Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Shark Tank"

The requirement was to build any subject with a shark or shark mouth motif or related to a shark in some way.  Examples are a Blackburn Shark (been there, done that), any various aircraft with a shark mouth, SS-174 USS SHARK, a P-3 Orion of VP-6 "Blue Sharks" get the picture.

I wanted to make that FAA Seafire IIc with the shark mouth, or even the RAAF Spitfire VIII but decided to step out of my Spitfire phase and do a traditional P-40.  Okay, not too traditional as I did NOT do the typical AVG bird.  I've got 3 AVG Tomahawks already, two of which are not very good but one which I'm quite happy with (Hobby Boss kit). 

I browsed through my decals and found two I wanted to do, both 112 Squadron RAF, Egypt, 1941.  But which one?  How about both!

As I collected some info and decided on paints, I received two new Airfix Hawk 81A-2 kits (kit number A01003).  In the box is the right plastic bits to make either a Tomahawk I, II or IIa; or the P-40-CU, P-40B or P-40C.  There was only one P-40A, modified for reconnaissance.

The Tomahawk I represents the 140 H81A-1, which is generally similar to the P-40-CU.  Ordered by France with French guns, and other internal systems; this lot was taken over by Britain when France fell in 1940.  The major external differences are a single gun in each wing and the fuselage gun barrels protruded further.  British serials AH741 to AH880 apply.

The Tomahawk IIa is the British equivalent of the P-40B.  British serials AH881 to AH990.  

The Tomahawk IIb is the British equivalent of the P-40C.  The external difference is the ability to carry an external fuel tank or bomb.  British serials AH991 to AH999, AK100 to AK570, AM370 to AM519 and AN218 to AN517.

I suspect there may be other external differences, like radio masts and antenna wires, but I have not found a reference to indicate what those may be.  If I do I'll update this portion.  None of the photos I have of British Tomahawks show different antenna configurations, so at this point I assume they are the same.

In my stash I had 2 of the venerable Academy kits of the same subject.  I decided to build one of the new Airfix and the old Academy; and do them side-by-side for a comparison.

The subjects

112 Squadron RAF is generally credited with initiating the shark mouth motif on the P-40 line.  The Luftwaffe actually had a Gruppe of Bf-110's during Dunkirk that was sooner, and I think I have some photos of a Bf-109D from 1939 with a shark mouth.

112 Squadron got their Tomahawks in July 1941 in Egypt.  They came to them painted in the then-standard scheme called the Temperate Land Scheme of Dark Green and Dark Earth over Sky undersides.  After a few weeks of operations the squadron repainted the Tomahawks in the Desert Scheme of Middle Stone and Dark Earth over Azure.  For identification the aircraft had red spinners and no fuselage bands on either scheme.

Both subjects have the shark mouth motif, as well as some other squadron identifications on them. 

The colors of Dark Green, Dark Earth and Sky as used on Tomahawks is the subject of debate.  I am quite happy with the colors described by Nick Millman on his blog; generally there is agreement that Curtiss used Dupont paints 71-013 for Dark Green, 71-065 (or possibly 71-009!) for Dark Earth and 71-021 for Sky.  Ultimately I chose paints that appear very close to these colors as depicted on Nick's blog.  I will not enter into any debates on what color Dupont 71-021 is, some believe it to be a bluish gray, others a greenish gray.  It's your model, paint it they way you want it.

Between Britmodeler, my books and some other forums I read occasionally, the Desert Scheme for these aircraft was achieved by simply overpainting the Dark Green with Middle Stone and the undersurface with Azure Blue.  As these are standard RAF colors, I used paints which approximate the reference chips I have, but left the Dark Earth color the original 71-065.

The models

Simply put, the Airfix kit is a dream compared to the Academy kit.  Okay, the Academy kit is crude and a very easy build.  If it's the only early P-40 on your shelf it'll look the part, but set it next to the new Airfix, Trumpeter or even the Hobby Boss kits, it looks toy-ish and crude.  Best used as a pallet or as a toy for your young modelers-to-be.

What's wrong with the Academy?  The prop spinner is too large, making the prop look small (it isn't).  The nose is over thick as is the fuselage in general.  The tail is thick and too deep.  There is no detail in the cockpit or wheel wells, the guns and pitot are just stubs and the canopy is all wrong.  But other than that, it sort of looks like an early P-40.  I remember first seeing it back in the 80's when it was first released and thinking, "Finally!  An early P-40 I can put in my display."  There was a reason I didn't build a second one until now...

The Airfix kit is beautiful.  Not only does it look the part, but it has good detail in the cockpit, the wheel wells are accurately displayed, the nose, wings, fuselage and tail are all delicate and well detailed, providing both that rugged look of the early P-40 in a more scale-like appearance.

Okay, enough gushing...the parts are very delicate.  I broke a few trying to remove them from the sprues and used my razor saw at that.  The plastic is soft, so care must be taken while working with it.

