Saturday, January 7, 2017

Upgunning the Spitfire

Spitfire Mk I, R6776/QVoH, 19 Squadron, F/S George Unwin, September 1940

The cannon armed Mk I has always intrigued me, so when I discovered the story, I had to model one.

The Subject

Soon after the Spitfire began production, the Air Ministry was keen on adding cannons to the Spitfire.  The reason was simple: all the other nations were showing off their new fighters with cannons!  Actually most only had mock ups of cannons, or larger caliber (12.7mm or .50 inch) machine guns.  Most still had basic rifle caliber guns as did the Spitfire and Hurricane.  Up until the Battle of Britain even Fighter Command was cool towards cannons, viewing the 8 x .303 inch guns sufficient to their needs.

The Air Ministry however continued to pursue the cannon.  The 5th production Spitfire, K9791, was removed from production and used for mock ups; based on this L1007 was then modified to allow for 2 x 20mm cannon; all 8 guns being removed.  This was as early as 1938; actual modfication and testing ensued into 1940, 30 aircraft being modified and fitted with the new armament.  The modification could be viewed as simply new wings (to some degree that's initially all it was) with a switch for the cannon on the control column.  The operational use required much more development to get the cannons to work properly and not jam.

The g forces during aerial combat flexed the wings of the Spitfire and while not an issue with the .303 guns, it turned out to be a major issue with the 20mm cannon.  For starters, the cannon had to be rotated to ensure they would fit with minimal bulges above and below the wings.  Then the problem of the drum remaining tight as it connected to the breech had to be solved, and finally what to do with the excess gasses and links/cartridges as it fired.

Ultimately these were solved into 1941 and to ensure reliability as a gun platform 4 of the .303 machine guns were re-installed for a 2 x 20mm plus 4 x .303in configuration.  This became the "b" wing configuration, the "a" wing being the 8 x .303 inch Brownings.  Due to the weight of the armament, the higher power of the Merlin 45 was preferred in the Mk V, so all Mk I and Mk II cannon armed fighters that remained in the inventory were upgraded to the Mk V standard, or reverted back to the "a" wing.

This particular subject is one of the first 30 conversions to the Mk I, which had only the 2 x 20mm cannon installed; the Brownings being removed due to weight.  No 19 Squadron, RAF was converted to the cannon armed Mk I in the Summer of 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain.  Unfortunately, due to the regular jamming of the cannon they rarely got off more than a few rounds before having to retire from the fight due to an inability to fire their weapons!  While they continued to score kills, they were very frustrated and at the time had many of the most experienced and higher scoring aces.  They quickly reverted back to the Mk Ia but by the time they completed the transition to get back into the fight, the BoB was essentially over for the day fighter phase, the Germans having shifted their incursions to the night time.

Wing Commander George "Grumpy" Unwin, DSO, DFM & Bar, was a Flight Sergeant during the Battles of France and Britain, having shot down 14 enemy during his initial combat service.  The subject of this build was his aircraft during September, 1940.

The Model

This is the AZModel limited run "Spitfire Mk Ib" kit.  It is the same set of sprues as their Mk IIb, Vb and VI boxings, with the only difference being the instructions and decals.  All only offer the externally armored canopy and unfortunately only offer the later Mk III (aka Mk V) round oil cooler.  To properly model a Mk I or II from this kit an earlier Merlin III oil cooler (semi-circular) has to be sourced.

While technically a limited run kit, AZModel has done a great job of making their kits assemble like a main stream kit.  Flash was non existent and all the parts fit perfectly.  No slots or tabs are present for attaching parts, so care must be taken with alignment, but they do attach well.  I had zero issues with construction.

I sourced the earlier Mk I oil cooler from an Airfix Mk I that I had converted to a Va.  It fit perfectly into the location on the wing underside.

Painting was straight forward for this scheme:
  • Dark Earth -- Vallejo Model Color 70-921 English Uniform;
  • Dark Green -- Tamiya XF-81
  • Sky -- Hataka A026
  • Night -- Tamiya XF-69

The new paint I tried was Hataka's version of Sky. Not bad, it's a bit less intense than other paint makers' Sky and I like the color, however it doesn't brush well (likely I've not figured the right balance of thinner, retarder and flow improver). It airbrushed okay but I need to thin it a bit more which means I need to, you guessed it, find the right balance of thinner, retarder and flow improver.

