Jet Fokkers in 1/144

After the success of the Fokker F-27 Friendship, the Fokker company next developed the F-28 Fellowship, a medium jet airliner that gave greater speed and range than the F-27 but was still smaller and cheaper than other jet airliners of the time such as the Douglas DC-9 and BAC 1-11.  F-28s did very well in Australia because the niche they filled, suited the longer and thinner routes of rural New South Wales and outback Western Australia.  They began arriving in Australia in the early 1970s with MacRobertson Miller Airlines being the first to fly them, in Western Australia.  Other major operators were Airlines of New South Wales and East West Airline in New South Wales, and the Department of Civil Aviation (later the Department of Transport and later again the Department of Aviation) which flew three, mainly to give Departmental staff flying time on jets and to test Australia’s radio navigation aids.

The F-28 came in three versions, the F-28-1000 with capacity for 70 passengers, of which 10 were registered in Australia, the F-28-3000 with increased wing span and greater range, of which three were registered in Australia, and the F-28-4000 which also had an extended fuselage and a capacity of 85 passengers, of which 12 were registered in Australia.

Making models of the F-28 is not easy.  There was an ancient American Airliners kit made many decades ago which is best consigned to the scrap bin of history.  More recently there has been the F-Rsin Plastic injection molded version and the Authentic Airliners full resin version, both kits coming in both the -1000 and -4000 versions.  The F-Rsin kit is a fairly dreadful thing, generally poorly cast and difficult to assemble. Looking at it with the benefit of hindsight, I’d reckon that F-Rsin have taken a Revell Fokker 100 kit and modified it a bit to become a F-28.  The end result is hardly worth the money paid, but it is the only game in town unless you are willing to pay for the much more expensive Authentic Airliners kit, which is a dream to assemble.

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I started off with the F-Rsin F-28-1000 which I finished as one flown by MMA, using Hawkeye decals.  I was so disgusted by the quality of this kit that I threw my F-Rsin F-28-4000 in the bin and ordered the Authentic Airliners kit instead.  It was a pleasure to build, with the exception of the undercarriage legs which were so thin and fragile that they both snapped.  The only thing to do was to dive into my rubbish bin and retrieve the legs from the F-Rsin kit which may be deformed but at least hold the model off the ground in a reasonably realistic fashion.  This model was completed in the livery of Airlines of Western Australia, provided by an ancient Jet Set decal sheet which was showing its age, but the only one every printed for that airline.

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I did give some thought to making a third F-28, this time in the livery of the Department of Transport, which I flew in a couple of times.  It would not be beyond my limited skills to make one, but the expense of having to buy another Authentic Airliners kit (and probably a F-Rsin one too for the undercarriage) made me think otherwise.  Besides, there were Revell Fokker 100s now wanting to be built.

A further development was the F-28-0100, which was marketed as the Fokker 100.  It had new, more powerful engines, a stretched fuselage that typically accommodated 107 passengers, improved wings for greater efficiency and other improvements.  When production of the Fokker 100 started 1988 it was virtually the only airliner in its class but by the mid 1990s several competitor airliners had entered the market and it became less attractive to airliners so sales fell.  As a result, only 283 had been delivered when Fokker went bankrupt in 1996.  The Fokker 100 was popular in Australia and as F-28s were taken out of service they were replaced by Fokker 100s and eventually 27 were registered in Australia, flying mainly with Skywest, now Virgin Australia, and Alliance.

Unlike the F-28, the Fokker 100 is well represented in plastic, though only by one kit.  Revell’s 1/144 Fokker 100 has all the attributes that kits of the F-28 don’t; it is easy to put together and relatively inexpensive.  (It is out of production at the moment so you will have to find copies on the interweb or at your local friendly swap n sell.)  I would warn you about any problems in building this kit but, frankly, I can’t think of any.