For the Airfix kit I decided to model Tomahawk IIb, AK367/C, 112 Squadron, RAF, Sidi Heneish, Egypt, Summer 1941.  The scheme is Dark Green, Dark Earth and Sky, as delivered by Curtiss.  The paints I used to mimic what I believe these colors to look like were: 

  • Dark Green -- Dupont 71-013, Model Master 1764
  • Dark Earth -- Dupont 71-065, Tamiya XF-52
  • Sky -- Dupont 71-021, Humbrol 23

I used the decals from BarracudaCals sheet 72005.  They laid down great with just Micro-Sol and floated well on water so working with the decals was easy.  After the decals had dried fully I put a final coat of Future mixed 10:1 with Model Master Acryl Flat Clear.  Just a drop in my airbrush cup with the Future is enough to give a satin finish; any more and it takes on a very flat sheen.

For the Academy kit, I modeled a Tomahawk IIb, AN413/K, 112 Squadron, Egypt, October 1941.  According to the decal sheet I used, it was piloted by Pilot Officer Jack Bartle, an Australian.  The scheme is the Desert Scheme of Dark Earth, Middle Stone over Azure Blue; another source indicated these aircraft were repainted locally so the Dark Earth was the original Dupont color.  The paints I used to mimic these colors were:

  • Dark Earth -- Dupont 71-065, Tamiya XF52
  • Middle Stone -- Gunze HobbyColor H71
  • Azure Blue -- Model Master Azure Blue with a few drops of Deep Red added 
I used Sky Decals P-40 sheet 72 058.  Again using just Micro-Sol they went down well, however the decals are sized for either the Trumpeter or HobbyBoss kits as they have a smaller and better shaped nose.  Also, I believe the red is too bright in the roundels and on the fin flash; it should be more dull.  The shark mouth decal is too small for the Academy kit.  I also made a slight mistake with the fin flash but some minor paint touch up will fix that.  Overcoated with my Future/Acryl mix for a satin sheen.  I'll replace this one someday with an Airfix kit.


For the money, they Airfix kit is the way to go.  While you can pick up an Academy kit for less than $5 at shows, the Airfix kit is only another dollar online and makes into a much better model.  If you were to buy or scratch the necessary upgrades to make it look as nice as the Airfix, the Academy would cost much more.

I also have a Trumpeter and HobbyBoss Tomahawk II.  The Trumpeter is over engineered, consisting of too many parts.  It does build up nicely, but takes putty to clean up the nose seams as it's made up of 2 additional parts to get the guns and intakes right.  Airfix did this right.  It's 2-3 times as costly as Airfix so I don't recommend it.  

Hobbyboss is the Easy Build kit, and it was easy.  It's "not quite right" with a panel raised and a bit of detail off.  About the same price as Airfix and it alone can replace your stash of Academy P-40's.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"Trench Warfare"

After a couple of years of poor participation in our BTSK -- Build The Same Kit -- theme we decided to change things up and build the same kit manufacturer.  In this case we chose Matchbox.  For the uninitiated, Matchbox is notorious for deep trench-like panel lines, but I have to say most of my Matchbox kits seem to have few panel lines that warrant that observation.  Ultimately as a theme it fared worse so we'll be dropping that approach for the future, but it did afford me a reason to complete a model that had sit on the shelf of doom for a few years.  Not because the kit was a problem, but due to a lack of decals.

The Subject

I like the lines of the Mosquito and over the years have acquired kits that allow me to model the main variants.  I've always wanted one of the PR birds after seeing photos and profiles of an overall blue aircraft with a bright red tail.  

NS569 was a PR XVI Mossie assigned to the 8th Air Force.  Specifically, the 654th Bomb Squadron.  I chose this particular set of markings simply because they were different with the stenciling on the national markings and a name on the nose.

What is a PR XVI?  Basically a pressurized B IX with standard flush bomb bay doors and 3 cameras installed.

Remember that the Mossie started as a PR aircraft, the PR I being the first model to operate in 1941.

The Model

The kit is PK-116, listed as a Mosquito NF 30 or B IX.  Typical Matchbox black and brown plastic, overly thick canopy and details a bit heavy, if any.  I sanded away most of the details because every photo of a Mossie I've got shows them to be a very clean aircraft.

My references, mainly the Squadron In-Action 127 and 139, indicated the kit represents a PR XVI better than the B IX, so I decided to make the necessary mods.  It can also make the NF 30, but I'll await a better kit for that variant.

The modifications were easy:  Simply drill 1/8th inch holes at the locations at the forward end and behind the bomb bay for the 4 camera ports.  I filled these with white glue, which dried clear and looked the part.  The kit is otherwise finished as instructed for a B IX.  There may be more modifications needed to be very accurate, like correcting the air intake under the forward nacelles, but until recently I didn't know they were "off".  

For painting, I used Model Master PRU Blue enamel; Tamiya X-7 Red and XF-8 Blue acrylics.  After a coat of Future I applied the markings.  I used Ventura Decals V7256, a sheet I acquired of eBay and the decals went down well over the glossy surface of Future.  Of note, they are thick and the carrier film covered the entire sheet.  I trimmed them close and with Micro-Sol did not silver.

Other than sanding detail and cleaning up seams, not a difficult build.  If I ever decide to do this one over, I hope to have a nicer and better detailed kit.  Unfortunately the Mossie experts out there remain disappointed with no modern tooling of a two-stage Merlin Mossie, that I'm aware of.  If I do the Matchbox kit again I'll add cockpit detail, better props and improve the nacelles, plus a vac canopy to show off the details.

Thanks for reading.