Workbench update: Two done, two close to paint, four a long way off

Here’s an update on a few projects mentioned here in the blog over the last year or so: DSC_0375North American P-51D Mustang

This one was completed at the end of January in time for the Petaluma contest – and it came out pretty well. I won’t belabor the construction, since I wrote an article for the IPMS/Journal about it, but it’s the Tamiya Mustang with an Obscureco wing with dropped flaps, an Aires interior and wheels, and a vacuformed canopy. The plane is finished as Roscoe Brown’s “Bunny”/”Miss Kentucky State,” and the figure of Roscoe was made with a CMK body and a Prieser head. This model had plenty of frustrations, but it came out pretty well. Sparrowhawk glamor 4 Sparrowhawk glamour 1 Curtis F9C-2 Sparrowhawk

I never wrote about this here – I tried to get it done on deadline back in September and didn’t quite make it (it was finished in December). Another Journal article subject, I’ll give you the basics: Pegasus kit, with an Engines n’ Things R-975, scratch-built interior, skyhook, landing gear, and struts. The decals came from Starfighter and the CMR resin kit (which is pretty awful too). The rigging is made from acupuncture needles, cut to length and added to pre-cut holes. It won the Ralph Patino Award at the Silicon Valley Classic for the best model built from the worst kit! DSC_0273 Fairey Firefly Mk. V

Not exactly stalled – I did cut open the observer’s cockpit a couple of weeks ago – but not much closer to completion than it’s been for months. I suspect this will be one of the next two models I finish. DSC_0400 Republic P-47D-30 Thunderbolt

Here’s Gene Martin’s Thunderbolt, inching closer to completion. The red, black and olive drab parts of the model are done and masked, but my first pass of metallizer revealed some sloppy joints at the wing, so I had to sand it out and rescribe the panel lines. I am really looking forward to getting this one done using the Barracuda Studios decals. DSC_0404 Douglas KA-3B Skywarrior

Well, the fuselage is done and it rests on the workbench like a beached whale, appropriately enough.     DSC_0386 Martin B-26-1-MA Marauder

The wheels are done, the torpedo is finished, and the next step is the daunting reconstruction of the tail gun position. It can be done – but it’s a lot of work. I’ll have to scavenge the propeller spinners from an Airfix P-61, because the Lone Star Models spinners are totally unusable (different diameters? Really?). Lots of work ahead, but nothing revolutionary. DSC_0401DSC_0402 Mikoyan MiG-15

This one snuck into the build sequence because I needed something to do “brute force” modeling on while I was traveling. I never got that far, because cutting open the speed brakes and, in the process, converting a MiG-15 bis into a MiG-15, took a lot of cutting, drilling, filing, and cursing. I’m not sure I’d recommend the Brassin brakes – the instructions leave a lot to the imagination, and for surgery like this, instructions are important. The Brassin cockpit is nice, though, and that’s installed and painted. I was hoping to have this little machine glued together and ready for paint quickly, but taking my time on it will not hurt. The basic kit is rather nice and I suspect it’ll get finished pretty quickly. Convair F-106 Delta Dart I’ve stopped, hoping that Meng will make a new one.

Finished: Bart Tenore’s Mustang “Prodigal Son”

Here’s the finished Mustang – at long last!

It’s the plane flown by Lt. Bartolomeo Tenore, 356th Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, in August, 1944. On August 25, during a sweep around Amiens, the squadron stumbled upon two groups of German fighters at low level, totaling about 24 planes. Tenore was leading Green Flight, and after the German fighters passed below him, “I split-S’ed onto about 15 BF 109s,” he reported. “The enemy aircraft hit for the deck, and only one of them attempted to turn into us. He made a half-hearted head-on pass but did not open fire and rejoined the formation, which flew line abreast down a valley. I opened fire on the first 109 on the right side of the formation and got hits on the fuselage and radiator coolers. He crashed in a wood. I then took on the next ship in the formation and fired dead astern on him. He was flying in the treetops, and as I followed him over a small knoll I saw him hit the ground and explode. I then moved into position behind a third 109 and got some hits. He crashed in front of me, and I had to pull up to avoid hitting the debris. As I was attacking the third ship, I was flying line abreast with another 109 that Lt. McIntire flew into the ground right next to me. We tailed the last 109 for a long time on the deck, and I got a few hits with one gun firing. When my guns ceased firing, Lt. McIntire got some hits with his last still-operating guns.”