Aftermarket decals for the 1/144 Fokker 100 are fairly common, but not ones for those flying in the Australian region.  The only two I know of are the Southern Skies decals made for the Skywest livery and Ric Warcup decals for the Air Niugini livery.  It seems that the Skywest decals are now out of print but Ric Warcup seems to print copies of his decals when they are ordered so you should be able to get the Air Niugini decals relatively easily.  Alliance and Norfolk Air also flew Fokker 100s in Australia but I don’t know of any decals available for them.

The only challenge most modelers will face in building this kit is getting a presentable white finish, a necessary skill because almost the entire airframe is white.  My way of achieving this is to make sure the surface of the model ready for painting is absolutely smooth, which means a thorough going over with wet and dry paper of no more than 400 grit.  Then a coat or two of Tamiya white primer, followed by a light sanding with about 6000 grit micromesh.  Then three coats of white acrylic lacquer which I bought at my local automotive paint shop, another light sanding with 12000 grit micromesh and then two coats of Tamiya rattle can pure white.  What can go wrong?

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A final note.  Fokker also made a shorter version of the Fokker 100 called the Fokker 70.  A model of this can be made relatively easily by shortening the fuselage of a Revell 1/144 Fokker kit or buying the Welsh Models conversion kit, which is basically a shorter fuselage.  As the process of converting the Revell fuselage will entail cutting out sections before and aft of the wings, and this takes a fair bit of calculating and careful cutting to get right, I’ve bought the Welsh Models conversion kit.  So far as I can find out, only Alliance had flown the Fokker 70 in Australia, so if I’m going to make one of these I’ll have to improve my decal making skills, which I don’t appear to have done much to improve recently.  Never mind, just in case I become a decal making genius one of these days I’m on the hunt for two more Revell 1/144 Fokker 100 kits.  We can only dream.

Models for June

We begin this month with a couple of Airbus A300s, the same airliner but in two different liveries. The first is of the first A300 delivered to TAA in 1981 in a new livery designed for the introduction of the A300s to Australian service. Unfortunately for TAA there was a severe downturn in passenger demand around the time of its delivery, rather than the growth that the airline had expected, so the A300s proved to be a near fatal disaster for TAA. To save the situation some of the airline’s A300s had their delivery delayed and others were leased. One of them was VH-TAA which leased to Condor in Germany for a few months and then to Air Niugini for the rest of the 1980s.

The kit used for these models is the venerable Airfix 1/144 kit, which was first published in 1974. It has not been re-released since the early 2000s but copies are still often available from sites such as ebay. Overall is it a good solid kit but nothing special. It has, for example, fine raised detain on the wings and no detail worth speaking of on the fuselage. This would give those who like scribing and re-scribing panel lines a serious workout of their skills. Fortunately for me, I had the Liveries Unlimited corogard wing panels decals instead, which took away the need for any such effort.

First, this Airbus A300 as it appeared when it arrived in Australia in 1981 and flew as until 1984. The decals are from Hawkeye and contain a serious error in that the windows do not slant upwards at the rear of the passenger cabin as they should. The work involved in modifying the decals to represent this major feature in the A300 would have been extremely difficult so I did not attempt it. Instead, please pretend that I said nothing.

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The decals for VH-TAA when it flew for Air Niugini between 1984 and 1989 with the registration of P2-ANG, also come from Hawkeye. The decals for the ‘Bird of Prey’ scheme come in one complete section for each side and I could only imagine that you were supposed to apply them before attaching the model’s wings first. I took a different approach and cut the decals into three parts as carefully as I could; the upper section, the lower section and the head. Attaching the upper decals first allowed me to line them up fairly well and gave me a guide as to where to place the underside decals and the heads. Applying the decals required a fair bit of patience but turned out better than I expected.

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Next is another Revell 1/144 Fokker 100. This model was made more or less straight out of the box with the addition of Ric Warcup decals to portray an Air Niugini one, P2-ANQ which may be, for all that I know, still flying.

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And here are three that I made earlier.

The Douglas P-70 was a night fighter version of the well used Douglas A-20, or Boston as it was called when it served with the RAF. The kit is as ancient as my Airbus kits, being released by Revell in 1975, and a variation on their A-20C Havoc kit released in 1967. For all that I found it a much more modern feeling kit than the Airfix Airbus kits with a much better feeling for detail. The matt black finish makes this kit an easy one to paint, but I did increase the level of difficulty by making new radar aerials from stretched sprue to replace the parts in the kit.

