Firefly update: re-painting, re-decaling, and re-building the landing gear

After I pulled the masking off the Firefly and looked at the slate gray, something looked a little… lurid about the color. Roy Sutherland chimed in with the same opinion: it was too saturated a color and needed to be toned down. The Floquil color went on well, but looked a bit weird. In fairness, in combination with the extra dark sea gray it would have been a good camouflage color, because the two next to each other were hard to look at. Just the same, I re-masked the model and mixed up some ModelMaster slate gray, which was spiked with flat gull gray to tone it down further. The paint went on, the masks came off, and the model looked more like a proper FAA Firefly.

The modified paint job looks more the part of an FAA aircraft in 1945 and much less psychedelic.
Another view of the paint, pre-decals.
After the repaint. The exhausts were masked during painting.

Before I painted the bottom if the plane, I decided to figure out the rocket arrangement. The Firefly Mk. I carried four rockets on each wing, mounted on a large rectangular blast plate. This held the rocket rails; it also had electrical attachments in the back for the “pigtails” coming off the rear of the rockets. Most challenging, it also had openings for the shell casings, since the shell ejection chutes were beneath the blast plates.

I had already decided to swipe the rockets and rails from an Airfix Beaufighter destined to become a “Torbeau,”and it occurred to me to check the Beaufighter blast plates while I was at it. The plates had a vertical rear end, but careful cutting and sanding created the right shape for the Firefly. The challenge was to open the shell chutes; I drilled pilot holes, then cut out a large square opening. This was sectioned into four smaller openings using .020 styrene strip, which was applied using CA glue. The whole mess was sanded flat. Finally, I drilled out the electrical openings and stuck the blast plate to the wing, lining it up with the cannons and the outer opening of the landing gear bays. Ince in place, I applied the sky camouflage to the bottom of the plane.

The modified blast plate, stolen from an Airfix Beaufighter. I cleaned up the link and shell ejection chutes more – then realized they’d be hidden by rockets and rails.

Photos of the very aircraft I was building showed that its lower roundels had been painted over in sky, which appeared lighter than the original color, leaving a slightly paler square where the roundel had been. I took the kit decals, still in their bag, and used the roundels to determine the size of the square by placing strips of tape on the plastic, with the roundel decals as a guide. The masking squares were peeled off the bag and placed on the model, and a lighter shade of sky was shot on the wing. 

The underside of the plane, with the painted-out roundels apparent on the wings, as are the rocket blast plates.

A gloss coat of Future was applied to the model and it was time for the decals. The DP Casper lower wing roundels went in the middle of the pale sky squares with no problem, but the roundels on the upper wing were out of register, with a which corona peeking around the blue edges on one side. No problem – I had an Aeromaster sheet with the same markings handy and applied those roundels, plus the fin flashes from the Aeromaster sheet. The codes and small side roundels went next, plus the “Royal Navy” legend and serial numbers. These went on with no problem, but the flashes wouldn’t snuggle down. The wing roundels really didn’t want to behave – they wrinkled, so I applied SuperSol, then SolvaSet. They un-wrinkled but soon a weird texture appeared on them – they were reacting with the Future, creating a rash-like appearance contained just on the roundel. 

Stripping them off, I found patches of texture etched into the gloss coating. When everything was dry, I sanded the affected areas with a 3000-grit sanding cloth, re-applied the Future, and sourced a second set of Aeromaster decals. This time, when I put the roundels in the water, they shattered. Instead of hunting down yet another Aeromaster sheet, I dug out a Techmod set for the Hellcat with contemporary markings – the style of national insignia carried at this time was short lived and thus there were few options in my decal collection to draw from! These roundels were slightly larger but still matched the photos, so I added them to the model and crossed my fingers. They worked beautifully. I also added walkway decals from the DP Casper sheet.

Examining a new photo I had found of DT934, the plane I was building, I noticed that the “4” was peeking out from behind the wing. That meant the codes read 4-K on the starborad side. Glancing at the model, I realized I had applied the decals to mirror the port side – they read “K-4!” I couldn’t believe I’d actually 4-K’ed up my model! The offending decals were lifted with tape and extras from my spare Aeromaster sheet went on in their place. 

With the decals on, I applied another coat of Future, and once dry, gave the model a healthy sludge wash of Payne’s gray, which brought out the panel lines. Some missing fastener detail was added with a .05 Micron pen, and once all the panels looked consistent the model was shot with Testors Dullcoat, heavily thinned with lacquer thinner. The objective was to take the shine off the model but not render it totally flat. 

I added some wear to the walkway panels with a silver Prismacolor pencil and some gray pastels. I also took the opportunity to scrub some gray pastels into the wings and fuselage, providing the rest of the weathering I’d need (except for the exhaust stain, which would come at the end of the build). 

Another view of the model. showing how a small amount of weathering can change the character of the finish.

The tail wheel was painted and installed, and the tail gear doors were cleaned up and painted. Contrary to the kit’s instructions, the Firefly’s tail wheel doors close on the ground, but the half-circle openings on each door that wrapped around the tail strut were in the wrong place so the doors would not close. I made new doors from .035 sheet styrene.

The main gear came next. I knew from my previous build that the main struts in the kit were terrible, indistinct stalks that didn’t look like the real things. I used the formula from my previous build: 1.2mm brass tubing from Albion Alloys provided the main structure of the strut and doubled as the shock strut. The main portions of the leg were represented with lengths of 1.5mm brass tubing; the shock strut went inside these and was secured by a bit of CA glue. Reinforced areas on the strut were made from small rings of 1.8mm brass tubing. 

God bless you, Albion Alloys! Three sizes of telescoping tubing were used to make new struts.
The finished struts, with the beautiful Barracuda Studios wheels in place. Be careful to drill the holes in the wheels so that when you add them to the axles they are the same distance from the strut on both gear.

Once the strut was all together, I used a round microfile to impart a curved recess at the base of each strut. Two small sections of 1.5mm tubing were cut and a small hole was drilled in the top of each one. A half-inch length of rod went into the hole, and the rod was given a coat of CA glue and fed into the strut until the top of the axle fit flush into the rounded end of the strut. The back of the axle was plugged with styrene rod; on the other side of the axle, more telescoping tubing provided an attachment for some resin Barracuda Studios wheels, which were drilled to fit. Fine lead solder was used to create the brake lines. 

The 1.5mm tubing fits neatly into the attachment points in the kit’s wheel bays, giving the scratch-built struts a strong anchor. The resin retraction rods and the photoetched anti-torque scissors provided in the kit were used to finish up the gear, and the wheels and tires, which had already been painted and flat-coated, were brushed with pastels. This makes them appropriately dirty, and it also makes them dead flat.

On its feet, showing off the scratch-built struts. The gear was painted aluminum and given a heavy wash; I also added styrene half-circles on the connections of the retraction struts .

Next were the gear doors. The kit doors are thick and featureless. Again borrowing from my previous Firefly build, I used the Airwaves doors intended for the Airfix kit. These have detail on the inner faces, but I added my own structural detail with .035 styrene strip and .30 rod. 

Next stop: the rockets, the radio antennas and final assembly!

Jasta ’bout a Catastrophe: Eduard’s Albatros D.V in 1:72

All finished – but it was a challenge getting there!

By definition, warplanes favor function over form. In World War I, in aviation’s early years, that was particularly true; heavily-braced wings, slab-sided fuselages and unconventional layouts (like in the DH.2 and Caproni’s series of multi-engine bombers) were state-of-the-art at the time. That’s why the Albatros series of fighters stood out, culminating in the D.V – in my mind, it’s the most attractive aircraft of the Great War. 

Distinguished from its peers by their semi-monocoque plywood fuselages, the D.V boasted a streamlined fuselage with a dish-like propeller spinner (or, as the 1919 edition of Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War I put it, “a revolving pot is attached to the propeller”).  It also replaced the true biplane configuration of the D.III with a sesquiplane design that recalled the Nieuport 10/17/24/27 (early engagements confused British and French pilots at first, who described them as “Nieuport-type fighters”). The chief benefit of that thinner-chord lower wing was a helpful increase in downward visibility. 

The D.V did not get a big performance gain over the more slab-sided D.III, boosting top speed from 102 to 105mph (and 112mph in the D.Va variant). This didn’t give the German Air Service a performance edge over its enemies; the chief benefit of the Albatros D.V for the Luftstreitkrafte (Imperial German Air Service) was that it could be manufactured in numbers great enough to give the Germans a numerical advantage.

The Albatros D.V still boasted some standard features of WWI aviation. It had extensive wire bracing, and the cockpit was poorly laid out. The radiator on the upper wing was vulnerable to enemy fire. Perhaps most worrying for pilots, it had a tendency to break up in high-speed dives. On the positive side of the ledger, it boasted the reliable Mercedes D.III engine and two LMG 08/15 machine guns, giving it a firepower advantage over many British and French fighters of the time.

Even so, in air combat the man is as important as the machine, and the Germans had a cadre of experienced pilots well versed in air combat by May, 1917 when the Albatros D.V arrived, including most of the big names of German fighter aviation in WWI. Albatros pilots earned 29 Pour le Merites, and their numbers included Ernst Udet, Rudolph Berthold, Werner Voss, Hermann Goering and both brothers von Richtofen.

I had other WWI fighters on my to-do list ahead of Eduard’s Albatros D.V, but a challenge for a 45-day build issued by the Barracuda Studios “Ready Room” Facebook page proved too enticing. I had a “Profipack” version of the kit, meaning it had extra photoetched details, and a test fit showed the kit had a reasonably good fit. However, this was a 20-year old kit, and I would be surprised by how much major detail the kit omitted from the interior. 

I initially wanted to highlight the bare plywood seen on many Albatros D.Vs, and I wanted to feature the green-and-mauve camouflage on the wings in lieu of the lozenge pattern. The plywood aspirations went away as soon as I ran across decals for a rather busy scheme for an aircraft wrapped nearly entirely with the blue-diamond pattern of Bavaria, flown by Lt. Wolf in July, 1917 with Jasta 5, the third-highest scoring unit of the war. Research suggests this pilot’s first name may have been Walter. He transferred into the unit from Jasta 15 with a victory to his credit. On the morning of July 27, Wolf shot down an F.2b over Esquerchin; its crew crash-landed safely and became POWs. His career lasted until August 8, 1917, when he left Jasta 5 for the hospital; he may have died on August 28. No reason for his injury or further record of this otherwise anonymous flyer could be located. The airplane is better remembered than the man himself. 

To commemorate Lt. Wolf, I broke out the kit and my first step was to – go to the internet. I downloaded the instruction sheets from WingNut Wings’ kits of the Albatros D.V and D.Va, which are still on the web even though the company has ceased operations. These instruction sheets are invaluable for those of us building in smaller scales, since they have color detail photos, isometric drawings that point out areas of incomplete detail, and contemporary photos that show differences between planes and some of the odd features of individual planes. I also pulled the Osprey title Albatros Aces of World War I off my shelf of Osprey books. 

The interior of the Albatross reflected the plane’s plywood construction. The floor, rear bulkhead, and sides of the aircraft were bare varnished plywood, so I applied my now-standard approach to painting wood. First, I applied a coat of Testors acrylic wood to the photo-etched floor/rear bulkhead, the interior of the fuselage, and the plywood engine mount. I also painted the area at the middle of the lower wing – it would be slightly visible beneath the machine guns on the finished model. 

After a coat of acrylic beige…

When the acrylic wood was dry, I used a fine brush to apply small drops of Minwax walnut wood stain. Then, while it was still wet, I lightly drew a cotton swab across the part, streaking the stain to create a convincing grain. Once the stain hard dried – about an hour – I applied a coat of Tamiya clear orange. The result was a convincing small-scale plywood interior. 

…And after the application of Minwax wood stain “grain.”

(Just to be honest: although I’ve used this technique on four models, this time for my first step I used Testors enamel wood. Just as I was applying the oil-based stain, I realized what a mess I was about to create and wiped the stain off, taking a bit of paint with it. A coat of Future sealed the enamel wood, and the stain-graining proceeded without further problems).

The kit seat was painted a dark reddish-brown to match photos. My first coat was too red, so I added raw umber to the mix and, by airbrushing carefully, toned the color down and added some subtle weathering. The seat rests on an H-shaped frame which is provided as a photoetched part; this joins in four points to the folded floor-rear bulkhead section. This was painted a blue-gray color. The seat belts came next; I carefully painted the belts a pale beige color and added them as the instructions suggested.

Do you like small, fiddly, flimsy photoetch? This cockpit’s for you, then!

The control column was detailed with firing triggers and painted a combination of blue-gray and black, with brown grips. The column was a bit tall, so I cut down its mounting pegs to get a slightly better sit. The floor-mounted compass came as a photoetched part, which I painted, applied a decal to, and gave a drop of Future to as the lens before launching the part into oblivion with my tweezers and robbing a similar part from a photoetched set for the Fokker D.VII. My second version was carefully added to the cockpit floor. 

The photoetched kit parts for the cockpit were added where appropriate, but there were still a lot of details to be added. The fuel hand pumps were made from styrene and bits or brass for the handles; the clock on the right side of the cockpit was made by adding .035 styrene rod into a bit of brass tubing, with some dial “detail” added with a .005 Rapidograph pen. 

The scratch-built pumps and wiring details crowding the right side of the cockpit, and the tachometer/machine gun mount across its top.

The most egregious omission was the bar across the front of the cockpit which held the machine gun mounts and the tachometer. I made one using the WingNut Wings instruction’s photos from styrene rod and strip, topped with a tachometer made from brass tubing and styrene rod. This was a most vunerable component, so I added the photoetched floor and rear bulkhead to one half of the fuselage and set it aside for safety’s sake while I worked on the engine. 

Another view of the right side of the cockpit.

