Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Eagles Were Coming

There's a scene in the movie The Return of the King that amuses me. It's near the end, where Aragorn has led the Army of the West to the very gates of Mordor to distract Sauron long enough for Frodo to slam-dunk the Ring. At one point, one of the hobbits cries "Here come the eagles!" as Gwaihir and his folk come in to dogfight with the Nazgul aboard their great winged beasts (clearly Junkers designs, if you ask me - what's the difference between a Ju 52 and a flying Nazgul beast? Not much).

Anyway, whenever that scene comes up, I think about how cool it would be if they were F-15C Eagles coming in. How would an AMRAAM work against a Nazgul beast? Or would the Lord of the Nazgul be able to deploy some dark ECM to spoof the missiles? Does the Nazgul's segmented armor have some kind of inherent stealth property? Would a Sidewinder be able to guide on a winged beast's (presumably warmish) breath? Or would it turn into a knife fight at close range, where guns and swords become the primary weapons? And if an Eagle pilot shot down a winged Nazgul, does he get credit for one kill, or two? But since the Nazgul are neither living nor dead and can only be undone by swords made in Gondolin and imbued with special Elvish anti-Nazgul spells, does the Eagle pilot get credit for any kill at all?

It takes me ten or fifteen minutes to get my head back into the movie once such digressions set in.

All of this becomes relevant when you remember that yesterday was Black Friday. My preferred on-line hobby shop (Squadron) was having a Black Friday sale, and I decided that the time had come to finally buy a model I've wanted for a long time, the Tamiya 1/32nd scale F-15C. They run about $130, and that's just a bit more than I can see myself paying for one model. I'm game to buy just about anything up to the $100 point, but once a model crosses that threshold, a certain ouch-factor sets in and I find myself saying things like "Do you realize how many 1/144th scale airplanes I could buy for that sort of jing?"

To say nothing of the fact that I really don't have anywhere to put a 1/32nd scale F-15C once I finish it. But to an extent, the finished model isn't the point. Building it is the fun; having it just means I have to dust it and figure out where to put it and how to keep the cat from wrecking it. It's the difference between carving off a huge piece of pie and sitting down to eat it, and all the moaning and groaning that sets in later when you mumble "I shouldn't have eaten so much pie..."

So I got my cup of coffee and went to Squadron's website and commenced to buying stuff. But I went about it in the wrong order. Rather than putting what I most wanted in the shopping basket first (namely, the F-15C) I bought a whole bunch of other stuff, so that when I got around to looking at my shopping cart just prior to selecting the F-15, I swallowed my tongue. Cripes, $300 in models already, and I haven't even bought the F-15???

Clearly I had to get rid of a bunch of stuff in my cart. But I couldn't. I wanted it all. I wanted the Williams Brothers radial engine. I wanted the set of ICM figures. I wanted the Lindberg velociraptor. I wanted the Trumpeter M26 Pershing. I wanted the Minicraft EC-121. I began to panic. Finally, if only to prevent myself from having a complete nervous breakdown, I clicked on the Check Out button, just to have an end to the madness.

So - the Eagle was coming, but due to gross lack of discipline on my part, it isn't coming. I have nobody to blame but myself, but draw some solace from the fact that I can always go back tonight and order it anyway.

I'm wary of saying things like "Such-and-such an airplane was the best fighter ever built!" Such statements are usually pretty subjective, and in any event I'm not a fighter pilot and am not really qualified to have an opinion. But I will say that I really like the F-15's shape, and if I had to pick an airplane to be on my side in an air battle, it would be hard for me to bet against the F-15's undefeated record (there is some debate about what its actual record is, but I've seen 110:0 and have no reason to argue with those numbers).

Revell Do X

Revell's 1/144th scale Dornier Do X flying boat. It was a fun kit. I like the contraction between the rakishly pointed nose and the slabby wing that looks like it was carved out of a railroad tie, and the great profusion of engines and propellers gives it the appearance of improbably ornate Victorian machinery. The kit is pretty easy to build, and features really nicely detailed corrugations on the top of the wing and the leading edge, though those same corrugations are a nightmare to clean up - I just left them be, preferring the slightly visible seam over a much more visible smooth patch. The only real disappointment in the kit are the propellers - the blades seem kind of ill-formed to me, and the propeller hubs have heavy parting lines and flash. But they're hard to fix, because the blades are so thin they snap off if you look at them sideways. And that's bad, because there's a ton of propellers (stupidly, the only part of the kit that had any flash at all were the propellers - it figures).

