Saturday, 5 January 2013

Build Review - Valom 1/48 Antonov AN-2T

This is my first Valom kit - they are an intriguing Czech outfit that is basically one guy who creates kits of good quality and with a lot of love and attention. His manufacturing budget does not run to the greatest moulding technology and it is a bit "short run" but otherwise looks to be a great kit that deserves a careful build. The customer wants the silver "Lufthansa" version which means cracking out the Alclad again...

The instructions are well presented on first inspection, with a detailed sprue and resin part map that is essential, since the sprues contain no part numbers. There is also a small etched fret containing seat belts and a few other parts.

Construction starts, as usual, with the cockpit. There is a beautifully moulded resin centre console that rewards careful painting, although check references carefully to get the colours right. But in putting the cockpit parts together I quickly discover the true nature of the kit that will plague the whole build. There are no distinct location points moulded in the plastic and what is more the instructions are very vague indeed about positioning. They are also not especially artistically accurate in their representation of the parts or assemblies and so plenty of test fitting, reference checking, and advance testing are required to get things right. In several areas throughout the build I ended up breaking things apart and re-positioning them to get everything to fit together.

There is a lovely diagram (section 7) showing the cockpit as seen through the cabin door from a passenger point of view that aims to help positioning but does not do so, unfortunately. It also represents a lot of detail in the cabin that is simply not there in the kit. I suppose it could be aimed at the super detailer, but the cabin interior is going to be almost invisible so I spent no extra effort there. I did, however, build in all the seats in the Lufthansa arrangement. However, the rear bulkhead is in completely the wrong location but I included it anyway to strengthen the fuselage.

Fitting the cockpit section inside the fuselage halves is not easy, if only because it is far from clear where it needs to go. So I had to dry fit and then test the fit of the wings and canopy parts (more on them later!) just to be sure I had the cockpit in the right place. This also involved removing and trimming the cockpit side wall detail panels just so everything would go in the right place. There are also two small panels that are supposed to mask the rear sections of the cockpit and there is absolutely no positive location for them and the instructions just show them floating in the air. I did my best. I eventually got the fuselage together - there are location pins although they are not especially effective and a fair but of sanding and filling was needed to get things smooth.

The wings and tail plane sections went together without much effort, although there is a slight size discrepancy between the upper and lower parts which needed sanding off. Also the upper wing de-icing boots are separate and do not fit very well at all - so I left them off until later. Likewise I left off the multitude of flap hinges until later as these were bound to "fall" off during the rest of the build.

Fitting the wings to the fuselage was very problematic. The lower wings and tail planes went on with only a little difficulty, although there are no fixing lugs so plenty of glue and patience was required. However, the upper wings employ a very odd arrangement involving two boxes that have to be glued to the top first and the wings fitted over them. Needless to say the wings refused to sit properly and much trimming was needed. It is also essential at this stage to check that the front of the wings line up correctly with the canopy (when it is in place) otherwise you will be in real trouble later.

The canopy is in three pieces, a main upper section and two "slivers" for the raked in lower canopy panels. I could see before even detaching them from the sprues that this was going to be difficult. Masking was relatively easy - there are many panels but they are all straight edged so it was just a little tedious but not too difficult. However fitting the canopy in place was not easy. The main top part went on easily mainly due to my diligence in dry fitting everything carefully beforehand, although I did need to fit a few slivers of plastic card to fill a small gap between the back of the canopy and the upper wing edge. However the lower raked canopy panels needed extensive re-shaping and ultimately filling (which I hate doing around canopies) to get an acceptable result.

The engine cowling section is separate and was put together next. The radial engine is represented (as is common in these models) by a moulded disc. It looked pretty good to my eye but after painting and dry brushing something seemed lacking. So I fashioned and added push rods from silver wire and things looked a lot better.

I left the undercarriage off until after main painting. I started by filling all gaps (and to be fair there were not many) and sanding down the whole body very carefully to avoid losing the really rather nice rivet detail. This was followed by a coat of Tamiya fine primer. Another rub down was followed by gloss black. After yet another rub over and polishing I sprayed the whole plane with Alclad aluminium, having masked off the glare panel in front of the cockpit which needed to stay black. This was followed by a gloss varnish.

The decals went on next. The customer wanted the "Deutsche Lufthansa" version. Unfortunately the decals do not include the blue flash down the side, so I had to improvise my own. I am not sure how accurate the blue with which the decals are printed is, it looks decidedly pale to my eye, but I had little choice but to match the colour and proceed. Otherwise the decals worked very well and settled down nicely with a little setting solution. After another coat of gloss I applied a black oil paint wash which brought out the rivets beautifully and gave it a nice "slightly worn" look. I finished things off which a semi-matt finish that is in line with the original aircraft.

The undercarriage parts were painted up to match the rest of the model. Placement of these is vague as with so many areas of the instructions, no pre drilled holes are provided, and so much reference checking and trial fitting was needed. I also placed the various aerials but needed references to get them in the right place, and also they needed some modification to make them more accurate. The instructions include directions for scratch building some elements as well, which is a little annoying, but fortunately nothing outside the capability of a reasonably experienced modeller.

The exhaust arrangement is provided in resin, although it needs modifying for this version. This was painted up using Alclad steel stained with Alclad "Exhaust Manifold" to give it a little burnishing and attached to the port side of the fuselage. I then added the rigging using guitar strings and careful references. That sentence makes it sound easy, it never is, but it is worth doing because biplanes never look right without it.

That left the propeller arrangement. The kit provides no fewer than sixteen propeller blades of various styles for different versions of the AN-2, so be careful to use the right ones. However they needed to be "flat glued" to the centre spinner which was a hairy experience, and then the tiny resin regulators attached to them individually. A tricky part of the build, but it held up well. After painting up, the prop was pushed into place and the model was complete.

In summary, I find it hard to criticize this kit too harshly, although it presents a seemingly endless series of challenges to the modeller. The instructions are poor, the location of parts is vague, there is a fair bit of scratch building to be done and the canopy fit is woeful. But that said, the end result is spectacular. The detail  in the cockpit and on the exterior is exquisite and if you are prepared to put the effort in, you will end up with a beautiful model. It is largely very accurate, with a handful of minor exceptions that are easily dealt with. I also have sympathy with Valom since Hobby Boss have just released their AN-2 in 1/48 and although I have not yet seen the kit, I am sure it is a much easier build and will probably steal a lot of the market.

But in the end, this is a good kit, but only for the experienced modeller. A novice will fall foul of it very quickly and would be better off going for something a little more "shake and bake". For my part, although it drove me a little crazy at times, it certainly made me put the work in and feel like a true artist. And that, ultimately, is what this game is all about.


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