F-4B Phantom scores a victory

Last Saturday was the Kickoff Classic, and it went really, really well. We had at least 530 models (I registered at 11:30, and I had entries up to 535, I think), the vendors did well, Jim Lund brought a stunning collection of 1:72 Flying Boats and a bunch of people came up from southern California, including Best-of-Show winner Jim Wechsler. It was a great show and I consider it the best one-day contest I’ve ever attended. You can see virtually the entire event in the gallery at www.svsm.org.

The icing on the cake for me was that I finished my F-4B at about 3 a.m. that morning and, roughly 13 hours later, it took first place in multi-engine jets. The contest really helped me get focused on finishing the model; on Thursday I never thought it would be done, but on Friday I had a gradual realization that, yes, this model could be finished for the show. It became a matter of mentally organizing my tasks: put on the wheels, then the gear doors. Then add the tank. Stick the photoetched parts inside the canopy, then add them to the fixed canopy parts, but leave the canopies off until the end. Put in the new pitot probes in the tail, but be careful not to knock them off. Add the pylons, but them be careful not to knock them off. This went on and on until I added the canopies with white glue and declared it done. There were a few blade antennas missing from the Phantom, and the plane only carried one Sidewinder, but it was done enough to enter. When I took it to the table, I was astounded to see another “Old Nick 201” already entered – what are the odds of that?

Here’s what the winning model looked like at the show; better photos will follow:


I think my favorite moment came when I took it of its box to show Alan Weber, and Alan immediately said, “Oh, it’s the MiG killer!” It is a fairly iconic scheme…

On the way home, I knocked off one of the stabilators, and discovered the canopies were not so much glued as placed in their positions (and they somehow didn’t bounce out of alignment – wow!). So Monday I truly finished the Phantom, adding the antennas and re-attaching the horizontal, and finally putting all four Sidewinders on their rails. It ended up being a pretty nice model.

Once the Phantom was finished, I started work anew on the P-40E, including making a new gunsight from scratch. I turned the sight’s body from .040 rod in my motor tool, then added a bar across the back side and two “knobs” cut from very fine styrene rod. A bit of square rod was cut down and added to the back, and this was drilled out to accept a wire. The whole thing was painted gray, then aircraft interior black, with gloss black at the top lens area. Once dry, I drybrushed it and added a reflector glass made from some extra acetate from an Eduard instrument panel. It looked good once finished. I added a photoetched iron sight to the cockpit instrument panel, then cemented the gunsight to the pedestal I fashioned earlier in the build, all carefully placed under the already-in-place windscreen. This was a dumb idea; it made things a lot harder than they needed to be, especially when I discovered’ I’d stuck a P-40N windscreen on my P-40E. I popped the windscreen off and now had full access to place these items.

I also noticed my P-40 had no rudder pedals. This is a hazard of rushing; I’ve done this more than once. To fix it, I took the Eduard pre-painted pedals, bent them to shape and cut off most of the arms that hold them to the back of the instrument panel. Then, I stuck a bit of styrene strip to the back of the pedal, where it can’t be seen. I applied a little CA glue to the cockpit floor just behind where the pedal was supposed to be; with tweezers, I carefully placed the styrene strip into the glue, made a few quick adjustments, and had the pedals in place.

So, now I just have to get that windscreen in place, mask it and the cockpit, and airbrush this sucker. If I can get to the decals quickly, this may be a second model finished within 30 days!

The longest homestretch ever

The burner cans are now neatly planted in the rear end of the Phantom, and it inches closer to looking like the real deal. I think next I’ll add the glass to the gunsight (it fell out months ago, and I should probably tweezer it on in there before I put on the clamshell canopies and can no longer reach under the windscreen. The landing gear struts can go on soon as well; although I’ll need to add some wiring to the nose bay. I was able to patch the split seam reasonably well enough (it looks like a recessed panel line now – convincing enough!), so that crisis is averted.

The latest problem is that I can’t find the canopies. I’m sure they’re on my desk somewhere; I looked long and hard for them last night to no avail. I’ll probably borrow them from one of my unbuilt Air Force Phantoms and just move on – when they do turn up, the can go into the RF-4 box and it’ll be no harm, no foul.

With the Kickoff Classic approaching fast, I’m making a point of spending at least 40 minutes a day on the model. That’s a good thing to do in general, but some of the things I’m finishing up on the Phantom – like those canopies – require some time. They will get masked, then three coats of paint (black, gull gray, red), a coat of gloss, decals and a flat coat – that takes time. The gear need brake lines, weathering, new anti-torque scissors and other photoetched bits; that takes time. The Sidewinders need their stripes and the tank needs its red flourishes; that takes time. The multitude of antennas still need to be added, as do the pitot heads; that takes time. And the bang seats, control columns and other cockpit gear needs to go in ahead of the canopies; they take time too. I think this weekend I’ll pick the most logical next area and work it to completion (landing gear and gear doors seem smart to me).

