Fairey Gannet AEW.3 Part 5: Only Shades of Gray

When we left off on the Gannet back in January, the wings were on and we’d added the wing-tip lights and the leading-edge bays for the landing lights. In September, I finally picked the model up again (after spending time finishing a CF-100 building a Fokker Dr. I and doing a lot of work on a Firefly F.Mk. I – but these are totally different stories). Part of the delay was that I had lost the canopy/windscreen. I couldn’t find the darn thing anywhere, and an email to Sword vanished into the electronic ether with no response to be had. Months passed and I finally resigned myself to finding an alternative, the transparent part re-materialized on my desk. Perhaps I had confused it for the cockpit glass to a Firefly, or perhaps it just managed to elude my searches, but in any case I was back in business.

 

The first point of order was to get the horizontal tails on properly. There are no mounting points for the tails (which is weird, since the wings had them) and so their locations were suspect. It would be easy to get the horizontals too far forward or aft; studying drawings and photos was a must in placing the first one. I attached it with CA glue and had a minimal seam to address at the join. The other horizontal fit a little less well but the seam was handled with Mr. Surfacer 500. Alignment of the horizontals is a snap when the finlets are in place: hold the plane by the wing tips, looking at it from its blind spot below the tail, then rock the tail down. The winglets should touch the wings simultaneously on both sides.

Next came the windscreen. It was cut from the canopy with a cutoff wheel in a motor tool, and the trailing edge was sanded to shape and the whole thing was dipped in Future (or PFM, or whatever it’s called this week) and allowed to dry overnight under an overturned bowl for dust protection. The fit of the windscreen was pretty good, save for some minor gaps on the front left side which were eradicated with Mr. Surfacer. I masked the transparent panels with Parafilm M.

 

Next, I handled the jet exhausts, which were located just below the leading edges of the wings. The kit provided the exhaust shrouds in halves, with the exhausts themselves also in halves. I found the exhausts’ thickness to be all out of whack compared to photos, so I knew I’d have to make new ones. First, though, I had to get the shrouds built and installed symmetrically on the fuselage. The shrouds went together easily, with a little sanding needed at their seams and on the bottom edges to even them out, and then onto the fuselage they went. There’s an outline on the fuselage that gives a hint of where they should go. After a lot of test-fitting I went for it and CA-glued them into place; they fit with the merest of seams and Mr. Surfacer again came to the rescue.

 

As for the exhausts themselves, I first tried to bend brass tubing to shape. No dice – the odd semi-airfoil shape was impossible to impart on brass. Next, I tried stretching plastic rod, which was a tremendous waste of time. What could I have on hand that could fulfill the role? A visit to the kitchen’s junk drawer yielded three plastic drinking straws of various diameters. In Goldilocks style, one was too small, one was too big but the third was just right. I cut short segments to length and bent them carefully to shape, leaving them in the shrouds for several days preserve their new profiles. Then I pulled them out, airbrushed them with Testors metallizer burnt metal, and set them aside for final assembly.

 

Now it was time for real painting. First came black – I sprayed it over the windscreen as the interior color, and outlined the panel lines. This pre-shading in almost never really visible after the final paint job, which is just what I want. I masked the nose (to prevent paint getting into the open intakes) and prepared my first color.

 

Convention holds that you paint the light colors first. Convention is stupid. You paint the color that’s easiest to mask first. In this case, it was the extra dark sea gray (EDSG) on the top of the fuselage, the wings and the tail. I broke out the AeroMaster gunship gray that had served me so well with the Firefly FR.5 and applied a coat over the appropriate areas – including the wrap-around on the wing leading edge. This was important to get with the first color because of the inconvenient position of the exhaust shrouds.

 

Looks nice! But what is that gray?

The paint went down beautifully – but there was a problem. It didn’t really look like the color photos of Gannets in my references. Roy Sutherland said it wasn’t dark enough, and he was right. I started experimenting and came up with a formula that worked: 17 drops of ocean gray, 2 drops of dark sea blue, and 6 drops of PRU blue. The paint was sprayed on the model and worked perfectly; the model was clearly a dark gray in indoor light, but took on a blue tone in sunlight, just like the real airplane.

The right shade of EDSG makes a big difference…

Much Tamiya tape was harmed in the making of this model.

I masked the appropriate parts of the model – wings, lower leading edge, tail, and upper fuselage – with Tamiya tape. The demarcation on the fuselage was described with Tamiya’s tape for curves, which worked beautifully. Wedges of foam were placed in the radar observers’ compartment openings and the wheel wells and boarding ladder cutout were stuffed with wet tissue paper. Testors sky type S was loaded into the airbrush and I went to work on the bottom of the plane. For whatever reason, my Paasche VL would only spray a small bit of paint before stopping; repeated cleanings didn’t fix the issue. The fact that my gray shades worked wonderfully led me to the conclusion that the sky type S was causing the problem. I persisted – in fits and starts, the entire Gannet was treated to a neat coat of this weird gray-green color.

