Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Build Review - Italeri 1/48 Bell UH-1N

It's not uncommon for me to be presented with a photo from a customer accompanied by a request to "build one of those". There then follows some serious research to see what is available in terms of kit, decals, conversions etc. This happened recently when I was presented with a photo of the Bell 412 EPI demonstrator helicopter. The customer wanted a 1/48 model of this very beast. Now there is no 1/48 kit out there of the Bell 412, let alone the EPI version. But Italeri do a decent kit of it's little sister, the Bell 212 (albeit in the guise of the military UH-1N). There is also a conversion set by Belcher Bits (available via Ultracast) to turn this kit into a CH-146 Griffon. This is the Canadian military version of the 412 EP, and is close enough, with a little scratch work to boot. So kit and conversion set in hand, and a large photo of the 412EPI on my computer monitor, I set about this project with not a little trepidation.

The Belcher Bits conversion set contains rather more parts than I needed since the CH-146 is adorned with various military paraphernalia. However the important parts for me were the enclosed transmission fairing, and of course the four bladed rotor.

The build starts with the interior and I built the basics up using the kit parts but used the two pilot seats provided by the conversion set, which are a little more true to the 412 than the kit parts. The first challenge arose with the instrument panel. The kit part represents the "old fashioned" Twin Huey layout full of dials, however the "I" in EPI, as well as uprated avionics, also signifies a glass cockpit. So using some etch parts from the spares draw I attempted to reproduce this over the top of the kit part. It's not perfect, but I assumed (correctly) that little will be visible when the model is completed. The centre console was picked out carefully with a fine brush and the passenger seats around the engine walls were fixed in place.

The fuselage closed up without protest, although there is a lot of glazing to install and mask which took some time. That said, the fit of the glazing (and the kit in general) is excellent and very little filling and clean up was required.

At this stage a couple of other significant scratch modifications were required. Firstly, the tail fin had to be re-shaped to represent the "fast fin" on the 412 UPI demonstrator. This is an option on the 412 but I wanted to replicate the photo I was working to as best as possible. This modification was fortunately easy to do as it involves simply cutting out the shape from the existing fin followed by a fair amount of sanding and polishing. The next issue was that the EPI has the prominent (and slightly comedic) nose radar bump seen on many 412 models. This was achieved by cutting the nose section off a 500lb bomb I had in the spares draw, and fairing it in carefully with filler and a lot of sanding. Finally I built up the engine housing from the kit parts and installed it along with the resin transmission fairing from the conversion set. This needed a little shaving to fit squarely as there was a slight warp in it. The skids were added, and in order to replicate the 412EPI, I added some styrene sheet platforms to them.

I decided to paint and finish the fuselage before even starting the rotor assembly. After a coat of primer, the whole model got a coat of flat black. Next was a very time consuming masking process using thin strips of Tamiya tape to allow spraying the red banding. This banding has a white border, but this I decided, would be better done afterwards using decals strips. I mixed flat red with a little chrome silver to give it a bit of sparkle as in the real thing, and I was quite pleased with how this turned out.

After two coats of Klear I applied the white decals strips (from my spares) to border the banding. This was, as you will imagine, rather a tedious process but the end result is worth it. The only other decals needed were the tail rotor danger badging and the 412EPI logo. I generated these myself, managing to copy the 412EPI logo from the Bell website. I then coated the whole model with a mix of satin and matt coats. The actual aircraft is finished in a high gloss, but in a small scale this is best replicated with a fairly matt finish. To apply full gloss in this scale just makes the whole thing look like a toy, not authentic at all.

Building the main rotor was actually more troublesome than you might think. The resin conversion set demands that you cut slots in the rotor gear to fit the blades. This results in incredibly thin sides to the slot in which the blade needs to fit and I was not happy that this would be strong enough. So I created much thinner slots than called for, using a razor saw, and stripped down the root of the blades instead. This gave a much stronger joint. The rotor mechanism was primed in black and painted using Alclad "Airframe Aluminium" and the bladed painted light grey with red bands, edged with decal strips again.

As is often the case with "cottage industry" conversions, some scratch building is called for by the instructions and the rotor pitch control rods had to be fashioned from styrene rod. This proved easier than expected and the rotor mechanism slotted neatly into the transmission housing. However I deviated slightly from the instructions here, and used an extended axle on the rotor and drilled a deep hole through the housing to accommodate it, giving a far more positive fit that simply "resting" it in would do.

The Italeri kit is excellent, and I recommend it to anyone. The conversion set it also very good, but not for the beginner or the faint hearted as it still demands a fair bit of scratch work. By the time I had finished, there were a large number of parts left in the kit and the conversion set which are simply not needed, since both kit and conversion are military focussed. But I am very pleased with the overall result. There is something very satisfying about scratch work in order to replicate a specific aircraft that no-one has done before (at least to my knowledge) and to my mind, this is what real modelling is all about.


The original:

My version: