Fujita’s Fighter Finished: FineMolds A6M2b is Finito

Well, it’s finished – the FineMolds 1:72 A6M2b “Zero” fighter (or kansen, in Japanese parlance). This was without a doubt the nicest model I’ve ever built; the fit of everything except the cowling-to-the-fuselage was without incident, and any problems were entirely of my own creation.

The little details added were the engine, the aerial, the cockpit and the brake lines. The cockpit also received a Quickboost Type 98 reflector gunsight. The clear parts are so perfectly transparent that the gunsight is actually visible, justifying the amount of work it took to get the two reflector panes aligned.

Finishing up was a matter of building a list and whittling through it. The list had to be organized carefully, with things like the wingtips, pitot, gear position pegs and mass balances last, because they were sure to get knocked off otherwise. Somehow, in the course of finishing the model, I didn’t undo done things through my clumsiness. I did manage to CA-glue the landing gear struts in backwards, however, resulting in a lot of undue work to remove them drill out the mounting holes and then drill and pin the struts. It’s always something…

So, I started it two years ago, finished it today, and its next destination is the USS Hornet for our Midway display. I think it may be the best model I’ve built. Now, on to the SBD!

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Midway Mission Update: D-Day Minus 52

The Midway Mission is going rather well, with 11 modelers on board from as far away as Virginia and Wisconsin! Tonight, Brian Sakai volunteered to do an SB2U Vindicator (he had mentioned having a Miekraft kit almost done, but he’s probably going build the MPM kit instead of that old junker), and Mark Schynert showed off his painted Mania/Hasegawa B5N2 “Kate.” That was really exciting to see – and it makes me want to build a B5N2!

On my account, of the three planes I’ve signed up for, I have one done, one almost done, and one still in the box. The one done was finished in 2002, so that’s really cheating. The one in the box is the SBD-3 by Hasegawa. I thought I had one of these in the shed, but when I went through the mess out there I discovered that it was gone. I also discovered the shed has some pretty obnoxious spiders, one of which bit me on the forehead and raised a painful knot.

Lacking the needed “Speedy Three,” I turned to Hyperscale. Not only did I get another SBD-3, donated by the extremely kind Bill Moyers, I found out where my SBD-3 went – I gave it to someone a while back! I wish I had asked before the spiders got me! The IPMS discussion boards are going to net me a second SBD-3, which is good, because I now have a ton of aftermarket parts and it would be good to do one of Enterprise’s Kaga-killers.

The one that’s almost done is the Zero by FineMolds. Here’s the evolution of the finish over the last two weeks:

Here is is with the preshading in place. I hate over-done pre- and post-shading, so I had to consider that when I added the main color coat…

Which was applied fairly heavily, leaving just a residual trace of the preshading.

The blue bands were masked and painted. They’re a lighter shade of blue than that applied to the Soryu Zeros at Pearl Harbor, according to noted authority David Aiken, so that’s how I portrayed them.

Adding the decals turned what was a fairly low-key model into something befitting an aerial samurai. It fairly screams, “want a fight? It’s right here waiting for you…”

A sludge wash of Payne’s Gray brought the panel detail back to life.

And taking the masking off — that made me VERY excited. It came out all but perfectly.

This weekend, I’ll add the engine and cowling and see how far I can progress on the landing gear. There are a few other small details to paint or add – the landing gear indicator pegs, the position lights, the wingtips and tank – but this model is definitely in the home stretch. Once it’s “flown off” the workbench, the SBD will go into high gear…

The joy of kits that fit

Some models I build are so rough and need so much work that it’s like hitting yourself in the face with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop. When you get into that sort of masochistic pattern, you need to build a really good-fitting kit.

Today, I built the wings for the FineMolds Zero. The way they molded the wheel wells, you have to attach the upper wings to the one-piece lower wing before you attach the lower wing to the fuselage. This gave me the heebie-jeebies – usually, doing this leaves you with a monster seam at one or the other wing root. But I followed the directions, and I was astonished to find that the wing now virtually snap-fits to the fuselage with a minimal need for filler. Tamiya kits seem clunky by comparison.

It’s been a long time since I built a model with such a good fit. The last two that stood out in this way were the Hasegawa Beaufighter and the Hasegawa A-1J Skyraider. These, like the Zero, fit together so beautifully that your progress is almost unsettlingly rapid. I had to do dumb stuff on those two to slow myself down – I built a full interior for the Beaufighter, and I ordered an engine for the Skyraider that became the hostage of a Canadian postal strike. Still, the feeling of making stride after stride on a project – and not sacrificing the detail and build quality – is tremendously exciting and recalls the old days when you could knock a model out in a weekend and be happy with the finished project.

