Making the little white Airbus

I first became aware of the Airbus A.220 while watching sessions of Big Jet TV. Most of you will not be aware of this televisual feast because you don’t think that jet airliners are among the most elegant things that humans ever invented and don’t feel the compulsion to watch them in action for hours on end. That’s your loss. Big Jet TV is very simple in conception and is really armchair plane spotting. This fellow, Jerry, take his video camera to various airport around Europe, and quite often to the United States these days, and live streams airliners landing and taking off from various airports. He puts up with rain, sleet, snow, buffeting winds and every other inconvenience you can think of and, for a very small monthly fee, I get to sit in my warm comfy chair and watch what he sees. It’s not quite the same as being there, you hear something of the rumble that Boeing 747s make as they lumber down the runway headed for destinations half way around the world, but not the air vibrating with the energy of it all. Still, I’m not really that keen to put up with all the privations of getting to, say, Heathrow, for a few seconds of that kind of not inexpensive thrill. If my modelling productivity has gone down in the past few months it’s all Jerry’s fault.

Among all the Boeing 737s, 747s, 767s, 777s and 787s and the Airbuses and the occasional Embraer, Dash-8 and so on, all painted up in an endless array of airliner liveries, many of them nice retro schemes, the Airbus A.220 stands out for its elegance and the simple red and white scheme that Swiss (now of subsidiary of Lufthansa) fly it in. Jerry and I agree that it is probably the most beautiful airliner in the skies at the moment.

The A.220 didn’t start out with Airbus but with the Canadian company Bombardier. They planned it as a slightly larger version of their Bombardier CRJ which they had taken over from Canadair at some stage. They began planning this larger version back at the end of the 1990s but ran into all kinds of trouble that led to delays and program suspensions so the first of what they called the CS100 did not fly until 2015. Part of Bombardier’s problem was that they were not set up to handle such a large and expensive challenge as the CS series and ran into supply problems and delays in getting their Pratt & Whitney engines, the litany of little problems adding up to a big one that went on. One of the big problems was that the CS series would be competition for the bottom end of both the Boeing and Airbus range of airliners so Boeing complained that the CS would be unfair competition for its Boeing 737-700MAX and lodged formal complaints with its US government which ended up with the threat of a 300 per cent import duty. Airbus was more direct and offered it’s A.319neo (a shorter version of the A.320) as direct competition to the CS series and took away sales that Bombardier would otherwise have got.

The end result of all these problems was that the whole CS project was in danger of collapsing and has, since then, got Bombardier out of the aircraft manufacturing business completely. The government of Quebec kicked in $1 billion to keep the project and Airbus came in to take a part share in the project. As things stand at the moment Airbus owns three quarters of Airbus Canada and the Quebec owns the other quarter. Parts for the A220 come from all over the place including Northern Ireland, North America and Europe and are assembled at Mirabel in Canada. A new assembly plant will be opened at Mobile in Alabama sometime soon which will, among other things, increase production capability and overcome any possibility of having to pay import duties. At the end of 2019 107 A.220s had been manufactured, there were orders for several hundred more and there may be demand for around 5,000 more over the coming twenty years. Recently Airbus toured the A.220 around Asia and Australia so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them flying in Australian liveries in a few years time – Qantas is apparently interested.

The list price for an A.220 is currently around $81 million but Airbus claim operating costs 15 to 20 per cent lower than their current competition, which is what makes them attractive. What makes them attractive to me is that they look really nice. Which brings us to making a model of one.

box top

According to Scalemates there were no kits made of the Bombardier CS so this Eastern Express kit is the first one of this airliner in any scale. Hannants are currently asking A$70 for a kit of this airliner in 1/144, which is far from cheap and you might be able to find one for a better price from some Eastern European company. On ebay they are being offered for around US$40, which is not much less that Hannants, given the current value of the Pacific Peso. Still, it’s a lot cheaper than having to buy a real 1:1 A.220 and the Eastern Express kit is the only one on the market at the moment, so there is little choice. Eastern Express offer this kit in a variety of different livery options but since I was keen on the Swiss livery that’s the kit I bought.

The box that the kit comes in is not large, unlike many Eastern Express boxes which are very large and in which the contents take up very little of the internal volume. In this case, the kit parts rattle around a bit, but not so much as to make one truly annoyed. As for the quality of the kit, I was pleasantly surprised. After the horror of some Eastern Express airliner kits, their Boeing 757 comes to mind, this one is rather nicely done. Far from the quality of your Japanese kit makers or even modern Airfix, but at least something that can be built up into a reasonable replica of the real thing without requiring major work. The parts fit reasonably well and don’t require oceans of filler, they appear fairly accurate and the mouldings are still relatively new and therefore fairly devoid of flash.

