N1K2-J Shiden-Kai finale: Just add salt

When we left off, the model was mostly built and was simply awaiting… a lot of stuff including the paint.

Once the clear parts were in place, I masked them off using Dead Designs’ pre-cut masks. For a long time, I thought these masks were “cheating,” but I’ve come to think of them like a calculator for mathematics. Sure, I know how to do the math on paper, but a calculator makes it easier. I plugged the cockpit opening with moist tissue paper and then sprayed the masked clear parts black so the interior of the frames would appear black. 

The cockpit before masking and a first spray of black paint over the masked clear parts.

I had decals for the plane I wanted to build that had the yellow band provided as a decal. I didn’t really trust the decal – if it wasn’t shaped right or long enough I’d be stuck at the end of painting. Instead, since the leading edge ID bands were going to be yellow too, I masked and painted the band and the leading edges. Painting these smaller areas made masking easier than doing them later. I masked them very carefully (Tamiya’s tape for curves was really useful for the fuselage band).  I also masked the position lights in the wingtips and the base of the rudder.

With that done, I used the last of my Testors Metallizer buffable aluminum plate over the entire model. I had two reasons for this: one, the bottom of these aircraft were left in metal, and two, it would serve as a base for the significant chipping on the top side. By this time in the war, Japanese planes were being delivered without primer – the national insignia and leading-edge ID bands were exceptions – and the IJN green tended to flake off the aircraft in service. 

First up was the natural metal finish on the bottom of the aircraft. I masked several panels with Post-It notes and applied slightly different shades of metal. The fabric-covered ailerons and elevators were painted with a mix of silver and gray, and the center sections received a mix of aluminum plate and titanium. I also painted the cowling and the landing gear covers. Once I had a good appearance on the bottom of the aircraft, I sprayed Testors sealer for Metalizer over the whole model, as a protective coat for the bottom of the aircraft and as a barrier for the next stage in weathering. (Working with these extinct products is bittersweet – just when I figured out how to use them best they became unavailable! If you have any lying around you don’t want any more, let me know!)

The bottom of the aircraft, showing the natural metal finish. Note the variance from side to side, caused entirely by the different angles of light playing off the model.

For the chipping, I decided to try the salt masking technique. I brushed on some water where I wanted my chipping – on the wing roots, fuselage sides, and on the wings. Onto the water I sprinkled popcorn salt, which has smaller crystals; table salt would have been too big in this scale. The salt was allowed to dry in the model before I applied the camouflage color. Once the paint was dry, I’d brush off the paint and have my chipping! That was the plan, at least.

For the top side color, I first tried Testors IJN green, but it looked terrible over the aluminum wing – it was translucent and would have looked cool on a car model, but did not cut it on a Japanese fighter. Instead, I went to a bottle of Aeromaster IJN green – probably the same bottle I used on my N1K1-J 20 years ago! It went on very cleanly and I was very happy – until I realized I had somehow gotten green on the metal finish under both wingtips. Argh!

ModelMaster IJN green over silver – great for your custom car, horrible for your actual IJN fighter.

The green had to go. I lightly moistened a cotton swab with enamel thinner, expecting to wreck the underlying finish as I wiped away the offending paint. To my astonishment, the green came off but the natural metal finish did not! The sealer must have provided a lacquer-based barrier the enamel thinner did not affect. With a new trick in my quiver, I looked for any fuzzy demarcations I could clean up – one side of the cowling and one side of the rudder below the tail were sharpened up with a single swipe of the cotton swab! I un-masked the fuselage band and ID panels and found only a little touch-up was needed.

After removal of the masking on the yellow areas and prior to decals. Look at all that salt! It’s like a Japanese pretzel!

I added the cowling to the fuselage. I used the Metallizer sealer as my gloss coat (an idea borrowed from Ben Pada) and got out my decals. I had markings for Sugita’s plane on a Print Scale sheet, but before I could use them Rising Decals came out with a big sheet of N1K1-J and N1K2-J schemes that included this plane. I ended up using the victory markings and tail markings from the Rising Decals sheet but took my Hinomarus from an old Aeromaster sheet – the Rising Decals insignia seemed to dark in color, and the Print Scale markings were out of registration. Only 10 decals were needed to finish the model off. 

The model then received a sludge wash of Payne’s gray, which showed off the nice surface detail and gave the plane an even more weather-beaten appearance. 

I carefully applied a coat of flat coat thinned 3-1 with lacquer thinner with my airbrush to the camouflaged part of the scheme, avoiding the natural metal areas. Once that dried, I brushed off the salt, revealing a lovely, uneven pattern of chipping. I added a few more smaller chips with the point of a No. 11 blade. It was more chipping than I’d envisioned, but it was effective. 

A wash of Payne’s gray water-based paint popped out the surface detail and made the plane look even more worn.

Each of the exhaust stacks was painted burnt metal, and exhaust staining was applied with pastels. The flat coat helped the pastels stick, and the appearance of the staining over the natural metal chips was quite convincing. 

The masking came off the canopy and, unsurprisingly, the results were nearly perfect. The main gear struts were finished and were installed into the wings, along with the kit retraction struts. I also would two tiny springs using wire stripped from a broken computer power cord and installed them as the tensioning springs on each retraction strut. 

The kit’s breakable retraction strut – very small, and indicative of the level of detail in the Aoshima kit.

Next, I added the centerline tank using the kit’s mounting braces.  The fit on the front brace to the tank was dubious, but some white glue plugged the gap. Next came the inner hear doors, which were cemented in place and were then augmented with photoetched retraction arms taken from an old sheet for the N1K1-J. The main gear doors and strut covers were then added to the struts, taking care to get alignment correct. 

I opened up the pilot holes in the leading edges and added the Master Models 20mm gun barrels. These were painted a dark gunmetal color and gently dry-brushed silver across their muzzles. Next, I added the tail wheel and made sure it was securely anchored. The pitot tube was made from telescoping lengths of Albion Alloys tubing and inserted into the wing. Next, I added the landing gear position indicators in the wings using bits of cat’s whiskers painted red using a Sharpie pen.

The finished model, showing off the airplane’s scoreboard.

