Friday, January 21, 2011

Star Trek In Progress

Here are some images of the AMT Round-2 1/2500th scale Enterprises. There are four kits in the series and I'm working on them all, but this is just the first kit, which includes the TOS Enterprise, the Enterprise-A, and the Enterprise-B.

The kits themselves are basically small snap-together models with heavy and simplified panel lines, and relatively few parts. Like all snap-fit models, they look better if you use cement and clamps, and then fill and sand the occasionally largish seams. But on the whole, they didn't fit too badly at all. I sanded off the panel lines on the TOS Enterprise's secondary hull; I didn't think they did anything for the model.

The real heart of the kit are the decals. The TOS Enterprise gets its share of decals, but they're nothing compared to the A and B models, which end up almost completely covered with decals - Aztec patterns, phaser banks, registration markings, warp nacelles, everything. The Enterprise-B even comes with a decal for the roof of the shuttlecraft bay, for crying out loud. The decals are so comprehensive that they're actually credited by name in the kit instructions; they are the work of a Mr. E. James Small of, and Mr. Small does fabulous work.

In fact, in the ensuing photographs, the only thing I painted by hand was the main deflector dish on the TOS Enterprise. Everything else is decal. (Well, other than the grey and white base colors, but that went without saying.)

The decals are just superb. They fit where they're supposed to go. They're thin and flexible, and respond to setting solution, but they're also tough and resistant to breakage. I managed to break a few, but I really had to manhandle them to get them to break. I managed to get some of the decals just horribly wadded up, but they're tough enough that I was able to tease them back into proper form with a little water and patience, and without damage either.

Here and there I encountered a few alignment problems. The tops of the warp nacelles show a sliver of the white base coat where two decals didn't quite meet, but that was my fault. I found really only three issues with the decals. One was the white backing for the yellow circle on the underside of the TOS Enterprise; it was offset by a few millimeters. Another was that the NCC-1701B registration markings on the Enterprise-B are mirror-imaged on one side. But you have to be right on top of them to see that they're mirror-imaged. And the third was that the color was printed in the form of tiny dots rather than solid colors, but again, you have to be right on top of the model to notice it.

But don't let me convince you otherwise - the decals were simply excellent. They're probably too extensive and complicated for inexperienced modelers, but if you've laid down a few decals in your day, you shouldn't have any problem with them.

TOS Enterprise with some old-school Testors paint to show scale. Yes, I intend to finish painting the remaining details, but I wanted to show the models as they come together out of the box. And speaking of the boxes - in some ways I like the new prism-shaped boxes, and in other ways, I don't. They're distinctive, colorful and attractive, but they don't stack worth a damn.

Another view. Everything's a decal except the base color (Testors camouflage grey) and the main deflector dish.

Enterprise-B. Everything is a decal, except for the semi-gloss white base coat. You can see a slight alignment problem on the top of the left warp nacelle, where a sliver of the base color shows, and here and there are a few bubbles that I need to pop and treat with decal solvent, but with minimal effort you end up with a very nice model.


I'm also working on the C, D and E models of the Enterprise, and the same remarks apply generally to them, with one notable and unfortunate exception: the decals for the Enterprise-C are as miserable as the others are good. It isn't a problem with design; it's how they were printed. They're stiff, thick, inflexible, and strangely transparent. They're also largely immune to decal solvent. And worst of all, they're brittle and readily break up into dozens of jagged fragments. I stopped after ruining two decals, and am now making up my mind whether I want to try to rehabilitate the decals or just mask and paint most of the detail myself.

And that's unfortunate, because I really like the chunky lines of the Enterprise-C and was looking forward to finishing it.

Thus far the Enterprise-E decals are proving to be workable, and I haven't started decaling the Enterprise-D yet.

Star Trek In Progress 2

Here are some more in-progress shots of the AMT Round-2 1/2500th scale Star Trek Enterprise models.

TOS Enterprise, movie Enterprise, and Enterprise-B underside.

Side view of the fleet. Notable is the substantial size of the Enterprise-B. Once again, everything but the background color comes from the kit-supplied decal sheet.

TOS and "A" version of the Enterprise. Everything you see here is decal, other than the base coat of paint (white for the A, Testors camouflage grey for the TOS)

Side view. Visible here is the only thing I've painted so far, the copper on the TOS Enterprise's deflector dish.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

X-planes, Part One

I did manage to get some modeling in during the Christmas holiday. Not a lot, and nothing very serious. I certainly planned to do a lot more - I have a bunch of half-built WWI biplanes that need attention - but the point of a hobby is to have fun, right? If I assign deadlines and make schedules, then I've turned a hobby into a simulation of work, and who wants THAT? And besides, sometimes there are simply unexplained lulls.