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If my memory serves me right the Hindustan Aeronautics HF-24 Marut was the final design of the legendary German designer, Kurt Tank. I think it is a particularly attractive aircraft so when I stumbled across this Model Alliance 1/72 resin kit I snapped it up. It turned out to be a challenging little kit to make and there is a lot of filler hidden beneath this model’s nice polished metal finish. Because of this difficulty I might not have finished this model, had it not promised to look so delightful when it was completed.

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Finally for this month, the 1/72 Heller Dassault Mirage IV. I have never seen one of these aeroplanes live but I imagine it would be a striking sight with size combined with Dassault delta elegance, This kit was released in 1979 when Heller were producing some of the best kits of those times, and still some of the best quality kits ever, in my opinion. This Mirage IV kit is an excellent example of the company’s craft and has been released several times more recently. I’ve got another one stored up so I can make it in bare metal livery. It will be beautiful.

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BEFORE/NOW

Yesterday I went to Booktown Clunes which is a huge orgy of book selling and buying. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s worth finding out about on the www. Despite the manifest temptations I bought only three books, and worthy tomes they are too, none of your paperback rubbish.

My main reason for going to this event was to attend the launch of a new academic history journal titled Before/Now. It is put together by the post-graduates of the Collaborative Research Center in Australian History at Federation University, of which I am an honorary research fellow. It is a long time since I’ve been a post-graduate but, following a bit of enthusiastic encouragement, I was persuaded to write something for it, which I did. Consequently I felt it might be a good idea to go to the launch.

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It turned out to be a very pleasant event with the usual glass of plonque in one hand and a copy of the journal in the other. You would have enjoyed yourself.

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So here is the first issue of Before/Now, with my article on the construction of the stone gaol at Bendigo in it. There is a lot more good stuff in this inaugural issue, as you can see from the title page. Post-graduate students these days are a lot better than I was when I was one of them and a quick read of some of the articles makes me envious of their abilities.

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A copy will cost you $20 and you can get a copy from the Center: CRCHA, PO Box 663, Ballarat, 3353.

I’ve been converted (Praise the Lord) to lacquer paint

I don’t know about other scale modellers, but the first few models I made, Airfix, Frog and Revell, went unpainted. It was enough for me to have the bare plastic with the simple decals the kit provided stuck on them. Then I took to reading the kit instructions more carefully and found the painting instructions too. Those first colour instructions were quite simple and left a lot to the imagination of this young modeller.

The local hardware shop sold small tins of paint for less than a shilling, shiny enamel stuff that took the best part of a day to dry. Over a year of so I built up a small collection of them; a green, a blue and a brown, and black and white to make all shades of grey. The color instructions in the kits were not every specific and I wasn’t either. If the kit instructions said to use green, blue and grey, I had everything I needed.

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At some stage I discovered scale modelling magazines, in particular Airfix Magazine, which started to open my eyes to the varieties of aircraft colours. I also read about this thing called Humbrol paint, but it was not until I was in Melbourne one time and went to Melbourne Sports Depot where I saw the Humbrol tinlets for the first time. They were might attractive and I was keen to get some, but at two shillings a tinlet, I couldn’t afford them, and had to continue using my existing supply of house paint.

A few years later I was living in Melbourne and earning enough to be able to buy some of these Humbrol paints. As I recall, Airfix and Heller had their own line of paint, and Revell still does, but Humbrol had started producing paint in ‘camouflage’ colours, coinciding with a growing awareness of the complexities of painting aeroplanes in accurate colours. The advent of the American magazines like Scale Modeler with their full colour interior pages also emphasized the somewhat novel fact that the Germans and British did not use the same hues of green and grey on their aeroplanes during the Battle of Britain.