The last detail was the aerial. I added the radio mast and made sure it was anchored strongly, then painted it green in place. I pulled threads from some smoke-colored panty hose and clipped the ends into some locking tweezers. I lined one end up against the insulator on the tail, touched a tiny bit of CA glue to the mast, and let it sit until the glue set. Stretching the aerial beyond the top of the mast, I repeated the process. When the CA had set, I stretched the excess material and clipped it off close to the mast and the insulator with some flat-toothed cutters. Relieved that it went so well, I was chagrined to realize there was a second aerial running from the tail to the base of the mast! I carefully repeated the process and achieved a successful result. 

The final step was to add the canopy and to hang the propeller.  Finished!

The Master Models 20mm cannons are a big improvement over the kit’s guns. This shot also shows the exhaust staining on the fuselage.

On the upside, I learned the salt chipping technique, but on the downside, I missed my 45-day challenge by 92 days! Many of the paints I used are now out of production, so this may be a one-time-only experience for me. But I’m pleased to see the model on my shelf – some extra work – and extra research into the back story of the plane and pilot – made this a particularly rewarding build.

Another view of the finished model. The short pitot tube on the left wing is Albion Alloys tubing.

Japan’s Ultimate Interceptor: N1K2-J Shiden-Kai in 1:72

The Japanese Navy’s desire for a floatplane fighter follow-on to the interim Zero-based A6M2-N led to the Kawanishi N1K1 Kyofu, a compact floatplane with laminar-flow wings, which first flew in may, 1942. Only 97 Kyofus were produced before the need for the floatplane fighter evaporated as Japan was forced onto a defensive footing. 

Kawanishi was thinking ahead, however: as early as December 1941, the company began work on a land-based version of the plane, resulting in the N1K2-J Shiden. This fighter boasted a 2000hp Homare engine that produced a top speed of 363mph, four 20mm cannon (and two 7.7mm in some models), better armor for the pilot than earlier fighters, and self-sealing tanks. Because it inherited the mid-wing arrangement of the Kyofu, the landing gear was quite tall; this led to frequent gear failures and collapses. 

To counter that, Kawanishi engineers re-designed the aircraft as a low-wing aircraft, resulting in the N1K2-J Shiden-Kai. The wings were largely the same, but the fuselage was totally redesigned; top speed climbed to 369mph, and serviceability was far better in spite of the often-balky Homare engine. It also inherited its automatic combat flaps from its predecessors; these extended the flaps automatically during turns to reduce turning radius without subjecting the pilot to excessive G’s, forcing the pilot to use a heavy force on the control column, or causing the fighter to stall. The first N1K2-J was delivered in April 1944, but B-29 raids led to shortages of engines and equipment that limited production to about 425 aircraft. 

In combat, the N1K2-J was a handful for American pilots. While it was never a major threat to the B-29s – its rate of climb rarely put it in position to intercept – it was an effective weapon against U.S. Navy aircraft. Because it needed an experienced pilot to get the most from it, the IJN allowed Capt. Minoru Genda to form a Kokutai (group) of experienced flyers. The group, the 343rd Kokutai (replacing an earlier incarnation of the 343rd wiped out in defense of Guam and Palau), had for hikotai (squadrons), did what it could against an overwhelming tide of U.S. Navy aircraft, B-29s and, eventually, P-51s and P-47s, claiming over 170 enemy planes. In return, 82 pilots of the 343rd Kokutai were killed in action, 14 were wounded and 20 more died in flying accidents. 

One of the fliers to fall in combat was Chief Petty Officer Shoichi Sugita. Born in Niigata Prefecture in 1924, he earned his wings at age 19 and was pressed into combat immediately. On his first mission, flying from Rabaul, he intercepted and shot down a B-17, but his plane was badly damaged and he crash-landed his burning Zero. On April 18, 1943, he was part of the escort for the G4M1 carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, and his failure to protect his charges caused him to suffer a mental breakdown that kept him from combat for a number of weeks. The gradual deaths of his squadron members forced him back into the air, but he was seriously burned in August and returned to Japan for treatment, followed by a brief period as an instructor. He requested a return to combat, and he amassed an impressive score over the next year, fighting over Guam, the Marianas and the Philippines. When 34-victory ace Thomas McGuire was killed when he stalled trying to help his wingman, Sugita was the pilot who was his intended target. Officially, Sugita was credited with 63 (including 30 shared) victories by the time he was selected for the 343rd Kokutai in late 1944. 

CPO Shoichi Sugita

Sugita scored seven more victories with the N1K2-J, including a mission on April 12, 1945, when he claimed two Hellcats and a Corsair after returning in a badly shot-up Shiden-kai. But Sugita’s luck did not hold. Three days later, the 301st Hikotai received late warning of an American raid on their new base at Kanoya. Genda ordered an immediate scramble, and just as the first N1K2-Js lifted off, 28 Hellcats flying from USS Independence and USS Randolph arrived over the base. As Sugita made his takeoff run, eight Hellcats closed in on him. The CO of VF-46, LCDR Robert “Doc” Weatherup, caught Sugita at about 400 feet and opened fire. Sugita’s aircraft abruptly banked and crashed at the end of the runway, killing him instantly. Genda apologized to his Hikotai leader, Lt. Naoshi Kanno, who was crushed by Sugita’s loss. Sugita was not flying his assigned aircraft at the time; that plane passed to Lt. Masaji Matsumura and, eventually, to Kanno. Following the practice of applying victories to the plane that scored them rather than the pilot, the plane eventually had 16 victory markings. 

Back in 1994, Aoshima put out a 1:72 kit of the N1K2-J (and the N1K1-J, and the Ta 152) that had a reputational hill to climb. The company’s earlier 1:72 kits were truly terrible models that bore only a passing resemblance to the subjects they depicted. But the new models were on a par with Academy kits – not overly complicated, but accurate in outline, with recessed panel lines and rivet detail and very clear canopies. I had long-term plans to build an N1K2-J, and I amassed some aftermarket parts for it over time. When I was challenged to build a model start to finish in 45 days, the Shiden-kai was a perfect choice. 

