Monday, April 4, 2022

Revell "Astronaut in Space"

Here's Revell's 1/12 scale astronaut from about 1969, in this case a 1990s repop. Given the EVA equipment, the chest mounted ventilation unit and the hand-held maneuvering unit (HHMU), this could only depict Ed White on his Gemini 4 spacewalk on June 3, 1965. It was the first spacewalk by an American astronaut, and White enjoyed it so much he said having to get back in the capsule was the saddest moment of his life. He would lose his life on January 27, 1967, in the Apollo 1 launchpad fire that also killed Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Roger Chaffee.

The kit came out after this tragic accident, and doesn't mention White, instead presenting the figure generically as an astronaut. It's based on Revell's previous 1/6 scale Gemini Astronaut, and has a similar clever design to show the astronaut on a spacewalk. My goal was to do present White on his spacewalk and paint his G4C spacesuit in accurate colors, but without doing all the work of fixing the umbilical, which is simply wrong. I also wanted to make the figure's face visible through the gold-toned visor, using a bit of artistic license. The face doesn't look much like White, but after I lightly airbrushed the inside of the visor with Vallejo Liquid Gold, it's hard to tell.

After applying white primer, I preshaded the suit with Polly Scale blue in the folds--shadows should be blue in low earth orbit! Then I airbrushed it with Tamiya white with just a little Testors Turn Signal Amber and thinned with isopropyl alcohol, using my Paasche H. This looked fine before I sprayed it on, but it came out too yellow, so I mixed up some burnt umber and clear flat varnish, and shot that over it, followed up with very light drybrushing with Vallejo white. The helmet is also Vallejo white, the straps Polly Scale blue, drybrushed with the same tone but lightened, and the gloves are painted a mix of Testors white and steel acrylic, with the black areas painted with Vallejo black lightened with grey. The HHMU is painted with more Vallejo Liquid Gold (it comes in silver, too). Various parts on this and the suit are anodized blue and red, which I represented with red Sharpie.

I did basically no modifications, with a few minor exceptions. The designers seem to have rotated the arms as an afterthought, so the seams on the sleeves don't line up with the seams on the shoulders, as I think they should. To fix this, I filled the upper part of the seams and rescribed them. The two antennas on the left wrist broke off, so I replaced them with wire. A plain black rectangle is provided on the decal sheet for the name patch, so I drew a black rectangle with "E.H. White II" in white lettering in Autocad and printed it out on plain paper, then glued it on the chest. It's a little oversized, but if it were any smaller the text would probably not be legible.
It's possible I'll redo the umbilical at some point in the future. It plugs into the wrong place, the instrumentation port above the inlet port where it should plug in. There's supposed to be plumbing or wiring connected to all three ports on the front of the suit and to the ventilation unit and the helmet. The kit represents these features either inaccurately or not at all. If I do replace the umbilical, I'll probably use steel wire and add weight to the Gemini capsule base.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Headpiece of the Staff of Ra

"Make the staff six kadams high..."
Here's something from last year that I forgot to post about until after it got put away with the Christmas decorations. It's a pretty simple resin kit that I got off eBay. Being a prop replica, it's 1:1 scale, and it consists of three parts: the headpiece itself and two gems. The work involved gold leafing it (after applying a coat of gold paint just in case), then some light weathering before gluing in the gems. My wife Ilene is a big fan of the movie, so I gave it to her for Christmas, expecting that she would use it as a tree ornament.

"...and take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew God whose ark this is."


Thursday, December 30, 2021

Goodbye, Rory

This is nothing to do with modeling, but modeling is making, and making is how makers express themselves. When I got up this morning, I had no idea I would be making a coffin for a cat. Rory spent the night outside - the weather was very mild, so we thought nothing of it - but he died unexpectedly during the night. He was eight years old and in the prime of life.

So I made him a coffin, and we buried him in the backyard. There was no way I could just put him in a hole in the ground, so I had to make him a coffin. It was my way of saying goodbye.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Happy Halloween!

I provisionally called this model done today, since it's Halloween and the trick or treaters were going to start coming soon, and it's a spooky house model. It's the Polar Lights "House on the Hill" previously released as the "Bates Mansion" from the movie Psycho. I don't care particularly about it being the house from the movie, but I was nuts for haunted houses as a little kid, so I built it all decrepit looking with many layers of weathering. There are more things I want to do to this, but they'll have to wait.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

"It's not a toy! It's a model." Yeah, right.

I recently built Atlantis Models' repop of Aurora's 1/48th scale 8 inch howitzer. I thought it would be a walk down memory lane, as I thought I remembered that about 50 years ago I built Aurora's Long Tom, which is the same kit except for the gun tube. Now I think the kit I built back then was probably Hasegawa's 1/72 Long Tom. Either kit is very play-worthy and fun for kids (and for modelers who can still remember being kids). One of these toys - I mean models (wink!) - can be just the thing to get the modeling mojo going again!