The kit engine includes the cylinders, the overhead cam and the intake manifold. The lower part of the engine is hidden beneath the plywood engine bearer, so it’s not present in the kit. The distributor at the back of the cam is included, but the pipe it rests on is absent. I started by painting the cylinders black mixed with a tiny bit of silver. When that was dry, the pipes down the sides that carries the leads from the magnetos to the spark plugs were painted red-brown. Then, using .03mm lead wire, I carefully bent 12 spark plug wires to shape and CA-glued them in place on the engine, a genuinely tedious task. The cams were added to the top of the engine, followed by the intake manifold; the lack of locating pins makes the addition of the manifold very tricky and it’s likely to need repair at some point during construction. 

Wired plugs in place, along with the cam shaft across the top of the engine.

The engine assembly was added to the engine bearer, and I made a new distributor by turning a piece of styrene rod to shape on my motor tool. A hole for the mounting pipe was drilled in the distributor, and a bit of .035 styrene rod was inserted. A hole for the rod was drilled into a square of styrene and the rod was cut off so the distributor was lined up properly. The distributor was dressed up with a spare photoetched part, a slice of .030 rod and a fine metal rod handle that was painted brown to replicate the wooden handle used to adjust the engine’s timing. 

The timing lever and distributor were made from styrene rod and tube, a spare photoetched part and a bit of metal rod.

The propeller came next. I always enjoy painting plastic propellers to resemble laminated wood. First, I paint the base color, a light wood shade. Then, out come three important things: masking tape, a new No. 11 blade, and, most importantly, photos of real versions of the propeller. The WingNut Wings instructions had nice color photos of a restored Albatros, including a nose-on shot showing the propeller. With that as my guide, I cut strips of Tamiya tape to simulate the laminated layers of lighter wood, taking care to make the bands symmetric from blade to blade. I masked the front first, then the back, taking care to line up the tape so the bands of dark and light wood lined up. The trickiest area is the hub, where the laminated layers come together and appear as narrow lines. When the tape was on, I shot a darker shade of brown and removed the tape, revealing alternating bands of color. To provide the look of varnish, the painted prop was given a coat of Tamiya clear orange. Having built a series of Fokker aircraft, I next looked on the photoetched fret for the propeller hub. I spent a couple of minutes looking at the sheet and instructions before it occurred to me that the Albatros had a spinner – there was no need for a photoetched prop hub, or for the work I did on the laminations on the hub for that matter!

Painted to look like laminated wood, the kit prop awaits its spinner.

The location for the engine and its plywood bearer was somewhat indistinct. I used photos to line it up properly so the two banks of pipes of the intake manifold lined up with the cut-outs in the left fuselage half and so the top of the engine projected the appropriate amount. When that was done, it was time to join the fuselage halves; the fit was good, but I did need a bit of filler top and bottom, followed by re-scribing of the plywood panels. 

The lower wing was a little tricky to fit – I eyeballed it the first time and the kit happily allowed me to place it about 1/8-inch off on one side. I carefully removed the wing, measured the center of the wing and added tick marks, and then lined the marks up with the fuselage seam. A bunch of sanding was needed to blend it in; I used masking tape to protect the raised detail on the wing’s center section as I made the join seamless. 

The wing successfully added after a second attempt.

The tail came next. The horizontal stabilizer came as a single piece with a V-shaped notch that fit over the rear fuselage. The fit was fairly good, but it was very easy to get this piece misaligned and I spent a lot of time lining it up with the lower wing before going to the glue. Time spent eradicating the seam paid off, and the vertical rudder went on with no struggle at all.

The model gets its tail – which makes a nice handle while building the model, by the way.

For the machine guns, I used two Mini World LG 15/08 “Spandaus,” which are little kits on their own. Each has a receiver/barrel, a photoetched cooling jacket, and a photoetched gunsight. I mixed up a dark gunmetal color for the guns, which was followed by a dry-brushing with a dark metallic shade of paint. The tiny, fragile guns were then set aside for safekeeping.

For fat-fingered models like me, these tiny Mini World Spandaus give new meaning to the term “gun control.”

At this point, I was ready for painting and decals. My only problem was that the decals hadn’t arrived, some 20 days after they were ordered! Thanks to the internet, I could find photos of at least five other builds of this scheme, which allowed me to map out some of the colors. I reasoned that the Bavarian diamonds would have to go over some paint, and it had might as well be white, since I was unsure whether the decal had white backing or just the blue diamonds on a clear background. I also wanted a nice white undercoat to give the red nose and spinner more vibrance, so I mixed up a batch of ModelMaster flat white and sprayed the fuselage and spinner. This was a good exercise, as it revealed some panel lines that needed to be deepened and hairline seams at the lower wing joints. These were filled with tiny applications of CA glue. A second white spray verified that the seams were eliminated. 

Color one of many applied…

The nose was carefully masked and the spinner and the front of the fuselage was airbrushed a mix of Chrysler engine red with a drop or two of black to tone it down. Next, the red area was masked, along with the rest of the fuselage, and I painted the nose panels around the engine a gray mixed from Aeromaster RLM02 and a bit of ModelMaster gunship gray to dirty it up. The same color was applied to the wheels and the wheel wing. The fuselage band was masked off and sprayed with another mix of grays, making it slightly more green than the nose. These colors came from the WingNuts Wings instruction sheet for their Albatros D.Va kit featuring Jasta 5 aircraft.

After the white, red and gray were applied there were only four more colors to be masked and painted…!

The fuselage was now painted except for the tail. I found the tail was an excellent handle, so I masked off the fuselage sides and painted the wings instead. The green was made from a lightened mix of ModelMaster dunkelgrun, while the mauve was mixed using ModelMaster Napoleonic violet and insignia blue and applied freehand. Contemporary accounts state that the Albatros factory applied this camouflage using a newfangled technology purchased from the deVilbiss Company of Ohio called a spray gun. The radiators were masked off and painted aluminum, and a misguided attempt at a wash left the upper radiator a perfect oxidized-looking color even as it threatened to wreck the paint. The accident worked out rather well. 

With all the colors on, including the wing camouflage (the one thing that was free-handed in the entire scheme).

The fuselage was kept in its masking and the lower wings were sprayed with AeroMaster light blue. At this point, the tail was finally masked off and shot with a mixture of Testors square bottle gloss green and ModelMaster forest green. Thus, my antique warbird was painted with out-of-production paints, which seems somehow appropriate.

The machine guns and the kit’s photoetched parts around the ammunition chutes were added next and painted once they were in place. It was a little crowded in front of the pilot (and I imagine visibility was not great) but I was able to align the guns and get them secured in place with CA glue. 

The decals were of a newer vintage, from Print Scale. I’ve worked with them before – they are unusually thick, but they lay down well and the colors behave even under the most aggressive setting solutions. I knew I’d be bringing out the decaling big guns, since I’d have to force the Bavarian pattern onto a fuselage with complex compound curves. The model was given a couple of coats of Future to make it very glossy, and I dove in.

Print Scale offers the markings for Lt. Wolf’s plane on a sheet of Albatros D.Vs, but the Bavarian pattern is provided on a sheet of its own. It’s totally generic – there are no provisions for the curves of the Albatros. For the first decals, I applied the German crosses to the top wing. This went remarkably well – the decals are thick, but once in place the snuggled right down and conformed to every detail. With my outlook buoyed, I turned to the Bavarian pattern.

I discovered the best approach was to cut even strips of the blue-and-white parallelograms and apply them like wallpaper, carefully matching the corners of the blue markings. This gave me the ability to fudge a little around the nose, and especially the tail. The going was slow, and sometimes I had to use a single check of one color or another to fudge the pattern. The nose eventually looked good, so I attacked the tail. After each session, the model was inspected, any areas where decals were misbehaving or wrinkled were cut with a sharp blade, and decal solution was applied. Solvaset, straight from the bottle, did the trick and did not affect the inks in the decals, and in three evenings the application of the Bavarian pattern was part of my checkered past.

The checkers in place – the best approach is to apply them in vertical strips to deal with the compound curves of the fuselage.

The other decals came next: the lions and crests in the gray bands on the fuselage, the crosses and oversized “W’s” on the lower wing, and the fuselage crosses, which crinkled up and needed hot compresses and Solvaset to get with the program. The yellow border on the fuselage band is provided as two very fine decals on the Print Scale sheet; the largest of the two is too small to go around the fuselage. Instead, I fished a Microscale railroad sheet for Missabe locomotives, which had a few yellow stripes, and cut one stripe into a thin strip using a straight edge and a brand-new No. 11 blade. This worked perfectly for the task. 

The wing decals behaved beautifully…

Jasta 5’s unit marking was a green tail trimmed with a red surround around the edges of the top and bottom horizontal and both sides of the vertical tail. Print Scale offers you this trim as decals, printed to shape but with no carrier beyond the color. Applying them is an exercise in torture as you try to get them off the sheet without twisting them and then attempt to coax them into place with a wet brush and a toothpick or tweezers. One wrong move and you pull the section you’ve been working on out of place. Patience is mandatory. I still needed to paint the very edges red, but the agony of applying the decal pays off in a nice, even edge to the red all the way around the tail. 

The border on the tail is a decal – or rather, four decals that have to be battled into place. Insignia red paint hit the edges.

Next, I added the landing gear. As is often the case with 1:72 WWI kits, the location of where the gear attaches to the fuselage is left to the builder’s imagination and references. Also, the kit wheels are too small. Luckily, I had a set of Cooper Details corrected wheels in my stash (this is now available from Barracuda Studios). I painted the tires a dark gray – not black, because German tires usually lacked black coloring due to a shortage of lampblack late in WWI – then airbrushed the hubs through a circle template. The struts were added to the wheel wing in a frustrating exercise – they have hole that fits into pegs on the wheel wing, but using it will guarantee the struts don’t fit the fuselage. Instead, you must establish the angles by trial and error. I also added the bungee cords wrapped around the axles from lead wire painted black; I knocked the struts off during this process and had to do everything again. Once the gear was aligned, the wheels were slipped on and aligned, and the gear was attached to the fuselage with CA glue. 

The Wingnuts Wings instructions revealed another detail that the Eduard kit overlooked: the windscreen. Albatros D.Vs used three different styles of windscreens; I picked the simplest one for my build, and cut a small square from some high-quality clear styrene (in this case, the packaging for an X-Acto knife set). The windscreen was cut to rough shape, then worked with files to get the correct shape, both across the top and the bottom, where it would join to the fuselage. Instead of trying to paint the frame of the windscreen, I carefully ran it along the point of a black Sharpie pen. When the ink dried (in about 10 seconds), I added the windscreen to the fuselage using white glue. 

If you look very carefully, you can see the windscreen just ahead of the cockpit.

 Now came he really exciting part: mounting the top wing. This being only fourth biplane I’ve built in 30 years, I don’t have a jig for such an endeavor – I just use my eyeball, a small amount of CA applied in strategic places and a lot of hope. In this kit, the cabane struts and wing “V”-struts are separate pieces but must be added to the model in relation to each other – get the angle on the cabane struts too steep and the “V”-struts won’t connect to both wings. Get the angle to shallow, and the “V” struts won’t fit between the wings. I did considerable experimentation to get the cabane struts right. Once the angle looked right, I turned the model upside down and glued the wing to the cabane struts first, then was able to slip the “V”-struts into place. I paid especially close attention to the alignment of the wing leading edges – any slight twist was corrected and the struts were fixed in place with tiny amounts of CA glue applied with the end of a piece of copper wire. 

At this late stage, I added the last details to the engine. That started with the intake and return pipes for the radiator in the wing. Eduard provides photoetched details for the radiator louver and their control lever and linkage, but no way for water to get from the radiator to the engine, which seems like an important missing step. I made the forward pipe from .022 solder, bent to shape carefully with a flattened section at the front to replicate its join to the front of the engine. That’s where I CA-glue it – the flexible solder then made it easy to bend it into position against the radiator for gluing. The other pipe was bent to shape and carefully worked into position in a nearly invisible place under the wing and connected to the engine. 

Engine details: the exhaust, piping for the radiator and the air pump. Two of the three had to be scratch-built.

The air pump is noticeably absent from the front of the engine. I made my own by chucking a short piece of .035 styrene rod into my motor tool and turning it as if on a lathe. I then drilled a hole in the top, inserted some .010 metal rod and clipped it off. The air pump was cut from the rest of the rod, added to the engine and painted brass to match photos.

Next, I cleaned up the kit’s tail skid and added the reinforcing plate photoetched piece to the keel beneath the plane’s tail. The skid was painted wood, with gray bands and streaked white paint on the center part of the skid to replicate the linen wrapping often applied in the field. The skid was carefully added to the tail.  

One thing about WWI biplane modeling is that the tension level increases exponentially as you complete steps near the end of the build. Such was the situation when it came time to add the rigging. Many people use flexible material like EZ-Line; my approach is the exact opposite. I use .1mm nickel-silver alloy “rod” from Albion Alloys. This is more like a stiff wire than a rod, which I prefer as it’s impervious to humidity and sagging. I carefully cut lengths, test-fit them using tweezers to place them against their intended locations, and then secure them with tiny drops of white glue. This is a process best done in multiple sessions, worked from the inside out: cabane strut-to-lower wings first, then cabane struts-to-base of the V-struts, then top of the V-struts-to-lower wings, and the outer wires and control wires on the outer wings toward the end. The last wires were the long ones extending from the base of the V-strut to the nose. 

