Next on the shelf: Morehead’s P-40E

Many, many months ago, the Northern California Friends of the Aces held an event featuring P-40 aces, and we local IPMS guys did a model display. Actually, Marty Sanford and Mark Joyce held a model display, Marty with his stellar P-40E in factory-fresh early 1942 colors, which was in the IPMS Journal a while back, and Mark with four beautiful P-40s in an assortment of schemes. I managed to bring one P-40L in 1:72, that being Alva Temple’s 99th FS plane that got me started on my Tuskegee Airmen research. I’d planned to build one of the panelist’s models, that belonging to Jim Morehead, and had made a start of it, but my crippling case of AMS (advanced modelers syndrome) meant I missed the deadline to complete the model. As it turned out, I only missed the deadline by about a year and a half.

The P-40E is done now, and its completion was far less difficult than the P-47D. It started life as an Academy kit, which I received as a birthday present from Woody Yeung several years ago. The spinner and main gear struts were taken from a Hasegawa kit; you can find these cheap on vendor tables at contests and they’re worth it to improve these parts. The interior is from True Details, with some Eduard assistance. The metal parts are really useful on the P-40, if for nothing more than the ring and bead sights, the actuator on the rudder and some other small parts, which are actually visible. I used the Eduard seat as-is, since the real seat was unpainted; I initially wanted to swing the shoulder straps over the side of the plane, but instead I glued them to the seat.

The hard part, as I described in this post, was getting the side panels in place. I won’t revisit that self-inflicted hassle, but once it was done I was able to proceed pretty quickly to painting. The kit fits well and the first coat of paint showed only a couple spots where panel lines needed to be re-scribed to complete them.

The base colors were olive drab 41 and neutral gray 43. The OD 41 was a home brew, made by adding 12 drops of insignia red to a bottle of olive drab 612 and shaking it very well. The neutral gray was the outstanding but extinct AeroMaster color. The colors went on like a dream and were followed by a gloss coat of water-based Varathane to prepare for decals and a wash.

The photo of Morehead’s plane in Schiffer’s Protect and Avenge: the 49th Fighter Group in World War II shows that the national insignia had their red centers painted out, but 1:1 scale painters face the same problem we 1:72 or 1:48 builders face: white does a bad job of covering red. The centers were muted but still visible on Morehead’s P-40, especially on the fuselage. To replicate this, I used a circle template and my airbrush to apply a pinkish tinge to the center of several stars in disks on an AeroMaster sheet of insignia. On a few of these, I smudged the pink with a fingertip or an X-Acto knife blade. The four best ones were applied to the model.

The other markings were very simple. The plane originally had a black “209” on it in a rounded font; I used similarly-shaped numbers from British serials for this. Over this on the tail and on the nose was “44” in yellow. There was an exact match for this in the serials of one of the unused schemes on the sheet I used for my latest Thunderbolt; since I’d goofed up and had two sheets, I had four “44s!” The “U.S. ARMY” legend in the appropriate blue came from the recent sheet mentioned here.

A wash of Paynes gray watercolor paint was slopped on the model and removed with a damp towel. On went the flat coat, followed by the next bit of weathering. The photo of Morehead’s tipped-up P-40 showed a lot of chipping on the wing roots, so I attacked the model with a silver prismacolor pencil. I also added some yellow to replicate areas where the paint had chipped off the primer. Chipping was continued with a lighter touch around the ammunition trays, fuselage and wing leading edges. A streak of pastels was pulled back with a blending stump from the exhausts.

The canopy came from a Falcon vacuformed set, and I masked and painted each angle separately. That is, I did the vertical braces first, then the horizontal braces, then each of the small angles on the individual panes. It was tacked in place with white glue.

The gear was added next; the mounting points were sadly weak and I had to drill and pin both struts after the pins on the Hasegawa parts simply broke off. Before I installed them, I added brake lines and used the Eduard set’s retraction struts instead of the kit’s large single strut.

At about this point, I realized that the photo I’d stared at for so long showed no antenna mast, but I still had a big hole where the kit part would go. I had to plug the hole with styrene rod and CA glue, then sand it down and carefully re-paint the top of the model! The clear areas were masked with Post-It notes and the process went shockingly smoothly!