The cockpit gained my attention first. I have a copy of Robert Mikesh’s Japanese Aircraft Interiors 1940-1945, which has a nice section on the N1K2-J (four still exist today). Any angles that weren’t visible in that book were covered in the Famous Airplanes of the World issue on the Kyofu/Shiden family. Armed with good references, I started by sanding the rear bulkhead so I could open up the blocked-off framework there. The N1K2-J had four oxygen bottles that mounted in holes in this framework; to replicate them, I sanded .040 styrene rod to a rounded end, then cut it off, drilled the top with a No. 80 drill to accept wiring later, and cemented the four resulting half-cylinders into place on the rear bulkhead. A couple of small details were added to the bulkhead, followed by “hoses” made from fine wire that were CA-glued into the predrilled holes and then worked down the bottom of the bulkhead. When it was time for painting, the tanks and hoses were painted black, with brass “valves” at the top. 

The oxygen bottles in place on the aft bulkhead.

Kora does an interior set for this model, but most of the resin in it is crude. I was able to salvage the seat, and I drilled out all the lightening holes in it. I also used the forward bulkhead, which has the prominent gunsight mount, although the gunsight itself looked nothing like the Type 4 Model 1 sight in the real plane. This was made from some styrene rod, metal rod, a photoetched bezel and a strip styrene bit as a “crash pad.” 

The sidewalls of the cockpit were sanded flat and I re-built the consoles to better match the real items. Aoshima’s interior parts fit into the completed fuselage from the bottom, so I was able to add some details – map case, switchboxes, fuel pump controls, and the main throttle – to the fuselage sides. The lower mixture control on the left side console was made with halved sections of 1/16-inch styrene rod, topped with wire rods for the control levers. These were then given bulb “handles” with tiny bits of white glue. The trim tab was a cut-down photoetched part, and bits of styrene and lead wire were employed as various switch boxes and pull handles. 

The mixture controls and trim tab wheel on the right side were scratch-built. The rudder pedals are installed in this image – upside down! That was caught before painting.

The right side consoles were cleaned up, and the two large instruments were represented with Reheat photoetched bezels. The radio shelf and radio were similarly scratchbuilt with styrene rod and strip. 

I took care to get the various visible wiring runs in place, using .2mm lead wire. The rudder pedals were removed, to be replaced by the Kora photoetched examples. The rudder bar mechanism was dressed up with some wire and rod to simulate the complex mechanism in the real plane. I also used Kora’s photoetched instrument panel and its paper instruments; the manifold pressure gauge in the real aircraft is red on its right side, so I colored the appropriate part of the instrument with a .005 red pen, then airbrushed the instrument panel black and drybrushed it with ocean gray. The instruments were cut out and adhered to the photoetched panel with Future, giving them a glossy “lens” look. I also added the center three instruments from another photoetched panel to make up for the three that Kora inexplicably left off. This assembly was then CA-glued to the front bulkhead from the kit. 

he instrument panel, in place and painted

The instrument panel in the real plane was installed in such a way that the back of the panel was visible through the windscreen. I carefully glued short slices of .035 and .040 to the back of the panel behind the instrument faces, then drilled holes in them with a No. 80 bit. Each instrument received a wire that was run down the side of the panel, then the back of the panel was painted flat black and dry-brushed with ocean gray. 

The wired back of the control panel, fashioned from styrene rod and .2mm wire.

Kora’s seat was painted and weathered with a bit of aluminum dry-brushing. At this point, I lost the seat – after an exhaustive search, I found it inside one of my closed references, with the prominent handle on its left side broken! The handle was replaced with a little styrene rod and metal tubing. The photoetched belts were bent to shape, painted and installed. 

I painted the rest of the cockpit, using a dark green as the base color, and assembled the rear bulkhead, floor, seat and instrument as a unit. The control column from the kit was painted to match references and added to the cockpit assembly. I joined the fuselage halves, cleaned up the minimal seams and re-scribed a few panel lines, and then slipped the cockpit assembly into place. The front bulkhead with the gunsight mount took a little test-fitting and sanding to fit cleanly, but once in place it looked great. 

The installed cockpit, with the gunsight and its mount prominently on display.

Before the wings went on. I drilled out the exhaust stacks, which are molded to the fuselage sides. There are six stacks per side, so I took care to get things centered before I drilled, starting with a No. 80 and moving to progressively larger bits.

The exhaust stacks after the first pass. Subsequent passes cleaned up the stacks.

I added the lower wing, which needed a .005 styrene shim along the trailing edge seam with the fuselage. The upper wings went on cleanly, with minimal filling at the wing roots and along the leading edge. I re-scribed the wing with a UMM scriber and restored the nice rivet detail with a sharpened tack. 

Fit sas generally good, but note the shim at the wing/fuselage joint.

The position lights were carved out of the wingtip using a motor tool and cutoff wheel, followed by small files. I drilled a hole into a bit of clear styrene, then pushed some clear red and green paint into the holes. The backs of the clear styrene were painted aluminum, and then I CA-glued the clear parts into the notches in the wingtips. I sanded the clear styrene back to mirror the original contours of the wingtips and polished the plastic to clarity. I did the same with the prominent formation light at the base of the rudder; this had a clear bulb, so I merely drilled the hole and left it un-colored. 

The position light in the tail. Clear bulbs are easy – just drill the hole and leave it uncolored!

The horizontal stabilizers went on with little drama – first, I added them with a little CA glue, then I checked their alignment against the wing. Next came some sanding, followed by some additional filler to fully eliminate the seam, some more sanding and a bit of re-scribing. 

I dressed up the kit engine by painting it black and drybrushing aluminum, then adding a collector ring from .5mm lead wire, followed by 18 push rod tubes, each cut from a length of black stretched sprue. I painted a length of .2mm lead wire a tan color and used it to make the ignition wires. The front of the crankcase from the kit was painted gray and given a wash of 50-50 water and Pledge Future Shine with some black acrylic paint in it. All this detail was likely to be invisible behind the propeller spinner, but anyone peeking inside the cowling will get at least a glimpse.

The dressed-up kit engine is smaller in diameter than a penny! Wire and stretched sprue did the job nicely.

Speaking of the propeller, I carefully cut it from the sprue (the attachment points were on the trailing edges of two blades) and cleaned all the flash off with a flexible file. Then, I had to fill sink marks on the back of each blade – a bit of a throwback to Aoshima’s past! 

Ouch! Sink marks!

