Tamiya’s “White Box” 1/48 P-38F/G – First Thoughts, Part 1

Last weekend at the IPMS Nationals held in Chattanooga, I was able to get my hands on a pre-release boxing of Tamiya’s new tool P-38. As a lover of all things P-38, I enthusiastically shoved everything on my workbench onto the floor and dove right in.

Having been on this a week, there is already so much to discuss (beyond my unbridled enthusiasm from being one of the first in the world to build a kit).

  1. The cockpit detail out of the box, is fantastic.
  2. The fit and finish is typical Tamiya, if not even better. There are no flaws in the plastic, and the typical issues with building a twin boom fighter appear to have been addressed by some clever engineering.
  3. As great as everything is, at least so far, there are some head-scratching issues. Tamiya has decided, and this might be a pre-production issue that will change in the production kit, to rely too heavily on decals for details. The instrument panel decal is fantastic, and not unusual in this scale, so I’m not complaining about that (although I would have liked Tamiya to do the clear plastic IP with decals for the dial faces that go on the back, like their big kits). But, the decision to use decals for the radiator grill faces that sit on both sides of the booms and to create the holes in the cooling jacket of the prominent gun barrels protruding in the nose, is disappointing, at best. Don’t get me started on decal seat-belts (I already ordered HGW fabric belts to replace them). I’m certain that the aftermarket will quickly fill this space, so I suppose none of this is a huge issue.
  4. Everything has gone together in a way that is mind blowing and easy easy. Even with multiple panel inserts, leading edge inserts, and other pieces that have obviously been created in a way to release several different variants of the Lightning, it just falls together with no issue. I’ve been working on this sporadically for only a few days this week and already have the fuselage and wings together.
  5. Tamiya appears to have engineered a brilliant solution for a notorious tail sitter. They have provided three metallic spheres that sit on cups built and hidden in the model; one in the nose, and one in the engine compartment of both nacelles. I’m sure they’ve made and checked their calculations, but I still can’t help but be a little concerned that the end result will fall back on its tail.

Hopefully mid-week I will have an update with the boom assembly which is where the trouble begins with most other P-38 kits. If you have any other specific things you would like me to focus on, or discuss, let me know.

Until then, I keep the in-progress album updated.

2019 IPMS Nationals: Chattanooga Choo Choo!

961 people entered.

They came from as far away as Japan.

They came from cultures as different from Chattanooga as Argentina, Canada, or Palo Alto, California.

They were young, old, men, women, and any variation in between.

They brought over 3000 models to be judged.

Two even got engaged during the show.

The quality was stunning, and the experience was phenomenal. I have never been as humbled walking through a show and looking at the models on display. I was certain that I was, at best, only average. To leave with three awards and two models to be featured in Fine Scale Modeler magazine was something that left me swollen with pride.

And then, my wife said “Is that good?”. :/

As if I needed further proof that we are not normal. We don’t need proof that as different as we all are and from many varied backgrounds, we share something that most people don’t understand.

We’re mutants.

We get “it”, and for a brief moment in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we celebrated that together.

Speaking of celebrating, I took over 350 pictures and didn’t come close to getting a shot of every model on the tables. Of those all were fantastic, but a few, for any number of reasons, stood out to me and were interesting. Check these out.

As with anything that relies on subjective criteria, there were choices made that could be debated. That said, there weren’t any choices made that I could say were wrong insofar as what I could see of the awards given. The quality was so good, the top 3 in almost any category could be interchangeable. In fact, the top ten in most categories were probably close enough to be argued to be the best. The overall quality was astounding and I don’t envy the job of the judges.

As well as this show was ran, however, I think there is still room for improvement:

One thing that bothers me, and it isn’t unique to this show, is when models are moved in favor of others, especially late entrants. I purposefully got to the venue early enough on Wednesday to make sure I could put my models on the table. When I returned on Saturday, my models had been moved and shuffled around. Three of them suffered minor damage in the move (pitot tubes were knocked wonky, and one set of aerials was stretched and sagging). To be fair, one had a judges note that they pitot was misaligned but it didn’t affect the judging, and it wasn’t difficult to fix when I got home. But still, damage from third parties due to a move is avoidable. Could the pitot or sagging aerial have affected the judging? Of course. In fact, one could argue that in a contest with quality this high, those things should have mattered. I think the solution is that tables can be marked off in grids, and pre-registrants buy a space. Late entrants can still get a spot in any unsold spaces, or at an overflow table that can be scaled infinitely.

