Sunday, 30 September 2012

Build Review - Trumpeter 1/48 Sukhoi SU-24 "Fencer" D

This is a new commission from someone who loves these planes. This one is going to be "in flight", i.e.  landing gear up and pilot figures added. Also going for the secondary paint scheme in the kit, a beautiful two tone brown camouflage over a pale blue underside - gorgeous! I've also got some resin pylons to correct the lack of lower pylons in the box, but otherwise this is a fantastic kit. Unlike most Trumpeter kits, it also has an impressive decal sheet full of stencils and weapons markings. I have always had a soft spot for Trumpeter plastic, always beautifully moulded if sometimes however, some strange engineering choices and the odd accuracy problem. Traditionally, they have fallen well short on the decals as well, with limited markings, rarely any stencilling and often poor colour matches, but now they appear to have provided decent ones I can't wait to get going.

Like most of the larger Trumpeter kits, the first challenge is opening the box (why do they always make it such a tight fit?) and the next one is navigating your way through the seemingly endless sprues to find what you are after. There is little logic to the sprue layout as well, when starting with the cockpit section (as one generally does) the parts required actually come from about four different sprues which is a little annoying but not uncommon. The cockpit parts are very nicely done with very crisp detailing, although since I was not using any after market detail in this area I was left with the option of the kit supplied decals for the panels or painting myself. After spraying the cockpit tub with Tamiya XF-22 (which is a good representation of the Russian interior blue) I opted for the decals since on checking my references this cockpit it a cornucopia of colour and to replicate it with paintwork would take a very long time. The main instrument panel is moulded in clear plastic - not sure that was necessary to be honest. Like many kits, they somehow expect you to lay the panel decals over raised detail which is OK if the detail is relatively shallow, but in this case it is not. There is no way a flat decal is going to conform to those panels so I had the tedious task of trimming the decals into small pieces to conform to the major different sections of the panels. In the end this worked fairly well with a good blast of Micro Sol.

The side by side seats are actually rather nice and include well moulded belts. Normally I would file these off an use some etched alternatives but the customer had provided me with a couple of pilot figures since this is intended to be an "in flight" model. I am not a natural figure painter, but I gave them my best shot on the basis that not too much will be widely visible once the cockpit canopies are closed. They seemed to come out to a satisfactory standard!

The cockpit tub now fits easily inside the two forward fuselage hlaves, and I also attached the radome at this stage. More out of habit than anything, I filled the radome with a good slug of lead shot, because even though this plane was to be without its undercarriage, it still helps to keep things nicely balanced. The radome needed a little bracing to match the shape of the fuselage section perfectly.

I next put together the central undercarriage bay section which also supports the wing sweep mechanism. This is beautifully detailed and it is a shame that it was not going to be visible on this model, but at the same time it was very nice not to have to worry about getting it painted up at this stage. I left off some of the unnecessary details but the basic structure went together nicely, including the two large cogs on top that drive the wings. I left them free to spin at this stage, even though I knew I was going to fix the wings forward (as agreed with the customer) to allow me to ensure correct positioning before committing. It is also necessary to assemble and paint up the exhaust section at this stage, which I gave a coat of matt black followed by separate streaked coats of Alclad "burnt iron", "exhaust manifold" and "steel" to give it the appropriate scorched metal appearance.

And now the tricky bit - putting the two main fuselage halves together. This is a large model and it was plain to me that the fuselage halves would need support internally to give them rigidity, so I braced them with cut sections of sprue. This would hopefully make the process of "de-seaming" safer and easier. They fitted together around the wing mechanism and exhaust port very well, although I thought it best to leave it overnight for the glue to dry before touching. Unlike many planes, the main fuselage is fairly flat on the top and bottom, and most kit manufacturers would have gone for a "top and bottom" approach here, but not Trumpeter. This means that dealing with fuselage seams is quite tricky and potentially very destructive to the exquisitely fine surface detail. I spent an inordinate amount of time sanding and re-scribing to get a remotely acceptable join, which was a shame, but it has to be done.

Next the wings go together. The top and bottom halves fit extremely well, but my customer wanted all the control surfaces flat. Now Trumpeter have gone to a lot of trouble to provide separate and extended slats, flaps and spoilers but it is readily apparent that they are designed to be deployed, not flat. Whilst technically they may be built flat, it took quite some shaping, sanding and scouring to get them truly flush with the wing surfaces.

