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.