Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Build Review - Roden 1/48 Pilatus PC-6B Turbo Porter

Every now and then it's nice to stray away from the mainstream aircraft, and build something that is not bristling with guns and bombs. So when a good customer of mine came to me with a request to build one of these I was rather intrigued. Said customer, being Australian, also wanted the rather challenging camouflage scheme shown on the box art. However, some further research soon resulted in a request to tone it down to a more simple scheme used locally. That was something of a relief. I also took the liberty of investing in some Eduard photo etch which, although not strictly for this particular version, provides some nice cockpit details and seat belts.

The Pilatus Porter is one of those aircraft that has quietly infiltrated military and civilian services worldwide without much of a fanfare. Don't be surprised if one pops up at your local aerodrome, they seem to be everywhere, although only a few hundred have ever been built. This has meant much scope for Roden to provide a significant number of alternative packagings of this mould, representing the aircraft in a variety of roles and liveries. Looking at the contents of the box shows eight dark grey sprues and one clear. The parts appear crisply moulded with pleasingly sharp surface detail, although a little flash is present in places and some of the sprue attachment points are not well considered. I wish manufacturers would be a little kinder to us modellers when it comes to smooth cylindrical parts like aerials and struts, and attach them to the sprues at the ends where possible. This would avoid the painful, and rarely perfect, process of cleaning them up, especially when they are so small!

Anyhow, on with the build. I started by spraying the interior of the cabin in a very pale grey, then scuffing it up a bit with some dark grey dry brushing. The kit provides a decent false floor and ceiling arrangement which is accurate and welcome, a lazier kit manufacturer would probably not have bothered. However there is a fair bit of work to do before the fuselage halves can be joined. The pilot, co-pilot and passenger seats are fixed to the floor section before installation into the fuselage. Whilst the pilot seats are straightforward, construction of the six passenger seats was rather tricky. They are each made up from six separate parts, which is possibly a bit over engineered to be honest. And these parts are very hard to fix to each other, four of them being seat leg braces which have to be attached to the seat back and cushion. They are tiny, thin, and have no location points which made life interesting but eventually I had them holding together (just). The passenger seats received basic seat belts made from masking tape.

The Eduard instrument panel is a real gem, and this along with the kit instrument tray was installed into the fuselage along with the seat assembly. Putting the fuselage halves together was a little trickier, however. They fit well enough, but left a rather vicious seam particularly along the top. Given that the top is flat, this was quite difficult to remove and took a lot of scraping with a knife, filler and much sanding to get acceptably smooth. Also the tailplane is installed at this stage and the fit here is not great. I had to remove the locating pin on the fuselage to get it to lie straight.

The doors are all separate to allow them to be posed open, which is nice given the amount of seat detail inside the cabin that took so much effort to build. I opted to install the pilot doors closed but leave the passenger cabin doors open. But I fixed them in place for now with a dab of PVA glue which holds them well enough to act as masks for painting and finishing, but they could be removed easily without damaging the plastic, to fix them in the open position later.

Next I made up the wing assemblies, which are very well formed with nice actuator details, although I replaced the micro flap lines with the Eduard etched versions (and on the tailplane as well) for a little added finesse. The flaps and ailerons can be posed in any position, but I opted to fix everything flat. At this stage the instructions call for the undercarriage struts to be fixed but I left these off for now as this is my usual way of doing things. However it is just possible that if I were to build this kit again I would fix them in place as attaching them after painting and finishing proved to be a delicate operation that needed a bit of re-spraying to cover the evidence. The wings attached nicely and the wing support spars thankfully popped into place with no dihedral issues, proving again that the kit designers have done their work well.

The nose section is completely separate and is formed from two halves. There are a few vents moulded on as solid blocks which could benefit from being replaced with scratch built hollow housings, but I did not go to that extreme this time. The nose section butted on to the front of the fuselage very well with no alignment problems.

