Mitigating Maryland mistakes

Oh, my golly. The Maryland is now on final approach to completion, and I’m starting to get really nervous. The closer it gets to completion, the more goofy little things that threaten to de-rail me. Before I start to lay out my tale of terror, let me show you what I’m talking about. Here’s the Maryland, with the dullcoating and wash, and all the masking removed from the clear parts and engines:

Looks good, right? Well, here’s how it could have gone wrong.

After I dullcoated the model, I took off the masking. The small windows on the sides concerned me, and I even scored around them with an X-Acto to prevent the masking from lifting the white stripe decal. Guess what? The masking lifted the white stripe decal – it ripped a quarter-inch of the decal clean away. I have come far enough not to have started crying or hurl the model across the room – instead, I set the model down, took a break, and then came back with purpose and masked and painted the damaged area of the white stripe with Humbrol matt white shot through my Paasche VL. Problem fixed.

Okay, on to the rest of the clear parts. The ventral window was shockingly mistake-free, as was the windscreen. The glass nose had me concerned, though, and, as it turned out, I had reason for concern. Much to my amusement, there were a couple of frames that I forgot to expose when I masked the nose. Again, I didn’t get upset – I just masked those individual frames and painted them. No problem.

Once I get the frames squared away, I’m going to put the aircraft on its landing gear, which will be a big step toward completion. Then, I have to make the canopy, the hatches for the bombardier’s position, and add other bits. The wing lights will be fun – I have to find four fairly small MV lenses for this area, and I’ll probably cover them with some kind of transparent tape.

I’m learning a lot on this build – mostly, that nothing that goes amiss is really un-fixable. That’s a good lesson for a modeler to learn.

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1:72 Canberra PR.9s: Airfix vs. Xtrakit

Let’s get ready to rummmmmmble – as though a couple of Rolls Rocye Mk. 206 turbojets were spooling up for takeoff! It’s our first ever head-to-head battle of the ‘berrys – the Canberra PR.9, to be exact. In the last 24 months we have two contenders for the crown of best 1:72 PR.9, the Xtraparts kit and the Airfix kit.

This will be a 12-round bout, with the mandatory 10-point rule in effect. Your judge is me

1. Box

Nice art on both of our competitors. Theres’ a hemp-colored PR.9 on the Xtrakit box, and a photo-realistic image of a camouflaged PR.9 on the Airfix, amid the new red border graphics that the brand’s recently rolled out. But right there! The Airfix box is a sturdy box with an actual top and bottom, vs. the end-opening Xtrakit box. Score it 10-9 Airfix!

2. Surface Detail

Xtrakits comes into this one strong, with refined recessed panel detail over the entire airplane. Airfix also has recessed detail, but it’s a little thick – and oh! Sinkmarks on the wings! That’s gonna cost Airfix! And, at the bell… it’s Xtrakit, 10-9!

 3. Fidelity of Outline

The wings of both competitors line up with each other almost exactly. The fuselages have similar proportions, too, and the top of the rudder has the distinctive flare at the upper rear corner on both contenders. The Xtrakit gets the fin fillet more right, but the Airfix nose more closely captured the shape of the PR.9’s swinging nose. As the official separates the two, it goes in the books – 10-10. A draw!

 4. Little exterior details

The details here aren’t so little. Airfix comes out swinging, with separate belly sections for different camera layouts and clear covers for the camera wells, and follows up with tip tanks – which are shockingly missing from the Xtrakit! Oh Nelly! Next, Airfix busts out some chaff pods of uncertain heritage and utility, but makes up for it with separate control surfaces – flaps, elevators, and rudder! Also, the wings have the vortex generators, while Xtrakit has small flat squares where the vortex generators should go. The vortex generators on the vertical fin are present on both models – Airfix has four, and Xtrakit has an accurate three, this avoiding the knockdown. As it is, Airix takes the round 10-9!

5. Wheel wells

Both contenders trip into the ring in this round – Airfix has nice boxed wells with accurate rib detail, but there are ejector pin marks inside them! Ouch! Xtrakit has boxes for the main wells but – Sweet Zombie Angelo Dundee! – there’s a gigantic knockout pin mark in the center! It’s the biggest knockout pin mark this observer has ever seen! The nose gear well is made of four parts and is adequate, but Airfix is all over this round. Score it 10-9 Airfix!