 

When the masking came off, the result was superb. There were five minor areas that needed touch-up: an area on one of the rudders where too much pre-shading was visible, the areas around the radar compartment doors, and the demarcation on the nose and tail on the left side. Matching the camouflage side to side can be tough, and I really fretted over getting this right. My research found two distinct demarkations on Gannet AEW.3s: one that broke down at the back of the canopy and then pinched toward the center of the nose and a second that lacked that break, continuing a straight line from where the paint curved up on the tail all the way to the pinch in the nose. The plane I was building, XL471, had the latter according to my photos.

 

My issue was that the EDSG wasn’t perfectly symmetric on the nose and on the tail. The right side was the least accurate, so I remasked the nose and the upward curve toward the tail and repainted. Success! All the touch-ups went without flaw and now, looking down on the model, the demarcation of the EDSG is identical from side to side.

The model was now ready for decals. But there’s a catch: the markings in the kit for XL471 are wrong. The black and white stripes on the finlet are too few in number and the B-flight marking hugs that tail leading edge where it should not. Replacements exist, but they are hard to find; there were two Model Art decal sheets with the markings, and AlleyCat’s spectacular sheet includes XL471. All of these are impossible to obtain. Fortunately, the very day of this minor crisis, Print Scale Decals’ sheet for the Gannet was released and I bought a set. I await their arrival!

 

Next time: decals, weathering and the landing gear.

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Homely but hard-working: Sword’s Gannet AEW.3, part 1

The Fairey Gannet came in a number of variants – the AS.1 and AS.4 anti-submarine warfare platforms, the T.2 and T.5 trainer modifications, and the COD.4 trash-hauler – but if any version could be said to be the most attractive Gannet, it was the AEW.3. This is truly damning with faint praise; with its bulging radome and finlet-bedecked empennage, plus its decidedly un-aerodynamic collection of antennas, scoops and other protrusions, the AEW.3 was an odd-looking machine by any standard.

Nearly everything about the Gannet AEW.3 was different from the AS.1: the exhaust was relocated, the fuselage lost its additional seats behind the cockpit and instead housed two radar observers in a compartment submerged in the redesigned fuselage; the shape of the vertical fin was changed to offset the loss of directional stability caused by the omission of the long canopy. The landing gear was lengthened by three feet to give the radome deck clearance. The plane differed so much from the original Gannet that there was talk of renaming it the Albatross, but the Royal Navy’s retirement of the anti-submarine Gannets around the time the AEW.3 made its fleet debut in 1959 limited the possible confusion.

Built to replace the Skyraider AEW.1 (an AD-4W in U.S. Navy parlance), the Gannet AEW.3 used the same electronics – the AN/APS-20 radar system. It was intended as a stop-gap measure until a British purpose-built aircraft incorporating the latest in electronics could be built for the CVA-01 class of aircraft carriers. Unfortunately, the Defense White Paper of 1966 – the same document that cancelled the TSR.2 – put an end to Britain’s plans for a large carrier for almost 50 years, and it meant that the AEW.3 would have to soldier on with no replacement in sight. They operated right up until the last carrier they could fly from, Ark Royal, was retired in 1972, and then from land bases until 1978. In the end their two biggest enemies were attrition – 22 of the 44 built were lost to accidents – and the Shackleton program. Numerous Gannets lost their radars to Shackleton MR.2s, which rendered the Gannet airframes expendable. Only seven AEW.3s survive, with six in museums and one undergoing restoration to flight.

Sword's box captures the AEW.3 in all its graceful glory.

Sword’s box captures the AEW.3 in all its graceful glory.

I’m building Sword’s new Gannet AEW.3 kit in 1:72 scale. The model features a lot of surface detail, as did the real plane; it also has a small sheet of photoetched parts, but no resin. The plastic parts for the wheel wells are somewhat under-detailed, and the cockpit sidewalls are mere abstractions of what’s actually there. That said, they give you a structural place to start.

Sword also sells a resin set for the radar observers’ position. (Read Mark Davies’ very good review of it here.) I’d seen an AD-4W at the IPMS/USA Nationals one year with the radar operators’ compartment opened and always wanted to do something like that, so here was my chance!

