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!)

Airbrush woes continue – and get fixed

A few weeks ago, when I last tried to use my airbrush, it misbehaved pretty badly – spitting, spraying off-center, and generally performing poorly. I cleaned it very thoroughly, but it kept doing the same things, so I chalked it up to airbrush fussiness – a real and yet unexplainable phenomenon, but, as I found out, not the real source of my problems.

When I put the airbrush back together and tried to spray some white on various parts of my A-3, it persisted in behaving badly. I started contemplating a replacement for my airbrush – after all, it is 22 years old. I pondered that Iwata Eclipse I’ve been recommended, and wondered if it would fit the fittings for my compressor. I even tried to lay the groundwork for a $140 expenditure with my wife, who gave me a hard time – but, as it turns out, would have been fine with it.

As a last gesture to my good old Paasche VL, I tried a new needle/cone combination. The set also included a new “multiple head,” which screws on over the needle and cone in the very front, and I stuck that on there for good measure.

Well, surprise, surprise – not only did the airbrush start working, it started working far better than it had in a long time (as in years). It was also a lot quieter – meaning that there had been a worn-out seal in the head, which had allowed a lot of air to escape, reducing the psi of the air coming out the front and causing the paint to spit.

Well, duh.

I guess all things as frequently used as my airbrush are entitled to wear out every 22 years! I’ll mark my calendar and try to remember to replace these parts every three or four years from now on.

No matter how much you think you know about the hobby, there’s always something new that modeling can teach you. Now, I’m going to go paint some stuff!

Somebody’s got a case of the airbrush Mondays!

The Martin Maryland’s up on its landing gear now, and I’ve added some paint chipping with a silver Prismacolor pencil – it looks great. So I should be speeding through to completion, right? Well, the next items to be added would be the gear doors, but when I tried to paint them with my trusty Paasche VL airbrush, it started spraying the paint in a wide, sloppy fashion (despite the use of the smallest needle/cone combination). I stopped, cleaned the airbrush again, and got the same result. Changing the consistency of the paint didn’t help, either.

It seems stupid and non-scientific to say this, but this happens. I’ve had this airbrush for 21 years and I’ve never had to change any parts except the needle and cone (and the locking nut, which I went without for several years – I’d just tape the needle in place!). It works perfectly about 98 percent of the time, and I keep it meticulously clean and disassembled after use, but once in a great while it refuses to do its thing.

A good example of this came about 12 years ago, when I was trying to finish up a Hasegawa A-1J Skyraider. I’d waited a long time for a new engine – the one I’d bought was caught up in a Canadian postal strike – and when I was ready to paint I loaded up the flat white and went at it. I had the same results as today – a sloppy spray, not a mist but really a lot of small drops.

As I did today, I checked the paint consistency, stripped the airbrush, cleaned it again and reassembled it – to get the same results. I repeated this a couple of times, to no avail. To literally add injury to insult, when I finally threw in the towel I realized that, in my frustration, I had gritted my teeth so hard I chipped a lower front tooth.

My parents spent a lot on orthodontia, so I’ve adopted a more casual attitude (limited to swearing and threats not “to be surprised when you see me opening an Iwata Eclipse, and then you’ll be sorry, you soon-to-be-little-used airbrush!”). Here’s what usually happens: I leave the airbrush alone, come back a little later and it works fine. This happens every time.

This does not make sense, I know: we ought to be able to fix mechanical things; if they don’t perform, something must be wrong. But my old-enough-to-drink-legally airbrush does seem to have a mind of its own, and no matter what I do, when it doesn’t want to paint it’s not going to paint. Fine. Be that way.

Airbrushing is not a science. It’s an art, and airbrushes have personalities all their own. If my VL is having a rough Monday, I can live with it.

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.

Oh, the things you’ll find (if you’re lucky)

While looking for a bit of information, I pulled down my copy of Warburton’s War (a very good book, by the way) and what should fall out but the decals to my Martin Maryland. Not only that, but a set of RAF Battle of Britain-era decals was in there too – why, I do not know. I know the custom decals that Norm Filer made for my Warburton’s Maryland build are tucked inside my copy of the AJ Press book on the Maryland.

Putting those items there probably made sense at some point. However, the passage of time has obfuscated the reasons, so now there are just random discoveries to be made throughout my library, model stash and the shed where my unbuilts dwell. For instance, there was the KP MiG-15 I found inside the box of the DML MiG-15; at some point, I’m sure that I could have made one good model out of those two fairly awful pieces of work (I’ll probably crib from both of them to outfit the new Airfix MiG-15 when the time comes!). I’ve run across CMK Japanese pilot and mechanic figures in rather random Hasegawa Japanese fighters. And there’s a Hasegawa P-51B box that has all manner of Mustang stuff – vacuformed canopies, resin wings, a Hawkeye P-51B cockpit – that I can only find when I’m not working on a Mustang. How it got there – since most of it is for D-model Mustangs – I have no idea. The model, by the way, will never get built – the Hasegawa 1:72 Mustang is a distant second to Academy and Revell quality-wise.

Then there are the things that I know I have but can’t find. Ten years ago, I bought a bunch of models from someone and one of the boxes had a bag inside containing a random collection of resin. When I sorted it out, it was clear there were two detail sets inside: one a rather blobby one from True Details and the other a neat, sharp one from Kendall Models Co. Some research revealed they were for the SBD Dauntless – which was great, since I have four of those and it’s one of my favorite planes. Where it is now, I do not know – it certainly isn’t in any of the Dauntless kit boxes. I’ve looked.

The older I get, and the more odd stuff I collect, the more diligent I’m going to have to be about putting things where they belong. So now I’m setting down the computer and headed to the workbench to collect the P-61 resin parts I picked up at last weekend’s show and put them in the kit box before I lose them.

Modeling tips: simple scribing on the wing-fuselage fillet

Here’s a great tip from Stan Pearce about fixing panel lines along wing roots. Stan figured it out while working on a 1:48 Spitfire – so envision that wing-to-fuselage transition. Now, here’s Stan in his own words:

Ever have that pesky wing-fuselage fillet joint, where you have to do some sanding? The sanding either removes all of the panel line, or leaves portions or even worse, an inconsistent panel line that needs addressing?

That’s the situation I had. You can try and completely sand away the panel line (which is usually incorrect) or you can replace it.

But rescribing a curved line on a compound curved surface is difficult at best, and a straight edge works less than perfectly.

Here was my solution:

First, I laid a piece of green plaid-box Scotch tape (although any translucent tape you can see through will work) over the entire panel line, covering the line, the wing and the fillet.

Then I took a sharp number 2 lead pencil, and traced the panel line on top of the tape.

I removed the piece of tape from the aircraft, and stuck it on a thin piece of sheet styrene.

Then I used scissors to cut the tape/styrene on the pencil line.

Voila, a custom scribing guide.

I then taped the plastic guide to the wing, took my scriber and lightly ran it along the guide two or three times. Then I removed the guide, flipped it over, and repeated this on the opposite wing.

Presto, two perfectly scribed curved lines on a curved surface in all of about 7 or 8 minutes.

How much blacker could a Firefly’s interior be? None. None more black.

In an effort to mix things up, I busted out the Special Hobby Fairey Firefly V this weekend and started work on its cockpit. The Firefly V had one interior color option straight from the dealer – basic black. However, there were some nice little color flourishes thrown in, and black is a fun challenge to paint and drybrush. A lot of people fear black – as an inside color or as an outside color – but I like it. That may be because I was an art student at one time – when I was 12 or 13, I began painting landscapes in oils and took a mess of lessons. When I was 17, I sold enough paintings to fund my way to Washington D.C. for a trip with a classmate and my social studies teacher, Helen Mineta; we stayed at her brother’s Norm house and I was there to see him and Daniel Inoyue testify at the hearings on reparations for the Japanese Americans interned during World War II.
Of course, that adventure has squat to do with painting a Firefly interior. You know what does, though? This page. Go to “Media Gallery,” then select “Search the Media Gallery!” and in the first three blocks enter “photo,” “detail” and “interior.” You’ll be rewarded with 10 shots of the inside of Eddie Kurdziel’s Firefly WB518, an immaculately-restored Firefly VI, which has a very stock-appearing cockpit (period covers are in place over modern instruments).
I had a lot of fun working on the instrument panel, with its red, yellow and blue bezels in certain spots. I airbrushed the photoetched kit panels with Testors’ aircraft interior black, then drybrushed them with panzer gray. The bezels were painted the appropriate bright colors, and then the acetate backs were added with Future floor polish as an adhesive – it creates its own clear lens over each instrument!
The rest of the interior will get a going-over next. It’ll be an exercise in drybrushing – the many resin parts are already painted a very dark gray, so a wash would be pointless. Picking out the various “black boxes,” however, is where the tricks will come in. Since these came from subcontractors, often there were minor variations in finish – some were more glossy than others, some more gray. Mixing aircraft interior black, flat black, glossy black and various shades of gray can give you many sheens and shades of black (okay, really, dark gray) and helps break up the “black hole” appearance. Fairey was also kind to us modelers by using a bright red-brown Bakelite seat in the cockpit, another colorful detail in a dark interior.
Stand by for photos…