Sunday, 25 August 2013

Build Review - Eduard 1/48 Messerschmitt Bf109E-7 Tropical

There is not exactly a shortage of Bf109 kits out there in the wild. With the possible exception of the Spitfire it is probably the most kitted aircraft there is. And most of them are actually pretty good, even the ancient Airfix moulds. So when Eduard decided a couple of years back to throw their 21st century technology into the Bf109 ring, many asked "Do we need more?". Well if you are not providing a new modelling subject, your only chance of success is to be better than the rest, and Eduard have a happy history of doing just that very thing. Not only are their modern kits of exceptional moulded quality and accuracy, they have also taken advantage of their long history of being the industry standard for photo etched detailing sets and canopy masks, and thrown these into the ProfiPack series as well. Combined with consistently excellent decals, the end result is arguably the best value for money on the market today.

I was looking to build a tropical Bf109 for a diorama idea I had been mulling on for a while, and I wanted it to be "engine exposed". I knew from experience that the Eduard 109E has a beautiful engine option that is a work of art in its own right, and so when they produced this tropical E-7 it was a complete no-brainer for me.

The box contains four dark grey sprues and one clear, along with two etched metal frets, canopy masks and two decals sheets, a very detailed set of stencils and another containing markings for five different aircraft. Two of those aircraft (interestingly) do not have specifically tropical colours, one of the others I had built previously and one I felt looked rather boring, so it came down to the box top version for me.

The cockpit interior is very nicely moulded indeed, and is enhanced with a few pieces of etch (as well as the seat belts). I sprayed it RLM02 and after a light dry brushing with Revell "Steel" (best for this purpose I find) I picked out the details with a fine brush. I opted to use the etched instrument panel which comes in a separate dial and fascia layer (as is often the case). You can also use a decal (oh no, not me) or paint it up yourself from the nicely moulded version which I would normally do, but if there is etch provided, that's what I will use. Finally, I gave the whole interior a wash of thinned black oil paint.

Next on the agenda is the engine and firewall elements which have to be done before the fuselage is closed up. Note that if you don't want to expose the engine and have a closed cowling, you need to omit a number of parts, including the guns, and also trim a substantial amount off the front end of the engine block. So you cannot have both worlds here, the kit engineering (in particular the thickness of the cowling pieces) simply do not allow it so you have to make your choice early. The engine is exquisitely moulded and builds up from a number of parts really well. The Eduard colour call outs are suspect in places, however, so check your references. I sprayed the whole engine block with "Dark Iron", followed by a satin varnish and some light dry brushing to get the right effect, then picked out the HT leads and plugs with a fine brush. I also added a little extra wiring of my own from fine styrene rods as there is no representation of the control wiring harnesses.

The engine is then attached to the firewall with nicely moulded mounting arms and rather surprisingly, this all went together with no fuss at all. I left off the top mounted guns for now as these would make masking off the engine area  for painting more difficult. The fuselage is now brought together around the engine/firewall structure and the cockpit tub, and this all clicked into place with no argument.

The wings go together next, and these fitted perfectly. However note that, as it comes, the kit forces you to deploy the flaps and slats. If you wanted a clean configuration then a small amount of kit surgery will be required, although it is very straightforward. The wing section then fits neatly to the fuselage, although I threw in some filler for good measure at this stage. Likewise the tail section presents few problems, but I did find that by default it was a little skewed and needed some gentle bending to get straight. I left off the rudder for now as my chosen colour scheme required it yellow and painting it separately made most sense. Similarly, the undercarriage was not attached at this stage.

The canopy is in three sections. I masked and glued in place the front and rear (permanent) sections. The centre section I glued in using a tiny blob of cyanacrolyte since I would need to remove it cleanly later to pose it open after painting. This saved having to mask out the cockpit and also gets the centre canopy painted as part of the whole.

In preparation for painting, I also masked off the various air intakes and, of course, the engine assembly very carefully, the cowling parts would be painted alongside the main airframe. I started with a thin layer of Tamiya primer, I did not want to destroy the delicate surface detail. The yellow nose and rudder were sprayed first, and then the lower nose section masked off as this is much easier to do than mask of the rest of the airframe later. Next the entire plane was sprayed with RLM78. I use my own mix of equal parts Tamiya XF-23, XF-19 and XF-2 for this, which I find works well. The upper wings and top of the fuselage need a solid coat of RLM79 and this was simulated with a mix of XF-59 and XF-64, applied after masking the entire underside and sides accordingly. I then applied the "blotches" using XF-27. The paint call out calls for RLM80 (Olive green) but this looks far to pale for my liking. Contrary to perceived wisdom, I find it easier to apply this kind of mottling with a very high airbrush pressure and very restrained pulling back on the trigger. Many people go for low pressure and thin paint but I find this can "spatter" too easily.

The final painting job was to mask off and apply the white fuselage band. I probably should have done this in advance and masked over the band, but to be honest, I forgot. Anyhow, when all was done the whole plane and cowling parts all got a good coat of Klear and they were set aside to cure. Whilst that was happening, I took the opportunity to paint and assemble the undercarriage and propeller parts. Eduard have got the wheels just right. They provide the tyres and wheel centres as separate parts, which is a real godsend to us modellers as to be honest, there is no bomb-proof way of getting a good wheel/tyre paint separation whether using masks or very careful brushwork. Personally I generally use the latter but where the parts are separate you know you are going to get a perfect result.