After brawling with numerous MPM kits (the FH-1 Phantom, XF-85 Goblin and the P-40L Warhawk, most notably), rehabilitating old Monogram kits (the F7F-2 Tigercat), resuscitating old Airfix kits (the AW Seahawk, a real battle), and matching wills with Azur kits (Maryland, my Maryland), the Zero is a real bit of therapy. Instead of sanding joints, and then restoring panel lines and lost detail, I can plan my next steps. It requires much more thought than pure elbow grease, and that’s kind of the way I prefer it!

I am going to slow myself down a bit – I’m going to swap in an aftermarket Sakae engine – but I can build around this, right up to the point of adding the landing gear. I’m also going to add a Quickboost gunsight. But unlike some projects, which feel like uphill battles every step of the way, this model has a relaxed feeling to it, and it’s good for me and for my hobby.

Mr. Fujita’s office is now decorated…

The interior of the A6M2b is now complete – at least as complete as it’s going to get, since I closed the fuselage up tonight! It’s tricked out with wire, bits of solder and lead foil, and a few other details. The levers are made from metal rod topped with a little drop of white glue; the effect can be pretty nice, as in the seat adjustment lever. I used the kit decals for the instrument faces, then flatcoated the panel and picked the lenses out with tiny drops of Future. These images look a little glossy, but that’s primarily because of the flash.

The inspiration for much of this detailing came from this build by a Japanese modeler. There are some things that I’m not too keen on in this model – the maintenance on deck is goofy, and I have no idea where they would keep the wooden stands on a carrier – but his detailing is quite nice and, in large part, on target with what I’ve seen in photos.

One neat addition I incorporated on my build was the inclusion of oxygen bottles behind the cockpit bulkhead; mine came from a Prieser HO-scale set of portable generators. I added tape for the straps and painted them; the gray paint was scraped off and revealed a bit of the green plastic, which looks like a weathered tank would look.

The seat was drilled out and given Re-Heat straps, and various cables and wire were made from steel wire I found in a set of computer speakers. I accidentally slammed the speakers’ connector in a file cabinet drawer, which neatly severed it and turned it into modeling material. Recycling! See – scale modeling is a green hobby!

So, now the fuselage is joined; I did this primarily to protect the interior detailing. This is a small kit, it fits well, and it’s easy to deceive myself into thinking I can knock it out quickly. I will work to avoid that self-deception.

While I was pondering this build, I received a copy of Ron Werneth’s Beyond Pearl Harbor: the Untold Stories of Japan’s Naval Aviators. In it, Ron interviews Iyozoh Fujita, the aviator whose plane I’m building. It’s great to be able to put a human voice to the model. The entire book is terrific, by the way – it sheds much light on a largely untold side of World War II in the air.

Oh, and by the way, FineMolds is at this again: They’ve now done an A6M3 in conjunction with another magazine.

Random bits: Zero, Firefly, Liberator

As promised, here’s a photo of the Zero, which as yet does not have instrument faces and the instrument panel installed.

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Note the masking tape at the front and rear of each fuselage half. That protects a coat of Aotake (a metallic blue-green), which will probably be utterly invisible when the model is assembled but which is there just the same. The plane’s seat is complete with painted and flat-coated seatbelts; next up will be the control panel, machine gun breeches and the instrument shelf still missing from the left side of the cockpit.

 

I also added the under-wing panels suited to the variant of Type 21 I am building; there are also wing leading-edge inserts that are subtype-specific. The inserts on the wing were a bit proud of the surface when I test-fit them, but a bit of sanding brought them right into line with the rest of the lower wings.

 

My other project (as-yet unphotographed) was the addition of the “flying six” panel (really, a “flying eight” panel) to the rest of the Firefly panel, which was then added to the resin instrument “shroud” piece. I have two of these kits and in both the gunsight was broken off the instrument shroud; I’ll do a little research on the sight and add something appropriate.

 

A final bit of news: I picked the subject of my B-24D build, and it really should have been obvious. I’ll be building “Brewery Wagon,” a tribute both to the heroic crew of this bomber and to Tom Meyers of Possumwerks Decals, who passed away last year just after getting his venture off the ground. The “Brewery Wagon” was the only B-24D in the 93rd Bomb Group to correctly press on to Ploesti when the rest of its group made a mistaken turn at Targoviste, meaning it pressed on to Ploesti alone. A flak hit shattered the nose, killing the bombardier and the navigator, and pilot John Palm lost one engine and found two on fire. He had virtually lost his right leg, too – it would be amputated after the battle. Still, he pressed on until a Bf 109 shot the bomber up further. Palm set the “Brewery Wagon” down in a field southwest of Ploesti, and co-pilot William Love triggered the fire extinguishers as he did to prevent a conflagration; eight of the 10 aboard the plane survived to become POWs.