Humbrol paint was designed to be brush painted and that’s what most modellers did. However, I began reading about these things called ‘airbrushes’ and they started appearing in the model shops like Hearns Hobbies and Model Dockyard. Still, they were very expensive and it was not until a friend and I got royalties for a play we’d sold that I could afford one. It did not take me long to learn that I needed a compressor too, which was almost as expensive as the airbrush had been.

Thus began the long relationship that I’ve had with Humbrol paints sprayed through an airbrush. The only innovation to this was the discovery, probably in the 1980s but I could not be sure, of the range of American Modelmaster enamels in their little glass bottles which seemed to have an even greater range of ‘authentic’ colours than Humbrol. One of the great advantages of Modelmaster paints were that they came in screw top bottles and were therefore easier to use and keep sealed than the Humbrol tinlets. So, over the following years and decades I built up quite a collection of Humbrol and Modelmaster paints, supplemented by Metalizer and later Alclad II metallic paints.

Life went on happily for a long time until, only a year or two ago, I discovered that Modelmaster enamels were no longer available in Australia. I didn’t read anything or hear anything, they just stopped being available in shops and on Australian websites. This would not have been a problem except that, being enamels, it became impossible to import them from shops overseas. At the same time, the quality of Humbrol paint had declined dramatically so that suddenly I found the enamel paints I was so used to using were no longer available or useable.

Talking to some members of the local scale modelling club it emerged that they were using these new, to me, acrylic paints. The models they were putting on the table at the monthly meetings looked pretty good to me so, on one of our trips down to the model shops of Melbourne, I bought a few sets of these paints. Some of them were okay and some of them were so thin that they came out of my airbrush as though they were coloured water – which is what they were in reality. This led me to invest in new airbrushes to cope with this new watery paint and I now have three Badger airbrushes, each one with a smaller needle than the one to try to control the problem of this runny paint run everywhere. I also experimented with various brands of acrylic paint and found some that suited me better than others.

The other problem I had with these new acrylic paints was that most of them were so thin that it was possible to brush paint them to touch up any blemishes. I still had my enamels to do that, but of course most paint makers have slightly different ideas of what RLM 02, for example, actually looks like, so using them on acrylic paints was fraught with unhappiness. There was also the increasing probability that mixing enamel and acrylic paint with Gloscote and Dulcote top coats, which are lacquers, would end up in one of those crinkly finishes that bedevil so much model making in the final stages of construction.

As a result of all this, I was not enjoying my model making. I could complete the perfect model but I felt no sense of safety as I approached my paint booth. How would the acrylics go this time, how would the touch up go and what would be the chemical reaction from a mix of different kinds of paints? After one particularly disappointing visit to the my paint booth where the yellow paint ran everywhere and puddled, creating a dreadful result, I threw all my acrylic paint into the bin lest I be tempted to use it again.

Fortunately for me, lacquer paints had began appearing in camouflage colours. I already knew about lacquers from my discovery of them as the solution to the big problem of using enamel paint on airliners. White had become the predominant colour of airliners but white enamels do not give an ideal airliner quality finish and, to make matters worse, they go yellow over time. The solution that was suggested to me what Tamiya Pure White lacquer which was available in rattle cans. It took me a while to get used to this new paint and I finally solved the problem of the paint going everywhere out of the rattle can by finding out how to decant the paint into a bottle and then spray it through one of my airbrushes, the Badger Patriot being ideal for the job.

I also had some experience with camouflage lacquers with the MRP and SBS ranges. They did not please me, however, being as thin as acrylic paints and therefore having one of the problems that had annoyed me so much with acrylics. However, at around the time that I threw out all my acrylic paint AK Interactive ‘Real Color’ lacquer paint started becoming available in Australia. To start with I bought one of their sets for US Navy aircraft and, at the same time, I saw that Hataka had released a set of French camouflage lacquer paints, probably the same colours as their French camouflage acrylic range that I’d bought, tried and thrown in the bin. Thus armed I set out on a new adventure.