 6. Cockpit

A haymaker by Xtrakit – two identical resin seats – which are jingling around loose inside the bag. It fails to connect, only because the pilot had a Mk. 2CAI seat and the nav had a Mk. 4QS! Airfix has multi-part plastic seats that have little detail, but they are different. The cockpit structure is a single piece in the Airfix kit but it has a floor that projects out the front beyond where the swinging nose breaks from the fuselage. Xtrakit provides the cockpit as two sections, but the overall detail is nicer in the Xtrakit, which wins the round, 10-9.

 7. Wheels and landing gear

Nose wheels are rough in both cases, with the Xtrakit wheels molded with the mudguard and some fairly soft detail but the Airfix wheels have the largest sprue gates I’ve ever seen. Airfix has the edge, and opens up the lead with much nicer main wheels. The Airfix struts are more refined, and as mentioned earlier the nose wheels have separate mudguards. Round goes 10-9 to Airfix.

 8. Approximate fit

Xtrakits’ short-run nature reveals itself here. Test fitting reveals a gap at the wing root’s mid-way point, and the fuselage has no locating pins, but the shock bullet on the vertical tail is provided on the rudder. The Airfix kit’s bullet is provided as a separate part, and the wings have nice slots, vs. the Xtrakit’s near butt joins. Only building the models would give an accurate account of which one’s on top, but Airfix clearly has an edge. 10-9 Airfix.

 9. Clear parts

Both are admirably clear, but Airfix gives you a separate canopy and windscreen, vs. the single part in the Xtraparts kit – plus a mess of lens covers for the cameras. Airfix, 10-9.

 10. Instructions

Very even – both rely on exploded view drawings, and Airfix uses more individual step-by-step drawings. Both have decent (and quite different) historical summaries. Airfix includes full-color painting and markings instruction – giving Airfix (and its bigger budget) the round 10-9.

 11. Decals

Airfix throws out a gaudy collection of four planes (Chile? Really?), but Xtrakit counters with two hemp-colored Canberras, and a more comprehensive set of data decals, including a mess of “walk outboard” lines that are missing from the Airfix kit. It’s a highly-technical round – but you have a highly-technical judge. 10-9, Xtrakit.

 12. Extras

Xtrakit nails a lot of the small surface details, and it avoids errors like the misplaced intake atop the starboard engine in the Airfix kit. The antenna layout is more comprehensive in the Airfix kit, and the engine faces look nicer. Airfix provides the exhausts in single pieces, while Xtrakit gives you halves you have to join. Round goes to Airfix, 10-9.

And we have a winner! By a 107-103 score, the bout goes to Airfix! Sure, it’s not perfect – and I am strongly thinking of bashing these two together to get a super PR.9 – but the Airfix kit has an edge – and it’s certainly cheaper than the Xtrakit offering.

And there you have it! Airfix takes it! If you’d like to see a rematch – buy your own models!

Markings on the Maryland!

While watching the debate over the health care bill last night (yeah, I’m that kind of news junkie), I applied the decals to my Martin Maryland. On Friday night, Mark Schynert and I discussed just when a model transforms from a chunk of plastic shaped like a plane into a representation of a real plane. Mark said it was when the propellers went on (not that he thinks jet models never look real – he just rarely builds ’em!). I said it’s when the decals go on. Here, Mr. Schynert, is exhibit A:

These decals came from a lot of sources, but the most important source was Norm Filer. Norm made the “2,” the white bar and the devil logo on the tail from the profile in the AJ Press book on the Maryland. (The breaks in the white bar are where the windows are – windows I cut from the solid fuselage and added about eight years ago when this all started.) The other decals came from various RAF sheets, and the roundels, amazingly enough, came from the kit sheet. It’s now ready for a wash, followed by the flatcoat and some weathering.

Now that the markings are on… the Maryland IS a good looking plane!

Figure Painting For Complete Imbeciles

The Kickoff Classic is this weekend, and I’m pleased to have three models to enter. The third is this little vignette – which was only a figure until I stuck in on the base, which I used primarily to keep the lil’ feller from getting broken.

He’s a BAR gunner, 16th Regimental Combat Team, 29th Infantry Division in the first wave (because the tide is out, see) at Normandy. He’s hiding behind a beach obstacle, pondering his next move up the beach.

The basic figure is from Dragon’s “Rangers at Normandy” set. As molded, the figure has the life belt, gas mask bag and BAR gunner’s gear, but it has some issues. First off, the gas mask bag didn’t fit worth a darn. Second the straps for the rucksack faded out across the shoulders, a limitation of the molding. Third, the fit was pretty rough across all the joints.

I assembled the figure a long time ago – six years or so! – and used Milliput in generous portions to fill in gaps at the shoulder, waist and crotch. A lot of carving went into the figure at this stage, but eventually I got things smoothed out.

