Heritage of the Air in Canberra

I got back from the Heritage of the Air conference in Canberra a few days ago but have been trying to catch up since then. It was an event sponsored by ICOMOS so there was a lot of heritage discussion as well as aviation, which I found interesting, and a good time was had by all as far as I could see. It was held at University House at the Australian National University. Breakfasts and evening drinks were among the highlights of the event. Here are some photos which include one of me with James Knightly, Peter Hobbins and Matt Henderson and another of Roger Mayer talking to Robin Johnson. In addition to this I spent a day at the National Library photographing old fanzines and a few hours doing a bit of work at the Australian War Memorial. The rest of the time I spent walking around looking at things. The city has changed a lot since we left there in 1987 but not so much since we finished the Tax Office history a decade ago.

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In addition to hanging around, I gave a paper on the role of the Council of Defence in establishing aviation in Australia in 1919 and 1920. Here is a copy of what I said. There is a longer version which I will get around to publishing one of these days.

From the Same Root

The Big Douglas Airliner

Douglas had been the world’s leading manufacturer of commercial airliners since the 1930s but had lost that lead to Boeing with its 707s, 727s, 737s and 747s. There was a gap in the potential airliner market for something between the long range 707 and the new 747 Jumbo Jet, that could carry over 300 passengers for intercontinental ranges. To fill this gap Douglas began design of a three engine wide-body airliner which would be the successor to its successful (but not as successful as the Boeing 707) DC-8 four engine narrow body long-range airliner. Design work began in 1966. The prototype made its first flight on 29 August 1970, 386 were manufactured (with an additional 60 KC-10s for the US Air Force) and production ended in 1988.
Unfortunately, Lockheed had the same idea and developed its L1011 to similar specifications. They both went into production and the competition between them meant that neither was successful. The Lockheed was more technically advanced but delays in production meant the DC-10 was first into service and therefore a bit more successful. On the other hand, the DC-10 suffered from a bad safety reputation due to several fatal crashes caused by poor design, particularly around the rear cargo door.
While the DC-10 was being designed, but before construction commenced, Douglas merged with McDonnell to form McDonnell Douglas, but the ‘DC’ numbering was retained. A few DC-10s remain flying, converted to freighters with modernized cockpits and flight systems under the Boeing designation of MD-10.
The most commonly produced model was the DC-10-30 which was also the first long-range model. A total of 163 were built from 1972 to 1988, 163 were delivered to 38 different customers, beginning with KLM and Swissair in September1972. Air New Zealand acquired seven DC-10s to replace its DC-8s on its long inter-continental services and the airline flew them until around the end of 1982.
McDonnell Douglas began planning for an improved version of the DC-10 in 1976 but it was not until 1986 that the replacement was launched under the name of MD-11. Despite all kinds of plans for greater improvements, a shortage of funds in the company limited development of this new version to a few improvements including a stretched fuselage, improved wings, engines and flight systems. At the same time other companies such as Airbus and Boeing were developing entirely new airliners in the same category and the introduction of new and more efficient engines meant there was no longer the need for three engines on long distance services, all limiting the attractiveness of the MD-11. After McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997 that company decided to continue MD-11 production, though only for the freighter variant, but in 1998 the company announced it would end production after filling all existing orders. As a result only 200 were manufactured between 1988 and 2000. Although they have disappeared from passenger services there are still many MD-11s in service as freighters with companies such as FedEx, UPS and Lufthansa Cargo.
I have a particular fondness for the DC-10 and the MD-11 since it was an Air New Zealand DC-10 that we flew in in 1974 from Auckland to Los Angeles and a Swissair MD-11 that we flew in from Singapore to Zurich in 1993. I was also keen to make these models as part of my project to make all the Douglas airliners, beginning with the DC-1 and concluding with what became known as the Boeing 717. There are a few gaps to be filled, such as an ANA DC-6b, but otherwise, making the DC-10 and MD-11 fills the major gaps with only a couple of the MD-90 series to go.
There are really only five useful kits of the DC-10 in 1/144 scale, the most common are the Revell and Airfix kits which have been reboxed more times than you’ve had hot breakfasts, a Welsh Models vacformed kit, a newly released Eastern Express kit in a multiplicity of livery options, and the Accurate Airliners resin kit. I started off with the Airfix kit but it was so badly molded and warped that it ended up in the bin. I couldn’t lay my hands on the Revell kit and the Eastern Express kit had not yet been released – though given the quality of some of their recent kits I wonder if that might not have ended up in the bin as well.
Eventually I gave in and bought the Accurate Airliners resin kit, an expensive undertaking but a very nice kit indeed and almost certainly the most accurate and pleasing to work with. The main thing to say about it is that it is heavy because the fuselage is molded in one piece. While working on this I was constantly afraid that I’d pick the model up by the wing and it would snap off due to that weight, and I’m still amazed that the weight doesn’t crush the resin undercarriage. The decals were a nuisance. I hunted down some Air New Zealand decals on the interweb and, while they were pretty good, the had obviously been designed for another kit because they were about 5mm shorter that the Accurate Airliners kit. I tried a couple of tricks to fill the gap but none of them looked good enough so I ended up having to buy another sheet from overseas to fill that tiny gap. The end result is not one of my better models but, given the cost of making another one. I’ll stick with this one.