The tips were painted white, followed by yellow, then a thin stripe on the front side of each blade was masked off and the propellers were painted ModelMaster German Schockoladenbraun, a neat match to the primer color Japanese propellers were painted. The cuffs at the propeller’s base were hand-painted aluminum; these are visible when the propeller is mounted in the spinner, so special care was required. 

The prop, looking a little nicer.

During the build, I discovered that Master Model did machined barrels for the Type 99 Mk. I 20mm cannons. I ordered them, and then had to consider how to keep to my 45-day schedule while waiting for the barrels to arrive. I didn’t want to paint the yellow leading edges and then potentially mar them by drilling one of the holes for the cannons off-center. Instead, I clipped off the kit’s cannons and drilled pilot holes in the kit fairings. Doing this would allow me to enlarge the holes when the barrels arrived with minimal risk to the paint.

Pre-drilling the guns with small bits enables me to enlarge them later for the brass barrels.

The wheel wells in the kit have adequate detail, but I added some missing structural elements, some wiring and a few details that would enhance the look of the landing gear. 

A little detail goes a long way – especially since there’s not much in the wheel wells to begin with!

That seems like a good place for a break! Next time, we get the clear parts in place and begin painting and weathering!

Making a Macchi: Paint, landing gear and the rest

The finished model – decals made all the difference in this build.

It was painting time for my C.202, and I like to add the windscreen and any other fixed clear parts before painting so I can ensure there are no seams to fill after painting. It also protects the gunsight reflector. I dipped the windscreen and the hinged-to-the-side canopy in Future for additional clarity and, once they were dry, added the windscreen to the fuselage with white glue. Once the windscreen was dry, I attempted to mask it with Parafilm M, my usual approach. Then, disaster – my ham-handed attempt to apply the Parafilm knocked the windscreen off, which knocked the gunsight reflector off. Oof! I fixed the gunsight reflector, then re-attached the windscreen with CA glue – then bought a set of pre-cut masks from Eduard! These went on with zero drama.

The wing tip lights were masked with bits of tape and I used wet tissue paper to mask the wheel well detail before painting. Since my old standby paints – Testers ModelMaster – were now unavailable, I decided to try out a new enamel line, True North. They had the colors I needed – FS 30266, flat Africa yellow, which matched the Italian color Nicciola Chiaro 4, and FS 36307, flat light sea gray, which matched Grigio Azzuro Chiaro 1. I also bought flat white, satin black and some colors for other projects while I was at it. 

Before I applied the camouflage colors, I pre-shaded the panel lines with Floquil engine black. I’m not a big fan of this practice, but I thought I could make it work with the relatively light color of the base camouflage. Next, I loaded up some of the True North flat white in my airbrush and painted the white band around the fuselage; I found it thinned just like ModelMaster and covered very well. I also painted the spinner, and the tips of the propeller as a base for the yellow – and then, while I was at it, painted eight more propellers from three other kits. I don’t like to waste paint, and this is a nice way to make use of it while giving yourself a gift in the future. All the propellers then had their tips airbrushed yellow, and once dry a scale four inches of the tips were masked and I painted the blades with True North satin black. This went on nicely, but it takes about 10 hours to dry thoroughly – take care in touching them until they’re all dry! The next day, I took of the masking and had 29 perfectly masked prop tips, including three on the Macchi’s propeller. 

True North’s flat Africa yellow looks very thick in the bottle, so I thinned it a bit more than usual. That was a mistake – my first batch was too thin. Adding thinner at a 3:1 ratio allowed it to spray very nicely, but it was still a bit translucent. That wasn’t really a problem – I sprayed it over the pre-shading and could build up the color until the pre-shading was nearly invisible, which was just the effect I wanted. I made sure I painted the leading edge of the lower wing and horizontal stabilizers – as if this scheme wasn’t difficult enough, the camouflage wrapped around the leading edge of the wing. It also wrapped around the nose and the tail aft of the wing. 

True North’s flat Africa mustard goes on a little translucent but looks the part.

I masked the nose, the lower wing leading edge and the rear fuselage with Tamiya yellow tape. The leading edges of the horizontal stabilizers were masked with Tamiya tape or curves. The True North light sea gray behaved similarly to the flat Africa yellow, although it was much more opaque. After a few minutes, the masking came off – there were no issues that required touch-ups.

Note the wrap-around on the ;eating edges of the wing and tail.

Now for the rest of the camouflage. Each of the three factories that made the C.202 had its own camouflage pattern – Breda with a “snake squiggle,” SAI with its “little hearts,” and Aer Machhi with its “smoke rings.” Since my plane was made by Aer Macchi, I was faced with the dreaded smoke rings – but some years ago, I’d purchased decals from Mike Grant that provided these Verde Olive Scuro (dark olive green) blotches with soft edges, a solution that would certainly be easier than trying to airbrush them in 1:72

While some cranks referred to these decals as “the end of the hobby” when they were released, decaling your entire model is not easy. First, you need to get a very good gloss coat or your model will be a silvered mess. I applied two coats of Future to the model with a broad brush. Next, I checked with my photos – although the factory applied the smoke rings at random, I was building a specific plane, so I wanted my camouflage to reflect the real plane as closely as possible. I replicated the pattern that was visible in the photos, then used the existing pattern to fill in the blanks. Over the course of two days, the model was covered in smoke ring camouflage – a grand total of 106 smoke rings. The ALPS-printed decals snuggled down well, but the ink is a bit fragile – handing it can wear it away and force you to make repairs.

Oh no! I killed the hobby!

Next came the markings for “Dai Banana!” These came from a Sky Decals sheet. I started with the Stormo logo and first-layer deals – a white version of “Dai Banana” for the nose and the Savoy Cross on the tail. The crosses on the sheet were notably oversized, so I carefully cut them down before applying them. Later, I applied the yellow “Dai Banana!” to the nose and added the crest of the House of Savoy to the cross, then added the data plates, fascist badges and wing insignia, and finally the squadron and aircraft numbers. I also added the Aer Macchi decals to the propeller. 

All the decals in place – including the cut-down cross of Savoy on the tail.

The main danger here was silvering. I spent considerable effort hunting down any areas that displayed any silvering and pierced the decals before applying more SuperSol. When that didn’t work, I went with diluted Solvaset, followed by full-strength Solvaset. That worked, eventually. A second coat of Future was brushed on in advance of a watercolor “sludge wash” made with dishwashing liquid and Payne’s gray paint. 