The wingtip lights were painted chrome silver, then overpainted with clear red and clear green. The aerials were made with fibers from a smoke-colored pair of panty hose; I drilled a hole in the leading edge of the tail and inserted a fine steel rod, then drilled and added insulators on the fuselage made from brass wire. These were painted white, then I glued a fiber to the tail post and stretched it around the insulator on one wing tip. This was fixed with a drop of CA. The other wingtip aerial was added next, followed by the fuselage aerial.

The last step was to add the rudder actuator and the ring and bead sights – all tiny photoetched parts. I find that Testors Dullcote makes a neat glue for such things; I applied a small drop to a newspaper, then dragged the bottom of each pat through it and carefully held it against the model. This was extremely easy and left no glue marks, since the Dullcoat dries tight against the surface of the paint.

Done! This model depicts the P-40E that Morehead flew on April 25, 1942, when he shot down three G4M1 bombers attempting to attack Darwin. The plane took a single 7.62mm round in the right wing, which snapped the landing gear mechanism, so that after Morehead landed the plane’s right gear collapsed. This fluke damage allowed me to replicate the weathering accurately – so some good finally came of it!


Confessions of a P-40 War-hack

I was really plugging away at the P-40 last weekend before I committed a major boo-boo that stopped work in its tracks. I masked and painted the windscreen area after cleaning it up, and it looked good, and then I shot a coat of AeroMaster neutral gray on the undersides. AeroMaster is an “extinct” paint, but goodness, does it shoot well. It required little thinning for airbrushing, covered with a tight-grained finish, and behaved itself in every way. It was an absolute pleasure to paint with and it caused my airbrush to behave exactly the way it is supposed to. My masking around the tail and especially the cowling was just right, and I really thought I was on my way.

Then I screwed up. The side windows in the Academy P-40 have these enormous external frames that look like the patternmaker glued .030 by .030 rod across them. Really, it’s like someone laid a pair of railroad ties vertically on the windows – totally out of scale and inaccurate. Academy has a knack for this – they “borrow” the layout of an otherwise nice kit (see: the Academy Tempest V and P-39, both of which bear a remarkable similarity to the Heller kits, right down to the positions of the locating pins) and then goober some things up. In the case of the Tempest, it was the prop, the horizontal stabilizers and the gear retraction struts. In this case, it’s been the spinner, the landing gear struts (too thick, and the anti-torque scissors are just weird) and these windows. I also hear tell that the canopy’s too tall in this kit, but since mine will be a vacuformed replacement I am not concerned with that detail.

Anyhow, I went to work sanding the crowbars off these windows, and decided that while I was at it, I should reduce the thickness to a more scale size. I took an additional 1/64 of an inch off the windows, then polished them out with sanding sticks and, finally, Blue Magic auto polish. I had nice, clear, thin windows. Whoopee!

The problem was that Academy gave you windows that fit really well thanks to a beveled inner edge. If you abrade away 1/64 off the top, the perimeter of that bevel shrinks and your windows no longer fit. Duh.

I suppose I could have reduced them from the inside, but getting P-40 rear windows into place in this scale is work enough. Very luckily for me, Randy Ray’s building the Academy P-40N (which doesn’t have those side windows) and he let me have his spares. I sanded off the frames from one of the replacement windows this morning – and then stopped, and polished them out. Not surprisingly, it fits.

Another P-40 item of interest: Try as I might, I could not find the underwing “U.S. ARMY” legend in blue in my 18 pounds of decals. On October 22, 1940 this was ordered changed from black to blue; that would certainly mean my P-40E would have a blue legend rather than a black one. Luckily AeroMaster did a half-sized sheet last year of this marking in several sizes, and black and blue. (Thanks to Jim Johnson over on Hyperscale for tipping me to it.) Remarkably, they include five styles of M’s and two styles of every other color, a testament to the Army Air Corps’ inability to standardize on these markings. For the love of Dana Bell!

The P-40 thus will wear one of the blue “U.S. ARMY” legends on the lower wing, Aeromaster insignia on the fuselage and top left and bottom wings (with the red center applied first, under the star, to suggest the painted-out centers common in May 1942), and Microscale railroad decals for the individual aircraft markings. I also have a Tally Ho of the Czech Republic sheet of P-40E stencils which will probably donate some markings. It’ll certainly be a one-of-a-kind model, and I’d like to have it done before the week of the nationals (which are Aug. 19-22).

