A-3 set update: Getting close

Just a very brief update: I have all the A-3 rear bulkheads finished and two of the three different radio shelves. After those are done, it’s three instrument panels – which is do-able in the next day or so. The set will be a reality soon!

I’d have photos, but our neighbor borrowed out camera to take shots of his restoration – he has a Victorian that has had some very-long deferred maintenance underway. When I can wrest it from his sawdust-encrusted hands, I’ll get some photos of the masters up for you.

Black boxes and bulkheads: how hard could they be?

I’m busy trying to finish the A-3 cockpit masters by TOMORROW – an insane endeavor, but one that’s progressing inexorably toward completion. Basically, the set will have interchangable parts for the A-3A/B, KA-3B and EKA-3B; that means different control panels, different rear bulkheads and different boxes on the right rear corner of the cockpit. This will raise the price, but it will ensure maximum accuracy. And, if you’re like me, you can chop up the leftover parts for other projects!

That’s the big task. I’ll try to post photos before I pass the parts off for casting tomorrow evening. Oh, the fun!

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!

1:72 floor show

This week, I went back to work on the 1:72 P-47D-30/40 cockpit master for Obscureco. Why make this into a product, you ask? Isn’t Tamiya’s cockpit good enough? No, because the floor’s not accurate – Tamiya has the earlier corrugated floor, while the late D-models had a flat, riveted floor. There are some other cosmetic differences to the sidewalls, too, and the control panel’s a little different but it’s mostly the floor. And, also, I may want to build several P-47D-30s or D-40s, so like any good Obscureco product, its being made for my own use. ‘

For the rivets, I plan on using Archer Fine Transfers’ resin rivets – neat little resin bumps on decal film. I’m using a sheet intended for N-gauge railroads; I may also use these to add rivet detail to the heavily-riveted seats of the A-3 (a by-product of getting too close to reference materials). I’ve seen another resin producer use these rivets – badly. He had them adjacent to a panel line, but not completely parallel. They sort of wandered about in the neighborhood of the panel line. They looked just awful. I have shorter runs of rivets to add, but I will be exceptionally careful about their straightness – nothing ruins detail sets worse than a lack of precision and straight lines.

I have to fight the urge to get too anxious to finish these parts; I can’t wait to build my next Jug, but I don’t want to hurry and mess up the cockpit parts. I’ll also have to make new wing inserts to relocate the landing light, so a full-on build is a little ways off. I’m just hoping to have my P-47D-30 parts ready before Tamiya does a P-47D-30 kit – although, when that comes out, you can thank me for creating the modeling karma that led to it.

Working on Whale Wheels

Most people start model planes with the cockpit – which makes perfect sense. However, I’m going to deviate a little from that with my build of the A-3 Skywarrior, and probably with other projects. The idea came from Dave Hansen, whose first task with any new kit was to paint the wheels. I’m taking it one further and building and painting the entire landing gear.

Part of my motivation is because I can’t build the interior until the parts are all cast for the upcoming Obscureco set. But part of it is based on the way we build. If you’re like me, by the time you’ve got the model painted and decalled, and the masking is off the cockpit, you feel like the model’s done. That, I think, leads many people to speed through the landing gear, gear doors and external stores – which results in some weird alignment and, for some people, disappointment in contests. I don’t really care about the awards, but I don’t want to look at the model on my shelf and grumble at misalignments I introduced because of rushing at the end.

So, I’ll work on the gear first. The Hasegawa A-3’s gear are work, indeed – the mains have big knockout pins on them, and the nose gear has two on the wheel and another on the strut. The main mounts have pin marks too, as do the insides of the gear doors. There was a little bit of flash on my parts, but not enough to really slow me down. Here’s the real item’s mains:

The pin marks on the wheels were annoying, but I managed to deal with them in four steps. Step one and step two are the same: I applied a bit of super thin CA glue and let it set up. Two layers was enough to fill it to depth without fear of it running into the hub detail (which would be a real problem). Next, I sanded as much of the pin marks as I could without altering the contour of the tire or damaging the hub detail. Finally, I used the point of a No. 11 blade to scrape away any excess CA on the inner curve of the tire.

The nose wheel got the same treatment. The knockout pin on the strut was a pain; you want to eradicate it, but you don’t want to have the strut knocked out of round in the process. Two applications of CA were followed, in this case, by sanding with a Flex-I-File; I’ve learned to carefully cut the bands down to sand in narrow areas. Unless you’re a real brute the band will survive sanding. The main struts got the same treatment.

Next up for me is detailing the wheel bay. There are some pin marks inside them, and it may be easier to cover them while detailing.

Now, the question becomes this: once it’s detailed, do I include this in the Obscureco set? We’ll see how good a job I end up doing. I may also build a bomb bay and drop the crew access door, but these won’t be products; the bomb bay would be of little appeal and the access door is better rendered in photoetched metal.

