Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Monogram Wright Bros. Kitty Hawk

I mentioned in my post on the Revell Sopwith Triplane that I did not like biplanes as a kid - at all. Imagine my disappointment then, when at a fifth-grade Christmas gift exchange in late December 1975, I unwrap a Monogram Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk. Not only is it a biplane, but a really, really old biplane! I was so put out by the whole thing; especially since a couple of my classmates got really cool models like the Monogram F-15 Eagle, and Revell A-5 Vigilante. Why did I get stuck with the Kitty Hawk!
I took it home and figured I'd put it together just for something to do. I didn't care to make the effort or take the time to line up all the struts properly, and the thing came out looking pretty sad. It didn't last long in my collection.
For my rebuild project, I'm not skipping over any airplane kits just because I didn't like them originally. So, I built a new Kitty Hawk and actually enjoyed it this time. Now I appreciate the engineering of this kit, having studied the instructions and followed each step by the letter. I even rigged the thing with original Monogram thread from an old Grumman Gulfhawk. The rigging really enhances the realism on this model, but is also a pain to apply. Only a few parts need painting on this model which is a bonus considering the time spent on the rigging.
Monogram (now Revell-Monogram) has been cranking this kit out since the late 1950s, and I could have easily purchased a new one; but I chose to get a 1973 "white box" version just like the one I had back in '75. There are lots of these available on EBay really cheap, perhaps because many kids like myself weren't interested in antique airplanes, and passed on it. It's a very educational model though, since the builder gets to see in miniature just how the original plane was designed and how it worked. It's still not a favorite of mine, but I like it a little better now than I did before.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monogram U.S. Navy DC-3

In 1975 Monogram re-released three airplane model kits they passed over in '73 when they reissued almost their entire catalog of aircraft: the Lockheed Constellation, Ford Trimotor, and Douglas DC-3. For all three the markings and box art were updated. For instance, the original TWA Connie became a USAF C-121, the TWA Trimotor was dressed in current Island Airlines livery, and the TWA DC-3 became a U.S. Navy R4-D.
I remember seeing all three at Gemco, but the only one I bought was the Navy DC-3. My original was mostly unpainted and the Navy markings didn't stay on very long.
This rebuild presented the opportunity to dress it up in all the proper colors including white upper fuselage, red tail stripe, and shiny chrome silver to enhance the bare-metal surfaces. I think it turned out pretty good. Monogram's odd-scale DC-3 is I think the oldest plastic assembly kit of the DC-3, having originally come out in the mid 1950s. The basic shape of the airplane looks accurate, but it suffers from poor-fitting parts, and exaggerated rivet lines. It's hard to cover these old imperfections with an updated paint scheme and Navy decals. The kit lends itself better to the original TWA version, which can easily be slapped together in short order without any paint at all. Still, I like this 1975 reissue because it brings back good memories of the summer of '75 on Avenue J-5 in Lancaster. I flew my original DC-3 around the house and neighborhood quite a bit, racking up many hours of flight time, just like a real DC-3.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lindberg 1/48 Me-262 With All the Bells and Whistles!

Lindberg's large-scale action model kits were very popular in the late 1950s, and early sixties. By the time I was building models in the mid-70s, Lindberg was still cranking out their most popular kits including this Messerschmitt Me-262 twin-jet WWII fighter-bomber. It has lots of working features such as opening canopy, engine access covers, machine-gun bay access covers, working flight surfaces, and retractable landing gear. The first time I built this kit I loved it! The working parts really made this a fun model to play with, plus, it was very educational. With a model like this, a young kid could have an intimate working knowledge of the major systems of this airplane. Unfortunately, action model kits didn't endure much into the 1970s. By then, the kids who built the first plastic kits in the 50s were highly experienced builders, and demanded better accuracy and detail from model companies. Working parts tended to impede on external accuracy, so things like dropping bombs, retractable gear, moving flaps and such became a thing of the past. Lindberg's Me-262 can still be bought today, but it's nowhere near as accurate or realistic looking as say, Tamiya's or even Monogram's.
But if one wants to build something just for the fun of putting hinged airplane parts together and playing with them afterwards, this is the one!
The Me-262 pictured here is the fourth one I've built in my lifetime. All four I've done are the Lindberg 1974 reissue (box pictured above.)I love the sound of a sealed Lindberg model kit. Almost always the parts are all loose off the trees, and rattle around in the box. Oh, what a sweet sound!
Typical of Lindberg, they don't give much painting guidance, so I left this rebuild in the original green plastic with only minimal painting such as the wheels and tires. All the parts work, but they aren't very durable. The hinge pins tend to break off after repeated operation, so I've left the gear down and panels closed for display.
The decal sheet for this model has always had six German crosses, which of course is total nonsense. But Lindberg, like many other U.S. and European model companies were sensitive to anxiety brought upon by the sight of swastikas; so they substituted the tail swastikas with crosses. I went ahead and put them on in keeping with the original look and design of this kit.
While not a major good-looker, the Lindberg Me-262 still remains a favorite of mine because of its cool action features and assembly fun.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Aurora Hughes Airwest DC-9 'Top Banana'