Douglas a
Kits of the MD-11 are less common and there are only one or two options. In injection molding there are the Micro Mir and Eastern Express kits (which might actually be the same kit, but I’m not prepared to spend the money to find out) and the Welsh Models kit. I bought the Welsh Models kit some time ago which has the advantage of offering Swissair and Swissair Asia decals., but it was one of their earlier mostly vacformed kits and I did not fancy things like trying to make decent engine pods out of the bits of plastic in the molded plastic sheets in the box. So when the Micro Mir kit was released I bought that. It looked to be the easy option as against the vacformed kit but it had the wrong engines for the Swissair variant. Fortunately Welsh Models also offered a conversion kit for the right kind of engines in resin and white metal so I bought that too. Fhis gave me a second set of Swissair decals which, as it turned out, was a good thing.
Construction of the Micro-Mir kit was not difficult but it was not a pleasure to put together. Like many kits these days it seemed unnecessarily fussy with, for example, a detailed nose undercarriage which is all hidden inside the doors and realistically thin but also very fragile smaller bits. The end result of this fragility was that, even though I handled the model with as much care as possible, the nose undercarriage broke very quickly and could not be resurrected in any way. The only solution was to turn to the white metal parts offered by the Welsh Models kit so that if you had x-ray vision you’d see that, in addition to the replacement engines, the Micro Mir kit also has the nose undercarriage and winglets of the Welsh Models kit. (The big and uninviting sheets of vacrfomed plastic went into a bin, putting a smile on my dial.)
Painting and decaling was a challenge. The grey is my own concoction which is about as close to the grey that Douglas used on its airliners as I can get. The corogard panels are also my own concoction of metallic shades, which is a story in itself that I shan’t recount here. The underside colour gave me a lot of stress; it looks black but it isn’t and sources variously describe it as a very dark blue or purple. In the end I gave up trying to find a reliable source of information and just used the darkest of dark blues, which doesn’t look too bad really.

Douglas b
When it came to the decals it was just as well that I had two sets to work with. For one thing, they were very fragile and even though I gave them a good coating of clear varnish as insurance against them falling to bits when used, some of the longer window decals did begin to explode as I put them in place. The other reason for my good fortune was that the window decals might fit nicely on the Welsh Models kit but they are too short for the Micro Mir MD-11 kit so I had to raid the second sheet to find enough window decals to fill the spaces left by the Welsh Models decals.
In the end I felt the same way about the Micro Mir MD-11 as I felt about the Accurate Airliners DC-10. Neither was an enjoyable project, and I wouldn’t recommend them to others, but they do fill a gap in the lineup of models that I wanted to get made and they don’t look too bad.

Douglas e

Models for November 2019

First off is the Micro Mir McDonnell Douglas MD11 which has a particular fascination as I flew in one of these to Europe in 1993. The contrast between the Qantas cabin service to Singapore and the Swissair service through to Zurich was remarkable. The kit is big and solid and fairly easy to assemble. It comes with Finnair decals and engines but since I wanted to make the Swissair version I had to get new decals and engines which, fortunately, come in the form of a Welsh Models conversion kit. The most challenging part of the conversion was merging the new tail engine into the kit, which is really not too difficult. What really held me up was the apparently simple choice of the colour of the lower fuselage, it looks black, but not quite, and the decal instructions are no help at all so, eventually, I bit the bullet and used the darkest shade of blue I could find, and it doesn’t look too bad. The end result is a pretty impressive model.

