North American Mustang IV in 1/72 by Academy

The North American P-51 is one of the most written about aeroplanes in the history of aviation. Designed and constructed in 120 days to meet the desperate needs of the British government in April 1940 it was a good aeroplane which became great when powered by the famous Rolls Royce Merlin engine. It was the primary fighter in use by the USAAF by the end of World War II in Europe and the Pacific with outstanding range and performance. Other allied nations also flew it and in Australia the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation began constructing it from 1945. In appearance the major difference between the earlier P-51B and the later P-51D versions was the replacement of the rear decking with a bubble canopy, giving it a modern and highly efficient appearance.

A large number of P-51s were handed over to British forces where it was called the ‘Mustang’. The earlier versions were numbered Mustang Mk.I to Mustang Mk.III, the P-51D (and later P-51K) were called the Mustang Mk.IV in British service.
The Royal Australian Air Force’s 3 Squadron flew Mustangs with allied forces in Italy in 1944 and 1945. Deliveries of Mustang III’s (P-51B/C’s) and Mustang IV’s (P-51D/K’s) began in November 1944, replacing the Kittyhawks that the Squadron had flown previously. The squadron flew mainly ground attack missions as the Luftwaffe had largely disappeared in the region and used the Mustang’s exceptional range to fly as far as Yugoslavia on the other side of the Adriatic to support partisan operations there. 3 Squadron was operating its Mustangs from bases in Italy right up to the end of the war in Europe.

boxtop

Academy are making some of the nicest little kits available these days, generally highly accurate, well detailed and very cheap. There are some faults (and the reviewers in the magazines will let you know if they are significant) with some of the kits in the range but overall they are not serious and at the price it hard to go past them in comparison to the more expensive Japanese kits. There are, however, so many P-51D models around that I wanted to make something that was a little bit different, not just another of the hoards of all-silver P-51Ds that crowded the skies over Europe at the end of the war. The solution to this little problem came with Aussie Decals set which provides decals for Mustang III’s and Mustang IVs flown by the RAAF’s 3 Squadron in Italy. With the good Academy kit and what looked like good decals it should have been an easy little job.

The kit is pretty accurate and there is no need to do anything serious. I could have opened up the outlets from the radiator that would have improved the look of the model, but I didn’t. The radiator inlet needs thinning down by carving away the excess plastic to make it look good. The kit offers the options of two slightly different shape canopies and the experten at the MOB assure me that the slightly humped one is the right one for a Mustang IV flown by 3 Squadron, The experten also assure me that these Mustangs also go without the little housing on wing leading edge for the inner machine gun. It is an easy matter to remove them and drill a hole for the machine guns. I was shown a plan for the Mustang with the inner housing missing but all of the photos I could find of Mustangs shows all three housings – and I couldn’t find any photos of 3 Squadron Mustangs with the right angle to be sure – but it was too late by the time I started to feel suspicious that somebody might be playing a hoax on me. The experten also assure me that 3 Squadron Mustangs didn’t have cuffs on the propeller while the kit does. Photos suggest that they might be right this time but taking them off the prop supplied in the kit would have been difficult so I peered into the spares box and discovered the prop of on old (we’re talking 1950s here) Airfix Mustang that looks as though it was salvaged from one of the first kits I ever made. I decided to use it instead (partly for its nostalgia value) but after an hour or so’s filing I was starting to wonder if it was a good idea. It still looks a bit chunky in comparison to more modern mouldings, but there it is.

The colours are standard RAF fighter camouflage from the late war period as supplied by Aeromaster, with the exception that I don’t like the extreme greeness of their ‘Sky’ so I consulted my colour references and found something a little less green, FS 34424 from Modelmaster. The reference for the decals gives Humbrol G47 for the rudder which looks a bit too light to me, but I can’t argue since I didn’t have a better reference. The colour drawing with the decals (shown here) doesn’t show the starboard view, neither did any of the photos I had easily to hand, so I guessed.

model

The decals are excellent, sufficient for a Mustang III and two Mustang IV’s. They only supply markings for the fuselage, you have to rummage around in your collection of spares to find the roundels for the wings. The decals also proved to be very fragile so I had to coat them with a clear varnish before getting them onto the model properly. I didn’t test them in advance and one of the serial numbers just disintegrated, so I had to use a serial that isn’t correct for the larger squadron codes. There’s a message there somewhere – actually there are a lot of lessons I learned with this model.

