Friday, March 20, 2009

Representational Collections

I've been thinking a lot about I was call representational collections, an attempt to capture an entire nation's aviation effort in a single collection. One of the easiest ones to think about is the classical "Luftwaffe in Ten Models" collection. If someone was going to pay you to select and build ten models that would best capture the scope and sweep of the Luftwaffe in World War Two, what would they be? And perhaps as interesting, what famous airplanes would you leave off?

It turns out that it's hard to whittle the Luftwaffe list down to just ten airplanes. I can usually come up with good arguments for at least fifteen, but in any event, here are my representational model lists.


Spitfire I
Spitfire IX
Hurricane IIC
Mosquito B
Mosquito FB

P-38 Lightning
P-40E Warhawk
P-47D Thunderbolt
P-51D Mustang
B-17G Flying Fortress
B-24J Liberator
A-20G Havoc
B-25J Mitchell
C-47 Skytrain/Dakota
B-29 Superfortress

That's my guess, anyway.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

MPM XF-85 Goblin

The XF-85 was a corpulent little fighter designed to be carried beneath the belly of a modified B-36 Peacemaker heavy bomber. The idea was that the short-ranged little fighter would be carried by the bomber until enemy airplanes were sighted, whereupon the Goblin would detach, defeat the enemy, and then return to link up with the B-36 again. Though the Goblin was said to be a pleasant enough airplane to fly, despite its short stubby nature, the business of linking up with the B-36 via a giant hook never really worked reliably and after a few accidents the Goblin and the idea of the parasite fighter was officially dropped.

MPM's kit is typical of limited-run kits. The plastic parts have large sprue attachments and no locating pins, but the surface detail is pretty good. The kit includes a small fret of photoetched parts, a film instrument panel, and a cast resin cockpit interior that replaces most of the photoetched and film parts should you choose to use it. I did choose to use it; it makes building and painting the cockpit interior much easier.

I had fit problems when adding the compressor face to the nose, which was undersized and ended up with the centerbody off-centered, so to speak, and when adding the jet exhaust pipe at the rear, which was oversized and called for extensive reaming of the fuselage. The fuselage also required heavy clamping to get the seams to close, I suspect because I didn't sand the interior of the fuselage quite enough to provide clearance for the cast resin cockpit tub. The whole nose area seems a bit fiddly to me - there's the plastic compressor face, the cockpit tub, and the fold'n'scream photoetched hook bay to get installed in a fairly small space. I'm not sure that my alignment is right, but everything eventually went in and the fuselage halves closed up, so...

The wings and empennage are all butt joints to the fuselage, so fit and alignment are strictly up to the modeler. The ventral strakes are supplied as plastic and photoetched parts, but I used the plastic ones; I felt they had a more pleasing cross-section than the dead-flat metal parts. The elevators are trickiest to install - the mounting points are just raised bosses on the fuselage and it's easy to get things seriously out of whack. My elevators are set with a large nose-up angle, but that's okay; it looks "candid", whatever that means.

The airplane doesn't have landing gear, so once you're done adding the wings and tail, that's pretty much it for the airplane. Next comes the transport cart, which is blocky and crude. I replaced the misshappen wheels with better wheels taken from my scrapbox, and I subjected the I-beam parts to heavy sanding to true them up. After that, the main task is getting the uprights on the cart to touch the tiny fold'n'scream photoetch brackets on the nose of the Goblin itself. That proved to be difficult; the uprights seemed disinclined to incline far enough inboard to meet the airplane.

Painting was a simple matter of a coat of Testors two-part lacquer in Plymouth Silver, with a little black acrylic on the anti-glare panel, yellow acrylic on the fin tips, and various acrylic paints shoved "down the barrel" into the cockpit. The vacuum-formed canopy was thin, clear and kind of wobbly, making it difficult to cut out. I masked it and sprayed it silver before I cut it out of the vacuum-formed sheet. I could have refined the fit if I'd worked at it longer, but I got it close enough with sanding sticks and filled the gaps with white glue and touched them up with a bit of silver paint caught in a Solo cup. The decals worked very well, though I managed to break one of the red turbine warning stripes and spent a tense few minutes teasing it back together.