First off was the RS Models Bloch 151, a little fighter of dubious quality during the Battle of France but a nice little kit. As an experiment I primed it in MRP black primer. Using black primer seems to be all the rage these days so I thought I’d give it a go. While I feared that the Hataka lacquers would be too thin this proved not to be the case. Straight from the dropper bottle into the paint cup of my Badger Xtreme Patriot the paint went on exceptionally smoothly and gave good coverage over the black primer with the first coat, and excellent coverage with two coats. Even the light blue underside sprayed over black primer required only two coats, and the second one was really only for insurance.

Next came the big test, how would the Hataka lacquer paint go with hand painting. The upper colours of green and brown on this model could not be airbrushed (not with my limited skills anyhow) so I had to hand paint them instead. I’d found that hand brushing acrylics over an earlier painted surface often led to tears so I was apprehensive with the lacquers, but I experienced no problems at all. Not only that, the finish of these lacquer paints was smooth and glossy so there was no need to apply a gloss top coat before applying the decals. After that, all I needed was a single overcoat of Tamiya matt varnish, and the end result was a nice looking little model. Having been emboldened I moved on to make the RS Models Bloch 152, which is quite similar to the 151. The results were the same and I was converted to these new paints.

The other test I needed to run was of the AK Interactive ‘Real Color’ lacquers. They come in little glass bottles quite like Tamiya paints and are, when you open the bottle and give them a stir, quite thick in comparison to almost all other paints I’ve bought in the past decade. I had the Eduard F6F-5 that I wanted to use in the standard late was USN Deep Sea Blue scheme. AK call it Dark Sea Blue and, to my eye, it is a little too grey, but AK say that theirs is the most accurate range of colours ever produced, and I’m willing to trust them, a little. For the first time in a long time, I had to thin this paint to go through my airbrush, about 2/3 paint and 1/3 thinner seemed just about right for my Badger Patriot and I applied the second coat just to make sure that I had got complete coverage with the first coat. Again, the finish was perfectly smooth and lightly gloss, so there was no need for a gloss coat for decaling.

What sold me on these paints was that all the touching up was done with an ordinary paint brush and that many of the little details; oleos, guns, propeller blades and tips and wheels, were all hand painted successfully using AK lacquers. I’m converted and I’m now looking at websites to see what other AK and Hataka lacquers I can buy to return the painting pleasure to my modeling.

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Models for May

Continuing on my dual themes of Bloch fighters and acrylic lacquers paints, here is the RS Models Bloch 152 painted with Hataka and AK Real Color lacquers. I was as pleased with the finish on this one as I was with the finish on the Bloch 151 last month. Although I had a few decal sets with decals for Bloch I52s the best ones came from the kit which offers four options. I have a second RS Models boxing of the Bloch 152, this one with Vichy and Luftwaffe markings, so I might be make using one of the aftermarket decal sets on it. The Vichy red and yellow striping being a serious pain to achieve successfully and completing a French aeroplane in German marking being too distasteful to contemplate.

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This Eduard 1/72 Grumman F6F-5 was another experiment. Eduard kits come highly recommended and as Hannants were offering this one on special I decided to give it a go. It wasn’t too difficult to make and has pretty good details too so I was somewhat impresses. The other experiment was in trying out the AK Real Colour lacquers on it, and again I was very pleased with the result, although I am not convinced that they’ve got the shade of deep blue quite right. The kit comes with markings for two US Navy aeroplanes but I already had a few sets of after market decals for Aeronavale F6Fs so I decided to try one of them instead. I was a little disturbed that the French naval roundels didn’t have the usual anchors superimposed on them but, on checking reference photos, I found that not all Aeronavale F6Fs did. I don’t think the F6F is one of the best looking aeroplanes Grumman ever made, but it sure looks better dressed up in French markings, to my mind anyhow.

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Continuing on another theme, here is another Fokker airliner, this time a Revell 1/144 Fokker 100 straight out of the box. It is a nice little kit and not difficult to put together. As usual, the white finished is achieved through application of about seven coats; two coats of Tamiya white primer, three coats of Spartan automotive lacquer and then two coats of Taimya rattle can Pure White. The decals were published by Southern Skies, a small outfit in Western Australia which has produced some other interesting decal sets which are, I think, now increasingly hard to find. This one goes with a Skywest Fokker 50 that I made earlier and a similarly liveried Airbus A.320 that I will get around to making in the coming year or two.