(June 2000)

Dewoitine 371 in 1/72 by Azur

Dewoitine is one of the best known names in French aviation, mainly because of the Dewoitine D.520 fighter, the ‘French Spitfire’, that served with distinction in the short Battle of France in mid 1940. Emile Dewoitine began constructing aeroplanes in 1923 and produced several good designs in the 1920s. Work began on the D.37 series around 1930 and the parasol wing prototype first flew in 1934. Twenty-eight D.371s were ordered by the Armée de l’Air in 1935 and 14 D.372s (export version of the D.371) were ordered for the Lithuanian Air Force. Later a total of 44 D.373s and D.376s were delivered (the latter version had folding wings and two squadrons were in service with the Aéronautique Navale in 1940). At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War the 14 Lithuanian D.372s and 10 French D.371s went to Spain where they served successfully with Republican forces until more advanced aeroplanes joined the Nationalist forces and they were replaced by Russian Polikarpov fighters.

371 boxtop
Where would we be without Azur? In the past couple of years they have produced a series of excellent limited-run kits of French aeroplanes. Each one has been excellent value with finely crafted parts, a small fret of brass parts, a vacformed windscreen and an excellent decal sheet. Long may the continue producing kits like this successfully.
The D.371 is a petite model with very fragile parts. It is a typical limited run kit which asked the modeller to make their contribution in completing a good end result, unlike some of the latest injection moulded kits that almost make themselves. Construction is actually very straight forward and falls into three parts.

First is the engine which comprises a beautifully detailed crankcase, individual cylinders and a delightful engine cowling, all very well detailed in resin. The instruction sheet tells you to make a large number of individual exhaust pipes to be attached to the rear of the engine, it’s not as difficult as it looks but they aren’t entirely necessary to a nice looking little model. When you’ve finished constructing the engine in its cowling put it aside, joining it to the fuselage is the last step in the project.

Next comes the fuselage which is very standard with a nicely detailed little cockpit. You need to make your own tail struts as they don’t come with the kit, the instructions tell you how.

The wings are very simple, a one piece wing that needs a touch of cleaning up and the machine guns. This can be a little confusing since the instructions tell you that for the D.371 you have to add stretched sprue to the wings for the guns or use the supplied guns for the D.372. My research suggests that it is probably the other way around – the box shows a D.371 with machine guns as supplied in the kit which clinched the matter for me.

With the engine, fuselage and wings ready you come to the most daunting part of the project, putting them together. The struts supplied with the kit are extremely thin and fragile and it took me a long while to work up the courage to tackle them. The key to success in using the struts successfully is to use a solid, precise jig that holds the wing and fuselage exactly where they need to be and then fitting the struts into place using drops of liquid glue. I found it easiest to do this with the model upside down with the wing facing up and the fuselage perched above it, starting with the inner struts and working out. Work with a pair of fine tweezers and a great deal of patience, when everything is done go away and shake for a while. A day later I continued and put the undercarriage on, once again using little dobs of liquid glue. Liquid glue is preferable to SuperGlue because it gives you time to move the struts into exactly the right place and welds the parts together – making me feel a bit more confident about the strength of butt joins than I would with super glue which has little shear strength. When you come back a couple of days later and take the model out of its jig the end result is a lot stronger than you’d expected. That doesn’t stop the individual struts from breaking and a couple did as I completed the model, but the other struts held and another little DOB of liquid glue took care of the problem.

model

The kit offers options to make either a D.371 or a D.372 with alternate tail planes, spatted or unpathed wheels and the option of machine guns. The kit also offers five colour options, one French, two Spanish and two Lithuanian. The simplest would be an all-silver Lithuanian version and the most complex one of the Spanish versions. I wouldn’t want to tackle the Spanish one with the wing attached to the fuselage, perhaps others are bolder than me. The French version is fairly simple to complete and that’s what I chose (what else?). The top colour green is best represented by Humbrol 80 (so I’m told by people who should know – the French Aviation Modelling web site) and I used Humbrol 11 silver for the rest. I only found out that the decals for the rudder stripes were too big for the rudder on the model when it was too late, and rudder stripes really can’t be swapped around because that’s where the French put the aircraft numbers.
Would I recommend this kit? You bet! But its not for the faint hearted or the inexperienced and getting this model finished successfully was quite a challenge. But what a lovely little aeroplane and what a lovely little kit!

D37s e

(May 2000)

Douglas DC-4 in 1/144 by Minicraft

Having almost run out of Boeing airliners to model I decided it was time to make some Douglas airliners. Having been thoroughly annoyed by the quality of the Minicraft Boeing 707 kits I’d had to use I was delighted at the quality of the Minicraft DC-4 kits which may not be totally accurate but look like DC-4s and have a nice delicate quality about them.

boxtop

I don’t think of the DC-4 a very attractive airliner but found that I had two Minicraft DC-4 kits in my collection so I thought I might do something interesting with them and make them to demonstrate a couple of slices of Australian aviation history

Australian National Airways imported four DC-4s into Australia, beginning in 1946. They revolutionized local air transport in the same way that DC-2s and DC-3s had before the war. Hawkeye make a lovely sheet of decals of those first ANA DC-4s so the choice was obvious. It would also have been obvious to make VH-ANA which was the first DC-4 to fly in Australia but more interesting, I thought, to make VH-ANC. In October 1946 it was the first airliner to make a scheduled service flight linking Australia and North America, flying a wet lease for British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines which did not have any aircraft at the time.