The most annoying thing about this kit is the instructions. As is common these days, the parts numbering is only determined by peering at a diagram of the sprues and identifying the parts that way. This is very annoying, particularly when the directions on which parts go where are on the other side of the same sheet of paper – particularly if one has the attention span of a gnat and forgets the number while turning over the sheet of paper. The result of this problem for me is that I made a couple of mistakes during the assembly process which are, fortunately, hidden under the wings so you can’t see them, and a couple of parts left rattling around in the bottom of the box when construction was finished. There was really little more work involved in putting this kit together than there is with most of your Revell and Minicraft airliners, a few dabs of filler to take came of a few smallish gaps and the airframe is taken care of.

The most difficult part of the painting is the engine pods which involved seven different paint colours (not that you’d notice). Apart from the leading edges, which were Tamiya TS-76 with a gloss black base, and the undercarriage, the entire airframe is white. This was, as usual, achieved with a coat or two of Tamiya rattle can white primer sanded with micromesh, three coats of white automotive lacquer, also sanded back with micromesh, one coat of Tamiya rattle can Pure White, another rub over with the finest Micromesh, and then a final coat of Pure White. I’ve painted the undercarriage in Airbus grey, as would be correct for Airbus’s other airliners, but since the A.220 is made in Canada it might be a different shade of grey in reality. Tough.

As an aside, for years I’ve been beating myself up about the correct colour of the wheel hubs on airliners. Fortunately for me Big Jet TV goes regularly to Toulouse where many of the Airbus airliners are made and Jerry is particularly fond of zooming in on undercarriage. As a result I can say with some certainty that when Airbus airlines come out of the factory the wheel hubs are painted the same shade of grey as is used on the rest of the basic airliner. Looking at sessions of Big Jet TV shot elsewhere it seems that when it comes to replacing wheels the maintenance crews don’t care what they put on so you could end up with any other colour they happen to have lying about. This means that when I paint my wheel hubs Airbus grey that means the airliners are fresh out of the factory, which explains why the models don’t have any weathering either. That my story, anyhow. I don’t know if this applies to Boeing airliners too, let’s hope so.


Finally we come to the decals which are, like the rest of the kit, pretty good. As usual, I gave them a coat of Tamiya TS-13 clear which has two purposes. One is in the hope of holding them together while they are being applied and the other is because TS-13 and Tamiya Pure White have the same sheen so there is no need to give the completed model a gloss coat which, I think, makes most airliners look quite unrealistic in comparison to the real thing. The decals went on well but the red bands on the tail were not wide enough to cover the entire tail. Fortunately, the other option on the sheet is for Delta and the shade of red on those decals was exactly the same as for the Swiss decals so a few slivers cut from the Delta decals took care of that little problem.

All in all, a nice little model of a beautiful airliner. It is not quite as good as the real thing, but my back yard if not big enough for one of them and neither is my bank balance, so I can’t complain. The thing I like about working in constant scale is that it allows me to compare various airliners and I was surprised to find that the A.220 is not much smaller than a standard A.320. I guess that what makes the difference is what is on the inside rather than the outside.

A220 and A320

Models for March 2020

Let’s begin this month with a couple more Airbus A.320s. Both these are the Revell 1/144 kit of this airliner, they don’t need much work to get them looking good except removal of the surplus flap tracks. Some of the Revell kits – but not all – come with the IAE and CMF engines so that is always a point to look out for when making models from these kits.

First an Ansett Australia A.320 with the ‘Flag tail’ livery. Unlike most A.320s which had white fuselages and grey wings, the Ansett A.320s (and probably all their other airliners at this time) were painted white all over, which makes the task of painting them a little simpler. The decals for this model come from Hawkeye.

March d

March c

The New Zealand decal maker Oldmodels makes decals for all the liveries that Air New Zealand has flown it’s a.320s in. This set portrays ZK-OJH in the Star Alliance livery. All Star Alliance members have one of two of their aircraft painted in this standard livery with the name of the participating airline in smaller font lower towards the nose.

March a

March a

Compass II flew for only a few months in Australia in the early 1990s after the failure of the first Compass Airlines. The new airline’s fate was the same. But while it was flying it used a small fleet of McDonnell Douglas MD-83s which are advanced versions of the old Douglas DC-9 that served on Australian airlines for many years. The kit for this model is the Minicraft 1/144 kit and the decals are from Hawkeye.