I used the kit decals, but I have to say they turned out to be a bit translucent, and inconsistent.  The small sheet of stencils where dark and went on perfectly and the carrier disappears under a coat of setting solution.  However the markings, while the proper color, seemed "off" and upon closer inspection (ok, via my magnifiers) I could see the dots from the silk screen printing.  I applied them anyway and some looked ok and of course at arm's length (my standard) they looked just fine.  They also had a filmy residue that didn't seem to want to come off, but luckily when it dried it dried clear.  Ultimately the decals did not silver, so it looks ok but do not meet the quality of the rest of this build. Ah well, done and dusted.


I enjoyed this build and during construction decided to buy a few more in the Vb boxings.  Now they are hard to find but AZModel released a more modern set of sprues in their Admiral line and I hope to make one soon.  They say they will also release these with the later internally armored windscreen, and then I can begin easily modeling the later Mk Vb subjects.

Thanks for looking...

Friday, December 30, 2016

Museum Build: Heinkel Bomber from the night blitz 1941

Our club decided to do a "Big Bomber Build" of the 1/48th scale Monogram Bombers, and since a local museum wanted something for their displays I agreed to make this one.

The Subject

Six Luftwaffe aircraft predominate the Battle of Britain, which for the Luftwaffe also included the night blitz (as Britains call it) that lasted into the Spring of 1941.  These are:

  • Ju-87 Stuka Dive Bomber
  • Me-109E Fighter
  • Me-110E Heavy Fighter
  • Do-17Z Bomber
  • Ju-88A Bomber
  • He-111 Bomber
The He-111 could have been labelled as obsolescent, nearing the end of its practical development as a  medium-to-heavy bomber and ready to be replaced by the rather new Ju-88 series.  

But the He-111 soldiered on; survival improving with the shift to night operations albeit at much reduced effectiveness.  This particular subject is from KG-55 Greif (Griffon) in the early Spring of 1941, just before operations over England ceased for them and they transferred to the East to begin Barbarossa.

The Model

This kit reminds me why I don't like 1/48th scale.  For starters it's a big model; larger than anything on my shelves in 1/72nd!  Additionally, unless I were to paint over the cockpit glazing the cockpit is quite visible even at arm's length.  So that means the cockpit is a MUST for details or the aircraft just won't look right.

Luckily the kit comes with some pretty good details, and given the vast majority of people who will see it won't be able to discern accuracy versus details I elected to keep the details to what was in the kit.  I can easily see a modeler insisting on PE and/or resin improvements, plus lots of wires as the real one would have.  I spent quite a bit of time painting the interior, I used a lighter off-the-shelf gray than RLM66 in order to make the interior a bit more visible.

I decided from the beginning to make this one in flight.  A member of our club mainly builds in 1/48th and is very excited over using Prop-Blur PE props to give it that in-flight look.  Those were the first things for me to construct as I wanted to see how well they looked and I do think they look pretty sweet.  I've since purchased a few in 1/72nd scale for some future subjects.

While the cockpit bits were drying I acquired some crew figures from a fellow modeler.  Two of the three visible crew members needed surgery to make them fit, and this was surprisingly easy.  I kept telling myself that this kit will be on a display shelf at an adult's arm's length so tried not to spend too much time on the figures.  I quite liked how well they came out with acrylic base painting and oils to highlight / shadow.

I spent quite a bit of time on the wings, ensuring the seams were not visible on the landing gear doors and the shapes were blended properly.  In fact, it appears the engines are a different scale than the wings, as they don't quite fit properly with some gaps.  Plastic card and filler fixed it.

Most of the painting was done separately, the fuselage and wings coming together as part of a final assembly.  I then touched up the joints between the wing-fuselage with some careful masking and painting.  Speaking of the wing-fuselage joint...don't look underneath!  The wings were warped enough that no amount of squeezing or filling would correct it so I aligned the wing tops and the dihedral, then just applied superglue.  Once it had set I then applied liquid cement to help with blending in the visible areas, and underneath where the gaps were I filled with clear resin.  I quickly realized the bombs would actually hide the wavy structure and given it was black I simply painted and called it "done".

I used the kit decals, which did not include a swastika.  Since I was able to find a photo or two that did not show them (either units painted them out or a censor edited the photo) I decided that would work.  The decals had a milky film on them that actually dried clear after a couple of days, but I was a bit concerned at first.

Paints used were all Tamiya.


This took me over 9 months from start to finish, and distracted me to no end from my preferred subjects because of the deadline.  Ah well, I can now display it in the museum and try to get through a year without another distraction.

Thanks for looking...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Another High Flyer

Spitfire HF VII, MD114/DUoG, No 312 (Czechoslovak) Squadron, RAF, Skeabrae, 1943.

I hadn't yet built a Hasegawa Spitfire, and since I didn't yet have a Mk VII on my shelf decided I'd do this one.

