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.