March g

March h

If you, like me, has been watching Big Jet TV on You Tube you will have seen quite a few of the new Airbus A.220s coming and going. The red Swiss markings on the white fuselage looks particularly attractive I think, so when Eastern Express released a 1/144 kit of this aeroplane I was unable to resist its attractions. It turned out be a fairly decent kit too and easy enough to make with the decals for both Swiss and Delta airliners in the box.

March e

March f

FSC Dujin have been rereleasing some of the little jems that Jean-Pierre Dujin originally released a couple of decades back. They are not the easiest of kits to make and they are resin, which puts some people off, but they are of subjects that no other kit manufacturer makes and for that reason I love them. The new versions come with decal sheets, some etch parts and much more comprehensive instructions than the earlier versions. This little model is a Mudry CAP 231EX aerobatic aeroplane in 1/72 scale.

March i

March j

Even rarer than the FSC Dujin kit is this 1/72 Farman 370 which was supplied to me by the French modeller Adrien Roy. It is fully resin and a little challenging to make, but well worth the effort if you are, like me, interested in French racing aeroplanes from the interwar period. The colour if Tamiya’s rattle can French Blue.

March k

March l

Here’s one I made earlier.

This is the Special Models 1/72 Bell XP-77 which I made in 1989. This was probably the first Special Hobbies kit I made and an early experience in the short-run injection moulded kits that started to emerge from Eastern Europe. It was a shock to the system I can tell you.

March m

March n

Models for February 2020

It’s been a couple of months since my last entry on the models I’ve made so I’ve been able to get some more airliner models made. They seem to be fairly time consuming, perhaps because there is so much masking associated with most airliners and it takes time to get myself motivated to do it.

First, a couple of New Zealand Airbus A.320s. Kiwi International started up in 1994 as a cut-price New Zealand airline offering cheap fares including on routes across the Tasman Sea to Australia. It started running scheduled services after a year using several airliner types, ending up Airbus A.320s. It was out of business by the end of 1996 because Air New Zealand had set up its own budget airline, Freedom Air, to drive Kiwi out of business. After it had dealt with Kiwi, Freedom Air stayed flying until 2006 when it was absorbed back into Air New Zealand.

This Revell 1/144 Airbus A.320 appears in the livery of Kiwi International thanks to Oldmodels decals. It is a very nice sheet though I think the stylized kiwi on the tail is probably a bit too small. The kit wingtip fins are far too small and were replaced by aftermarket ones. Apart from that there is nothing remarkable about this model.

February a

February b

Oldmodels offer sheets for Freedom Air A.320s which are probably very nice, judging by other Oldmodels decals I’ve used. However, I already had the Draw Decals set so I decided to use it, and felt few ill effects as a result. The instruction sheet says to use Tamiys TS-47 for the fuselage yellow and TS-15 for the tail, which looks pretty good to me. In making this model I used aftermarket metal undercarriage part for the first time. I am not a great fan of spending money on parts which look little better than the plastic parts in the kit, but the nose undercarriage has to be fitted at the stage in the assembly process of joining the fuselage halves together and is very fragile, so the nosewheel legs had not survived handling during the rest of the model making process for all my previous A.320s. The metal nosewheel leg I used this time survived all kinds of abuse, so I will be using them for the rest of these A.320s.

February c

February d

The PAS Decals resin 1/144 kit of the Airbus A.310 is probably more accurate than the Revell kit, if you can find a copy without paying a small fortune for one on ebay. However, it is not easy to put together and even liberating the parts from their casting blocks is manual labour. I don’t recall why I bought this expensive kit, but since I could not find a sucker to buy it from me, and I already had FedEx decals for an A.310, I cast caution to the wind and made it. It has not been one of my most enjoyable model making experiences.

February i

February j

I thought I’d made all the Revell 1/144 Fokker 100s I needed to make until I happened to be looking at Ric Warcup’s Facebook page and saw that he offered decals for a couple of relatively rare operators in Australia. Flight West was launched in Queensland in 1987 but went into liquidation in 2001 (it was sold to the parent company of Alliance Airlines, which Ric Warcup also offers decals for, of which more later). There is nothing exceptional about making this model except that the Warcup wing marking decals do not fit the wings comfortably so I used kit decals instead. Like the Revell A.320s mentioned above, the nose undercarriage looks nice and accurate but is also has little strength as a result, so I had to find something a bit more sturdy in my spares box after I accidentally destroyed the kit nose undercarriage.

February g

February h

I’ve written separately about mis-making this Welsh Models 1/144 Boeing KC-135A. It is a vacform and white metal kit, which would pose all kinds of problems for a modeller not experienced in these media so perhaps the simpler Minicraft kits would suit most people. Despite it’s problems, it doesn’t look too bad.