November b

November a

For some time now I’ve been working myself up to making a fewAirbus A.320s in Australian and New Zealand liveries. I stared off with a Welsh Models Air France A.318 some years ago and now it’s time to get going on the rest. I intended to start with the Revell A.319 in the new British Airways retro BEA scheme but then I discovered that there was an A.319 on the Australian register, flown by Sky Traders. It had a very pleasant orange, white and grey scheme which did not require any titles (which would have been beyond my capabilities) so that’s the subject of this model. There is nothing really difficult about these Revell 1/144 A.320 series airliners apart from a little wing modification for the A.319s and A.320s which takes only a few minutes and rudimentary modelling skills. (I see that Sky Traders is now flying a new livery which would be much more difficult to replicate than the scheme that I’ve done here.)

November c

November d

Moving along on my A.320 obsession, here is a Skywest A.320, made possible by a sheet of Southern Skies decals which is now out of print, as far as I can tell. The only thing difficult about this is the blue of the tail which I mixed myself. Southern Skies released decals for three SkyWest airliners, a Fokker 50, a Fokker 100 and this A320. Fortunately for me I mixed enough paint for all three models, but only just, the paint cup on my airbrush ran dry just as I finished painting the tail on this one. Apart from that, this was a fairly routine build.

November g

November h

At a recent local scale modelling club meeting another member and I were talking about the aesthetic values of the current range of European jet fighters. Naturally the Dassault Rafale came out on top of the list and this inspired me to make a model of one. The kit I had in my Treasure was the old Italeri one which was released around the time that the Rafale entered production so I doubt that its appearance reflects the look of current operational Rafales. In any event, the kit offered only the decals necessary to represent the first production Rafale as it appeared at a display at Farnborough, painted overall gloss black which made the process of building this kit so much easier. I think that when I get around to building some operational Rafale models I’ll use the more modern Hobby Boss kits which seem to be well regarded, I wouldn’t recommend this kit for that.

November e

November f

Here are two that I made earlier, both late World War II US Navy as it turns out.

This Vought F4U-1D was made from the Hasegawa kit and is about as far as I ever went in detailing a model with the drooped flaps and detailed cockpit – made at a time when there were no aftermarket kits to help with these things. I don’t know if it shows up in these photos, but the surface is lightly crazed all over, my first experience of what happens when you airbrush lacquers over enamels. After all the effort I’d put into this kit I was quite disappointed by the result, but it’s not too bad and it was too late to do anything about it anyhow.

November i

November j

Then there is this Vought XF5U, another Hasegawa kit. These were very difficult to find at the time and I tried my best to make this a lovely looking, as it should be. Unfortunately my skills at the time were not up to it and the surface is very rough. When I completed this there was no such thing as on-line auction sites and I thought I’d never see another of these kits, so I put up with the end result. But looking at this model now I think I might try finding another kit on the internet and see if I can’t make a better model of this one next time.

November l

November k

378, the story of an Airbus A.310

While Airbus were working on their first production, the A.300, some airlines asked them is they could make a version that could carry less passengers a longer distance. Studies began and the company decided to offer a shorter, lighter version with new wings which was initially called the A.300B-10 but was then redesignated the A.310. The longer range made it useful on the trans-Atlantic route so it was fairly popular. Between 1983 and 1998 a total of 255 A310s were produced, this relatively small number was due to the introduction of the A320/321 which could carry around the same number of passengers more efficiently. The A300 and A310 had enough in common that they were both made on the same production line and it took about a day for pilots to convert from one type to the other.

a310c

Air Niugini ordered two A310s, construction numbers 378 and 549 which flew with the airline into the 2000s. At various times they had another two which flew with the airline for only short periods of time. Of these the more interesting is 378 which Air Niugini flew twice, the first time between January 1989 and April 1991 and then from November 1992 to September 2005, both times as P2-ANA. A little research shows that for the first year of that missing period this airliner flew with Compass Airlines as VH-YMI and after that airline closed it went off to Bulgaria where it flew for Jes Airlines for most of 1992, before returning to New Guinea. After it finished flying for Air Niugini it was converted to a freighter and flew for FedEx.

I knew none of this when I got around to making models of the A310. I had a couple of Revell kits and decals for the Compass and Air Niugini aircraft but did not realize that these two models would represent the same airliner at two different stages of its life. Somewhere along the line I acquired a PAS Decals Russian resin kit of the A310 and some FedEx freighter decals, not knowing that they might be useful too. Finally, at this year’s Expo I picked up another Revell kit so cheaply that I could not pass it up.