After the mission, it was determined that one of Tenore’s victims had been the 354th’s 500 aircraft destroyed (counting air and ground victories). Tenore served until October, when he rotated home. His plane survived until Nov. 21, 1944; it had been passed to the 353rd Fighter Squadron, and it was lost when Lt. “Curley” Holton spun in and crashed while turning after German fighters near Merseberg. Holton became a POW.

Finishing the model became an ordeal. Three vacuformed canopies were dipped in Future, masked and painted before I got one that didn’t have a major defect caused by molding or Future mishaps. The canopy brace wasn’t quite wide enough for the new canopy, so I ended up attaching it to the fuselage with small bits of styrene strip; with the canopy on, the brace looks like it’s attached to the canopy. The canopy rails were cut from Eduard photoetched parts and I promptly dropped one of them, which eluded me until I got out the vacuum and rubber-banded a piece of panty hose over the vacuum hose. After two passes I found the rail – then dropped it again. I dropped it two more times, then managed to drop the model while adding the canopy rails. That broke off one flap and the inner gear doors and their struts (it landed on my leg). I tried adding the struts back to the doors after they were re-attached, but again, dropped one of the struts repeatedly. In disgust, I ripped the gear doors off, added the struts, then installed them on the model – which is the way I should have done it in the first place. The flap and canopy rails went on without difficulty, and the canopy was secured with tiny bits of CA glue. Done!

In all, this model is the Tamiya kit, with the Obscureco P-51D-5-NA conversion and wings, Cooper Details interior, Falcon canopy and Eduard photoetchec bits. Quite a parts collection, but it’s a nice Mustang.

I’ll build another Mustang soon – now, it’s on to the Firefly and Zero…

Work Stoppage at the 1:72 North American Plant

For two weeks, my Mustang has been sitting in a state of suspension: painted, decalled, and all the remaining subassemblies ready to be added. I have to touch up the natural metal on the flaps, but that’s all the painting that is left. I have to add brake lines to the main struts (and add the little photoetched bits to them – but I do that after the struts and wheels are on the plane anyhow), and the gear will be ready to add. The only real delay is the canopy rails – one of the photoetched rails I added a few weeks ago went off into the ether and I had to order another Eduard set just to steal the rails. They’re prominent, especially if you keep writing books about various Mustang-equipped fighter groups, like this one (available in bookstores near you in November – with a different cover). When you look at photos like the one below, you start to fixate on that detail, and I’ll never be able to build a Mustang without them.

The canopy’s ready – it’s the Squadron canopy, dipped in Future. Boy, does it look good – I have no idea why I stopped using Future on the clear parts, but for bubble canopies it can’t be beat. The prop’s done – white spinner painted with good old Humbrol No. 34 Matt White, blades tricked out with manufacturer’s decal. Gear doors have had their sink marks removed or covered with .005 styrene sheet and painted. Tail wheel painted and ready, as are the metal tail gear door covers. Exhausts were all drilled out, then painted with my own mix of Model Master leather, insignia red and burnt metal (it looks good!).

Now, I just have to stick ‘em together. I also need to fashion a landing light and add the signal lights in the wings – but my first thing to do is to add weathering. It’s a lot easier to add before the exhaust stacks are on than it is to work around them, especially in 1:72 scale.

Okay, so that’s all that’s left. Now that I’ve put it in print and said it in public, I have to get off my backside and finish it – right? (Hold me to it, readers! I’m counting on you!)

Messtang – now not as bad as it was…

After about an hour of remedial work last night – masking off ID stripes with Post-It notes, fixing flaws in the metal finish by spraying through keyhole masks, etc. – I brought what was a bit of a wreck back to this:

Which isn’t that bad. It won’t win any contests, but it ought to come out nice enough. This step puts me in the home-stretch stage; next up is the final painting of the spinner and the flaps and then the landing gear.

I do look forward to my next Mustang – I’ve figured out some things with this one (mostly about painting) and I can hardly wait to apply them.

Making a mess out of a Mustang

My Tamiya P-51D-5-NA has received a lot of attention since I returned from the IPMS/USA Nationals in Phoenix – and unfortunately, not all of that attention has been good for the model.