With the top wing in place and fully rigged, I added the spinner to the propeller and tried to fit it to the hole in the nose. The prop didn’t fit, so I took a round file to enlarge the hole. Then, catastrophe – the vibration of the file caused the CA joints in the struts to fail and the top wing fell off – along with some of the rigging. This was worse than had all the rigging come loose, because now the wing was semi-attached and getting it glued back to the struts was a real challenge. I removed most of the rigging, gained a good grip on the wing, re-attached it to the struts, and re-did the rigging, discarding any wires that had deformed during the mishap. I also had to re-attach the radiator pipes and the windscreen. As a younger modeler, I might have sent the Albatros on a one-way flight across the room. As an older one, I realize that nothing is really un-fixable with patience.

I made the propeller fit by modifying the propeller shaft – no more trying to enlarge the hole! I darkened the area behind the spinner with a black Sharpie to better replicate the pronounced shadow present in photographs. With the wings and propeller on, my last task was to add the control actuators on the tail. Instead of using the kit’s photoetched actuators, I cut pieces of .010 styrene to the same shape and added them with a bit of Dullcote as adhesive, since it doesn’t affect the underlying finish. I painted the actuators green, added bits of .1mm rod between their tops and the appropriate points on the tail, and that was that. 

The dark border between the spinner and fuselage was enhanced with a Sharpie.

The Eduard Albatros is not a bad kit, but it has its challenges. Add to that a crazy paint scheme and the challenge of building a WWI-era plane in 1:72 and it makes for a bit of a challenge. Still, the final product was worth it. It’s a tribute to the many nameless men who flew and fought in WWI – not the aces, but the ordinary airmen who were much more typical of the first air war over a century ago. 

Not bad for a build that took 45 days, 58 minutes! Thanks to Roy Sutherland and his Barracuda Studios 45-day challenge for getting me to tackle this subject.

F-16C Finale: weathering, weapons and static wicks

Done!

When we left off, the decals were on the F-16C, and a second glosscoat had prepared the model for weathering. I mixed up a sludge wash of dish soap, a drop of water and a small dollop of Payne’s gray watercolor paint and then applied it liberally the airframe along the panel lines. Once it was dry, I removed the excess with a lightly dampened paper towel, although some hard-to reach areas on the bottom of the aircraft required a cotton swab or even a toothpick to remove the excess. I also applied a similar wash to all the pylons and the external tanks.

The wash as it appeared on the bottom of the aircraft.

Next, I consulted my references and applied some fluid leaks at appropriate areas on the wings and lower fuselage. I do this on a glossy surface using a very fine pointed art pen – in this case, a Staedler .05mm pigment liner. I apply a few random spots of ink where the leak should start, and then used a dry finger to pull the ink back, creating streaks. If I goofed up by not pulling straight back, the ink comes off with water. I also used this streaking trick to fill in a couple of panel lines that were a bit shallow and didn’t take the wash well. 

The wash on the top. If you look closely at the wings you can see the fluid leak effect. Keep it subtle – our USAF personnel keep their planes in good working order, thank you very much!

The model was then hit with a flat coat in preparation for the next step in weathering. I’d seen several on-line builds where the fuselage panel lines were beautifully weathered. How could I do this on my 1:72 model? I figured I’d start with the most easily corrected method, pastels. Using a stiff, cut-down old brush, I applied shades of gray and tan, pushing the powder into the finish. The result was exactly like the photos, highlighting the panels slightly but not looking too stark. 

At this stage, I started compiling a list of the things I needed to do to finish the kit. Once it was all written down, I put it in order, so things dependent on other things came later in the sequence. For example, you can’t install the landing gear doors until the struts have been installed. This checklist ensured I wouldn’t forget anything as I raced to finish the model.

I left off the fairings for the position lights until now, after the flat coat had been applied. I painted the backs of these tiny clear parts silver, then painted the lenses with Tamiya clear red and clear green. When dry, I masked the lenses and painted the backs of the fairings gray, then added them to the sides of the intakes. 

The kit includes a nice canopy with the proper cross-section – but it’s tinted. That was proper until the mid-1990s, but when night-vision goggles became commonplace the clear canopies came back because the tint limited the NVGs’ effectiveness. I couldn’t find an issue of the Academy kit to swipe the clear parts from, but I had three more F-16s in my stash, from Revell, Hasegawa and Tamiya. The Hasegawa kit was the oldest and least likely to get built – and the clear parts fit the Academy kit, more or less. The rear transparency was cut down to fit the Academy kit, and I then carefully dipped the rear transparency and canopy in Future floor polis, taking care to eliminate any bubbles in the Future with a clean, pointed toothpick. I then masked and painted these parts and added the rear transparency to the model. The canopy was decaled, dipped again in Future, and then masked for a final spray of Dullcote. It was set aside for addition to the model later. 

I colored some .02mm lead wire with a black Sharpie and added it to the lower main struts as the brake lines using CA glue. The real lines were secured to the gear legs with silver clamps, so I flattened some of the .02mm wire and wrapped short lengths around the struts and brake lines. Next, I added some silver wires with wire painted with a chrome Molotow pen and just like that, my struts were detailed. They were installed in the back of the wheel wells. 

A little work with fine lead wire yielded busy plumbed landing gear. As always, photos of the real thing are a must.

The retraction struts were added next, taking care to keep everything in alignment. The wheels were flattened slightly on sandpaper – paying attention to the placement of the brakes on the inside surfaces – and then added to the struts. 

A view of the main gear, fully assembled, before the addition of the gear doors. Enjoy the view – its the last time much of this detail would be visible!

Now it was time for the nosewheel. The various small wires were added to the detailed kit strut using the painted lead wire and CA glue, and the strut was cemented in place. The nose wheel went on next, followed by the retraction struts. The landing lights on the inside of the gear door are a single piece unit; I cleaned up the clear piece, painted the back with the Molotow chrome pen, and then carefully painted the sides and back black. The framing in the front was drawn in with the .05 pigment liner. It was installed into the front of the nose gear door, along with a .02mm electrical wire. 

The nose gear, with all the hydraulic lines installed.

The Academy kit provides all the hinges for the gear doors, a nice detail. The main gear have two smaller hinges plus the large hinge in the front with a piston to help them open and close. These were all CA-glued to the door, and the doors were in turn glued in place on the airframe. The nose gear door has a similar hinge arrangement, with an opening piston in front and a simple hinge toward the back. Once these small parts were in place, the nose gear door was installed into place. 

Now, I decided to work from the inside of the aircraft out as I added the many pylons, tanks, weapons and pods. I decided to add the stores to the pylons first, then add the assembly to the model. Working from the middle, I started with the centerline pylon and the ALQ-184 Electronic Attack Pod. Once I knew it was centered and aligned, I moved on to the pods on the sides of the intake, the AAQ-13 LANTIRN pod and the ASQ-213 data link for the HARM missiles. The LANTIRN pod had a recessed square with a seam down the middle of it, but this was a camera lens cover, so I cut a square from a glossy black note card and glued it into the square. Goodbye seam, hello glossy lens cover!

I found the pins on the inboard wing pylons didn’t fit the small holes in the wings they were supposed to fit into. I used a small round file to enlarge the holes, and sanded the pins, but the pylon still sat proud of the wing. The front mounting pins came off, and then I spent a lot of time making sure the external tanks were aligned with the pylons. Then I spent even longer getting the pylons and tanks aligned with each other and the leading edges of the wings – probably an hour or more. One goof-up here and all the other stores would look hinky. 

The AGM-88s mounted to the pylon via an adapter rail. Academy provides these in scale – but that means the areas for gluing the adapter to the pylon and the pylon to the missile are very small. The odds of these surviving on the model seemed long, so I drilled tiny matching holes in the adapters, pylons and missiles and inserted pins made from fine steel rod. This increased the strength dramatically, and these pylons fit into the mounting holes perfectly. 

So… much… alignment work! All the ordnance in place. The orange gloves are helpful in avoiding damage to the flat coat during final assembly.

The Master AOA probes were added to their holes – careful! They’re sharp! – followed by the kit’s pitot probe for the right side of the fuselage. It was painted steel and carefully added with CA glue. The tip of the pitot boom was painted silver and it was glued into the nose; I painted the base of the brass probe the same gray as the radome. 

Can you even pick up this model? The Master nose probe and AOA probes and the static wicks limit where you can touch the model without breaking it.

I’d waited to finish up the ejection seat – with its photoetched canopy breakers and other fine lose-able components – to the very end. I waited so long I lost the instructions, leaving me in the dark for final assembly of the seat and the heads-up display (HUD). Luckily, a search of the internet provided images and I was off to the races. The belts and breakers were added to the bang seat, which was then CA-glued into the cockpit. The HUD was a challenge in itself, made from three photoetched pieces and two transparent pieces I cut from a window envelope. By careful trial and error, I put the main part of the HUD in place, then added the transparencies (one tinted with Tamiya clear green paint) then added the last two photoetched parts. It was nerve-wracking, but the HUD had to wait to the end lest it get damaged during construction.

The finished ejection seat from Aires, with eight photoetched parts. I used the kit’s handle for a more 3D appearance.

The canopy still needed a small cross-brace added to the inside near it’s back. I made one from a bit of .035 rod; I chucked the rod in my motor tool and used a tiny brush and some black paint to create the white-striped look of the real item. This was CA-glued in place, as were six photoetched canopy latches from Reheat. The canopy was very carefully cemented into place.

The Hasegawa canopy was modified to fit the FROG/Academy kit, and it was outfitted with Reheat photoetched latches. The staining around the cannon was created with brown and black pastels, using a photo to capture the distinctive pattern.

The last step was to add the 15 tiny Master Models static dischargers. These are minute – 4mm in length and extremely fine. Master thoughtfully gives you 17, just in case. Using CA glue was out of the question, because I didn’t want to mar the finish. Instead, I used a ship-building trick: I used Dullcote as my adhesive. I brushed a little Dullcote on a plastic surface, picked up each discharger with pointed tweezers, picked up some Dullcote on the discharger, and very carefully placed each discharged on the ailerons, elevons and rudder, consulting photos frequently to get them positioned right. After they had dried, I painted the base of each discharger the appropriate color, then carefully painted the rear part black. This process went with no hitches and no lost dischargers!

The static discharge wicks on the tail, ailerons and rudder are tiny but effective details.

And that was it. I must admit that when I started I thought the F-16 was a bit of a bore. After digging into it, I now think it’s a fascinating subject that’s a challenge to build accurately. I’m looking forward to adding another Lawn Dart to my display case soon!

F-16C Part II: Lots of Ordnance, and a Little Paint

I last wrote about this project over a year ago, but work has continued on it. I distinctly remember working on the tail on Christmas day, 2019, for example. In any event, progress has been slow but steady – and steady beats slow when it comes to models.

We’ll start with the vertical tail, which is separate from the fuselage halves. The fit of the tail halves was good, as was the fit of the brake chute housing. Joining this assembly to the fuselage was easy and again left no seams to deal with. The horizontal stabilizers fit perfectly, even with no glue – I left them off until final assembly, but first I shaved off all the static dischargers. I did the same with the wings and vertical tail. Master Models does a set of machined metal static dischargers that are really amazing, and it was better to prep the plastic parts for their use now that to wait until later! I also added the tip rails, which fit very well. 

The rear tail section from the kit was added next – the fit was a bit indifferent and required some sanding to fair it into the fuselage. The kit exhaust and jet nozzle were OK, but I decided to use the Wolfpack set instead because it was far better detailed. A long time was spent trying to capture the unique staining of the inside of the nozzle, which is white with black and dark brown streaks in the direction of the jet blast. I used a brush to replicate this effect. A mixture of metal tones and washes brought out the detail on the exterior. The nozzle and the exhaust pipe were set aside to be added after final painting. 

The Wolf Pack exhaust pipe and nozzle look great with just a tiny but of attention with the airbrush.

I built and cleaned up the seven weapons pylons and painted them with Humbrol light ghost gray. Now, what should I put on those pylons? A search of images on the internet found multiple photos of the very aircraft I was building, 91-0362, and a common load was two 370-gallon tanks, two AGM-88 HARM missiles, two AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, an AIM-7L Sidewinder and a ACMI pod. This mix was complimented by an AAQ-113 LANTIRN (Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) pod and an ASQ-213 data link for the HARMs, each mounted on a small pylon on the intakes. On the centerline was an ALQ-184 Electronic Attack Pod. All of this is included in the kit, except for the ACMI (Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation) pod, which I took from a Hasegawa weapons set. The load simulates what would be carried on a SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) mission, but in the case of these training units the weapons would be training articles – meaning the weapons were not intended to be fired and carried no explosive payloads. The markings needed to reflect this.

First, the tanks went together. Some seam work was needed, followed by remedial work on the reinforcements around their circumferences. I primed them and fixed mistakes a couple of times before giving them a coat of light ghost gray, and then fixed them some more. For the last coat, my airbrush inadvertently produced a neat effect. The needle had a subtle S-shaped bend at its tip, so paint gradually built up on the tip and eventually started to spatter. The first tank was clean and perfect, but by the second tank the airbrush started to misbehave and spattered the paint a little. The effect looked like I’d used a very fine mottle-pattern mask – perfect for a weathered external tank. Since tanks are moved from plane to plane, I thought the slightly mismatched tanks were a good effect.

Slightly mottled tank vs. unmottled tank. These are awaiting flat-coating.

The HARMs were painted white, and the Sidewinder was painted light gray with a dark gray head and forward fins. I brush-painted the seeker steel, with a cobalt blue stripe behind it. I airbrushed the noses of the AMRAAMs white, masked, then painted the missiles gray. The ACMI pod was painted an even lighter gray with a black nose, with the antennas picked out with a brush. The ASQ-213 and the LANTIRN pylon were painted compass ghost gray, with the ASQ-213’s nose picked out in white. The AAQ-113 was painted a dark gray to match the photos in the Coremans book. Finally, the ALQ-184 was painted compass ghost gray with its emitters painted black, again using the book as a guide. 

