Saturday, May 9, 2020

Polishing a Turd, or Setting the Bar Low

Somehow, I had this Monogram snap-together Spitfire kit lying around (I never belonged to their Young Model Builders' Club) and decided the best way to get rid of it was to build it. It's not much of a kit, with stickers instead of decals. I guessed at first it was 1/72 scale, but I measured the wingspan and found it about 10% oversize for 1/72, which makes it approximately 1/64, which is the scale that Scalemates . Anyhow, I'd already decided to use some Scale-Master decals I had saved from an old Encore kit that I let my daughter complete the way she wanted when she was about 3 years old. (She painted it red and pink.)

This wasn't going to be a serious build, just something to hang up in my workshop. The markings I chose were for P7666, call letters EB-Z, a presentation aircraft from the Observer Corps, the personal aircraft of Sqn. Ldr. Donald Osborne Finlay of No. 41 Squadron in late 1940.
I printed out the camo pattern sized to the model and cut a template. I traced this and brush-painted it over black primer using some Humbrol acrylics that came with an Airfix kit. These tiny plastic vials of paint are tricky to stir without spilling and the weight of the lid makes them want to tip over, but they go on nicely with a brush and as far as I can tell accurately represent RAF colors. A little internet research gave me to understand that in the early years of WWII, the underside color of RAF day fighters was usually Sky Blue, aka Duck Egg Blue. Less commonly used was Sky, aka Sky Type S or Duck Egg Green (or a similar but lighter and greener color Eau-de-Nil). Least common was Sky Grey, normally used by the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command, but apparently this color was used by No. 41 Squadron. This color was more of neutral grey than the others, lacking their bluish or greenish hue, so I used some Testors Flat Camouflage Grey acrylic I had since it seemed a fair match.

As I recall, the Encore kit (from a Heller mold) is a little overscale, say 1/69, so the decals I used should be sized accordingly. At any rate, while the markings are still undersized for the Monogram kit, the only place it really shows is the tail flash, which is clearly too short.

I wanted to use this kit to try out washi tape for the first time. I masked the canopy with it and found the results satisfactory. I also masked off the red rectangles on the leading edge of the wing where tape was applied over the gunports, but I'd have gotten better results here just freehanding it. The washi tape also lifted a decal. Ouch! I touched it up with a Gundam marker.

The kit's representation of the main gear and their bays is laughable, and I wanted it to show it in-flight anyway, so I cut out the shallow bays to modify it so the gear are retracted. This left peg holes that I filled, and would have required even more work to show the gap where the top of the door doesn't quite cover the bay, but it wasn't worth the effort.

I also tried ways to avoid decal silvering. Decal silvering is the bane of my existence, though I must admit it's not too horrible a bane, as banes go. I gave the plane a coat of Future and used Micro Sol to wet the areas where I applied the decals, then more Micro Sol, and rolled a Qtip over the decal to press out the excess. Mostly it worked, but I also carefully chipped away clear carrier film with the tip of a #11 blade, used a pointy brush to get more Micro Sol or Micro Crystal Clear under the decal, and touched up with paint. And I still see a few little flecks of silvering. Aaarghhh!

So now I have a Spitfire hanging in my workshop. If it were some kind of masterpiece, I might find a safer place for it, but this way it livens up my workshop. Besides, if I decide I don't like it anymore, I can always stuff it full of firecrackers, like back in the good ol' days.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Hasegawa 1/72 Isuzu TX-40 Fuel Truck and Toyota GB Starter Truck

Speaking of gems, these must be the crown jewels of Hasegawa's 1970s braille scale vehicles. National pride really encourages model companies to do their best tooling!

Both first came out in 1974, according to Scalemates. The molding is so good, I decided to do some detailing on each in an effort to get the whole model up to the quality of the basic kit. The starter truck has rigging added to the boom that supports the drive shaft that spins the aircraft prop, and a bit of chain to hold up the drive shaft, like on the real thing. I also added canvas doors to the sides of the cab, made from paper and cellophane, glued with Micro Crystal Clear and painted with Humbrol. I wanted the starter truck to appear older, so it's much more heavily weathered than the fuel truck, and painted in a different tan color.