DC-4 ANA

At the other end of the time line is two DC-4s that Qantas was flying in the 1970s. The only other DC-4s still flying in Australia were a couple that had been converted to Carvairs (for which Roden make a nice kit and Hawkeye make excellent Ansett-ANA decals). Qantas was not keen on flying these DC-4s but they were used on the route linking Norfolk Island with the rest of Australia. The reason for this was the ‘90 minute rule’ that said a two engined airliner had to be at all times within 90 minutes flying time of a runway it could use, and there was no two engined airliner capable of making the flight to Norfolk Island in 90 minutes. As a result a four engined airliner had to be used and other factors meant that the only thing that filled the bill was old DC-4s.

Qantas was given two DC-4s and told the fly the route, which it did for a number of years until a dispensation against the rule was finally granted and East-West Fokker F-27s took over the route.

DC-4 QF

(November 2017)

Grumman F11F-1 in 1/72 by Hasegawa

Back in the mists of time – probably the early 1960s – I received a book about aeroplanes and a picture in it that captured my imagination was of a formation of Blue Angels F11Fs. The aeroplane itself looked the epitome of streamlining and speed with no compromises. This may well have been the beginning of my love affair with jets designed in the 1960s and 1970s when aeronautical engineers were still struggling to find the way to design the truly successful high performance fighter and trying all kinds of experiments to find what worked best. Out of this era the F11F is probably one of the simplest and straight forward designs combining a wasp-waisted fuselage designed around a big, powerful engine and gracefully swept back wings. Later on I read that the F11F was the first US Navy aircraft capable of supersonic level flight and that its afterburner was the reason it flew with the Blue Angles – selected for the noise it generated more than anything else.

Box Top

Hasegawa must have released its kit of the F11F in the late 1970s or early 1980s. My pleasure at seeing the kit and the haste with which I constructed it resulted in something less than pleasing. One of the main problems was the undercarriage which I did not get right so the aeroplane sat with one wing decidedly higher than the other – a problem with many models with undercarriage close to the aeroplane’s centreline. I always planned to make a better model of a F11F one of these days and collected a couple of kits when the opportunity arose, one of a standard operational version and another of a Blue Angles version. Along the way I also picked up a bottle of ‘Blue Angels’ blue; all I needed was the inclination to get on with it.

Unlike some of the limited run kit manufacturers, Hasegawa has been making excellent kits for as long as most of us can remember. Also unlike most limited run kits, Hawegawa use a nice high quality, sturdy and hard plastic that is a pleasure to work with. Everything fits together like a dream and the detail on most of the parts is ideal. The instruction sheet tells you what to leave out and the couple of changes that make the Blue Angels version. I later figured out that it might have been good to run a bit of fuse wire along the rear port fuselage for the pipe that carried the oil for the smoke into the jet stream. Painting is simplicity itself, all over Blue Angels blue. It seems that the US Navy liked to keep things simple so that the interiors like the undercarriage bays were the same colour as the rest of the airframe although I did find some photos of a restored Blue Angels F11F that had part of the interior painted white. I decided not to complicate things and pretend I hadn’t seen that photo.

After that there are some polished aluminium parts like leading edges and walk ways and it’s time for the decals. I guess that the decals would be the same age as the rest of the kit, 25 or so years old but they had not aged as well. I applied a couple of coats of Microscale Liquid Decal film to hold them together but even so getting the decals off the back paper and onto the model was hard work and I had to go back and respray some of the yellow areas that had not come out looking very good. Despite the problems with the decals the end result looks pretty flash – just as a F11F is supposed to look. I’ve got some decals for a squadron aeroplane and a spare Hasegawa kit, so it’s only a matter of time until this model has a partner.

model

(February 2008)

Dewoitine 376 in 1/72 by Azur

Dewoitine seems to have liked monoplanes from the beginning but for the first decade he concentrated on parasols in which the wing is attached to the fuselage with struts rather than attached directly to the fuselage. There are a couple of advantages with parasol aircraft, they are more stable because the wing is higher and they give greater visibility with the wing located at about pilot eye level so they do not block the pilot’s vision upwards and down. However, by the mid 1930s they had largely fallen out of favour.