Each item then received the proper markings. The ALQ-184 was marked with decals from a Superscale A-10 sheet that included markings for the ALQ-119; many ALQ-119s were re-manufactured as ALQ-184s, so the markings still worked. The AMRAAMs and HARMs were given blue bands trimmed from a sheet intended for EA-6B Prowlers; blue bands indicate that these are inert training rounds. The Sidewinder received a set of darker blue bands from a Tally-Ho! sheet for MiG-21s, as did the ACMI pod. Stencil detail was sourced for all the missiles from a variety of sheets. 

Photos showed that the HARMS and AMRAAMs had pronounced, very visible fasteners. I duplicated this with HO scale rivet decals from Archer Fine Transfers. In 1:72, they looked very much the part. The HARMS had four rows of visible fasterners, while the AMRAAMs only had them around the back of the seeker unit. 

HARMS – as in, “I will HARM you” (said in Martin Martian voice). Archer rivets provided the fastener detail.

Each of the markings was given a light coat of Solvaset to induce the decals to lay down snugly against the tight curves of the missiles. Once dry, that was followed by a coat of Future mixed 50:50 with water and a bit of black acrylic paint, which accentuated the fins nicely. After flat-coating, the missiles and pods were set aside for later. I used a small metal box that was originally used for mint candies to hold these parts and the landing gear bits – there are many of them, and I did not want to lose anything during the extended building process. 

With the airframe assembled, I prepared to paint. The 2009-vintage scheme this aircraft wore had two shades of gray – FS 36118 gunship gray on top, FS36375 light ghost gray on the lower sides, tail and upper nose. I used Humbrol for the light ghost gray; it went down reasonably well on the lower surface and spectacularly on the tail and nose. Some simple masking protected the appropriate areas before Testors gunship gray was sprayed on the top sides. My masking was a little loose on the tail, and the result was something that looked like a seam! More masking and remedial painting fixed it. I also masked and painted the small, triangular areas where the wings impinged on the strakes on the sides of the rear fuselage, carrying the light ghost gray into those areas.

The initial paint application. Note the low contrast between the radome and the light ghost gray.

A view of the aircraft with the stabilators press-fit. Notice the light ghost gray on tope of the strakes – touch-ups would fix that shortly.

The strakes, following touch-up. Note the small zap on the strake below the national insignia…

…Which, as this shot from the Coremans book reveals, is the marking of the Nellis AFB rework facility, featuring Marvin Martian (call back!).

I painted the radome the suggested radome gray, but there was not enough contrast with the light ghost gray according to my photos. Another masking of the nose followed by a custom darker gray mix gave me the effect I wanted. 

I still had a gray-on-gray-on-gray airplane. The decals would help with that. The model was given a coat of Pledge Future Gloss, and once dry I began systematically applying decals from TwoBobs’ “Too Cool for School Vipers” sheet. There are a lot of markings, and several have two or three layers to them – specifically, the unit logos and markings on the tail. I applied the decals in several sessions: first, the basic data and standard markings, then the first layers of decals on the tail and the logos on the intake, then the second layer, the third layers, and then, in two sessions, the data markings on the top and bottom. Allowing layers to dry helps ensure that subsequent decal applications don’t reposition the earlier layers. Some of the smaller decals silvered at first, but a few slits with a No. 11 blade and an application of SuperSol eliminated the shine with a single application. Once the decals were dry, I brushed on a second coat of Future in preparation for weathering. 

The first layer of decals in place. The white drop-shadows on the tail went first.

All the markings in place – including the black letters atop the white drop shadows. Go slowly lining up all these decals – it will pay off.

 

And that’s where we’ll leave off now! I have a ton of dangly bits to stick on, so the next installment will probably include much swearing. Wish me luck!

B-26-MA: Detailing the nacelles, and using a lot of CA

When last we discussed the B-26-MA, the wings were on and the nacelles were snapped into place, but not glued. There was a reason for that – I still needed to detail the inside of the nacelle walls.

 

After the rest of the bays, the nacelles were pretty easy. The walls were lined with styrene channel and strip, based on photos. The front nacelle bulkheads were made from styrene, with details added in styrene and lead wire. I used the Hasegawa kit parts as a rough guide, but added details based on photos in William Wolf’s B-26 Marauder: The Ultimate Look from Drawing Board to Widow Maker Vindicated. Take caution – the photo you’d use for this claims it’s the rear bulkhead. It’s not.

The sides of the nacelles were detailed with styrene channel and strip…

…While the front bulkhead was detailed with lead wires and bits of styrene.

The rear bulkhead is really a frame with an opening into the rear of the nacelle. The Eduard B-26 exterior detail set provides this, and another structural member that spans the upper rear of the nacelle. This was trimmed to length and put in place as well.

The rear frame came from the Eduard set, and was bent and fit into place. The fit was surprisingly good considering it was intended for the Hasegawa kit.

The nacelles were sprayed with U.S. interior green, then given a Future wash to pop out the detail before being set aside to dry.

After a 50-50 Future-water wash with some acrylic paint, the detail really popped out.

Note the Eduard cross brace across the nacelle just forward of the rear frame.

The forward bulkhead, after painting, a wash and drybrushing.

I had yet to add the horizontal tail. This is a one-piece part that slides into a slot in the tail, snap-together style. The upside is that the pronounced dihedral is baked right in. The downside is that there are significant gaps all around it. I thought this was going to be a filling-and-sanding nightmare, but apparently I’ve done so much shimming I’ve become an expert because it went rather smoothly. A bunch of strips of .010 or .050, trimmed and CA-glued into place, were then sanded back to the surface and, just like that, the horizontal tail was locked in place.

Note the white styrene shimming around the horizontal tail.

I also added the “stinger” to the tail. I’d added some styrene structure to the kit part, including a former that would hide the internal seam when it was added to the fuselage. Plenty of CA glue and sanding blended the stinger right in. Next, I cut a piece of clear styrene to shape and added it to the cut-out I’d made for the window in the bottom of the tail gun position, then blended it with more sanding and CA glue, followed by polishing it out with fine sanding sticks.

 

Now it was time to add the nacelles permanently. The nacelles themselves were assembled, and required plenty of CA glue and sanding. They snapped into place neatly, but they left seams on either side. These I could fill with CA glue alone, but their positions forced me to use sandpaper instead of sanding sticks to get into the nooks on the inboard sides of the nacelles.

Getting the nacelles blended in, sanded out and re-scribed was a lot of work. At least the cowlings were already scribed!

Once the seams were eradicated, I had plenty of re-scribing to do. The nacelles themselves needed plenty of it, and it took some work to position the scribing tool to reach some areas that needed fixing. Once that was done, I cleaned up the rear of the nacelles where they joined with the extension off the back of the wings with more CA glue and sanding.

 

I then went to re-scribe the cowlings – only to discover they already had recessed panels! The cowling flaps needed to be sharpened up on one cowling, but unlike the entire rest of the model, these parts were already scribed. I also used sanding sticks to knock down the exaggerated fabric effect on the ailerons and elevators.

 

I was going to scribe the hatch for the navigator’s astrodome on the top of the fuselage, but instead decided to use a MiG-15 FOD cover – I enlarged the hole in the center to approximate the B-26 item, then CA-glued it in place. Under paint, it should be convincing.

Scribing the navigator’s astrodome hatch would have been difficult. I cheated and used a FOD cover for MiG-15, bent to shape and with an enlarged center hole.

Now, I’m noodling with the top turret again. I haven’t quite mastered it yet – more later. You might think that matching up scratch-built interior detail with the cut-out slots in the clear turret sounds like horrible, fiddly work. That would undersell how awful and annoying the process is. More on that later.

B-26-MA build starts anew: finishing the cockpit, wheel wells, and sticking all together

My friend Roy Sutherland issued to the visitors to his Barracuda Studios Ready Room the “Shelf of Doom Challenge” – that is, take a model that you started but haven’t worked on in a long time and finish it over the course of several weeks. Having finished three models this year already, I was down for it – an easy number 4 for the year, right?

 

My shelf of doom is expansive. Where do I start?  I did what I do to pick all my projects: I staged a solitaire tournament. There were a lot of entrants all in 1:72: Chevrolet C60L 3-ton truck conversion, F-106 Delta Dart, KA-3B Skywarrior, the La-5, Macchi C.202, F-117, Hurricane Mk. I. The Macchi, F-117 and the Hurricane are about ready for paint; the F-106, La-7 and Skywarrior are in an advanced stage of construction, and the C60L components just need to be stuck together.

 

So what won the tournament? The least finished of them all, my Monogram Snap-Tite B-26-MA conversion.

 

The last time I’d worked on this model was 2014. It was an in-between project – I may have started it while waiting for references to arrive for another model. In any event, I detailed the forward fuselage to an embarrassing level (considering how much of it would be visible once assembled), completed the engines and re-scribed the model. Could I complete a dash to the finish line and get it done by the deadline?

 

Even Roy was dubious. “Are you sure?” he said. And, since the deadline’s tonight, his doubts were correct. But the model has come a long way toward completion.

 

Getting references on the early Marauders was extremely helpful. William Wolf’s enormous Martin B-26 Marauder: The Ultimate Look from  Drawing Board to Widow Maker Vindicated has images of the interior that are invaluable to this project, but Squadron/Signal’s B-26 Marauder Walk Around is more economical and has better photos of the wheel wells. I also bought The B-26 Goes to War: the Army’s Torpedo Challenge, written by Stan Walsh – who I’m acquainted with and who himself was a Marauder bombardier/navigator. This last title was useful for inspiration, since I was building James Muri’s Marauder from the Battle of Midway. I also happened to squirrel away a copy of Aviation Historymagazine with Jon Guttman’s interview with Muri (July 2005); the fact that I could find this magazine 15 years after its publication tells you how much I wanted to build this particular model.

 

So, back to the task at hand. First up was finishing the cockpit, which involved the pilot and co-pilot’s seats. The CMK set includes both seats (which were different – the co-pilot’s seat had a shorter back and moved to allow the bombardier to enter the nose) and belts in colored photoetched metal. I carved out the opening for the shoulder straps on the pilot’s seat, then painted the seats aluminum. The seat cushions were painted yellow, while the pilot’s back pad was given a goat of pale gray, and then the belts were added. The pilot’s seat armrests were added next and painted black with dark leather pads. CMK helpfully provides armrests for the co-pilot’s seat – which didn’t have them in real life.

 

The finished seats. Note the hole in the pilot’s seat back for the shoulder harnesses, which had to be chain-drilled and opened up with a No. 11 blade.

 

Next came the control columns. The columns themselves came from the CMK set; they were cleaned up, painted Floquil  black and drybrushed. Although I promised myself not to rob the Hasegawa kit for parts, that’s where the two control wheels came from – Hasegawa provides both of them on a duplicated sprue, so there are extras in the kit. Thanks, Hasegawa!

The control columns, co-pilot on left, pilot on right, were tack-glued to a stick in their opposite positions to make dry-brushing and detailing easier.

I spent a lovely evening detailing and wiring the back of the instrument panel, only to realize the only way to see any detail would be to shine a light through the nose and hold it at a strange angle. If I see anyone doing that without permission, I will be very cross. The panel was installed into the left fuselage.

 

I added some detail to the rear stinger for the tail gun position, but soon realized I couldn’t detail that area until I joined the fuselage halves. Just the same, I added some stringers and a floor to the rear fuselage, just in case it could be seen through the dorsal turret or waist windows. The interior was airbrushed aluminum, while the floor board was painted olive drab.

 

Speaking of the turret, this commanded a lot of time and attention. CMK gives you the seat and the upper part of the turret, but it’s devoid of the details of this complex assembly. I improved the turret with bits fashioned from styrene rod and strip to replicate the mechanism ahead of the guns and the feed chutes for the ammunition. The chutes had their tops opened up with an engraving bit in a motor tool. I have all new machine guns on order, and when they arrive I’ll modify them to fit the turret and arm them with photoetched .50 caliber belts. The turret was also equipped with the gunner’s controls and other details. This is time well spent – other that the cockpit, the turret is the most visible part of the interior.

View from the front of the turret, showing the feed trays for the ammunition and other scratch-built details.

The view over the gunner’s shoulder, showing his controls.

Next, I took on the wheel wells. The main gear wells featured a unique double-roof arrangement; the gear is attached to a horizontal bulkhead inside the wing, but there’s a cutout in this bulkhead that allows the tires to fit in the nacelles. This exposes the top of the wing. The Snap-Tite lacks this detail, so I placed the Hasegawa kit lower wing over the Monogram wing and traced the outline. The Monogram gear mounting point was clipped off with flush cutters and I chain-drilled the cutouts, then refined the shapes with files and a hobby knife. Eventually, I had the shapes correct and symmetric from side to side. I lined the top of the horizontal bulkhead with .005 styrene to hide any blemishes.

The holes through the horizontal bulkhead, lined with .005 sheet styrene.

The top of the cutouts were detailed with rows of .035 styrene half-round to replicate the corrugated top of the wing. Some wiring was added, along with some styrene strip ribbing. Once done, it was a convincing approximation of the photos.

The inside of the upper wing’s corrugations, made with styrene half-round and some strip following photos in the Wolf book.

The horizontal bulkhead is surprisingly clean. Only an etched metal box (from the Eduard set), two .040 rods for engine bearers, a device fashioned from telescoping Albion Alloys tubing, and a hose running through the base of the main gear were needed for detail. I also cut slots for the main gear to plug into when it was time to add the struts. This was added to the lower wing. When the lower wing and upper wing were mated, there were two levels of detail – perfect!

The upper and lower wings together give a convincing layered detail look…

…Especially after painting and a wash.