Another thing is how some modelers demand more space than their model requires, further exasperating the point above. They do this by using bases, and pedestals, often that the model is not affixed to. Some are the size of server’s trays. Others raise the model off of the surface in an unnecessary way that tends to just obscure models around it. Some bring paperwork and literature that stands up off of the table like a science project tri-fold board. Models should not be moved to make space for that, nor should (at least in my view) people be allowed to put their model on pedestals or to have literature surrounding their model, that obscures other models or takes up a disproportionate amount of space. This issue would get fixed by my grid suggestion above, with a statement that any additional materials have to be attached to the model entry form, can be no larger than letter size, and must lay flat on the table, under the model.

Another issue I had was the length of the Saturday portion of the show and the awards. At 4pm I could not get back into the venue to get my models as the judges were putting the awards out. At 7:15pm the award ceremony started. At roughly 8:30 they finally got into the actual awards. At roughly 10:30pm I was back in the model room. At 11:45pm, after three long trips to the parking garage, I was finally loaded up and ready for the two hour drive home. That’s a very long day. To make it worse, as I was trying to burn several hours in Chattanooga, the vendors had mostly evaporated well before the doors were locked in the model room. My suggestion, as the judging occurred Friday night, would be to put out the awards in each category, after judging but before the venue opens on Saturday. That way the Saturday visitors can see, and appreciate, the best three in each category. An awards ceremony should absolutely be held to announce special awards winners, best of category winners, best in show, and all of the ancillary congratulation and business meetings that are required for a show of this scope, but I don’t think a 6-8 hour block in the schedule is requried.

Finally, and probably the most controversial, is a discussion about the merits of the so-called “Spanish School” of building. I define the “Spanish School” by comparison: it is the difference between Picasso and the later realist movements. It has taken over so much of the hobby, and when done well is gorgeous, interesting, and provides a pop that certainly stands out. But, I wouldn’t say it is particularly “real”. It is weathering and tonal variation overdone to the point of looking like the picture of an average looking person who is made up then ran through instagram filters until they look like someone different. It looks like the expression of an emotion instead of a nod to reality. It is a mood, not a visualization. It seems like what armor builders imagine of aircraft. I can appreciate the skill of the work, and the effort involved, without agreeing with the merits. To me, a significant nod should be given to realism. A picture of the model next to a picture of the real thing, should find little difference. Ironically, a great deal of the people who practice in the Spanish School would also tell you that they want realism in panel lines, rivet count, engine wiring, and other shape and visual indicators. They will argue endlessly about the correct shade of a color on some obscure Russian Yak, but then want to wipe all that away with exceedingly exaggerated color saturation, shading, weathering, and otherwise. I understand this is a wholly subjective critique of what is essentially a hobby of art…now get off my lawn!

In all, this was an amazing event. My criticisms are merely suggestions on how to refine something that is stellar already. My thanks to IPMS Chattanooga, and my congratulations to everyone who attended. You inspire me.

The Blenheim Part 2 – Building the Thing

The Blenheim – Part One

I know every modeler goes through it, but I’ve been in a rut again for the last, I don’t know, two months? I finished up the Blenheim at the end of March, just in time for Pittsburgh’s TRICON show sponsored by the Three Rivers IPMS. It was another good show. I brought home some gold and silver as well as best aircraft for my Mk VIII Spitfire. But then I started a project for the Fighter Pilot Podcast.

It was going smoothly for a while. Using Kinetic’s F/A-18C as a base, I’m building the host’s (Jell-o) Bug from VFA-94. I was able to find squadron markings from a few sources but obviously had to make custom decals for his individual plane. The custom markings really slowed me down. So much so that I really lost interest and have spent a good bit of time away from the bench.

I usually take photos of my finished builds as soon as I finish them but the Blenheim was a different story. For whatever reason, probably the Pittsburgh show, I didn’t take the pictures and stuck her on a shelf. I also didn’t take the time to write the second part of this review which is now a few months behind. So without further ado, let me give you a look at how the Blenheim went together.

It’s cliche, but I started in the cockpit.  Everything went together well there for the most part.  The plastic that Airfix uses seems rather brittle and one of the mounts for the pilot seat was broken.  I was still able to get it together but it made construction in that area a little more challenging.

The assembly does go together well, though (even with the broken mount), and with the wing struts connected it is very solid.

