Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Build Review - Wingnut Wings 1/32 Pfalz D.IIIa

I've only re-discovered First World War aviation relatively recently. For many years, I avoided biplanes like the plague - too many memories of problems fitting the wings and the mind numbing process of rigging. But there are some attractions. These planes are spectacularly beautiful, and in the days before anyone worried about camouflage too much, there are some really bright and interesting colour schemes to be worked with. And then along come Wingnut Wings - a New Zealand based kit manufacturer dedicated to WWI aircraft and exclusively in 1/32 scale, which is arguably the best scale for these machines. They have quickly gained a reputation for producing kits of the highest quality and build-ability and when a customer came to me looking for a Pfalz I thought I'd check them out.

Sure enough, when the kit arrived (they have to be ordered direct from NZ), it oozed quality. The mouldings are superb, crisp and detailed like they should be. The decals are gorgeous, including lozenge patterns for the wings, and the instruction book (it seems crass to call it a "sheet") would not look out of place in a reference library. WW have really done their homework, including a myriad of reference photos and additional information that would more than satisfy any plane enthusiast, let alone a modeller. So how does it build?

Well we start, as ever, with the cockpit and this is based on a ribbed structure that will be enclosed within the fuselage. This kit has been designed by someone who loves the subject, and it shows. The parts are extremely well engineered and fit together very logically, with detailed painting call outs and helpful tips along the way. A number of decals representing dials for the interior and instrument panel add a really nice touch to what has to be one of the most rewarding cockpit constructions I have done. The only extra I added was a cushion for the seat made from rolled up tape, everything else you could possibly need comes out of the box, including some nice etched seat belts.

Next the engine mounts and engine bay are added to the cockpit assembly which build just as easily, which leads us on to the engine itself. This is a simply spectacular rendition of the Daimler Mercedes 180PS power plant made up from some 20 or more parts in its own right. To do this justice, I used a combination of Alclad and semi gloss black and picked out the brass and steel sections carefully with a fine brush. Interestingly, despite the sublime engineering of the kit engine, there is no representation of the spark plugs and leads which is a bit of shame since these are fairly prominent on the real thing. So I simulated some plugs from short cuts of polystyrene rod and added leads made from steel wire, which came up really well. A kit supplied decal for the engine plate on the case finished off a truly excellent looking engine. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, much will be hidden on the final model.

With the engined dropped into its bay, it was time to close up the fuselage. This is one of the few areas in which I had a little trouble. The fuselage halves would simply not close properly around the cockpit and engine and it took some judicious trimming of the spars to get everything together. Even then there was a small gap in front of the cockpit opening that needed careful filling. I also constructed the machine guns at this stage, although I left them off the model until later in the build. WW provide an option for either "basic" solid moulded guns or detailed ones using photo etch shrouds and sights. Of course, I chose the latter which while fiddly, looked fantastic once put together and painted.

I next added the tail elevator, rudder and lower wing section. A small amount of filling was necessary for the wing part but nothing more than one tends to find in most kits. I also added the undercarriage struts at this stage, but left off the wheels. I assembled the top wing section but that was going to stay separate until after painting.

So after "plugging the holes" to mask them she was ready for painting. I started with an overall coat of Tamiya grey primer, important because my chosen scheme was part pure white, which always benefits from a good primer. The chosen scheme (Hans Muller, Jasta 18) consists of a red front half and white rear half of the aircraft. So I started by spraying the rear half white, albeit a slightly "dulled" white incorporating a few drops of dark grey and dark yellow. Pure white never looks realistic! I then masked this off and moved on to the red front half (which includes the wings). I will lay a little rare criticism at the feet of Wingnut here, their paint references are a bit hit and miss, particularly with regard to the fuselage colours. They suggested Tamiya X-7 for the red. This is a pure, bright, primary red and would never have been seen on any WWI German aircraft. They tended to use what they called "carmine" which is red but with a more brown/purple hue. To be fair, the printed representation of the scheme looks about right to me, just ignore the call out. So I mixed up my own version of this, which was actually based on Tamiya Hull Red (XF-9) but brightened up a bit with some pure red and a few drops of yellow. I used this to coat the front of the aircraft and the upper wing section.

After a couple of coats of Klear, I was ready for decaling. I started with the lozenge pattern which goes on the underside of both sets of wings. WW provide a whole decal sheet containing this pattern (mercifully) - I would defy any modeller to enjoy taking on the task of doing it manually. These need to be cut into strips to place on the wing section and with a liberal coat of Micro Sol they settled down pretty well. Trimming them off around the wing shape was a little tricky and not done as cleanly as I would like, but if you look at reference photos one finds that it was far from clean on the real aircraft! Also provided are 1mm thick strips of lozenge pattern for use as wing rib tapes, which is a nice touch. I let these all dry thoroughly before moving on.

The marking decals look very thick and glossy on the sheet, but are actually quite thin once detached, and remarkably they appear to have no discernible excess carrier film either, which is a first. They are printed by Cartograf, as are all decent decal sheets, who really seem to have perfected the art these days. But be warned, the thin nature of the decals combined with their size (particularly the iron crosses for the wings) does make it tricky to eliminate every last wrinkle. At this stage I was glad I was not working on the Jasta 16b example which contains all-round body decals. But they settled on without too much trouble, and once finished all was sealed in with more Klear.