The nose gear well was the SAC white metal part, and was essentially a copy of the Hasegawa kit part. That meant it lacked the amazing spaghetti-like set of hoses and wires of the real thing. Over a couple of evenings, I detailed the nose gear well, starting with the side and rear walls of the Eduard set. Next came lots of small-diameter lead wire, carefully bent to shape and added to the well with CA glue. There’s also another doo-dad made from Albion Alloys tubing. Photos were crucial to getting this area as correct as possible.

The nose wheel well needed plenty of additional wiring to look like the real thing…

…and the Eduard side panels added another layer of detail.

With the wheel wells done, I sprayed them with White Ensign’s U.S. interior green, then applied a wash of 50-50 Future and water tinted with watercolor paint, a great wash for interior areas. After dry-brushing with lightened green, the wheel wells looked great. I would tackle the main gear wells’ sides, rear and front when I assembled the nacelles.

After paint, a wash and dry brush, the nose well is a standout feature of the model.

At this stage I could find no more excuses for not putting the fuselage and wings together. The Snap-Tite kit is engineered so you must add the wings when you join the fuselage; you slip the one-piece lower wing through the inside of one fuselage half, then add the top wing to the half that’s through the wing, then close the fuselage and add the other upper wing half. The fit was not good, as you might expect, and I used shims on the wing joints and the fuselage. But in short order, the thing was together and looking very B-26-ish.

The fuselage/wing combo after assembly. The nacelles are snapped on to protect the wheel well handling during sanding.

 

View of the assembled plane from the post side. The white things at the wing root are .005 styrene shims.

A ton of sanding followed. The kit plastic is insanely hard, making progress slow and making it tough to polish the surface out, but it’s coming right along. At this stage – deadline for the Shelf-of-Doom Challenge! – the fuselage seams are nearly eradicated and I will shortly start with the shimmed wings.

The belly shows off the large shim right down the lower keel. Sand sand sand!

It’s now brute-force modeling – and when that’s done I’ll tackle the nacelles and tail gun position. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a rewarding project I’m glad I started!

Special Hobby Firefly number two: the Firefly Mk. I, part 1

Though designed to an outdated specification and produced in limited numbers during World War II, the Fairey Firefly was present for a number of crucial moments for the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm in the war’s final 18 months. The Firefly was used to suppress enemy air defenses during Operation Tungsten, the FAA’s attack against the Tirpitz; it was intended to fly in its intended role during the strikes against the Japanese oil fields at Palembang, in Sumatra; and it took part in raids against the Japanese home islands as the war dragged to a close.

A Firefly returns from a mission during Operation Meridian. Note the roundels – and the squares below them that covered the earlier, larger roundels.

It was fundamentally an obsolete design – the same concept of the Fairey Fulmar, and before it the Skua: a two-seat shipboard fighter-reconnaissance aircraft. The big difference for the Firefly was that it packed a Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, which gave it plenty of power, and significant offensive firepower: four 20mm cannon, plus the ability to haul 2000 pounds of bombs or rockets. This moved the plane from the old category of a reconnaissance fighter into the more modern category of fighter-bomber.

 

As a fighter, the Firefly was nothing to write home about. Its top speed was 312 mph, compared to the Griffon-powered Spitfire XII’s 382 mph, and its service ceiling of 24,000 feet was 10,000 less than the Spitfire XII. However, the Spitfire’s transformation into a carrier plane revealed some inescapable weaknesses, including very short range and delicacy, both in handling and the robustness of the landing gear, that made it unsuited to carrier landings. The Firefly, on the other hand, was longer-legged and was docile around the back of the boat. And, thanks to Fowler flaps that stretched more than half the plane’s wingspan, it was maneuverable; head-to-head trials showed the Firefly could out-turn an A6M Zero.

A Firefly recovering aboard Indefatiguable, showing its Fowler Flaps to good effect. Also not the rockets.

No. 1770 was the first Firefly squadron to go into combat, flying from HMS Indefatiguable against the Tirpitz in July 1944. Suppressing flak in the confines of a fjord was not easy, and one Firefly was lost to flak. Indefatiguablenext sailed to the Pacific, along with the other three carriers of the British Pacific Fleet; 1770 Squadron remained the sole Firefly unit. They were supposed to provide flak suppression during Operation Meridian, the first strike on oil refinery facilities at Pangkalan Brandan in Sumatra, but an unexpected heavy balloon barrage lead to the strike commander’s orders for the Fireflies to attack the balloons, which they were not particularly good at. Six days later, Fireflies again led the attack as balloon busters and flattened three, but that did not prevent two Avengers from being brought down by balloon cables.

 

On January 24, the Fireflies flew a more conventional mission by firing rockets and strafing targets at the refinery complex at Palembang. Other strikes on Japanese airfields on and near Sakashima Gunto protected the U.S. Fleet’s western flank from kamikazes. Even with the Firefly’s limitations as a fighter, over the course of their cruise 1770 Squadron shot down 10 aircraft – six Ki-43s and four Ki-51s.

1770 Squadron Fireflies prepare for launch during Operation Meridian.

In July 1945, the Fireflies of 1771 Squadron, based on HMS Implacable, became the first Fleet Air Arm aircraft to fly over mainland Japan. The Fireflies rocketed airfields at Matsushima, Sendai, Masuda and Tokyo over a two-day period and sought targets of opportunity along the coast. Afterwards they were decorated with a yellow map of Japan on the starboard fuselage near the pilot’s cockpit.

The Firefly is not quite a footnote aircraft of WWII, like the F8F Bearcat or P-80 Shooting Star. It made it in time for the last year of the war and its combat exploits were limited only by the limited operations of the British fleet. It was also the last gasp of the FAA multi-seat fighter and struggled to find its role, but the missions it did fly were hazardous and often momentous. Having an affinity for late-war Pacific aircraft, and desiring to tackle something that was not blue, I excavated the Special Hobby kit from my stash and went to work.

This kit was not exactly an unknown quantity to me. Several years before, I built the Special Hobby Firefly FR.5. That model differed only slightly – it had different wings, fuselage and vertical tail! Still, there was a lot in common with the other members of the Special Hobby Firefly family: a nice resin interior, unusable landing gear, good clear parts, and good external detail. The kit decals were also quite nice, including two 1771 Squadron aircraft with terrible puns for nose art, “Evelyn Tentions” and “Lucy Quipment.” (I was asked why the FAA picked such groaners for these Fireflies and I replied, straight-faced, that by this time in WWII all the good names had been used up.)

What I really wanted, however, was a plane that had flown during Operation Meridian. Luckily, the decal company DP Caspar put out a sheet of markings covering the entire operation, and a 1770 Squadron Firefly was included.

Work started where you would expect, the cockpit. The interior is provided in very nice resin, with a photoetched control panel with a film backing for the instruments. The observer’s cockpit has radios, fore and aft; a thoughtful touch is that the various issues of the kits have a different set of rear radios to accurately depict the gear each type carried. Resin sidewalls and floors for each cockpit are included; the observer’s seat (which swiveled in the real aircraft) is a separate piece, while the pilot’s seat is molded into the detailed rear cockpit bulkhead. The instrument panel mounts to a resin piece that also holds the gunsight and instrument panel shroud, and the rudder pedals are provided as photoetched parts. It’s a very complete interior.

I started by cleaning up the pieces and airbrushing them all black. Then, positioning the parts so I could spray fron the top to the bottom, I airbrushed a coat of RAF interior gray green. Spraying top-to-bottom allowed the black first coat to serve as a shadow and enhance the depth of the detail.

Spraying the interior color from a top-down angle leaves shadows from the initial black coat.

The seats were painted burnt sienna with raw umber back pads, while the radios and other details were carefully brush-painted with a variety of shades of blacks and very dark grays.

The phenolic resin seats, with the seatbelts painted and give a wash…

The metal instrument panel was airbrushed black, then was drybrushed with dark sea gray. The bezels of appropriate instruments were painted red, yellow and blue based on references, using a toothpick to get just the bezels. I cut out the instruments from the film, and used .5mm Micron colored pens to add red or yellow marks to the backs of the appropriate instruments, then painted the back white. When it was dry, I applied Pledge Floor Magic (Future) to the front of the instruments, then dropped the panel on top and aligned the bezels with the instruments. The Future served as an adhesive and also created the illusion of clear covers on the instruments.

The instrument panel – painted photoetch over acetate instruments, with Future used as the adhesive.

The resin compass was cleaned up, given its own clear face, and Future’d, then CA-glued to the bottom of the instrument shroud, followed by the panel itself. The control column was painted as well, but I set it aside for addition later in the build.

The compass in place below the instrument panel.

I applied a wash to the interior parts, followed by a bit of drybrushing of a lightend green, followed by a subtle application of dry-brushed light gray. I picked out the details like oxygen bottles, seat belts and radio switches in various colors, then started fitting the parts to the fuselage halves. The pilot’s cockpit rear bulkhead needed a small shim at its top to fit properly, and the lip around the inside of the observer’s cockpit (provided on the front and back bulkhead, in halves) didn’t meet up. As I had on my previous Firefly, I replaced the lip with styrene strip.

All the interior bits in place…

The observer’s cockpit, with the styrene strip lip in place.

One of the kit’s unpleasant peccadillos is that you need to install the exhaust stubs before you close the fuselage halves. If you follow the instructions, invariably you will end up knocking them loose at some point in construction, resulting in them rattling around inside the nose until you work them back into place and secure them with more glue. This time, I built a styrene strip dam around the openings inside the nose, and after the painted stubs were put in place, I thoroughly doused the styrene dam with CA glue. Then, another strip was added behind the stubs and CA-glued in place, too. The result was asset of exhausts that were locked into place and resistant to being bumped.

The radiator intake and exit are both provided in resin. The intake fits nicely against the interior of the nose, but the lower inside lip of the intake would have a seam to deal with. More on that later. The exhaust has to be installed before the fuselage sides are joined up. This fit reasonably well into one half of the fuselage, but the rear of the part mated very roughly with the lower fuselage. This was easily remedied by adding a section of .005 styrene to replicate the rear of the exhaust and to cover the seam

To provide the illusion of depth for the carburetor intakes, the trunks are molded into the fuselage but a small, 1/8-inch resin piece is provided for the very front of each side. These needed considerable clean-up, then were CA-glued in place and carefully sanded to blend them into the contours.

The kit provides a detailed resin tail wheel bay, which is nice except for the fact that the Firefly’s tail wheel doors closed once the wheel was extended, so this detail would be invisible once the model was done. I painted it interior gray-green but skipped any additional detail painting before installing it into the fuselage sides.

Also provided in the kit in resin are the main gear bays. These need their tops to be sanded down in order to fit inside the wings; it’s also a good idea to use a motor tool to grind down the inside of the wings, too. After sanding the resin to transparency and grinding away as much of the wing as I was comfortable with, the fit was still very snug. Even so, the bays were put in place inside the lower wing with plenty of CA to make sure they didn’t come loose later.

Next, I put the fuselage halves together. Try as I might, there was no way to get it together without significant seams under the tail. These were shimmed with strip styrene and sanded out. Although I thought I had eradicated the seam, I later had to add more CA glue and sand the area out again after the application of sky type S revealed a visible sink around the shim.

The nose intake presented its grisly seam in a hard-to-work area. I cut .005 styrene sheet to a shape that fit the nose contours, CA-glued it into place, and trimmed the remainder with scissors, then sanded the edge. This area was painted interior gray-green, and then the face of the radiator was painted a dark metallic color.

I always like to add the fixed parts of the transparencies to the model early on so I can address any seams. With the Firefly kit, the entire rear cockpit is enclosed by a long greenhouse, and that greenhouse piece doesn’t quite fit. Knowing this ahead of time, I adjusted the height of the greenhouse with sandpaper, which would reduce the amount of sanding and filling later.

Ooutlining the clear parts with a black Sharpie eliminates the weird white “ghosting” effect you see where transparent parts are glued to the model. It also helps you find the transparent parts when you drop them!

Planning to open the cockpit, I separated the windscreen from the canopy on the one-piece forward kit part with a cutoff wheel in my motor tool. I left a little margin on the canopy side, then sanded the windscreen back to the rear of the windscreen frame. The canopy was not a concern – I planned on using a vacuformed canopy, anyway.

The same went for the observer’s canopy as well, although this cut had to be made with more precision since the opening had square corners and was lined up on specific frames. The initial vertical cuts were made with the motor tool, but most of the cuts were made with a photoetched saw blade mounted in a knife handle. The opening was again made with room to spare, and files took care of expanding the cuts right up to the frames’ edges. Again, the removed sections would be replaced by vacuformed replacements.

Once the transparencies were prepared, I CA-glued them into place. The windscreen went very easily, fitting neatly with the contours around the cockpit opening. The observer’s transparency was a bit harder, with four edges that needed to be filled and cleaned up. Copious sanding – followed by polishing with multiple grits of sandpaper and Novus plastic polish to restore the transparency to clarity – faired the observer’s transparency into place.

The observer’s greenhouse in place and ready for masking.

With the fuselage mostly finished, I added the wings. The one-piece lower wing was added, and I had a choice: focus on eliminating seams, or get the alignment right. I went with alignment, which meant more shimming at the front of the lower wing where it met the fuselage and at the rear of the wing as it blended into the rear of the fuselage. I added the upper wing halves, which required some brute-force sanding to mate to the bottom wing, and then spend a considerable amount of time sharpening the trailing edges, which were practically rounded as assembled. I also had to shim the upper wing-to-fuselage joints with .050 and .010 styrene strip.

Shims, anyone?

With everything stuck on, I started sanding the shimmed areas, checking for pits and other problems as I went. This was a time-consuming process using sanding sticks and rolled-up sandpaper that is hard to make sound fun in print.