The wings fit well onto the fuselage via strong pinions into the swing cogs, and the wing gloves the cover the mechanism go on in two halves, top and bottom. Engineering wise, this works very well but getting a flush fit does take a bit of doing. Once done, I took the opportunity to lock the wings in forward position by placing them correctly then squirting cement into the mechanism via a precision glue pot. Once left to dry, the wings were rock solid, as required. The tail fin goes on very nicely with no problems, just a smidgen of filler down the seams which was probably not necessary, but I played safe. The tail planes are a little trickier. They are attached by a single, relatively flimsy, rod and they do not line up with the fuselage side particularly well. References showed that this is the case in real life as well, so I carefully glued them fore and aft where they touched the fuselage.

Next I managed to skip the steps to install the undercarriage, and instead had to carefully locate the covers shut. As with the wings, whilst they theoretically fitted, some careful trimming was needed to get them seamlessly shut. A bit of filler was also needed here. With a few stabiliser fins in place and the canopy masked and attached, we were ready for the paint shop.

This model has a really nice, delicate, panel and rivet pattern on the body which is very accurate both in terms of the actual panels but also in their depth. However this can be a problem for modellers who, like me, like to use a wash to bring them out after painting in the sense that the various layers of primer, paint and varnish required can rapidly block these out. However, after all my seam work the surface was multi textured and definitely needed priming to give a consistent surface. So I carefully sprayed the whole plane with Tamiya Fine Grey Primer, but only lightly, just enough to hide the sanding and filling efforts.

First the overall underside blue went on. The instructions suggest Tamiya XF-22 but this is too turquoise to my eye so I mixed up some flat blue and white to what appeared to be the right level and sprayed the underside and walls of the plane with this. After using a considerable amount of masking tape to cover it, the top surface got the camouflage treatment using two custom mixes of brown. Once unmasked, I softened the demarcation on the sides freehand. Finally I carefully masked and sprayed the white areas on the fin and wing gloves. Next my usual couple of coats of Klear and left to dry.

Whilst this was curing, I constructed and painted the ordnance. The customer had provided me with the Eduard Brassin set for the rocket pods, predominantly because Trumpeter have failed to provide more than two of the sub pylons that are pretty much always used on this plane. So I made up the pods and also four KAB bombs, painting the former with Alclad aluminium and steel.

The decals went on next, and this is a really nice decal sheet from Trumpeter, unusually. Some of the stencils are done using tiny blocks and lines instead of Cyrillic letters, which is a bit of cheat but other than on extremely close inspection they work well enough! A word of warning, though. On my kit, the second decal sheet containing weapons stencilling seems to use extremely thin decal film that does not break, but wraps itself up into terminal knots if you are not careful - ask me how I know.

Once decaling was finished, and after a further coat of Klear to seal them in, I smothered the whole plane in dirty black thinned oil paint, and proceeded to clean it off. End result, as with any wash, is that all the panel detail and other nooks and crannies get black paint left in them which brings out the detail and generally makes the plane look like it has actually been used! This was a far more painful process than usual due to the size of the plane and also the amount of surface detail involved. However it was worth it, she came up looking a stunner!

A final couple of coats of matt varnish and she was finished. Finally, I attached the weapons, although the KABs on the belly were only attached temporarily using Blu Tack for the purposes of taking the photos, since otherwise there is no way of setting this model down on a flat surface! I'll let the customer attach them more permanently if they wish once she is hung from the bedroom ceiling!

So in summary, this is a fantastic kit from Trumpeter (if a little pricey), it has a few awkward areas but it is generally accurate (with one or two exceptions but nothing to fret over) and is seriously impressive once built. I would love to do a full "everything hanging out" version at some time in the future but it is a lot of work, so that may have to wait for another day....

Monday, 17 September 2012

Build Review - Matchbox 1/32 Tiger Moth

Well here's an old friend! This kit came out more years ago than I can remember (and that is a lot of years, believe me). It's been reboxed by Revell and others since but this is the original, complete with multi colour sprues and pilot figures that look as if they have been chiseled out of rock. Admittedly, a bit of a departure for me as I normally concentrate on military planes, but a very good customer of mine wants one with personalised markings as a gift for a family member and I love doing this kind of commission.