The wash was especially effective on the underside of the plane.

Once the wash looked right, I applied a coat of Testors Dullcote, thinned 1:1 with lacquer thinner, to kill off the shine. This seemed like a good time to paint the exhaust stacks; I brushed on some stainless steel paint, then drybrushed a shade of rust, followed by darker metal, followed by a final layer of dark brown. The exhausts are the weakest part of the kit; if I were to build it again, I would take steps to integrate a set of the aftermarket resin DB601 exhausts available today.

It was time to get the model on its landing gear. I had painted the wheels earlier in the build process, and now I detailed the Mister Kit resin struts, first by removing the anti-torque scissors so they could be replaced by photoetched parts from Eduard. The struts were painted gray, with chrome silver compression struts, and the Mister Kit photoetched gear door covers were airbrushed appropriate colors. The braces connecting the struts to the gear was folded together and added to the gear doors very carefully. I added brake lines to the back of the strut wheel housing, with corresponding lines on the inside of the gear doors to match my references. The struts were plugged into the wheel wells. The fine retraction struts were carefully removed from the kit trees with a razor knife; I cleaned them up, painted them and added them to the gear.

The center gear doors were attached to linkages that featured a small pedal-like feature; as the struts came up, the wheel would catch the pedals and pull up the center doors. The linkages were available as photoetched parts, but they required careful folding and positioning to make them symmetric from side to side. Once they were in place, I added the center doors with white scenic glue.

The main gear doors were next. I added one, then the other, with white glue. The upper strut doors were next; I took great care to make sure they were aligned with each other and to the wing. The next morning, while admiring my handiwork, I saw that one gear door was noticeably lower on the strut than the other one. I carefully removed the offending gear door, and in the process knocked off the upper strut doors, then knocked off the entire other landing gear! Much consternation ensued, followed by focused work restoring the model to its previous degree of completion. 

A simple Future-based wash greatly improved the look of the photoetched gear doors.

Far simpler was the tail wheel. I had painted it early in the build process; it was simply CA-glued into place, with care taken to make sure it was aligned properly.

One of the details missing from the kit – but very visible in any profile image – was the belly-mounted Venturi used to power the electrical system. I made my own Venturi from a short length of Albion Alloys brass tubing by flaring one end using an old airbrush needle. Inserting the needle in one end of the tube, then forcing the needle into the tube by tapping it assertively against my workbench, bent the metal just enough. The Venturi was added to a styrene strip strut and it was glued to the plane’s belly just ahead of the radiator. 

The Venturi, in place ahead of the radiator.

The kit canopy had been masked and painted from the outside, but I realized that, when open, the interior would be very visible and the glossy interior frames needed to be addressed. I masked the interiors frames – vertical first, then horizontal – and sprayed them flat black in two separate sessions. The canopy was carefully mounted on the starboard sill, and a small length of .3mm nickel-silver wire, painted white, was added to simulate the retaining cord, which kept the canopy hinges from being overstressed. I also added small lengths of fine wire to each inner side of the canopy to simulate the opening handles. I touched them with scenic glue to create round ends, then painted the rods black and the bulb ends red to match my photos. 

The exhaust stain in place – subtlety is the key. Note the hard sight.

I added exhaust stains to the sides of the fuselage with pastels – a mix of dark grays and black, brushed on with a short, cut-down brush, scrubbing it into the flat coat. I used my references to ensure the pattern of the staining was consistent with reality. The Valiant Wings book showed the plane had a set of external hard sights – a bead about mid-way on the nose and a ring on a post just outside the windscreen. Scrounging through my photoetched parts, I found the ring on a post on a Reheat set intended for U.S. aircraft. I drilled holes using a No. 80 bit, then added the ring and post, taking care to keep it aligned to the windscreen. The bead was made from some .4mm metal rod, which was CA-glued into the model and then cut to length with wire cutters.

Instead of using the kit’s plastic pitot boom, I used two lengths of telescoping brass tubing from Albion Alloys of the proper size. After CA-gluing the boom into the hole in the wing, I painted the boom African mustard. 

Earlier, I had drilled a hole to accommodate the kit’s antenna mast. Now, I glued the mast in place, painted it African mustard, and started rigging the aerial, using fibers from a pair of smoke-colored panty hose. The wire “insulators” I installed early in the build served as anchoring points. Using mini-clamps and locking tweezers, I stretched the fibers around the tail post and applied a tiny bit of CA. Positioning the clamps and tweezers allowed the glue to dry without the fibers moving. When dry, the fibers were stretched to the antenna mast and secured there. The excess on each end was stretched, then cut close to the anchoring point with Unifit 90-degree cutters. The aerial leading to the fuselage was attached to the main aerial and then stretched carefully to the fuselage insulator, again using the 90-degree cutters to cut off the excess. The glue set up on the fuselage in a slightly messy way, but photos showed a fairly large insulator on the real plane. I applied a bit of scenic glue to the mounting point and hid and sloppiness; the new “insulator” was painted black. 

The wash was especially helpful in popping out detail on the air filter.

The only thing left was to add the propeller – and just like that, after almost two decades, the C.202 joined my collection of finished models! It was worth the wait – the Valiant Wings book on the Folgore was invaluable in this project. The decal camouflage and the multitude of small details made this a learning experience 20 years in the making.

The aerial in place, including the black “insulator” on the spine that obfuscates some sloppiness in the attachment.

Hand-Made, Just Like the Original: Macchi C.202 in 1:72

By Chris Bucholtz

When green fighter units deployed to the Mediterranean Theatre, the veterans told them there was only one plane they couldn’t out-turn: the Macchi C.202. A development of the C.200, the C.202 swapped a license-build DB601 for the A.82 radial that held the C.200 back. It also boasted a new wing, an enclosed cockpit, and tremendous maneuverability. Holding it back was its armament: two 12.7mm machine guns firing through the propeller arc, plus two 7.7mm guns in the wings on later aircraft. These additional guns were often removed because of the weight and maneuverability penalties they imposed. The machine also suffered from balky radios and a criminally unreliable oxygen system that led to a remarkable level of aborts.