Once the wings were on, I attached the horizontal stabilizers, using the wing as my guide for alignment. These are butt-joined pieces, and again there were seams, but not nearly as severe as on the wings. It’s still a bit of work to get the horizontal stabilizers cleanly attached, and several sessions of filling, sanding and inspecting had to be done to make them satisfactory.

All the major components together and ready for seam clean-up.

The Special Hobby kits never provide the position or landing lights. For the position lights, I sanded notches in the wingtips where they belonged, then found clear styrene sprue of the right dimensions to fill the notches. After getting the sides flat and angled to fit the notches, I painted them silver. Then I drilled small holes in the clear sprue through the silver and filled the holes with clear red or green Tamiya paint to simulate the position lights. These were CA-glued into the wingtips – red on the left green on the right – taking care to get the “lights” centered in the notch. Using sanding sticks, I ground away at the clear styrene until it was roughly the shape of the wing tip. With finer grades of sanding sticks, I refined the shape and then polished the plastic to clarity. The result was a clear cover with a colored bulb for the wingtips. These were masked ahead of painting.

Similarly, the Firefly Mk. I had a clear fairing over the station-keeping light below the trim tab on the rudder. I cut out this area and used a similar process, drilling out the light, painting the mating surface of the clear plastic interior gray-green, CA-gluing it in place and sanding it back to shape.

The station-keeping light cover was added to the rudder with a bit of spare clear sprue and CA glue.

The landing light was only partially addressed at this point. I opened the notch in the wing and made sure there was no seam, then drilled a hole into which a lens would be added later during final assembly.

Speaking of drilling, this seemed like a good time to add the metal cannon fairing from Master Models. The challenge with these is getting four evenly-spaced holes of the right diameter. Three is easy – it’s the fourth that’s hard. I marked out the positions with a pencil and started drilling with a very small bit, expanding the hole with larger bits and eventually router bits to get a precise fit. Miraculously, all four were lined up properly when all was said and done. The brass cannon fairings were CA-glued in place and fit quite snugly.

After much sanding, it was time to restore the lovely surface detail that I had eradicated. With the aid of a roll of Dymo label tape and a UMM scriber, I carefully restored the lost detail on the tail, wings and fuselage. Dymo tape is a nice guide for scribing – it’s thick enough to keep the scriber on course, but flexible enough to work in most situations. The UMM scriber has two points, one great for dragging across plastic to create lines and the other ideal for pushing – which is incredibly useful when you’re restoring lines across the top or bottom of the fuselage. It also lets you control the width of the line better, allowing you to differentiate between a panel line and the edges of a control surface.

With the scribing complete, it was time to mask. I used Parafilm M for the windscreen and Tamiya tape for the observer’s section, applying short lengths of tape to each edge of each pane. The yellow color makes it easy to sight down the fuselage and see whether the horizontal frames are lined up properly. Once these were finished, I filled the cockpits with wet tissue paper – and used the same masking material for the wheel bays and radiator intake and exhaust – and started mixing my paints.

The colors used were all enamels. I used ModelMaster ghost gray as a substitute for wartime extra dark sea gray and covered the entire top surface of the model, then masked off the camouflage pattern with rolled-up snakes of silly putty and masking tape.

Silly Putty masking and masking tape outlined the camouflage pattern…

 

It takes some thinking to put the putty where it needs to go for specific patterns.

The ModelMaster paint went on well once thinned – but not as well as the slate gray used for the second color. That was from Floquil’s military colors line, a truly exceptional paint. My Paasche VL and this paint had a love affair, acting together in perfect harmony so the paint flowed beautifully from the airbrush with no effort at all. Sadly, it’s a doomed affair, since Floquil was discontinued 15 years ago. Tragic for all involved.

The completed upper camouflage…

Next time: clean-up, prep and decals and weathering!

 

 

 

…From a couple of angles…

…Showing how well the Silly Putty approach works.

The sky undersides were also painted with ModelMaster; it took a bit of effort to get the distinctive demarcations under the horizontal stabilizers, but soon the model was resplendent in this low-contrast camouflage scheme. The sky exposed a couple areas I needed to paint, and also showed that I’d forgotten to open the shell ejection chutes on the lower wings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The RC3-2 in 1:72: The fastest thing in the world, 1925 edition

 

The 1925 Schneider Trophy-winning Curtiss R3C-2, as flown by Jimmy Doolittle

The Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider, better known as the Schneider Trophy, helped propel aviation forward in the early years of flight. Sponsored by the scion of the Schneider family, French makers of steel and armaments, the race reflected the younger Schneider’s view that seaplanes were the wave of the future, since they didnot require land bases and expensive runways.

The race called for a timed competition over a triangular course of at least 150 miles. The winner of each race would receive a £1,000 award and ownership of the Schneider Trophy until the next race. Should one nation win the award in three consecutive races within three years, it would win permanent possession of the trophy.

The race became the focal point for national pride as French, British and Italian entries traded victories. In 1924, the U.S Navy jumped into the race with a converted Curtiss CR-2 landplane and won the race at a speed of 173.347 mph.

Because of the win, in 1925 the race came to America. The 1925 race was scheduled for Baltimore, MD, between September 19 and 21, but neither Britain nor Italy had any aircraft ready at that time. The Americans delayed the race until October 23–26, giving time for Italy to prepare two Macchi M.33 flying boats and the British to send their new Supermarine S.4 and a Gloster III. , During a trial flight before the race, the S.4 developed aileron flutter and crashed into the Chesapeake. Though its pilot survived, the S.4 was a write-off.

Up against this competition was a trio of Curtiss R3C-2s, two from the Army and one from the Navy. The R3C-1 landplane had won the Pulitzer Trophy race just two weeks earlier, when Cyrus Bettis flew the aircraft to an average speed of 249.8 mph. Powered by a 610-hp Curtiss V-1400 engine, the floatplane version was called the R3C-2. Three R3C-2s were entered, flown by Lts. George Cuddihy  and Ralph Oftsie of the Navy and Jimmy Doolittle of the Army.

Doolittle was already an emerging aviation superstar, having earned the first-ever doctorate in aeronautics from MIT earlier in 1925. He found the R3C-2 a sweet-flying plane, by getting it off the water was a little tricky, with a long takeoff run before suddenly coming un-stuck from the water. “I would taxi out at 90 degrees to the take-off area, pull the stick into my stomach, advance the throttle until full, duck my head down into the cockpit to avoid the water spray from the prop,” Doolittle wrote in 1988. “The plane would run to the left 90 degrees before reaching take-off speed, and all of a sudden it would break loose, pitch up and I would push the stick forward to level off.”

Doolittle had thought race tactics through before lifting the R3C-2 into the air. As he orbited the triangular course, each time he approached a pylon he would climb under full power, then make a steep, banked diving turn, which he believed gave him the critical speed advantage. He also looked after the engine – which is why he finished the race while Cuddihy and Oftsie did not.

Doolittle won the race with an average speed of 232.57 mph, besting Hubert Broad in the Gloster III and his 199.16 mph speed – a margin of more than 33 mph. The next day, with the same plane on a straight course, Doolittle reached 245.7 mph, a new world record for seaplanes. It also cemented the Curtiss biplane as the fastest thing on earth at the time – the land speed record at the time was 150.87 mph – and earned Jimmy Doolittle the reputation as the fastest racer on earth. Doolittle would be the last man to win the Schneider Trophy in a biplane – and the last American to claim the title.

Doolittle would win the Bendix Trophy race from Burbank, CA to Cleveland in the Laird Super Solution in 1931 and the Thompson Trophy in 1932 flying the Gee Bee R-1. After completing this triple crown of air racing, he retired from racing. “I have yet to hear of anyone engaged in this work dying of old age,” he quipped.

The R3C-2s would receive new engines for the 1926 Schneider Trophy race and finish in second, but by then military enthusiasm for racing had waned in the U.S. It wasn’t until 1931 and Reginald Mitchell’s S.6b that the Schneider Trophy found a permanent home. Doolittle’s R3C-2 also found a permanent home in the Smithsonian Institution.

Since Doolittle was a hero of mine since childhood – and since I live in Alameda, the town where he was born – building Doolittle’s planes holds a special attraction. Building exclusively in 1:72 scale meant my options for an R3C-2 were limited, with my best bet being the CMR resin kit. This is not a kit for the faint of heart – some of the parts don’t fit particularly well, there’s no cockpit to speak of, and the instructions are so rudimentary they suggest what you would have found in the caves of Lasceaux had models existed in the Stone Age. The packaging is dubious as well – the cover sheet in the bag has a nice profile of one of the Navy’s R3C-2s, with its pale blue fuselage and chrome yellow floats. The decals provided allow you to do the Army racer, with a dark blue-black fuselage and floats. Markings provided give you Doolittle’s racer and the Pulitzer Trophy-winning R3C-1 flown by Lt. Cyrus Bettis. But, for the most part, the castings were bubble-free and straight – and that made it a fairly easy model to build, once you figured out where things went.

I jumped ahead to the end for my first step. Looking at the rigging diagram, I planned where the wires would enter the fuselage and wings and carefully drilled tiny holes with a No. 80 bit in my pin vise. I did not have a good reference, so I translated as best I could from the instructions. Later, I would find that I’d missed a few, but the holes gave me a place to start. Precision was the watchword here – any variance from left to right would mean the rigging would look out of whack at the end.

The cockpit came next. The real aircraft’s interior was all wood, with instruments fastened where they needed to be. I made a seat, an instrument panel (such as it was) and throttle assembly, and made a small seat to replace the backless lump given in the kit. WWI-style belts from my spares box went on the seat, and I painted the interior a wood color. There was no need to go crazy with wood grain or anything else, because the cockpit opening is very small. I decided not to open the cockpit side panels, because that would have meant major surgery on resin parts, and cutting into resin often leads to unpleasant discoveries in the form of air bubbles and other issues.

This is in there. I swear.

 

The fuselage halves were joined and I was faced with fit issues at the tail and the nose – a bit of warp had afflicted one side. A dip in a little hot water and some thumb pressure straightened the bend, but there was still significant seam work to be done, especially around the tail cone and the bottom of the rear fuselage, which I used a shim of styrene strip and CA glue to remedy.

The vertical fin and horizontal stabilizers were provided as separate pieces. The vertical fin went first, with copious amounts of CA being used to blend it in to the contours of the fuselage. The horizontal stabilizers were butt-joined to the fuselage, and I had to take care to make sure they were aligned to each other exactly.

I put the vertical fin on first – and checked that it was perfectly aligned to the fuselage – so I could use it as a guide to get the wings on straight. Having built a Curtiss F9C-2, I had a process for building shoulder-mounted biplanes like this one: start with the wing that fits worst. That way, you’ll be able to attack the fit issues from more angles without that second pesky wing getting in the way. In this case, the top wing fit the worst, and getting it to fit would affect some fuselage details. I CA-glued it in place, then went after it with sanding sticks of various coarseness until it was blended to the fuselage, taking care to ensure it was aligned at a right angle to the fuselage and vertical tail and aligned with the horizontal tails. A trick here is to look at the model head-on, then tilt it (nose down in this case). As you sight along the fuselage, the tips of the horizontals should disappear at the same time.

The R3C-2 had a small teardrop-shaped fairing atop the nose to accommodate the engine. CMR molded this fairing in three parts – one half on the wing, and a quarter on each half of the fuselage parts. While putting the wing on, I simply eradicated the fairing, then made a styrene strip replacement.

The floats came in halves, and spilt side-to-side. I put them together, addressed the seams, and made sure they were symmetric, since they’d throw the geometry of the finished model off otherwise.

The fuselage detail – minimal as it was on this streamlined racer – was carefully restored with a scribing tool. I had to pay attention to where the upper wing interfaced with the fuselage, especially around the cockpit opening, and I carved away some rough moldings to get it to look right.

The bottom wing went on next. The fit here was also kind of rough, but most of the sanding work was confined to the bottom of the aircraft, not the area between the wings. Again, alignment was a priority – I repeatedly checked the lower wing against the top wing to make sure it didn’t twist and that the distance between them was the same from right to left. Once the lower wing was successfully blended to the fuselage, I painted the radiators with ModelMaster Metalizer brass – and then put the model away for six years!

Brassy! ModelMaster metalizer brass proved to be fairly tough and stood up well to masking.

Eventually, during our shelter-in-place interlude caused by the Covid-19 breakout, I decided to tackle the model. It had been kept in a wooden cigar box, safe from accidents or breakages, and it was easy to resume the work. I did a little clean up on wing-to-fuselage seams, then decided it was time to paint the outer wings. These were “chrome yellow” on the real plane, which at the time was a bit more saturated than the modern version of the color. ModelMaster deep yellow was a good match. I masked the radiators and sprayed the outer wings yellow. I also sprayed the elevators at the same time.

Before you paint yellow (or red), lay down a coat of white…

…And your color will be much more vibrant than if you spray the paint on gray plastic (or beige resin).

 

 

While that dried, I assembled the floats. I was missing one of the resin cross-braces, so I swapped in some styrene strip in its place. It fit neatly into the recesses in the pontoons and I was assured that both cross-braces were the same length! Once these were in place, I added the resin vertical braces; these were a bit harder since they butt-joined the floats and there were no locators on the body of the model. The rear braces met at the base of the fuselage; I built these first, then aligned the forward braces off of them.

Mess up the geometry here, and your plane will never fly…

With the wings now dry, I masked them and the elevators and stuck a bit of wet toilet tissue in the cockpit opening before painting the fuselage and floats a very dark blue. This was made by adding a bit of cobalt blue to flat black – there’s a hint of blue in there if the lighting is right. The floats were somewhat challenging – you had to spray from an assortment of angles to get full coverage of every surface. Once the fuselage had dried, I carefully painted the exhausts silver using metallizer aluminum and a tiny pointed brush.  I had also cleaned up the interplane struts and painted them blue-black; these fit very precisely, and I was able to wedge them into place before running a little super-thin CA along their bases. I also drilled a small hole into the right wing for the pitot tube, which would be added at the very end of the build.