The head in the kit is wearing a knit cap, and also the blank expression many DML figures have. I swapped in a Hornet resin head, which fit fairly well after I adjusted the neck properly. I drilled a hole in one heel and CA-glued in a paper clip as a handle.

Fast forward several years. I broke the figure out, and in a fit of inspiration, decided to paint his face. I invented my own weird way of doing the fact, so bear with me. First, the paints I had on hand were the skin-tone enamels in the Model Master line, so first up was a base coat of a flesh tone warm/flesh tone light mix. The paint’s got a gloss finish to it – which at first I thought was bad. Then, I learned better.

A couple of summers ago, when my niece was buying art supplies ($275 worth!) allegedly with her parents’ permission, I grabbed a great assortment of Rapidograph .005 point pens in several colors – black, red, brown, blue and yellow. The idea then was to use them to add tiny colored marks to the clear instruments that go behind photoetched instrument panels, and they’ve been handy for that. They’re also great for adding eyes to 1:72 figures – and, I might add, to 1:35 figures. I added a black pupil to start, and eyebrows. Then I made a neat discovery.

I added a tiny bit of red to the area under the lip. It didn’t look so good, so I tried to draw over it with black – which also looked bad. To remove the ink, I wet a small brush lightly and brushed it across the offending area – which combined the colors and blended them into the base coat. Wait a second…!

Next, I used the same trick on the area below the nose, then the hollows of the cheeks. It was like applying makeup to a person – a few tiny dots of ink, then blend blend blend! And, if I screwed up, and I did often, it all could come off very easily. I added the shadows above the eyes and the laugh lines, then went back and hit the high points on the cheeks and the nose with some of the flesh tone light paint. For my first figure face (excluding some unfortunate 1:32 Monogram figures from the 1970s), it was not bad! Looking at him head on, he looks a bit like Van Johnson:

Next, I started on the uniform. I was absolutely stumped about colors, but I found two very useful resources on the web. The first is Tim Streeter’s “Modeling the US Army in World War II, and especially his page on figure colors. The second was this post on the Military Modeling forum, where someone’s posted a nice, compact bit concise visual summary of what US Infantrymen wore around June 6, 1942. These were very helpful.

I went garment by garment, from the inside out (T-shirt!), painting each item the appropriate shade, then hitting the shadow spots with the base color darkened with Model Master skin tone dark, then hitting the high spots with the base color mixed with Humbrol white. The shirt was lacking in much defined detail, but I was still able to suggest folds and highlights reasonably well. The life belt and rucksack straps were painted Slate Gray, that wonderful RAF color that’s really green.

The kit rucksack was cleaned up and given the same treatment as the rest of the uniform. On top of that went the M1910 “T-handle” entrenching tool. The straps over the shoulders were way too faint, so I cut strips of lead foil and added them in place of the top set of straps. Once painted, they looked great.

The kit canteen was next, followed by an M1914 personal dressing pouch and several M1937 ammunition pouches for the BAR clips. These were painted, shadowed and glued in place. The only kit item that didn’t make the grade was the gas mask bag; the kit part didn’t fit the flat area on the leg provided for it. Instead, I made a new bag out of lead foil, and outfitted it with lead foil straps. Once painted, I formed it to the leg and glued it in place.

The boots and leggings came last. The boots were a mixture of a bit of red, some dark tan and French chestnut brown (left over from the Maryland project). The leggings were dark tan.

The helmet was painted Model Master dark green, and given a leather-colored strap across the front. At this point, I painted the Browning Automatic Rifle, painting the barrel and body of the weapon with a mix of aircraft interior black and metallizer titanium and the stock and handle with a dark wood color (probably the French chestnut brown). I had taken care to fit the rifle into the hands while adding the arms, and sure enough it snapped right into place without even the need for glue.

Archer Fine Transfers provided rub-on chevrons and the 29th Infantry Division emblem for the shoulders. These went on with very little trouble – having worked with rub-on transfers many years ago, I knew what to expect and how to manage the bumps in the process. The transfers were a bit shiny, but some coats of dullcote (applied with the airbrush, while shielding the face and helmet) eventually knocked down the shine.

The base is a simple 4 ½-inch diameter round base. I stained it and gave it a coat of Varathane, then cut out a disk of 150-grit sandpaper, which doubled nicely for beach sand, and stuck it on the top of the base with white glue intended for railroad scenery. For a beach obstacle, I found one of the many branches shed by the Japanese Maple in my back yard that was the right diameter and sawed it off at an angle with a razor saw. On what would be the beach side, I made some bullet holes by poking and twisting the point of a #11 blade into the wood. I then drilled it and drilled a corresponding hole in the base, added a length of paper clip to the hole and glued the post in place, using some gutter grit to disguise the glue. I also measured out where the figure’s pin foot would go and drilled a hole in the right place.