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Another theme I’ve been working away on for the past couple of years is a set of Douglas airliners, beginning with a Douglas DC-1 (converted from a CMK DC-2) through the entire line of Douglas airliners, ending with the DC-10. Earlier I made a DC-8-50 series in Air New Zealand livery as that was the type that Valma and I flew to Auckland in in 1974, on our way to the United States for DUFF. We continued that trip from Auckland to Los Angeles in a DC-10 and so it seemed appropriate to make this model also in Air New Zealand Livery. I started this project using the old Airfix 1/144 kit but it was so badly warped and deformed that I had to abandon that and used, instead, the Accurate Airliners full resin kit, which is expensive but also almost worth the additional expense. I’m not sure who made the decals, I bought them from Airliner Hobby Supplies but the decal sheet and instructions don’t say where they came from. These decals are made to fit the Airfix kit and don’t fit precisely on the Accurate Airliners model, which caused some tears before I solved the problem.

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Here are two that I made earlier.

First is the ancient Revell 1/144 Douglas DC-8-62F in the markings of Flying Tiger, an exclusively freight airline. I think I made this model in the 1990s when the best metallic modelling paint was Testors Metalizer. I’m quite pleased as the result on this model which gives a reasonable rendition of what a slightly weathered and hard worked freighter might look like.

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Finally, the Dujin 1/72 Liore et Olivier H.43, a floatplane that you might have seen in the skies over coastal France in 1939 and 1940. This is one of the very limited run and now exceedingly rare resin kits made by Jean Pierre Dujin before his untimely death. This was also a very challenging kit to put together but I’d like to think it does the kits maker’s craft justice. Very few Dujin kits came with decals so these were scrounged from all over the place and I think I might have found the coat of arms on the interweb, copied it, reduced it in size and printed it on decal paper to get it onto this model. I completed this model in late 2009 and I see that the blue in the French roundels had faded quite a bit since then. Domage.

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Models for April

Let’s start with the last of the Fokker F-27s and Fokker 50s that I’m planning to make. This is the Eastern Express 1/144 kit that comes with Virgin Australia decals. There’s nothing very remarkable about this kit which goes together with a minimum of fuss.

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Moving in to 1/72 here are a couple of resin kits. This Castel C.25 originally appeared in Jean Pierre Dujin’s little plastic bags but has, more recently, been re-released by FSC Dujin in a cardboard box with the original Dujin resin parts but also a small etch set that provides some seat belts and a rather splendid decal sheet. Only the most foolhardy of modellers would attempt this colour scheme, and I’m not one of them. Even applying these large decals was something of a test of nerves.

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I’d never heard of Croco Models until their kit of the Aero Commander 520 (there is also a kit of the 560) appeared in the Aviation Megastore catalogue. An early Aero Commander has been on my ‘want’ list for decades, and finally here it is. The resin casting is very good but the crash moulded transparencies are very poor by comparison, so the trouble I went to to make the cabin look interesting is lost. There are the usual fit problems, and trying to sand flat the wing and tail junctions with the fuselage – without damaging the control surface corrugations – was a challenge. As well as these civil markings, the kits comes with US Army and US Air Force decals. I’d recommend this kit to anyone who already has some experience with resin kits.

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On the military side; I’ve been looking for something to replace my very old Modelmaster Armee de l’Air camouflage paints. I haven’t been happy with the acrylics I’ve seen so I was delighted to see that Hakata had released a set of French colours in lacquers. I am not happy with the green in the set and have chosen a green from the new AK Real Color lacquers instead, but I am delighted by the quality of the Hataka lacquers and will be using them a lot in the future.
As a test for these new paints I decided to have a go at making the Bloch 150 series fighters, starting with the RS Models Bloch 151. It has a nice little cockpit, but you can’t see very much of it since it is finished in the French dark blue grey scheme. The Hataka paint flows very nicely through the airbrush and required only two coats for good coverage. I hand painted the other top side camouflage, which would have been a disaster with the old Modelmaster paint. I’m declaring myself well pleased with this new paint and you can expect to see a couple of Bloch 152s, a 153 and a 155 in the forseeable future as a result.