In general, I enjoyed the kit. It wasn't without snags, like the tiny photoetched nose brackets and the offcentered compressor face, and the ground handling cart required more work than expected. But it was a fun model of an unusual airplane, and it looks good on my shelf.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Acryl Update

I've been using five colors of Model Master Acrylic paint for a few weeks - neutral grey, aircraft interior black, semi-gloss white and so forth - and I still like the way the paint brushes, but I have finally discovered something about the paint that I don't much care for. It seems that no matter how diligent I am at wiping the threads and the top of the bottle, the cap still sticks to the bottle and tears off the foil gasket. I find that kind of annoying, and I'm not sure what I can do about it, since once I've wiped the threads and the top, the result seems to be out of my hands.

But the paint itself, as paint, still works very nicely.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Loft Insulation

Like a lot of modelers (most, I would wager) I buy many times more kits than I actually finish. This leads to the steady accumulation of a backlog of unbuilt kits that grows over time. In British model magazines this collection of unbuilt kits is known as "loft insulation", probably because most British modelers tend to store their stash in their attics. Me, I used to store mine out in the garage, but it turns out that this form of storage can be lethal to models, especially aircraft models.

Many of my airplane models are very old. I can't remember when I bought my OEZ Su-7, but it's been decades. I have a Heller Potez light bomber that may be the oldest model in my entire collection, a conclusion I base on the antique style of decoration used on the Heller box top. I have several old Monogram X-15s that date from the previous release of the kit, and... The point is that I have a bunch of old airplane models, and they are becoming almost impossible to build.

Not because the plastic is going bad. I find well-aged styrene that has been stored for long periods of time in my garage to be workable. A little more brittle than usual, but entirely functional in every other respect, and most of my models don't even show much warpage. And, since I've been building models on a fairly consistent basis since 1966, what kind of modeler would I be if I couldn't handle a few warped parts? I mean, really. Model reviewers have heart attacks when they find warped parts in review kits, but come on, just deal with it already.

No, what goes bad are the decals. I can usually build car or armor models without decals, either by substituting other decals, going without, or masking up my own. But an airplane model is often very difficult to finish in any kind of convincing way without decals, or even with fake decals. Sure, I could finish an Su-7 by slathering USAF decals on it, but how convincing would it be? And there's something about storage in the garage that ruins decals. Sometimes the decal becomes visibly ruined. I was just reviewing the contents of the Italeri 1/72nd scale B-26K Counter-Invader I had in my garage and found that the decal carrier film had "granulated" and turned into something resembling 120 grit sandpaper. That's ruined, me buckos, in any language. Other times, the carrier film breaks up when wetted and the decal breaks up like the sub-Arctic ice pack in late spring. Sometimes the decals just go haywire - I had one a while back where the carrier film remained intact, but all the ink washed off.

I'd guess that three-quarters of the models I've tried to build out of my garage stash have suffered from bad decals in one way or another, most of them unrecoverable. In those cases, I selected incorrect but functional decals out of my stash just so I could finish the clunker model and hang it from the ceiling of the garage. Some of these "just so I could finish it" schemes are attractive, but they're all bogus. A Britten-Norman Islander in gloss orange with Finnish Air Force markings? I don't think so, but it looks nice. A P-63 King Cobra in markings permanently borrowed from a Fighter Command Tempest V? Again, it's not likely, but it looks nice.

Looks nice, but it doesn't pass muster as a real model.