The Aurora Hughes Airwest DC-9 was another early model I built while living at J-5. There are some memories associated with it such as hearing Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" playing on my Dad's stereo, having trouble with my homework, and a new microwave oven not far from where I sat and worked on my models. My parents probably bought it for me at Gemco, or at a toy store during one of our frequent trips 'down below' to the L.A. area to shop. For some reason, I must have picked this one out because I liked the box art, or perhaps because I remember seeing Hughes Airwest DC-9s fly over my grandparents house in Downey on their approach into LAX. For whatever reason, this model has always been a favorite because of its large size, and bright yellow color.
My original DC-9 was put together rather hastily, and while attempting to put the decals on myself, one of the side window strip decals broke, and was ruined. My Dad helped me with the other side, and it came out okay. Isn't that the way it is with all models? There's always a good side and a bad side! I didn't paint my original, and so most of the decals ended up flaking off anyway, until I was left with a plain yellow DC-9.

This rebuild presented me the opportunity to do it right this time. I found one on EBay, with all parts except the display stand, and good decals. The parts are molded in yellow, and I would liked to have left them unpainted like the instructions say, but the yellow just wasn't the right shade - it was more a lemon yellow rather than the correct 'sun dance' yellow. So I sprayed the body with Tamiya yellow which went on like a dream, and is more the correct shade. For the wings I sprayed them Testors primer gray for the inner panels, and tried Testors chrome for the outer strips. The chrome spray paint didn't adhere well to the primer however, so I tried using aluminum foil. The results are better than I could have ever hoped for. She looks like a company desk model. I was worried about the old decals; they didn't looked cracked, but one never knows until soaking and getting them to loosen from the backing paper. To my amazement and pleasure, the decals held together, and slid on perfectly. I didn't bother to use Micro Sol since the plane's surfaces are smooth and glossy. I put clay in the nose so she'll sit properly on her wheels, but if I can find an original Aurora display stand someday, then I might put her on the stand.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Entex "Air Giants" Tupolev TU-144 SST

Supersonic Transports, or "SSTs" were all the rage in the mid to late sixties due to a vision these things would soon be darting the skies carrying passengers at speeds around Mach 2. Plastic model companies were quick to cash in on public enthusiasm for this new form of transportation, and produced kits of the three main SSTs on the drawing board at the time - the Boeing 2707, Tupolev TU-144, and BAC/Sud Concorde. Most of the kits were based on early concept drawings and public press releases, and were not all that accurate such as Lindberg's Boeing and Russian SST. Airfix came out with an early Concorde decked out in old BOAC markings. Revell had their famous Pan Am Boeing SST kit which included two planes, one with wings folded, the other with wings extended and landing gear down. Monogram had a simpler 2707 with wings back and gear up. Nitto in Japan and Plasticart in East Germany released excellent examples of the prototype TU-144 '68001' in 1/144 and 1/100 scale respectively. MZMPI in the Soviet Union had a rather crude prototype TU-144 somewhere between the two popular airliner kit scales.
By the mid-seventies however, the SST program in the U.S. had been canceled; only Concorde and TU-144 went into production. Both went through some design changes which altered their exterior appearance by the time they were ready for passenger service. TU-144's was the most dramatic; it was nearly a different airplane than the prototype. Due to the falling off of public interest in SSTs, model companies didn't take the extra time and money to upgrade their old versions of Concorde and TU-144. There was one lone exception however.
Fuji models of Japan, produced and small, 1:360 scale kit of the production TU-144 in Aeroflot markings. It also appeared on the Sunny label, as part of their "Sky Giants" series. This is, to my knowledge, the only injection-molded plastic kit of the production TU-144. Only recently has a resin kit appeared from Russia in 1/144 scale, of this historic airplane.
Entex marketed the Fuji/Sunny TU-144 in the U.S. under their "Air Giants" series of 'big planes in small packages.' These kits were sold at my local Gemco department store, were cheap, and I loved them. The TU-144 was one of my favorites because it was a Russian airliner, a subject hardly touched by American model companies. It's very crisp and accurate in scale, but does not include landing gear. The interesting thing is, the markings are for s/n 77102, the first production TU-144 that crashed at the 1973 Paris Airshow. The decals even have the number "451" which was the plane's registration number for the airshow. This is not the first time a model company printed decals for a doomed airplane, either before or after the tragedy. For example, Aurora's C-141 Starlifter "38077" crashed in Spain four years after the kit's release. Perhaps Fuji chose 77102 simply because it was the first ship to roll off the production line, and got the most publicity.