The fuel truck has a refueling hose made of solder, with a nozzle I fabricated from various bits, made to scale from drawings I found online. Both vehicles have windshield wipers I made from tiny slivers of styrene. I dirtied up the windshields with extremely thinned enamel and used a toothpick to clean the dirt away as the windshield wipers would do.

Hasegawa bills the fuel truck as Japanese Army/Navy, but of course it's got the Army star, not the Navy anchor. I've got another of these in my stash that's going to get the star shaved off and replaced with an anchor, then be painted blue to represent a naval fuel truck. The starter truck is simply billed as army, and I don't know offhand whether the Japanese Navy used them. None of the images of Toyota starter trucks in my references shows one in naval service.

Oh, by the way, the starter truck this kit represents may not be a GB. According to the Wikipedia article, it is instead a KC, a version simplified for wartime production. However, the article also states that the KC had a plywood cab (the kit clearly represents a steel cab) and that the KC wasn't produced before November 1943. Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-1945 by Henry Sakaida shows a good photo of a Toyota starter truck starting a Ki-27, and it looks exactly like this kit. The caption makes the credible claim that it's 1939. At any rate, the photo cannot have been taken as late as November 1943!

So these models are another example of the unplanned impulse modeling than can result from raiding kits for parts: I needed a figure for my Fine Molds midget sub, and converted one to represent the sub's captain, but also built these kits I was raiding. The included figures are obviously in army uniforms. And nicely sculpted figures they are! More national pride at work, no doubt.

...and Braille Scale Kettenkrad

And here's the 1/72 Kettenkrad that comes with the Schwimmwagen in the Hasegawa kit (31113, originally MB-103). Not much to say about this, other than I'm still using up stocks of Polly Scale paints (Panzer Yellow and Grimy Black, to mention two). The seated figures that come with it are pretty awful, but there's a standing figure who might be usable. I won't embarrass Hasegawa by showing you what the figures look like. Instead, here's another of their early vehicle models, from 1973! Sure, it's simplified (the front wheel and fork are one piece, as are each of the two track and wheel assemblies), but actually it's quite a little gem, with nice detail and just a bit of seam lines and flash.

It was a really quick build, but at least I took the time to clean up these minor defects where visible. The instruments are painted black with these nifty Gundam markers I got on sale cheap at the Dragon USA online store, which seems not to have much inventory anymore, but that's another story.

Anyhow, I like these little multi-kits. They're like little dioramas in a box, or playsets if you like to move them around the workbench while making "vrrroom" noises.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Braille scale Schwimmwagen

Raiding other model kits for figures - and in this case, just an arm - I broke into Hasegawa's 1/72 Schwimmwagen/Kettenkrad set. I was cobbling together a pilot figure for Eduard's 1/72 MiG-15 bis (more about that in a future post). Anyhow, opening a kit to steal parts from it leaves you open to the impulse to just build the damn thing, especially if it's a quick easy build. Maybe you're different, but without impulsivity I don't think I'd ever build models. We'll see if I get the impulse to build the Kettenkrad, too.
Marking options include army, SS, and Luftwaffe, so I went with Luftwaffe, since it might come in handy in some future diorama. I left out the driver figure, since it's sort of a misshapen blob with an oversized head. As you can see, the decal on the driver's side of the tub just sort of disintegrated. To help cover up this defect, I abandoned the plan to leave the whole thing in solid Panzer Yellow (one of the Polly S paints I still have) and brushpainted some camo with Model Master enamels (Panzer Red-brown and Panzer Green). The canvas top started out Humbrol Deck Teak, but it seemed too close to Panzer Yellow, so I overpainted it with Humbrol Hemp. The top lacks a rear window, which would have been clear vinyl on the real thing, so I glued on a piece of envelope window with Micro Crystal Clear. It's like Elmer's only better, and I used it to glue on the license plates from the decal sheet. (Yes, that's what instructions tell you to do, too.) Tires are Vallejo German Grey lightened in areas with Medium Sea Grey - my go-to method of painting tires.
Quick work. So there you have it. Not the best Schwimmwagen model out there (why do the blackout covers on the headlights have their slits at odd angles? And the propeller and prop guard are molded as one piece that's merely a suggestion of what should be there). The whole thing is barely two inches long, but it looks enough like a Schwimmwagen that I'm happy with it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki's Really Bad Day

December 7, 1941 didn't work out the way Ensign Sakamaki planned. He and nine others were assigned to five midget submarines that were to infiltrate Pearl Harbor and fire a total of ten torpedoes at American warships. If they managed to survive, they were expected to commit suicide rather than be captured. None of the crew were volunteers. Sakamaki and the others were chosen because they came from families large enough to spare one son.