Step one was the seat. The kit gives you the seat itself and the arm rests as separate plastic pieces. The arm rest part will become weak and break if you cut it from the sprue with flush cutters – use a razor saw instead. I airbrushed the seat and armrest with Testors’ aircraft interior black (I sprayed the instrument panel, sidewalls and cockpit floor and rear bulkhead at the same time), then dry-brushed with gull gray and finally a little aluminum to suggest chipping. The headrest on the rear bulkhead and armrests were brush-painted with Testors leather.

Gannet seat, before addition of the sidewalls.

Gannet seat, before addition of the sidewalls.

I brushed a little Future on the seat back and added a tiny white stencil decal to duplicate photos. This was a bit of a wasted effort, since the shoulder straps almost completely covered the stencil! The whole mess was shot with Dullcote and allowed to dry.

One item missing from the kit seat was the seat cushion/survival pack, which was very apparent in photos of XL500. I made my own from a bit of shaped .040 by .030 styrene strip, with the notch carefully carved and then sanded. The cushion was painted yellow, then masked and painted sage green on the seat area. The edges of the green area were them masked and sprayed green. The resulting product was dirtied up with some pastel powder and glued to the seat pan.

Based on eye-witness accounts of Gannet AEW.3 XL500’s interior, the lap belts were painted gray while the shoulder straps were painted metallic blue. The kit’s lap belts went together well and were placed on the seat pan, with the buckle ends glued to the pan and then the fastener ends carefully folded over the seat edges. The shoulder straps were supposed to wrap around a photoetched bracket that attached to the rear bulkhead, but the bracket allowed almost no contact area for glue. Instead, I folded the bracket, wrapped the ends of the straps around it, glued the bracket in place, attached the straps to the seat back and glued the bracket to the bulkhead, allowing the straps to support it. I had to trim about a quarter-inch from each strap to achieve the correct length.

The photoetched instrument panel was dry-brushed and the acetate instrument faces were added to the back with Future as the adhesive. The panel comes in three sections, which were CA-glued to the plastic instrument panel backing provided in the kit. The AEW.3 instrument panel had its six primary flight instruments (airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter, vertical speed indicator, heading indicator, turn coordinator) outlined in white. I cut extremely thin bits of white decal and carefully place them where they needed to go, getting a good result for the scale of the instrument panel!

Finished panel with its primary six outlined with decal trim

Finished panel with its primary six outlined with decal trim

The sidewalls were detailed, first with the kit’s photoetched parts, then with additional details fashioned from styrene rod, Reheat photoetched switch panels, and bits of wire. The whole mess was painted, dry-brushed and then details were picked out in gray, white and red with a fine brush.

Sidewalls, dressed up with some details prior to painting.

Sidewalls, dressed up with some details prior to painting.

Next, I put the sidewalls in place and used a razor saw to remove the rudder pedals from the sprue. These were cleaned up, glued in place and painted, then dry-brushed. Now, with the exception of the control column and some handles, the cockpit’s ready to stick in the fuselage.

The cockpit with the side consoles and the rudder pedals in place.

The cockpit with the side consoles and the rudder pedals in place.

But there was one more cockpit to work on – the radar observers’ compartment. I used my motor tool and a fairly large bit to chain-drill the hatches; once I could pop out the plastic, the edges were dressed with some carving with a sharp No. 11 blade. I also carved back the interior of the hatch for a more scale thickness. The openings were then sanded with some microfiles, followed by sandpaper. The sandpaper was also used on the interior to even the interior walls out.

Chain-drilling the hatch gives you a start...

Chain-drilling the hatch gives you a start…

...And careful use of files, carving with an No. 11 blade and sanding cleans up the opened hatch.

…And careful use of files, carving with an No. 11 blade and sanding cleans up the opened hatch.

This Sword set is all resin; it gives you no color call-outs or seat belts for the observers’ seats. Thus, my first stop was the internet, where I found photos of the interior from a museum example. The basic color was British interior gray-green; I airbrushed the parts black first, then sprayed gray green. The various boxes were then painted with a mix of dark gray colors, each one being a little different. The whole mess was given a dark wash, then dry-brushed. Radar scopes, instrument dials and other details were picked out in gray or white. After a spray of Dullcote, any dials received a drop of Future for shine.

Rear and front bulkheads for the radar observer's compartment.

Rear and front bulkheads for the radar observer’s compartment.

The seats were painted and weathered, then gained seat belts sourced from an old Airwaves set, with quick-release fillings pillaged from an Eduard set.

Seats! Note the weathering to the floor.

Seats! Note the weathering to the floor.

Sword neglects to provide any color call-outs, so I recommend the images that begin here as a good starting place. The many exposed wire and cable runs are next.

Next time: extra details, closing the fuselage, and adding a lot of nose weight! Stay tuned!