There's nothing to building this kit; it only has ten pieces, plus a three-piece display stand. My original looked pretty good back in '76, and this rebuild looks about the same since the TU-144 is all white. I would have left the plastic parts unpainted, but they yellowed a bit after forty years, so I sprayed it gloss white. I thought this might also help the original decals adhere, but they were mostly unusable except for the Soviet flag insignia. I used a set from the newer Academy version, which is identical to the Entex, except the decals are a little brighter and bulkier than the original. Amazingly, this is another one of those old Fuji/Sunny/Entex kits still in production today by Academy.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Entex Convair F-102A "Supersonic Series"

Gemco had a large selection of Entex kits, especially the smaller, cheaper ones such as the "Air Giants" series and the "Supersonic Series." They were all under a buck, which is unimaginable today. The only kit from the "Supersonic Series" I bought was the F-102 "Delta Dagger" because it was featured in an Air Force recruiting pamphlet I had from the early 70s. These were Otaki 1/144 scale kits repackaged by Entex, and included the F-105 Thunderchief, F-111 Aardvark, F-4 Phantom II, F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, and A-5 Vigilante. They are finely detailed, and superbly molded little kits. On my original F-102, I left it mostly unpainted except for the black radome which I painted with, you guessed it, Mom's ceramic paint! The landing gear was very fragile, and didn't survive playtime very long.

For this rebuild, I wanted to leave the main surfaces unpainted, but the plastic didn't seem to be the right shade of Air Defense Command Gray. When I started to brush on some Testors ADC gray however, I discovered the plastic was indeed molded in the correct color! I went ahead and coated the whole thing any way, just to make sure the decades-old decals would firmly adhere. They did, without much breaking, but the California Air Guard decals for the tail were slightly too large. This surprised me as the rest of the decals are accurately scaled. I had to cut away the excess around the edges once they dried. It looks okay finished from a distance.
This is a fun little kit to build, and still an easy one to find sealed on EBay. Entex must have made tens of thousands of these.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monogram HU-16E Albatross

Sometime in either late 1975 or early 1976, my Mom got a job as a secretary at the Letcher Mint. Al Letcher minted commemorative coins and casino tokens at a small plant in Lancaster. He also collected and flew vintage jet airplanes, including a DeHavilland Vampire Mk3 and an Armstrong Whitworth Meteor N.F. 11. As soon as she started working for Al, he invited my family to watch him fly his planes at Mojave Airport on the weekends. What a magical place for a kid like me at a time when my fascination for airplanes was growing rapidly. In the mid-70s, Mojave Airport was mostly quiet, with lots of derelict airplanes on the tarmac. There were a few small industrial businesses located in hangars along the flight line, including Flight Systems Inc., but it was not like it is today. There was also no commercial airliner storage there either. There were however some interesting artifacts including two Douglas C-133 Cargomasters, a gutted-out KC-97, and two U.S. Coast Guard HU-16E Albatrosses parked next to each other. One day, the airport manager Dan Sabovich, got the padlock key for one of the Albatrosses, and let us take a look inside. I remember the interior being all flat black, which made it very hot inside. What was striking though was the completely original interior, including passenger seats, radar gear, radios, and navigational equipment. I even got to sit up front and play with the controls for a couple minutes.
Around this time I was excited to see a model kit of the Coast Guard Albatross at Gemco, and had to have it. It was Monogram's 1975 reissue of their popular U.S. Air Force SA-16B Albatross kit from the late 50s. The model looked exactly like the two HU-16Es I saw at Mojave.
Putting that first HU-16E model together on the picnic table in my back yard is still a vivid memory for me. As usual for this time in my model making, I used my Mom's black paint for the radome and tires. My Dad gave me some thin purple and yellow pin-striping tape to spice the plane up a bit, but it peeled off not long after application. This first Albatross got a lot of heavy play around the house. I especially liked the retractable landing gear, and I wore it out after repeated operation.
A couple years later, I bought another HU-16E to replace the first one. On the second one, I hand-painted the red and blue Coast Guard colors, but it didn't look very good. I free-handed all of it, and my demarcation lines were pretty rough. On top of that, painting gloss blue and red enamel on white plastic by brush looks terrible.

On this third rebuild pictured here, I spray painted the red panels with Tamiya bright red, and also sprayed the blue stripe with Tamiya French Blue. What I like about this Monogram reissue is they molded the plastic in a thick white styrene that looks like it's painted semi-gloss white. So, I left the white plastic unpainted, which saved a lot of time and labor. Even for an experienced modeler, the Coast Guard red, white, and blue paint scheme is a challenge to get right. I went through a lot of masking tape on this one! But if done right, the results are fantastic. I also painted the interior flat black like I remember in the real airplane at Mojave. This adds some realism to the model when finished, since you don't see a white interior through the clear windows. I was a little disappointed with the original decals. They stayed together in one piece, but were too thick to completely conform over the heavy rivet lines, even with copious amounts of Micro Sol. They were also a bit yellowed from age. I covered them with a thin coat of Testors semi-gloss clear acrylic after they dried just to make sure they stay on permanently.
This is a fun moel to build, but not necessarily a fun kit to paint. The original Air Force version is much easier. But, with patience and skill, the Coast Guard HU-16E is real eye candy on the shelf once she's finished.
Because of the Mojave Airport connection I have with this plane, the Monogram HU-16E is one of my all-time favorite model airplane kits.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Entex Spruce Goose

