Chattanooga Model Con 2019: It’s all about the intangibles.

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This impressive 1/48 Vindicator won “Best Aircraft” of 2019

Of the shows that I have attended, or attend regularly, Chattanooga has the most unique judging methodology. In most other shows models are entered into general categories (aviation, armor, ships, figures, cars, etc), then divided into sub-categories (scale, time period, type, etc), and then judged against each other, usually by a team of judges. After judging, the top three builds of each sub-category are given awards, then from those winners, the top build of each category is given a “best of [category]” award, then there is a “best of show” award chosen from those winners. For lack of a better term, this is competitive model building. It is sport for artists.

Chattanooga does it differently. Model Con begins like most other shows by dividing models into categories but then disregards all sub-categories. Each model within a category is judged by a three judge panel. Awards are given (or not) for each build insofar as that every build is ostensibly judged against a perfect version of itself, not against other builds. The judges are allowed to award 1-5 points for build quality (5 being “near perfect”) and 1-5 points for finish (5 being “near perfect”). Then, the judges are allowed, but not required, to give up to 1 point for “intangibles”. Intangibles, as defined by the club itself, are a “reward for extra effort for tackling what [the judges] know to be a difficult kit, or for adding a significant amount of extra detail, or for making significant corrections to an inaccurate kit…or for presentation…or for ‘something special’.” The three judges scorecards are averaged and an aggregate score is given that correlates to an award.

  • Gold: 9.8 to 11 points.
  • Silver: 7.89 to 9.79 points.
  • Bronze: 6 to 7.88 points.

The judges at Chattanooga, regardless of this scoring system, are therefore explicitly given the leeway to choose the kit that will win the “best of” category (requires an average of a score of 11 based on all three judges giving the build 5s for both build quality and finish but also all adding a point for “intangible”) based on their subjective knowledge of the kit’s construction, or difficulty. This is the only show where I’ve seen an attempt to quantify or qualify what is otherwise known as “judge’s discretion”.

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All of mine were gold, but none went to 11.

All that said, the most interesting thing about the Chattanooga format is that the scorecards are returned to the modeler as feedback. For each build you can see how the judge scored the kit on build quality, finish, and intangible, often with notes.

Where other model shows are competitive, Chattanooga is, when at it’s best, a clinic. Not only is it a great gauge of the quality of your models, but the feedback can help drive your quality to the next level. I’ve found that in general their scoring system is indicative of how models will place at other shows that I attend and therefore it is a good barometer of how my skills are evolving. I give them 1 point for intangible for that effort, but a 4 of 5 on the quality of their experience otherwise.

The only negative comment that can be leveled against the Chattanooga show is that it is very long. The show itself is a two day affair and registration cuts off at noon on the second day. It is typically well after 4pm the second day before the awards are given. In fact, by the time awards are announced many, if not most, vendors have even packed up and left. As a man who loves everything about the hobby, and who spends a great deal of time looking through the various vendors tables and other entries, this show wears me down to attend. I am very ready to leave when it’s over.

That said, the quality of the entrants was, as per usual, high. I spent a great deal of time perusing the and admiring many of the builds (check out my full album of the event here). Below are a few of the builds that caught my eye:

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I give the award for “Most Ambitious” to this impressive 1/32 B-25 with lights and a spinning prop.
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The award for “Hardest to Transport” goes to this movie quality Millenium Falcon in what I can only guess is 1/32 scale?
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This 1/48 Spitfire with invasion stripes, spot on weathering, and beer barrels, gets my award for “Historically Accurate Intangibles”.
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My award for “Best Finish” goes to this Ford and Trailer. I marveled at that for a long time, and I don’t generally give cars too much attention.

In all it’s another great effort by the Chattanooga club, and the participants. I am looking forward to attending the IPMS Nationals that Chsttanooga will be hosting in August. Let’s hope I can get my P-61 finished in time.

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Tamiya’s 1/32 Spitfire Mk IX: Build it.

20181224_144439Almost two years ago I traded in 1/48 in favor of the larger scale.  My introduction to “man scale” was Tamiya’s 1/32 Corsair, and the following shift from 1/48 was tectonic and total.   Tamiya’s Corsair was so good, in fact, that it took several 1/32 kits from manufacturers such as Hasegawa, Trumpeter and Special Hobby to illustrate just how far Tamiya had knocked the Corsair out of the park.  It was Mark McGuire on steroids good.