I slipped the figure’s pin into the hole and spun him around until he was at the right attitude in relation to the pole. As a final touch, I made the BAR’s sling out of a length of lead foil. And just like that – a finished figure!

More involved groundwork, vehicles and interaction between figures will make for more complex projects, but this is a pretty good first effort.

On this day, 65 Years ago: the 362nd FG hammers the Wehrmacht

On March 14, the 379th Fighter Squadron flew five eight-plane missions beyond Coblenz into the area along the Rhine, wreaking havoc with rail traffic. One flight dumped its bombs into the yards at Limburg, leaving 50 rail cars in flames; the squadron’s strafing claimed 13 trucks, a motorcycle, two cars and a van, although Lt. Charles McCormick had to fly home blind after a flak fragment cut an oil line in his engine and sprayed his windscreen with pitch-black lubricant. Another attack destroyed an underground ammunition storage bunker; witnesses saw more than 20 German soldiers running from the site only to be caught in the blast and killed. The other two squadrons flew 20 four-plane missions in support of XII Corps, attacking German forces trying to retreat across the Rhine before the Rhine-Moselle-Saar triangle was cut off.
On the first mission of the day, the 377th Fighter Sqaudron’s Red Flight received a call from the ground controller to attack targets in the town of Bell, Germany. Flight leader Capt. Darden McCollum and his wingman, Lt. Stanley Krzywicki, went down to about 1000 feet while the rest of the flight orbited at 6000 feet. “We stayed below 1000 feet for about five minutes, just observing and not expending ammunition,” Krzywicki said. “(McCollum) then called and said he had a vehicle in sight and was going in when he received a direct hit on his engine and gas tank. It was 20mm flak, which was heavy and accurate. He started to flame immediately and he called and said he was hit. The ship stayed in about a 20-degree dive and a slight left turn for about 200 yards and then made a 30-degree right turn in the direction of a town at the same angled dive. The aircraft hit approximately 100 feet before the town, bounced and went through the buildings, blowing up. I followed the aircraft all the way down but never observed Capt. McCollum get out of the aircraft at any time.” As Krzywicki passed over wreck of “Marye D IV,” P-47D-30 44-32974, “I noticed nothing but flame.” McCollum was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. Lt. Hayes, leading the next flight, attacked the 10 flak positions that hit McCollum, silencing them with rockets and machine gun fire.
Two reconnaissance Mustangs led P-47s from the 377th to a spot where 15 tanks and 60 trucks were dispersed along the road; these were bombed and strafed, as were numerous trucks found in enemy-held towns.
The 378th Fighter Squadron flew 10 four-ship missions in support of Patton’s troops fighting in the Moselle-Rhine triangle south of Coblenz. Maj. Richard “Gator” Cline led the first four-ship, knocking out three trucks and a tank at Lilshansen before strafing and destroying 20 trucks and a large artillery piece. Capt. Kent Geyer found himself coming head-on to a German fighter; the two exchanged gunfire and Geyer’s engine was hit, but he brought the smoking Thunderbolt home safely. Lt. William Matthews led the second mission, which destroyed seven trucks and three armored vehicles northeast of Simmern. Lt. Bill Stewart’s four-ship flight bombed and destroyed six trucks, then destroyed two more by strafing. Captain Joe Hunter’s flight bombed and strafed a supply dump near Boppard, starting five large fires and triggering several explosions. During the attack, Lt. Adam Quandt fired his rockets only to have one of them hang momentarily on its stub, then wrench loose and bounce off his cowling and through his propeller – all without exploding. On the way home, the four planes strafed and destroyed two trucks. Capt. Paul Nunnelley was next; his flight worked over some trucks hidden in the woods near Oberwesel. 15 of them were estimated destroyed. Lt. Ken Placek’s flight didn’t find much action around Simmern, but they bombed three light gun positions and destroyed two trucks and 30 horse-drawn wagons. Next up was Lt. Bill Moore’s flight, which destroyed four trucks, then came Lt. Edward Myers four-ship, which bombed and destroyed six trucks before strafing and destroying a tank south of Volkenorth. Finally, Lt. Matthews led his second mission of the day, wiping out 20 box cars at the St. Goar marshalling yard.