Talk about a classic! The Entex Spruce Goose model kit has been in steady production since the early 1970s. It's no wonder though because the real airplane is so famous, and has been a tourist attraction for nearly thirty years. Entex came out with this fine model kit when the "Goose" was still hidden in its corrugated tin hangar near Long Beach harbor.
After Hughes died, and the Goose was brought out of secrecy and put on display next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, one could still buy the model kit at the gift shop; but by then Entex had gone out of business, and the kit was packaged by several companies such as Anmark, Wrather Port Properties Inc., and Craft, which later morphed into Minicraft. If you go see the Goose today at the Evergreen Air Museum, you can still buy the same kit by Minicraft at the gift shop. The box art has been updated several times over the years, but the parts are still the original Japanese molds made for Entex thirty-something years ago - amazing!
My grandparents bought me my first Entex Spruce Goose model in '75 or '76. My Dad and I put it together in short order; it didn't need any painting to look good. The kit is in 1/200 scale, which was an odd scale at the time, but it seemed just the right size to fit on an average book shelf or desk. At 1/144 scale, it would have been a bit big. Being such a large airplane scaled down so small, there aren't many pieces to it, but the propellers are a problem. They're very thin and fragile. The props on my first Goose broke off very quickly due to heavy play around the house. One day I "flew" it down to a neighbor's house to show a man, who was a C-141 pilot based at Norton AFB. I was proud to show him my new model, but I clearly remember him saying, "Hey, it's the Spruce Goose with a bunch of busted propellers!" I was a bit insulted, but he was right. This first Goose ended up suffering even more abuse when I would routinely take it to friends houses who had pools, and I would recreate the famous first flight in the water. It didn't last long after a few summers, but I bought another one in the 80s and did it up right that time with my Badger airbrush.
This newest rebuild is an original Entex version. The decals wouldn't budge from their backing sheet, and I didn't want to go out and spend $25 dollars on a new Minicraft kit just for the decals. So I improvised with some leftover letters and numbers from an AMT Starship Enterprise model. Thanks AMT, that decal sheet really comes in handy in a pinch!
I was tempted to leave the model in it's original silver-gray molded plastic, but there is way too much crazing on the pieces, which doesn't look good when finished. So I spray painted the whole thing with Testors silver, and painted the props flat black with yellow tips to match photos of the real Goose as she was being prepped for flight. The instructions also say to put some weight in the nose, but not how much. This is so the model will rest properly on the display stand. It requires a lot because the thing is so tail heavy. Speaking of tail, one will notice the real Goose has some reinforcements applied around the tail boom. These were added some time later inside the hangar after her one-and-only flight. The model kit doesn't have these, and so is an accurate representation of the Goose as she was originally built.

Recently a resin model company released a Spruce Goose in 1/72 scale! Can you imagine the size of it? Who's got that kind of room in their house? The Entex Spruce Goose is a much better option, being just the right size for display, crisply and accurately molded, and a fun model to build. It will always be one of my favorites.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Aurora Lockheed C-141A Starlifter!

At last, I've finished the plane which started my craziness for airplanes and models: the C-141A Starlifter! As I mentioned in my earliest blog post, I saw one of these fly over our newly-constructed neighborhood on East Avenue J-5 in Lancaster Calif, as my family and I were inspecting our new home. The Starlifter's high wing and T-tail design really struck me as unique, as well as the TF-33 low-bypass turbofans which had a strange whistle or howl-like sound.
The C-141 was the Air Force's first jet cargo transport; and for as revolutionary and cutting-edge as it was in the 1960s, only Aurora chose to make a model of it in 1/108 scale. It was the only plastic scale model kit of the Starlifter for almost two decades until DML released a very crisp, but small 1/200 scale one in the late eighties. For serious modelers who wished to build a fleet of USAF cargo aircraft in the constant scale of 1/144, the C-141 was a frustrating missing link in the lineup. Only recently has a C-141A model kit in 1/144 scale been released, and it's a resin kit. But that's the story for many other military cargo transport aircraft; they just weren't very good sellers compared to sleek, armed combat planes.
This is my third build of an Aurora C-141A. The first one I built was at the dawn of my modeling days. I remember my Dad helping out on this one. Together we made a nice job of it. I used my Mom's black ceramic paint for the radome, and a few other details. It was one of my treasured models that I flew all over the house, front yard, and back yard. I even "flew" it down to one of our neighbor's houses down the street, who was a C-141A pilot based out of Norton AFB. This model came to a rather tragic end however, when, after a long flight around the house, I left it parked in the garage behind our car. Either my Mom or Dad backed out over it and crushed it. I was crushed too, but I learned my lesson: never leave model airplanes parked in the garage!
I built a second one a couple years later after we moved to another house. That one was done a little bit better, having the wing tops painted white like the instructions say. This third rebuild was a joy to complete, and I tried to keep it "factory display" looking by sticking to the instructions as closely as possible. Like most other model companies of the 50s and 60s, Aurora gives only basic guidance for painting and detailing. It's really all that's needed though for an odd-scale, sparsely detailed kit like this one. I suppose one could dress this kit up with bare metal foil or metalized spray finishes, but I think that would be better suited for the DML, Testors, or resin versions. The Aurora C-141A is a unique, vintage model kit though, probably never to be reissued as who knows where the molds are for it. It remains one of my most favorite plastic model airplane kits.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lindberg F8U-1 Crusader

