More Mustang: clear stuff on Arma’s P-51C

After a brief hiatus (I had to keep adding the wing to my DH.2 build – and knocking it off, three times!) I spent a little time getting some small details right on the Arma P-51C. The scoop on the radiator intake went on with little trouble – it fit as well as any 1:72 kit scoop fits, which is to say I did a little filling and sanding in this complex area, where curves and tight spaces can make things challenging. I added a brace inside the intake to replicate the item in the real thing.

Next, I drilled a tiny hole in the vertical fin (which itself is extremely narrow) and added a bit of stiff wire to serve as the anchor for the aerial. I also drilled a hole into the insulator molded on the top of the fuselage and added another bit of stiff wire for the aerial to anchor to later (it’s much more fun doing this now than at the very end of the build with a painted model and lots of things to knock off). I also added a bit of wire from the aerial entry point along the top of the inside of the radio compartment. I did it figuring no one would ever see it, but Arma’s clear parts proved me wrong!

Nothing is more terrifying than trying to center a tin No. 80 drill bit on a molded-in insulator – note the tiny hole just aft of the light atop the fuselage.

Speaking of the clear parts, I cut all the parts I planned on using – the quarterlight panels, the windscreen and the two halves of the open “birdcage” canopy – and cleaned up the sprue attachments. After I dipped them in Future and let them dry, I ran a black Sharpie along their edges – not only does it help obscure any visible glue marks once the part’s attached, it makes the clear parts easier to see while you’re handling them. The quarterlight panels fit quite well, and the radio compartment was very visible.

All that detail that people joke will never be seen? I can see it through Arma’s very clear transparencies!

Next, I prepared to add the windscreen by getting the gunsight in place. The kit’s gunsight is very nice and appropriately tiny, so of course I dropped it and it disappeared. In its place I used a N-3A sight from Quickboost – they sell them (and other widely used sights) is a package of eight, and they’re molded with the right mount for the P-51B. I put the sight in place and painted it black, then dry-brushed it and painted the crash pad a leather color. The reflector from the set was added with white glue (after, again, outlining the reflector glass with a Sharpie)

The Quickboost gunsight is a nice representation of the N-3A sight, and the mount is correct for the P-51C.

Before I had a chance to break the gunsight, I added with windscreen. It did not fit perfectly – I had to sand out a step between the front cowling and the windscreen part, losing some of the nice panel line detail. It cleaned up quickly enough with the aid of an assortment of sanding sticks. Once it was in good shape, I set about adding the backup ring-and-bead sight, which was mounted to the inside of the windscreen. The part was scrounged from a Reheat photoetched sheet; I mounted it using white glue and tweezers. It captured the look of the real thing well enough.

The gunsight in a restored P-51B – note the ring -and-bead sight hanging from the inside canopy frame.

Before I started the re-scribing process again, I started pondering the landing light in the left wing. I found a photo of this – which took some doing! – and saw it was a very visible bulb under a large cover. I simulated the bulb with one of my few remaining MV lenses, but the kit’s clear cover wouldn’t fit with the bulb on place. Instead, I laid a strip of Duck brand clear packing tape over the light panel and cut it off at the panel lines, and removed any residue with Goo Gone sticker lifter. The final result was a clear cover with the light plainly visible inside.

The finished tape light cover. The tape looks much thicker here than it is in reality. This part of the wing was painted, so I’ll mask the lens and paint over the tape to create a slightly raised “panel.”

Triumphing Over Transfer Tragedy: Ames-Dryden AD-1 finale

Luckily for all modelers, NASA documents its research thoroughly, and that includes purpose-built aircraft like the AD-1. Searching the web revealed numerous photos of the cockpit during construction and over the course of the testing program. Although the plane only flew 79 times, there were a number of changes to the instrument panel, and the rod used to prop up the canopy was white in some images and black in others.

One of NASA’s useful photos of the cockpit of the AD-1.

I started by airbrushing the instrument panel the same blue-tinted gray mixed from various paints. The instruments were picked out in the appropriate colors based on the photos – white for the meters at the lower left of the panel, black for the five dials in the center, and black for the radio and the various switches on the right side of the cockpit. I also added some wiring below the instrument panel shelf.

The kit provides the round head cushion on the rear bulkhead, but there was a round fitting below it that was missing. I made a disk of thin styrene and drilled a hole at its center, painted it a lighter color of gray, then slipped it over the head cushion and CA-glued it in place. There’s no separate seat, just a seat-shaped area in the fuselage for the pilot with seat belts. I made my belts from lead foil with photoetched hardware from the spares box, and added shoulder pads on the tops of the belts made from .020 by .030 Plastruct  stock which was painted a sage green color. The sidewalls each received an actuating rod for the canopy on each side of the cockpit sill. I also added the throttle levers from styrene rod and made a small silver panel for the left side console from a photoetched part. The kit’s stick was painted and added, and a set of leads for the radio was made from two pieces of fine lead wire, was added to the right side.

A view of the new seat belts, head rest fairing and modifications to the sidewalls.

The last step was to apply a Future wash (50-50 Pledge with Future Shine and water, with a tiny amount of black acrylic paint added for color) and then add some small decals to the rear of the cockpit to replicate some of the details visible in the photos. I shot the cockpit with flat coat to eliminate the resulting shine.

The plane had a nose probe, and the kit apparently had a piece of wire to replicate it, but this was missing from the box. I drilled out the very point of the nose with a drill bit, and found three progressively thinner sections of Albion Alloys telescoping tubing that were the right size to replicate the probe on the real plane. The sections were CA-glued into the nose, and some light sanding blended it in.

The nose probe, before it was blended into the nose. A bit of CA glue and

I wanted to display the model with the cockpit open. That required me to remove the vacuformed canopy from the carrier sheet, then very carefully cut along the windscreen framing with some very small surgical scissors. When the two were separated, I dipped them in Future. When I test-fit the windscreen to the fuselage I found it was too wide. Trimming the sides eventually brought it down to the right size, and I added it using white glue. Only after the windscreen was in place did I notice a small wire that ran from the instrument shroud through the large hole in the shelf under the windscreen. Reluctantly, I pulled off the windscreen, added the wire, and re-applied the windscreen, the masked both transparencies with Tamiya tape.

The very-visible wire beneath the windscreen that was forgotten until after the windscreen was added.

I brush-painted the inside of the engines and the exhausts with ModelMaster stainless steel. The entire model was then shot with a coat of True North flat white. When that was dry, I gave the model a coat of Future-equivalent acrylic to make it nice and shiny to prepare the model for decals.

The kit’s decals include the blue stripe with gold cheat lines that ran the length of the aircraft. They’re ALPS-printed, so I carefully trimmed them and dunked them in water. The decals behaved well enough, but they were too long – they were fit to the engine pylons, but if used as-is the stripe would lap over the nose! I carefully removed the decal from the model and cut out a quarter-inch section, then re-applied the decal, working hard to butt the edges of the sections together. The decal was translucent, so any overlap would result in a much darker strip of blue in the overlapping section.

The decals looked good but they wrinkled below the cockpit on both sides.

Once the decals were in place, I let the model sit. And, of course, the decals decided to wrinkle. No amount of setting solution would get them to budge. At this stage, I set the model aside and went to the Northwest Scale Modelers Modelmania event in Seattle. I shared my woes with Jim Bates, who suggested overcoating the decals with several layers of clear coat, then sanding the decals gently until the surface blemishes were flattened out. Any issues could then be touched up.

That’s what I did – brush-painting two coats of Future over the stripe, then sanding the stripe with 1500-grit sandpaper. This knocked all the high spots of the decals away. I followed with a pass with a 3000-grit sanding cloth, which further smoothed the decals. I found that ModelMaster cobalt blue was nearly an exact match, and I used it to touch up a few small areas where white spots were left behind after the initial sanding. The touch ups, when dry, were also polished with the sanding cloth to blend them into the decal.