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Delving back into the mists of time here are two that I made previously

The F-Rsin Bristol Brabazon is the first kit that I paid over $100 for. That seemed outrageous at the time but is becoming more common these days. It is a difficult kit in that the moulding is the wing trailing edges was very uneven and I had to replace them with plasticard. Painting this kit was the first time that I used Tamiya TS-83 and I didn’t read the instructions about using a black base. As a result, the finish is a bit uneven, but the thing does glow fantastically. I have plans to repaint this model one of these days, but I’m not feeling brave enough at the moment.

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I don’t quite remember when I made this but it is finished in ye olde Testors Metalizer, which nobody uses any these. I know that it is a difficult paint to use in many ways but on this WB-47 (an ancient Hasegawa kit) it looks fairly realistic for an aeroplane that has seen a lot of flying.

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Croco Models 1/72 Aero Commander 520

By the time I was ten or so my parents had figured out that I liked aeroplanes, perhaps the small lineup of Airfix and Frog models on the shelf near my bed was a clue. Being good parents they fed this interest by taking me to the occasional airshow held in our region. By the standards of the modern display they were modest affairs with some Tiger Moths, Victa Air Tourers and Austers. At some of these shows the highlight was an aerobatic display by one of the handful of Mustangs allowed on the civil register. I don’t know what my parents thought of these occasional trips to airshows, I’m sure my sister found other ways to amuse herself on those occasions, but I soaked them up.

One of the delights of these events was the static flight line which had its share of Tiger Moths, Air Tourers and the like. Occasionally there were stand-outs and I still recall seeing my first Beagle Basset, a very sleek all metal little machine standing among all the wood and fabric machines of the times. There were two more aeroplanes that captured my imagination, all metal light air transports, the Piaggio 166 (in Airlines of South Australia livery as I recall) and an Aero Commander. Being Italian, the Piaggio was far more elegant in design than the Aero Commander but, like many American aeroplanes, the Aero Commander had a big and simple honesty to its design that made it memorable.

The Piaggio and the Aero Commander stayed in my memory and from time to time I tried to track down kits for them. Not unsurprisingly, kit manufacturers of the time were not interested in such uninteresting – to the majority of model makers – aeroplanes and kept on churning out the Spitfires, Mustangs, Bf109s and Zeros. So nowhere could I ever find kits of either of those two long desired for aeroplanes. This is not surprising because kits of them did not exist. Comet had released a model of the Aero Commander in the box scale of 1/81 in 1954 that was re-released by Aurora in 1963, and has not been seen since. No kit at all existed of the Piaggio 166 until 2000 and then only in a very challenging looking vacform kit, and then only in military versions that need conversion back to civil standard. I have one of those kits but am not bold enough to have started work on it after acquiring it almost a decade ago.

The Aero Commander remained beyond my reach until a few months ago when I received the latest news release from the Aviation Megastore in the Netherlands. This is an interesting shop that sells around the world, often very interesting and obscure items that tickle the acquisition circuits in my head, but their fees for postage and handling are so high that that often costs more than the kit they are offering. As a result, I use them very rarely and tend to rely on cheaper (relatively) sources to feed my habit. On this occasion, however, they offered a 1/72 kit of the Aero Commander from a Lithuanian company I’d never heard of before at a not totally outrageous price – though the price of the kit and getting it to me was. However, it was an Aero Commander, I’d been looking for a kit of one for almost half a century and here it was. How could I not get one. (I did check with my other usual sources to see if they had it on offer, in the hope of getting a lower handling postage cost, but none of them had it. I looked up the manufacturer to see if I could get it direct from them, and they directed me back to the Aviation Megastore. What else could I do but pay the outrageous price they wanted?)