Sakamaki's midget sub, Ha-19, ran into numerous difficulties even before launching from submarine I-24. The gyrocompass didn't work from the start. The boat kept running aground on a reef near the entrance to Pearl Harbor and only came off when she was shelled by destroyer USS Helm (DD-388), which continued the attack with depth charges. Part of the time, Sakamaki was knocked unconscious, leaving his only crewman, Petty Officer Kiyoshi Inagaki, in charge. After another attempt to enter Pearl Harbor and running aground again, the cumulative damage to the boat prevented either torpedo from being fired and allowed seawater into the batteries, filling the boat with toxic fumes. Sakamaki had no choice but to abort the mission and try to rendezvous with I-24, but this would prove impossible. The midget sub ended up on Waimanalo Beach around the eastern tip of Oahu, near the location later used as the site of Robin Masters' estate on Magnum, P.I. Inagaki died that day, like the crews of the other four midget subs. Sakamaki ended up unconscious on the beach and woke up in a military hospital as a prisoner of war, the first captured by the United States in WWII. He asked permission to commit suicide, but of course this was denied, and he spent the entire war as a POW. After the war, he was a committed pacifist. He worked for the Toyota Motor Corporation, heading their operations in Brazil from 1969-1983. So although he may not have been enjoying life on December 7, 1941, it turns out to have been his lucky day.

The model is Fine Molds 1/72 A-Target Type A Midget Submarine, available from Hobby Link Japan. The official nomenclature seems to have been 甲標的甲型 Kō-hyōteki kō-gata, which, if I'm using Google Translate right, simply means "Target A, Type A." The label was evidently an attempt to hide its real purpose, like the British label of "tank" during WWI. The kit is really nice, but I made some modifications based on photos I found of the captured Ha-19 as well as other midget subs of this class. It does not include a figure, so I stole one from Hasegawa's 1/72 Toyota Starter Truck. I cut apart his left arm and left hand reposed them and used a bit of putty to convert his tropical Army uniform to a Navy winter uniform.
The rigging of the sub wasn't covered in the instructions, so I did some research. Eyebolts shown in the instructions on top of the forward hull don't show up on Ha-19, so I filled the holes with putty. A net-clearing cable, apparently about one inch in diameter, goes from the bow to a pulley the top of the sail and is tensioned with a turnbuckle anchored with chain to an eyebolt on top of the hull immediately before the sail. I used one of the kit eyebolts and some chain, and fabricated the turnbuckle from plastic rod and wire. The net-clearing wire I made by twisting several strands of fine copper wire to achieve a scale one-inch thickness. Another cable runs from the periscope fairing to the tailfin.
To prevent nets from hanging up on the periscope fairing, a U-shaped steel frame goes over the top of the sail. This part is included in the kit, but there are also two bent rods welded on top of this and to the top of the periscope fairing. I fabricated these from bits of wire and superglued them on.
As for finish, the paint is mostly Krylon black primer with a coat of Future for the decals and some flat coat and Vallejo black, with some metallic copper and gold for the contrarotating screws on both the sub and the torpedo.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Revell 1/125 Günther Prien U-47 Commission Build

