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.

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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You say you want to build a 1/48 Marauder? You’ve been warned.

 

In the early summer I was contacted about building a Martin B-26 Marauder as “Flak Bait” for a family friend who wanted it as a Christmas gift for a family friend of his (this family friend had actually flown on Flak Bait in December 1943).  After discussing some general parameters, such as scale, detail level, time investment and cost, we were set.

I found the options in 1/48 were a Monogram kit from 1978 and an Escii kit.  Having relatively recently built the re boxed Monogram 1/48 B-25 from the same vintage, I thought I knew what to expect. But, a Google search revealed there were only a half dozen or so build reviews, mostly from the early 2000s, and this lack of return was unusual if not concerning.  I ordered the Hasegawa boxing of the same. Thus began an odyssey that would last six months.

I began, as per usual, by reading through the few builds I could find of the Marauder online, and found that most builders, as per usual, complained of some considerable trouble with some part of the build. The gripes seem to cluster around the tail to fuselage joint and the issues with the clear parts in that area; the engine nacelle to wing joint; the lack of guidance or space to effectively fit enough weight forward of the gear to make it sit on its nose; the fit of the multi part cowlings, and; late 1970s soft detail (generally correct shape, raised panel lines, some detail inside but nothing spectacular).

For the first time in memory, and surprisingly, all reviews were correct. Not only correct, but they seemed to actually be too kind to the overall build process of this kit.  I’m used to taking the typical modern review and discounting most of it as incessant whining about how [insert kit here] isn’t on par with one of Tamiya’s recent master works that fall together leaving the modeler as little more than a painter of a three dimensional object. No, this kit would test almost every skill that I had.  The oddest thing about this relic is that a beginner with little experience and time could end with something that reasonably resembles a Marauder that would look to the uninitiated as being similar to the product that they would get out of a Tamiya Mustang/Spitfire/BF-109 in the same scale.  Conversely, to build this kit into something that an experienced modeler would get out of a similar Tamiya kit, takes an intense investment in time, effort, money, patience, and tears. I’m not sure I succeeded, either.

I could spend paragraphs griping about all of the issues I had, but I will just try to boil it down. Here are the main issues, and how I believe the intrepid modeler can deal with each.

  1. Cowlings. Throw the kit parts away and look for the Loon Models corrected version. You’ll still have some sanding to do and careful fitting to get it to join the nacelles properly, but you won’t have to deal with trying to maintain the shape of the cowling after filling the huge gaps left by Monogram. Note the fantastic Quickboost engine above the Loon cowling.

2. The nacelle to wing joint.  Good luck.  You’re just going to need a great deal of patience to fill and sand this area.  As I had decided to scribe the whole model, I wasn’t worried about obliterating panel lines here.  I used my trusty quad grit sanding stick, sanding sponges, several layers of gap filling super glue followed by a couple layers of Bondo to assure a smooth transition.  Patience and time here will go a long way to assuring the model builds into something nice. Without a great deal of work, especially around the nacelle tips that in places had a gap of a 1/4″ or more, there is no way to build the model without considerable gaps and steps.

IMG_10243. Weight.  I bought three bags of fishing weights and installed one each in the front of each nacelle and behind the cockpit bulkhead in what would be the radio room. Luckily I ended up with a spare kit, and used the spare cockpit bulkhead as a rear face on the weights in case anyone could actually peer into the radio room through the two tiny windows. As I found in the completed build, you can’t see anything inside there, so don’t be too worried if you don’t have an extra kit. The good news is it sits on its gear perfectly (I would also suggest using SAC metal landing gear to help bear the increased load).

IMG_10534. Fit of clear parts. If you aren’t already comfortable sanding and polishing clear parts, you will be after this build.  Beyond the canopy, nose cone, and tail gunner’s glass, there are no fewer than 8 other windows that will need to be installed before you close up the fuselage. Most of these clear parts had sizable gaps around them requiring some gap filling super glue and lots of sanding and polishing to return them to clarity (be careful not to sand flat spots on the fuselage).  The canopy, nose cone, and tail gunner’s glass all needed the same treatment. In fact, when I was done with the canopy glass I had sanded and polished off all of the raised detail.  To get the windows in place on the canopy, I carefully created the canopy ribbing with Tamiya tape and used Eduard’s & Montex masks as guides. It took a great deal longer than I had expected and the results were adequate.

There were other more minor issues, to be sure.

-The kit decals were 13 years old and had been destroyed necessitating finding the aftermarket decals for Flak Bait.

-The wings are supposed to have a 1 degree anhedral but sag a bit if allowed to rest on the kit spars. I got as close as I could.

-The tail to fuselage joint is an odd step. Use your imagination here when trying to figure out a solution. I’m not sure that I did.

-The bomb bay doors were clearly not designed to be displayed in the closed position.  Spend the extra time to build out the bomb bay with the doors open. It will take less time than trying to fill the odd gaps left by the kit parts fitting into the openings molded into the fuselage.  Also, the crew apparently accessed the rear of the ship through the bomb bay so sitting with the doors open could be an accurate portrayal of a parked Marauder.

-The landing lights are laughable but provide a good base for some scratch building. Check your references and go to town.

This was a process that just took time, patience, ingenuity and some old fashioned luck.  Unless you are an absolute beginner and gaps and weird fit aren’t an issue, or you are a relatively skilled B-26 fanatic and must build a B-26 in 1/48 scale, I would suggest you steer clear of this kit.  Anything in between will end in tears and disappointment.

Speaking of tears and disappointment, the day after I delivered this kit to my customer, who was going to deliver it to the man who flew on Flak Bait in December 1943, I was told that the latter had been admitted to hospice with only days to live. The intended recipient might not ever get to see the model built in his honor. To Mr. Greer, and those quiet souls like him who risked and gave so much in their youth, I say godspeed and thank you for a life well lived.

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