is at least touch dry otherwise all you are doing is thickening the original coat and thus potentially causing problems.

NEVER hold the airbrush still while spraying. The paint will pool and make a right mess. Keep it moving, even on the smallest targets. Better that 95 percent of your paint misses the target and flies off into the background if the other 5 percent gives you a nice smooth finish.

For close work, e.g. mottle patterns or lines, there is again, a multitude of advice out there to achieve what is the holy grail of airbrush work - the perfect thin line. In truth, a truly clean thin line is a very hard thing to do but to get it to the stage required of most model paint schemes is less so. Contrary to popular opinion, the brush is not the main aspect of this (although a good quality one is essential). All I will say is that you should consider the physics of the thing. The paint coming out of your airbrush starts to spread once it leaves the nozzle. The higher the air pressure, the less the spread. So, the ideal thin line technique should, in theory, be very close to the model and a high pressure. But this presents its own problems. The high pressure means that it is harder to limit the amount of paint coming out and you end up with splatters. So you need to find a compromise. Personally, I up the pressure and back off the nozzle a bit - that works for me. Also, lock the paint flow position (most good airbrushes allow you to do this) to avoid having to keep your finger in precisely the same position, which is not easy. Keep it moving at a steady speed to avoid build up of spots, and again, contrary to much advice, I find a thicker paint mix generally more effective since it is less likely to pool and run. If it goes wrong keep going because the next bit of your pattern may be brilliant. You can go back later, cover up the offending bit and try again. I cannot claim to have ever done a complex mottled or lines camouflage pattern that has not involved a certain amount of re-spraying with base colour and starting again.

I will not wax lyrical much about masking as there is plenty of advice out there and unlike the actual spraying and paint mixing techniques, it is pretty consistent. But don't assume that experience will not help, it does. My early efforts always seemed to end up with loads of over sprays and seepage which needed tidying up. These days it hardly occurs. This is because you get an intuitive sense about when you have a good seal and mask which is hard to put into a few words - but trust me, you will get there! One point I will make is that you should not underestimate how far paint from your airbrush will travel sideways if you are spraying a small, masked off area. Cover the entire rest of the model if you can. I cannot remember how many times I have applied a two inch wide piece of tape to mask of a wing when I am spraying the leading edge at low pressure and real close, only to find the tell tale shadow of over spray at the back end of the wing once the tape is removed. Play it safe!

Oh - and if your model has more than five or six panes of canopy glass and there is a pre-cut canopy mask available for your model (Eduard tend to be the main player here), buy it. Don't argue. A few pounds/dollars/euros spent there are more than made up for in time trying to do it yourself and the result will always be better. It's not cheating, it is taking pride in your results.

In summary

So you will probably be getting the message by now that this is a skill that can only come with experience. By all means learn from the experience of others as you go, and there are some really good training courses out there as well if you are keen and the benefit of those is you get hands on experience. But don't make the mistake that I, and probably many of us, made when we first started.

I remember my first air brushed model - it was a 1/24 FW190. I thought the large scale would help and I eagerly cracked open my brand new airbrush in the anticipation that before too long I would have the perfect mottle pattern and lovely soft edged splinter on the wings that I had seen on so many models made by far better persons than me. Of course, the reality was far from that. After several frustrating hours it looked more like it had been used for target practice by a paintball team, and my soft edged splinter was a line of half dried crusty paint that looked like a Martian crater field with a number of rivers running off it. I spent days wondering what was wrong with my airbrush that it would not create the finish I was after. Surely it was faulty? At one point I considered returning it to the hobby shop that it came from (we still had them in those days). But of course there was nothing wrong with the airbrush, I cannot recall what model it was but I am sure it was perfectly adequate to the task. It was me and my naive assumption that I knew what I was doing.

So best of luck to you if you are wishing to embark down this road. My advice boils down to these simple facts: get the right tools, don't assume you can do it from the start, practice hard, use trial and plenty of error,  don't get disheartened by your tragic early attempts, and it will come in time.

Build Review - Sweet 1/144 P51-B Pioneer Mustang

1/144 is not my default scale, like most modellers I have done my fair share of it in the past, usually larger aircraft such as airliners and big transports. But I was asked for a 1/144 RAF Mustang by a customer who collects in the scale. Now 1/144 is not a well served scale for fighter size aircraft, particularly WWII types. And whilst there are a few P51-D options out there, the RAF did not use these until well after the war. Fortunately, Sweet (love that name!) came to the rescue as they produce this rather decent "B" version in 1/144 which would not take much to turn into a Mustang III of the type used by the RAF in the war.

Whilst I was aware of them, I had never built a Sweet kit before and so was very interested to get my hands on one. I had to source it directly from Japan in the end, they are a little tricky to get hold of this side of the globe but Hobbylink Japan (what a great company they are!) came to the rescue again and within a few days it was in my hands.

And what a little gem of a kit it is! As usual with Sweet, you actually get two identical kits in the box. I think the unwritten reason for this is that with parts this tiny, the carpet monster may be well fed and having spares could well save your project. The parts, albeit tiny, are perfectly moulded, exquisitely detailed with no flash or unreasonable ejector marks and what is more, no mould seams that I could see either - that's pretty good going, especially in this scale.