Before I write about the Dewoitine 37 series of fighters a word or two about the designation of French aircraft before World War II, whether you want to know about it or not. You will find that most French aircraft from this period have a three number designation, the first two numbers are the model number and the third is the variant number. So, in the case of the Dewoitine 37 series the 370 was the prototype, the 371 and 372 were the first and second versions produced for ground based operations, the 373 was then manufactured for naval use, the 374 and 375 were planned versions that were not proceeded with and the 376 was a second version produced for the navy.

The fact that the prime French fighter of World War II was the Dewoitine 520 tells you that it was also the first variant of the design and, although there were more variants planned, from the 521 to the 525, none got very far. On the other hand, the French reconnaissance aeroplane designated the Potez 63.11 received that designation because the design had started out as a multi-role fighter (like a less ferocious Bf110) that was produced in so many versions that the reconnaissance version was the eleventh.

Back to the Dewoitine 37, which was not a very successful fighter. Having spent the 1920s designing and making, or selling under licence, a range of parasol fighters of limited success, of which the most successful was the Dewoitine 27 series, the company entered the 1930s with its most advanced parasol fighter yet, the 37 series. It was more streamlined and had a more powerful radial engine and looked much more business-like than the company’s previous designs. However, after the prototype made its first flight on 1 August 1931 a number of defects were found that needed rectification and that took time. As a result the first production model, the 371, did not make its first flight until September 1934. The French Air Ministry ordered 28 of this variant in April 1935 and the order had been completed by December that year. After an accident with the prototype a structural weakness was discovered in the wings so they were returned to the factory and did not emerge until 1937, by which time the 371 was obsolete.

Lithuania ordered 14 Dewoitine 372s that were differently armed. By the time they were ready the Lithuanians has cancelled that order in favour of the more advanced Dewoitine 501s. The French Aeronautique Navale ordered twenty Dewoitine 373s that were similar to the 371 but equipped with an arrester hook, flotation gear and a wing reduced by 30cm in span so they would fit onto the lifts of the French aircraft carrier. The French navy ordered a further 25 as the Dewoitine 376 which were equipped with folding wings, although it took an hour to get the wings ready for flight.

Being well outclassed by more modern fighters 21 Dewoitine 371 were sent to the French colony in Tunisia where they served until they were replaced by Morane Saulnier 406s in 1939. One way and another the remaining 371s and 372s ended up flying in the Spanish Republican air force where they did well against the Nationalist Heinkel He51s and Fiat CR32s but were outclassed by more modern fighters and eventually replaced by Soviet Polikarpov fighters. The last ones were destroyed on the ground in an Italian bombing attack in February 1939. At the beginning of World War II the navy’s Dewoitines were allocated to squadrons to protect the ports of Toulon and Calais but they did not see action against Luftwaffe. After the Armistice they were used for limited training but withdrawn from service in April 1940.

376 boxtop

The Azur 1/72 kit

Using the Azur kits you can make all the versions of the Dewoitine 37 series. The kit of the naval versions, released in 1997, contains options for the 373 and 376 and the kit of the ground based version, released in 1998, contains options for the 371 and 372. They use the same basic kit parts but the naval version contains a new resin wing and arrester hook as well at two versions of engine cowling. Strangely the resin wing in the naval kits has a greater span than the injection moulded one, which seems strange since the naval version had the shorter wing span. The resin wings for the 373/376 is better moulded and has flaps, which the 371/72 doesn’t.

 

I made the model of the Dewoitine 371 twenty years before making the model of the 376 and some of the smaller struts of the 371 seem to have disappeared during the intervening period. Apart from that, the only real visual differences between them is that the Humbrol 11 silver finish was a lot brighter then than it is now and the recommended upper colours for the 371, Humbrol 80, is not a colour that I would probably use now. The cockpit interiors are adequate and probably as detailed as they need to be for what is visible, though my 371 cockpit has seatbelts because they came with the kit whereas the 376 doesn’t. The reason for this is because I could not find any photo etched parts in my 376 kit until I found them hiding behind the decal sheet, by which time it was too late to use them.

Both kits offer the engine in resin with a central crankcase and lots of tiny engine cylinders that have to be carefully glued to the crankcase. This might make sense if the engine wasn’t hidden behind a large spinner so all the effort is pretty much wasted and I would have preferred instead a single well mounded resin part. The kit instructions also suggests scratch building exhaust pipes from each tiny cylinder head, which I laughingly dismissed as being an even greater waste of time since they wouldn’t be seen underneath the engine cowling. Perhaps I could have super detailed the engine and left the cowling off, but I could just as easily have committed myself to the local mental asylum.