The decals, sanded and touched-up with cobalt blue paint.

The wing was also painted with True North white paint, but there was a little speck of dark material in the paint on the top of the wing. I gently sanded the paint with a used sanding stick, and to my initial horror, the very slightly raised circular hub above the pivot acquired a gray highlight around it! Looking at photos, however, showed that the real plane had exactly the same discoloration – so I left it! After a gloss coat, I made a sludge wash and highlighted the control surfaces and the few panel lines on the airplane.

The wing in place – note the faint staining around the pivot on the top of the wing, just like the real thing.

I sprayed the fuselage and wing with two heavily-thinned coats of Dullcote, which reduced the shine but didn’t make the model dead flat.  The tiny resin wheels were painted while the clear coat dried. Later, I gave the main gear legs a swipe with some dark brown paint per the kit instructions and added the wheels. I touched up the intakes, and painted the exhausts of the jets with ModelMaster burnt metal.

The canopy was detailed with sealing strips made from lead wire on the canopy sills, then white-glued in place and supported by a piece of .020 rod painted black.

I applied a drop of chrome silver paint to the location of the anti-collision beacon on the vertical tail, followed by a drop of Tamiya clear red. The wing was added next – not at the maximum 60-degree pivot, but at around 50 degrees. The last step was to paint the nose probe aluminum, and to add a yaw vane that started out life as a photoetched 1:700 anemometer.

Note the tiny yaw vane on the nose probe – recycled from an old photoetched sheet for modern U.S. warships.

And with this, I had a neat little Rutan design on my shelf! This kit is hard to find, but if you see one grab it – it’s easy to build, has room for detailing, and will certainly be a conversation starter sitting in your display.

The wings pivoted to about 50 degrees – it could go to 60, and the plane could even land with the wings pivoted.


Misplaced Confidence: Eduard’s Fokker D.VII (OAW) in 1:72

By Chris Bucholtz

At her baby shower, one of my wife’s hipster friends gave her a big, lovely book – an annotated and illustrated complete collection of fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. My daughter, being a little on the macabre side, loved these bedtime stories, which were always slightly darker than the Disney interpretations (to say the least). For example, the original version of Cinderella sees the evil stepsisters mutilate their own feet to try to get them to fit the lost slipper. Then, while attending the wedding, the stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by angry doves. Yikes!

Makes Eli Roth and Wes Craven seem like Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo.

One of the stories in the book that was never adapted into a cartoon was the story of the Seven Swabians. Swabia is a region in the southwest of Germany, and other Germans jokingly consider its residents to be bumpkins – thus, the tale is basically a zinger toward the people of Swabia. Even though it’s a joke, it still ends up with its main characters dead.

The seven Swabians are walking the land (“like Caine in Kung Fu,” as Jules Winnfield would say), but being somewhat fearful and completely dim, they arm themselves with a single, very long lance. The seven are first startled by a hornet, which they mistake for war drums, and panic – as they run away, one of them actually steps on a rake (how do you say “D’oh!” in German?). They men confer and make a pact to keep their cowardice a secret among themselves. Later, they’re confronted by a hare, which they mistake for a dragon, and they attack it with their lance. Of course, the hare runs away, but the Swabians take this as evidence of their bravery.

Eventually, the Swabians come to the river Moselle. Not knowing how to cross the river, they yell to a man on the opposite shore who can’t hear them and, in the dialect of the region, asks, “Wat? Wat?” The Swabians think he’s yelling “wate,” or “wade” in English. The seven Swabians attempt to wade across the Moselle and, since this is Grimm fairy tale, they all drown. And no one lives happily ever after.

This cheery tale of misplaced bravado seems a little incongruous to go on the side of a German warplane in 1918. After all, the previous four years had seen hundreds of thousands of naïve youth march into battle full of enthusiasm and a confidence born of ignorance, only to be cut down mercilessly by the machinery of war. But that was the subject Gefrieter Wilhelm Scheutzel chose to adorn the sides of his Fokker D.VII, built by Ostdeutschen Albatros Werken (OAW) as 4649/18. Scheutzel flew with Jasta 65 from July 18 until the end of the war in November, scoring one victory, a DH.4 on August 13. He was wounded in combat on October 10 over Tichémont, France, and recuperated in hospital until October 18. His machine wore a long cartoon depiction of the Swabians attacking the hare on each side of its fuselage. Was Scheutzel depicting the enemy as the hare  – something not as scary as a dragon – or were the Swabians representing Scheutzel and his comrades, fearful and yet filled with a foolish courage and fighting for something that would obviously amount to nothing?

The real plane – note the seven figures plus terrifying bunny

Scheutzel’s plane is probably the most frequently built non-ace Fokker D.VII, but the literary connection to my daughter’s storybook – and Scheutzel’s seeming Catch-22-like statement on the war – made it a must for my collection.

Years ago, I built a Fokker D.VIIF for a friend, and I tried to build a Fokker D.VII (OAW) in tandem. I’d started with a pair of Roden kits and some Part photoetched sheets, and I had the two going in unison until the propellers, interior and engines were done. Since I needed to deliver the model across country on a specific date, I shelved the OAW and finished the –F. Fast forward a couple of years and Eduard issues its own 1:72 Fokker D.VIIs. Having suffered through the indifferent fit of the Roden kits, I decided to take some of my usable parts from the Roden build and use them to kick-start the Eduard kit.

The Roden Fokker D.VIIIF – my first attempt at this subject, from 2014.

Eduard’s D.VII is a very good kit, with a notably good fit of the parts and a general crispness all the way around. I was able to use the painted and detailed cockpit floor from the earlier build, which I had painted with acrylic beige paint and then streaked with a red-brown enamel. I glued this to the Eduard floor section, then added the rudder pedals and floor-mounted compass.

The Eduard seat is a thing of beauty, with a cushion that comes complete with the recessed buttons. I spent a lot of time painting the cushion, and then added the seat belts, which obscured the cushion completely!

Interior parts for the Fokker D.VII (OAW), including the part floor added the Eduard floor. The seat is terrific!

On OAW machines, the lozenge fabric used to cover the fuselage was visible in the interior and on the panel behind the pilot’s seat. Eduard provides this as a decal – a very useful touch. The molded-on hand air pump and the throttle were removed from the fuselage sides, as were some fuselage structure, before the decals went on, since the kit provides these details as photoetched parts. I then oversprayed the decals with a thinned mix of gray paint to simulate the back of the fabric. The seat was mounted on the rear panel, the seat braces were added, and the rear panel went on the floor.

Toned-down interior fabric, vs. full-strength fabric.

The instrument panel was a set of pre-painted photoetched parts. While I considered using my earlier panel, it couldn’t match Eduard’s item. I was also going to use the Roden engine, which is actually better than Eduard’s. However, I knew from my previous build that, unless you left off the engine cowling panels, the engine was mostly invisible, so I used the better-fitting Eduard engine. The overhead camshaft and valve gear rockers are the just fine – and they’re the only part of the engine that’s easily seen on the finished model.

Your last chance to see most of the BMW IIIa engine. The details at the front and rear of the engine will be added after painting.

The kit does not provide the hand air pump for pressurizing the fuel tank, but it does provide a photoetched handle. I made the pump from a length of brass tubing from Albion Alloys. I decided to use the Part photoetched cockpit structure – it’s meant to fit the entire length of the Roden kit, but I was able to trim out just the section that would be visible and added it to the Eduard fuselage. The engine and firewall, instrument panel and ammunition tray, and cockpit floor and seat were added the right side of the cockpit, and I sneaked the throttle/mixture assembly into place on the photoetched framework before I closed the fuselage. Some gentle coercing of the interior parts was needed to get the fuselage shut – but shut it did! 