Luckily, I have an A-3 not 4 miles from my house. I would tell you that’s why Obscureco relocated to Alameda, but that would be a lie. It is, however, nice having examples of my favorite airplanes just down the road from me at the Oakland Aerospace Museum!

Master plans: A-3 and P-47D-30

The last few weeks, I’ve focused my modeling attention on the A-3 Skywarrior in 1:72. I have long said I want to make a cockpit interior for this plane, and possibly folded wings. The wings will be tough – as will the dropped leading-edge slats – because the wing is so big. I don’t want to create a casting crisis with my partner in Obscureco. But the cockpit is do-able!

The tricky part is that the plane was around for so long that the cockpit changed radically. The major changes were in the right side of the control panel and the rear of the cockpit. So, for the A-3, there was a tail gunner’s remote control panel; for the KA-3B there was a shelf with a table; and the EKA-3B had a shelf with four “black boxes.” On the right side of the rear cockpit were an assortment of boxes and wiring on set of shelves, which differed from plane to plane.

It was a similar situation on the control panel. Flight controls stayed the same, but the right side varied from variant to variant.

So, here’s the strategy: the set will have three different control panels, and three different rear panels with different black boxes. And probably the most in-depth instructions I’ve had to write!

I used the kit parts for a structural base, and several parts from the Eduard set. Eduard gives you good extra details but leaves others out, and there was not much variance between versions. On top of this, I added switches, button and panels Eduard missed, improved on some messed-up details in the Eduard set, and built the panel essentially from scratch using styrene, wire and Reheat photoetched bezels.

I also made new seats, using the kit seats as a starting point and adding oxygen hoses, belts, blower equipment and other details.

It’s not finished; as it stands now, the control panel and rear bulkhead are awaiting casting (I’ll modify them for different versions) so they’re not totally complete. The rear bulkhead needs the jump seat belts, and the right side box is the EKA-3B arrangement, which will be removed or modified for the A-3 and KA-3 rear bulkhead masters. The cockpit lacks detail for the right side except for the oxygen regulator, which was common to all versions. I also have to make all the black boxes for the shelf on the right side and sidewall pieces, which will include the floodlights, hood for the navigator and canteens. Yes, canteens! At least I don’t have to scratch build those – I’ll just relieve some 1:72 figures of their spare gear.

Here are a couple of photos, with the parts just placed together:

Now, I’m switching gears and doing a cockpit master for the P-47D-30 for the 1:72 Tamiya kit. Yeah, I know, the Tamiya kit doesn’t need a new interior. Well, it does for the later Thunderbolts, which did away with the corrugated floor and had several interior equipment improvements. I’m using Tamiya’s ingenious jigsaw-puzzle-like engineering approach, which will allow modelers to use the rear bulkhead from the kit, keeping the price down and helping ensure a good fit. I’ll also include a panel for the lower wing with the landing light in the right place and some compressability flaps. I want to build Joe Laughlin’s “5 By 5” and do it well; sadly, I know more about P-47s than I did when I built a 1:48 Hasegawa Jug for Joe’s 85th birthday, so mine will be more accurate than his. This modeling is a real learning experience…

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?


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 Pandora.com 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…

Life vs Modeling Time

Last weekend saw a tremendous orgy of box-filling, thanks to the timely arrival of LOTS of parts from my friend and partner, Bill Ferrante. I got 10 Obscureco orders out the door, which opens up a lot of modeling time this week, and I’ll be back hard at work on the P-40, which does indeed seem to be coming along. My niece is out visiting again, and there’s that pesky Thanksgiving to get in the way, but I plan on getting the airframe assembled with the cockpit installed before the end of the next weekend.

On Friday we had the Silicon Valley Scale Modelers meeting, and I brought my one and only copy of the 4th Fighter Group book to show off. Afterward, Roy Sutherland (another Osprey author) and I talked about that company’s products. Book publishing’s got to be a tough business, and some concepts for series work better than others. “Aircraft of the Aces,” “Aviation Elite Units” and “Combat Aircraft” made sense. The “Duels” series… not so much. Those books are too long for a discussion of, say, the tactics used by a P-51 to fight an Fw 190, but too short for any depth about the aircraft in question. They’re neither fish nor fowl – which is not surprising since they are books.

Anyway, the “Duels” series includes these titles:
Sherman Firefly vs Tiger
P-51 Mustang vs Fw 190
Panther vs T-34
U-boats vs Destroyer Escorts
Spitfire vs Bf 109

USN Carriers vs IJN Carriers
Sopwith Camel vs Fokker Dr I
P-40 Warhawk vs Ki-43 Oscar

At some point, they’re going to run out of obvious titles, so we came up with some additional ideas that would certainly be off the beaten path:

Airbus 380 vs the Accounting Profession
Pucara vs SAS Hand Grenade
Godzilla vs the Smog Monster
Italian Army vs. the Impulse to Raise One’s Hands Over One’s Head
Dave Klaus vs Everybody, Real and Imaginary
F7U Cutlass vs Gravity

Got any other titles to suggest? Send them my way in the comments…