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.

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!

Adequate is the word: Airfix’s “new tool” 1/48 Sea Fury.

Like most modelers I spend a great deal of time online reading reviews of kits.  I  do this from the planning stages of a build through the build itself. This exercise helps me decide between different kit manufacturers for a specific subject, and to try to streamline the build process while avoiding any unknown potholes.  I have some reviewers whose evaluation I trust completely (ex: Brett Green) and others whom I won’t mention that I will not even click a link if I see their name (either because their build quality is consistently low, or my experience shows their evaluations of kits are consistently off the mark). The one thing I’ve noticed is that we, as modelers who write reviews, tend to fall into an easy trap: social media has lead us to believe being interesting is being hyper critical and negative.   I try to avoid that, but it’s easier to point out the things that go wrong, than the things that go right.

Writing about this Airfix kit it would be easy to come off as too critical. And, perhaps being too critical is fair in an instance where the kit is newly designed and released in the past year.  The first issue with my kit was that it was one of the kits with the short shot tail.  This is nothing more than poor quality control, in my view, but is not in any way a difficult thing to fix if you have worked with gap filling super glue and a sanding stick before.  Otherwise, the quality of the moldings, at least for the large parts, was very good.  The choice to make the panel lines trenches, and to mold in rivets that would be golf ball sized if scaled up is very questionable, but cleanly molded. The fit of the parts is generally fantastic and it required very little in the way of filler. Small parts, on the other hand, still show signs of comparatively mediocre molding quality with numerous seam lines that will need to be dealt with.  Good luck trying to get anything cylindrical to look like a cylinder in cross section after dealing with the molding issues. Similarly some of the sprue gates are more reminiscent of a short run kit than the quality that should be expected from a major manufacturer like Airfix.  In other words for a kit issued so recently, it is very clear that Airfix has made huge strides in the design department but their molding process, while better than some of their other offerings, is not progressing anywhere near as quickly. I’m hopeful that they keep going in the direction they are, because this, like their newer Hawker Hurricane Mk 1, are very satisfying kits to build and to display.

On to the build…

20181006_150957What I learned from building the Special Hobby Tempest Mk V was that the cockpit in a Tempest, or a Tempest derivative like the Sea Fury, is very difficult to see once completed.  That’s good because the stock cockpit is what I would only call adequate. The Sea Fury’s cockpit is basically black, instead of the grey green one is used to in other Royal aircraft of similar vintage, making any detail, or lack thereof, even more difficult to see.  I built the cockpit out of the box, assembling it completely,  then painting it a warm dark grey, dry brushing everything with a neutral grey, then picking out a few details either per the directions, or by looking at references.  I used a little silver dry brushed on the floor to simulate wear, then gave it all a dark wash. The instrument faces are the decals provided in the kit, allowed to settle in, then drops of Bondic were used to create the lenses.  The only aftermarket parts I used were Eduard fabric belts. I did buy a set of Quickboost gyro gun-sights with plans of using them as the kit does not include one, but they didn’t arrive in time for me to use.

20181007_231607Assembly after the cockpit is quick and easy.  In a few short steps one has the fuselage together and the bottom of the wing with gear bay and wing spar installed. Fit is excellent, in my view.  The issue comes with building the cowling. Molding here is not as exceptional and some of the detail is too soft.  There are replacement corrected cowlings coming to the market to fix this, but I went with the kit parts. Getting these together was the only part of the build that took any effort at all.

I opted for the folded wing version so I cannot discuss the fit of the wing should you want to go extended. Simply following the directions here will result, unsurprising, in a Sea Fury with folded wings.  I like that look.

20181021_181728From here it is just an exercise in following the instructions. There are only a few issues that one should be made aware of as far as fit. First, the wing tip navigation lights do not fit spectacularly.  I drilled holes in to each to replicate bulbs, painted them green and red, installed them with a liberal application of gap filling superglue, then sanded the lights/superglue to the contour of the wing tip.  After that it was just a matter of polishing up the lights and masking them for paint.  Second, the rockets that I was excited to display are molded as halves of a pair of rockets on each rail.  It was going to take more effort than I wanted to clean up the seams of the rockets due to being molded as pairs so I elected to simply cut off the rockets and install the empty rails. I did purchase an Eduard Brassin set of rockets but they arrived all sorts of mangled and that idea was ultimately jettisoned.

After that, it was simply a matter of priming and painting the clean two-tone Extra Dark Sea Grey over Sky. I use Mr. Paint lacquers. Photographs of Sea Fury’s in the Korean theater, as is the marking option I decided to use, indicated that beyond some exhaust staining, and typical prop wear, weathering is relatively light. The Airfix decals are…adequate.  I’m not sold on the color on the roundels, and to get the bigger decals to settle required multiple applications of Solvaset and an X-Acto knife. I opted to use a subtle dark and medium grey pin wash from Mig’s naval aircraft weathering set to add a patina of use and to tie everything together. Finally, some highly thinned Tamiya smoke built up slowly for the exhaust.

Then it was time to add the landing gear, gear doors, prop and pitot.

Bing. Bang. Boom.

Sea Fury!

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