There is not really any panel detail to speak of, so my usual all over wash approach was not going to give me much return. So I pin washed the few recesses that exist on the body and wings before coating with satin varnish to give me the final finish. I then proceeded to apply some subtle variation by spraying a light grey filter in a random pattern over the red areas (no point applying it to the white). Next, I dry brushed dark grey and a little steel over the raised details which gives a satisfying "used" look, followed by some judicious leak staining and scuffing.

Finally came the point all biplane modellers dread, attaching the upper wing section. I had been preparing myself for this for hours, having had some extremely bitter experiences in the past doing this. The problem is that the struts and upper wings almost never line up in any dimension, and when you get one end seated the other pops out and/or the struts collapse, and once everything is finally in place you find the top wing wildly misaligned from the rest of the plane - if you've ever tried it you'll know what I am on about. So with some trepidation I lay the top wing section upside down on the bench, placed a drop of glue in each of the strut locator holes, offered up the plane body and prayed.

Well, what do you know? All the struts clicked into their holes without any complaint and when I turned the whole plane back over everything lined up perfectly. What I had expected to take me an hour took two minutes. As of now, this is the true benchmark of an outstanding biplane kit - and this is such a kit. I was completely stunned, in a very good way. Top marks to Wingnut Wings - you have truly overcome one of the most challenging aspects of an aviation modellers work.

Next, on went the wheels and tail skid. The only other part to install was the huge wooden propeller. Now, there are a hundred and one "open secrets" out there on line from all sorts of experts on how to get a really good wood grain effect on a plastic propeller (or any other part for that matter). Most involving primers, oil paints, hours (if not days) of drying time, sponges, flat brushes, leaves from the garden and a multitude of other family recipes. But let me tell you, with a bit of practice and nothing more than a bog standard medium brush and acrylic paints you can get a superb result. I used three colours, a mid brown/orange mix, dark yellow and dark brown. First I coated the prop with the medium hue, then "damp brushed" the lightest colour down the grain using just enough residual paint to leave streaks without covering. I gave the brush a little wiggle as I went to create a slightly varied grain pattern. Next, I did the same with the dark hue but more sparingly, following the same contours. Looked pretty good to me, but the final touch is gloss varnish, which brings out the grain as if it were the real thing. All done in ten minutes. Judge for yourself from the photos, but it looks pretty convincing to me!

And so this left the one remaining item of fear for any modeller - rigging. Although no rigging material is provided in the kit, Wingnut have thoughtfully pre-drilled anchor holes in all the right places which saved some effort. As with wood effect, there is plenty of advice out there as to the best way to do this, and let me tell you, there is no magic bullet that will avoid the fact that it will be a mind numbing and frustrating process. I have used several methods in the past, but the one that I have found gives the best compromise between the time it takes and the overall effect is steel guitar strings. There are other methods out there that may result in better overall detail, but they will take you considerably longer and probably drive you crazy. Also, this is a commission and so I want to give my customer the best value for money.

With my guitar string method, it is important to pre-stretch the string to make it as straight as possible, best way to do this is to put it on a guitar for a day and keep tuning it! Then it is a matter of trimming sections to the right length, and there is no substitute for trial and error here, to get it sitting perfectly in place without bowing. Once established, a small drop of cyano glue on each anchor point holds everything together. It is still a very time consuming and at times frustrating process but I got there in the end, finishing things off with a stroke of matt black paint down each wire.

And so she was all finished. I have to say this is up there with the best kits I have ever built, although being a slightly unusual subject compared with many of my recent projects it is perhaps a little hard to compare fairly. But there is no doubting that Wingnut Wings have hit a winning formula here, producing exquisite kits of the planes of this era that are awesome in their detail but also, and most importantly, extremely enjoyable to build. I very much look forward to my next one!


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Build Review - Sweet 1/144 Desert Hurricane

Ignore the "interesting" box artwork. This is actually an excellent rendition of the classic WWII fighter in the diminutive scale. This is a commission build for a good customer of mine who wants it turned into a MK.IID "Can Opener" with the tank busting cannons under the wings. So a bit of scratch building beckons...

This is the first time I've done a hurricane in 1/144 scale, I did the Sweet P-51 recently and it was a lot of fun (except for the canopy masking, and this will be even tougher). This is an up and coming scale, now that tooling technology has improved so much and the detail on these things is better than many older 1/72 kits. So time to break out the magnifying glasses and get a check up at the opticians.

You get two kits in the box, in common with most Sweet offerings. As I have mentioned, I think this is as much about spares should the carpet monster strike, as anything. But in this case, the second kit is moulded entirely in clear styrene. The actual clear parts, i.e. canopy and wing light lenses, are duplicated on each kit sprue and this enables Sweet to give you two identical sets of sprues and you can "borrow" from the clear version for the solid one. It also means you end up with two canopies and four wing lenses moulded in solid plastic which are rather redundant, but it's a convenient way of designing the kit I guess. Building a complete plane from clear styrene would also present a few challenges since as ever, the clear plastic is rather brittle.