The cockpit fits directly into the fuselage halve and consists basically of a seat and a box representing the radio equipment behind the pilot. It's probably a little crass to complain about lack of cockpit detail in a model that is only a few centimetres long, but I thought I would add a couple of details even if it was probably not going to be visible when the canopy was in place. So I hand painted (with my finest brush) some side wall detail - I was not too precise, it only needed to give an impression of something being there. I then used a spare piece of plastic to fashion a rudimentary control column, a section of sprue painted black with white squiggles did as an instrument panel and last, but not least, created some seat belts out of tape.

The fuselage then went together perfectly with no seam at all. I filled the tank locating holes on the underside of the wing, as these would not be needed, installed the wing section (which is a single part), added the tail planes and air filter extremities and that was basically it! Now came the fun part, masking the 1/144 scale canopy. This was a truly difficult feat, in the end I used incredibly thin strips of tape and moulded them to shape to get a decent edge. One sentence does not do justice to the work involved, but eventually I got there.

No filling was required, just a little sanding around the edges for safety and on to the painting. I have started to get into priming these days, I never used to bother, but for this one I decided I had better not for fear of losing some of that lovely engraved detail. So I sprayed the underside sky grey and carefully masked it off. One has to be really careful with a model of this size, not just aligning the masks, but the tape itself can easily damage or warp the model. She then got a top coat of dark sea grey, and whilst applying this it occurred to me that more paint was probably waster emptying the airbrush nozzles than was actually used to coat the plane! To mask out for the camouflage pattern, I decided to stick with what I knew and use the Blu Tack and tape methodology to give a soft edge. But I had to use incredibly thin rolls of Blu Tack and cut my own customised tape strips because of the small size of everything. Tape was not required at all in a few areas. Then a coat of RAF green and left to dry.

Once dried, I masked off and applied the wing leading edge yellow strips and the white band around the nose. The customer wanted the white identification stripes around the wing but these are supplied as decals in the kit, which made things a little easier. I gave the plane a coat of Klear and left it to dry. At this point, I turned to the undercarriage parts, painted them up and assembled them so they would be ready for installation later, and likewise the prop and spinner and the exhaust stacks.

Once the gloss finish was dry, I proceeded to decaling. I used the kit decals for the identification marks and prop blades, but otherwise I turned to the after market. The customer wanted the specific plane FB201 QV-D from 19 Squadron and I managed to get hold of a 1/144 set of roundels and squadron markings from micro scale which covered this subject nicely, and left me with plenty of spares if I should venture into this scale fighter again. These also provided a decal fuselage band - I normally paint these on but in this scale it was a lot easier to use the decal. These performed brilliantly and settled down a treat. Another coat of Klear and left to dry.

I then applied a black oil wash which brought out the wonderful panel detail on the model far better than I had hoped. It was then a matter of coating with matt varnish, and adding a little staining and dry brushed wear and tear.

The moment of truth was now on me - removing the canopy masks. As it happens, they had worked as well as I could have hoped, with only one snag, nothing to do with the canopy masks. There was a highly visible piece of tissue paper grinning at me through the canopy - it must have come loose from the masking I used on the air tubes. On a sealed cockpit model, this is a modellers worst nightmare as there is no obvious way to remove it short of removing the canopy. As I know to my cost, doing this on a nearly finished model is a tragedy, as you can never really get it to look as seamlessly joined after a removal once all painting and finishing is done. What to do? In the end, and after much experimentation, I managed to insert a fine length of wire through the air duct on the bottom (and found it hard not to giggle whilst I was doing this) through into the cockpit and managed to remove the offending foreign body, or at least tuck it away out of sight. Talk about keyhole surgery!

Finally, I fixed on the undercarriage and spinner. The only significant external difference between the P51B and the RAF Mustang is the aerial. This kit supplied a fixed rod aerial as per the USA plane, but the RAF ones almost always used a "whip" style aerial. So I fashioned a whip aerial by bending a small piece of guitar string (top E, if you are interested), painted it black and fixed it to the top of the fuselage. All done!

This is a beautiful little kit, highly recommended to anyone who dares tackle such a small plane in such a small scale. It surpasses in detail what I had previously assumed to be possible in 1/144 and is a real joy to build, if you have good eyes.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Build Review - Dragon 1/48 Ju88 A-4

Although a few years old now, this is the best 1/48 Ju88 kit on the market. So when I was asked to build one on a commission I went straight to it. The kit is very well detailed, although with a little flash in places but nothing that cannot be dealt with. The customer is after a particularly tricky paint scheme which is going to test my airbrush skills to the limit, but that's why I do this!

The first thing that hits you when opening the box is that there is a lot of plastic in there! However, as one discovers later, a lot of parts are not used, sprues being included in some cases just to support a single piece! But the quality of the moulding is first rate and this always makes a kit a pleasure to build.

So we start, as ever, with the cockpit and in the Ju88 this is critical. This plane has a lot of canopy real estate and it will all be visible. Given the multiple positions for as crew of up to four there is also some complexity here, but the kit designers have engineered things very well. It all fits together really well and on top of an overall "German grey" paint scheme the details came out really nicely. I added some Eduard etched Luftwaffe seat belts but otherwise went with what was in the box and was very pleased with the result.