I was looking forward to having more than two planes at the contest, but I suppose two it will be… If I am lucky!

When I say “break right,” I don’t mean part of the model…

The Phantom saga continues. The latest drama is that there’s a split seam that spans both a natural metal area and a decal. The only good news is that I can probably repair it from behind; the fit of the parts is so tight that I should be able to get it lined up and then use CA glue to hold the pieces in place. I’m not telling you where it is, since some of you may be judges (wink, wink) – although it’ll probably end up looking like a panel line at worst.

I have a ton of little white bits on my workbench right now just waiting to be stuffed into areas on the bottom of the plane. I’ll put in the nose bay’s parts first; I’ll probably add some additional plumbing in there, followed by a heavy wash. This area seemed to get pretty messy in use. The mains will go on next. I have to add the photoetched brake lines and whatnot before these go in, but I’ll leave off the anti-torque scissors on the nose gear until later.

Another side effect of the over-engineered nature of the Hasegawa kit is that I’ve found flash in many areas (after painting them, usually). The mains both suffered from a serious mold slip that made them somewhat less than easy to work with, and areas like the inside of the missile rails have pronounced flash and mold mis-match. Very uncool.

The good news is that the masking on the windscreen is off and it came out okay. I’m going to do the clamshells at the same time as the Sidewinders, because they’ll both need to be glosscoated prior to decaling.

Have I mentioned that I’m looking forward to going back to something simple, like a P-40? I like jets, but this model is making me pine for the prop jobs…

Not even finished and already I’m making repairs…

I may never finish the Phantom, but if I do is ought to turn out pretty well. This weekend, after showing it’s mostly built carcass off at the Fremont meeting and talking about some blemishes in the finish with Mark Schynert, I actually went back and fixed them. To be specific, there was a ghost of a thumbprint on the spine and a bit of overly-stark discoloration from the wash on one wing. The thumbprint was just a dumb finishing error; the wing looked pretty out-of-place compared to the rest of the model from a distance. One great thing about sticking models on the table at a club meeting at this stage is your ability to see things that are inconsistent – we usually don’t look at our models from six or seven feet away, and this proved very useful.

Anyhow, I first attacked the thumbprint with 4000-grit sandpaper. Alas, it wasn’t in the flat coat – it must have landed there between the wash and the flat coat. I certainly smoothed it out, but to really fix it I mixed up some Model Master flat gull gray and then masked off the offending panels with Post-it notes. A few light coats with the airbrush rendered the print invisible. I used the same technique on the wing, even putting a torn bit of masking around a data decal – the effect was perfect, since the feathered edge of the masking helped the fresh paint blend right in.

I’ll hit these areas – and a couple of unduly shiny spots – with Dullcote to give the model a uniform finish – although I then may buff it with an 8000-grit sanding cloth to impart a bit of gloss. 1:72 scale makes it tough to get just the right sheen, so this may be a good approach.

I’m really looking forward to getting this bird on her gear – but I still have to add some stuff to the nose gear bay. And to think I lamented all the extra effort I put into the P-40’s landing gear bay!

Jammed on the Phantom

Last night, I had a big modeling night: I replaced the star-and-bar on the lower wing of the Phantom. That was it (although it became more complicated than just a decal when some of my water-soluble wash started running off in the decal setting solution). I’m at a bit of a block on this model; I’ve promised myself the next time I sit down to work on it I’ll break out the Humbrol No. 34 matt white and airbrush the Sidewinders, the external tank, the pylons, the gear doors and struts, and whatever else I can find that’s white. That will seem like a major step forward and will hopefully break the logjam.

It’s not like I don’t think about the model. I do, often – almost like a skier visualizing his way down a slalom course, I have mentally gone through the last remaining steps – antennas, loadout, gear and doors, canopy painting. So, when I sound the horn on myself, I ought to be able to get things done fast.

What may have caused my block was the installation of the exhaust and burner cans. Aires makes a really nice set for the Phantom, and long ago I painted, washed and drybrushed a set in anticipation of having a Phantom to stick them in. When the time can, I slid the right tailpipe in – and it ran smack into the back of the bottom of the fuselage halves, which is about a quarter inch above the bottom of the wing inside the airframe. The burner can sat about a half-inch out from where it should sit, and it did so at a rather comical angle. The solution was to stick a grinding bit in my motor tool at the maximum length of the shank and then grind away the obstructing plastic. This took place a) around the just-painted natural metal engine section, and b) inside the model. You wouldn’t think that a 1:72 Phantom could be such a great amplification chamber. Each perilous bout of grinding was accompanied by an unholy howl coming out of the other exhaust hole in the model. I’m just glad I checked this before the gear was on and the canopies in place – I can only imagine what the vibrations would have done to them.

