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.

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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.

 

 

Revell’s 1/32 scale Spitfire MkIIa: 1/4 the cost of a Tamiya Spit, and 2/3 the quality.

If you base your modeling decisions on value, this kit needs to be top of the heap.  Revell’s new tool early war Spitfire is a gem where value intersects quality.  I highly recommend it to modeler’s of any skill.  That said, we are modelers and there are always things to complain about.

The first and major concern is, regardless of quality and how fun this kit was to build, this is actually not a Spitfire MkIIa out of the box.  It is closer to a Spitfire Mk V with a fantasy prop and spinner and incorrect ailerons. Or, it could also be a Spitfire MkIIa with an incorrect oil cooler, a fantasy prop and spinner, and incorrect ailerons.  You get to decide.

Either way, unsurprisingly, there are correction sets to let you go any way you want.  As I wanted an early war Spitfire, I chose the slightly more ambitious project of correcting the wing with a new resin set of ailerons, a corrected oil cooler, and a more detailed radiator, from Barracuda. It truly was an easy fix if you follow the instructions, with only having to cut out part of the kit wing out for the cooler and radiator. Everything fit beautifully, including the ailerons.

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Beginning surgery for the Barracuda corrections.

The second concern is that the canopy included with the kit doesn’t fit correctly in the open position.  It is too narrow to slide back over the fuselage and thus will sit noticeably too high on the spine if open.  The simple solution is to put the canopy in the closed position, where the canopy fits perfectly.  Closing the canopy partially solves another problem: out of the box the cockpit is a bit sparse for an open canopy inspection. This too can be corrected rather easily, but I chose the “good enough under glass” option. For my route I simply added some HGW fabric belts, and once again leaned on Barracuda for a replacement resin seat with armor (it’s head scratching why Revell left out the armor backing from their kit).   I even used the kit decal for the instrument panel and carefully applied 5-second fix to create the appearance of lenses.  I think it turned out rather well. It’s not Tamiya, but it looks good enough.IMG_0819.JPG

Construction was a breeze.  Everything fit like it should with no real issues along the typical trouble areas like the wing root.  The horizontal stabilizers actually fit better than my experience with Tamiya Spits, and it was a relief to not have to wrestle a full Merlin, four cowlings and tiny magnets.

The third and final concern is the fit of the landing gear legs into the wing.  There is no other way to describe it but sloppy.  I used some 15 minute epoxy and spent a few minutes checking the alignment of the legs to each other and the aircraft,  and let it set. I think it came out okay, but the issue here was surprising given the overall fit of the rest of the kit.

Finally, I painted, lightly weathered, and threw on Eagle Parts resin Rotol prop and spinner and called it done.

In sum this is a great kit. There are issues, but all kits have them. For the money, especially if you want a Mk V spitfire and don’t mind errors like an incorrect prop/spinner and or ailerons, this kit will surpass even much more expensive kits.  If you want an early war Spitfire, a Mk I or II, you can invest in some resin replacement parts, and with a little work have the best early mark spitfire in 1/32 scale.

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