How much blacker could it be? A little, to be honest.

The propeller and spinner required a lot of attention. The casting was very imperfect and a strange, irregular blemish stretched along the spinner between the blades on both sides. Once this was eradicated with sanding sticks, I knocked off any flash on the blades and polished them in preparation for a metal finish. Ultimately, I airbrushed aluminum metalizer over the entire assembly, then carefully brush-painted the spinner before giving it a coat of Pledge Floor Magic (or “Future,” as we modelers know it).

The entire model was then given a coat of Future, the floats separate from the rest of the plane. The real aircraft was rather glossy, and the Future was a great base for the decals. I was apprehensive about the kit decals, but I had no reason to be – they performed spectacularly. I was really concerned about the tri-color tail flash with the tiny “Curtiss” logo in the white field; I was worried the white would turn into a muddy gray against the black background. There was no reason for concern!

Kit decals on…

 

…And looking pretty good!

Now I had a mostly finished plane and a set of floats – they needed to come together somehow. The rear attachment point was approximately even with the rear of the cockpit; it was the sturdiest of the mounting points, so I added the floats starting there. Once I thought I had it in place, I used CA to attach the forward struts to the fuselage, a difficult task since the real plane’s attachments were very small. Scale that down to 1:72 and you don’t have much surface area for glue. When I thought I had it right, I checked it – the plane was leaning one or two degrees to the left, making the lower wing clearly out of alignment with the float cross-braces. Gentle coercion and a little more CA made everything geometrically even again.

Look at all the perpendicular and parallel angles – an IPMS judge’s dream come true!

Before attacking the rigging, I scratch-built the windscreen. This was basically a glass tunnel with three flat sides; the kit provided a template for you to make your own. I used the plastic from the blister packaging for two AA batteries as my source material. I traced the diagram with a No. 11 blade, then cut out the windscreen and bent it along the scored edges with a pair of flat-nosed pliers. The first attempt was a little short, so I adjusted for the diagram’s shortcomings on the second try and got a piece that fit neatly. The frames were created by running the edges of the plastic windscreen across the tip of a Sharpie pen.

Now it was time for the point in the build I was dreading: the rigging. The aircraft had just two wires between each wing, but the floats were attached with five wires on each side. The forward-most wires ran to the upper wings; others cross-braced the struts, and the middle set ran to the lower wings. I had run across some .5mm nickel-silver metal wire from Albion Alloys that I’d bought for some purpose, and I thought it might be useful as a rigging alternative. This would be a chance to test it out.

Luckily, at around this time, I found a great reference from the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum – a set of images of the R3C-2 on display, showing the aircraft from all angles. They can be found here . The location of all the rigging was no longer a mystery!

I carefully measured and cut lengths of wire to match the distances between the rigging points. Precision was the key: too short, and the wire wouldn’t connect and just dangle; too long, and the wire would deform. Testing and trimming until I had the right length, I started with the inner float braces and worked from the inside out, securing the wires with small amounts of Woodland Scenics scenic glue. This dries hard, clear and flat, but is easy to remove during assembly if you make a mistake and clean it up quickly. Where I had a hole to work with, I’d glue the wire to the edge of the hole and extend it up to its terminating point, checking constantly for alignment. The last to go on were the float-to-upper wing wires. I found the .5mm wire would sag over long runs – but nothing on this model is more than three inches! In that short space, as long as you don’t impart a bend into it, the wire will remain stiff and taut.

This view show most of the rigging lines in place. Build from the inside out!

The last things to do were to add the pitot tube (a .4-inch length of Albion Alloys tubing, painted silver) and the windscreen, which was lowered into place with tweezers and then fixed in place with a brush-applied bit of Future.

The windscreen in place, showing off its Sharpie-ink framing.

This was my third all-resin kit, and my second Curtiss shoulder-wing biplane. The tricks I’d learned came in handy, but really this model with primarily about anticipating problems with geometry and heading them off before they happened. It may be a small model, but it’s one of my favorites!

This view show most of the rigging lines in place. Build from the inside out!

 

 

 

MiG-15 in 1:72, part 2: disasters, unforced errors and success

I started to contemplate the nose well for my MiG-15, and then realized that I had a wonderful reference to work from: a real MiG-15bis about a mile from my house at the Oakland Aviation Museum, where I’m a member! I hopped in the car, snapped some shots of the wheel bay (while flat on my back – this plane is low to the ground!), and was home at my workbench in 20 minutes! A few wires were added and the nose wheel bay was complete.

MiG-15bis nose wheel well, looking forward; the cylindrical item at the center bottom is the nose gear strut.

The Master Models set includes the insulator located behind and below the cockpit on the right side of the fuselage. The Eduard representation of this is good, but the Master part is fantastic. I carefully carved away the plastic insulator, then polished the plastic and drilled a .5mm hole with a No. 76 drill bit in a pin vise to accept the metal insulator at the end of the project.

 

The gunsight had to be sanded a bit on its bottom to fit inside the windscreen, but once it was in place it looked great. The windscreen fit reasonably well, but I ran some thin CA along its edges just to ensure there was no gap between it and the fuselage.

 

Painting started with the masking of the nose for the application of the red elementy byostrogo raspoznavianiya (literally, “elements of fast recognition,” or ID markings). The 324thIAD painted their noses red, while the 303rdIAD painted the tops of the tails red. The 324’s markings were simple – red from the windscreen forward, except for a cut-out around the “bort” number. I masked off the rest of the plane for the nose; I like to keep the metal colors away from color coats to avoid changes in texture that could spoil the illusion of metal. The cockpit was masked with damp tissue.

After a lot of masking, the nose of the plane was painted Chrysler engine red. MiGPAR?

The trickiest part of the masking: the intake. In real life, the red overlapped into the nose by about two inches. How would I mask that? I cut a disk of .030 styrene sheet that just fit into the intake. I could position it exactly where I needed it and it stayed in place.

 

After masking, I shot an initial coat of flat white over the nose as a base for the red. The shade of red I selected was Chrysler engine red from Testors; it was the best match to the red on the decals and it looked right in the bottle. It sprayed very well and soon I had a nice-looking red nose.

 

That’s when the build hit a snag. My five-year-old daughter was in my office and somehow broke the windscreen off the in-progress model. In a panic, she decided to fix the model, so she pulled out all the cockpit masking, ripping the instrument panel, gunsight and control column loose. She then tried to apply CA glue to the model straight from the bottle, dumping rivulets of glue all over the nose. At this point, her fingers stuck together and her mother called me at work to explain how to get them apart.

 

When I got home, I though this MiG had met its maker. The CA had set up, but it was very thick. The droplets and runs were clearly defined. I found the windscreen and gunsight, and the instrument panel was still rattling around in the cockpit, but the control column was nowhere to be found. I decide the model would be terminal if the CA had gotten into one of three areas: the cockpit, the intake or the speed brake wells. Miraculously, none of those area were affected. In fact, no CA glue had made it to the area where the windscreen would attach, meaning it still fit cleanly.

 

The thick CA glue was a blessing in that it hadn’t fully cured in many places. I was able to chip much of it off with minimal damage to the plastic below. Some areas needed to be sanded, and I had to remove the surviving red paint as well. The shell ejection chutes on the bottom of the plane were clogged and had to be re-opened with a No. 11 blade. Particular care had to be taken around the gun camera fairing. Once all the CA was gone, I sanded the nose of the aircraft with progressively finer sandpaper, then polished it out. Luckily, the nose of the MiG-15 had remarkably few panel lines, so re-scribing was very easy.

 

I bought a new detail set for the control column (I’ll pillage the rest of the set when I build my Airfix MiG-17!), re-attached the gunsight and instrument panel, and put the cockpit in order before re-attaching the windscreen. Then it was the masking-white paint-Chrysler engine red routine all over again. I hadn’t thrown out the disk for masking the intake, which saved me a step. When the masking came off, I was back to where I had been before the accident!

 

I re-masked the nose and painted the model with Testors metallizer aluminum. There were some areas where construction had left faintly visible wavers in the surface that were apparent in shiny aluminum paint; these areas were masked off and hit with a mix of aluminum and stainless steel that was less shiny and the flaws disappeared. Panels on the fuselage and wings were also masked and painted.

The gleaming MiG-15, with the first of the decals in place.

Since this would be a weathered machine, the decals went on before a sealer coat. The “135” on the nose for Kramerenko’s plane came from the H-Models Decals sheet; unfortunately, the North Korean national markings on this sheet were out of register, leaving a white outline on the left side of the stars and circles. A Print Scale sheet for the MiG-15 lacked the white undercoat, but the red and blue images were badly misaligned so that the bottom of the blue circle nearly touched the red outer circle and the star was shifted visibly off center.

 

My solution: get another Eduard MiG-15! I borrowed the decals from yet another kit (I now have three more MiG-15s to build if you include my Eduard MiG-15UTI) and their alignment was fine. They were a little thick – I had to cut them gently across panel lines and hit them with setting solution – but in short order my MarK had all its migings – I mean, my MiG had all its markings.

 

This was a good time to spray a few more items with aluminum paint. I needed to remedy some worn spots on the leading edge of the wings anyway, and while I was at it I painted the main gear doors and canopy. The gear doors have outstanding detail on their inner surfaces; I popped the detail out with a 50:50 wash of Future and water darkened with a bit of acrylic paint. I also hit the speed brake wells and the rear internal structure of the canopy, which I folded together from the photoetched parts in the Brassin cockpit set.

With the Eduard North Korean markings in place…

When I stripped the masking off the nose, all was well except for a little silver overspray on one side. I carefully masked with a Post-It note and sprayed red – but the Post-It lifted the bottom of the “135” marking! The project went into another holding pattern until a second decal sheet could be sourced, all thanks to a split-second of carelessness!

 

While waiting for the new decals to arrive, the nose gear doors were painted aluminum on the inside faces and white on the outside faces, which was over-coated with Chrysler engine red to match the nose bands.

 

The wheels were painted using the kit-supplied masks. I painted the tires first, using a mix of brown and black, then painted the hubs gray. The wheels came from the Brassin aftermarket set for MiG-15s, using the earlier pattern of the two pairs of wheels in the kit. Later, these would be weathered with pastels; this not only makes them look well-used but it leaves them dead flat, perfectly mimicking used rubber.

 

I carefully hand-painted the nose strut, which is molded with the nose wheel. Once done, I ran a dark wash over the strut to pop out the detail. A similar approach to the main gear was complicated only by the presence of a compression strut, which was painted chrome silver. Two tiny photoetched pieces replicating the tow points were added and painted gray, and the wheels were added, paying close attention to alignment. Each strut and wheel combination was rigged with two brake lines made from lead wire, which was blackened with a Sharpie pen, and then the struts were all shot with Testors Dullcote.

eft and right gear, with hydraulic lines added.

There was a little play to the main gear when they were added to the model, so paying attention to the alignment pays off later. I added the nose gear strut, put the model on its gear – and watched in horror as it tipped back on its tail. After contemplating my options, I decided to add weight in the rear of the cockpit, behind the seat. There’s some unused space back there, and I packed it full of folded and pressed lead foil, playing teeter-totter until the nose came down. With the seat installed, the model sat stable on three wheels instead of two.

 

The gear doors are a little tricky on this machine. Follow the instructions and put the wheel cover on the strut before adding the strut to the wheel well – doing so otherwise is really difficult. The inner gear doors snap into place neatly, by the upper strut covers are a bit unique. First, as on the real item, they splay out in a crazy manner – photo references are invaluable. Second, Eduard molds the retraction strut as part of the landing gear strut, but instructs you to bend it to mate with the strut cover. Caution is the watchword! Once you have these in place, the nose gear doors are a pleasant return to normalcy.

 

At this stage, the build was all about adding a host of little things without screwing anything up. I drilled a small hole at the top of the vertical fin to accept an aerial antenna. I also drilled out a tiny hole just ahead of the windscreen on the left side for the landing gear indicator, then stretched some white styrene for the indicator. It was colored red with a Sharpie, inserted into the hole with PVA glue, and snipped off at the appropriate length. The Master Models gun barrels were painted a gunmetal color, cemented into their fairings, and drybrushed with steel, and black pastels were used to add discoloration from the gun gasses. The pastels were also brushed on the wheels at this time.

 

I painted the radar altimeter antennas black and test fit them on another kit – the attachment pegs need to trimmed just a bit to get a flush fit to the bottom of the wings. The speed brakes were added to the fuselage, along with the resin actuators. I swapped painted fine lead wire for the photoetched hydraulic lines provided in the Brassin airbrake set. The seat was slipped into the cockpit, and the control column went in place next. The antenna mast was cleaned up and CA-glued to its mount on the fuselage, followed by the canopy. The Master Models pitot boom was placed into the hole in the wing and painted aluminum, with a chrome silver head.

 

With the ejection seat and control column installed, the last step was rigging the aerial. I had drilled a hole in the vertical fin and inserted a .05mm metal rod as the tail anchor; the aerial on the early MiG-15 stretched from the tail to the antenna mast to the insulator on the side of the fuselage. I used a strand of black nylon panty hose for my aerial wire, and I nervously braced myself for the rigging operation. It went quickly – aided by reverse tweezers and sharp scissors, it was done in five minutes. It may have been the easiest part of the whole build!

Despite my unforced errors, weird accidents and omitted instructions in the Brassin set, the model turned out wonderfully and takes an important place in my Korean War collection. Moreover, now that I know the kit’s quirks, I’m looking forward to building a camouflage MiG-15bis and a MiG-15 UTI. This rendition of first jet ace’s mount won’t be my last Eduard MiG-15!