Pleasant painting: the P-40 gets its warpaint

This week’s work on the P-40 has been quite gratifying; I have a couple areas to touch up (just ahead of the windscreen; the left wing root; the very front of the top intake) to correct construction errors, but otherwise it is proceeding very nicely. These errors were shown up by a bit of preshading followed by an application of my own mix of Olive Drab 41, the color used to paint Army Air Corps aircraft until the advent of Olive Drab 612. Although OD faded and varied quite a bit, there’s a difference to these colors; OD 41 is lighter and browner, and OD 612 is darker and “cleaner” looking (if that makes any sense). OD 41 is close to FS 34087, but, according to Dana Bell in Air Force Colors Vol. 1, a little redder.

I picked up a bottle of Testors FS 34087, added 15 drops of insignia red, and shook like a maniac. The final result was an entire bottle of OD 41, or at least as close as I could get in a hurry – and it went on the model very nicely through my Paasche VL airbrush. I’m not sure what neutral gray I’ll use to finish the bottom of the plane, but as of now I’m just pleased the model is as far along as it is. I’m planning a Stupid Decal Trick (SDT) with this model. When American forces painted out the red dot at the centers of their insignia in May, 1942, they found that painting white over red was a pain in the rear end, giving them something else in common with modelers. The red often showed through the white, giving the center of the star a ghostly pink cast. I’ve covered the red center with additional white decal material in the past; this time, I have a better idea. Several vendors have sold these insignia with separate red centers; my idea this time is to apply the red dot to the model first, then place the star and disk over it. Since most white decals are a little translucent, the red center should show through faintly, capturing the effect with a minimum of hassle.

One question I’ll throw out to you here (and which I can probably answer for myself, given a little time with my library): did the USAAF planes have shoulder straps in early 1942? I know that Navy planes lacked them until about October 1942, resulting in many airdales having smiles that resembled your typical NHL player. I have not yet installed the seat or stick in my Warhawk’s cockpit, so I have time to cogitate over this; if they did have shoulder straps, I’d like to fling them over the side of the cockpit in the case of this machine to replicate an aircraft on alert.

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

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!

P-40E Take Wings

During the New Year’s holiday (four days off in a row, with little on the agenda besides parties and football), I actually accomplished something. The P-40E is racing along, having gone from a fuselage to an assembled airframe. Just look:


The camera makes the dihedral hard to see, but it’s there – I made sure of that . The lower wing fit of the Academy kit was perhaps a little too tight, and I had some tough sledding to get it positioned just right. I also had a fairly major seam at the wing root on the upper wings, and I’m not sure what to attribute that to beyond the kit itself. No problem – that’s what God created cyanoacrylate glue and sanding sticks for.

After that came the rescribing, which was pleasantly uneventful. I also added wiring behind the instrument panel and a “gunsight mount” for the True Details sight; these never seem to stick out far enough from the panel in kits as photos reveal. The P-38’s mount has to be a foot long; it’s no wonder so many guys banged up their faces and heads in crash landings and ditchings.
The prop spinner was painted insignia red and masked off. Getting a straight line on a conical surface is no fun, and the initial line between the red and olive drab wavered a bit. It was re-masked and painted and looks pretty acceptable now.

I also plugged the holes for the drop tank mounts with .040 styrene rod. The 49th Fighter Group didn’t get tanks until July 1942, and the plane I’m building had been reduced to scrap long before that. Actually, I rather like the idea of a tankless (and bombless) airplane – I get tired of hanging those alignment-busters off my planes, and putting them on at the end always makes me nervous.
The next step will be the addition of the windscreen, then masking that off and painting this bird. The wheels are done, the prop’s done and the canopy will be done shortly. I’ll use Superscale railroad decals for the markings for Jim Morehead’s plane; it’ll be fairly ordinary looking, but I plan on weathering it a bit and adding some life that way.

Oddly, the Maryland is at almost exactly the same stage. I rescribed it on Sunday night, and the amount of work on the wings and belly meant there was a lot to restore. Luckily, the Czech monograph on the subject has great drawings, which confirmed the odd asymmetrical panel line layout on the upper wings. I would have hated to get this far and mess up the panel lines! Next, I’ll saw the windscreen from the rest of the canopy and add it to the cockpit sill; a vacuform replacement is on the way for the rest of the canopy, which hinged to the right. The top and left panels of the canopy then hinged down – the central canopy on the TBF Avenger is the closest canopy to this that I’ve seen.

I think I’m on target for three planes in 2009 at minimum. Touch basswood.