The cockpit parts then fitted beautifully into the fuselage halves. The instructions suggest putting the tail wheel in place as well before closing up, but after checking it was possible to do later, I left this out as I always like to add such details after the main painting is completed. Fitting the fuselage together went as well as to be expected from a larger plane such as this, my only complaint being that the kit should probably provide more locating pins than it does. The bulk of the length of both top and bottom has no pins and this inevitably results in problems with vertical alignment. With a little more foresight, I would have added my own lugs but I did not spot this until it was too late. As a result, I had to do a bit of work on the seams to get them to disappear!

The tail sections snapped in nicely and did not require any alignment - which is always nice! Now to build the wings. The undercarriage bay walls have to be built and put in place inside the wings before the wings are closed up but I elected to ignore the instructions again with respect to the undercarriage struts as these could go on after painting. It is also necessary at this point to put the engine cowlings together. The exhaust details are of the "fix from the inside" variety which I always hate. I like to paint up the exhaust stacks and slot them in after painting as they are always very hard to mask separately. However I managed to ascertain that if I left the front plate off the cowlings I would just be able to slot them in later, so I left it at that!

A slightly tricky part is the gun/bomb sight gondola under the belly. The kit provides it in three transparent parts (to support a number of windows) and working with clear plastic is always a bit trickier, since it is so brittle. You also need to install the rear facing gun before installation. Plenty of filler was required around this part.

The major parts all fitted together well and relatively seamlessly, although as always, the wings needed some careful alignment and there were some noticeable gaps at the wing roots that needed a good fill. I then went over all major joints with primer and/or filler, whether they appeared to need it or not, I find a bit of time spent at this stage pays dividends later and its better to be safe than sorry.

So on to the final main build challenge - the glazing! This is one of the most highly glazed canopies a modeller is likely to come across, what with the canopy, nose and gondola. So, I used the Eduard pre-cut mask set. I am sceptical about the value of these pre-cut masks on many models but there are a few planes, this one included, where it is a no-brainer. The few pounds spent on this are easily made up for in time. But it still took a good couple of hours to get all those little bits of masking tape in place. I also installed the front gun in place in the canopy since this would be impossible to place later, but the rear canopy guns I left out since their mounting disks could be temporarily stuck to the canopy. A bit of filling around the canopy seams, some wet tissue masking in the wheel wells and engine cowlings and she was ready for painting.

The customer had requested a specific scheme from the AirDoc Ju 88 Part 2 decal sheet. And yes, they wanted the bottom one with the squiggly lines. But as I said, I'm always up for a challenge! I primed the whole model initially, then sprayed the underside with "scale black", that is, my own version of black that actually contains a few other colours, in particular brown, so that it appears much more authentic on a scale model. Try it - it works! But that was the easy part. The top side presented two key issues. Obviously the wavy lines were going to be tricky to do, but also the base colour is non-standard RLM. The decal instructions refer to it as either RLM77 (which it is definitely not) or a dark version of RLM78. To be honest, it looked like neither of these to me. It actually was light version of RLM75 (grauviolet) with more emphasis on violet. It took me some time to come up with a mixed paint colour that I was happy with. In the pot, it looked pure purple, but once sprayed, dried and finished it dulled down nicely to grey with just a hint of violet.

So the topside got a good coat of my customised colour. Next I sprayed thin random streaks of black which are part of the pattern. Finally, and with much patience and no small amount of re-covering and starting again in some areas, I sprayed the final wavy RLM79 lines all over and I was actually very pleased with the result.

After a couple of coats of Klear and curing, I proceeded to the decal stage. The AirDoc sheet only contains ID markings and no stencils, and unfortunately the kit decals were little better. As luck would have it, I had an older Ju88A decal sheet from the Revell kit that I built a long time ago and I honestly cannot remember why I did not use it (I may have had a third party sheet, it was a long time ago!) So this provided the stencilling, although being of the older Revell variety, the decals were very matt and were prone to silvering which took some work to clean up.

Once decaling was complete, I sprayed with another coat of Klear and later applied a black oil wash to the top side and a brown one to the underside which brought out the panel lines nicely. Finally, after a coat of matt varnish, a little panel bleaching all over followed by some exhaust stains and and oil leaks completed the weathering.

While all that was drying, I assembled the undercarriage parts. These are well designed and once installed, permitted some nice fine adjustment to get everything square without spoiling any joints, which is nice! I also put together the spinners and props, which were tricky to paint requiring a "half and half" colour scheme. The engines themselves are represented purely by grill pieces which are more than adequate as a representation of the front of the engines.

The kit does NOT contain the underside aerial parts, which are so distinctive on these (and many other) planes. This is a bit of an omission so I fashioned some of my own out of spare plastic and guitar strings! Shhh... I think I got away with it. Finally, the spinners were attached, bombs plugged into place, guns touched up and she was all done.

This is actually a fine kit, with almost no vices and I look forward to building another. But next time, maybe a nice easy splinter scheme please.....