The "biplane" elevators and ailerons are no picnic either. The mounts for one of the elevators was broken beyond repair when I opened the kit, and I elected to just leave it off entirely. If I hadn't mentioned it, you might not have noticed. Sources seem to differ on exactly what color it was. I settled for overall Tamiya aluminum, but I am prepared to be proven wrong. Not that I'll actually fix it; I'll just accept that I was wrong and move on.

But on the whole, it's a pretty nice kit of an airplane you don't see every day. The only really hard parts are the propellers and the biplane elevators. A few nips of Jim Beam to calm your nerves before starting the propellers might not be a bad idea - at least you won't care so much when you break one.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tamiya Stegasauri

So THAT'S why my lantana bush looks scraggly and unkempt - dinosaurs have been eating it! It's one thing after another. The squirrels go into hibernation, I finally fix the gates so the rabbits can't get through, and now it's dinosaurs eating the landscaping...

These are Tamiya's stegosaurus kits, of course. Curiously for a Tamiya kit, the fit wasn't especially good in places, especially the fit of the spinal plates to the bodies, and the seams are awkward and hard to fix. I concealed them by flowing multiple layers of Testor's liquid cement (the stuff in the little black bottles) around the seams, which eventually filled them in. But for a while the fumes were so thick I expected an intervention from friends and family urging me to seek professional help.

Clearly I need to build more predatory dinosaurs lest the ecosystem in my back yard go completely out of balance.

Chaos Howdah

I suspect that most modelers, if asked, could give you a list of modelers who inspired them, or in some way changed the way they think about their hobby. I know I can. Like a lot of modelers of my vintage, I was deeply influenced by the Shep Paine diorama inserts that Monogram shipped with their kits in the 1970s. Those were a masterstroke of marketing, if you ask me - I know I bought Monogram kits simply to get my trembling hands on the diorama inserts even if I didn't really give a wet slap for the kit itself. And here is perhaps the most inspiring one of the bunch:

This is, of course, Shep Paine's diorama of a downed US Navy TBD Devastator that shipped with the old-but-impressive 1/48th scale Monogram TBD kit. I found this diorama deeply inspirational, though on the surface, it doesn't appeal to me at all. I find the TBD uninteresting and, well, oogly. Downed airplane dioramas don't appeal to me in general. And since all of my experiments with making water with polyester resin have failed spectacularly, I generally forget that I ever tried.

But there's something about the ethic of this diorama that I found very inspirational. I didn't want to duplicate it, even when I was a wee lad who wasn't yet shaving. But something about Paine's skill and taste spoke powerfully to me. Maybe I didn't want to duplicate this diorama, and maybe I'd never be as good as Paine, but at least he showed me what was possible, and convinced me that there was more to modeling that just hastily gluing parts together and then just as hastily blowing them up again with firecrackers. Viewing this diorama insert seemed to tell me that modeling could be more than just stringy masses of Testors cement, vast gaps between parts, and shooting holes in vintage M48 tank kits with my trusty Remington .22 rifle (my old "Nylon 66" probably destroyed more enemy tanks than Michael Wittmann, and certainly more battleships than Mitsuo Fuchida could have dreamed of).

Another inspiration was actually a single picture submitted to the Reader's Gallery of FineScale Modeler magazine (henceforth referred to as "FSM", because the bicapitalization in "FineScale" just irks the hell out of me). It was a "chaos howdah" built by Fraser Gray. Fraser Gray is perhaps more famous for his AFV modeling, but the chaos howdah he built was just absolutely flabbergasting. It was a fighting platform mounted on two Airfix dinosaurs and manned (if that's the right word) by various 25mm figures that have all the characteristics of Citadel Miniatures. It was a delirium of dark wood, moss, chains and weird artwork. The banner surmounting the whole thing, a graveyard scene with a bloated moon hanging in a blood-red sky and shining through the gaunt black limbs of a tree... Words fail me. It was simultaneously creepy and cool, and it's one of the few models that I've ever deliberately intended to recreate on my own.

I wish I had a picture of it, but the only known photograph of it is in a copy of FSM that probably now occupies some fairly deep layer in an Arizona landfill. The media may be decomposing, but the memory of his fabulous howdah has remained with me over the years. I've always wanted to build my own rendition of it, and can finally report that I've at least started. I finally found a crucial missing element - 1/72nd scale "skeleton warriors" - and with a crew finally assembled and dinosaurs rounded up (Lindberg anklyosaurs), it was time to finally start cutting wood.

My version of the infamous Chaos Howdah, with the major pieces plopped atop one another, with a couple of skeleton warriors for scale. I may rebuild the upper deck, which seems a little beefy and might weigh the dinosaurs down. But then again, it's a chaos howdah and they're chaos dinosaurs; who's to say that they aren't really strong?