The customer provided the kit, which had obviously been one of the original issues by the state of the decal sheet, and on opening the box, the first thing that strikes you is the colours! Matchbox were well known for producing sprues in different colours in a vague attempt to make the model look sensible with no painting. This may well have satisfied impatient schoolboys back in the 70s but for a serious modeller, it just makes it look like a toy. But to be fair, it's actually not a bad kit. Whilst the refinement you might expect from the latest toolings is missing, the moulding is accurate, pretty clean, and sharp. There is even some very respectable detail in some areas such as the engine. But I am determined to bring the end result to modern standards and that will involve some scratch work. There are no third party sets available for this model so I am very much on my own.

I started with the engine. As mentioned, this is actually a very credible representation of the Gipsy Major that compares well with what you might find in many modern offerings. But after painting up in satin black and picking out some of the details I added push rods, tubes and wiring using my favourite medium, guitar strings. I just hope I don't break a top E string in the immediate future as I'll be stuck until I can get to the music shop....
That came up rather well, or so I thought, so I moved on to the cockpit. The kit provides a basic floor, joysticks, seats and instrument panels. They are well moulded, but basic. So I added some etch seat belts from a WWII RAF set I had in my spares draw and also constructed seat cushions from Tamiya tape. The instrument panels were painted in orange brown and streaked with dark yellow and buff to simulate a wood effect which worked a lot better than I had hoped for but now came the challenge. The dials are provided as decals but the decal sheet looked looked it had fossilised to me and I was doubtful I would be able to use them. I cut out a couple of the dials and thought I would try anyway as it would save some real hassle. Sure enough, they disintegrated almost immediately. Fortunately, there are two sets for two identical panels. I scanned these in, cleaned them up digitally and printed them out at maximum DPI onto thin photo paper. These were then cut out and glued in place, then sealed in with Tamiya Clear to simulate the glass covers. Worked perfectly!

I sprayed the interior of the fuselage in interior green and picked out the rib detail provided. Next in went the instrument panels and I added some black wire to simulate the intercom cables. I considered adding rudder bars as they are not included but on checking it was clear they would not be visible so I left that alone. Before attaching the seat assembly I added some wires to the side walls to add some interest in there, and then glued the seats in place. The fuselage then closed up nicely with minimal filling and smoothing. I left the engine assembly off for the time being until after painting.

I added the tail pieces with no problem, they clicked into place nicely but I had a little trouble with the struts. They were badly bent in the kit and in my attempt to straiten them one promptly shattered into several pieces. After considering my options, I decided to repair it and carefully glued the parts back together. It was never going to be perfect but it would be very tricky to accurately scratch build a replacement.

Next the wings were built. All wing parts assembled remarkably well with a really nice fit and considering the vintage of this kit, they are very nicely moulded with a good representation of the ribs and fabric. The top wings attach to the fuel tank to create a single part and the bottom wings were kept separate for painting before attaching to the fuselage.

I stuffed the cockpits and front of the fuselage with wet tissue to mask them and proceeded to the first painting stage. This involved a good coverage of Tamiya fine grey primer partly to prepare the surface for the required silver finish and also to cover the bright yellow plastic that the wings are made from. I do not normally do pre shading as I think it does not produce authentic results, but in the case of a fabric and rib structure as found on biplanes it is worth creating some shadows so I shaded the indentations between the ribs with dark grey. This was followed by two coats of Alclad aluminium and I also painted the wing struts, undercarriage parts and engine cowlings in the same manner at this stage.

I now applied the decals directly on to the Aclad finish, decals were provided by the customer and represented a personalised marking scheme. These were very easy to apply since there was not much to do. The whole model then got a coat of satin varnish to seal the decals and even out the finish.

Next came the really tough part. Attaching the wings. But before so doing, I drilled a number of small holes in the wing surfaces to received the rigging wires that I would be attaching later. The bottom wings fitted nicely into the fuselage but anyone who has built a biplane model will dread the next stage, placing the top wings. I carefully glued the struts into the lower wings and onto the nose section and left to partially dry, so that there was still some movement. Now comes the hard part, where the top wing section was carefully aligned to the struts and glued in place. I would love to say this all went perfectly but of course it did not. Just when you have got half the struts in place, the others pop out and/or collapse and this process went on for a good half an hour with much cursing before I could claim that everything was in place. It is vital to support the structure whilst the glue dries as until then the whole structure is incredibly fragile. The other problem is the wing alignment and of course once I had everything in place the top wing was determined to sit about 20 degrees out of true from the lower wing. My technique to deal with this is to re-apply a small drop of glue to each strut point to loosen it slightly, then use tensioned masking tape to force things into line then leave it alone overnight to dry. Fortunately, this held and by morning I had what appeared to be a nice rigid structure

The next parts to go into place were the engine and undercarriage. Both parts fitted nicely into their respective locations although I had to re-position the exhaust pipe array on the engine to make it sit correctly in place. The instructions are slightly misleading on this matter, so beware.