Lindberg reissued a bunch of their classic 50's model kits in 1973. The 1/48 scale Chance-Vought F8U-1 Crusader was one of them. It has lots of moving parts including a rubber-band powered ejection seat, retractable landing gear, moving control surfaces, arresting hook, and removable engine. It was a ton of fun to build in '76, and just as much fun again in 2011. You can see a picture of my completely unpainted original Crusader in the first blog entry (along with my completely unpainted Monogram F-105.)

A big question to consider for this rebuild was whether to paint it in operational Navy colors (light sea gray and white) or leave it silver like the XF8U prototype. Since the kit is engineered to have the long test probe fitted on the radome, I chose to keep it unpainted silver-gray like the XF8U. Lindberg included rather basic decal markings for this model which do not match the prototype or production versions. So, the whole thing is not really correct. But it's a fun model to build and display. Lindberg moving parts are only good for several "play withs" before they break, so I've put the gear down to stay, and the ejection set installed without rubber bands. The display stand is rather wobbly, but useful if one has crowded shelf space, as it lifts the plane pretty high.
Thinking back, I really don't remember why I got this model the first time. I was never crazy about the Crusader; perhaps it was just an impulse buy at Gemco or Thrifty Drug Store. I do however remember being pleasantly surprised by the action features on this kit, which made for some good quality play time with it before it fell apart into pieces again.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Entex Rockwell B-1 Bombers!

Monday morning, 10:30am, December 23rd 1974, on the outskirts of Palmdale Air Force Facility, my mother, father and I watched the first flight of the B-1 bomber. I was nine years old and didn't know much about the B-1 yet, but I vividly remember the slender, white airplane taking off with a loud roar. When I returned to school after Christmas vacation, I drew a picture of the takeoff as best as I could remember it. My B-1 didn't look anything like the real thing, but several months later I would become more familiar with the shapely lines of the Rockwell B-1.
Some time after that first flight, my parents and I stopped in to a fast food restaurant in Lancaster for a bite to eat. There are on the ticket counter was an Entex B-1 model. We all noticed it right away and commented to the owner about it. It fueled my perception that the B-1 was a big deal to everyone in Lancaster. I knew I had to have a model of the B-1!
I don't know how long afterwards, but my parents bought me an Entex B-1 at Gemco. It was one of my first models along with the others I've posted on this blog already; I just wish I could remember in what order I built them all. Like some of my other early kits, I painted only a few details on my original with Mom's black ceramic lacquer. The kit's cockpit section is moulded in a smoked-brownish purple color, and requires masking the windows, and painting the surrounding area white. I'm sure I didn't do this on my original, and so I had a B-1 with a purple cockpit!
I wish I knew more about the history of this rather historic model kit. Entex was a company in Carson California that packaged, marketed, and distributed model kits and toys from Japan. As far as I know, they did not design, tool, or produce their own models at their Carson facility. They contracted with other companies in Japan such as Nitto, Otaki, Marusan, Doyusha, and Mania to name a few, to sell their kits in the U.S. Some of the most famous of these were the Otaki C-5A Galaxy, the huge Doyusha 1/100 scale Boeing 747, and the tiny "Air Giants" series of planes from Fuji. The B-1 however seems to be unique to Entex. Even though the plastic parts were made in Japan, they do not appear to be made by Otaki, Nitto, or any of the others. I believe Entex really wanted to be the first to produce a model kit of the B-1, and contracted with a Japanese manufacturer to make the moulds, but only for Entex. They did this with the Spruce Goose kit too (which will be covered in a later post.)