There was no more assembly required other than the aerials and undercarriage so at this point I moved to the painting stage. After masking off the windows I gave the whole model a good coat of light grey primer before using Tamiya XF-59 (desert yellow) darkened with a little XF-64 (red brown) as the base camouflage colour. I had no specific reference for the camouflage pattern I needed to use, as my customer was only concerned to get a "representative" scheme of the planes he used to know. Photos proved impossible to come by and so I masked up the scheme using my best judgement and Blu Tack and referring to pictures of other types of aircraft sporting the required colours. The second colour to go on was the mid green. I found a mix pot left over from a previous project that looked about the right shade, although I added some XF-62 (olive drab) to tine it down a little, other than that unfortunately I cannot recall what it was made up of. But the result appeared correct to my eye. Finally the last, darkest, camouflage colour was done with XF-27 (Black Green). Once I had removed all the masking I sent a couple of photos to my customer just to make sure he was happy before moving on, and fortunately he was! Before covering with a couple of good coats of Klear, I went back over the camouflage with lightened versions of the original colours just to provide a little variation and the subtle appearance of sun bleaching.

Decaling was, mercifully, a very quick job, consisting purely of a tail reference number and logo, two fuselage numbers and the word "ARMY", and the kangaroo logos. Walk around photos show that the Porter does have some additional stencilling, but it is very small and was not provided in the kit, so I left it out. After another coat of Klear I treated the model to my usual black oil paint panel line wash followed by a matt varnish. Finally, I post shaded some of the panel lines with a thin black/brown acrylic mix.

Now I had to return to the undercarriage, and this is where I wished I had fixed the struts in place before painting. I had already painted up the struts in the desert yellow colour. The location points for the struts are not particularly positive and are also highly visible. To ensure good adhesion and strength, I scraped off the paint at the location points and cleaned them up with a dab of cellulose thinner. This allowed me to carefully set the struts in place underneath the fuselage and to the front of the pilot windows. I was lucky, they took well and set hard quickly without the need for any significant messing around, but I still did need to re-spray the areas to cover up the tell tale signs of my activities. I'll do it differently next time.

This just left the final touches. These include the access step bars for the pilots and passengers, the various lights and aerials and of course the propellor. The rooftop aerial arrangement specified in the kit did not conform to any references I could find, certainly not for the Australian army, so I improvised here and placed them where I thought they should go. The Porter also has a slightly convoluted aerial wire arrangement involving no less than six anchor points. To do this I used the Bob's Buckles system. Whilst primarily designed for biplane rigging, the tiny eyelets and tubes also permit a relatively easy to install (if you have very good eyesight) and secure means of attaching aerial wires. I highly recommend it.

And so, in conclusion, this is a first rate kit. Nicely detailed, and apart from the fuselage seam problems it goes together without any major complaints whatsoever. And a fascinating subject for one such as me who is more used to making machines designed for pure destruction.


Monday, 28 October 2013

Build Review - Airfix 1/48 Gloster Javelin FAW 9/9R

What on earth have Airfix started eating for breakfast? Not so long ago they were the laughing stock of the model kit industry, selling kits based on ancient moulds that were being bought purely for nostalgia value by anyone who remembers their misspent modelling youth. Granted, there were some exceptions (their 1/48 E.E. Lightning kits and some of the later mark Spitfires were pretty good) but mainly they fell seriously short of the competition. BUT, since Hornby acquired them they have started producing some new state of the art tools that are equalling, and arguably beating, the best of the rest. And each new tool they produce seems to be even better than the last. I recently built the new 1/48 Sea Vixen and 1/72 FW190A-8 and I thought things could get no better. But as soon as I heard about the new 1/48 Javelin (the first mainstream kit of this plane in the scale) I HAD to have one. And I am not disappointed. It may seem incongruous to give any conclusions at the start of a review, but this one is possibly their best kit ever. There are one or two issues, to be sure, but can you name a kit that does not have any?

The Javelin is a large plane, and therefore a large model. The box is very big, and stuffed with plastic. And it is heavy. Why did I say that? The new Airfix kits all seem to be heavy. It may be my imagination, but they seem to use a denser plastic than most other manufacturers. This is no complaint, it lends a sturdy feel to the kit. The parts are very crisply moulded, with no flash I could find and just a few seam lines that could be dealt with easily. Panel lines are nicely rendered, maybe a little heavy for the scale but if anything that suits me fine as they provide a good positive purchase for the oil wash. The sprue attachment points tend to be a little thick and a bit of work with a sanding stick will be required to clean them up , but this at least does mean you are unlikely to find any loose parts floating around the box. Also included are parts for jet intake and exhaust covers and the crew access ladder which is a nice touch, and will add interest to the final model. No pilot figures, which breaks the habit of a lifetime for Airfix. But to be honest, along with most seasoned modellers, I never include them. At the time of build, Eduard and co had not yet produced any detailing accessories for this kit (it was that new) and so this will be a genuine "out of the box" build.

Construction starts with the nose gear bay which attaches to the cockpit floor pan. The wheel bay interior detailing is first class, as good as you will find in plastic. I painted it with Tamiya XF-56 metallic grey and dry brushed with chrome silver, which I always find produces a nice realistic metallic finish. The cockpit and seats are beautifully detailed. I painted a base coat of Revell 09 Anthracite (which is not quite black and works better for scale models). A decal is provided for the main pilots instrument panel but I never use these as long as raised detail is provided, and to my mind you cannot beat a bit of careful painting and dry brushing. The seats appear accurate enough, and although they could undoubtedly be improved with some resin replacements I went with the kit parts and they came up very nicely to my eye. I did add my own etched seat belts from my spares draw because, as ever, none are provided in the kit. Putting the cockpit together was my first taste of the kit engineering and it is brilliant. Everything clicks into place perfectly and this is the kind of kit that if you have fit problems, then you know it is your own fault and not the kit. Interior side walls are then painted up and used to enclose the cockpit. These are then surrounded by the fuselage nose section in two halves and as expected, these clicked into place perfectly with no significant seam removal needed.

Next the intake tunnels are constructed and terminated with decent representations of the engine fans. However I did not take too much trouble over these as they will be barely visible. These are then attached to the cockpit/nose assembly and affixed to the lower fuselage half using specifically designed braces that also serve to hold the fuselage shape - important on a large model such as this. The exhaust tunnels are similarly constructed and attached to the lower fuselage in the same way. Needless to say I cannot fault the fit, which is a joy to work with after many years of building similarly designed kits, where fitting jet pipes and bracing struts was a painful exercise in sanding, cutting, trial and error. The top half of the fuselage fitted on well, although I had a little problem getting rid of a slight step to the rear of the canopy area. Not sure whether it was me or the kit.

Now to put the wings together. The wheel bays are constructed first, each made from a single tray with a couple of additional parts to install. The detail is excellent and these were painted up in the same way as the nose bay. Also, the kit permits the flaps to be posed open, and the parts provided appear to be excellent in detail. However I chose to build with closed flaps because this is how the aircraft would appear when stationary and I was determined to use the "remove before flight" accessories. Each wing is a classic two part construction that encloses the wheel bay and flap mechanism and they fit together very well. The only issue to the modeller is that the plethora of protrusions on the leading edge made seam removal a touch tricky, not really the kit's fault but tricky nonetheless. But I will say that the vortex bumps on the top of the wing are probably a little accentuated for absolute accuracy but nothing to worry about too much.

This is probably a convenient point to take a slight side step and point out that although the instructions contain over 100 steps (which is a little daunting), Airfix do have this habit of repeating steps for opposite parts (e.g. wings) rather than the "times 2" or "opposite" nomenclature used by most other manufacturers. This does result in a larger instruction manual than strictly necessary. However it does make parts identification a bit clearer and less prone to error as well, so I'm not complaining.

The distinctive upright "T" tail of the Javelin goes together next and without incident, and the wings and tail were attached to the fuselage. The fuselage brace parts also serve as wing struts which negate the need for any dihedral adjustments or glue setting support (which is great) although the tail fin section does need to be glued in place carefully as it could potentially lean a bit if you are not too careful. At this stage I also installed the nose cone, stuffed with enough lead shot to prevent tail sitting.

The canopy is in four parts, the two permanent elements and two sliding covers. The instructions imply that you need to commit to glue either the open or closed positions, as they are attached to separate runner parts. However a little test fitting convinced me that the clear canopies could be glued directly to the runners and be left free to move, which turned out to be correct. The canopies were masked up with Tamiya tape. Alas, no Eduard mask set was yet available, so I had to use the old fashioned method. However, I decided to leave the moving parts off and spray them separately and mask the open cockpit directly otherwise I would have trouble with overlapping camouflage areas. This only now leaves the undercarriage, ordnance and various sensors and aerials which I would leave off until after painting. I also chose to leave off the refuelling probe assembly at this stage, although this would come back to haunt me later.

The kit offers three schemes, one all over silver and the other two a silver underside and grey/green camouflaged upper surfaces. I chose one of the latter, 33 Squadron. I first sprayed the whole model with Tamiya fine primer (as per usual), before spraying the underside gloss black. This acts as a base for the Alclad aluminium lacquer. Once this was applied I over sprayed it gently with Alclad "Airframe Aluminium" for a slight variation in tone before masking off a few random panels and spraying them with Alclad "Dark Aluminium" for some contrasting blocks.

I then masked off the underside and sprayed the top with Tamiya XF-54 "Dark Sea Grey". This was followed by a panel bleach of a slightly lightened version to highlight the panels. Then the camouflage pattern was masked out using Blu Tack strings and tape, before finishing with the RAF green coat (a mix of XF-27 and XF-5) and a similar panel bleach on top of that. A couple of coats of Klear followed ready for decaling.

The kit decals are very comprehensive, containing a full set of stencils. They are slightly matt in finish, I prefer mine glossy as a rule, but they worked beautifully and settled into the details nicely with a little help from some Micro Sol. I am always a little apprehensive about applying matt decals to a metallic finish (i.e. the underside) but my fears were unfounded as the backing film blended nicely into the finish without any noticeable edges. Especially important with the large aircraft code decals. Once the decals were finished and dried I sprayed on a couple more coats of Klear to seal them in.

Next a panel line wash of black oil paint was applied and this enhanced the panel lines nicely. A final spray of satin varnish toned everything down nicely. The final stage was to post shade the panel lines with a thin brown/black mix and a little additional fine pale grey filter. I also used a thin oil wash to add some oil streaks and rain marks.

Now I turned my attention to the undercarriage, and this raised one of the key issues with this model. It is not that there are any fit problems, the undercarriage structure fits perfectly and without problems. In fact it is quite ingeniously designed. The problem is that it is not really sturdy enough for the weight of the model. It looks pretty accurate and one cannot criticize Airfix on that basis. But given the relative strength of polystyrene plastic to steel, it is not really adequate. The model stands on the undercarriage fine, but does not feel as secure as I would like and very careful handling was required once the plane was the right way up again, as it just does not feel strong enough for my liking. I am sure the after-market crew will soon come up with some metal replacements to solve this, but I am a little disappointed as some manufacturers (notably Tamiya) generally provided metal strengthening rods or similar to help with this problem.

Putting the ordnance together raised another small issue. A combination of fuel tanks and Firestreak missiles is provided and they are nicely moulded, but both suffer slight alignment problems between the two halves they are made of. Not a big enough issue to warrant any radical solutions but it caused a slightly raised eyebrow given the excellence of the rest of the kit.

One of the last remaining tasks was to fit the refuelling probe. This is particularly pronounced on the Javelin and it did cause me some problems. Given that everything was already painted and finished, using filler was out of the question and it does need to fit snugly on the side of the fuselage. A small gap was visible when dry fitting. Had it been pre-paint, I would simply have filled this but that is no longer an option. So I had to carefully sand and shave until I got a perfectly flush fit. This could have been avoided if I had installed it earlier. Ho hum. I then also installed the various "surface furniture" items (i.e. pitots and aerials).

Finally, I painted and finished the jet intake and exhaust covers and built and painted the crew access ladder. This latter is nicely made, I am not sure about it's accuracy although I suspect there were various ladders used in practice. To complete the "at ease" model I also made up "remove before flight" covers and tags for the pitots and refuel probe.

In conclusion, and despite those couple of difficulties, this is quite possibly the best kit Airfix have produced so far. It builds into a large and impressive model that looks fantastic on the shelf, and the covers and ladder really do add an authentic feel to the overall result. I simply cannot wait to see what they come up with next!


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Reveal - Airfix 1/48 DeHavilland Sea Vixen FAW 2

Yet another stunner from Airfix under their new management at Hornby. Perfectly moulded and exquisitely detailed, a sheer pleasure to build out of the box with no vices worth mentioning.