A little seam work was needed – mostly because of my own efforts at detailing.

After the fact, I painted Eduard’s excellent control column, to which I added the wiring for the gun firing button and hand throttle. This was added, “Operation”-style, with pointed tweezers and CA glue.

The view from above – note the control column, with the wiring barely visible. The tachometer will go in the round fitting at center.

That’s where I took a pause – wings, tail and paint are next!

Oblique Strategies: Ames-Dryden AD-1 in 1:72

By Chris Bucholtz

The Hiller Museum in San Carlos, California has a host of real aircraft in its relatively small but impressive building. Naturally, that means smaller aircraft – besides the somewhat large HU-16 Albatross, you’ll see pioneering gliders and biplanes, several Hiller helicopters, and some research craft. Suspended from the ceiling is one of the more interesting from that last category.

The Ames-Dryden AD-1 was used to explore the logical extension of the variable-geometry wing concept. We know that swept-back wings allow higher performance, as do swept-forward wings. By the early 1970s several aircraft (F-111, F-14, Tornado, MiG-23) employed variable geometry “swing” wings to expand their performance envelopes, offering better lift hand handling at slow speeds but reduced drag and efficiency at higher speeds. But the mechanisms required to sweep wings back imposed a weight penalty. Combat aircraft overcame that through power, but commercial planes did not have that luxury for economic reasons. That equipment also impinged on fuselage spaces, so it would be a hindrance to a transport aircraft.

NASA aeronautical engineer Robert T. Jones speculated that a solution could come in the form of an oblique wing – that is, a solid wing that pivoted so that the wing was swept forward on one side and swept back on the other side. Analysis of the idea and wind-tunnel studies suggested that such an arrangement for a supersonic transport could double the fuel economy over a conventional wing arrangement.

To study this “scissor wing” concept, NASA first built a remote-controlled propeller-driven model, first flown at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in 1976 Data from this remotely-piloted vehicle led to the design of a jet-powered manned aircraft, the AD-1.

The design of the AD-1 was based on a geometric configuration for a supersonic transport developed by Boeing. But, thanks to budget limitations, NASA passed these notes to a renegade aircraft designer named Burt Rutan. Without even a formal proposal, Rutan and George Mead created a feasibility study in just 40 hours. The aircraft would be 14 percent the size of Boeing’s plane and make a few concessions to pilot visibility and center of gravity concerns that would not have been issues in the full-size transport. The engines of this aircraft would be two Microturbo TRS-18 turbojets, each generating a whopping 220 pounds of thrust. Much of the aircraft would be constructed from two layers of Fiberglas sandwiched around a foam core.

With a design study complete, Rutan sent a set of cost estimates to NASA:

Preliminary design study:                   $560

Initial Design:                                       $9,970

Design Modification:                            $4,590

Aircraft Fabrication:                             $218,000

Fabrication Contract Modification:     $21,930

Delivery:                                                $6,300

Total:                                                     $261,350

Rutan remembered that the stated final cost was so low that several NASA personnel thought they were approving the construction of a remotely-piloted vehicle.

At the time, the Rutan Aircraft Factory only had three employees. NASA’s contract had a contingency that limited the number of employees that would have to be hired to fulfill a NASA contract, so Rutan was ineligible. Instead, Rutan recruited Herb Iverson – his partner in a new enterprise called Scale Composites – to have his company Ames Industrial Corporation respond to the RFP. Rutan would provide the expertise in Fiberglas construction, while Ames would provide the majority of the manpower. The Ames (Industrial Corp., not Ames Research)-Dryden AD-1 was delivered to NASA on March 11, 1979.

After completion of static load and vibration studies, the AD-1 gradually eased into its flight test regimen, with the two first flights on Dec. 21, 1979. Tom McMurtry, the test pilot, had the AD-1 airborne for a combined five-minute span on the first flight, then took it to 10,000 feet and 140 knots on the second flight. The program’s objectives were to assess the handling and flying qualities of the oblique wing aircraft, to verify the aeroelastic design of the wing, and to compare the vehicle’s aerodynamic characteristics with predictions.

McMurtry, who flew the A-3 in the Navy and later the U-2 for Lockheed, piloted 49 of the AD-1’s flights. Fitzhugh “Fitz” Fulton (a veteran of the Berlin Airlift and the Korean War and a test pilot whose log book included 200 types, including the XB-70, B-58 and YF-12) flew 15 more legs. The 15 remaining flights were each flown by different “guest” pilots, including the legendary Bill Dana.

At altitude and increasing degrees of sweep, the aircraft experienced very low damping in the wing structure. Modifications to the control systems gradually improved performance. By July 1981, the plane was exploring the 50- to 60-degree sweep envelope, and was even experimenting with landings with 15-, 30- and 45-degree sweeps. By Oct. 8, 1981, the test program had been concluded, and the “guest pilot” program was initiated.

The aircraft’s final eight flights were undertaken by McMurtry at Oshkosh Airventure between July 31 and August 7, 1982, demonstrating the odd aircraft for 600,000 spectators at the enormous airshow.

The program found that any future oblique wing aircraft would benefit from a stiffer wing made from the then-new carbon fiber instead of Fiberglas and rigid foam. Increasing angle of attack created a sideways force that required sideslip or banking.  At or below 30 degrees of sweep, the plane’s handling was fine, but it began to degrade slightly above 30 degrees and became more serious above 45 degrees. These were issues that would have been easily solvable through fly-by-wire technology, and NASA conducted preliminary studies for a supersonic testbed built using an F-8 Crusader. The AD-1 was slated to be modified into a “joined wing” aircraft, with a fixed swept main wing and an extended horizontal stabilizer swept forward to join to the main wing, but this project was cancelled in light of safety and budget concerns in 1989. Eventually, the AD-1 made its way back to NASA Ames Research in Mountain View, California, where it was placed on display in the open on a lawn.

That’s where I first encountered it. I had a job interview with Raytheon to edit a NASA science magazine they were contracted to produce. The interview was a mess – “you’re a journalist, but this is a magazine,” the interviewer said several times, apparently thinking the two things require vastly different skills. I was trudging back to my car, muttering to myself, when I tripped over something – it was the wing of the AD-1, which was so low to the ground that I hadn’t seen it!

After a few years, the AD-1 was moved to the Hiller Museum in San Carlos, where it was hoisted into the rafters (perhaps to spare the shins of museum visitors!). It’s there now; you can see it easily from a raised observation area, and the workmanship in the aircraft is impeccable. You’d never guess the exterior was made using the same techniques as a surf board!

In 2004, my friend David Newman created a 1:72 kit of the AD-1 for his company, Muroc Models. The kit was small – just like the real thing – and the box sat on top of my modeling desk for years. When the news of Dave’s passing reached me, I thought it was only right that I build this wonderful little model as a tribute to him.

The kit has very few parts: a fuselage, with an integral cockpit; one-piece tail; lower fuselage, engines and pylons, landing gear, three wheels, the wing, control panel, control column, and a one-piece vacuformed canopy. That’s 12 parts to the basic model. On top of that, the kit provides two small decal sheets, one with basic markings (two styles of “NASA” and registration markings, manufacturer’s logos) and a second with the gold-bordered blue stripes – a wonderful addition that eliminates the hardest part of finishing the model.

The casting was generally good, but the very rear of the fuselage in my example had a sizable bubble. The first thing I did on the model was to fill the hole with thick CA glue, then sand it back to shape.