So now that the basic "out of the box" parts were largely complete, time for the detail work that would drag this kit into this century. The first and most traditional extra to be done is the wing rigging. Without them any biplane model just doesn't look right! I again used guitar strings for this purpose - they are actually an excellent medium for detailing work. They are naturally straight, but can be bent where necessary either sharply or in curves and they keep their shape thereafter - what more could you want? However this is never a quick and easy task. Each wire needed to be cut to precise length to avoid bowing and the ends bent to fit the holes in the wings. Suffice to say that when I had finished there were many rejected bits of wire that I had trimmed too short or bent in the wrong place. Each wire was placed "dry" into the holes until I was happy with the length and appearance and then a drop of super glue placed in the holes to secure the wire in place. All in all this took a few hours to do!

The next bit of detail is something often overlooked by modellers on biplanes, especially if they are fed up after doing the wing rigging, and that is the multitude of control wires that link the cockpit controls to the tail planes and rudder. These are usually external and highly visible. The kit parts include attachment points on the tail for these which are slightly over scale and thick, but I went with them anyhow since to replace them with anything smaller would probably not be strong enough to support the wires. I scratch built fuselage patches to represent the points where the wires exit the fuselage and applied more guitar strings to represent the appropriate cables.

A couple of detail pieces remained. Firstly I built and bent a fuel line into shape to feed from the fuel tank down into the engine bay, painted it brown to represent copper and glued it in place which added a nice touch. Finally, I chopped off the hopeless and formless lump of a representation of pitot tubes provided on the starboard wing strut within kit and replaced it with two small sections of styrene rod and added a fine cable into the wing made from wire.

Any now for some final weathering. I did not want to go to town too much on this since as a privately owned plane, it would have been kept in reasonable condition. So I dry brushed around the edges with dark grey to give a slightly worn appearance. I also dry brushed the ribs on the control surfaces to bring them out, before applying a little black/brown pastel work around various points to represent staining.

So, proof, I hope, that an ancient kit can be brought up to standard with a little care and effort and I have to say I am very pleased with the result. Of course, it helps to have a solid foundation, and this kit is actually not at all bad if you can see past the rather toy like appearance of the sprues. Some of these old Matchbox kits get a bit of a bad rap these days, but compared to what the likes of Airfix were producing at the time I think this one is a winner. This has also been as much fun I have had with a build in many years, despite a couple of seriously frustrating bits, mainly because of the transformation I have been able to get from the initial expectations.

So I may be seeking out more Matchbox vintage kits soon....

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Build Review - Italeri 1/48 FW190D-9

If you want to build an "Dora" in 1/48 - most people would point you straight to Eduard who have something of an obsession with this plane and have produced endless variations. But there are some good alternatives out there, notably Tamiya. But I managed to pick up this old Italeri offering relatively cheap and thought I'd check it out. It's a reboxing of the Dragon kit. I have had a love/hate relationship with Dragon for many years - they generally have good and accurate detail, but their fit can be appalling at times. An inspection of the kit indicated that Italeri have not done a particularly great job of moulding it - a fair bit of flash and even some gaps where the plastic did not quite fill the mould properly, rather shocking in this day and age, but nothing that could not be patched up. So let's go...

The cockpit which goes together first is not bad at all. In keeping with the structure of the FW190 "office", which actually is laid out more like a modern jet fighter than a WWII prop, a tub forms the basis onto which instrument panel detail is glued. The details are pretty good and came up nicely with some dry brushing and picking out the dials carefully with a fine brush. One issue is that the actual forward instrument panel appears to be somewhat undersized but I took the decision to go with it since it is well buried inside the cockpit and the gaps would not be visible. The seat is well constructed, but as ever benefited greatly from the addition of some etched seatbelts from my stash.