The Subject

I've come to understand that frontline squadrons would rotate on occasion to airfields in the North and East, but would trade their aircraft for similar ones at the new bases.  The point was to give them some rest while continuing to operate but at a much reduced threat level.  One example is No. 312 Squadron, which took a break in June 1943 from operations on the Channel flying from Church Stanton, Somerset with 10 Group to 13 Group flying from Skeabrae, Orkney.  They traded their mounts from the Spitfire Vc to the Spitfire HF VII.  When their break was done in December 1943 they transitioned to the LF IX.  They remained on the Mk IX until the end of the war, transferring to Czechoslovakia in September, 1945.

The HF Mk VII was a pressurized design, similar to its sister the unpressurized F Mk VIII.  It had all the refinements of the F Mk V including the improvements developed in the F Mk III.  These included a 60 series Merlin, retractable tail wheel, internally armored windscreen, blown canopy and improved landing gear.  Additionally, the VII/VIII development included greater internal fuel and included the Mk XII rudder (broad chord) on most deliveries.

Development of the HF Mk VII and F Mk VIII was delayed

The Model

Accuracy issues aside, this is a very easy kit to build. Within the first few hours I had a wing together and the fuselage assembled with cockpit installed. Filler was required at the wingtip extensions as well as the wing-to-fuselage joints forward and aft; the fillets fitting near perfectly with a very light run of a sanding stick. I don't like how the aft wing underside joins the fuselage, being an insert with nothing to support it. In my case, even with a large piece of plastic to "hold" it flush it was still a bit off and required filling.

Painting was very easy, the scheme I chose for my first foray into the VII is a simple one of Medium Sea Grey (Tamiya XF83) on the topsides over a PRU Blue (Tamiya mix of 3 parts XF-18 + 1 part XF-2) on the undersides. The High Altitude Scheme. Decals are from the AZModel kit as I did not like my choices in the kit boxing.

Ok, to accuracy. The Hasegawa late Merlin Spitfires are all the same sprues and so Hasegawa made some compromises in order to have 1 set of sprues cover the HF VII, F/HF VIII, and early F/LF IX. They have you fill aileron panel lines to make either the short VII/VIII version, or the IX version. The wing doesn't have the panel lines for the fuel tanks on the VII/VIII but then again these were puttied and smoothed then painted, so should not be visible anyway. Shape-wise, the wing is spot-on in span but a little long in chord by about 1.5-1.8 mm.

The fuselage is a bit more off. The nose is short by 1.7mm over a distance of only 26mm, making in noticeably short. The rest of the fuselage, from the firewall to the rudder post, is short by 2.5mm.


Overall a very easy kit to build.  Similar to building a Tamiya Spitfire in terms of ease...but also in terms of being slightly off.  Of course, every kit is off just a bit as none are yet perfect.  Being such an easy build I'd certainly recommend it if one does not insist on perfect accuracy.

Thanks for looking...

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pearl Harbor Attacker

A6M2 Zero, Lt Sumio Nono, Hiryu air wing, 7th December 1941

I finally built this newly tooled A6M from Airfix and used many of Nick Millman's recommendations for colors just to see how it would look.

The Subject

Lt Nono led the second wave of 9 A6M2 Zero fighter escorts from Hiryu, escorting 18 B5N2 Kate bombers from Shokaku attacking Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station (now a Marine Corps Base). One Zero was lost against a loss of 2 P-40's that attempted to engage from Bellows Field.

Lt Nono was later killed in action of Ceylon on 9 April 1942 whilst intercepting Blenheims.

The Model

The basic construction was strictly per the instructions as current Airfix toolings are quite tight in tolerance and build sequence must be followed to ensure the model is finished properly.

Since my model represents a Mitsubishi built A6M2, painting details are unique. The interior of the cockpit, all metal items, should be an interior green; I used Tamiya XF-71. The instrument panel was painted black, and the decal applied. I also added masking tape seat belts. The decking under the canopy was painted the same color as the engine cowling -- a blue-black color that was more blue than black. I used Mr Color H77 Tire Black as it is a bluish black. Of note, Nakajima built A6M's had a cowling color that tended more towards the black end of the scale; so for a Nakajima A6M I'd add black to the H77.

All other interior was painted Aotake, or that blue tinted aluminum primer. I first painted the cowling interior silver, then misted Tamiya X-13 Metallic Blue to just change the appearance. The interior of the wheel bays was the same color as the exterior, which I painted in my own mix of Tamiya paints to achieve the Ameiro or caramel color with a green tinge. The recipe started with Tamiya XF-76 Gray Green, 3 ml, to which I added 2.5 ml of XF-2 White and then 20 drops of XF-64 Red Brown. The drops were a guess, and I mixed until it looked "right". Your mileage may vary.