Following the instructions, I started building from back to front. That meant adding the tail (the horizontals and the vertical fin) to the fuselage. I cleaned up what little flash there was, then sanded the mating area to minimize the need for filler. David’s instructions quite brilliantly suggest setting a straight edged across the cockpit opening and using this to align the tail – an easy trick that sounds like something an IPMS judge might come up with! Using gap-filling CA, I added the tail and made sure it aligned with the straight edge. A little filling was still needed, which I accomplished by running thin CA into the gaps and sanding it out. The resin casting was very good, which was nice – less quality castings can reveal tiny air bubbles when sanded. There were none on this model.

The engines came next. This are cast on their pylons, with a section of filler that needs to be cut away in the center. When this was done, the two pylons wanted to splay vertically – one or the other wanted to twist upward when added into their slots on the fuselage. I cleaned up the slots and added the engines with slow-acting CA, taking care to keep the engines lined up with the fuselage and with the horizontal stabilizers. In the process, I managed to snap one of the pylons – which made getting the engines aligned easier. I used CA glue to repair the break and sanded it out.

The landing gear struts are a simple, shallow “U”-shaped piece. Photos of the AD-1 from below revealed the gear was noticeably toed in, so I added the strut piece to replicate that trait – even though it put the brake assemblies on the wrong side of the wheel hubs. I sanded the kit’s brake assemblies off and replaced them with styrene strip in the right place.

Next came the lower fuselage insert, which sandwiches both the engine pylons and landing gear struts. Despite my efforts to clean up the joins, the fit here was a little sloppy and I had to pick where I wanted to do a bunch of sanding. I tried to get the areas close to the landing gear and pylon as clean as possible to minimize the work there, for fear of damaging these parts. That left a lot of work along the bottom of the fuselage; three of four sessions of filling with CA and sanding took care of the seams. My secret weapon here was a silver Sharpie pen; running it over the area I had just worked on revealed seams or pits that could be addressed in the next pass. In fairly short order, the fuselage looked nice and neat – just like the real thing!

Finally, I felt like I could turn to the cockpit. Not trusting the model to sit on its nose gear, what with the engines and resin tail being aft of the main struts, I drilled out the area at the very front of the cockpit and added some bits of lead, secured with CA glue. I also added a lead-foil floor to the area under the instrument coaming, to sneak in some additional weight.

The instructions said the cockpit was approximately FS36492, which was light gray in the ModelMaster line. I shook up my bottle of FS36492 and cracked it open only to find that it had solidified into a big paint chip. No problem – using newer enamels from True North, I mixed my own and airbrushed it into the cockpit. It went down beautifully and prepped the area for further detailing.

Detail? With what? You may ask. You can’t have found cockpit photos of this weird aircraft! Well, in the next installment, you’ll see what I’ve found. Thanks, NASA!

Big Cat with a Big Appetite: Machairodus Lahayishupup in 1:20

Nine million years ago, North America was home to a startling variety of large animals – elephants, camels, horses, tapirs, ground sloths, armadillos and rhinoceros, to name the largest. And, with big plant eaters come big predators. Among those prowling the American landscape was Machairodus Lahayishupup, one of the biggest cats of them all – and one we knew little about until 2021.

Various species of Machairodus had been found and described starting in 1833 in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America over the years. Those animals were lion-sized predators, with stocky builds but narrow skulls. They had short sabre teeth and large, well-developed front legs for subduing their prey. The last members of the family are thought to have died out as recently as 10,000 years ago in Europe.

Machairodus became what is known as a “wastebasket taxon,” because various species of large cat were lumped into the family and later reclassified and removed. For example, Machairodus Catacopsis, first discovered in Kansas by the famous fossil hunter Edward Drinker Cope, later became Nimravades Catacopsis as more research exposed the more complex history of predatory cats.

In 2021, researchers completed a comparison of seven uncategorized fossil specimens against other identified Machairodus fossils collected around the world and described a new species – Machairodus Lahayishupup (in the Old Cayuse language, “Laháyis Húpup” means “ancient wild cat”). This was a truly big animal – estimated at an average weight of 600-900 pounds, more than eight feet long and four feet high at the shoulder. At that size, researchers believe it was capable of taking down prey weighing up to 6000 pounds. “This was by far the biggest cat alive at that time,” wrote Ohio State’s Jonathan Calede, who, along with John Orcutt of Gonzaga, authored the study.

The fossils the two studied were like many in museums – collected, but never fully described. Orcutt found a large upper arm bone labeled as a cat in the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History when he was a grad student. Years of searching found other specimens across the American west in the Idaho Museum of Natural History, the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the Texas Memorial Museum.

“One of the big stories of all of this is that we ended up uncovering specimen after specimen of this giant cat in museums in western North America,” Orcutt said. “They were clearly big cats. We started with a few assumptions based on their age, in the 5 1/2 to 9 million-year-old range, and based on their size, because these things were huge.”

Orcutt and Calede developed a digital method of measuring the elbows of cats – extinct and otherwise – to model their elbows.  They discovered they could use the elbow shape to tell apart different species of modern big cats, then applied the concept to the fossil record. “These giant elbows scattered in museums all had a characteristic in common,” said Orcutt. “This told us they all belonged to the same species. Their unique shape and size told us they were also very different from everything that is already known. In other words, these bones belong to one species and that species is a new species.”

The researchers calculated estimates of the new species’ body size based on the association between humerus size and body mass in modern big cats, and speculated about the cat’s prey based on its size and animals known to have lived in the region at that time.

Machairodus Lahayishupup was likely an ambush killer, laying in wait in grasslands and forests and surprising its prey. Its build was not that of a distance runner – instead it had powerful forelegs useful in subduing startled prey, and saber teeth useful in dispatching large prey quickly. The teeth were shorter than its more famous ancestor, Smilodon, but scientists say the largest examples of the North American species of Smilodon topped out at 620 pounds, about the average weight of Machairodus Lahayispup and 300 pounds less than a large example.

This exciting back story only revealed itself to me as I prepared to work on my own 1:20 Machairodus model. Sean Cooper, the talented sculptor behind the Paleocraft Resin Models line, put out a predation scene featuring a Machairodus chasing a three-toed horse (Hipparion, I would assume). The two animals came with a base and some fallen logs, all in resin, with a total of 16 parts. Machairodus comes as a body (with legs), a tail and a separate lower jaw with the upper sabre teeth attached.

The animation of the two animals is spectacular – so much so that my first challenge was how to mount them properly. As cast, Machairodus would balance on one foot, while Hipparion perches on its back feet, leaping as if over some obstacle. My vision for the final diorama is a chase set in redwood forest in California 5 million years ago, with Hipparion leaping a fallen tree.

But, instead of biting off more than I could chew, I decided to treat the cat as a stand-alone model until I could build a base big enough and of the right shape to accommodate the entire scene. Machairodus’ first base would be an old model contest award minus its metal plate, a little smaller than the dimensions of the cat.

Supporting the big resin body on a single leg was going to require some engineering. I wanted to be able to safely place the model upright during construction, and I wanted to make sure I could remove it for transportation easily. I started by chucking a ¼-inch bit into an electric drill and (gulp!) boring a hole into the cat’s plant foot, going as deep as I dared and keeping the drill as close to centered as I could. The resulting hole was about 1¾ inches deep. Next, I used a cut-off wheel in my motor tool to cut off the top off a ¼-inch wide nail, leaving roughly 2¾ inches, and epoxied the nail into the cat’s leg, pointy side facing down.

I then drilled a hole at an angle into the base, into which the nail would slide. My first pass was at too shallow an angle – the cat was a little too flat in its posture. A second hole was at the perfect angle, so the cat’s rump and hind legs were high in the air. Hole two was close enough to the first hole that the cat’s paw hid my mistake entirely!