Next the wing section goes together "Spitfire" style with a single under wing and two over wing sections. Also, the undercarriage bay and associated details, including the gun tubes, go together as an inverted tub arrangement in common with most 190 kits. I chose to paint the bay interior at this point using my own concoction representing the "pale green" used in later Luftwaffe planes. It's not really green at all, more of a pale khaki. The undercarriage tub glues into the lower wing section but the rake of the wing did not match the angle on the undercarriage tub by some significant amount. Checking resources, the undercarriage tub appeared to represent the correct angles so I used this to force the wings up using clamps and let the glue dry thoroughly. The top sections of the wings went on nicely and I cleaned up the seams at this point. The tip of the port wing was missing a small chunk due to moulding problems and so this had to be patched up using some spare plastic and filler.

Now the fuselage halves go together and the main challenge here is that the forward section has little joining plastic due to the separate cowling pieces and this means that cleaning up the seams could not be safely done until it was glued to the wing section. But before that, the cockpit tub slots in nicely. When the wing assembly was attached, it immediately became clear that we had a significant wing root gap problem which needed some plasticard strips and a lot of filler. The tail planes fit well, although on this kit they appear to exhibit a slight rearwards downward slant that I am pretty sure is not entirely accurate. But there is little to be done about it without a horrendous amount of butchery so I let it go.

Next the separate nose assembly has to be put together and butted onto the front of the fuselage. I am trying hard not to call it the "engine housing", which of course it is not - even though it gives the impression of a radial engine. But the "D" version had an in-line engine which is why it's nose it extended from the "A" versions, indeed picking up the nickname "Langnasen Dora" ("Long nose Dora") as a result. I then added the air intakes and the main body was ready for paint after a bit of cleaning up, filling and masking.

I first sprayed the entire model with RLM76, or my interpretation of it which is a mix of Tamiya XF-23 and XF-19. This showed up a few blemishes which had to be dealt with. Then came the ever painful task of planning a Luftwaffe scheme. The one I had chosen was "Yellow One"  from the Aeromaster decal sheet "Late Doras Part 3" and this called for RLM82/83 upper camouflage. But as ever, identifying correct RLM colours is not an exact science. I checked my own colour sheets and references carefully, and the lighter green is definitely not the official RLM82 - it's much brighter. So I carefully mixed up my own potion from flat green, olive green and a little buff until I had what appeared to be the correct colour. The darker green was provided by the trusty old XF-27 Black Green. I decided to spray the pattern free hand as it was very diffused. However one still has to mask off the wing roots which is probably the most difficult shape in the world to do so. My technique is to apply a number of offset strips of thin masking tape along the fuselage side and this generally works pretty well. So I sprayed the wings and tail planes with the lighter green and then free handed the darker over the top.

I next sprayed the upper fuselage pattern free hand in a similar pattern and carefully applied the mottling down the sides and on the tail - and I was pretty pleased with the result. The whole plane got a couple of coats of Klear and was left to dry. Meanwhile I assembled and painted up the undercarriage using my "pale khaki" mix, and also prepared the remaining bits and pieces to save time later.

Once the Klear had cured, I applied the Aeromaster decals which went on beautifully and settled in with no complaints with the help of a little MicroSet/Sol for good measure. The spinner "spiral" decal was incredibly tough to get right, but then again I have never found one of these that isn't. Another coat of Klear and I then applied a black oil paint wash across the whole plane. Once dry, I sprayed it with two coats of my Flat Base/Klear matt varnish. Finally, some bleaching applied with highly thinned XF-19 on the darker sections and white on the underside subtly broke up the slightly "too perfect" finish.

I installed the undercarriage, and be aware that the Italeri instructions are very misleading in this area so a little common sense has to be used at this stage. The rest of the "furniture" was installed, although the down aerial wire section broke off and was replaced by a small strip of wire. The cockpit incorporates one of the "sliding" mechanisms often found on 190 models but which never really works and so I glued the thing into place in a "canopy open" position. This also allowed me to add a slack antenna wire without too much fear of it being pulled off by sliding the canopy. A final bit of pastel and dry brush weathering and she was all finished.

Considering the quality of the moulding, which called for far more corrections than I have bothered to mention in this article, I am extremely pleased with the outcome. This kit has built into a great looking model of this iconic aircraft and minor details aside, I believe it stands up more than well enough against the Eduard and Tamiya competition, and for a fraction of the kit price too. Sort the moulding process out and we have a winning kit here.