This model is very accurate in scale and shape, even though it's obvious from the box art and the drawings on the instruction sheet that Entex got their hands on early Rockwell diagrams and concept art to produce this kit before anybody else. Interestingly, only Lindberg came out with another B-1 kit shortly after Entex's, and theirs was horrible. Poorly engineered and moulded, Lindberg's odd-scale, pitiful little B-1 didn't hold up to Entex's crisp, accurate scaling in 1/144. It wasn't until the early 1980s with the rebirth of the B-1 into the production "B" version that model companies started to take the aircraft seriously. Monogram, Revell, and Testors started producing large scale, accurate models of the B-1. Entex went out of business in the early 80s, but their B-1A kit lived on with Revell-Germany, and most recently Minicraft. Amazing! This model kit has been readily available on store shelves for over thirty-five years! Entex even had the kit reduced in scale to be included in their "Air Giants" series of mini model kits, and you can still buy it by Minicraft at hobby shops.
But back to 1974 - the Entex B-1 was all the rage and they must have made hundreds of thousands of these things because factory sealed copies are still plentiful on EBay and at model swap meets.
For my rebuild project, I chose to do two of these so I could display them in both in flight "slick" mode, and "on the ground mode" with wings out. For the "slick" B-1 I painted it to look like the one on the box, and the one in the original Rockwell artist's conception photo from 1972, which was actually a photograph of the mock-up at Rockwell's Seal Beach facility, superimposed onto an aerial backdrop. This version is all white, including the radome. The first B-1, 40158, rolled out of the hangar at Palmdale with a black radome, and black test patterns on different parts of the ship. For my "ground" version, I chose to paint the radome black, but left the rest of the ship white. The new Minicraft reissue includes decals to replicate the black areas on the tail, and the belly.
The original Entex decals on both models were dried out and brittle, even on one of the kits that was still factory sealed. A little Micrsoscale Liquid Decal Film helped, but a few of the decals on both ships dissolved and are incomplete. From a distance though it's hardly noticeable. For the "ground" ship, I left the cockpit section unglued to demonstrate it's separability, but on the "slick" ship I puttied and sanded the cockpit section smooth to blend with the fuselage.

This is one of my favorite kits for the sheer fact that the B-1 was an important part of my growing up, and made a big impression on me. You couldn't escape the noise of those first B-1 test ships if you lived in Lancaster. In the evenings Rockwell technicians at the Palmdale plant would run up the engines to full afterburner for what seemed like hours. The noise could be heard all over the Antelope Valley! Some nights it was rather disturbing, and I remember having trouble getting to sleep. But, I loved my old B-1 model and these rebuilds are a nice reminder of those early magical days in Lancaster.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cashulette Saturn V with Gantry & Crawler

Here's another space model kit my Dad came home from work with and gave me. Bought from the Rockwell company store at Palmdale Plant 42 no doubt; the store probably had these on sale as this kit went out of production by the early seventies. It was originally produced in Jacksonville Florida by a company named Countdown, and was later issued by Cashulette Engineering. I had the Cashulette version in '75, and I was excited to find an unbuilt Countdown version on EBay a couple years ago. They are very much the same including the box art. This Countdown version I rebuilt however had an unmarked Saturn V rocket, while my old Cashulette one had the black roll patterns and USA markings pre-colored on the white plastic rocket body. I liked the pre-colored one better because this Countdown version uses stickers, and they don't stick very well after forty years. I had to use some Micro Metal Foil Adhesive to get them to stay on.
This model is extremely fun to build because there is no painting, and not much to it. I used Plastruct liquid cement on almost the whole model which was perfect for the kind of joints and attachment points this kit has.
I remember not being satisfied with the orange color of the gantry on my old one, and I painted it red to match the photo on the box. I actually made it look worse! I also remember taking pictures of it in my back yard on J-5 with an old Kodak Brownie camera. Most of the shots I took of it were blurry because I didn't understand the Brownie could not take pictures close up. I still wish I had those old pictures though because a couple were in focus, and in vivid color.
It's nice to have this model again to look at and enjoy. It looks like it could be a toy, but it's really a fine scale model when one considers the challenge of shrinking down such a huge, complex object, and engineering it to be assembled in parts of styrene plastic. I wonder where the moulds for this kit are; hopefully they weren't scrapped and melted down. It would be nice to see a reissue of this model again some day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Aurora North American XB-70 Valkyrie

Here she is, the creme-della-creme of Aurora's USAF bomber kits: the XB-70 Valkyrie. Aurora and Lindberg were quick to produce model kits of this experimental SAC Mach-3 bomber, and interestingly, were the only ones available for almost two decades until Italeri released a beautifully detailed one in the nineties. Both Aurora's and Lindberg's were engineered from early concept drawings from North American, and Aurora's came out ahead in accuracy and quality. Lindberg's version was smaller, but did have some cool features such as retractable landing gear, and movable wing tips. It was terribly inaccurate in shape and detail though compared to Aurora's. Aurora's is simple with relatively few pieces, and no moving parts. It's an odd scale, and this frustrated serious model builders for years who were trying to build a fleet of USAF bombers in constant scale. Contrail came out with 1/72 scale vacuform version to fix this problem, but not all us modelers are, or were into vacuform.
I did this rebuild as simple as possible in memory of my original. I left it in the original white plastic, with only a few painted details such as black anti-glare panel, and silver struts and tires. The six jet engines are nicely detailed, but once you glue them into the lower intake assembly, you can't see them unless you peer into the narrow intake openings; and then, all you see are the front fan blades.
Out of the four Aurora kits my uncle Norman built for me back in '75, the XB-70 lasted the longest - well into my high-school years. It's long life finally came to an end one day though, when the lower intake assembly busted off from the wing. It looked to me like the top wing assembly should fly, so I tried throwing it in my back yard. The dang thing flew! Well, somewhat. It didn't fly very straight or for very long, but it actually rode some air for a few seconds before falling to the ground in pieces. The Aurora XB-70 will always be one of my favorite kits from childhood.