Next, I wanted to up my game a bit with a trick used by Ian Robertson, who builds spectacular dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals. Ian recommended a source for taxidermy glass eyes – using them is more work but the results are startlingly effective. For dinosaurs, you can use whatever eye color and pupil shape you want, but predatory cats’ eyes have a specific look. I studied dozens of photos of lions and other big cats; their eyes were usually a straw yellow color, with a round dark pupil (not “cat’s eye” shaped like our housecats have). I went on line and bought some eyes intended for mounting small birds – they’re 3mm in diameter, and nicely round, with a slightly convex back.

I mustered my courage and broke out the motor tool again. Carefully, I bored out the eyes, using an assortment of drills and a routing bit. In the process, some of the brow detail was lost – as was expected.

Using epoxy to gain some working time, I positioned the eyes so they were focused on a single point – the Hipparion, in the final display.  The first eye went in with little difficulty; the second one took work two align the pupils. The last thing I wanted was a cockeyed cat, and I looked at the model from multiple angles and adjusted the eye accordingly to get the look I wanted.

Before I started drilling, I took a photo of the eyebrows with my phone’s camera. This helped me rebuild this detail using Apoxie Sculpt, which was also useful in hiding the edges of the glass eyes. The Apoxie Sculpt was contoured with a toothpick and other similarly complex tools to restore the hair pattern sculpted into the model.

With this detail added, I turned to the jaw. The top of the animal’s mount had a big round indentation in it, so I first added a palette with Apoxie Sculpt, even adding the little ridges across it. The model had no top front teeth, so I made some out of styrene rod, turned in my motor tool and sharpened with sandpaper. These were cut off and pushed into the still-pliable Apoxie Sculpt. After studying several convenient animals, I mixed up a reddish-lavender shade and painted the mouth, followed by the gums in black and the teeth in an ivory shade. This was repeated with the separate jaw, which was added to the body. What little seams remained was filled by Apoxie Sculpt and the fur pattern was restored.

I saved the tail for last, since I figured it would be the easiest to break off. It fit reasonably cleanly, but I drilled holes for a bit of stiff wire to reinforce the joint. The tail was CA-glued in place, and Apoxie Sculpt again was used to blend the joints away.

I now had a complete but unpainted Machairodus. How would I finish it? Artists’ depictions show it striped like a tiger or spotted like a leopard, but I drew on personal experience. Our orange tabby Nemo was virtually invisible when he would hide in the tall grass or in the shadows of our garden – his camouflage made him a perfect ambush predator. I’d use Nemo as a model for the big cat’s color scheme!

I added small balls of Silly Putty to mask the eyes, then primed the model using True North’s excellent flat white enamel, which also provided the white belly and facial markings. The red color is really Africa mustard from True North, mixed with small amounts of red and burnt sienna. This base color was carefully applied to create the stripes on the sides, tail and limbs. I then adjusted the base color to accentuate the model’s musculature, using the airbrush to carefully add highlights and shadows. The model is big – there was no need to over-accentuate the folds or make the highlights too white. The one trick was to keep the model the right shade of “red” – too much and the cat would look pink, and too little made it look tan.

With the basic colors on, I used a brush to apply the markings to the face, again copying my own cat where I could. I used the nose of a mountain lion as the basis for my model’s nose, and carefully added black around the eyes to simulate the coloration on real cats. With a very fine brush and thin paint, I added faint lines to the muzzle in the area from where the whiskers emerge, and drybrushed the inside of the ears with the base color lightened with pale pink.

I looked at a number of websites to learn what color the pads of a lion’s paws are – I settled on a mix of earth brown with a drop of red. After painting the pads on the three exposed feet, I scrubbed some brown pastels into them to kill any shine and add a bit of… weathering, I guess you’d call it!

The base was coated with scenic glue, sprinkled with dirt, and then given some small tufts of vegetation – nothing spectacular since someday the cat would be transferred to a new base.

The nail in the foot went into the hole in the base – perfect! All was complete. Except there was something missing –a cat with no whiskers looks weird. The best thing for tapered whiskers would be real whiskers, trimmed to length. By my model, Nemo, only dropped one and I was not about to trim the ones still on his face. Luckily, my friend Tom Gaj has collected whiskers from his cats over the years and he sent me a bag full of them! I used a fine .080 drill bit to open holes in the muzzle – just eight on each side – and then CA-glued the trimmed whiskers into place. So the model was completed, with the assistance of Nemo, Barney, Bailey, Tigger, Callie, Molly, Nikki, Tootsie, Genny, Leo and Bella.

The amazing sculpting of this model – and the quality casting – means that modelers are a long way to success even before they start assembling it. If you can overcome the engineering challenge in posing the model and have a bit of skill with Apoxie Sculpt and blending textures, it allows you to quickly get to fun things like painting and detailing.

Second life for “Kitten:” Arma’s P-51B get the Tuskegee Airmen treatment

Born in Colorado in 1924, Leon “Woodie” Spears, like many boys of his era, was entranced by flying, hanging out at the fence of the Pueblo Municipal Airport to watch airplanes take off and land. His chances of flying were far poorer than his friends and fellow gawkers at the airport – Woodie was African American.

When World War II began, he tried to join the Army Air Forces, but was turned away. “My white and Hispanic friends went down to the recruiter and he said, ‘You all can join except for you,’ and he pointed at me,” Woodie said in a 2008 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He said, ‘We have no provisions for training colored people.’ ”

“I found out through what we called the ‘colored newspapers’ that a lawsuit had been filed to open things up for us. I found a copy of Life magazine and on the front was the picture of five black guys from Tuskegee. I went back to that recruiter and showed him a copy of that magazine and to his credit he said, ‘I’ll look into it for you.’”

In 1943, he was accepted for flight training at Tuskegee Army Airfield as part of Class 44-F-SE, graduating on June 27, 1944 and traveling to Italy to join the 301st Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group at Ramitelli, Italy. His first P-51C was named “Donna,” and it was destroyed in a landing accident. He was sent to a sub-depot in southern Italy to pick up a replacement and selected “Kitten,” which had been the aircraft of Charles McGee. During its overhaul, the plane had been fitted with a tail fillet to improve stability, and the all-red tail had a portion stripped to accommodate the serial number 103905. In addition, the red-and-yellow nose band of the 302nd was replaced by an all-red nose, and McGee’s “78” was swapped for “51.” “I believe I know why he called it ‘Kitten,’ because the engines sure purred like one when I fired it up,” said Woodie.

The re-furbished “Kitten” at Ramitelli. Note the block of exposed metal on the once all-red tail.

Woodie completed 50 missions, sharing in the destruction of an He 111 that was menacing a damaged B-24 (although the claim was never officially verified). On March 24, 1945, he was part of the force accompanying 15th Air Force Bombers to Berlin, its longest-ever mission. On the way to the target at 32,000 feet, a flak burst blew off “Kitten’s” outer right wing. The damaged fighter started losing fuel and altitude, and there was no way for Woodie to nurse the plane over the Alps, so he turned east instead. In Poland, he spotted a clearing near a river and prepared for a crash landing, only to discover he was flying directly into a skirmish between the Germans to the west and the Soviets to the east – and both sides were firing at him!

He lowered the landing gear, then though differently and partially retracted it before the Mustang hit with a thud. German troops quickly arrived and captured Woodie, but “they seemed to be trying to be as nice as they could,” he said. “They knew the war was coming to and end, and so they did not want to be involved in any war crimes or any cruelty.”

Woodie was subjected to a half-hearted interrogation and held in a makeshift cell in a deserted barracks building. After three days, he awoke to a commotion outside. “I pulled a board off a window and the first thing I saw was this huge Russian tank,” he said. Soviet troops were firing into buildings at random, so Woodie began shouting and waving his arms to get their attention. One Soviet soldier heard him above the din of battle. “I had an A-2 flying jacket on with a large American flag on the back. I put my back to the window so he could see it. I heard him yell, ‘American! American!’ He rushed up and gave me a big hug!” Woodie returned to his base at Ramitelli on May 10 – just after the war’s end.