The instructions tell you how to assemble the kit in travel mode, but let you know when not to use cement so the play features all work. The upper carriage elevates and traverses, the gun tube recoils, the breech opens (though it doesn't represent the breech block at all accurately). The lower carriage has separate chock plates and trail plates which can be stowed for travel or mounted for firing (more on this below, since there are problems, mainly with the clarity of the instructions). The split trails swing and can be joined to the limber plate and mounted on the limber, and the lower carriage can be dropped out of the tandem wheel assembly that supports it in travel mode (more on this below, as well). And of course, the wheels all turn.

The kit originally came out in 1958, and although it purported to be a WWII howitzer, it's got features that were only seen later. Notably, the tires have gnarly off-road tread, and I think the mount on the limber where the trails are attached is a later version as well. So I decided that my howitzer lives in 1958. I painted the figures so their uniforms are Olive Green, not Olive Drab – mostly. Old stocks of Olive Drab were used up after the war, and from what I've read may still have been in use in 1958. Boots were now polished black, and enlisted rank insignia were no longer buff over blue. They look like olive green over blue, but I don't know if Olive Green was the specified color. President Truman had integrated the armed forces a decade before, so I painted the soldier holding the wrench to be a black man. I chose to paint his uniform Olive Drab, to represent the old stock being used up, though it's hard to see the difference.

The kit has some assembly problems, and I'll refer to the parts by name since that's how they're listed in the instructions. In Step 25, the springs are cemented to the forward and rear tandem axles, but the mating surfaces are shaped differently: flat on the springs but round on the axles. This means there is very little contact area. This problem is exacerbated in Step 36, when the ends of the cross beam axle are to be snapped into the holes in the springs on the tandem wheel assembly. The snap fit requires a fairly tight tolerance for the distance between the springs – too far apart, and the carriage just falls out; too close together and it pries the springs apart, breaking them off the axles. If I build another, I'll be sure to engineer the spring/tandem axle assembly at the outset to get the springs firmly attached with the correct spacing. The four small airbrake diaphragms (Steps 26 and 29) are also easily knocked off when attaching the cross beam axle, and I'm not sure if there is any way they can go on straight and not get in the way of the cross beam axle.

Minor assembly problems occur with the trail ground support plates and chock plates. The instructions don't give very clear indications on where the former go when stowed (Step 40), and the inset photo of the completed models shows them glued to the underside of the trails. Correctly assembled, they slide into the trail plate hangers on the inside faces of the trails. Care must be taken to attach the trail plate hangers properly in Step 33 so the support plates will slide in and out. The notches in the lower gun carriage and bottom plate to allow for the deployed chock plates need filing out, as you'll find out when test fitting them. The instructions don't tell how to attach these or the trail support plates when deployed for firing mode, but you can see the notches on the underside of the carriage and the ends of the trails. Both types of plates form a right angle with welded gussets on the inside of the angle, and are deployed with the gussets facing forward so the recoil doesn't pry the welds apart.

The sector gear (Step 9) is supposed to hold the upper carriage at various angles of elevation, snapping over the stepped shaft (Step 13) as the elevation angle is adjusted. This movement is very sensitive to any alignment error in Step 9, so I found I had to file the sector gear teeth until it went between minimum and maximum elevation with a light click. Step 42 is also a little confusing if you trust the photo in the instructions. The hitch lock should be oriented as shown in the diagram.

Some filler is needed for the inevitable ejector pin marks and to eliminate the seam in the assembled gun tube. Yes, kits of this vintage lack slide molded barrels! Back in the good old days before slide molding, instead of wailing and gnashing our teeth, we'd roll up our sleeves and we'd putty, sand, and primer the gun tube for as many go-arounds as it took to get a smooth barrel with a precisely centered round bore. So that's what I did, and frankly it wasn't that much trouble. The vinyl tires were the worst molded parts. All the way around the tire was a weird hump across the tread, affecting some tires more than others. It took a lot of sanding until none of the ten tires looked noticeably like factory rejects.

Paint is mainly rattlecan Krylon camo olive with light weathering except where the rubber literally meets the road, or the lack of a road (and takes some with it). The decals are a new addition by Atlantis and appropriate for postwar howitzers, and though I doubt they represent any actual markings, pictures can be found of howitzers bearing stars, the words "U. S. ARMY," and nicknames, all of which are on the decal sheet. It wasn't easy to find room for them all, but I managed. They went down nicely over a coat of Future and coated with MicroSol. I had no trouble keeping them from silvering (some decals just seem to suck air in under them, so they'll silver no matter what you do). They are not the thinnest decals and glossy to boot, but brushing on some flat coat knocked down the gloss and all but completely hid the edge of the carrier film.

One particular mistake I made (and I always make mistakes!) was with the piston rods in the elevating cylinders. I painted them with Model Master Chrome Silver enamel and found they were a tight fit, so I added a drop of 3-in-1 oil to each so the elevation mechanism would work. As a result, the oil softened the paint so that it will probably never be completely dry, and I kept getting silver fingerprints on the howitzer during assembly. The piston rods don't look so great now, either.