Here’s the sequence of failures that has the model where it sits now:

1. I applied the decals, which I documented here.

2. I applied a coat of Testors metallizer sealer to the model – but my airbrush wasn’t yet cleaned thoroughly enough, so about two-thirds of the way through the process it laid down a metallic-tinged clear coat over the decals – not good.

3. I managed to save the decals by gently wiping the fouled clear coat off them with a cotton swab moistened slightly with lacquer thinner.

4. I cleaned the airbrush throroughly, cursing the entire time.

5. I applied another coat of sealer – and replicated the mistake completely.

6. More cursing.

7. More cleaning.

8. Some more cleaning.

9. I tried to remove the second fouled coat the same way as the first, but now the underlying paint started to show some problems. I haven’t fixed that yet, but I’ll probably carefully mask the decals and spray very small areas with fresh aluminum metallizer. This will probably lead to more of step 6.

10. I removed the masking on the anti-glare panel, and found a bit of metallic overspray. I made “keyhole masks” from post-it notes and applied a fresh coat of olive drab 613 to the affected areas.

11. The base of the windscreen was masked badly on both sides – one had too much aluminum, one had too much olive drab. Carefully, I masked these off again and re-applied the appropriate color. The mask was removed and it looks good (the first pleasant surprise I’ve had in a while).

12. I took off the masking on the identification stripes on the wings and tail and had considerable “underspray” on the bottom sides, and one tail stripe was too narrow. I’ll mask and paint them again.

So, in short, it’s been a frustrating couple of weeks. I just want to get the model done – but not at the expense of it looking good. I was tempted to strip it down and re-do it as a 357th FG plane (lots more green! Lots less metal! Probably nicer decals!), but I’ve come too far to give up now.

I’ve always said that a good modeler can be identified by how well he fixes his mistakes. Now, I’m kind of inclined to say that a good modeler can be identified by all the mistakes he avoids…

“Prodigal Son” has almost returned…

I described by struggles with the decals on my P-51D last week. This week, things are looking up. Here’s where the model stands right now:

Note the absence of most of the panel lines on the wings. I filled and sanded them, as on the original – this was done to enhance the laminar flow across the wing. Of course, the ammunition trays were left open, so there is still a bit of visual interest.

The nose art and kill markings are from that much-despised AeroMaster sheet; the codes came from the SuperScale Sheet, and I’m applying small data markings from a new Xtradecals sheet. The anti-glare panel, ID bands and nose are all masked; underneath is the olive drab, black and blue that the plane will wear in the end.

I have yet to paint the flaps, gear doors and canopy, so the model’s completion is still a week or two away. But, since the decals actually seem to be sticking to the model now, it’s looking much better than just a couple of weeks ago.

Decal dilemma for my Mustang

This week, with my airbrush back at peak efficiency, I painted my P-51D-5, a model that’s been in the works for at least four years. It has the Obscureco wing and P-51D-5 conversion, so it will be a neat little show piece for our products when it’s done.
The painting went with few dramas. I’ve found that when you have a real issue with a natural metal scheme, you can sand out the offending area, mask it and spray a slightly less reflective area in that panel. It makes the flaw much less apparent if not totally invisible.
So, with the model painted, I applied the decals I’ve long been planning to use, AeroMaster 72-006’s markings for Bart Tenore’s “the Prodigal Son” from the 354th Fighter Group. I put the decals down using MicroSet and MicroSol, as usual; in most cases, MicroSol gets the markings to settle into all the panel lines and give the decal that painted-on effect. The first try didn’t get it done – the decals were stiff as a board after the first application. The national insignia tented over the stiffener on the wing, the nose art remained proud of the many panel lines on the nose, and the only decals that seemed OK were the kill markings and the data block – which were on flat stretches, with no panel lines.
Another application of MicroSol did nothing. So did a third. A fourth had some effect – the serial numbers on the tail and the codes started to curl up and pull away from the surface! Then I went to Solvaset, the nuclear option for decals. Application one? No effect. Two? Same deal. I then ran an X-Acto across all the panel lines and applied more Solvaset. It had some effect, but not much.
Meanwhile, I had to remove the codes and the serial on the tail. They were curling so badly there was no way to get them to settle back down.
Why did this happen? It’s got to be the decals. They’re not exactly new, and they were from early in AeroMaster’s history; there’s no printer’s information on the sheet, and I can only assume they were just a bad batch.
How do I fix it? Well, SuperScale did a sheet with “the Prodigal Son” on it, although much of it is absolutely wrong. The nose art is the wrong shape and color, and the “A” in the codes has its stencil break on the wrong side of the “A.” So I’ll use the serial and the codes – and try to get the “A”to stick upside down (thus putting the break in the stencil on the right side). And I’ll hope that the nose art currently on the model hangs on until I get a coat of metallizer sealer over this model.
The good news is that the model looks pretty great – the nose art is very big and very colorful, and the model itself looks good and is in alignment (at least now, before the gear goes on!). If I can get past this problem, this should be a rewarding model.
In the meantime, I’m taking a break by trying to whip Italeri’s 1:72 WC-53 weapons carrier into shape. Not a great model itself – but I’m sure it’ll be less frustrating when it gets to decal time!