Aero Commander a

 

The kit arrived three or four weeks later, along with another kit I ordered just to make the postage cost seem a little less enormous. With almost undue haste I had the kit on my work bench and open, and I was not disappointed. It is a full resin kit, but the resin is beautifully moulded for the most part with lightly engraved lines as good as you would find on the best injection moulded kits these days. There was a pretty good cabin interior and engines to go in the cowlings. Unlike many short run or resin kits this cabin interior delighted me by going together nicely and fitting into the fuselage halves without the usual trimming and fitting that goes with this kind of kit. What a happy modeller I was.

Aero Commander b

Then things started to go wrong, in particular the cabin transparencies. While the resin items in the kit are some of the best resin moulding I’ve worked with, the cabin windows and windscreen are some of the most imprecise and badly formed vacformed celluloid I’ve ever had to deal with. The parts for the side windows don’t have much to do with the spaces in the resin parts that they are supposed to fill and it would take a magician to get the windscreen part to fit well. Eventually this annoying piece of celluloid and I reached an agreement that it would pretend to fit if I pretended to be happy with it and used a remarkable amount of filler to make up the difference without totally obscuring the very nice cabin interior that I had made.

My disappointment at this turn of events put me off the kit for a while and it languished at the back of my shelf of doom. Eventually, however, I got over the disappointment and decided to press on with the kit. I had to, it was the only way I was going to be able to add a much desired Aero Commander to my collection. The wings and tail surfaces went on relatively well but I needed a lot of filler around the fuselage joint with the wings and only a little with the tail, fortunately. One of the nice things about this kit is the delicate reproduction of the corrugated control surfaces and I had to take a great deal of care not to damage them while applying and sanding off the necessary filler.

Aero Commander c

Next was the undercarriage, which is made up of some finely moulded but also delicate resin pieces. At this point I was forced to read the kit instructions which are hand drawn but very elegantly and precise, and are a great help (unlike the hand drawn instructions that come with the kits of a certain French company). I then discovered that the kit comes with parts for both the Aero Commander 520 and the slightly later 560 model. Fortunately for me, the only differences between the two in this kit are the undercarriage and the engine nacelles, so it was not too late. The kit instructions suggest to assemble the undercarriage parts (which requires at least three hands to do easily) and insert them into the nacelles after they have been attached to the wings. You can do it that way if you want to, and I had to, but it turns out that the undercarriage assembly is slightly wider than the holes allowed for them in the nacelles. Only some very careful removal of resin from the openings and from the assemblies resolved that problem, along with a test of my knowledge of harsh language.

Aero Commander d

After that trial of nerves and skill it was on to the engine bays at the front of the nacelles. The kit supplies engines to go in them and two different kinds of engine fronts for the 520 or the 560 so I had to peer carefully at the instructions to discern the differences. I don’t know that there is much advantage in using the engines and, as I later found out after having installed them, it might be better to put some weight in the spaces instead because this model ended up being a tail sitter, marginally, and a little weight there might have made the difference. It turns out that the engine panels and the engine fronts do not fit as well as the earlier parts had, but that’s what filler is for when it comes to making these kinds of kits. After that, most of the hard work is done.

Aero Commander e

The kit comes with decals for a US Army Aero Commander in a rather uninteresting looking white and brown (or perhaps olive drab) scheme which looks as though it would be a serious challenge to mask successfully. There is also markings for a civil version, though this is not entirely clear until you peer at the instructions and decal sheet long enough to figure out what is going on. The advantage of this scheme is that the aeroplane is white all over, so no really difficult masking becomes necessary. I did a google search in the hope of finding an Australian registered Aero Commander 520 that I could make, but was not successful. I’m not that disappointed because, after the challenges of getting this kit together reasonably well, having a simple but nice looking paint scheme is a relief.

am

This model looks just as I remember the Aero Commander looking when I first saw one, so I’m glad to have it despite the problems of making it successfully (note that I didn’t say well). I’m thinking again about that Piaggio 166, but don’t hold your breath.