The most challenging part of building these kits was attaching the wings to the fuselage using the small and fragile struts provided in the kit. There are no locating holes or tabs to do this though the plastic moulded wing has much better indications of where the struts join the wing than the resin one does. Another advantage of the plastic wing over the resin one is that you can use the standard plastic melting glue to attach the wings to the struts of the 371, giving a stronger bond, whereas there is no option but superglue in attaching the 376 plastic struts to the resin wing, risking a catastrophic failure sometime in the future.

D37s b

I don’t recall now how I managed to align the fuselage and wings of the 371 to join them with the struts, all my notes say is ‘a solid, precise jig’. That must have been a work of art in itself. Since then my standards have slipped and I use large blobs of Blue Tack to hold everything in place which makes it easier to make the small adjustments required to make sure everything is square before test fitting the struts to get everything micro-millimeter perfect. It was easier to start with the inner struts and then let the main struts go there they wanted to go since, this time, there was no precise indication of where they should go. Then a few dots of superglue, wait a while and then the challenge is to remove the model from the Blue Tack without breaking anything. In theory I should have used the same process to attach the undercarriage to the model but it proved too difficult so I just had to trust that the kit maker had got the lengths of the struts just right, glue the parts together and hope for the best. At least, using Revell Contacta glue gives a little time and flexibility to line everything up properly before leaving them to set.

D37s c

After that the rest of the model more of less makes itself. The arrester hook for the 373/376 is moulded in resin and looked to be impossible to remove from its casting block without breaking. I was right and something similar had to be made using bits and pieces from my spares box. Of all the ways that I make models the one that has changed the most over the past twenty years has been my painting. The 371 model is painted in Humbrol enamel paints, Numbers 11 and 80, but these days I use almost exclusively lacquers and fortunately there are some very good metallic finishes in lacquers. The fuselage of the 376 was airbrushed in Tamiya LP-38 Flat Aluminium and the cowling in Tamiya TS-83 Metallic Silver to give a bit of tonal variety. I was tempted to do a little bit of subtle weathering with dustings of slightly altered shades but fear of separating the wing and fuselage persuaded me otherwise.

D37s d

D37s f

These Dewotine 37 series fighters might have been a failure in real life but models of them look very nice, in that particular French inter-war fashion. The only reason for not making them is the stress of getting the wings and fuselages together without laying in a large supply of bravery and beta-blockers.

D37s a

(July 2020)

 

 

Models for July 2020

This month we begin with a feast of four Airbus A.320s. All the Revell 1/144 kit and made with the CFM 56 engines. There’s already been plenty of these and these have been made in the same way as those previous ones.

First an Air Inter A.320 finished using 8A decals. This is the final Air Inter scheme before that airline was acquired by Air France.

202007 a

202007 b

Next two Ansett Australia A.320s with the final scheme, provided by Hawkeye with the wing decals by 8A. Since making these I’ve been told by somebody who knows that this batch of A.320s was delivered to Ansett with grey wings rather then the white wings of the earlier batch. Unfortunately, all the photos I looked at did not tell me of this development and Graeme didn’t tell me until it was too late. This is how VH-HYA would have appeared in 2002 it if had had white wings.

202007 c

202007 d

I’m not a great fan of one off schemes but could not resist this MASP decal sheet for VH-HYN which flew the Olympic Torch around our wide brown land in the months before the Sydey Olympic Games in 2000. Again, it should have grey rather than white wings but I won’t tell if you don’t. The decals are a combination of MASP, Hawkeye and 8A.

202007 e

202007 f

Finally an A.320 in the livery of Strategic Airlines. The decal sheet is from Decales Global and intended for a Luxembourg airline of the same name and livery. I’ve managed most of the amendments that appear on the Australian registered aircraft, VH-YQA is it appeared in 2011, but could not make the little Australian flags that appear on the wing end plates so you will have to imagine them.

202007 g

202007 h
This Dewoitine 376 was made from the Azur 1/72 kit. It is a fairly easy kit to make apart from mounting the parasol wing on the fuselage. It is painted overall in Tamiya LP-38 Flat Aluminium and the cowling in Tamiya TS-83 Metallic Silver to give a bit of tonal variety. It represents No 31 in service with AC 1 at Lanveoc Poulmic in 1939.

202007 i

202007 j

This BS Design 1/144 Schleicher ASW 28 glider is one of the smallest (if not the smallest) model I’ve ever made. It has only four parts but is not easy to put together because it is so tiny and the parts fit is not great. I added another two parts, the undercarriage doors to give it a slightly greater sense of authenticity. The decals that come with this kit are for the prototype which first flew in 2000.

202007 k

202007 l

And here’s one I made earlier, the Condor 1/72 kit of the German A-4 ballistic missile also known as the V-2.