I wanted to display the completed model on a simple diorama base to keep all the partsand figures together. I glued two seven by nine inch pieces of corrugated cardboard together with their corrugations at right angles to each other, clamped under the weight of a small anvil. The resulting base is very stiff. I applied MDF sawdust, brown spray paint, and Woodland Scenics foliage. To support the figures, I heated a straight pin and shoved it into one foot of each figure. After painting the figures, I cut the pins so only about 1/8" stuck out, then I stuck the figures to the diorama base like thumbtacks.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

Okay, I'm done ruining this model


Here's Academy's 1/72 P-51C "Red Tails" which came with markings for two aircraft flown by the Tuskeegee airmen. Quite a few years agi, I had done most of the assembly and cut out the flaps, scratchbuilding the part that's exposed when the flaps are dropped, then airbrushed the whole thing with Metalizer Buffing Aluminum. Then I decided to repaint the wing aluminum dope, like the real thing. I masked off the wing, then it went to the Shelf of Doom.

When I revisited it, the first thing I did was to airbrush the wing with Rustoleum Aluminum, of which I have a gallon can, using a Paasche Model H I bought on clearance at Hobby Lobby. This airbrush works great and is a breeze to clean up, being external mix. I do more airbrushing now, since it's hardly any more hassle than a paintbrush. I also chose the markings for Capt. Ed Toppins of the 99th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group.

I masked and airbrushed the red areas and yellow stripes. The kit comes with decals for the stripes, but the decals were really weak near the edge and needed two coats of Superfilm to hold together. They also don't stick well. I discovered the problem starting with the national markings. The one on the left side of the fuselage flaked off so I replaced it with one from an AeroMaster sheet. Common sense would have had me replace them all, but instead I touched them up with paint. This started the snowball rolling, and unfortunately it was pretty much all downhill after that. 
I free handed the canopy painting. The framing is in sharp relief, so it was less trouble than masking but the results are just as good. I also painted some scotch tape to make seat belts that you can't see very well with the canopy closed. I used fine wire for the aerial, then broke it while weathering and redid it. As a result the tail is a little messed up where the aerial is attached.

The coup de grace of model ruination was the exhaust staining. I did this with some Metalizer exhaust that had totally dried up and which I revived using lacquer thinner, and sprayed through my Paasche VL. Despite the thinness of the metalizer, it started sputtering and made a horrible mess on the model. I went back and cleaned it up as best I could with some brush and Q-tip application of Metalizer buffing aluminum, then lightly brushed on some Vallejo black. The result is still a godawful mess.

You'll notice a second, lower streak I added on the right side of the cowling. I have seen this in photos (some P-51s have this on the left, maybe some on both). It looks like oil, and it originates from a hole on the side of the cowling. I expect this hole is some kind of crankcase vent. I'll need to do more research into this feature of the P-51.

Anyhow, you will probably never find any photo of a P-51 of the Tuskeegee airmen that's this dirty, unless it came back with engine problems. Photographic evidence convinces me that they kept their birds clean.

Postcript: this kit (No. 2225, since re-released as 12501) also contains a jeep. If you remember, Academy's first 1/72 P-51 kit had the bizarre inaccuracy of seven exhaust pipes per side. They fixed that since, but their penchant for miscounting wasn't over. The jeep's grille has ten slots instead of nine.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Bandai Star Blazers Mecha Collection EDF Destroyers

Here are some pictures of two complete Bandai Mecha Collection No. 12 EDF Destroyer from Space Battleship Yamato aka Star Blazers. Each kit comes with a pair of ships. One set I decided to accurize a bit. The nose is wrong, the aft engine cone comes to too sharp a point, and whatever that senson thing is on top of the bridge should be streamlined to come to a point at the aft end. I also sharpened up some of the details, like those wing-like things that support some sort of streamlined things on the end. I whittled them down so they have sharp leading and trailing edges.

I decided to make the other pair have wave motion guns. For some reason, all the EDF ships except destroyers have this, so I figured the wave motion gun would eventually end up on destroyers, too. I used Evergreen tube that I cut to shape and sanded down, and puttied the inside to have a smooth concavity.

I printed decals to try to upgrade the look of the ships to the standard of SBY 2202, which is pretty faithful to the look of the otiginal series but with far better production values. I don't think there were ever any hull markings in the original series, but these were added in SBY 2199 and continuing with 2202. I don't think there is anything about the look of these new series that isn't an improvement over the old.

I didn't want to bother with printing white on my ALPS printer (frankly, it's been so long since I used it, I would need a refresher). Instead, I drew all the artwork in AutoCAD 2013 and made sure white areas would be color #FFFFFF so nothing would print there.

For the modified destroyers with the wave motion gun, I modified the plaque by shaving off the kanji that say "destroyer." This I replaced with a decal with Japanese writing that's clear with a blue background, applied over white paint. These ships are named Ikazuchi and Inazuma, poetic terms for "Lightning" and "Thunder." Two Fubuki-class destroyers built in the 1930s had these names.

I really like the trick of lighting starships with fluorescent paint illuminated by UV light. I recall doing this on my MPC X-Wing fighter back in 1978, and lighting up the afterburners of my model jet fighters that way, too.