Aurora Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar

This is one of my favorite Aurora models. It's almost toy-like with it's opening rear clam shell doors, loading ramps, and cargo on pallets - I got a lot of quality "play time" with it. It was for many years, the only plastic model kit of the C-119, other than a very hard-to-find version from FROG, which was not widely available in the U.S. As with most of Aurora's other kits, the C-119 was produced well into the seventies. Early versions were moulded in gray, but later ones such as my rebuild pictured here are moulded in silver, which makes for a better, unpainted model. The model has raised lines for decals placement, and I painted in the "USAF" markings with a black paint pen. The stars & bars and other markings are from the original decal sheet, but the stars & bars started curling and flaking off shortly after assembly.
Italeri released a superior version of the C-119G in 1/72 scale in the 1980s. Testors co-released the kit in the U.S., and it is by far the best kit out there of the Boxcar. Italeri converted their "G" model moulds to produce a "C" model Boxcar, which is also a very fine kit. But the old Aurora Boxcar will live on in my memory (and my office shelf) as one of my favorites.

Aurora Convair B-58 Hustler

Uncle Norman built my original B-58 with the wheels up, and no decals. I suspect he bought it at a swap meet and it was missing the landing gear and decals. When it was given to me, I tried enhancing the detail on it with my Mom's black ceramic paint by painting "USAF" and the nose cone. It helped a little bit, but remained a pretty drab-looking model. This rebuild is much better because I sprayed it silver, and did my best to use and preserve the original decals. This is another one of those early model kits that have raised areas on the surface for decal placement - I hate that! Even with Micro-Sol, the decals didn't lay down well and I had to coat them with Testors clear acrylic.
The model is good size, but pretty simple. It has a clear windshield piece, but no clear parts for the side windows! The weapons pod is detachable, but I chose not to put it on, because it makes the plane wobble too much on the stand. I did this rebuild gears-up in memory of my original one.
The B-58 was a popular model when the plane came out in the late 50s because it was so sleek and awesome looking. Revell, Monogram, Comet, and Lindberg all had their own versions of it.

Aurora TWA Boeing 727

The Aurora Boeing 727 was engineered from early drawings and concept art from Boeing before the real airplane rolled out of the hangar. Because of this, there are some innacuracies with it such as the shape of the engine exhaust outlets, and the windhield. There's hardly any detail on the outer surfaces, but with commercial airliner models, that's usually not a big deal since real airliners are fairly smooth and streamlined. The TWA markings on this model are also a little different than what the real TWA 727's ended up having. Aurora released the 727 model in different airliner liveries such as United, American, and Eastern Airlines. The kit was originally released in the early sixties, and soldiered on as late as 1974. It's close to 1/100 scale. It has relatively few parts and is very easy to build and paint. My original 727 that uncle Norman built for me was unpainted, but he put the TWA decals on. They started flaking off shortly after it was given to me, and I tried re-adhering them to the model with my Mom's clear nail polish. The polish melted a few of the decals, and made the thing look worse, but I still liked it and kept the model for a long time. It eventually came under fire from my BB gun in the back yard, and still exists in pieces somewhere deep in a Lancaster landfill.

Four Aurora Beauties! C-119, B-58, XB-70 & 727

Around the same time my grandparents gave me the AMT Hindenburg model, they also gave me four Aurora model airplanes. It was another huge surprise watching my grandpa open the hatchback of his Datsun 240Z and seeing these four planes laying there in the trunk waiting for me - it was like a dream. But they were already built by my uncle Norman. Norman is my Mom's brother, and he was transitioning from California to Hawaii in 1975. He stayed a while at my grandparent's home in Downey, and must have had some time on his hands. My grandparents told me he got the models at swap meets, and really enjoyed building them for me. Norman also built a Revell Pan Am Boeing SST, and an Entex Spruce Goose for me (which will be covered in a later blog entry.) Even though I did not originally build these four kits back in '75, I though it would be fun to find unbuilt ones on EBay, and do them up right just for memory's sake. All four of my original kits were unpainted, and uncle Normam either chose not to put the decals on the C-119, and the B-58, or they were missing from the kits to begin with. I'll cover each kit separately.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