This problem is now almost completely solved, so hopefully my Phantom adventure will soon yield a finished model. Just think – Norm Filer built 100 of these. I guess that in the quest for spiritual fulfillment, self-flagellation takes on different forms!

Over the weekend, I discovered a new technique for applying streaked liquid leaks – I’ll let you in on it next time.

Close to the Phinish…

The Phantom is all painted, washed and dull-coated, with just a few touch-ups left. The wash went on neatly enough. I used a dark gray watercolor paint mixed with dishwashing liquid and a drop of Windex (not too much, since it can wreak havoc with the Varathane I use for gloss coating), and smeared it all over the plane. The white areas got a lightened version of this; I wanted to avoid the stark black-line look, and I think I achieved this. Over that went a heavily-thinned spray of Testors Dullcote – 25-75 Dullcote to lacquer thinner. This was definitely a time for good ventilation.

The natural metal hiney of the F-4 is not just a task to paint, it’s kind of a pain to research. It’s pretty hard to find photos of the aft section of the plane that doesn’t have it in shadow. Not to worry – I employed the best photos from about eight books, some intuition, Testors metallizers and a whole lot of Post-it notes and applied four shades of metals (all hand mixed) to the aft end, plus three more to the horizontal stabilizers, which are also now ready for addition.

I had one minor mishap when a Post-it note lifted the star-and-bar from the lower wing. I could whine about it, but I won’t – I’ll just remove what’s left of the decal with clear cellophane tape, re-gloss, put another decal on there and flat-coat it again. There a couple other areas that are a little too shiny still, so this is an opportunity more than it is a problem. There are also some very minor silvering issues with a couple of decals (most noticeably, an “F-4B” on the data block), a spot where the masking allowed some metal onto an area that should be flat gull gray, and a couple spots where the Sundowners sun’s rays need touch-ups, but these are not serious problems. Altogether, it was a productive weekend.

One little problem popped up when I test-fit the Aires burners and tail pipes. It seems the wing spar impedes the pipes, so you have about 10mm of excess wing spar to motor-tool away. This will be fun – running the motor tool inside an area already completed with a natural metal finish. Oh, joy.

After that, I’ll paint the stores (the pylons, missiles and tanks are all standing by for paint) and the gear doors and other elements (ditto) with wonderful Humbrol Matt 34. After that, it’s the canopies and the bits in the cockpit. I think I can get most of this together by next Friday – and if I need extra time, I’ll work on sticking on all the bits at the Northwest Scale Modelers Show at the Museum of Flight in Seattle! I’ll be up there talking about my book on the Fourth Fighter Group, and I’ll drag a few models up – the Mustang above is an example, since the theme is “The Mighty Eighth.” I’d also like to bring my 362nd FG collection, and maybe the FM-2. It’s too bad this show isn’t closer to home, because I’m limited to what I can carry in a small bag on the plane.

There may be a show closer to home, though. A bunch of us from Silicon Valley Scale Modelers is planning a trip up to talk about a show like this at the Travis Air Museum, which is very amenable to the idea. So Seattle may be a little fact-finding trip for me.

Stickers on Old Nick 201

As promised, here are some photos of the Phantom with all its decals on. I’ll replace them with better –lit ones shortly. The big hurdle was the “USS CORAL SEA” legend (which was finally stolen off a SuperScale sheet for USMC Phantoms – sorry, jarheads!) and the aircraft BuNo. block on the tail. That one was fun – since the SuperScale sheet basically exploded on contact with water, it was made with the “F-4B” from the Hasegawa kit decals and numbers from an S-3 Viking sheet which were cut up and carefully rearranged. They actually came out well! Here’s where it stands right now:

My lovely wife is gone for the night and well into tomorrow which ought to get me enough time to do some serious work on the model. The stuff I have left to do is as follows:

1. Paint the horizontals
2. Apply a second coat of gloss to seal the decals
3. Apply a wash
4. Flat coat the sucker
5. Paint the natural metal areas under the tail
6. Paint and decal the canopies
7. Paint the pylons,tank and Sidewinders
8. Paint the struts and gear doors
9. Stick all the bits on

So it’s really not that far from being finished. I’ll probably add FOD covers to the intakes as well, just because I didn’t go overboard in sanding and smoothing the interiors. There are lots of other small parts that are already finished – ejection seats, wheels, afterburner cans, etc. – that fall under No. 9 above, and I also want to replace the sensor probes on the tail with some telescoping tubing.

I’m going up to the Museum of Flight in Seattle next weekend (as a “speaker,” kind of, since I wrote a book on the 4th Fighter Group and the show’s theme is “The Mighty Eighth”) and my goal is to have the finished “Old Nick 201” on the table. It can be done!

Also, here’s a Prieser 1:72 figure that I’ve made combat ready with a sidearm and jungle knife; he’ll be holding a map once he’s finished and will probably be a companion to my P-40E. My apologies for the slight blurriness – my camera is a little challenged when it comes to small stuff.