Having made all the A300s I needed to make, it was time to make the A310. The Revell kit was first released in 1984 and had been reboxed many times in different liveries since then, but it wears its age fairly well. There is absolutely nothing remarkable or difficult about this kit, it goes together as well and easily as almost all Revell airliner kits. The kit I picked up at Expo this year turned out to be the first 1984 boxing and was nice and crisp whereas the other two were released in 1995 and were showing a bit of wear and some untidy flash here and there.

First off I made one of the 1995 boxings which went together fairly well with and not too much need for filler, except for the flap tracks which had some rather intense shrinkage and needed a couple of goes to fill in. Painting for the Compass model was very simple with grey wings and white fuselage. The only difficult painting came with the engines which took eight different shades of grey, white and metallic to represent fairly well. I’m not quite sure what shape the nose undercarriage doors are supposed to be, but they don’t look like that on the real airliner, so they needed a little modification. The Hawkeye decals were a pleasure to use and although the sheet comes with its own corogard decals for the wings I used a Liveries Unlimited set which, to me at least, look more realistic.

Having completed that one I moved on to the second, this time using the earlier boxing. It is always nice to have a second go at a kit because you’ve learned all the little problems with the kit the first time around. So everything went smoothly until I realized that the earlier boxing was missing the wing end plates that are a prominent part of almost all A310s but where not, I guess, on the earliest ones. No worries, I thought, I’ll just get out the other Revell kit and use the end plates as a guide to scratch build new endplates for this one. But when I opened the box of the other kit I found that the fuselage halves had been shattered beyond repair. I don’t know how this happened but my guess is that it I may have bought it on ebay and the kit was smashed during transit. In any case, there were bits that were salvageable and they went into the spares box, while the end plates when onto this model. I had to do some work on the wing tips to make them fit, but it was not too difficult.

a310a

The painting was identical to that for the Compass model, understandably so since they were the same airliner. The Liveries Unlimited decals were okay but a touch on the fragile side in comparison to the Hawkeye decals used on the other model and needed some careful handling. This sheet makes the mistake that the Hawkeye decals for the TAA A300 makes in assuming that the cabin windows run in a straight line along the fuselage whereas, in reality, the cabin slopes up towards the rear of the fuselage, and so do the windows. Unlike the Hawkeye TAA decals, however, fixing this defect was not a problem and involved only cutting the decal sheet at the point three windows behind the over-wing door and then applying them separately sloping up towards the rear door. (This would have worked without a hitch except that I went off to the kitchen to get something after I’d applied the windows to one side. I was only gone five minutes and when I came back the remaining decals had gone. I’ve already mentioned out new cats’ propensity for nicking little bits and pieces, and that’s what must have happened on this occasion although there were no cats to be seen anywhere when I returned. Fortunately, I try to make it a habit to scan decal sheets before using them, ‘just in case’ and on this occasion it was just such a case.)

a310b

‘So, what about the third version of 378?’ I hear you ask. ‘Still in its box.’ I reply. It’s been a tough and tiring year and I need to make something simple and easy at the moment rather than joining battle with this rather excellent looking resin kit and possibly stuffing it up. The kit and the decals are ready and waiting, I just have to wait until my mojo picks up the required amount of energy to match them. In the coming year, hopefully.

a310d

Models for October 2019

I’m not a great fan of research when it comes to modelling (I do enough of it in my day job) but I had the decals for this Air Niugini Airbus A.310 and the Revell 1/144 kit to go with it and thought I’d find out when that airline flew this airliner. It turns out that this A.310 flew for Air Niugini and then went to fly for Compass while that air line lasted, before being leased out for another year and then coming back to Air Niugini. Which makes this a model of the same aircraft as the Compass A.310 I completed last month. There is nothing very difficult about making this kit except that the Liveries Unlimited decals makes the same mistake as some other decal sheets do in not having the windows towards the rear of the fuselage slope up slightly. This is not a difficult problem to fix.

October a

October b
In comparison to the A.310 which more or less makes itself, the Founderie Miniature 1/72 kit of the Nord 1500 Griffon II is a serious modelling challenge. The kit was released around 2002 and is quite innovative for its age, having injection molded, white metal, vacformed and etch parts, and a pretty comprehensive decal sheet. It look as though this kit has been based on the original aircraft that is on display at the Musee at Le Bourget. The real challenge of this kit comes from the plastic parts which are not very well formed and require a lot of work. To prevent this from being a tail sitter the nose is stuffed with as much lead weight as I could fit in and I went to a lot of trouble to fill in and shape the interior of the air intake since it is such a prominent part of the original aircraft. The kit provides some good detail for the cockpit but it turns out that I, at least, could not get the ejection seat to fit into it when completed, but these kinds of problems are not unique to this short run kit. As it turns out, the cockpit windows are so small that you can’t see anything inside anyhow. The other major problem was the thin and badly formed lip of the air intake that had to be mostly replaced by small bits of plastic cut and sanded to shape. Despite these and other problems, it turns into a reasonable replica of a unique looking aircraft.

October c

October d

Here’s four I made earlier.

This little Matchbox 1/72 Hawker Fury may have been replaced by better kits but when I made it around 1976 it was all there was and was a very good kit, for its time. The metallic finish is Humbrol 11, not what you buy in the tinlet these days but a much shinier version. I so much enjoyed the look of this model when it was finished that I went out and bought more, leading me to where I am today with model making. This is probably also one of the first models I painted with an airbrush.

October e

October f

This little Red Star 1/72 Yak 3 was the only kit of this aircraft when I made it around the end of 1987. It was a very basic kit (which you could only buy in a box with three other kits of Russian aircraft, rumoured to be the last of the venerably line of Frog kits). This is also the high point in my personal case of Advance Modelling Syndrome with a great deal of scratch building to fill in the cockpit and other bits and pieces. After this I decided there is a limit to how much detail one should put into a kit to make a reasonable model. These days you can probably buy at much more advanced kit and lots of resin and etch after market stuff which would make this a muc easier project.

October g

October h

Talking about ‘difficult to make’, the Emhar 1/72 North American F4J-4 fits into that category, but was the only reasonable kit until recently. The decals are after-market.

October i

October j

On the other hand, the Hasegawa 1/72 Kyushu J7W1 is an excellent little kit of this fabulous looking Japanese late war prototype.

October k

October l

Models for September 2019

The past month has been one of frantic activity, mostly directed towards a history I’m currently writing. Nevertheless, my time at the bench has also been fruitful. Let’s begin with a couple of Airbuses.

To complete my set of Airbus A.300s that tell the story of VH-TAA (TAA’s first A.300) I made a model of that airliner in the livery of Condor Airlies, which it wore for only about six months in 1984. Construction of this version of the venerable Airfix 1/144 kit was the same as the four previous ones, the only variation was the Condor decals which I found at Airliner Hobby Supplies in the US (though the instructions say the decals themselves were made in Australia). This is the second time I’ve used Flightpath decals and both times they have disintegrate on me, despite applying a liberal coat of varnish before starting the application process. After that happened to these Condor decals I bought a second sheet and applied two coats of varnish, which still didn’t stop the decals breaking up entirely. My word of advice, don’t use this brand if you don’t have to.

September a

September b

Here, to round out the story, is a picture of all five of my models of VH-TAA.

September m

Having complete all the A.300s I want to make, we move on to Airbus A.310s. The only airline to fly this particular airliner in Australia was the short lived Compass Airlines which only lasted about a year in 1991. This kit is from Revell and dates from 1984 so it is really not much of an improvement on the Airfix A.300. There is no significant surface detail apart from some of the control surfaces and the engines are fairly basic, replacing them might be a good idea if you are really keen. The paints are the same as I used for my A.300s except in a slightly different arrangement. The decals are from Hawkeye, one of their more recent releases and very good. Their decal sheet gives you the corogard panels as well but I decided to use the Liveries Unlimited set that I’ve had for many years instead.

September f

September e

Languishing in my Treasure for many years has been the 1/72 Airfix Hawker Siddeley 125 series 1 (it says ‘Domine’, its RAF name, on the box), which dates from 1968. It is a real relic from the stone age of kit making and the only reason to make it is because there is no other kit of the HS125 series 1 available, or ever likely to be. My fondness for this type is that it was the first aeroplane I flew in; when I was working in the Department of Civil Aviation and staff got to travel in departmental aircraft, on a flight from Melbourne to Sydney and back in 1966. I had wanted to make a model of that aircraft, VH-CAO, for many years but that only became possible when VH-WAL, a member of the Airliner-Civil Aircraft Group, made them. I begged nicely and he sent me a set, and here it is. It’s not one of the world’s great models but I’m delighted with it.