AMT Hindenburg

Knowing my fascination with airships, my Grandma and Grandpa came over to our house on J-5 one day with an AMT Hindenburg kit. I was ecstatic! These had just come out in 1975, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on one. I don't remember if this was a Christmas or birthday gift, but I remember my Grandpa opening the hatchback of his Datsun 240Z and pulling out the box.
My original Hindenburg was quickly put together, and left mostly unpainted, except for a few details painted black with my mother's paint used for ceramics. I put the decals on, but they did not stick as usual because of my dirty, grimy fingerprints all over the model. I had to use my Mom's clear fingernail varnish to glue the darn things on, which caused them to craze a bit. But it worked. Jeez, when would I learn! I loved this kit though, and flew it all over the house for months doing my best impression of four Maybach airship diesels at full power.
In 2009 I was glad to find a sealed one on EBay for my rebuild project. When I opened the box, a lot of memories came back. The pieces are moulded in gray, which is okay, but AMT should have pressed the kit in metallic gray styrene so that kids like me could have had a more realistic looking zeppelin without painting. At any rate, I sprayed this rebuild with Testors silver-metallic and it looks much better than the original gray. This is not an easy kit to build even though it has few pieces. The two body halves are quite thick, and warped, which makes gluing them together a real chore. They don't line up well and leave a noticeable line running along the top and bottom. This can be puttied and sanded of course, but it takes a lot of work. I filed and dry-sanded the seams to a point I thought looked acceptable. Really, none of the parts fit well on this model, and there are numerous accuracy problems such as wrong fin shape and size, over sized landing wheel and strut, engine car struts too thick, and decals too big. On top of all this, the engineers decided to simulate, or should I say over-simulate the Hindenburg's skin fabric texture. It looks as if the texture simulation is scaled 1/1! It gives the model a terribly rough appearance while the real airship had a nice smooth look to it, even up close. I guess the engineers at AMT were not striving for accuracy on this one as they had on their famous automobile kits. Why this is I don't know; their aircraft kits which came out around the same time were very good. Perhaps the company just wanted to get this model out in a hurry to coincide with Universal's "The Hindenburg" movie. Revell-Germany has made a much superior, but smaller scale model of the Hindenburg and her sister Graf Zeppelin II that fixes some, but not all of AMT's hideous errors. AMT's is 1/520 scale, and Revell's is 1/720th scale.

The AMT Hindenburg remains one of my favorite model kits from childhood because I still had a great fondness of airships, having flown in the Goodyear Blimp only a couple years earlier, and seeing the movie "The Hindenburg."

Monday, February 28, 2011

My First Airfix Kit: Westland Scout

The 1/72 scale Westland Scout helicopter is the first Airfix model kit I ever built. The first time I walked into Peterson Hobby and Crafts my eyes were immediately drawn to the revolving rack of Airfix "carded" models. These were like candy for the eyes; the brightly colored kit parts could be seen through the clear bubble cover. The cardboard backing had colorful artwork, and an equally colorful and enticing painting guide on the flip side.
There were lots of airplanes on the Airfix rack to choose from, but I think I chose the Scout first because I liked the shape of its cabin. This model didn't last long in my original collection because it's very fragile, and I probably broke it early on.
On this rebuild, I left the green moulded parts unpainted because Airfix matched the plastic very close to the shade of green required for the British Army version. I used Testors Dark Brown for the brown bits. I was pleasantly reminded how detailed this kit is, with its fine rivet lines and antennae; but the biggest drawback is the clear canopy piece - it's horrible! It does not fit correctly at all across the top of the cabin, and gaps occur around the corners of the window frames. I chose to just glue it on the best I could and leave it. I didn't bother painting the lightly engraved window frame lines on the clear piece; it just wasn't worth it. Still, this was a fun model to build again, and I still like the overall shape and appearance of the Scout helicopter.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Crown/AHM Axis Lilliputians

When I started shopping for model airplanes at Peterson's in Lancaster, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of imported kits, mostly from Japan. Peterson's was well-stocked with all the latest stuff from LS, Hasegawa, Tamiya, Fujimi, Mania, Otaki, and Crown. They were not all that expensive either compared to domestic brands. I usually went in there with only a couple bucks at a time, rather than saving for a nice large, deluxe kit. For a while I got stuck in a rut of buying cheap 1/144 Japanese kits, because I thought I was getting more for my money. The first time I tried this was with a four-set collection of Crown airplanes in 1/144 scale: Ju-87 Stuka, Me-110, Ki-61 Tony, and Zero with floats. The kit boxes were shrink-wrapped together like you see in the picture here. This was serious eye candy for a kid like me. I didn't know what "1/144 scale" meant size wise, so this set looked like I was getting four airplanes the size I was used to - 1/72 scale. When I got it home however, I was a little disappointed that the airplanes were so tiny. I built them any way, and the results were pretty good I thought. I went on to buy a few more models in 1/144 scale, which will be covered in later blog entries.
These little kits were fun to build again, and they took about as long to complete as one 1/48 scale kit! I didn't do much detailing; one could get real elaborate with these, but I stuck to my original project philosophy of "build it like you were a kid again." Standard painting was done in accordance with the box illustrations. The original decals went on well, despite their forty years of age.
My favorite plane in this group was the "Tony" because I thought it was the sleekest, most bad-ass looking fighter of WWII, along with the Mig-3, and the Westland Whirlwind. The minuscule Tony was the only one I ever built as a kid, even though there were larger Tony kits available at the time.

Crown/AHM had a whole series of these 1/144 scale fighters but these four were the only ones I got. The whole series would make a very impressive collection displayed all together. You can still piece together the whole series by finding them individually on EBay.