Triplane Top Gun: Josef Jacobs’ Fokker Dr.I

“One for the folks back home!”

There is no more iconic World War I aircraft than the Fokker Dr.I. The distinctive triplane has appeared everywhere, from movies and books to comic strips and frozen pizza packaging. When it first arrived, it was a boon to German pilots, whose Albatros, Roland and Pfalz fighters had become outclassed.

 

Arriving in late October 1917, the Dr.I was eagerly awaited. Werner Voss had used a prototype Fokker F.I to destroy seven enemy aircraft in 20 days before being lost himself in a battle with six SE.5s. The Dr.I possessed superior climbing ability and was terrifically maneuverable, making it an excellent dogfighter. It also had two guns at a time when many of its adversaries still mounted one. However, the triplane configuration caused a lot of drag, so the Dr.I was slower than its adversaries.

 

Still, the plane’s nimble qualities tipped the balance to the Germans – briefly. In late October and early November, a spate of accidents led to the grounding of all Dr.Is and a reversion back to the Albatros D.Va. Moisture accumulating in the upper wings was loosening the glue joints to the point where the ailerons failed, leading to the failure of the upper wing. All the Dr.Is went back to Fokker’s factory and a series of 12 improvements were instituted. The Dr.I returned to combat on November 28. By then, however, any tactical surprise was gone, as were Anthony Fokker’s profits from the machine.

 

Despite the triplane’s iconic status, the structural issue limited production. Only 320 Dr.Is were manufactured. A number aces preferred the machine even as it was surpassed by the superior Fokker D.VII. One of these was Josef Jacobs.

 

Jacobs was a veteran by 1917. His combat career began in July 1915 in reconnaissance machines, flying long-range sorties over allied positions. He downed a Caudron in February 1916, but this could not be confirmed. Jacobs was transferred to Fokkerstaffel-West to fly the Fokker E.III, and his first official victory came on May 12 when he destroyed another Caudron.

 

Jacobs scoring was curtailed by a bout of dysentery and eventually he was transferred to Jasta 22, where he scored three more confirmed victories. He became commander of Jasta 7 in August 1917, where he shot down and killed nine-victory French ace Jean Matton to achieve ace status himself. Early in 1918, Jacobs switched to the Dr.I and became its most lethal pilot, downing more than 30 allied aircraft with it, often leading the rest of his unit’s Fokker D.VIIs into combat in his triplane, an all-black machine with a fire-spitting character called “the God of the North” emblazoned on both sides. Jacobs’ final score was 48 aircraft and balloons, placing him fourth among German aces.

 

Following the war, Jacobs continued fighting, flying against the Bolsheviks in the Baltic, and later became a flight instructor in Turkey, then switched from aviation to sport, excelling in auto, speedboat and bobsled racing (he was the president of the German Bobsleighing Society in later life). In the 1930s, he started an aircraft repair and manufacturing company in Erfurt. Hermann Goering personally asked Jacobs to join the Nazi Party, but Jacobs refused; he also refused to allow Goering to become a major shareholder in his company and moved it to the Netherlands. When Germany invaded, Jacobs had to go into hiding, but he returned to Germany after the war. Jacobs died in Munich in 1978, the last surviving recipient of the Pour le Merite.

 

Eduard had the good sense to put Jacobs’ top-scoring triplane on the boxtop of its 1:72 “Profipack” release. The “Profipack” kits feel a little like cheating, since nearly everything you could need is already in the box. In this case, that meant the plastic parts for the tiny fighter were accompanied by a fret of photoetched parts and masks for the wheels. These were all quite nice – but, of course, I couldn’t resist the urge to add more.

 

First, I cut off the plastic molded structure inside the cockpit and removed the plastic rudder pedals, as instructed in the kit. This detail would all be replaced with photoetched parts.

 

The kit doesn’t include the triangular plywood panels inside the fuselage that helped define the fuselage’s shape. I cut these from sheet styrene, painted them with beige enamel, and then dabbed on some Minwax wood stain. While it was still wet, I lightly dragged a paper towel across the stain to streak it, giving a wood grain effect. This was repeated on the cockpit floor and rear bulkhead.

The plywood panels at center, along with the prop in its first stages of painting and the cockpit floor.

The cockpit frame was folded together and painted a shade approximating RAF sky – this is a close match to the color used by Fokker for its internal framework. The instruments attached to the frame were bent into place and backed with tiny sections of styrene rod painted black, and their pre-painted faces received a drop of Future floor polish to replicate glass. The photoetched fuel pump was given a light coat of white glue to give it a degree of three dimensionality, and after it was painted it was installed in the cockpit framework. The same went for the throttle assembly; it was painted, received a styrene rod grip, and was added to the left side of the cockpit framework.

The completed cockpit framework, added to the right fuselage half.

 

I used white glue to beef up the grips on the control column, then folded the combined column and rudder pedals, painted them, and added them to the floor, along with some styrene strip footboards. The compass holder was folded to shape and painted before getting its decal face, followed by Future for the lens; once dry, this was added to the framework as well.

 

The seat was painted in facsimile wood colors and, when dry, the kit’s pre-painted seat belts were added with CA glue. The seat went on the rear bulkhead, the rear bulkhead was joined to the floor, the floor was added to the framework and the whole thing was glue into place in one of the fuselage halves. The fuselage was closed in near record time for one of my builds!

An overhead view of the cockpit on the finished model, showing how effective the Eduard Profipack elements are.

The next step was to assemble the guns. As nice as Eduard’s were, I opted for the stellar Mini World Spandaus, which have a machined body and photoetched cooling jackets and sights. These spectacular little guns were painted a gunmetal color and dry-brushed with steel, then had their cocking handles picked out in a wood color. They were then set aside in a safe place – they can be very delicate and easy to damage until they’re on the model.

Mini World Spandaus – and by “mini” they do mean mini!

I cut the molded-on control horns from the tail and upper wings , then cleaned up these areas. The “Profipack” kit includes these as photoetched items, which would be added at the end of the build.

 

The vertical rudder was painted white, gloss-coated and decaled. When it was done, it went to safety with the Spandaus. The horizontal tail was added to the fuselage, and I found the fit fussy, but with a little sanding I obtained a good fit. The center wing went on next, followed by the ammunition box, which was painted aluminum. This fit ridiculously well – so snug I was concerned I couldn’t get it apart after test-fitting it! The lower wing joined to the fuselage with precision, and I had no worries about alignment to the center wing.

The center wing in place…

…with the lower wing installed and perfectly aligned.

For now, I veered off the instructions’ path and instead painted the model with a coat of ModelMaster interior black. That meant painting the fuselage and lower wings, upper wing, struts, cowling and landing gear before assembly. The overall black scheme lent itself to this. A coat of Future prepped the model for decals; the kit decals went on with no problems and I added decals to the fuselage and upper wing in advance of assembly. Another coat of Future sealed them.

How much more black could it be? Theanswer is none. None more black.

The firewall ahead of the engine was painted steel and I set to work on Eduard’s wonderful little powerplant. This includes a plastic bank of cylinders, brass ignition wires for the front and back of the engine, and detailed photoetched hub. The prop “shaft” is fixed in place on the firewall and the engine and propeller spin around it – just like the real thing.

The propeller was cleaned up and masked for a wood grain finish. This involved painting the prop a light shade of wood, then carefully cutting masks, front and back, to replicate the laminated layers of wood in the prop. A darker shade was sprayed, and the contrast seemed extreme until I brushed on a coat of Tamiya clear amber. This made the prop appear varnished and tied the shades together nicely. Manufacturer’s decals and the photoetched hub plate were added to finish off the propeller.

After a coat of Tamiya clear amber, the prop looked properly varnished.

The finished prop and engine assembly in place on the finished model.

Now, I began to bring the elements together. The wing struts go through the center wing and all but guarantee proper alignment – if you get them oriented correctly. They have a subtle front-to-back orientation that’s easy to miss (which I did at first). The landing gear came next; I first drilled holes for the wire bracing, then assembled the gear struts and wing and added them to the fuselage. Lengths of .005 acupuncture needles were added as the wire, lending an additional degree of rigidity. The machine guns were added before the upper wing, as were short lengths of Mini World’s ammunition belts, which feed into the guns’ receivers.

Once these were added and the fuselage struts were in place, adding the top wing was a breeze – positive locating holes in the wing fit the struts and all was good. The wheels’ hubs were painted and masked with Eduard’s included masks, and the gray tires were airbrushed next (a lack of lampblack in Germany during WWI resulted in pale gray tires). Once dry, the wheels were added to the landing gear.

 

Wings on, decals on and awaiting the landing gear.

The gear in place with its wire bracing.

I added the crossed bracing wires between the fuselage and upper wing with trimmed acupuncture needles and painted the padding around the cockpit opening with ModelMaster leather paint, applied with a fine brush. There’s a small instrument between the guns on the fuselage for which Eduard provides a decal – I added this now and placed a drop of Future on it as the lens.

 

The rudder was joined to the tail, and I used the kit’s photoetched parts to replicate the control horns and wires, adding them by using Testors Dullcote as an adhesive. To do this, I brushed a bit of Dullcote on an index card, then, gripping the part in some tweezers, I dragged the part through the puddle of Dullcote and immediately stuck it on the model. The Dullcote has the advantage of drying very tight against the surface while still gripping the part well.

Note the control horns on the upper wings’ ailerons.

The wing control horns came next, followed the addition of the engine, the cowling, and the propeller. The cowling was cemented to the fuselage, while the propeller was glued to the engine. The engine was not cemented in place, so the prop and engine could spin together inside the cowling just like the real plane.

 

Next came some wooden elements – the tail skid, wing tip skids and fuselage foot step. The photoetched ground handling loops were added to the rear fuselage and painted black in situ.

 

Just like that, I had a neat, clean little triplane ready for our local contest. I proudly marched in with a couple of entries in hand and, just as I reached the right table, the triplane’s box slipped off the stack, did a 180-degree flip, and smacked into the ground upside down with a sickening thud, with predictable results. I spent the next two hours at a friend’s vendor table with glue and tweezers, swearing a blue streak as I re-attached the rudder and top wing, control horns, tail skid, and host of other little things. Luckily all the parts could be located inside the box. While my repairs were a bit ham-fisted, I still managed to get second place in “biplanes/fabric and rigging.”

 

Since other projects I was working on were more complex, this would be the only model I’d be bringing to the nationals, and in the condition it was in it had little chance of faring well. I decided it would look better – and maybe perform better at the contest – as the centerpiece of a simple diorama.

 

The photo of Jacobs that comes up most often is a posed shot showing him holding his dog, a Grand Bleu de Gascogne, in front of his fighter. If there’s a photograph, there must have been a photographer, so there was the idea for a diorama.

I started with a four-by-four base with a clear cover – I fear for my WWI builds!  – which was just large enough for the tiny Dr.I with space for the figures. The base was covered with white glue and then sprinkled with Woodland Scenics turf for a very simple setting for the scene.

 

The figures were next. Jacobs came from a CMK WWI pilots set, but I lopped off his head, repositioned his arms, and modified his tunic. It would figure that in the photo, he was wearing non-standard gear. I sanded back the visor and his cap, and removed the detail from his tunic, replacing it with pockets made from paper and CA-glued to the figure. The head was sourced from a W+D set. He also received a walking stick. The figure was painted using light blues for the uniform and leather for the boots, all sourced from the ModelMaster line.

W+D head, CMK body, and custom Clothing by Chris results in a pretty unattractive figure…

…Until it’s primed and starts to look usable.

Painted, Jacobs stats to look the part…

A walking stick was made from a length of metal rod and painted a pale wood color. All that was left to complete a little ace was his dog. Dogs in 1:72 are much harder to find than you’d think, especially Grand Bleu de Gascognes. My stash happened to include Pegasus’ 1:72 farm animal set, and it had a German shepherd, so I set about on my first-ever dog conversion project.

 

First, a lot of flash was cut off the soft-plastic dog figure. The shepherd’s alert, bushy tail was removed and replaced with a skinny one made of wire. The shepherd’s point ears were bobbed and I made a set of floppy replacements from Apoxie Sculpt, then draped it over the dog’s head and blended it in. After the dog was primed, it was painted black with white legs, belly and snout to approximate the photo. When it was finished, I added a collar and a thin wire leash that would attach to Jacobs’ hand.

 

Now, I needed a photographer – otherwise, it would be a diorama of a guy walking his dog near an airplane. The camera would come first. I found a nice 1:32 WWI photographer figure and copied the style of camera and tripod, replicating it with styrene strip and rod. A rectangular piece became the camera body and was painted in wood tones. The lens was a bit of .040 rod, painted black and glued to the front. A photoetched trim wheel was painted and added to the side. The tripod was made from several pieces of thin rod, with each leg having a single base that was attached to two parallel rods which attached to a mount at the base of the camera. It took some work to get all three legs the same length, but when they were all aligned, I painted them black and the camera was almost finished.

 

The photographer was a mash-up of different Prieser figures. The body and arms came from a WWII Luftwaffe pilot who was doing some “hand flying;” his epaulets and decorations were sanded away to de-militarize him, and he received a gray coat and a blue jacket. His left arm was positioned as if he was gesturing to his subject to stay still and wait for him to take the photo. In his right hand, I placed a styrene rod “trigger” attached by fine solder to the camera – the shutter release mechanism.

100 years later, you could just take the picture with your phone.

 

To make the photographer truly civilian, I grabbed one of the extra heads from Prieser’s 1920s civilian aircraft figure set. This head was wearing a cap and looked “period” but clearly not military, which is what I was going for.

 

The figures and plane were addd to the base, and with that my ridiculously simple diorama was complete. I was lucky – the model took a third at the IPMS Nationals in Omaha in small composition diorama!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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