September d

September c

Having spent a lot of my modelling energy of late making complex civil stuff I got the urge to make something simple, military and French, and this is what I found in my Treasure. It is the old Heller kit that dates from 1977, but it’s quality is a lot better than Airfix kits from the same era. My copy was the original boxing so the decals were unuseable, but I had some replacements on a Model Art sheet. The kit offers options for the 500 and 501 versions and, since I’ve already made a 500, I made the 501 this time. It is a relatively simple little kit but also one that is easy to make a mess of, so I took my time. For the aluminum finish I decided to try the Tamiya rattle can Silver Leaf and I quite like the results. This model represents Dewoitine 501 No.181 of 8 Ecadron de cooperation navale, Aeronautique Navale flying at Marignane-Marseille in 1938.

September h

September g

Here are two I made earlier.

This MPM 1/72 McDonnell FH-1 Phantom is one of that company’s first offerings and since I’m very partial to anything painted in US Navy deep blue I really enjoyed making this one. If my memory serves me right, I saw one of the real thing at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington years ago, this is but a pale shadow of the real thing.

September l

September k

This Yak-15 is, I think, a very basic Pioneer 2 kit dating from the 1980s. It is really a Yak 3 with a German engine strapped in where the piston engine used to be. It’s interesting.

September j

September i

VH-TAA – a modeller’s journey to the verge of insanity

Due to the way kits accumulate when you’re not watching them (the same way that wire coat hangers accumulate in your wardrobe) I ended up with three kits of the ancient Airfix 1/144 Airbus A.300B-2.  These were not new kits.  The first was the original 1974 boxing with Air France decals, another was the 1974 kit in the same box but with a sticker on the front saying ‘Eastern Decals’ and, unsurprisingly, Eastern Airlines decals inside.  The third was a reboxing of the Airfix kit in a Skylines Models box that was released sometime in the early 2000s.  There are a few minor accuracy problems with this kit but overall it looks like an A.300 and unless you know exactly what you’re looking for there’s nothing to complain about.

Over the years I’d also accumulated decals for Australian versions of the A.300, all by Hawkeye; for the original Trans Australia scheme, the Air Niugini scheme and the later Australian Airlines scheme.  Many years earlier I’d made this kit with the Trans Australia decals but I’d made it with the fuselage windows retained and filled with Krystal Kleer and used enamel white paint which had started to go yellow.  These days I use fuselage window decals and use white lacquer paint, which has less tendency to go yellow, so I thought it would be nice to start again.

For a kit that was put on the shelves 45 years ago, the two Airfix boxings went together very nicely, for a kit designed back then.  The most annoying feature of the kit is that you get the option of having all the cabin and cargo doors open, a truly dumb idea as then you’d have to put something inside as well, and there’s nothing inside to look at.  Filling all the holes where the doors go is not simple because if you get the wrong door in the wrong hole they don’t fit properly and a lot of filling and sanding is subsequently involved.  I only made that mistake with the first one.

A300 g

If you don’t have much filler in your house, if you’re going to make this kit now might be the time to go out and get some more.  The fit of parts is not what you expect in the 21st Century and there is a lot of shrinkage, particularly in and around the flap tracks.  If you like scribing raised panel lines this is the kit for you, everything apart from some of the flap details under the wings is raised and a REAL modeller would sand them back and rescribe the entire model.  Knock yourself out, it was too much like tedious work for me.

Airbus g

After the two Airfix kits I turned to the Skylines reboxing which, you would think, being at least 25 years younger, would have been better.  Not so, the fuselage in particular was very badly warped and only made useable with all the techniques available to the hardened modeller, and the liberal application of harsh language, before it gave in to my ministrations.

Getting the model to the painting stage takes some effort and probably three or four attempts with a primer coat to find all the flaws before it is as close to perfect as I’m ever going to get.  Most experts these days recommend using a black primer which, so they say, reveals all the flaws before painting.  I tried it once and I reckon they are wrong.  If you’re going to be making a model that is basically light grey, white and metallic, near enough is not good enough and nothing reveals flaws better than a brisk coat of a metallic lacquer before committing to the paint job for the model.