Miscellaneous model musings

Last Sunday I took the P-47, the P-40 and the F-4B to the Silver Wings contest in Sacramento and got skunked. My wife’s comment: “well, you should have expected that – they hate you up there!” I don’t think that’s totally accurate, but it was funny, and since I really didn’t care whether I won anything it did make me laugh.

I never do well at that show; part of it’s because the judging is administered in a somewhat loosey-goosey manner when it comes to applying the IPMS criteria, so the results are less than predictable. I was trying to do something about that as regional coordinator (one of my roles within the International Plastic Modelers Society), but then it was made abundantly clear that the powers that be were not committed to the idea of the criteria being used at the local level on a consistent basis. In Region 9, which is Northern California and Nevada, we’ve stuck to the criteria and the result is very few disputes over contest results. But that’s been a region-driven thing – we have almost no clubs who assume they know better than the rest of us.

To keep things consistent, the F-4B broke again – this time, a nose wheel fell off – but this was an easy fix this time. I picked up the Quickboost set of Japanese type 98 gunsights (which will soon be appearing in my A6M2b) and won a Hasegawa P-40E in the raffle, which will probably become a donor kit in a P-40L build someday.

I also got the Supercale sheet with “The Prodigal Son” on it; I already have the AeroMaster sheet. The differences are striking – on one, the nose art is black with a thick red surround, while on the other the art is red with a narrow black surround. On one the digits in the serial are close together, and they’re farther apart on the other. Luckily, I have a photo of this plane, from Steve Blake’s The Pioneer Mustang Group: the 354th Fighter Group in World War II. For this Mustang, here’s the verdict: AeroMaster’s nose art gets the shape of the nose art correct to a far greater degree than the SuperScale sheet. The codes on the SuperScale sheet have the stencil breaks on the wrong side of the “A” in the squadron code; the AeroMaster codes are a little skinny, but not by much. I feel very reassured than my Mustang will be as accurate as it could reasonably be – once it’s built.

When I came home from the contest, I went to work on the P-51D, and found that my work to remove the panel lines on the wings had not been totally complete. There were some small pits – actually, small stretches of panel lines that had not been filled – and I addressed them, then shot some non-buffing aluminum mixed with a bit of flat gray on the wing. That color replicates the aluminum lacquer paint used on Mustang wings. It kept revealing glue marks, blemishes and surface irregularities; I have the problems now isolated to the quarter inch at each wing root, but I’ll probably strip the whole wing in the process of cleaning things up.

More than half of the planes I’ve built in the last four years have been natural metal jobs. It really is a hassle to get these things prepped for painting, and my choice of schemes does not help. The Zero, with its one-color non-metal scheme, is looking more and more attractive all the time…

This week’s focus: painting a pony

You can accuse me of having a short attention span; I rack it up to having too many models. In any event, the Zero and the Firefly were set aside in their early interior stages for some work on my Tamiya P-51D, which I’ve been working on for a long time. How long? Well, it was the test body for both the Obscureco P-51D wing (with dropped flaps) and the Obscureco P-51D-5-NA conversion, and so it was on display at the Obscureco table at the Orange County Nationals in 2007. For a 1:72 single-engine prop job, that’s pretty sad, frankly.

The good news is that I may be close to getting the natural metal finish on the model – and once that happens, decals aren’t far off. And when decals are on the model, it becomes my sole focus.

