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.

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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.

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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Revell of Germany’s 1/32 FW190A-8: Not bad, not bad at all.

Having recently finished Revell of Germany’s (“RoG”) 1/32 Spitfire MKIIa, I decided to crack into their 1/32 FW190A-8. The 190 was a far more ambitious effort by the German manufacturer, with a full engine and mounts included.

Part of what made the Spitfire a fun departure from my still in-progress Tamiya Spitfire MkIX was the simplicity of the build. Simplicity that was in no small part caused by a lack of cowlings to assemble over a complex engine like that found in the beautiful Tamiya Spitfire kit. Getting a perfect fit with those Tamiya parts is a chore that while undoubtedly better than most other kits could dream of pulling off, I’ve rarely seen executed flawlessly on a built model.

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Eduard’s Brassin Cockpit

Like the Spitfire, the detail in the cockpit is adequate, but this time I opted for Eduard’s Brassin replacement cockpit and HGW belts. The substantial but largely hidden increase in detail probably won’t be worth the cost to most builders, but I loved it. And, it fit perfectly. HGW fabric belts are the industry standard, in my view, and are a must-have purchase for any model I want to display with an open cockpit.

I also opted to replace almost anything that RoG intended to mold as a cylinder. As much good as can be said of the quality of the kit, RoG just hasn’t figured out how to mold small parts, particularly cylinders, in a way that won’t require prolific scraping of the mold seams to get something that resembles a circular cross section.  This means I ordered Master Model turned brass barrels and Eduards Brassin landing gear struts and wheels. All fit and worked as intended and added a splash of much needed detail in those areas. The metal landing gear were beautiful, added much needed strength, and fit perfectly.

The RoG propeller and spinner, to my eye, was wholly inadequate. This was replaced by what was ostencibly Eagle Parts resin.  After further review, I think my eBay purchase might have been a knock off of the Eagle Parts parts. Regardless, these look far better in accuracy than the kit parts, but they had their own issues. My resin props were tricky to assemble giving no real positive placement for the blades. You just had to plug the blade in to a hole on the spinner and try to align it correctly in all axis before the CA glue dries, while also doing the same to two other blades and hoping to get them aligned in a way that looks symmetrical. If you end up with the same blades and spinner I did, I’d suggest you make a jig, somehow, to get the blades aligned (or just buy the actual Eagle Parts, as it appears from the picture on their website that they have this issue solved).

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I initially contemplated having the engine completely closed in the cowling or I would have spent more time detailing, weathering, and wiring the thing.

Finally we get to the engine and cowling. Alignment issues here tend to propagate and magnify from the fire wall to the spinner. Then, you have to essentially build the cowling around the engine that likely isn’t aligned perfectly. This isn’t truly difficult, but is by far the most tricky part of the build. Its tricky enough that it will likely turn off many modelers who would find gaps and misalignment abundant if put together without multiple dry fit runs. Even so, I elected to display a cowling panel open, in part to display the better-than-average but could-be-better engine, but also to hide the gaps and misalignment that appeared around that final panel when everything else was aligned as good as I could get.

If I had to do this kit over again, I would certainly opt for the Eduard Brassin engine set. I think the substantial increase in detail, even if only visible through an open cowling, would really add that final pop to an otherwise very solid kit. And, if Eduard’s Brassin cockpit is an example, the fit of these parts would probably be better than the kit parts.

I wanted to do my 190 as one flown in the ETO. As such, I opted to use Kagero’s phenominal “FW 190s over Europe, part II“. I chose to do a FW190 A-7 as flown by Lt. Hans Ehlers, of 3./JG 1, from late 1943. To my eye, the back dating to an A-7 from the A-8 required moving the pitot in-board and leaving off the prominent upper wing bulges that would go over the cannon. I am certain that both Luftwaffe fan-boys and academics heads are exploding by my severe simplification and lack of understanding of the nuances between the two marks. Paint was Gunze RLM 74, 75 and 76 thinned 50/50 with Mr. Leveling Thinner over Mr. Finishing Surfacer black. Multi tone camouflage was completed using the Sotar 20/20 and free-handing the markings eyeing for a tight feather between the colors. Decals were a combination of those supplied in the Kagero book as well as HGW wet transfers and the kit decals.

With the RoG 190 as with their Spit IIa, the parts were well detailed and of generally high molding quality. The construction was a breeze with no real fit issues along the fuselage and wings, and the instructions are clear. A modeler with moderate skill, and significant patience, would be able to build this kit and end up with an impressive model capable of being displayed in flight with RoG’s included stand, or displayed in the usual parked configuration.

In sum, like RoG’s Spitfire MkIIa, this is a good kit, with some problems already addressed by the aftermarket. It’s generally a fun build that with an extra investment of time, and the sacrifice of some money to the AM gods, can really build into a stunner. In fact, my experience with these two Revell kits has been so positive, that I’m considering jettisoning the Tamiya 1/32 Mustang in my stash for RoG’s new tool D, ‘Stang.

A full photo journal of the build process is available here.