So what's a boy to do? I had (at last count) about 12 aircraft models in the garage that I was pretty sure had suffered from decal damage. Leaving them sit wasn't going to make them any better, so I decided to just knuckle under and build the things. I got me a big ole bottle of MEK, a trashed paint brush, sidecutters and a knife, and I built them. I built them all. Models piled up in one box, and expended sprues piled up in another box, and unused parts populated a new annex of my spare parts collection. I picked schemes that were simple enough that they could be done with spray cans or an airbrush without masking. I didn't bother with excessive anal-retentive cockpit or landing gear detailing, and in most cases I - gasp! - built them with their landing gear up in the first place. And then I coated each and every decal sheel with two coats of Microscale decal film, and I applied the decals with mild decal solvents.

The results are mixed. Some of these garage-stored kits turned out very nicely. MPM's XF-85 and XP-55, for example, turned out so nicely that I backtracked and detailed them for more intimate viewing. Others, not so much. The Algerian Su-7 that I so had my heart set on turned out all right, but only if you stay about eight feet away from it. My old Israeli Neshr didn't turn out so hot, but it captured the critical recognition feature of the original - those funky black and yellow triangles - so it'll do. And my PV-1 Neptune? That was a complete disaster, decal-wise. I couldn't even salvage the decals after I'd coated them twice with decal film - they would simply never release from the paper, even after an hour of soaking, perhaps because the paper had turned porous and the decal film had cured in the voids, permanently bonding the two together. Either way, I found bogus decals and it looks okay, but only if you stay about ten feet away (the numbers on the rudders are, amusingly enough, from a BRDM-2 armored car model).

So I'm in the process of cleaning out my old garage-stored kits, and I'm hoping that my decal woes will now end, because I now store decals in the cool darkness of a plastic shoe tote in my closet, where I'm hoping they'll last a usefully long period of time without going to pot. I'm also breaking down and storing any reasonably high-grade kits in the closet as well, such as the rather expensive Fw-200 Condor and He-177 Greif kits I laid in, not to mention the spanking-new Italeri XB-70 and the Lindberg Snark.

But you know what? I don't mind that much. Like a lot of modelers I suffer from a syndrome where I plan a lot of models, and I even start a few, but I rarely finish any of them. This business of sitting down and getting these old garage-stored models out of the system has been fun because I've actually been building, and finishing, and that's what modeling is all about, at least in part, isn't it? I've finished, or am very close to finishing:

Special Hobby I-15 biplane
MPM XF-85 Goblin
MPM XP-55 Ascender
Academy PV-1 Neptune
PM Models Neshr/Mirage V
Academy Me-163B Komet
Academy OV-10A Bronco
ICM Il2-M3 Sturmovik
Lindberg XFY-1 Pogo
Dragon Ar-234 with Julia parasite
Heller Potez light bomber


Monday, March 2, 2009

Acryl II

I'm not normally a big fan of acrylic paint. I've never had any success airbrushing the stuff, and when it comes to brush-painting, I approach the substance with extreme caution. Even the apparent gold standard of acrylic paint, Tamiya, comes off a distant second place in terms of handbrushing performance compared to, say, an egg wash. The stuff is awful, just awful, and I fail to understand at this point why anyone bothers with it.

Well, I'm not above experimenting, and my dissatisfaction with Tamiya's brush-painting performance led me to buy a few experimental jars of Model Master Acryl II acrylic paint. Now, I'm not even going to try to airbrush with the stuff - I've finally figured out how to airbrush Model Master and Humbrol enamels, and I'm just not going to unlearn how to do that. But I do have intentions of handbrushing with the stuff, and I've actually made a few token attempts already on an Academy PV-1 Ventura. No pictures of the model will be presented as its decals underwent a horrid transformation overnight and folded up like tacos, and I don't need this model seeing the light of day. But as a test bed for acrylic paint, it did pretty well.

I have to say, these Model Master acrylics brush-paint many times better than the Tamiya paints, and that's groovy. Even the semi-gloss white brushed pretty well, requiring only two coats to get good coverage over a dark sea blue background. I sprayed the propellers a nice yellow color called Marigold, then used acrylic silver and black on the hubs and blades. Result? Good coverage, quick drying, and none of that Tamiya pudding-skin effect.

It's good! But it's also very early.