202007 m

(July 2020)

Curtiss Wright SNC in 1/72 by Kora

Somewhere buried deep in my hoard is a kit of the Curtiss Wright Demon which looks very strange to me, with a skinny tail which looks like it will fall off at any moment. One of these days I will make that kit, but, in the meantime, I recently came across the Kora 1/72 kit of the trainer version of that aircraft, the CW-22, also known as the SNC-1 because a lot of them ended up flying for the US Navy. If anything it looks stranger then the Demon because it has such a huge cockpit canopy perched on a tiny fuselage. So I gave into temptation and decided to see how it went together.

SNC a

In summary, it wasn’t the worst kit I’ve joined battle with. Because the cockpit is so large and open a lot more effort than usual went into dressing it up a bit to give it a kind of lived in appearance. Much to my surprise the tiny cockpit plastic and resin parts went together fairly well though the kit maker doesn’t seem to have taken into account that pilots have legs when they designed this kit.

Even more surprising, when the cockpit interior was completed and painted, it actually fitted snugly into the kit’s fuelage halves (this has proved to be such a problem with short-run kits that I remark on it here because it is so novel when something like this goes right.

The kit parts are fairly rough and ready but accurate for the most part. The instructions are occasionally misleading rather than just vague and the few pictures that I could find of the SNC on the web were, in many ways, more useful than the instruction sheet. Some of the resin parts, the engine and the undercarriage wheels, were better formed than the plastic parts and the vacformed canopy was a serious trial on the nerves. The kits gives you two, just to be on the safe side, but I must be becoming used to these things because I didn’t need the spare. There was, however, a lot of test fitting and removing slivers of celluloid before it fitted reasonably well. When the wings were glued together the training edges were enormous so I spent a lot of time thinning them down to something that looked okay.

The kit comes in several versions including a US Navy version but I ended up with one that included decals for four Latin American versions, two each from Peru and Ecuador. All but one were bare metal, which might have looked very nice but I thought that finish would expose all the problems with the model that I hadn’t been able to solve, but a Peruvian blue and yellow finish would tend to distract the viewer from the problems and mistakes with this kit.

Would I make it again? I don’t think so. But it does look kind of cute.

SNC b

(December 2018)

Fokker F-27-500 in 1/144 by Eastern Express – another one bites the dust

I seem to be throwing out rotten model kits at a great rate this year. It must be something in the air, Spring perhaps, so that I’m hard to please, or it might be that there are just some rotten kits out there and I’m coming across them. I just tossed my Eastern Express kit of the Fokker F-27-500 in the bin after battling with it mightily for many hours.

F-27a

Eastern Express have been producing kits of much sought-after airliners of late and the F-27-500 is one of them. The only kits of this airliner that I know of in 1/144 are the Doyusha kit, and that is the slightly shorter -200 series, is the Welsh Models vacform and resin kit and this new one. Eastern Express have produced it in a number of boxings with the same plastic and different decals, and they are charging a lot for it too – a kit from Hannats will cost you $60.50, before postage. Some of their airliners seem okay but the company seems to have been in a rush to get this one out and I got the distinct feeling that this was a very slap-dash production on which little time and effort had been spent to make something that could be turned into a reasonable replica of a F-27.

The fuselage is reasonable but the wings and engines are a disaster. After battling with getting the undercarriage legs to fit into the engine pods (which is impossible without modifications) I turned my attention to the propellers and the engine air intake. What the kit offers comes nowhere close to offering something that could be turned into something that looks even vaguely like the engines on a F-27-500. Sure, if I cared to take the trouble of taking the engines off the Doyusha F-27-200 kit I might end up with something halfway decent. But what the kit offers has nothing to do with -500 Dart engines, as the two photos below illustrated.

Am I feeling cranky?  You bet!

F-27b

F-27c

(October 2018)

Aerospatiale AS350 Ecureuil in 1/72 by Mach 2 – another one bites the dust

I had hoped that M. Palix, our beloved French artisan who makes Mach 2 kits, had improved his work over time. It is true that some of his most recent creations have looked a little better than some of his earlier ones, but I was disappointed with his recent kit of the Aerospatiale Écureuil because what looks to be promising in the box turns out to be a honey trap, if one can use such a term in modelling. It looks enticing and promises so much, but at the end of the day it’s nothing but trouble, with a capital T. It now resides in my rubbish bin.

The trouble is, I quite like the look of the Écureuil, it is an elegant little helicopter. It is also popular with people who buy and fly real helicopters so there are plenty of them around and I had planned to make an Australian one painted in a nice yellow scheme. Consequently, I put a lot of effort into making this kit work and every time it disappointed me with its most recent failure to live up to even minimal modeling standards, I resolved the problem and hoped things would be better in the future.