Over the weekend, I re-sprayed the anti-glare panel in olive drab 613 after cleaning up the windscreen join. Tamiya did not cover itself in glory when it came to the clear parts in this kit; the windscreen fit is indifferent, and the two-part sliding canopy is just silly. That will be replaced by a single vacuformed canopy, and the windscreen presented a big seam to fill – which I missed until it was painted. I filled, sanded and fairly well destroyed that coat of paint. Tamiya also added a bunch of very petite rivets to the windscreen, which I also had to replace on the left side, since filling the seam eradicated them. But, once that hard work was concluded, I masked and airbrushed a fresh coat of olive drab on the nose, and the next step is the reverse-masking of the nose in preparation for the natural metal paints.

Actually, let me be more precise: the natural metal paints go on the fuselage. The Mustang’s wings were painted in aluminum lacquer, which I’ll approximate with Testors non-buffable aluminum metallizer mixed with some gray paint. The real Mustang’s upper wings were all puttied and sanded to maximize the laminar-flow wing, so I did just that – I filled in the panel lines on the resin wing with CA glue, then sanded them flush. Of course, I left the ammunition tray doors alone; otherwise, I’d have to convert my model into a racer!

When I made the master of the wing, I debated removing the panel lines, but left them there because I suspected many people would balk at buying a smooth hunk of resin – we’re all too conditioned to expect surface detail. Luckily, the smoothing trick works with minimal effort – and next time I’ll do it before I stick the wing to the fuselage!

Anyhow, the Tamiya kit is nice, but at this stage mine has a Cooper Details interior, an Obscureco wing, an Obscureco tail, and will end up with some sort of resin 108-gallon pressed paper tanks, making this a much heavier model than your usual Mustang. Tamiya provides the prop, spinner, forward fuselage and scoop parts, landing gear… and that’s about it.

I’ll post photos of any progress achieved this week!

In Firefly news, I have the interior painted, but I’m a little suspicious about the resin “detail parts” in the kit. The radios in the back seat just seem a little hinckey to me – and I can’t locate a good reference to let me know if my hunch is correct or not. The plan is to build a Korean War-era Firefly, but my five references all ignore the observer’s position, and web references are fairly abysmal (not to mention the restorations are often not to stock). Eddie Kurdziel’s Firefly is a Mk. VI, so the rear is outfitted for anti-submarine warfare, so it’s not useful. Hopefully, my Mustang meandering will buy me time to get to the bottom of the backseat.

Mustang and Thunderbolts…

This week I switched allegiances from the P-40 to the P-51D. This Mustang ought to come out well, if only I can get enough time in to get her painted and get the decals on her. I’ve been away from her long enough to appreciate the build: Obscureco P-51D-5 tail, Obscureco P-51 wing with dropped flaps, Tamiya kit, Cooper Details interior. I’m going to add some photoetched rails to the side of the cockpit (a prominent feature; why don’t more detail sets include them?) and a vacuformed canopy in place of Tamiya’s silly two-piece sliding canopy. The prop is done, the wheels are done, and it’s mostly a matter of painting.

This model will become Lt. Bartolomeo Tenore’s “The Prodigal Son” of the 354th Fighter Group, and it’s largely devoid of trim except for the very large inscription under the exhaust stacks on the left side and the star-spangled blue band on the nose. (Does anyone have any biographical information on Tenore? I have precious little, and I’d like to flesh out the story of this pilot as I’m building the model.) This week, I hit the decalled band with flat coat and carefully masked the decals off with small bits of paper, then masked over them to preserve the blue nose while I painted the anti-glare panel and the rest of the model. It’s never easy, this natural metal stuff.

In the meantime, I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of some photos from Ralph Sallee’s collection. Ralph lives up in Montana and was a member of the 379th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group, and he scored two kills on Boxing Day, 1944. He’s contributed some priceless material for the book I’m working on about the group, and these images may really help preserve the record – and maybe, If I can nudge certain people, result in some decals. Also this week, Sean McCleary, grandson of Lt. Ken McCleary, sent me a photo of his grandfather by his plane, hand-colored, by the looks of it. That plane appeared on the 1998 IPMS Nationals Decal sheet, by the way; “Wheelboy”/”The Tennessee Cannonball” was a P-47D-15-RE and was one of the many planes painted by George Rarey. Sadly, the site Damon Rarey kept that initially interested me in the group is gone, but I hope I can unearth more images of the real paintings on aircraft during my research.

Speaking of George Rarey, here’s a shot that Andy Anerson snapped back in 1944 of Rarey’s crew chief, John Benson, showing the mission markings applied to this Jug. Other group P-47s had similar markings – was Rarey painting those, too?


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