Sunday, 14 April 2013

Build Review - Grey Matter Figures 1/32 Henschel Hs 129 B-2

Originally moulded by Jerry Rutman and recently re-released under the "Grey Matter Figures" brand, this is the only available option for the Hs129 in 1/32. It's resin, with all the attendant vices that go along with that medium. But it has some great details and added extras and will be sure to build into something special and unique. I have built quite a few resin kits in my time, and it's always an interesting experience. Being constructive, one could argue that this is "back to basics" modelling, where the modeller actually has to do some real work to get good results and employ a whole set of skills rarely used in most injection moulded kits. On the other hand, it can be a really frustrating experience sapping one's efforts away from the end result and into just trying to get the thing to fit together. Both sides of the coin are true of this offering!

The kit itself comes with a large number of resin parts which, mercifully, only have thin mould plugs in most cases so not too much tricky sawing and filing will be needed. The scribed detail on the main parts is nicely done, if a little irregular and obviously hand done, lacking the precision of "mainstream" kits. Comparing, for example, the two opposite wings shows some variation between the two in terms of panel positions, but nothing that will be glaringly obvious in the final result. The engines are done creditably well, although again are very obviously manually carved. The kit also contains a set of paper and etch based seatbelts (lovely!), some nice etched rudder pedals, and a turned brass cannon barrel for the belly gun. Some nice touches there. There are also two vac formed canopy sliding sections, although the front wind shield is moulded in clear resin and is a bit foggy. The decal sheet is excellent, clear, sharp and in perfect register. Two sheets or A4 make up the instructions, although I use that term loosely. One of these sheets is the painting and marking guide which covers five versions although is a bit limited in the views it gives, and a lot of reference material will need to be checked. The other sheet is a hand drawn (and not entirely legible) set of diagrams covering a selection of the areas of assembly that the original designer felt needed explanation. They are not great, to be honest, and you will need to consult other references as well as using some trial and error to get through this one.

I started the build with the cockpit area which contains a very nicely moulded instrument panel, some side wall components and the seats and rear firewall. The instructions do cover this area but are rather hard to interpret in places and so some guesswork and trialling will need to be used. The fit of the cockpit tub into the fuselage is not particularly positive and many test fittings were used before taking the plunge and fixing it in place. At this point I sahll mention that as is often the case with resin kits, I also had a lot of trouble with glue. The only things that will fix resin parts is either cyanoacrylate (super glue) or two part epoxy. The former has varying results depending on your mating surfaces but at least it dries quickly. The latter is actually a far superior adhesive overall but is incredibly messy, only lasts a couple of minutes once mixed, and takes a very long time to bond securely. So I used super glue for the small parts and resolved to apply epoxy for the major joins where strength was critical (i.e. fuselage halves, wings etc).

I finally got the cockpit in place along with those rather nice seatbelts, and this led to the first major hurdle of the build, joining the fuselage together. I had already made some attempt to flatten the mating surfaces before hand but even so the seams were shockingly bad as the fit is far from perfect. But the only option really was to proceed and fill later. One of the benefits of epoxy glue however, is that it does act as a very effective filler and will happily bond surfaces that are not in direct contact to begin with. Handling the fuselage was also a little tricky since the the sides are extremely thin in places as a result of a manual "paint and wait" mould. So care was needed not to puncture them. I glued the halves together with epoxy and then spent about an hour (while the epoxy still allowed movement) adjusting, lining up, binding and clamping to get everything as well lined up as possible. There were inevitable some overlaps in places but with care I got these down to areas where simple filing would sort them out. This was then left overnight to cure.

Meanwhile, I built up the wing sections in much the same way, although some careful bracing was needed using plastic rod in order to get the wing shape to match the attachment points on the fuselage. This is critical to get right otherwise you will be left with major lips which will be impossible to cover up effectively. The port wing top half was also severely warped and needed heat treatment to straighten it. Otherwise the port wing top and bottom fitted together nicely but the starboard had so much run over on the top half that I literally had to clip off the end of the wings once the glue was dry. But that's what you get with these kind of kits! The engine nacelles/undercarriage housings have also to be fitted to the underside of the wings. Needless to say, the fit leaves much to be desired and only after much application of plastic strips and filler was a decent result obtained. Also bear in mind that using epoxy glue means that several hours have to elapse before placing the parts and then applying the corrective measures, so all in all a very painful process. The interior of the undercarriage bays is reasonably well detailed but as with many areas of the kit, not consistently symmetrical and I could foresee some issues when fitting the legs later.

I now returned to the fuselage section and proceeded to fill the seams with copious amounts filler, then sand them down. This process had to be repeated three times before I has happy that I had removed all trace of the join. I then fixed the tail sections, two planes and the fin which are all moulded as single parts. Since the mating surfaces are flat (ish!) and there is no locating lug or pins I carefully drilled holes and made my own locating pins. This would help strengthen the join and also provide support whilst the glue dried. Again, plenty of filler was required to remove the seams.

Next on went the wings. Again (and as is often the case with short run moulds) there are no locating lugs or pins and since the wings are not solid drilling your own is not really practical. So using epoxy I carefully attached the wings (packing the seam on the starboard wing to get the correct dihedral) and made a rudimentary jig to hold everything together until the glue took. Once it had, I also dribbled super glue into the seams and let this set to act both as filler and also to add extra strength. Once all was dry I noticed some residual flexing but this turned out to be the resin itself (which is fairly soft) rather than the joints, so I was happy with that. Some final filling and smoothing and we had something that at last looked like an aeroplane.