Masking a Maryland

It has been a while since I worked on my Martin Maryland – since August, to be exact. That was when Norm Filer delivered a set of custom-made decals for my model, an act which I have no means to repay (other than the usual resin items!). My delaying has resulted in the news that Special Hobby plans to put out an “Adrian Warburton Edition” of the kit with the same markings Norm made for me, so I need to get cracking. (You can all thank me for that – clearly my model karma made Special Hobby do this famous Maltese Maryland.)

Before applying the decals, however, I’m tightening up the camouflage. My friend Ben Pada, the last time he saw the model, asked in his familiarly brutal Hawaiian-accented way, “you gonna clean up the camouflage, right?” At the time, I wasn’t, but Ben convinced me that I should. The feathered edges were just not sharp enough, so I went and masked the French khaki and French chestnut brown areas – leaving the oversprayed areas un-masked – and feathered on some French dark blue gray. When the masks were removed, those spray lines were indeed tightened, with a hint of a feathered edge. Pretty convincing – although I have a few spots to touch up, and I have to get the lower surfaces’ camouflage lines masked and resprayed yet, too.

Then, I’ll gloss the model and decal it and get into overdrive toward completion. The props, wheels and turret are done; I’ll need to make up the bombardier’s upper and lower clamshell doors and the pilot’s canopy, and I desperately need to address the wing leading edge lights, but that will come later. This will also be a fairly heavily weathered machine, so some silver pencils and pastels will come into use.

The landing gear struts were almost comically simple in real life, so they’ll just need some clean up and some simple brake lines. I also have to add the observer’s seat belts. I keep forgetting to do this; now, it’s going to be like a game of Operation fitting the belts to the seat. Just another minor issue to contend with.

I’m still not used to the French camouflage – but this is the first French camouflage-clad plane I’ve ever built. When the markings are on, I’ll be more comfortable with it.

Hopefully, I can get the model decaled by the end of day, Saturday. If I do that, it’ll be nothing but finishing work until the Maryland is done.

P-47D-30/40 Master: success, then failure, then a bail-out

I’m pleased to say that the P-47D-30/40 floor is finished, and it came out the way I wanted it to. However, it almost came to grief thanks to my stupidity. But I am ahead of myself.

First off, I copied Tamiya’s engineering. Their keyed four-part cockpit structure is genius, and I am always happy to have a great place to start. My thinking is this: the set will include a floor, sidewalls and wing modifications (re-positioned light panels, anti-compressability flaps). The rear bulkhead from the kit, the kit stick and the kit instrument panel can still be used. Part one was the cockpit. The base of the part was made by laminating several pieces of sheet styrene together, then I cut out the slots where he other parts would fit. That allowed my to use them to locate the various features of the floor.

Next, I drilled out a hole for the control column. This allowed me to then position the structure ahead of the stick and build it from sections of .020 styrene, which I sanded back to about .015 or .013. The left side had to be cut out a bit to leave clearance for the big radio box on the left sidewall.

Next, I fashioned the control column cable run from a bit of wire and a shot length of hypodermic tubing. The other features on the floor were carefully cut from a Tamiya cockpit, sanded down, and added to the floor. I also added two small panels to either side of the control column with .005 styrene.

With all the major structural parts in place, it was time to have some fun. I bought some N-gauge rivets from Archer Fine Transfers and used them to apply the small but very visible rivets on the floor. The resin rivets are presented on decal film which needs to be trimmed, which I did with very sharp scissors. After a brief dip in water, they came right off the backing paper; the next step is to get them on straight. A total of 13 runs of rivets were used to detail the floor.

Once they were dried and secure, I was vey pleased by the result. The only step left was to graft the Tamiya cockpit front bulkhead to the floor. I was so geeked up about it that I took it to the weekly modeler’s dinner to show off to my friends. Masters look pretty atrocious, to be honest, but they gave me approving nods. Once it’s cast, it’ll look much better than this somewhat blurry photo:

And then came the dumb part. I left at my usual time for the 35-mile ride home, and about the time I turned into the Webster Tube I realized I had left the part at the restaurant. I called the restaurant the next morning and ascertained only that the morning shift there is not very sharp. I had visions of the part being swept into a bus tub, smeared with mashed potatoes and then doused in clam chowder before being tossed into a trash bag and then hurled into a dumpster. In a dumpster, no one cares if your rivets are straight!

Before I had a panic attack, I e-mailed Mike Burton and Greg Plummer, the only two guys who out-lasted me at the restaurant. Luckily, Greg grabbed the part, knowing it was something for a model of some sort. I’ll get it back later next week and I can get this project back on track. Crisis averted by good friends!