The fabric areas were a slightly different paint, I'm sure meant to be the same color when new but obviously (to me) faded differently. I decided to use a warm gray, and chose MM Acryl Flat Gull Gray #4763 thinned with Future.
Decals are by Techmod, sheet 72059. They went on just fine, but are thin and require some care. I dipped them in water with a few drops of softener added for just enough time for them to get wet, then quickly slid them into place. I still had one of the fuselage stripes wrinkle on me, but with more setting solution and a cotton bud was able to smooth it out.


I enjoyed this build immensely. It was quite easy so long as I took care with the build and didn't rush. My only challenge was alignment of the main landing gear, but I used a drop of Tamiya thin cement and propped the model on the box corner with enough lift and the right angle to ensure it would dry hard overnight.

I've got another of these that I plan to make using the kit decals. My other Zeros are the nice Tamiya kits, but I've got many, many Hasegawa kits to make as well.
Thanks for looking...

Friday, December 2, 2016

Uschi flexible line

This is one of those products that has changed my modeling; therefore I'd like to share why.

Uschi rigging thread is a flexible thread that is also round.  So when it is applied to a model, it does not have the "flat" or square effect that some flexibly threads may show, especially noticeable if the line has a twist in it.  It is also in 3 different sizes, .01, .02 and .03 mm.  So even the largest is quite small.

With rare exception, my aircraft models are all 1/72nd scale.  I use all three thread diameters.  The largest (.03mm) I use for inter-plane flying and landing wires.  I apply it by planning my rigging before I build.  Well before the paint stage I determine exactly where each flying or landing wire is attached to the wings / fuselage and then drill a .05 mm hole using a drill in a pin vise.  I generally don't go all the way through the plastic, but sometimes it makes sense to do that.  On the Airfix Swordfish the wings are thick enough for an upper and lower half, so I certainly drilled all the way through on the bottom wing upper surface, and the top wing lower surface.  I also drill at an angle that approximates the angle of the wire as it exists the structure.

After construction and paint, when I'm ready to rig, I put a very small dab of superglue into the hole.  Typically I start with the visible side, as in the lower wing, first.  That way I have a bit more control on the appearance.  The thread is then dipped in accelerator.  I then quickly (and carefully) place the thread in the hole.  I've got about a second as that is how long the superglue takes to set with the accelerator on the thread.  Most times I get the thread deep into the hole, which ensures a very solid fit there.

I then repeat the gluing process for the top (underwing) position, but this time the line is slightly under tension.  I'm careful not to make the line taught as that means less forgiving, but I want it tensioned just enough to retain its shape over time.

The medium diameter thread (.02mm) I use for control wires.  For the Swordfish I first glued the end in the fuselage, where it exits, in the same manner as the lower wing for the flying wires.  The next step is to put a drop of glue on the guide pulley (not all models have these, but the Swordfish did) on the tail plane.  Some times these are big enough to allow a drill bit to go all the way through, which actually makes for a more realistic look than having it glued on.  The final step is to pull it in tension to the control horn on the rudder/elevator/aileron and attach with superglue.  Again, I use accelerator on the thread.

For antenna wires I use the smallest diameter (.01mm).  Frankly, this is the hardest to work with and I've use a few choice words in the process.

Similar to the others, I anchor the antenna wire on the fuselage or wherever the appropriate place is.  For the Airfix Wildcat I drilled a hole in the port side of the fuselage (before construction).  I then put a small drop of superglue and likewise dipped the thread in accelerator.  Here's where the small diameter gets tricky!  Once the accelerator is on it the wire tends to have a mind of its own and surface tension of the fluid causes the thread to "hide" everywhere but as a dangly bit of thread under the tweezers.

I've learned to put both accelerator and superglue in two separate bottle caps (away from each other) and after applying the superglue I "get set" by grasping the thread, gingerly dipping the end in the accelerator and then without breathing (the "breeze" makes a difference!) I quickly move to the hole and contact the thread to the superglue drop.  Instantly fixed.  No opportunity for adjustment on this diameter.  It's the reason I don't use it for anything other than antenna.

For the Wildcat, I then carefully wrapped the thread around the antenna post in a manner that resulted in a loop with the post-to-fuselage wire "over" the post-to-rudder wire.  The end result was an appearance of the wire being not quite attached, but threaded via a connector/insulator.  While visible in the photo below, at arm's length it's not visible at all!

A drop of superglue (no accelerator) and after it had set I put tension on the wire and pulled it to the post on the rudder.  Again it had superglue on it and accelerator on the thread.  