A Macchi-built C.202 Serie X of 51 Stormo.

The C.202 was produced in an assortment of Serie, which translates roughly into production blocks: Serie I was basically a developmental run of just 23 aircraft which reached squadron service in June, 1941. From there, 14 more Serie were built, although the total of C.202s built was only 1,191, coming from Aermacchi, Breda and SAI Ambrosini. For modelers, this creates a real conundrum – you have to identify the plane you wish to build, then check features like the tailwheel fairing, armored windscreen, various bulges and vents and even the shape of the elevators.

One of the top scorers in the C.202 was Ennio Tarantola. As a youngster, he sold fruit from a pushcart in the Piazza Cavour, earning him the nickname “Banana.” He dreamed of flying and earned his license to fly at 17 after training in gliders before joining the Regia Aeronautica.

With a whopping 110 hours under his belt, Tarantola was sent to Spain to fly the CR.42 with the Condor Legion, where he achieved his first victory over a Republican I-15. After Italy joined the war, the promising pilot was selected to train on the Ju 87. On June 29, 1941, he scored a hit on destroyer HMAS Waterhen, which had to be taken under tow. The next day, his unit finished off Waterhen, but Tarantola was himself shot down and ended up in his dinghy for 18 hours. After his rescue, Tarantola decided that eight months in the Stuka was enough and he requested a transfer back to fighters.

Ennio Tarantola describes his most recent air combat next to his Macchi C.202 Serie VII. Note the victory markings under the rear arm of the Savoy cross on the rudder.

On Nov, 4, 1941, he was assigned to the Fiat G.50-equipped 151 Squadriglia, 20 Gruppo, based in Tripoli, and a month and a day later scored his second victory, an RAF P-40 Warhawk.  Later that month 20th Gruppo withdrew to Italy to re-equip with the new Macchi C.202, and they were back in combat flying from Sicily during the massive effort to knock out the island fortress of Malta. On July 1 and 4, Tarantola shot down Spitfires, and became an ace by sharing Spitfire kills with Sqaudriglia commander Capitano Furio Nicolot Doglio, The pair downed another Spitfire on July 25, but two days later Doglio was killed in combat by Canadian ace George “Buzz” Beurling, Tarantola was wounded in the same battle.

On Oct. 11, Tarantola claimed yet another Spitfire, but three days later he survived another close call when he was forced to bail out near Sicily, again being fished from the sea by a search-and-rescue flying boat. 20 Gruppo was withdrawn for rest in December and did not return to combat until May, when it moved to Sardinia. Flying from the island, Tarantola scored victories on June 28 against a P-40 and a P-38 on July 30. On August 2, the war came to Sardinia and Tarantola flew five missions against raiding American fighters that day, claiming two 14th FG P-38s and damaging an OA-10 Catalina.

After Italy surrendered, Tarantola joined the ARN and flew against allied bombers. On April 24, 1944, he was flying a Fiat G.55 against a B-24 formation over Turin when he was jumped by P-47s, which shot his plane up and forced an injured Tarantola to bail out. He burned on the legs so badly he did not fly for the rest of the war. Tarantola joined the new Italian Air Force as an instructor and then as a demonstration pilot, retiring in November 1960. Marshal Ennio Tarantola passed away in 2001 at the age of 86.

Tarantola’s  C.202s wore the exhortation “Dai Banana!” (Go Banana!) or the right side of the cowling, which was why I chose to build his aircraft from the summer of 1942. Macchi C.202 MM9066 was a Serie VII machine; internet sources say the Hasegawa kit is a Serie III aircraft. What are the differences? There aren’t many. The most notable are the wing-mounted 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns in the wings, the armored windscreen (which was included in the kit), increased armor protection in the cockpit, and an additional bulge on the cowling. The tail wheel was also slightly modified, but this would be hard to see within the tail wheel fairing.

When I started this model, none of this was known to me – that was about 20 years ago. I think I leaped into it a blissfully unaware builder. The Hasegawa kit was not without faults – the wheel wells were basically empty holes.

The Hasegawa kit also inspired much debate over the shape of the fuselage, especially the hump behind the cockpit. Mister Kit in Italy made a replacement, which also included photoetched and resin details for the cockpit and wheel wells and resin control surfaces for the tail planes. True Details also did an interior, and Eduard itself did a photoetched set. I suppose that when I started I had come across all of these items – maybe in contest raffles or at club auctions. I’m honestly not sure! But I launched into the build, painting up the True Details cockpit using the recommended green and silver colors, and finishing up the resin control panel with its integrated gunsight. This was all added to the Mister Kit fuselage halves, which then received the cowling and tropical filter from the Hasegawa kit. The wings came next; the lower wing was added, the True Details resin wheel well “spaghetti” was dropped into the center of the wheel well, and the top wing halves were cemented into place.. There were significant gaps here, which were addressed with CA glue and sanding.

And then, something happened. Maybe it was those blank wheel wells. Maybe I started obsessing about the “smoke ring” camouflage. Whatever the reason, work suddenly stopped and the Macchi took its place on the Shelf of Doom, where it sat, enduring two house moves and 19 years. Eventually a “Shelf of Doom” challenge proposed by my friend Roy Sutherland cajoled me into re-starting it.

What’s in the box? WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!? Note the tape residue on the models’ wings.

Looking in the box after almost two decades was confusing. Where did all these non-kit parts come from? Why did I stop work on the wheel wells? Where are the tail parts?  I took stock of what I had –  an extra fuselage? Painted resin cockpit parts left outside the airplane? – and started to think about what I lacked. I did remember that years ago I’d purchased a Sky Models decal sheet with the plane I wanted to build on it; some years later, I bought a sheet of smoke ring decals from Mike Grant (which, apparently, destroyed the hobby, according to some people). What did I lack? A good reference – the “In Action” book wasn’t helpful on for the wheel wells and other details. I started scouting around on the internet and spotted something familiar: Valiant Wings’ book The Macchi MC.202 Folgore: A Technical Guide. I had reviewed this for the Journal in 2015 and had it sitting on my bookshelf!  Now I was set!