Woodie stayed in the Army Air Forces and the USAF, and flew 17 missions in Korea as the pilot of an AT-6 “Mosquito.” On his final mission, he was controlling a flight of F-80s that included one flown by his younger brother George. Woodie assigned the flight a Chinese tank as a target, then watched in horror as George’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed in a fireball. The experience shook Woodie so badly he was taken off flight status. Later in life, he drove to as many travel destinations as possible – he was a nervous flyer. He didn’t trust other pilots.

Woodie was a dynamo when it come to speaking about the Tuskegee Airmen – during Black History Month, it was not uncommon for him to deliver 40 talks in a 28-day period, even in his late 80s. After one three-day afternoon late in February, Woodie joked that at that pace, “Black History Month is going to make black history out of me!”

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The author and Woodie Spears at Industrial Light & Magic in San Francisco, 2008.

Naturally, I had to build Woodie’s plane. I had planned to start with the Academy 1:72 kit, which I’d had good luck with some years earlier when I built William Whisner’s “Princess Elizabeth.” However, the announcement of a new P-51B from Arma caused me to switch gears quickly. The Arma kit was a big step up in detail, including the first accurate wheel wells in 1:72 scale and a host of options that would allow me to do the plane I wanted with the parts already in the box, including the tail with the extended fillet.

Things started promisingly in the cockpit, where Arma provides a host of options modelers have never had before. For example, you have both the Schick-Johnson-produced original plywood seat the P-51B was manufactured with and the Warren McArthur seat commonly associated with the P-51D but which was retrofitted to many B-model Mustangs later in their operating careers. The radio outfit includes arrangements used by the RAF and the USAAF in Europe and in Southeast Asia, and the radio components are distinct and detailed.

I started with the seat. I was building “Kitten” after it had gone through an overhaul at the depot, so I chose the later-style Warren McArthur seat. This is provided with separate parts for the seat pan and the back, with photoetched side braces. I painted the seat components – as well as the seat-back armor, rollover pylon and the insides of the fuselage halves – with a green color mixed from Testors paints to mix the color used by North American. The seat parts were then dry-brushed with aluminum to suggest wear on the seat pan and seat edges. The kit provides photoetched parts for the seat belts, but I had a set of spare pre-colored Mustang seat belts from Eduard handy and I used them instead. The final result was pretty amazing, even to my jaded eyes.

The seat from the kit, outfitted with photetched seat belts from Eduard.

The seat goes on the seat-back armored bulkhead. The instructions have you plug this into two holes on the floor – which are actually the in-floor fuel gauges. Don’t do this – put the seat and bulkhead farther back, against the step at the cockpit’s rear.

Before I added the seat, I painted the cockpit floor black, then painted the trough in the floor where the control column would go interior green. Using water-based tan pencils, I added worn patches on the black floor to simulate plywood visible after some wear. I dry-brushed the detail on the floor with a dark gray color, and added the first-aid kit to the top of the roll-over pylon.

Note the wear in the black-painted floor at far right .

The rear part of the cockpit floor was painted interior green. The fuselage tank is given as a separate piece, and it was painted a slightly lightened shade of black, then added to the floor. The separate tank allows you to build Mustangs that didn’t have the tank installed – the radio sets provided make arrangements for that configuration. My plane had the SCR-522 radio system, with the C-80-C case, and the dynamotor PE-94-E connected to a 14-volt battery. (This webpage gives you more details on this system than you will ever want or need.) The parts have all the details, and Arma’s insanity extends to a host of tiny decals, even for components that will be buried so deep in the fuselage there’s no way to see them when the model is done. That said, the fasteners on the SCR-522 provided as decals are quite visible and are major detail points that you don’t have to scratch-build. The radios were added to the rack and the whole assembly was glued to the top of the fuselage tank. My only major addition to the radios was to add the wires that lead forward to the control box in the cockpit (the BC-602-B, if you want to get really specific). I also added the wire from the battery to the rear terminal of the SCR-522. These wires were made from fine lead wire painted white.

The radio set and battery, with the decals which will never be seen again. The wires on top of the radio were the only addition made to this part of the model.

The sidewalls were just as detailed. Both sidewalls are festooned with stringer detail and the control boxes, map case, and other details are molded to the sides. The oxygen regulator and hose and the hydraulic hand pump are provided as a separate piece for the starboard side, and the undercarriage retraction/trim wheel/fuel mixture assembly and a separate throttle assembly go on the left side. The detail for these items is largely provided in the form of very small decals (Arma gives two sets on the sheet – a bonus for other models!). I’m always dubious about cockpit decals, but after I gave the cockpit parts a Future-based wash, these fit perfectly and went down easily. These included the fronts of switch boxes, warning placards and even the fuel gauge faces on the floor. I used some Solvaset to ensure compliance, and an hour later they looked fantastic.

The left side of the cockpit, after painting, a wash and the use of the kit decals. The wires extending from the landing gear lever were added by the author.
And the right side! All is from the kit, except for the map case cover from Eduard.

For the instruments, I used Eduard’s color photoetched parts. I’m sure the kit decal would have looked fine – but the photoetched parts look great on their own. The kit panel was sanded flat and fit into the cockpit coaming with some encouragement – this was the first fit issue I had found. The photoetched parts went on top of it, and the kit’s rudder pedals were painted and weathered before installation. To illustrate the level of madness at play in this kit, the pedals have visible North American logos on them – which are impossible to see when the plane is assembled! With the interior complete, I sprayed it with flat coat.

The Eduard instrument panel is nice, but look at the NAA logos on the rudder pedals!

Next, I worked on the radiator assembly. This is a bit over-engineered – it’s got three plastic parts and a couple of photoetched pieces, and almost none of it will be seen. I painted the parts aluminum, except for the screen at the very front of the intake, which is black. The fit of this subassembly seemed a little indifferent, which could have consequences for the fit of the fuselage. I painted and installed the tail wheel at this time, too – I wish it could have been added later, as it was in constant danger of being broken during assembly.

The fuselage did need some futzing to close properly. On one occasion, I broke one of the side arms on the pilots’ seat off and had to carefully add it back with tweezers. There was some need for sanding at the interface of the radiator exhaust tunnel and the rest of the fuselage, and I used a small amount of shimming to close gaps before I sanded and re-scribed any lost detail. MOre frustrating, the mounting points for the instrument shroud cause it to interfere with the throttle. I shaved them off and moved the shroud back a couple of millimeters. I also spotted three sink marks on the left side of the cockpit exterior – the price you pay for the molded detail. These were also filled and sanded out.

The fuselage joined up, showing just how much of the cockpit will be visible. Also: where did those sink marks go?

I also added the panel line across the top of the nose, which is often obliterated during construction. Using drawings, I mapped the locations of the 13 sets of fasteners across the top of the nose, masked with Dymo label tape, and added the fasteners with a sharpened tack.

With the fuselage together I rescribed the panel line along the top of the nose so my 1:72 mechanics can service the engine.

Next up was the tail. The kit provides the original tail and the modified, filleted tail, which was added to combat flutter at high speeds that could tear the entire tail off. These come in the form of two complete sets of horizontal stabilizers and elevators with part of the vertical tail included. I found a sink mark on one side, and cleaned it up with CA glue and sanding. When I tried to add it to the model, it did not fit – little did I know that Arma forgot in its initial release to tell you to cut a section of each fuselage side to allow the tail to slide into position. While testing the fit, part of the fuselage spine broke off, so I plugged the hole with a piece of styrene and sanded it back to shape. I modified the kit part, sanding the fillet back so it sat properly and filling the awkward gaps with CA glue. Some careful sandpaper use eliminated the seams, but also eliminated the scribing – my next task.

The modified filleted tail – Arma left a note out of its instructions that allows it to be installed more easily.