Difficult to see in the photos because of the varying focal planes, but the overall effect is quite nice.  At arm's length the hint of wiring / rigging is there, which is really all I want.  In period photos sometimes the wires are invisible, but many times there is just that hint.

With 147 feet on each spool, I suspect some new product or maybe even programmed nanobots that can thread like a spider will be the latest craze when this runs out.

Thanks for looking...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Blogger has changed...

A bit of whinge if you'll allow...

I manage multiple blogs using Blogger, plus I use it to follow quite a few other blogs out there.  Google has decided that a new format would be "better" but now it means I have to change how I manage and view all of that.  (OBTW, I don't use adsense or other moneymakers, I don't agree with that ethic.)

This on top of changing how my photos were hosted, making the upload process vary laborious.  I've since altered that to be easier, but not as easy as it once was.  Grr.

The good news is that my blogs haven't changed.  I suspect that will happen soon enough and I probably should find some "news" on Blogger from Google to get ahead of it.  It sometimes makes me want to spend the money and host my own photos and blogs.  Not expensive but it means actively managing servers, web code, security, et cetera and I prefer not to do that.  Alas, Blogger is free so I should sit quietly and accept it.

I've looked at Facebook as an alternative.  Yes it would work, but frankly I have less control over the look and posting photos is actually more difficult.  It works great and is easy if I used my smart phone for photography, but I don't.  I use a DSLR on a tripod and have to take a SD card and transfer files to my Mac.  I can transition two of my blogs to Facebook, but until I find a way to photograph models better with my iPhone, not this one.

Of note, my Mac is in my office upstairs, but my modeling room is downstairs in the basement.  I do take my iPad to quickly check a reference or photo, but otherwise try to keep the distraction away from my modeling bench.

So am I becoming an old curmudgeon?  Maybe so, but I'd rather spend time fiddling with plastic and paint than figuring out a website or page or online process.

Thanks for listening, I now feel better...

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

South African Spitifire

Spitfire Vc(T), No. 2 Squadron SAAF, Palata, Italy, 1944

I like the Vc as it affords the most unique paint schemes of all Spitfire marks; and appears to have been used by more countries during the war than any other single variant. This one I particularly like because No. 2 Squadron was likely the only unit to use the 4 cannon configuration of the universal wing.

The Subject

No. 2 Squadron SAAF took lots of photos of their Spitfires during the war. Many are in color (stills from a film of lengthy formation flying) so "color" is not really a debatable issue with these aircraft. DB-R had its serial number partially painted out, but it is obviously from the JK series. One source claims it is JK815, but provides only a profile, not a photo so I left the "815" off as seen in the only photos I can find.

This is a late model Vc with all the latest Vc mods incorporated. Late windscreen, gun heating, Rotol prop. It was used in ground attack sorties, typically (as seen in its photos) carrying a 250 or 500 lb bomb on the centerline and using its 4x20mm cannon to great affect against vehicles.

The Model

This is the relatively new Sword Vc kit that dates from 2011. The kit has been released as various Spitfire Vc, PR and Seafire IIc/III variants with different decals, instructions and resin, the basic plastic sprues being the same. Of note, some Seafire kits include an added fuselage and/or wing, however my examples did not, with the Seafire specific fuselage or wing replacing the standard Spitfire item.

Construction was straightforward. I had absolutely no issues even though this is technically a short run kit. The only thing "short run" about it is the lack of locator tabs on the fuselage and wings. Any modeler with a few kits under their belt can easily build this kit. The most difficult part of the build was prop alignment -- the kit supplies the Rotol prop blades as separate items. So this means creating a jig of some sort to ensure alignment and feathering are correct. In my case I used a jig that came with a Quickboost resin Rotol prop that I saved after installing the prop on a Hobbyboss Vb(T) I made many years ago.

The landing gear was of greater concern, but I was impressed when the gear had perfect locating holes. It all went together perfectly only to be marred by the poor decals...these are not from the kit but are Airfix decals from a 2004-ish release of their Vc kit (which is very poor by comparison). Paints used are acrylics all around: Dark Earth is Vallejo English Uniform, Middlestone is Humbrol, and Azure is a Tamiya mix I created many years ago (I made a large quantity in a 10ml jar and it's lasting me quite a while!).


This is the first really nice Vc kit in 1/72nd scale. The other options are kit bashing or the old Airfix Vb with the noticeably newer and much too thick Vc wing.

I've got lots of decals, both good and bad as I've discovered, to make quite a few more Vc subjects and now that I've got a decent kit to do that with I'll certainly be able to do the Vc justice.

Thanks for looking...