The Tamiya experience was a paradigm shift in my perception of the build experience. It was like methamphetamine.  I knew I would always be chasing that high so I had to be judicious with building Tamiya.  For that reason, I have been hesitant to revisit any big Tamiya kits for an irrational fear that they really were that good. As such, I would get caught in a loop of only building Tamiya kits, letting the skills honed at the anvil of the likes of Special Hobby atrophy beyond recognition.  Well, having built Special Hobby’s 1/32 Tempest Mk V in the livery of Pierre Clostermann’s famous mount, I wanted to have one of his Spitfires as well.  Enter the Tamiya 1/32 Spitfire Mk IX.

The bottom line for everything I write below, is that like the second hit of meth, the Spitfire falls marginally but noticeably short of the Corsair.  It leaves you satisfied but wanting more.  Most notably, between the Corsair and the Spitfire, Tamiya has thrown down the gauntlet to every other manufacturer and will leave you asking why can’t [insert every other manufacturer] mold plastic this cleanly, with so few fit issues.

That said, unlike the Corsair, the Spitfire does have some rather infamous fit issues.  The fit of the multi part cowlings around the engine, and the engine sub assembly to the fuselage, leaves something to be desired.  This part of the build left me frustrated enough to hit pause on the Spitfire for a few months to let my froth subside and contemplate alternatives. Ultimately I decided to permanently affix three of the four cowlings, hiding a great deal of the work I had invested in Tamiya’s beautifully designed Merlin. The fit of the wing assembly to the bottom of the fuselage needed some relatively minor work to smooth out the transition between the parts. This sort of fit issue is pretty typical when compared to most other kits I’ve built, but stands out against a kit where very little filler was otherwise needed. Beyond that, follow the lengthy instructions and everything essentially falls together.

Of note, there are only a few places where I believe the aftermarket has provided quality additions to this model. 

1) As per usual I added HGW fabric belts.  The kit belts are photo etch, but the HGW offerings are truly a must have for any build. While the fabric belts take several hours to assemble, I think it’s worth the effort.

2) Tamiya’s tires are molded in rubber.  I have never liked this option and opted for a set of resin weighted wheels and tires as provided by Aires.  These were flawless, as I have come to expect using them on several other large scale builds. 

3) Don’t use Tamiya decals.  I’ve learned this lesson over the years and let my experience be your guide.  For most of the markings on this kit I used pre-cut masks from various manufacturers.  The end result with painting roundels is that even though it takes significantly more time than throwing down decals,  it is worth the effort. 

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The kit plastic, Eduard placards, and Aires control column and floor are shown here. 

4) I used parts from the Aires full cockpit but in hindsight believe this isn’t worth the effort. The Aires cockpit floor required too much effort to fit and was ultimately jettisoned in favor of the kit parts. Tamiya’s cockpit is good enough with the addition of some Eduard photo etch and some placard decals.

5) The Quickboost resin exhausts were a welcome and relatively cheap addition that didn’t require buggering up the weld lines on the kit plastic.  

6) I used AM decals to get Clostermann’s LO-D specific markings.  These were acquired on a decal sheet from, surprisingly, a French firm with markings specific to Free French Spitfires in 1/32.  I highly recommend these decals, if Clostermann or other Free French are your preferred markings for Spitfires.  Just plan well ahead as shipping to the US took a couple weeks. 

In sum, its a kit worth the money and time.  If you don’t have as much of either of those as you’d like, I still say you can get close with the new tool Revell offerings. 

Check out the completed build here.

Bristol’s Esoteric Blenheim – Part 1 – The Box

Built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company, the Blenheim was initially designed as a fast passenger airliner for the civilian world.  First flying in 1935, the Type 142 so impressed the Air Ministry that they ordered a modified design as a bomber.  Initial deliveries came in March of 1937.  The Blenheim served faithfully from the start of the war in September 1939 until 1944 in the RAF.  Finland kept them in service until 1948 when they were prohibited from flying bomber aircraft by the Paris Peace Treaty.

There have been many releases of the Blenheim throughout the years, but Airfix had set the bar with their 2014 release of the Mk.I and Mk.IVF in 1/72nd scale.  Now they’ve released the Mk.IF in 1/48 scale and it looks like it’s going to raise the bar even higher.