A little pushy: Eduard’s 1:72 DH.2, part 1

The Fokker Eindecker was the first fighter type to assert itself in combat, thanks to its synchronized machine gun. The “Fokker Scourge” swept British and French observation aircraft from the air above German lines in 1914 and early 1915, making it difficult to monitor German movements and putting the allies at a disadvantage on the Western Front. 

The Eindecker itself had started out as a reconnaissance machine called the Fokker A.III. It in turn was based on the design of another aircraft – ironically, the French Morane-Saulnier H shoulder-wing monoplane. To counter it, the Royal Flying Corps needed a plane that could be flown and fought in the same way – not by an observer with a flexible mount, or by the pilot firing weapons mounted awkwardly to avoid the propeller arc. The pilot needed to aim the plane like a weapon, pull the trigger and fire directly ahead. But without the synchronizer gear, it was impossible for a tractor biplane to allow this.

The solution was to create a pusher aircraft – put the engine and the propeller behind the pilot, and the machine gun in front. Geoffrey deHavilland had already designed a plane like this – the DH.1 – as a two-seat observation plane; poor performance consigned the 100 examples to service in the Middle East. The configuration was reduced in size and turned into a single-seater, with a Lewis gun mounted in the nose on a flexible mount (the RFC still clung to the idea of a pilot-aimed weapon) that was nearly always fixed to fire straight ahead. This was the DH.2.

The prototype DH.2 went into operational trials in June, 1915, but its pilot was killed in combat in August and the aircraft fell into German hands nearly intact. Production continued, just the same, and in February 1916 24 Squadron RFC deployed entirely equipped with DH.2s. On April 2, the squadron downed its first Eindecker – the DH.2 was more than a match for the Fokker – and by the summer the “Fokker Scourge” was over. During the Battle of the Somme from July to November, 24 Squadron alone downed 44 enemy planes. 

The DH.2 had a high accident rate at first (RFC training was terrible for the first few years of the war) and pilots dubbed it “the Spinning Incinerator.” After a little experience, it was found to be easy to fly and maneuverable compared to its opponents. Its one failing was the Lewis gun – the drum magazines held 47 rounds, and when expended had to be changed by the pilot. Unofficial experiments with different drum styles and twin-gun mounts never really solved this problem.

By the first months of 1917, the Germans introduced the Halberstadt D. II and the Albatros D.I, and it was the DH.2’s turn to be outclassed. The aircraft quickly moved into secondary theatres like Macedonia and Palestine, and was employed in training roles. When the British obtained synchronizing gear, the need for a pusher fighter vanished, and 24 and 32 Squadrons converted to the more conventional DH.5 in June 1917. 

For more than a half a year, the DH.2 was the dominant force in air combat over the Western Front. This took place even as the British struggled to understand fighter combat; British aces wrote the book on tactics as they went. The Germans published the “Dicta Boelcke” in June 2016; at the same time, innovative British pilots were developing their own theories. 

One of those innovators was Irishman Sidney E. Cowan. Born in Downpatrick, Ireland in 1897 as the son of the chief engineering inspector of the Local Government Board for Ireland, he and his two brothers received educations from the prestigious Marlborough College and Trinity College in Dublin. When war broke out, he was an early entry to the air service. On his 18th birthday in August 1915, Cowan received Aviators Certificate 1639, soloing in a Maurice Farman biplane at the Military School at Brooklands and was commissioned as a probationary second lieutenant. In October he became a flying officer and his rank was confirmed in November.

By this time, 24 Squadron had formed, with Cowan one of the first 12 fliers in the unit. When the squadron moved to France, several fatal accidents shook the confidence of the fliers, but Cowan proved through his flying that the machine could be flown safely. “He was the first pilot to really ‘stunt’ this machine, and gradually the squadron gained complete assurance,” said one contemporary account. 

On April 24 and 25, Cowan mixed it up with German fighters, with no results. Later in the day on April 25, while escorting a BE.2c on a spotting mission, he was attacked by two Eindeckers from above, but quickly turned the tables on his attackers, spiraling up to his altitude and opening fire on one of them. He soon was within 100 feet of the enemy’s tail and fired off the remainder of his ammunition drum, then switched drums as he got even closer. The short range may have saved the Eindecker, because the DH.2 was bounced around by the Eindecker’s prop wash, throwing off Cowan’s aim. The Eindecker dived for the deck as Cowan changed drums again; then, deciding to focus on the mission, he caught up with the BE.2c to complete the escort. 

On May 4, Cowan caught an enemy observation plane and forced it down over German lines, then strafed the pilot and observer as they ran for cover. At that moment, the Gnome Monosuapape engine on his DH.2 stopped – the thumb switch on the stick had jammed! Cowan landed in enemy territory, not far from his victims, but the jolt of landing un-stuck the switch. Under fire, Cowan throttled up and took off, returning home through heavy fire.

June 30 – literally, the eve of the opening of the Battle of the Somme – found Cowan helping to drive off numerous German aircraft seeking to establish the position of British troops. The next day, 20,000 of them would be killed in action – but countless lives were saved by the RFC disrupting reconnaissance flights. The next day saw heated air combat over the sector. Over Peronne, Cowan saw an enemy aircraft and fired at it until it broke back for German lines. Ten minutes later, he spied two more two-seaters coming west and dived on them, firing half a drum into the lead plane, killing or wounding the observer, whose return fire abruptly stopped. He switched fire to the trailing aircraft, expending the rest of his remaining rounds. Regaining altitude and changing ammunition drums even as he ducked fire from the first machine, Cowan turned on his attacker, fired several bursts from close range, and watched the plane do a side-slip tail slide into a cloud, then reappear as it crashed into the ground. He drove off a fourth German plane later in the patrol. 

On July 27, Cowan saw a BE.2c that was under attack by five German fighters. He managed to drive off all the enemy planes so the BE.2c could complete its mission. Two days later, during a patrol, Cowan attacked a Roland C.II over Morval and sent it diving to earth for a confirmed victory. 

On August 3, while leading four DH.2s, Cowan forced down a German plane hear Sailly and forced two more to crash-land at a nearby airfield. Resuming to the patrol, he identified an LVG B.I and dove to attack. Quickly, the gunner ceased fire and slumped over the side of the fuselage. After a few more bursts, the LVG went into an ever-tightening spiral. Cowan didn’t see it crash, as he went in pursuit of another German observation plane.

Cowan was attacking another LVG on August 9 when return fire hit his plane and he was temporarily blinded by wood splinters. After a short recuperation, he was back in action and on September 16 he shot down another German two-seater in flames over Sailly-Saillisel. 

On October 1, Cowan was transferred to become a flight commander in 29 Squadron. “Awful blow yesterday,” wrote 24 Squadron commanding officer Lanoe Hawker, “as my best pilot was promoted and moved to another squadron.” 

On November 27, he shot down one of the new Halberstadt D.II fighters for what officially would be his seventh victory, but as he maneuvered for a shot at a second Halberstad he collided with another member of his flight, William Spencer FitzRoy Saundby. The Germans buried Cowan in the cemetery at Ablainzevelle, with a marker in German that read, “In memory of a gallant English officer, Captain S.E. Cowan, killed in air combat.” 

Building a DH.2 in 1:72 is a tricky proposition, because of the plane’s unusual configuration, tiny size and heavy use of rigging. For years, the only option was the elderly Revell kit, but in 2003 Eduard put out a new kit in 1:72. One of the editions included masks and photoetched parts. So how hard could it be (he said, employing the literary device of ironic foreshadowing)?

The nacelle (where the pilot and engine are located on the DH.2) comes in five parts: the floor, which is also attached to the lower wings; the cockpit/fuselage sides; a nose cap, with a shelf for the machine gun; and the top of the fuselage. The cabane struts are molded to the fuselage sides, which is a good news/bad news thing, as we’ll see later. The interior is decent, but is missing detail that’s easy to add. One big help for these WWI 1:72 builds is the availability of the instructions on-line for the 1:32 WingNut Wings kits, which are impeccably researched. I also had the very good DH.2 vs. Albatros D.I/D.II from Osprey that has a nice artist’s interpretation of the DH.2 interior. 

I started with the cockpit floor. I painted it ModelMaster acrylic wood, and used colored pencils to apply a subtle grain pattern. The molded-on detail on the floor made this a bit challenging, but I think I managed it well enough. The bar across the floor that attaches to the control column was painted a blue-ish iron color. The rudder bar from the kit was carefully cleaned up, painted a dark metal shade, and installed, followed by very fine cables from the rudder bar leading back under the pilot’s seat made from wires stripped from a dead iPhone charger. 

iPhone chargers live on as control cables in my WWI models’ interiors.

Speaking of the seat, I decided to swap the kit’s seat for Barracuda Studio’s wicker seat, which is amazing in its detail. My daughter helpfully pointed out that the painting in the Osprey book had a seat cushion, which I made from Apoxie Sculpt, using a sharpened thumb tack to make the indented cushion buttons. A coat of Shockoladenbraun enamel gave the cushion a leather look. The resin seat was painted tan and carefully given a wash; the cushion went next, followed by Eduard’s fabric-effect seat belts. A Future-based wash popped out the detail on the floor, followed by a flat coat and the addition of the seat. 

The seat after the addition of the Eduard seat belts and the Airscale decal on the compass.

The sides of the cockpit were painted with Humbrol clear doped linen (CDL) and the frames were picked out in a mixed dark gray color. The internal rigging was emphasized with a pencil, carefully run across the detail to pop it out. The elevator trim quadrant was picked out in aluminum, and the priming pump was painted brass. 

The left side of the cockpit, with added detail…
…And the right side, with a little more added detail

With the molded-on detail finished, I started looking for detail to add. Immediately, I noticed that the left side of the cockpit was missing two copper conduits, while the right side was missing the air pressure gauge and the oil pulsator glasses. The copper conduits ran behind the framing in real life; I cut lengths of copper wire to fit between the frames, and lined them up to appear they were solid, continuous lines. The oil pulsators were made from tiny lengths of brass tubing, while the air pressure gauge was created from a spare photoetched part and some small slices of .035 styrene rod. 

The floor compass was present, and I painted it black, but it really popped out when I added a decal from Airscale’s WWII 1:72 instrument decals; a Luftwaffe position indicator looks a lot like a compass display in this scale! The kit provided three different instrument panel arrangements; I opted for the earliest configuration, because I wanted a model from the time of the Battle of the Somme. I used my same stupid paint tricks to simulate wood on the deck ahed of the instruments and added some wiring to the backs of the instruments.

I spent extra time on the control column. The stick had a trigger squeeze switch on its front that looked a little like the brake handle on a bicycle’s handlebars. I painted the control column, then made the switch from fine wire, which was CA-glued to the back of the stick. Some very thin lead wire was flattened and wrapped around the stick as the flanges holding the switch’s wire in place, and the final touch was a sliver of .2mm lead wire glued to the top of the stick as the ignition “blip” switch. When it was done, I carefully cemented it to the floor.  

A very, very small control column – only five little parts!

With the cockpit dressed up a little, it was time to put the pieced of the nacelle together. The side pieces fit to the floor/lower wing with beveled edges, and these left some notable seams. These were filled with CA glue and the corners were sanded square. The nose cap includes the decking above the rudder pedals where the Lewis gun mounts; this was painted with Testors wood and given similar wood grain patterning with colored pencils. The nose cap and the nacelle sides fit together rather poorly; more CA glue and plenty of careful sanding eliminated the steps and gaps – eventually. I re-scribed some lost detail with a UM scribing tool, using strips of Dymo tape as a guide. 

The interior parts were still a little exposed to damage, so I prepared the top of the nacelle by first painting the two leather straps that held the nacelle together. These were then masked and I painted the interior of this piece a mixture of grays. I installed the internal bulkhead, then nestled the upper nacelle around the cabane struts. It fit reasonably well. I used CA glue to eliminate any seams, then sanded the joint clean while taking care to preserve the detail. 

The internal bulkhead sat too far back inside the nacelle, so I made a new rear cockpit bulkhead and worked it in behind the seat and CA-glued it in place. 

I thought this would be a good time to work on the engine. The cylinder and crankcase are molded as one part, and a spider-like set of pushrods is also supplied, but getting it off the sprue runner proved impossible. Instead, I cut off the collar at the center of the pushrods, added it to the engine and painted the engine a burnt iron color, followed by some drybrushing with a brighter silver color. The kit pushrods were then replaced with lengths of Albion Alloys, giving me stronger and better-looking pushrods. 

Well, that didn’t come off the sprue tree easily…
..But this looks better anyway, The pushrods were later painted aluminum.

I then started fishing around for paint schemes for my plane. Cowan is recorded as scoring victories in three planes – 5925, 5964 and 5966. The latter plane was flown by Lanoe Hawker when he was shot down by Manfred von Richtofen – and as a result it’s probably the most frequently built DH.2. I wanted something different. Wingnut Wings includes markings for 6000 with Cowan’s name attached to it, but it was all clear doped linen at the time it was depicted and I wanted a PC-10-painted aircraft. After finding several photos of 5925, I realized that I could build it the way I wanted – these planes were delivered in clear doped linen with gray on metal and wood surfaces, then PC-10 was added to the fabric upper surfaces and the sides of the nacelle, then the PC-10 was added over the gray areas. 5925 survived to become a training plane in England, by which time it was PC-10 over all upper surfaces and sported a big “1” on the nose. That was not the scheme it wore when Cowan flew it – so why not portray it in the interim scheme of clear doped linen, PC-10 and gray?

The first step was to realistically portray clear doped linen. I painted the bottom of each wing with Humbrol Matt 74, a fairly yellow color – but this first coat was darkened slightly with a couple of drops of raw umber. Once dry, I cut thin strips of Tamiya tape and masked off all the structural parts of the wings – ribs, spars, and aileron structures.

Then, straight clear doped linen was sprayed over the wings and tail. I removed the tape, revealing the darker areas representing the structure. I sprayed a couple of coats of thinned clear doped linen over these parts, toning the effect down. What I wanted was the effect of shadows on the lower wings to simulate the effect of light penetrating the fabric and showing through the wooden framework of the wings. It worked out well!

Oooh! Frilly!
The effect after a the masking was removed and a mist coat of clear-dope linen toned down the ribs

Next, I masked the lower wing and painted the bottom of the nacelle white. I applied the mask included in the Eduard kit for the sawtooth pattern on the bottom of the nacelle and mixed up some Humbrol Matt 116, their version of PC-10. I couldn’t get my tin mixed properly and my tests came out too thin and glossy, so instead I added some brown to olive drab and shot that over the wings and nacelle. Next, I smoothed down the sawtooth mask and added the masks for the fabric sides of the nacelle and sprayed a mixed coat of “battleship gray” to the nacelle.  All worked as advertised, although I remasked and sprayed one side of the nacelle to get a tighter line.  

All this work came at a price: in the process of handling the model, I managed to break three of the four cabane struts! I thought this could be a terminal issue for this build, but I was careful to recover each broken strut and put it in a small bag with its location written on it (as in, “left rear”). The breaks were clean enough thanks to the 19-year-old styrene, and a bit of gel-type CA glue on one end of the strut was all it took to put it in place (with much checking in every axis to make sure it was on straight). A bit of very careful sanding ensured that the joins were nearly invisible. Project saved!

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.