M. Palix is moving with the times in one way, his kit offers a lot of optional extras so that you can make a few different versions with the parts in this kit. Of course, his post-modern instruction sheet leaves one more mystified than enlightened about which parts go with a particular version and those which should be discarded, but this is an issue that a few glasses of vin rouge would probably resolve.

Ecureuril b

Ecureuril c

So, with a heart filled with hope, I set off on this project. All the bits and pieces necessary for a reasonable cabin interior are there, in their usual lumpy and half formed fashion. (I sometimes wonder if M Palix runs any quality control over his product to make sure what he’s putting in the box is up to scratch. If so he has different standards to mine, he does his quality control after a long liquid lunch or what he discards is even worse than what he keeps.) But this is what one has to learn to live with when making Mach 2 kits, so we grit our teeth and continue on.

Having achieved a reasonable looking cabin with what we find in the box, we then discover that finding where to put the floor and the rear bulkhead are a matter of sheer guesswork because there is nothing in the kit to indicate where they should go. Fortunately there are plenty of photos of Écureuil interiors to be found on the interweb, so this is not an insurmountable problem. Of course, a lot more work is then necessary to make sure that the two cockpit halves go together with the cabin in place, but we know that the end result will be beautiful, so we battle on and console ourselves that the gap between the halves won’t be too hard to fill and sand.

The cabin windows are not too bad, by Mach 2 standards. They are thick with plenty of flash and need a lot of cleaning up. Any blemishes in the molding are taken care of with a thorough sanding and polishing of the window interiors before gluing them in place. I considered crash molding new windows but that was going to be difficult with the cabin interior in place, and not something that I’ve had much success with, so I soldiered on using what was in the box. Having achieved something that you might actually be able to see the cabin interior through, it was time to glue everything in place. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the fit of pieces was less than ideal. Still, there isn’t a gap in modeling that can’t be filled one way of another, though the challenge in this case was to do the filling without making a total mess of the cabin interior in the process. Oh well, another challenge to overcome, which I eventually did.

Ecureuril d

 

Next came the process of masking the extensive windows. There were two problems with this step. The first was that some of the window outline detail had disappeared in the process of merging the fuselage and the transparent parts and second was the not surprising discovery that, using the kit as a guide, the windows on one side were not quite the same as those on the other side. The additional problem was that the window framing was far too thick for the scale and something would have to be done about that.

After mulling this one over for a couple of weeks I came to the conclusion that I would have to make my own window masks and then sand back and polish the transparencies. Using the window outlines as a guide I traced the shapes from one side onto some paper masking tape, scanned that, flipped the image over to give me the same outline for both sides and then printed the resulting images onto some more masking tape. I would have helped had I better vision and a steadier hand, but I figured a way to resolve that problem too when I got to it.

Ecureuril e

I have to admit that I was feeling rather pleased with myself at this stage; having met and overcome so many obstacles and with the image of a beautiful little yellow model helicopter still fixed in my imagination. More work went into resolving other problems with the fit and shape of the fuselage, but eventually they too were all overcome. Then it was time to dive into the box of diverse parts to see what I needed and begin the work of turning the vague suggestions of shapes into pieces that might go at least some way to looking like the real thing. The exhaust is an example. It took some time to divine which parts on the sprue might have an exhaust nozzle hiding in them and then liberating that shape from those parts. I could go on …

Eventually I was ready to tackle the rest of the larger parts. I put aside the rotor blades and hub parts for later, shuddering at the work they would require, and turned my attention to the landing gear. The kit offers two versions, one with long legs and also the standard shorter ones. It only took a couple of hours to make the shorter legs look something like landing gear. Then came the problem of refining their location on the fuselage, which is only generally suggested by the kit parts and the instruction sheet.

At this point my heart sank yet again. There was no way that I could make the landing gear and fuselage go together in any way that resembled the look of the real thing. No matter how I fiddled with the parts and test fitted them, the result was always something that sat tail down.

Having got this far I decided that I’d have to live with this compromise. (If I didn’t mention it nobody else would notice.) So I glued the undercarriage legs in place and then the final horror hit me, they were not the same shape. They are curved more on one side than the other so that on the port side the skid stands out from the fuselage and on the right it is under the fuselage.

Ecureuril f

Ecureuril g

As I contemplated this disaster I was reminded that it was time to go and watch the spectacle of men on bicycles riding through the French countryside, an annual visual feast that I always enjoy. But while I sat there watching, mental images of brass rod and soldering, bending plastic rod or resin casting replacement parts floated through my mind. Such a solution would be difficult, but not impossible to achieve. It would also resolve the problem of the way the model sat, push me out of my comfort zone and take a lot more time…

I gazed at the tv while considering the options. A lot of the vision is shot from helicopters, modern two engined versions of the Eceureuil that I was trying to replicate. ‘What beautiful machines,’ I thought as I watches them fly around the sky over the bike racers and thought about the little monster waiting for my in my room. I could conceive of no way in which I could make it look as good as the real thing. Maybe the best thing would be to put it out of my misery and move on to something easier – after all I have hundreds of kits in my garage all waiting to be made. Still, the Écureuil is such a beautiful little aircraft and I would love to have a model of one.