But I have to say the detail on the main parts in terms of the panel lines and fabric spars is exquisitely done and far better than I have seen in many 1/72 or even, dare I say it, some 1/48 kits (remember the old Airfix 1/48 Hurricane - that kit was an insult to the hobby). It is amazing how such finesse is now being applied to the smallest of scales by modern tooling methods.

But onwards, I started by spraying the fuselage and lower wing interiors in cockpit green. The seat and instrument panel are integral to the fuselage halves (remember the old Airfix kits?) and are extremely basic but I was not too worried as I knew for a fact that very little would be visible. My pandering to interior detail consisted of painting the instrument panel black, putting a blob of leather brown paint on the back of the cockpit to represent the headrest, and adding a couple of seat belts painted and cut from Tamiya tape. Anything further would be a complete waste of effort.

The two fuselage halves went together brilliantly, this is the first time in ages I have not had to apply any filler to the seams - just a quick swipe with a sanding stick. Similarly, the wings sections and tail planes clicked into place with no fuss - just my usual dribble of primer in the wing roots and also in the crack joining the lower wing section to the upper halves. Just to be safe! Now came the first bit of "additional" work to get this to a Mk.IID. The basic kit represents a Mk.I tropical version and in order to get it to a Mk.II I had to fill the panel lines behind the gun ports and re-scribe to make it look more like a Mk.II. Only 99% accurate, but it should fool all but the most geeky of geeks.

The next modification required was the air filter. The part provided represents the older version and this needed to be cut and filed down to represent the later, "pointy" shape sported by my chosen machine, "JV-Z BP188" which again, came out reasonably well - certainly good enough in this scale. The final significant modification was to fashion the pylon fairings for the 40mm cannons from spare plastic which took some careful cutting, sanding and checking against references. But in the end I had two fairings which looked right to me, and these were glued into place. I would leave the barrels until later, lest they got broken off during painting, which was otherwise a given. After adding the radiator housing, I dribbled a little more primer in all the seams to make sure everything was smooth and turned to the canopy.

I remember what "fun" I had masking the P51 canopy, this was even worse. Getting masking tape to hold fast in tiny patches is not easy, it tends to drift slightly every time you touch it. But I opted for the "trial and error" approach. That is, I cut out what I though were the right size and shape pieces for the panes of glass and adjusted re-did those that did not fit. Really painful, probably the biggest single stage of the whole build but got there in the end. I had to shave the edges of the canopy a little as well to get it to fit seamlessly in place. Phew.

I sprayed the whole underside with my own mix of Azure Blue. I have seen many different versions of this colour by modellers ranging from sky blue to indigo via turquoise. My own version was based simply on Tamiya flat blue mixed with plenty of white and a dash of yellow which worked for me. I carefully masked this off (no surprises how tricky this is in 1/144) then sprayed the whole upper surface with Tamiya desert yellow, which is a very good match for the middle stone colour used as a base on RAF tropicals. After Blu-Tack masking the camouflage pattern (again, tricky!) I then used my own mix of flat brown, red, yellow and black (trade secret, guys....) for dark earth to finish off the pattern. After unmasking she got two coats of Klear to seal everything in and was left to cure.

In the meantime I prepared the remaining parts, i.e. the undercarriage and spinner assembly. The prop/spinner is provided as a single part, which is a little disappointing even in this scale since it is tricky to get the paint demarcation between the red spinner and black blades looking convincing. The P-51 I made previously had separate prop and spinner parts, which is far preferable. Similarly, the undercarriage doors and legs are single mould pieces which leaves a little to be desired but with careful painting they came up well. I all constructed the cannon barrels from styrene rod, carefully glued together and allowed to dry thoroughly.

I used the kit decals for roundels and tail markings, but I needed custom lettering to create JV-Z. This scale is not well served in terms of third party decals and so I was pretty much on my own here as there was no realistic way of converting the stock lettering. In the end a decal sheet kept over from a Tamiya 1/48 Sea Harrier kit came to the rescue (which is an awful kit and got binned, but I kept the decals). It contained white lettering of exactly the right height and thickness and in the end, the "J" was cut from an "O" and the "V" made from two "1" numerals trimmed appropriately. The "Z", which needed to be red, actually came from walkway lines on an old 1/72 Lancaster sheet. But where would we be without resourcefulness? I made up the aircraft code (BP188) from an existing 1/144 squadron code sheet I had in stock.

One more coat of Klear followed by a black oil wash brought out the panel lines nicely. I finished by  spraying with two coats of matt/satin varnish. This stage is always very satisfying because finally it looks like a real plane. I then spent a little time adding a few stains and marks to give some more realism. The undercarriage popped in nicely and after glueing the cannons in place and placing the spinner, the model was complete.

I am really pleased with the way this model came out, especially given the scale. I am starting to get into these tiny models in a big way, and there is quite a range left to explore. I already have a number lined up to do in the future, my only wish is that the after market decals were available in the same way as they are for larger scales for military planes since I think this scale for small planes is going to be BIG. So to speak.