February f

February e

Here are two I made earlier.

This is the venerable Airfix/MPC 1/72 Dornier Do17F. So far as I am aware this is the only F model available, the other Do17s I’ve seen have been the Do17Z with the radial engines. I have a memory of finding this kit at the back of a shop in Honolulu when Valma and I visited the United States in 1974, the decals may have come with the kit but the transparencies come from the Falcon vacformed set for Luftwaffe bombers that is, I assume, no longer available. (The lesson, buy things when you see them because you never know when they will be sold out.)

February m

February n

Here is another of my set of BAC Lightnings, mostly made from the Trumpeter kit. This Lightning F.6 used the kit decals for XR753 flying with No 23 Squadron, RAF, around 1970.

February k

February l

Mis-making the Welsh Models 1/144 Boeing KC-135A

There are several companies that make limited run 1/144 kits, among them is Welsh Models which started off offering very basic vacformed kits of subjects which were desirable because they could not be acquired from anyone else. Over time other kit makers have intruded into this manufacturers domain with some respectable resin and injection moulded kits. To keep up with the times Welsh Models have taken to offering resin kits of a good standard for smaller subjects and kits with some vacformed parts for things like fuselages and the smaller parts in resin. When you buy a Welsh Models kit you could end up with anything from the original purely vacformed kits right through to the full resin or mixed vacformed and resin kits. For a while there Welsh Models also offered a mixed media kit of mainly vacformed parts with a few white metal parts such as engines and undercarriage. The thing you can say about them is that they are better than the full vacformed kits.

There are a couple of things that make Welsh Models kits quite attractive, one is the overall accuracy of the kits which is generally said to be better than most injection moulded kits, and good decal sheets. The instruction sheets assume that the modeller already knows all about this kind of kit so all you get are some general drawings and generalized instructions. These are very acceptable kits if you know what you’re doing, a bit more work than your standard injection moulded kit but offering a very good finished model if one is willing to put in the extra work.

Over the years I’ve built up quite a collection of Welsh Models kits. I’ve made a few over the years and some, such as the Britannia and Deux Pont, were made when all you got was the moulded plasticard sheets and some white metal propellers. These were a real test of my skills and not the kind of thing that I’d want to go through too often. Even so, I’m always tempted when a new Welsh Models kit becomes available with the result that I have a pile of them that I often look at longingly, but often pass them over in favour of something less adventurous in plastic that will be easier to make.

On the other hand, there are occasions when I need something more challenging (read ‘time consuming’) to make, not because I really feel like challenging myself. On this occasion I was off to Canberra for a week of history work and needed something to keep me busy during the evenings after all the fun died down. This is when I go to the Welsh Models kit pile and pick a kit or two to take with me, more or less at random. One of the kits I picked this time was the Welsh Models 1/144 Boeing KC-135A. It turned out to be from the middle period with most of the pieces located on two sheets of formed plasticard and a bag of small metal parts including some engine pods and undercarriage legs and wheels and the refueling boom. This suited me fine, there is nothing better to do in the evening in a strange city than to spend one’s time sanding the tips off ones fingers. The white metal engine pods were a bonus because there a few things worse in the modelling universe than trying to make decent looking engine pods from vacformed parts.

KC-135A box art

I was going to write here a couple of paragraphs about the process of liberating part that can be used to make a model out of a sheet of plasticard with lumps moulded into them. However, I know some of our readers have delicate constitutions so I will skip over all this mind numbing activity, which is best tackled when one’s mind is already numb from other things. Suffice it to say that after three evening work I had managed to liberate the parts necessary to make a KC-135 from the sheets of plastic Welsh Models had provided. They included fuselage halves with a couple of formers to help them keep their shape, upper and lower wing halves, the same for the rear fins, and a couple of other bits but I never quite figured out what they were for.

Next comes the interesting part of sticking these basic parts together. A lot of weight needed to go in the nose so the finished model wouldn’t be a tail sitter. I usually do this by kneading up some two part epoxy filler and pushing it into one of the fuselage halves along with a lead sinker of two, and pushing the other fuselage half over the top to make sure it is all snug. On this occasion I also moulded a nice little nose undercarriage bay for he nose undercarriage into the filler as it set, which looks pretty effective in 1/144 and saves having to make something small and complex out of tiny bits of plasticard instead. Next is the process of sticking tiny little bits of plastic along the edges of one fuselage side to help the two parts line up and give the thin edges of the plastic a bit of reinforcement. Finally, I bathed the edges of the parts in a good lathering of glue, put the parts together while trying to line them up as much as possible, then wrapped the thing in a lot of masking tape and set it aside to set for a day.