But I did manage to finish three old X-15 kits, and the Anigrand X-20 I bought at the IPMS convention. I chose them in part because most of the work I could do on the side while watching Christmas movies with my wife, and in part because I was starting to worry that the heat in the garage was going to seriously damage the X-15 kits and their decals, and wanted to get them done and out of harm's way.

The hypothetical X-15A5, converted from a Monogram 1/72nd scale X-15A2. The X-15A5 was never built, but drawings and photographs of wind tunnel models exist, with enough variation in them to permit the modeler a certain latitude for interpretation. The main modifications: 1) Sawing the fuselage in half and inserting a scale six-foot plug. 2) Cutting off the wings and installing new sharply-swept delta wings cut from 0.060 sheet plastic, sharped at the leading edges with sandpaper and with elevons scribed into the trailing edges. 3) Adding an expansion nozzle to the engine exhaust, in this case the nose sawed off a 1/32nd scale F-16 Falcon drop tank. 4) Grafting the two side-by-side propellant tanks end-to-end to make a single long external tank. 5) Cutting apart the serial number decal and reassembling it out of order. 6) Adding wingtip plates cut from 0.040 plastic with a little stretched sprue as a stiffener. 7) Sanding off all the raised panel lines and the raised fairing for the camera port on the underside. 8) Replacing the malformed ball nose with a lump of sprue.

A better view of the sharp sweep angle of the delta wings.

Monogram's 1/72nd scale X-15A2, as configured for Pete Knight's record-breaking flight where he reached Mach 6.71 (and where the X-15 itself was seriously damaged by shock wave impingement and aerodynamic heating). The white color is a protective finish that was applied over the pinkish MA-25 ablative insulation coating. Though this was the fastest X-15 configuration, I find it the least photogenic. In photographs of the real X-15A2, the white coating shows very prominent discolored panel lines, but I chose not to recreate them. The model is lucky that I actually scribed in the missing rudder hinge line!

Even more bland! On this side, there isn't even a window, just the "eyelid" covering the port-side window. The ablator outgassed at high speed, as it was supposed to, but the residue fogged the windows. So the engineers fitted the aircraft with a mechanical eyelid that would protect one window during high-speed flight, and then open up to expose the unfogged window so the pilot could actually see the dry lake during his approach. There is actually a lot of interesting "window lore" in the X-15 program. Such as the fact that the oval window was adopted because the early rectangular window developed stress cracks at the corners and tended to shatter in flight. Such as the fact that the pilots couldn't see any part of the aircraft itself through the windows in any direction.

The silver panels on the nose are silver-painted bits of clear decal film, intended to represent the protective blast panels surrounding the paired nose thrusters (in the X-15 program, this was the "Ballistic Control System", equivalent to Apollo's "Reaction Control System" and the modern "Attitude Control System"). I am currently debating whether I want to indicate the thruster ports by drilling them out, by punching tiny disks out of black decal film, or dotting them with a black marker.

If the Monogram kit has one major weakness, it is this: the aft landing skids are molded in the folded position. If you want to display the X-15 in a "just-landed" state, you'll have to cut apart the folded skids or make new ones, or plop it on the ground-handling dolly with a tow vehicle. But I like the in-flight appearance and used the stands (how gauche!).

X-Planes, Part Two

Monogram's 1/72nd scale X-15A2 posed next to Anigrand's X-20 "Dyna-Soar". I confess I always thought the X-20 was bigger than it apparently is. I also confess that I haven't installed the glass in the X-20's windows either - the Anigrand interpretation of the windows don't seem to match photographs or drawings, and I am torn on whether I should just accept them as they are, or drill and saw new window openings, or scratchbuild the heat shield sometimes seen in photos of the X-20.

Side view. Once again, the X-20 windows... The drawings I've seen show five windows; the Anigrand kit has three. Hmm. But having whined about the windows, I must say that the Anigrand kit is otherwise pretty nice. Like all resin kits, it had some pinholes, especially on the nose, and the wing-fuselage joint required some work, but the main thing is that it was fun. I also note, upon viewing the photos, that I put the "US Air Force" and star-and-bar insignia on in the wrong order. DOH! Well, maybe when I fix the windows, I'll fix THAT too.

Monogram's X-15A2. The kit is old enough to be considered venerable, but it's still a nice kit with a decent interior and a good ground-handling dolly (and even a standing figure in a Gemini-style astronaut suit. I sanded off the raised panel lines. I also sawed off the misshapen "ball nose" sensor, which I didn't think I could salvage with sanding, and replaced it with a hemispherical lump of shaped sprue.

There's something about the black X-15 with white markings that really appeals to me; it looks clean and crisp with just a little dash of color.