When the varnish was dry, I set to applying the decals. As with all Eduard decals I have used, these performed pretty much flawlessly, especially in combination with a little Micro Sol to bed them down. I only have one complaint, the stencils are on extremely thin backing film. This is normally a good thing for the end result, minimising any trace of it. However for some of the larger stencils, particularly those on the under belly fuel tank, I had real trouble with them creasing up and having to untangle a tiny folded decal is a near impossible task. Fortunately I had some spares left over from a previous Eduard 109 build which saved the day when I had to abandon a couple of them in despair. Anyhow, once all was done, another coat of Klear sealed everything in.

Once dry, I applied a black oil paint wash to the panel lines and this brought out the details superbly.This was followed by a couple of coats of matt. I then randomly sprayed a fine filter of very thin white over the whole model to give some random shading and also to simulate sun bleaching. This was followed by a fine post shade of black/brown mix to pick out the major panel lines.

Attaching the final parts was mainly straightforward, the undercarriage, rudder and spinner. However Eduard have still not learnt from an internet full of complaints about the exhaust stacks. Why oh why do they insist on providing each exhaust stub as a separate piece? There is really no need for it. It just makes their installation a bit of a nightmare in terms of fitting them and lining them up. It is also a big problem on their Bf110 kits as well, where there are twice as many to deal with.

I then applied some final weathering. Exhaust staining was done with brown pastels and enhanced with a fine black/brown spray. A few oil streaks were applied with burnt umber oil paint and some dark grey dry brushing to dirty up the cowling and underbelly areas. Finally, a little red/brown pastel was rubbed into the wheels and lower extremities to simulate a bit of desert sand and grit.

Despite the couple of gripes, I really cannot complain too much about this kit. It is simply superb in all other respects. Crisp, finely detailed, accurate and fitting together like a dream. Everything a kit should be. I hope Eduard continue to invest in new moulds as this truly is state of the art modelling. Their new Spitfire IXc has already set the industry ablaze and I am looking forward to getting my hands on one.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Comment - A Fear of Flying

I've just arrived home from a couple of weeks in California, driving with my family up the coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco doing the tourist thing, taking in a the sights on the way. And a very nice time we had too - I can highly recommend it. But you did not come to this page to read about my holidays. What this post is about is the 10 hours I had to spend each end of my holiday on an aircraft.

Spending this sort of time cramped up in the belly of a metal cylinder is not most people's idea of fun, and at best is viewed as a necessary evil in order to experience at first hand the wonders that this planet has to offer us mere mortals. The airlines do a creditable and well meaning job of trying to persuade us that "your holiday begins when you step on board" and all that, with their hot towels and, if you are lucky, personal video screens complete with selection of the latest movies, but who are they kidding? At the end of the day it is a pretty miserable experience. And for a fair few of us, it is worse than that.

This may be a surprise to you, coming from someone who's waking hours are generally spend mired in the world of all things aviation, but I confess to the world that I'm actually terrified of flying. For me, aircraft are best admired from the outside. From the ground. You may laugh and think I'm being ridiculous, or you may even sympathise, but that is the way I am, and despite having flown for business and pleasure my entire adult life (often several times a week in my previous incarnation as an I.T. consultant) this fear has never receded. It does not physically stop me, I do generally manage to control it (usually with the help of extreme stoicism and a certain amount of alcohol), but it is the fly in the ointment of every travel experience for me. If you were to offer me a flight in a Spitfire over the English Channel, my excitement and sense of occasion would far outweigh any trepidation, but a 747 over the Atlantic? No thanks.

The sensible part of me knows that this fear is irrational, and deep down I know that I am far safer on an aircraft than on any other mode of transport, but any of you who share my phobia will know that this does not really help at the time. Flying on an aircraft is such a different and mind bending experience compared to all other surface based methods that is it hard to make any comparison. I understand the science and physics as well as, indeed maybe better, than most. But hurtling through the air, several miles above the ground, in a metal container weighing hundreds of tons, at speeds ten times those experienced in most everyday situations, and then expecting it to all end happily, just seems plain wrong on a primeval level. Airport and tourism staff don't help either. Why do they insist on wishing you a "safe flight"? Don't they realise that, for us phobics, they are therefore implying that there is a chance that it won't be? And "did you have a good flight?". Please. I'm here, alive and uninjured, aren't I? Therefore it was, by my definition, good.

But before I am accused of creating new phobics, we must not forget that it is a remarkable thing that mankind has achieved here. Not only are the speeds, technical accomplishment and efficiencies so far beyond anything else we would ever experience outside of a space program, but we have managed to make it unbelievably, nay incomprehensibly, safe. The fact that on the extremely rare occasion something does go tragically wrong it is global news, proves this point. And what is more, the "magic" of flight is undoubtedly what has always drawn me to the world of aviation and given me such respect for the pioneers and history of it. As you know, military subjects are closest to my heart, the most respect goes to those pilots. At least when I get on a plane to go on holiday I am not pursued by a squadron of fighters with big cannons all hell bent on making sure I don't arrive at all.

But if, like me, you are a worrier, nothing really helps, I know. Most people on the plane around me are probably thinking about what they were going to do when they get to their destination, or some other mundane future activity. Me, I'm just sitting there waiting for a messy end being torn to bits in the massive fireball that a part of me is sure will happen any second.

At least I'm not bored.