First up: the model had residue from asking tape chord-wise across the wings. I think that was there to protect the detail from sanding way back when. This came off easily with an application of Goo Gone sticker lifter. (Note: never mix up Goo Gone with Goof Off. One is friendly to plastic and the other is very much not. Do not ask how I know.) Next, I revisited the wing root seams, which still had CA glue build-up on them. After almost 20 years, I was afraid the glue would be rock hard, but sanding sticks made short work of them with little disruption of the plastic surface. I re-scribed the wings and noticed that each wing had two rectangular plates at the join of the wing to the wing root at the junction of the major panels. Instead of attempting to scribe these reinforcing plates, I made some from .005 styrene and put them in place with liquid cement.

The re-scribed wings, with the reinforcements aded at the wing roots.

I cleaned up a few other joins around the wing leading edges and the cowlings.  That left the wheel wells – which were already enclosed in the wing. Detailing them was a little like a game of “Operation,” where tweezers played a critical role. I added the roofs the wells with styrene sheet, then used strip for the ribs. The tangle of wiring at the center – part of the accessory section for the engine – was painted a rust color, given a wash, and then detail painted; other hoses and wires were added where needed to extend that detail through the bay. When I’d first assembled the model, I used Mister Kit’s nice brass  rear bulkhead, but lacking photos, I added it a few millimeters away from the well opening. The Valiant Wings book showed this bulkhead to be flush with the opening, so I used the Eduard part and aligned it properly, The Mister Kit part is now entombed inside the wheel well, never to be seen again.

The wheel wells after detailing (but before a flat coat was added).

Next, I added the engine bearers and the parts attached to them with Albion telescoping brass tubing. This was a “two steps forward/one step back” operation, with items getting knocked loose and being repaired constantly, not unlike the real item! When the bearers were in place, I’d gone as far as I could – the next details would require the mounting of the gear doors and would come during final assembly.

The next major assembly I thought to add was the radiator and oil cooler. Both of these betrayed the kit’s age – although the parts had fences inside them to prevent a “see-through” effect, there was no attempt to replicate the radiator or oil cooler screens. Research showed the to be complex areas, especially the radiator. Front and back, the radiators had “X”-shaped reinforcing rods, and a set of braces stabilized the radiator “doghouse” structure.

The radiator and oil cooler with added mesh and metal rod detail.

I used sections of wire mesh coffee filter material to replicate the screens in the radiator and oil cooler, then the radiator received sections of .01mm metal rod to replicate the radiator reinforcements. A small founded fairing immediately ahead of the radiator intake was fashioned by shaping the end of a piece of .040 half-round styrene, then snipping it off and CA-gluing it to the model. The radiator and oil cooler interiors were painted and added to the model, and then the bracing for the radiator doghouse was added using small lengths of .005 styrene sheet. The exterior of the doghouse also had some visible external latch details absent from the kit; I made these from .005 styrene and added them with liquid cement.

A view o the radiator from the front, showing the bracing made from .005 styrene and the half-dome fairing fashioned from .40 half-round stock.

The kit had no position lights on the wingtips, so I cut a notch into each side and found some clear styrene sprue, which I sanded flat on one side. Using a No. 80 drill bit, I made tiny holes in the clear styrene, then painted the styrene aluminum and then forced some Tamiya clear red and clear green into the holes. The painted clear styrene was CA-glued into the notched, with care taken to center the colored “bulbs” (remember – left is red, right is green!). The bulbs also needed to be oriented to where they were mounted in the wingtip in the real plane. Then it was merely a matter of sanding away everything that wasn’t a position light. When the contours were about right, I started polishing them with fine grades of sanding sticks and finally with Blue Magic auto polish. Once they were clear, I rescribed the area.

The left wing tip, with the finished position light in place.

The gunsight was missing its reflector, so I made one from a bit of window envelope cellophane. After carefully cutting it to shape, I ran the edges across a Sharpie pen. This gives it a black frame and also makes it much easier to see and work with! The reflector glass in the C.202 was raised on a pair of rods; I made this from a modified bit of 1:700 ship photoetched metal, and the gunsight was glued in position. To protect the reflector, I added the windscreen from the kit; this had been dipped in Future floor polish, making it possible to use CA glue to put it in place without fogging.

The gunsight reflector glass in place before the addition of the windscreen.

For once, I remembered to add the aerial mounting points before the model was painted and decalled. The tail was tough – it’s very narrow, so it was hard to drill a hole to accept a metal rod. After a couple of attempts and some remedial surgery, I managed to drill a centered hole. A tiny bit of .1mm rod was inserted and cut off close to the tail. A similar hole was drilled – with much less hassle – on the rear fuselage at the aft of the “hump” and a metal insulator was CA-glued into place and cut off. These make rigging the aerial much easier.

The two insulators for the aerial, already in place. The aerial wire will run from the tail to a mast antenna, with a lead running to the fuselage.

The resin tail components were added next. I needed to open up the mounting holes for the resin horizontal stabilizers, because they were slightly flashed over on the Mister Kit fuselage. I CA-glued the stabilizers into the fuselage, checking for alignment with the wings. Once dry, I carefully added the elevators; the base of one unit needed a .005 shim to fit properly. Again, care was taken to get the elevators dropped at the same angle to preserve alignment.

The rudder came next. It too needed a shim at the bottom to give it the correct height. The resin rudder was also thinner than the plastic vertical stabilizer, so I carefully sanded the plastic tail to thin down its trailing edge. The rudder was sanded a bit to get a good fit, then added slightly deflected to port.

Since the Mister Kit fuselage was missing the fuel filler port on the fuselage hump, I added my own. I drilled a depression into the hump, using my references to position it correctly. The filler cap is a slice of .020 styrene rod, glued in place appropriately.

Fuel filler, with tiny little cap. The answer to the question, “why didn’t the C.202’s canopy slide back?”

At this point, the model was ready for paint. We’ll see how that goes in part two of our story! 

Firefly Finale: Fitting the Fiddly Bits and an Aerial Fiasco

We we last left off, the scratch-built landing gear had been added to the Special Hobby 1:72 Firefly Mk. I. Naturally, next came 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. 

A close-up of the gear and gear doors, with added structure. The tire/wheel is from Barracuda Studios.

After the gear doors were painted, given a wash and dry-brushed, the gear doors were carefully added to the model to complete the landing gear. I assembled the A-frame tailhook, provided in the kit as a styrene frame with a resin hook point. To get the frame to fit into the grooves in the bottom of the fuselage, I had to sand the frame flat on the top side. After sanding, the hook point was added, the hook frame was painted and the assembly was added to the fuselage.

The tailhook assembly in place on the lower fuselage. Sand the A-frame flat on the top side and it’ll fit much better.

With the model on its gear, I turned my attention to the rockets. As provided in the Airfix Beaufighter, they have reasonably thin fins and the correct shape for 60-pound HE warheads. I started by cleaning off the faint mold lines from the rockets, then drilled out their rear ends with a small bit and a pin vise. I painted the rockets an olive drab color. The bodies of the rockets were masked and I painted the fins and warheads a slightly different shade of green. Once dry, each rocket’s fins were chucked into my motor tool. After a check of the alignment, I spun the rockets and then touched a small brush with red paint to the front of the warheads, then did the same at the rear of the warhead with brass paint. All eight went without incident, although I had to touch up a few sets of fins. 

Next, I used a tiny brush and Testors aluminum to paint the saddle brackets. When they were dry, I carefully added the rockets to the blast plates, working from the inside out to minimize the possibility of knocking off the gear doors. 

A little later in the build process, I decided to add the pigtails to the rockets. These were the electrical connections that led from the rocket to the aircraft. When the pilot fired a rocket, the electrical signal traveled through the pigtail, which was then severed by the rocket blast. The pigtails were connected to sockets in the blast plate immediately before take-off. To create them, I cut used a black Sharpie to color a length of.02mm lead wire, then trimmed eight 3/4-inch lengths and CA-glued them into the backs of the rockets. To replicate the plug at the back of the pigtails, I applied a small bit of scenic glue, which was painted black once dry. The flexible pigtails were posed so they all drooped at the same angle once completed. 

The simple addition of pigtails to the rockets greatly enhances the model’s realism.

The sliding canopy and the opening sections of the observer’s canopy were sourced from a Falcon set for FAA aircraft. I dipped them in Future, and when dry I masked and painted them The canopy was painted black, then given a coat of extra dark sea gray, so the interior appeared black. I added two small pegs to the front lower corners of the canopy to aid with attachment to the model; a little white glue on the pegs stuck the canopy in place perfectly. The panels of the observer’s cockpit folded, so I had to think through which surfaces would be exposed to the viewer and not folded over. The large folding panel on the side of the canopy was masked on its inside and painted black so there would be no shine; the other two panels were masked on their outsides and painted black, followed  by the camouflage colors. The top panel was displayed folded down into the observer’s cockpit. A tiny spare photo etched bracket was carefully glued to the central frame of the large folding panel and painted black, then the last folding panel was attached to the large folding panel and the assembly was added to the model to match a photo I have in a reference book showing this somewhat complete arrangement. 

A view of the cockpits. All the articulated parts of the canopies were vacuformed replacments.

The rear-view mirror provided on the kit’s photoetched sheet had the mirror surface painted with a Molotow chrome marker. When that was dry, I carefully outlined the framing with extra dark sea gray, and painted the rest of the frame, folding it to shape so it mounted properly atop the windscreen The finished mirror was fixed in place with a little CA glue. 

Careful painting of the rear-view mirror makes it detail that catches the eye. It’s a photoetched part supplied in the kit.

The kit’s other intimidating details were the screens over the carburetor intakes. These tiny oval screens were painted on the tree. While the paint was free, I blew through them to keep the paint from clumping in the mesh. The dried screens were cut from the trees so that some of the attachment points remained – the real screens were held an inch or two away from the intakes by small posts. Using sharp tweezers and white glue, I put the screens in place, holding my breath the entire time. 

I used a mix of pastels for the exhaust stains on the side of the nose. A combination of browns, grays and blacks gave me the variation I needed; I applied small amounts of the pastels to the nose, then blended them back with a soft brush, then used a bristly cut-off brush to remove excess pastel. 

The exhaust staining, added in pastel chalk, is clear in this shot. Study photos to see the pattern on the plane you’re building – they’re often very different from plane to plane.

The radio altimeters and the pitot head were added with tiny amounts of scenic glue. I like this material for these items because it holds fast, yet when you inevitably knock the antennas off it doesn’t mar the finish and you can clean up the excess adhesive easily before your next try. It also gives you adjustment time to ensure these details are aligned to the airflow. The kit pitot head got lost at one point – I made a new one from Evergreen rod and strip. 

I carefully drilled a tiny hole in the leading edge of the tail and inserted a bit of metal rod, which was cut off close to the plastic surface. A similar process installed the insulator in the fuselage where the aerial lead went into the observer’s cockpit. Then, I added the radio antenna mast from the kit, cleaning it up and painting it extra dark sea gray after it had been put in place. The mast should be at about a 7-degree angle to starboard; that allowed the aerial wire to be clear of the observer’s cockpit canopy opening. 

Using fine nylon fibers picked from a pair of black panty hose (buy your own pair – do not borrow your significant other’s), I wound the aerial around the insulator in the tail ands stretched it across the top of the aerial mast, securing it with CA glue.  At both ends, I stretched the excess behind the glue spot and cut it off with a set of small surgical scissors. Then, I did something similar with the fuselage insulator running it up to the long aerial and fixing it with CA glue. With the small scissors, I then managed to cut off the excess and also slice through the long aerial. I removed the ruined aerial, but I saved the short length, so I merely re-strung the long aerial and carefully re-attached the short aerial. Not carefully enough – at this point I detached the antenna mast from the fuselage so it was dangling by the antenna wire, threatening to get CA glue all over the model. I ended up carefully drilling out the base of the mast and putting another hole in the fuselage, and inserting a metal pin to hold the mast in the right place. Eventually, the aerials were all secure and I learned my lesson.

The radio aerial in place, with white-glue insulators.

With the aerials in place, all I had to do was add the propeller and spinner. Done! It was a bit of a battle, but the results are just what I was after – a rocket-armed Firefly wearing the least-known of its three wartime schemes, weathered and ready for action. With a bit of resourcefulness and plenty of determination, the Special Hobby kit builds up into something to be proud of. 

Just a little weathering can go a very long way…
A view of the gear and rockets
1770 Squadron Fairey Firefly Mk. I

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


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.