Making Zero progress

The A6M2 is proceeding nicely, and the cockpit is coming together, primarily because it was molded apart. What I mean is that the cockpit’s various boxes – radios, switch boxes, throttle, etc. – were all molded as separate pieces. That makes assembly a little longer, but I was able to paint, wash and drybrush the structure of the cockpit, then paint and weather the various boxes and add them later. This made it a lot easier to do – you often can’t reach every stringer or former to drybrush it, for instance, and if you do your weathering in layers, a screw-up in an upper layer means starting from scratch at a lower layer. After all the radios are in place, I’ll add the wiring between the various components.
I drilled out the lightnening holes in the kit seat to match my photos, and I broke out the old Reheat brass generic Japanese hardware set for the belts. The seats in the Reheat set have lightening holes that are too big, and the engineering is funky, but the seat belts will work well.
I’m going to try the trick shown in the Model Graphix magazines the model came with and used decals for the instruments, but I’ll apply them individually into the recesses in the control panel (and the side panel and radio). The decals look pretty good, and I figure I can gloss the areas they go into, then trap them with a drop of Future floor polish, which will then double as a lens over the instrument.
One thing the kit seems to lack is a gunsight. Actually, most kits lack gunsights, or at least detailed gunsights. This is surprising, because they were very prominent in most fighters, and often projected out quite a ways, making them very apparent even to casual viewers. Of course, most restorations have the sights removed so the civilian pilot has a nice view, which may have helped some model manufacturers forget this detail. Not a problem – I have the Robert Mikesh book Japanese Aircraft Interiors, 1940-1945,  on loan from Mike Braun, and the sight looks rather boxy and easy to recreate with styrene strip.
I’m looking forward to getting the cockpit together and the fuselage closed up! This is a really neat model!

Why I build Midway subjects

I always seem eager to start new projects, but somehow loathe to finish them. I say this because on my workbench at home sit the pieces of not the B-24 but my 1:72 FineMolds A6M2b Type 21 Zero. I started the model this morning before work by drilling out the lightening holes in the rear cockpit bulkhead; this kit has an interior comparable to the Tamiya P-47 in terms of completeness. For the most part, it makes an aftermarket set unnecessary. Of course, that is not to say that I won’t add something to the cockpit – probably some photoetched seat belts at the very least.

This project is pretty exciting – No. 2 in my Midway collection, which will include examples of all the planes used int he battle by the time all’s said and done. My first bit of aviation writing came in sixth grade with a report on Pearl Harbor and Midway that was about 30 pages long, or six times longer than the assignment. My teacher accused me of plagiarism until I produced the stack of books I used for research. Looking back, I’m surprised that any sixth grader would grind through Prange, Fuchida and all the other authors readily available back in 1978, but I guess the subject had some resonance. My grandfather and I went to see the movie “Midway” (in Senssurround!) when it came out, and so it was really the first World War II battle I knew very much about.  The film could be the subject of a rather dangerous drinking game – when you see a historical inaccuracy, drink! – and much of the editing of the combat scenes makes no sense, but it’s entertaining, and provides a good jumping off point for learning about what really happened. Plus, with a vast cast of actors including Tom Selleck, Erik Estrada, Dabney Coleman and even Larry Czonka (he plays the Yorktown’s engineering officer, Cdr. Delaney), it’s extremely useful  to know when you’re playing “six degrees of Kevin Bacon.”

And, as I said a few days ago, the Midway Roundtable’s given me a great – and accurate, and often first-hand – understanding of the battle. So of course Midway holds an attraction for my modeling. However, I think the Roundtable spoiled me a little. If I had a question about something – “what were the codes on Red Parks’ F2A-3?” for example – I had an answer in about 24 hours from fairly irrefutable sources – if Mark Horan, John Lundstrom or Barrett Tillman tells you something, it’s generally not something pulled from thin air. However, Japanese aircraft are another matter. David Aiken has done some great scholarship around the subject, but the reality of the matter is this: because the U.S. Navy dealt the Japanese carriers such a shocking and complete blow, there’s almost no photographic record of the Japanese side of Midway to draw from. As your carrier was burning, and you prepared to abandon ship, would running down to the photo lab with (filled with flammable chemicals and film stock) to grab snapshots of the air wing be a high priority? Probably not.

So, using David’s research and advice, I settled on a subject: Lt. Iyozoh Fujita. This was partly because I already had the markings in my decal bin, and partly because Fujita was a big scorer at Midway; some sources credit him with 10 victories on June 4. His career score is given as anything between 11 and 42, but Fujita himself said that he shot down just seven. In any event, Fujita was one of those who intercepted first Torpedo Six and then Torpedo Three at Midway and, in fact, lost his wingman Teruo Kawamato to Tom Cheek who was escorting VT-3. Fujita claimed three TBDs and a shared fourth, but while chasing outbound SBDs he was hit by antiaircraft fire and had to bail out at low altitude. He survived the war and ended up flying 747s for Japan Air.

That’s my subject – now I just have to build it. Where’s that bottle of aotake?