Before beginning to put paint on plastic I thought it might be a good idea to do a little research about the airliner I was about to make.  Back at the beginning of the 1980s TAA, as it was then known, ordered five Airbus A.300B-4s which would meet forecast passenger demand for quite a few years to come.  By the standards of the times it was a big aeroplane, a wide bodies domestic twin aisle airliner with a passenger capacity of around 250.  As it turned out, there was a serious downturn in the domestic passenger market around the time that the first of TAA’s A.300s arrived and the slightly smaller Boeing 767s that Ansett ordered, with a passenger capacity of about 200, fitted better into the market at the time.  The result was that TAA had these airliners that were too big for the market and so it deferred a couple and leased out one to other airlines until the market picked up again.

The first of TAA’s A.300s was VH-TAA which was the one the airline leased out, first to a European carrier and then to Air Niugini which flew it for most of the rest of the 1980s.  After that it came back to TAA which had by that time been rebranded Australian Airlines and then it went to Qantas when the government sold Australian to Qantas.  After that it was sold to an airfreight company overseas and ended up being broken up at Abu Dhabi.  So, with the kits and decals I had I could tell part of that story.

The wings on all the A.300s were the same, painted Airbus grey (an automotive lacquer that had been made for me by Darby’s) with bare metal leading edges that I tried to simulate using Tamiya TS-83 rattle can lacquer.  The corogard panels were provided by the Liveries Unlimited decal sheet, now long out of print but which I’d bought earlier and put aside for a rainy day.

Airbus a

The decals were more fun.  The original TAA version of VH-TAA had a grey and white fuselage with the grey coming up to where the airline’s livery stripes were painted.  Finding exactly where that line had to be so that the decals went into the right place is a technique it would take too long to describe here.  While doing this I discovered that there is a serious error with the decal sheet, the cabin windows for about the final third of A.300 the cabin slope up gently (which you will also see if you look at any of the Qantas A.330s you see at airports these days) but the decal sheet does not depict this.  I gave a lot of thought to working out how to rectify this problem and came to the conclusion that it could only be done by painting the fuselage bands and cutting up the decal sheet, and I wasn’t feeling that brave.  I reckoned that nobody would notice if I didn’t tell about it, Oppps…

Airbus c

Talking about brave, the Hawkeye decals for VH-TAA when it flew for Air Niugini are a very large sheet of very large decals for the Bird of Paradise scheme.  After thinking about this for some time and looking on the interweb to see what others I had done, I decided the best solution was the cut the decals into sections and apply them separately.  Much to my pleased surprise, this system worked well and the final result was much better than I had expected.

Airbus d

After the first two schemes, the Australian Airlines decal sheet was a walk in the park.

Having completed those three models I sat back and congratulated myself.  But then a thought popped into my head, the story of VH-TAA as told by those models was not complete.  What if …?  I went to the Hawkeye web site and saw that it offered decals for that airliner in Qantas livery.  Next I had to find another Airfix 1/144 kit, which I found on ebay for less than I had probably thought it would cost.  After the usual application of glue, filler and paint I then had four versions of VH-TAA telling the story of its history from the early 1970s until it went off the Australian register in the mid 1990s.

Airbus e

But wait, my brain said, there’s a gap of about six months you haven’t filled.  A little research told me that before it went to Air Niugini, VH-TAA flew with the German airline Condor (a subsidiary of Lufthansa apparently), registered as D-AITA.  I found some photos of it on the interweb and thought, What if …?  I hunted on the internet and found that there were decals for Condor A.300s, not for D-AITA but that would be easy enough to solve.  All I had to do then was order the decals and find another Airfix 1/144 A.300 kit, this time for a bit more than I would have liked to pay for it.

Airbus b

When they arrived I found that the Condor decals did not include windows and doors, so I had to order them from overseas and, fortunately, another set of Liveries Unlimited corogard decals that I managed to find in a dusty corner of the interweb.  All was set to finally complete telling the story of VH-TAA in model form, except for one problem.  The Condor decals were made by Flightpath, an Australian company which seems to have disappeared long since.  I’ve come across them before, they are either very old or badly made because they have a tendency to blow apart when you just touch them.  To stop this happening this time I applied a lavish coat of varnish to hold the together, but one coat wasn’t enough.  Fortunately, the overseas supplier had another set and when they arrived I gave them two lavish coats of varnish and, between the two sets, I managed to finally finish the Condor version of VH-TAA.

Airbus f

Of course that is not the full story.  After it left the Australian register if continued flying.  But a modeller has to draw the line somewhere or go nuts.