Thanks for boxes, aces and friends

John McCain can go pound sand – I am clearly more of a maverick. Who else wears neckties to every model contest? Who else listens to with one earphone just to hear the crazy stereo separation on Beatles songs (“Hello Goodbye” is really sparse in just the left channel…)? And who else has a column about what he’s grateful for a week after Thanksgiving? Am I out of control or what?

Let me calm down. Okay. Whew.

I just wanted to express my belated thanks to Randy Ray. Randy was laid off about three weeks ago, and since I subscribe to the concept that idle hands are the devil’s playthings (the devil clearly needs a hobby), I asked Randy to pick up some boxes for Obscureco purposes. Being gainfully employed in San Francisco makes it a bee-yatch for me to get to my suppliers in San Jose, but Randy made the rounds and delivered the boxes during his between-work time. If you got an Obscureco item in the last couple of weeks, you should thank Randy, too. Thanks, Randy!

I’m also pleased to say that Phil Schasker of the Northern California Friends of the Aces and I had a chance to talk about the missed communication at the last aces event. Phil’s computer went kerplunk just as I started e-mailing him about the event, so he wasn’t ignoring me – his roasted motherboard was. I look forward to the next event and the next model I’ll not finish in time for a display. I’m thinking P-38 here. Actually, I’m inclined to do an F-5 more than a P-38 right now – unless Academy surprises me with a P-38F (new booms, people! C’mon!). If I had an F available, I’d like to Besby Holmes’ Yamamoto mission plane.

That’s for the future, though. Here’s a status report on what’s in the queue:

F-4B Phantom II (Bill Freckleton/Garry Weigand, VF-111): awaiting decals.
P-47D (Ray Murphy, 379th FS/362nd FG): Awaiting paint and an engine.
P-51D-5 (Bart Tenore, 354th FG): Awaits paint.
Martin 167 Maryland (Adrian Warburton, Malta): Needs to have the wings stuck on.
P-40E (Jim Morehead, 49th FG): Needs to have the fuselage sealed up.
Firefly V (no scheme selected): Needs to have anything done to it at all.

The thing I’m discovering is that I am mostly motivated to build by the story of the people who built the planes – a model of some generic aircraft, no matter how graceful or colorful it is doesn’t hold the same allure. This may make it tough when I go to build a TS-11 Iskra or some other more exotic and utilitarian plane, or an airliner; it may be hard to isolate a story out of those subjects.

Photos next time…

Getting little bits done…

Four good days of modeling included the following events:

1. The sidewalls were installed in the P-40, and after the fuselage tub was added the fuselage still fit when I test fit it. That’s a good sign.

2. Nifty item 2 for the P-40 was that I added the instruments to the BACK of Eduard’s pre-painted instrument panel. The shroud for the instruments was cut away with a Dremel tool (which also broke one of the fuselage sidewall pieces off and fired it across the room – but it was otherwise undamaged) and I plan on showing the plane without the shroud, which also gives me a chance to wire up the gunsight and run a few other wires around under the windscreen. With the ring and bead sight where it is, this could be a neat focal point for the detail. The instrument panel was installed and, again, the test fitting went without a hitch.

3. Nifty item 3 for the P-40 was the construction of the radiator area, with photoetched screens from Eduard adding a bit of chin detail.

4. On the P-47 front, I built up the basic elements of the Aires R-2800 engine (crank case and cylinders). Those parts are painted; next come 18 stretched-sprue push rod tubes. I spent a while hunting for black plastic to stretch; an F-117 kit ought to provide you with a lifetime supply of 1:72 “pre-painted” pushrod tubes. Now, it’s up to me to cut them to the right length and CA-glue them into place. This is the stage where I start wondering why I don’t build jets. Of course, when I’m scratchbuilding intake ducting on jets, it makes me wonder why I don’t build gliders.

All this work left me still pretty far from a finished model, or even a model I could put decals on (or a model I could pretend to fly around the house while making airplane noises). However, I think the P-47 will make some major progress this week. I must say that I’m really looking forward to the natural metal paint job; I kinda have it down, after two natural metal Jugs, a P-38 and a P-51B in the last three years. I have the old Lumonz Alclad painting book, which includes diagrams that purport to show where various “shades” were used on different planes; these are helpful suggestions, even if the accuracy is questionable. Still, there are some spots on a P-47 (turbosupercharger exhaust cover, ammunition ray covers, etc.) that are clearly unique in shine and capturing those is fun. The diagrams are useful reminders as you’re painting. I’ll scan the P-47 diagrams and put them up after I paint the model.

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