My brother's 6th grade teacher had the Revell 1/125 U-47 with interior, but felt he was too old to build models anymore. He commissioned me to build it, but he wanted it closed up. Closing up those hull openings was going to be quite a task. Revell's U-99 uses the same molds mostly but is closed up with no interior, so I bought one on ebay for about $12 with shipping. Most of what you see is this kit, though I used some bits from the U-47 kit, such as decals. One of these shows the tonnage claimed on the sixth patrol, so I decided to model U-47 at this date, 6 July 1940. By this time, the 20mm flak had been moved up to the conning tower. The U-99 kit has this feature, which the U-47 kit lacks, which makes the former kit a better starting point. The U-99 kit also has deck railings that differ from those on U-47, so I used the U-47 ones. I printed my own flag and tonnage pennants, added fishing line for rigging and fabricated insulators from styrene, filled a few holes that weren't on U-47, and weathered it, making a point of showing the diesel exhaust stains near the stern and the "grass-weeds line," the green band that forms below the waterline. had a lot of useful photos that made my job easier, but sharp-eyed U-boat experts will notice inaccuracies that I didn't bother to fix. I did surgery on a few of the figures to make a variety of poses. The German inscriptions I painted on the base read, "Kiel, July 6, 1940" and "at the end of the 6th Patrol."

Once I was done modifying the figures, I painted them and superglued them in place. Hopefully I took enough photos, since I may never see this model again after I drop it off tomorrow.
I like figures for adding some story interest to a model. Captain Prien his XO stand together looking three or four points off the starboard bow. In the "Wintergarten" ("greenhouse," the nickname for the flak platform with its wide railing), two others who are happy to come home are waving to someone off the starboard beam. Meanwhile, another officer with his hand on the hatch looks down at someone climbing the ladder dressed in engineer's overalls.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Fantastic Plastic Con-Am Shuttle from Outland (Part 2)

Resuming from my last post, which had a really high resolution photograph of the Con-Am shuttle from Outland taken about the time it was used in the movie...

Here's the box art. The kit can be purchased from Fantastic Plastic. Below are more photographs of the original filming miniature. I could not have designed this kit without them, since supposedly there were never any drawings made. The lack of any drawings made it very challenging to design an accurate kit. Working from photos, I drew 3D shapes that I revised repeatedly until perspective views of them matched all the photos perfectly (or close enough that I was no longer able to spot the differences).
Here's another photo of the miniature at the time the effects shots were being filmed, in this case with the late John Stears demonstrating the docking gantry.
This is the "right" side of the shuttle (I call the end with the antennas the "front"). I think this was taken just after Martin Bower finished restoring the model in 2000. The next image shows the model in the condition he found it at Pinetree Studios.

Just above is a beauty shot of the restored model after Arnaud Grunberg bought it from Martin Bower for his Science Fiction Archive. It's currently in a warehouse in France but could go on display any time Grunberg decides to show it or someone contracts to put it on display. Notice the dish antenna is missing from the top in this picture.
Above and below are some images of the shuttle during construction. You may recognize some of the greeblies, and maybe spot some things that changed before the model was completed. For instance, the next picture shows a grey dome that was later removed and replaced with a laser turret from the MPC Millennium Falcon. Bill Pearson (with the moustache) and Martin Bower show up in these pictures quite a lot.

Notice in the next photo of Bill and Martin with the shuttle, that the dish antenna (modified from the MPC Millennium Falcon part) isn't on top of the shuttle. Instead, there's a mast with a bunch of antennas on top of the small rectangular superstructure. Later, this mast is removed. The dome that was replaced by the MPC Millennium Falcon laser turret is still on the model at this point, too.

Next is the photo that was in Martin Bower's article in Starlog 47 about the special effects in Outland. As in a lot of photos of the model, the engine pods are missing, probably because they needed to be separate for the plumbing for the CO2 system used to create the rocket exhaust effect in the movie.
 Speaking of which, here's a beauty shot of the CO2 system in operation. You can also see the undersides of the landing feet have rollers. The struts are 10 degrees from vertical, causing the feet move inward as the struts compress, so without the rollers the feet would drag across the landing pad.
Here are a bunch more shots of the model without its engines, taken before the model was used for the effects shots. Aside from the missing engines, the changes noted above, and markings that were added, the model is substantially the same as in the movie.

 Here's Martin Bower in 2000 looking justifiably proud of his restoration work.
And here are some screencaps from the movie.


Sorry I couldn't share all my photos with you, but some are marked "Copyright Martin Bower" and others he shared with me on the condition I wouldn't share them. You can access his copyrighted photos at the Wayback Machine: