Second try’s the charm: Special Hobby’s Firefly F.I

I battled my way through Special Hobby’s Firefly FR.5 a few years ago, and found that it was missing details, the fit was rough and it had no useable ordnance. It was also missing the formation and landing lights, the landing gear had to be scratch-built, and the gear doors needed to be replaced and detailed. Also, the exhausts were easily knocked loose, the slipper tanks didn’t fit and the gun fairings needed to be replaced.


Other than that, this is a great kit! My FR.5 took a second at the 2017 IPMS/USA Nationals, which was a really pleasant surprise considering the amount of work it took to get it together.

The finished Firefly FR.5, wearing Royal Australian Navy markings.

So, what do you do to recover from such a model? You build another one!


Actually, that’s not true. I finished up the excellent Eduard 1:72 Fokker Dr.I and salvaged a shelf-of-doom Avro CF-100 Canuck first. But the memories of my first Firefly were fresh in my mind – so I figured I’d at least know when the rough spots were coming and have a better chance of avoiding them on my Firefly F.1.


The F.1 was the first Firefly in combat. Although it was never widely deployed during WWII, the Firefly was in on all of the Fleet Air Arm’s big actions in 1944 and 1945, most notably Operation Tungsten (the attack on the Tirpitz) and Operations Meridian 1 and 2 (the attack on oil refineries at Balikpapan in Borneo). The Fireflies were used primarily for flak suppression on those missions, but later demonstrated their ability as a fighter-bombers while ranging over Japan. The Firefly didn’t look like a classic fighter, but the Fireflies of 1770 Squadron shot down nine Japanese planes (four Ki-43s, four Ki-51s and a Ki-44), their 20mm cannons proving lethal.


The Special Hobby Firefly F.1 is less deadly than the FR.5. The FR.5 has wing-mounted radiators that impaired the wing-fuselage fit and those miserable slipper tanks, but the F.1 does not, so I expected the F.1 to be easier. I conveniently forgot the F.1 has a chin-mounted radiator and strange carburetor intake ducts, so the degree of difficulty is about the same.


However, I came to this fight armed with knowledge of the kit’s quirks. That helped a lot!


My first stop was, as usual, the cockpit. The resin and photoetched parts in the kit are rather nice, and I realized during this build that Special Hobby includes different details specific to the variant for the rear of the observer’s cockpit among its resin parts. These include the cockpit floor, the forward bulkhead and control panel bulkhead, the cockpit sidewalls, the cockpit rear bulkhead and seat, the forward bulkhead and radio shelves for the observer, the observer’s cockpit rear shelf and the observer’s rear bulkhead. These were all painted a very dark gray, then all except the instrument panel bulkhead were shot with British interior gray-green from the direction of the top of the part, which imparts a nice shadow effect. The F.1 had a green interior, while the FR.5 was primarily black – something I learned from the previous build.

All the detail parts were lightly glued to some spare chopsticks for ease of handling during painting.

With the basic colors in place, I applied a dark gray wash, then drybrushed the parts with a lightened shade of interior gray-green. That set me up to pick out the details; I started with the radios in the rear cockpit, which were carefully painted in slightly different shades of black, then detailed with switch and dial detail. Switches were picked out not with a brush but with the end of a fine wire; dials were detailed, then given a drop of Future to simulate a glass dial face.

The various radios in the observer’s compartment were detailed and lightly weathered – even though they’re hard to see once the models’ finished!

That basic approach was used on the sidewalls and the rear shelf. Once the detail was painted, I very carefully drybrushed these parts with a lighter gray, then gave them an even more careful drybrushing of aluminum to indicate chipping and wear.


The photoetched instrument panel was airbrushed a very dark gray and drybrushed with a lighter gray, and the acetate instruments had their backs painted white. I used the same wire for detail painting to add the colored bezels to three instruments: the red bezel around the boost pressure gauge, the blue bezel on the radiator temperature gauge, and the yellow bezel on the oil temperature gauge. I cut out the acetate and added it, adhering it with more Future.

The control panel is very small but still benefits from some detail painting.

The compass in the kit was a little lacking, so I substituted one from the Obscureco Tempest Mk. V detail set (when the sprues aren’t quite perfect, I set them aside – if you need one, let me know!). The compass was painted, the face was drybrushed and the clear lens was added with Future. Once dry, it was added to the bottom of the instrument panel.

The Obscureco compass looks at home below the instrument panel.

The Bakelite seats were painted using ModelMaster burnt sienna, then washed and weathered. The seatbelts were painted in a light tan color and the buckle hardware was carefully detailed with a dull metal color. Details behind the pilot, were painted green and blue, and the headrest was finished in a semi-gloss black color.

The cockpit, with its Bakelite seat and the detailed sidewall.

Next, I painted the tailwheel well and the exhausts. The previous build showed that the design of the exhausts was faulty: They had to be added before the fuselage halves were joined. That meant they were susceptible to being knocked loose in to the fuselage, resulting in a frustrating process of rattling the parts around until they poked through the slot and then carefully re-gluing them. This time, I got smart: I CA-glued styrene strips on the tops and bottoms of the exhausts from the inside, increasing the surface area for the CA to grab on to. Then, I added a rectangle of sheet styrene inside the fuselage over the exhausts, again adding more CA and more reinforcement.  I also added some styrene strip to sandwich the tailwheel well in place and prevent it from coming loose during construction.


The cockpit parts all fit into the fuselage reasonably well. The one weak spot is the sill of the observer’s compartment; in real life, it’s a single shaped piece, but the kit requires three resin parts to link together perfectly to form the sill. Instead, I added strips of .005 styrene to cover the joints and create a single-piece sill.

The observer’s seat and a few of the partial sill, which was replaced with strip styrene.

The radiator for the nose came in two resin pieces: a front, which included the bottom of the nose below the spinner, and the exhaust section. I painted these Interior gray-green, then masked and painted the radiator faces a steel color. The parts were carefully located in the nose and set in place with CA glue.


With the interior in place, I joined the fuselage halves, then added the cut-out section that housed the arrestor hook. The fit here was sloppy, but lining the cut-out with .005 styrene on the sides made the fit nice and snug and reduced the sanding and filling to a minimum.


The radiator scoop in the chin had a gruesome seam down the middle, and the usual techniques for sanding were useless. Instead, I made a .005 styrene shape that fit tightly into the nose and painted it interior gray green, too. After smoothing the inside of the intake as much as I could, I added the styrene shape with plenty of CA glue. Once dry, I trimmed any excess and then sanded the lip. Just like that, I had a seamless intake.

Seam in the chin intake? What seam in the chin intake?

The carburetor intakes are mostly included on the fuselage, but for some reason their openings are provided as small resin pieces. I used and engraving bit in my motor tool to open the openings, then used a curved microfile to clean up the interiors. These were added to the fuselage ducts with CA and smoothed with files. These intakes really should be oval, not half-circles, but the kit provides oval photoetched covers that should disguise the intakes’ true shapes.

The fuselage, joined up and described. The silver Sharpie ink on the top of the fuselage helps reveal unfilled seams.

Next came the clear parts. I knew the observer’s canopy would sit proud of the top of the fuselage, so I sanded the bottom of it carefully until the problem disappeared. Then, I used a cut-off disk in my motor tool to open the observer’s canopy, carefully cutting and then filing the edges to get a good, square opening. I also separated the sliding canopy from the windscreen. All the removed parts would be replaced by vacuformed parts later. The transparent parts were dipped in Future and placed under a bowl to dry in order to avoid dust settling on the still-wet parts.

The canopy was sanded down to ensure it fit without standing proud of the fuselage…

…And then a black Sharpie was run around the edges to provide the inner lip and to eliminate the strange reflective appearance of the clear parts where they glue on to the model.

The kit gunsight broke off somewhere during construction, so I replaced it with A Quickboost GM2. I cut a piece of the Quickboost-provided acetate and sanded it to have the correct round reflector glass. I carefully ran a black Sharpie pen around the reflector glass’ perimeter, creating a “frame.” The gunsight was added to the top of the instrument panel and painted and airbrushed in place, then the reflector was added to the gunsight with white glue.

The gunsight and reflector both in place atop the instrument panel.

The windscreen was added next in order to protect the gunsight. The observer’s canopy came next. Both were added with CA glue, and the fit required a lot of extra sanding; the canopies were polished back to clarity with several grades of fine sanding sticks and a final buffing with Blue Magic auto polish. A final brush-applied coat of Future completed the clear parts.


Next time: the wings and, wheel wells and the propeller!


Book Report: the Kamikaze Hunters

My commute to and from work involves a 20-minute ferry ride, which gives me time to catch up on some reading. The first book I polished off was one that had been staring at me from the book store shelves until I finally succumbed to it Will Iredale’s the Kamikaze Hunters (2016, Pegasus Books).


The title’s a little deceptive – you might be inclined to think it was about U.S. Navy or Marine Corps pilots. Not so – this deals with a much less thoroughly covered area of World War II, the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm’s operations in the later years of the war.


And it doesn’t just cover the Pacific – combat starts with the Home Fleet’s attacks on the Tirpitz in European waters. But really, the book starts much earlier, with the training of a handful of men who would go on to fly Corsairs from British carrier decks. Iredale mixes in contemporary letters and recent interviews splendidly to paint fully realized portraits of these men. One trick he accomplishes is to avoid tipping his hand that one of these men doesn’t survive the war. Usually, authors telegraph someone’s demise by quoting only their letters or third-person versions of their stories; Iredale deftly avoids this so when the pilot is lost it’s a genuine surprise.


The attacks on the Sumatran oil fields are discussed in depth, as are the raids capping the Japanese special attack airfields. Iredale does an excellent job of explaining these raids; I’m building a Firefly FR.I that flew during them, and I was unaware their primary task, improvised on the spot, was to bust barrage balloons (which they were not great at!).


Of grim interest are the accounts of kamikaze attacks on the British Pacific Fleet and its armor-decked carriers, which were more resilient in shrugging off suicide planes than their American counterparts (but paid for it in carrying fewer aircraft). Just the same, the crews suffered horrible injuries and death the same as any men exposed aboard U.S. carriers.


The book also touches on the incredible aircraft attrition rate for the FAA – only about 15 percent of it suffered during air combat. The rest owed to deck accidents and kamikaze damage.


There are a couple of boo-boos – Iredale repeats the myth about the Japanese carries at Midway having packed flight decks when they were bombed, and at one point says the carrier crews overpainted their aircraft’s camouflage with blue paint (in reality, attrition and a change in painting specs turned FAA carrier units blue all on their own).


Corsairs take center stage, but there are also Hellcats. Avengers, Barracudas, Fireflies and Seafires – a virtual airshow of types. But it’s the brave young airmen who are the stars of this excellent and eminently readable book. Strongly recommended for students of the Pacific War.

A friendly Firefly assist from Mr. Sutherland

Roy Sutherland is a good friend of mine, and we’ve worked on a couple of projects together. I wrote some chunks of his book on modeling the deHavilland Mosquito and the history section of his book on the deHavilland Sea Vixen. He’s also a subcontractor and occasional pattermaker for Obscureco,  and I’m passing him research material for his decal line.

This relationship has its benefits. Last night, knowing I was working on the Special Hobby Firefly Mk. V, Roy gave me a disk filled with images of a restored Firefly AS.6 – and lots of them. The next book in his line of detailed volumes on little-known aircraft is going to be on the Firefly, or so plans say, and I can say it will be very, very useful for modelers. Hopefully, I’ll have a model finished to show just how useful the book can be!

Now, the photos didn’t clear up my questions about the Mk. V’s rear-seat radio arrangement; I still think the resin parts in the kit are a bit suspect, but until I have evidence to the contrary I’m going with them. Roy’s photos, though, add a lot of ideas for extra stuff in the cockpit – documents, details of the various fittings, how the observer’s window operates, and so on.

My plan is to build a Korean War Firefly V, and I’ll probably use the kit decals (gasp!) since they fit the bill. But it’s not an easy build – the kit really has short-run tendencies and I see lots of filling and re-scribing in my future.

And as for those photos: no, you can’t see them. Not yet. They’ll be yours in living color when Roy finally gets that book out!

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.

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.


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.

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…

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…