In this first part, we’re going to take a look at what comes in the box and what options there are for making the kit even better.

The first thing you see when opening the box are the sprues, 7 of which are molded in light gray.  The clear sprue looks beautiful.  The windows are crystal clear and the edges separating the windows and framework are very crisp.  One half of my canopy was separated from the sprue but it doesn’t appear to have any damage.

As you can see, the clear sprue is excellently molded.

In some early reviews, using test shots, it was mentioned that there was a shortshot in one of the wings.  It appears that this has been rectified in the production sprues.  The wings do have some raised rivets that are nicely molded, but there doesn’t appear to be any recessed rivets across the wings or fuselage.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the massive trenches that usually appear as Airfix panel lines are nowhere to be found. They may be a little bit bigger than I would expect on a 1/48 kit, but they are very reasonable.

The oddly arranged Blenheim cockpit is also molded rather well.  The instrument panel and radio stack is crisp and Airfix includes decals for the instrument faces.  About the only thing missing are seat belts, but Eduard already has a few photoetch sets planned or already released that will fill that gap.

Airfix even includes a pilot figure that seems to fit the bill in quarterscale, but I’ll be leaving him out of this build. For those of you who like to pose your aircraft in flight, this should be a welcome inclusion.

So what about the marking options?  Honestly, I’m not all that excited by them.  Airfix gives you two options out of the box, one of which is an early Battle of Britain scheme that appears on the Blenheim currently being flown by the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford.  It’s a great looking plane, but I like my builds to have some wartime significance.  The other option was flown during the war but is in a night-fighter scheme flown by an operational training unit.  Doing the night scheme intrigues me but I have plans for a night-fighter P-61 in the near future and I don’t want to burn myself out on one scheme.  I’ll most likely do a variation of the Battle of Britain look but not the markings for the ARC plane.

The decals themselves appear to be printed well, all in register, and with thin carrier film.  I’ll minimize their use as I often do but I’ll still need them for aircraft stencils.  Fortunately, the number of stencils on these planes is minimal.  Roundels and squadron letters will all be masked and painted.

When the Plastic Advocate asked me to review this kit for him I was super excited.  It’s not every day that you get to do a build and write about it for a friend, but I’m happy to do it here.  The Blenheim has its own little niche in the history of World War II and I can’t wait to build one of my own.  Stay tuned here, and at Life in Scale on facebook over the next few weeks for my in-depth look at the construction of Airfix’s new 1/48 Bristol Blenheim.

IPMS Middle TN, 2018

My fourth year back in the hobby, and my fourth year at the IPMS middle Tennessee show. The guys and gals that put on this show every November do a stellar job; it’s consistently organized and efficient with logical categories, fair judging and a great atmosphere. I have to give a great deal of credit to this show specifically for reigniting the flame I have for this hobby.

I don’t understand why this show doesn’t have significantly more entrants given its proximity to a major market like Nashville. That said, there seems to be a core group of attendees that consistently enter the quality of work that would be competitive at any of the “bigger” shows I have attended. Beyond them, there are always a few new people attending that bring their work from other major markets. Yesterday, for instance, I overheard a group of modelers say they had driven the four hours from Atlanta to attend.

One of the things that impressed me was the amount of youth involvement. The youth table was unusually full when compared to any show I’ve been to. This was further evident by the number of grasshoppers I saw during the awards announcements. I’m happy to see that interest in the hobby is growing among the younger crowd as I know how important this hobby was to me at their age. Even at my age it still gives me a sense of challenge, accomplishment, and a connection to history that was as equally important to me then.

For the second year in a row, and by some unbelievable miracle, I won best aircraft. Last year the 1/32 Tempest Mk V won, this year the 1/32 FW190A-7 took the prize.

All of the entries were great, some were outstanding. Here are just a few that caught my eye for any number of reasons.

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I will definitely be back for the 2019 version of this show.  Apparently 2019 will be the 40th anniversary of the Middle Tennessee Model show, and as that will also be my 40th year on this planet, I don’t think I can miss it.

Congratulations both to the IPMS Middle TN chapter for their hard work and a successful show, and to all of the modelers who put their work on the table to be judged.   Great job everyone!