Ecureuril h

Still unresolved about what to do, I decided to see how my masking attempt had gone. The resulting bleed through was not as bad as I had expected but worse than I had hoped, and easily fixed with a day’s work with some very careful sanding and polishing and another bout of careful masking. But it was the final straw. The nice, clean and simple Matchbox kit of the Aerospatiale Dauphin 2 was sitting on a nearby shelf, it’s siren song calling to me. I heaved the bastard little Écureuil model into the bin with great relief, and reached out for the new kit.

(August 2018)

Aerospatiale SA316 & SA319 Alouette III in 1/72 by Heller

I ended up with two kits of the Heller 1/72 Aerospatiale Alouette III, one the original boxing from 1980 and the other the 1989 boxing with lots of additional bits and pieces to make one with a winch and other civil additions. I never intended to have two kits of this particular aircraft but you know how it is, being French aircraft I probably saw them at Swap n Sells where one tends to get a little excited. I do anyhow.

Alouette b

Alouette c

Originally I thought I’d just make one of them and pass the other on to some lucky modeler, for a small consideration. However, a little research showed me that the kit contains options for two versions, the kind of thing Heller was doing in the 1980s when it was making some excellent kits. The Alouette III comes in two versions, the SA.316 and the SA.319 in which the only significant difference is the engine. Since, however, the engine of these helicopters is located on the back of the airframe right out in the open, it is a visible difference, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and make both kits.

Alouette a

It also turned out that I had acquired decals for the three Alouette IIIs that had flown for the RAAF in a simple white scheme. I had hoped to make one of the Alouettes as a lovely deep blue Aeronavale model but since the RAAF versions were SA.316s and since I could find no decals for an Aeronavale SA.319 I was forced to make the SA.319 as one flown by the Armee de l’Air in a dull khaki scheme. Things could have been worse, I suppose. Since one kit was made in blue plastic and the other in red I amused myself by mixing them up so that, underneath all the paint, both models exist in the colours of the Melbourne Football Club. Doing this turned out to be a tactical mistake because it confused me about how some of the details in the kit worked as the kits were not identical. However, in the end things worked out okay.

The real difficulty with this kit is the cabin canopy which comes in three parts. When I test filled them they went together perfectly but when it came time to get serious they didn’t. I have no idea why, perhaps the modeling gods did not approve of my mixing kit parts for the mere fun of doing so. There are, as we all know, several ways of gluing transparent canopies together and to models. Using real glues such as polystyrene dissolving glue or superglue are not a good idea as their fumes attack the plastic and the result is hazing on the inside of the canopy. Some folks say they use white glue, some of us use GS Hypo-Cement which is a jewelers glue and I bought a bottle of something called ‘Formula 560′ the last time I was in Hearn’s. I don’t know about the white glue but the other two that I have used work very well … so long as there are no problems. But since there were problems, both of these glues gave me problems. The trouble is that while they can fill gaps very nicely, that only works if there are small gaps, and on anything larger it turns out that when they dry they are still a little flexible, which makes them very difficult to shape and sand. This led to some soul destroying moments that only modelers whose model has been prefect up to that point can know and the insides of the canopies are not the perfection I would have liked. If it were not for the fogging problems with superglue the fit problem could be fixed in a jiffy. Any suggestions?

Alouette d

Apart from this, both kits went together with few problems. Looking at photos of these two helicopters I noticed that there are exterior steps that the kit doesn’t supply, so obvious that not even I could ignore them. I checked to see if there were any etched metal sets for Alouettes and since there aren’t I had to make them myself. Because of their tiny size, my less than perfect eyesight and big fat fingers the steps are only an approximation of the real thing, but necessary. In the process of trying to make the canopies look good all the raised panel lines disappeared so I had to mask them again, using the canopy on one to give the measurements for the other. That turned out rather well and I think I’ll probably do it again because it looks a lot better than the hugely over scale results if the raised panels remain.

Apart from that, the real challenge for me, as a person who has no great love for things like weathering, was to make the engines mounted so prominently look good. I think I used five or six different shades of metallic paint on the engine on the SA.316 to make it look reasonable before running a couple of light washes over it.

In the end. I’ve made much better models but the Alouette is still one of the nicest looking helicopters so I’m happy with these two models, if I look at them with my eyes closed.

Alouette f

Alouette e

(April 2018)