I painted up the engines and added some guitar wire to represent the push rods. A little dry brushing brought everything up nicely and they fitted into the front nacelles without complaint, just a little glue to secure them. The kit provides spacers designed to secure the engines to the wing points but I found that these were too large and so I left them out as they did not appear to be necessary. Fixing the engine nacelles to the wing attachment points was also tricky as they were quite difficult to get lined up correctly and held in place whilst the glue dried.

I masked off the front wind shield and fixed it in place, using the (already cut out) sliding vac form section as a guide. I elected to leave the sliding section off for now (painting it separately) and masked the tub directly, along with the engine and wheel bay openings. The whole plane now got two coats of primer. This revealed a few rogue seams around the wings which were dealt with using a little filler and sanding.

I painted the RLM02 yellow first on the nose, rear fuselage band and wing tip undersides, all of which were masked off once the paint was dry. The next stage was to apply RLM65 to the underside. This was then masked off and a standard RLM 70/71 splinter pattern was applied to the top side using hard tape masking. The customer had requested the winter camouflage scheme which is basically the standard splinter then covered in the field with whitewash, working around the key markings. And indeed, the best way to do this on a model is basically the same.

So after the splinter scheme had dried, I then glossed the model with two coats of Klear. I then applied all the decals. The decals are the highlight of the kit in many ways. It was rather a pleasant experience after such a pitched battle with the build to be able to apply these decals which performed brilliantly and are of a far superior quality to many "mainstream" injection moulded kits.

I allowed the decals to set for several hours after having applied plenty of Micro Sol. Now to apply the winter camouflage. I used Blu Tack masking to cover the key decal markings in a "rough and ready" way to simulate the hurried field application. I then also, using as many references as I could find, used the same method to mask out the rest of the winter scheme, which consists of a fairly random pattern of whitewash leaving several original splinter scheme areas visible. Reference material is not comprehensive in this area, and that which exists is also very inconsistent. However I reasoned that since the whitewash was constantly being washed off by the elements it would be re-applied several times in practice and in each case it would probably be different so a little artistic licence was completely justified.

Once the masking was finished, I applied the white finish using flat white acrylic but spraying close to the surface, wiggling the airbrush around and keeping the paint to air mix ratio low. I did not want a solid white covering, it had to look a bit random and weathered and this worked a treat. Some of the original splinter could still be seen through it in places and this is exactly what I was after. The scheme also called for a "snowstorm" patch on either side of the fuselage which was done with high pressure "squeezes" from the airbrush at close range.

I was pretty happy with the result once the masks came off, although a little cleaning up was needed in places. Before the white paint had fully cured, I then went around the panel lines with a blunt craft knife and scraped it away a little to simulate the way that the whitewash tended to get washed and flaked away and give things a bit of a weathered look. I then sealed everything in with a coat of Klear.

My usual black oil wash followed to accentuate the panel lines, although I found the effect on the top side was too strong against the white so I carefully went over the lines with a weak white paint to soften them down a bit. A final matt coat and a little post shading finished things off nicely.

While that was all drying out, I constructed the undercarriage parts and propellers. The props needed drilling out to fix the blades in but this presented no problems, the resin being fairly soft and workable. Similarly, the spinners and engines require central holes drilling to accommodate a fixing rod which I fashioned from plastic rod.

The undercarriage installation was, however, rather tricky, as I had feared. Simply placing the legs into their locating holes in the undercarriage bay resulted in them sticking out at the wrong angle and differing lengths. So a lot of packing with plastic pieces and test fixing was required before smothering the resultant junction between legs and undercarriage bay in epoxy, and allowing it to dry overnight for maximum strength - much needed due to the weight of the model. The associated linkage struts are aesthetic only and add no strength so I applied these later. They do not match up to the bay dimensions in the slightest (being far too short) so I had to improvise here as well.

The Hs129 has an external gun sight, rather unusually, due to the lack of space in the cockpit.  The instructions show it being fitted but no gun sight is included in the kit (unless it was just missing from mine). So I scratch built one using photo references and installed it. For the same reason, some of the engine related gauges are actually installed externally on the engine housings so the pilot can read them from the cockpit. This must have been an interesting way to fly, these are represented nicely on this kit and were painted up accordingly.

The engine exhaust pipes are provided as aluminium tubes in the kit, which is a nice touch, although I am not sure they are 100% authentic as such. But I went with them, priming and painting them before fixing them in place. The under belly cannon was installed, complete with resin zeroing ring and I added aerial wires made from fishing line. The kit does not provide any part for the starboard wing pitot tube, so I made one up from plastic rod, drilled a locating hole and fixed this in place as well. Finally, I added some oil streaks and exhaust stains and she was complete.

Well this has certainly been an adventure. By the standard of resin kits, this sits somewhere in the middle. I've built easier ones, but I've also build harder ones as well. It is a fine representation of the aircraft and the only one available in this scale, and makes a very impressive model, especially striking in this winter camouflage scheme. I am very pleased with the result, but would I be in a hurry to do another? Maybe not. Time for something in normal plastic next please....

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