After assembly I painted the cockpit and interior walls with AMMO of Mig’s Interior Grey-Green and an assortment of other colors for the details.  I was unable to find Eduard’s photo-etch belt set so I made my own with some rolled lead wire and photo-etch buckles.  Once covered by the glass they’ll be a good enough representation. I’m still not sure, however, what the big pack is behind the pilot’s seat. I’ve heard that it’s a raft or some kind of parachute but I’ve found nothing definitive.  It probably shouldn’t be grey-green but until someone can show me otherwise, that’s how it is.  (Also too late to change it at this point)

Once all the detail work was finished and the halves were closed up, I was able to install the cockpit glass. As I mentioned back in Part 1 of the review, the clear parts are beautifully molded, but I’m not a fan of how they go together with the fuselage. The way it is engineered, two halves of glass mate on either side of the fuselage and if anything is off just a little bit, it throws off the alignment of the entire thing. Fortunately, the gaps that I had left were manageable and I was able to move onto masking the individual panes quickly.

I masked with a combination of Tamiya tape cut into thin strips and Gunze Mr. Masking Sol Neo.

It was time to prime, but first I sprayed the framework of the clear parts interior grey-green so it would be the proper color from the inside. On bigger projects I like to mask and paint the inside of the glass, but on something this small, it was just easier to paint in reverse from the outside.

I used my favorite primer for aircraft, Mr. Surfacer 1500 Black, to get an even surface for the coming paint layers. The MS1500 does a really nice job of highlighting areas that need some touch up work while sanding smooth and providing depth to my paint work. I prefer to use it on aircraft over Badger’s Stynylrez or AMMO’s One Shot (both are the same primer, just rebranded for the European market) because of its durability. MS1500 is lacquer based so it really likes to hold onto the plastic. On armor or vehicles the self leveling properties of the Stynylrez/One Shot make it ideal for getting in some of the nooks without paint building up or spidering out of control.

The first application of primer revealed some minor areas that needed work, mainly around the cockpit and at the wing root, so I took care of them and laid some more primer to cover the freshly worked spots and to have a solid surface on which to begin actual paint work.

One thing I’ve noticed about Airfix plastic is that it’s relatively soft.  And because it’s soft it shows some sink marks that are especially noticeable in large flat areas with little detail.  In the photo of the wing root above, you can see some of the sink marks in the trailing quarter of the wing as well as right in the wing root.  It’s not a death sentence, but it is something to keep in mind and to correct if you’re looking for a perfect surface.

I didn’t worry about filling the sink marks and, fortunately, they hid pretty well after I started getting paint down.  I used Gunze Mr. Color paints for a few reasons.  The first being that I prefer to use lacquers on aircraft due to their strength and resistance to lifting.  I can mask all day over colors that are already put down without much of a concern of pulling anything up.  Granted, I still don’t pull tape off like a gorilla but keeping the tape close to the surface as I pull it back over itself gives great results.

Another reason for these paints is the color.  There are no paint manufacturers out there who get colors exactly right, and the way I vary the surface it doesn’t mean much anyway, but I’m a fan of Gunze’s representation of RAF Dark Green and Dark Earth.

Finally, lacquers, and Mr. Color in particular, can be sprayed extremely small.  I generally have a process when I paint.  I start with a black primer and once it’s down and I’m happy with the surface, I’ll begin with a marble coat that breaks up the solid color that would be found if I just sprayed evenly.  This marble coat, especially on 1/48 and smaller, needs to be sprayed in a very tight and controlled randomness.  The Mr. Color line can be thinned very far and is perfect for this tight pattern.

For all my love of the Mr. Color line, when it comes to painting black, nothing beats MR. Paint’s black for night camouflage.  It’s a perfect not-black.  We all know that when you actually paint black, you don’t want to use black so you have somewhere to go with shadow and depth.  The MRP night black is just dark enough to look black, but it’s gray enough to allow for some room for shadow.  When I painted the black on the belly, I preshaded a few lines with some RAF Ocean Grey from MRP. This gave me exactly the look I was going for on the belly.

At this point we have a mostly finished aircraft. What we don’t have are markings. I always feel like this is when a model really comes to life. Weathering helps but it’s really once markings start going down that I start getting excited. There aren’t a lot of markings included so quick work was made getting them put on. I’d typically mask and paint the RAF roundels on the wings and waist, but I decided to use the nicely printed decals that came along with the kit. They’re not the best decals I’ve used, but they’re quality. With some microset and microsol the decals conformed to the few panel lines I needed them to.