The wings are easier to glue together, in theory, but it is not common for the parts to fit with any great accuracy so I lined everything up as much as possible sloshed the glue around and wrapped them up in tape and also put them aside to set. Only later did I realize that I’d forgotten to cut the holes in the lower wings for the undercarriage bays – I blame this on the one or more drinks and nibbles events associated with history conferences that may have clouded my judgement. This caused problems later on.

After several nights I had fuselage and wings ready to go together. Needless to say, they showed very little interest in anything resembling a snug fit. Using craft wire I made pins that I stuck into the ends of the wings and then drilled holes in the fuselage sides where the wings should go to give the joins some strength. Then followed a lot of very harsh language as I tried to get everything square – or at least looking square. My techniques is to use lots of blue-tac to hold everything firmly on a solid base and then juggle the parts around until they start to look square, and then pour super glue into the gaps in the hope that everything will hold in place while I use plastic shims, various kinds of filler and a lot more harsh language to make the join as solid as possible. After that there was filler, and more filler, and then more filler before the fuselage and wings began to look as though they were closely associated with each other.

When I got home again I gave the model so far made a good examination and decided, by a narrow margin, against throwing it in the bin. Next was the process of fitting the engine pods to the wings, but it turned out that if I had stuck them straight onto the wings as they were the engines would have been pointing down about ten degrees from what they should be – which would not be really accurate. Getting this little problem fixed was the most difficult challenge of the entire project and if you could look at the model now with x-ray vision you’d see all the little reinforcing blocks, metal pins and varieties of glues and fillers underneath the paint on the pylons.

Finally the engine pods and pylons were starting to look reasonable and I thought it was about time to assemble the undercarriage. It was then that I noticed that I had forgotten to prepare the main undercarriage boxes in the wings, and the kit really did go in the bin. Later, on mature reflection, I decided that I had put so much effort into this model that a little thing like that wasn’t going to stop me. It was too late to try cutting out the main gear boxes but I remembered the kits I’d made in my youth that had lacked such boxes and the undercarriage legs were just stuck straight onto the bottom of the wing. Of course, those were Frog kits made in the 1950s, but it’s a precedent, so let’s not quibble ‘Nobody is going to see it if I don’t tell them’, I told myself, and so I cheated. This is not what any self respecting modeller would do, so perhaps I’ve lost all self respect, at least in relation to this model.

The final significant construction challenge was the rear stabilizers, which showed as much inclination to match up to the fuselage as the wings had earlier. The problem was overcome in the same way that the wings had been attached.

Then followed three or four coats of primer, filling, sanding and more priming as all the blemishes in the model were fixed, and then it was time for painting. The instruction and decal sheet offered options for seven different KC-135s, five As and two Qs (the ones that refuelled SR-71s). All the offered versions were painted in the same all over ADC Grey (Air Defence Command) so I ordered a jar of that shade in the AK Real Color range from BNA (along with a new tube of filler). The jar is relatively big but the amount of fluid in it was rather minor and, as it turned out, just enough to give this model two coats, with nothing left over. There was, of corse, all the engine masking to be done for the Tamiya rattle can metallic paints, have I’ve already told you how much I hate masking.

KC-135A gluepot

The decal sheet is rather nice and produced by Liveries Unlimited, which is a kind of recommendation. To be on the safe side I gave the sheet a coat of clear varnish to hold the decals together as they were being applied, and that worked most of the time, so there was a minimum of harsh language for this part of the model making process. After some problems with poor decal adhesion a few years ago I’ve taken to applying decals with a wash of fairly lightly diluted Selly’s Aquadhere but this time I didn’t bother because the plan was to give the model a couple of coats of clear varnish to seal the decals in. However, almost before I’d finished some of the decals started lifting off because the adhesion was so poor so I had to go back and reattach most of them with the glue wash to get them to stick again. That’s something I won’t not be doing again.

Finally, a few bits had to be painted black and then, when everything had dried, on went a couple of coats of Tamiya semi-gloss rattle can lacquer. Then came time for the undercarriage wheels which are white metal. The problem with them is that where there should be holes for the undercarriage legs to go into, there aren’t any, a moulding problem I assume where bubbles got into the holes. It turns out that I’m not very good at drilling holes in white metal in the precise centers of tiny wheels, which makes the resulting completed undercarriage look a bit wonky. But since the entire undercarriage is something of a disaster, it’s just as well that nobody is going to see much of it.

Despite everything, this turned out to be a nice little model, if you don’t look at it very hard. Now I feel the need to make a B-52 to go with it, but I don’t think Welsh Models makes one of those.

KC-135A b