One of the few things left to do were the engines. They’re pretty simple and what you’d expect from a 1/48 piston fighter. Detail is a little bit clunky on the engine pieces but once they’re inside the cowl and behind the prop, they’re pretty hard to see anyway. There is something interesting about the Blenheim’s engines, it’s a trait they share with the Bristol Beaufighter. There is an exhaust collection ring that sits on the forward part of the cowling that has some very distinct heat staining. Unfortunately, they didn’t turn out as good as I had hoped. The engine assembly then mounts to a keyed lug on the wing.

Just like that there is one final thing to do before I can call her done. The dorsal turret. The Blenheim came with a spine mounted .303 Vickers VGO machine gun that provided defense above and behind the aircraft. Airfix includes a jig for aligning all the parts of the turret which went together without out much of a problem. Where I did have an issue was with the soft plastic. The very tip of the Lewis Gun barrel broke off and, because it’s so thin, was very difficult to reattach. The better solution here would have been to try to replace the barrel with some wire. Unfortunately the only wire I had was soft and would not have looked the part, so I repaired the barrel the best that I could. It passes the eye test.

Installing the turret came with no real surprises. Airfix engineered it in such a way that it slots in and can be installed after everything is together.

Overall, I was happy with the build, there were things I wish I had done differently but that’s the case with everything I finish. Part of my process is always to go back and review the build and see where I could make improvements. In this case, I wish I had taken more time in the actual finish. I could have worked more layers into the dark green/dark earth that would have added some visual interest. I’d also replace the Lewis gun in the turret with something aftermarket that had better detail as the gun is a visible part of the finished kit.

I’m glad to have done her though and she was a good experience for my first Airfix kit. I may end up putting her on a small base but right now she’s happy to sit on a shelf in my newborn’s nursery.

Putting the “special” back in Special Hobby: Building the 1/32 “Hi-Tech” Yak-3.

spe-cial

adjective

  1. better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual (emphasis mine).

By now, I am pretty confident with what I am going to get from a Special Hobby kit. In this case, as with their Tempest V, “special” means short run. Short run means an interesting and often under represented subject, with engineering that goes from as good as can be expected to sloppy, with detail to match.

Their kits are relatively simple in execution, which is great when one is looking for an escape from Tamiya or more complicated and ambitious builds, as I was.  But, while there should be a time cost savings in parts simplicity, there is a time penalty when some things need significantly more attention.

There were three significant issues with this build.

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The first is that the kit came with multiple broken parts including, astoundingly, parts of the wing.  To compound this issue, I either had to wait on the U.S. distributor of the kit to get replacement parts from the manufacturer, or buy a new kit.   I opted to buy a replacement kit and was going to use the replacement parts from the manufacturer to refill the parts in the kit, and then re-sell the unused kit. I’m still waiting on the replacement parts.

The second is the wheel wells.  Like the aforementioned Tempest V, Special Hobby has an almost singular ability to make construction of the wheel well as frustrating as possible.  It’s the worst combination of bad design and poor parts fit.  My solution, after ruining one set of wheel bay inserts, was to simply leave the parts that run along the leading edge of the wing out until the wing was closed, and then trim, sand, file those to fit.  Good luck. Also like the Tempest V, this seems like it could be easily remedied with resin replacement wheel bay inserts.  Note that the issues with the wheel bay parts also throw off the construction of the little intakes on the leading edge of the wing.  Be prepared to play some jazz here.

Third are the instructions.  Special Hobby’s instructions are beautiful, but sometimes utter and complete nonsense. There is no guidance I can give here except to read the instructions enough to commit them to memory so you understand what they want you to do, and then disregard all of that using your experience and constant dry fitting to determine the build sequence.

I wish I could say those were all of the problems, but they aren’t.  Those are just the problems that are unusually difficult for a build of this scope.

All of that said, this model was a fun and worthwhile departure from the meandering and ambitious P-61A I’ve been building for almost 8 months.  And, one of the weaknesses mentioned above, that of the wheel well and landing gear, turns into one of the best aspects of the build (after you’ve pulled all of your hair out getting it together).

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Similarly, the cockpit was well detailed out of the box and fun to build, paint and weather.  I hand painted the whole thing except for the individual cockpit dial decals. I knew that would be good enough given that I intended on closing the cockpit and a close inspection would be almost impossible. Note here that there is very few in the way of positive location features and good fit/alignment comes from lots of test fitting and patience.

20190406_130147-COLLAGE.jpgThis kit took significantly less time than other builds I have done in this scale, a mere 40 days from start to finish, even with some extra time being spent to work with the problem areas.  It’s a good kit of an important subject that builds into an impressive addition to my World War 2 fighter collection.

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See the “glamour shots” here.