Friday, April 27, 2012

FROG Gloster Meteor Mk.IV

There's a much bigger story around this FROG 1/72 scale Gloster Meteor Mk. IV than just having built it when I was eleven years old. The bigger story is, I got to spend time with a real Meteor at Mojave Airport. It was owned by Al Letcher, and was actually an Armstrong Whitworth N.F. 11, later converted to a TT-20 target tow vehicle. Al also owned a DeHavilland Vampire Mk. III, and at the time (1976) they were the oldest two jet aircraft flying in the United States. I came to know Al because my Mom got a job as his secretary at The Letcher Mint in Lancaster. Al minted tokens for Las Vegas and Reno casinos, and also commemorative coins for the collector's market. His desire back in those days was to own and operate a Royal Air Force museum there at Mojave. He got off to a pretty good start with the Vampire and Meteor, and later a Hawker Hunter! But by the mid 1980s his interest wandered to helicopters, and all three jets were eventually sold. The Meteor now sits in a museum at Edwards AFB. But for those few glorious years in the late seventies, Al's Meteor graced the skies over the Antelope Valley. It was even used in the WONDER WOMAN T.V. series episode, "The Feminine Mystique" guised as America's new secret weapon, the 'XPJ-1'.

As I mentioned in my post about the Grumman HU-16E Albatross, Mojave Airport was a magical place for a plane-crazy kid like me. Al's own aircraft made the place even more exciting. Al would let me sit in the cockpits of the Meteor and the Vampire, and that was a real privilege. He even let me scrub the underside of the Meteor with kerosene! How many 11-year old kids get to do that? I treasure the memories of Al and his wife Ada; they were like family to me. Al knew I liked to build model airplanes so he gave me a FROG Meteor MK. IV kit along with a FROG Vampire FB.5. I remember him telling me there weren't any models available of the exact variations of his Meteor and Vampire, and that the two FROG kits were about as close as one could get. I didn't care, they were model airplanes and I was thrilled to receive them and put them together. They were prized items in my collection, and I even refurbished the Meteor when I was in High School. I gave it a coat of silver with my airbrush, and put some new decals on it.
My rebuild pictured here was a bagged kit I found at a model swap meet in Missouri, but I later found an empty box for it on EBay. The kit was missing the display stand and the pitot tube, but that was okay. I knew I was going to build it wheels-down and the pitot tube would easily be replaceable with either plastic or brass wire. It was fun to build again, and easy to paint since the whole thing is silver. The original decals were thick, but went on fine. I love having this model back on the shelf. It meant a lot to me to as a kid, and still does today.
I should mention also that Matchbox eventually came out with an A.W. Meteor NF in 1/72 scale as well as Classic Airframes, who released a beautiful but dreadfully expensive Meteor NF in 1/48 scale. In 2006 I built a Matchbox Meteor to look like the XPJ-1 from WONDER WOMAN. I put it up for auction on EBay as a one-of-a-kind collector's item, but it didn't generate many bids. I might do another one later to match Al's white 'Mojave Meteor' from days gone past. Al painted the meteor gloss white, and put RAF roundels on it. He knew this wasn't historically accurate, but was more concerned about keeping the aircraft cool since it was kept outdoors in the hot desert sun.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Airfix 1/72 USAF F-86D Sabre "Dog"

Sometime in 1976 I sat down at my Dad's workbench in the garage, and with Paul McCartney & Wing's "Let 'em In" on the radio, I started work on my second Airfix model kit, the F-86D Sabre. I remember being impressed with the quality of this model; the parts seemed to fit better than most kits I had built up to that time. I hand-painted a few parts such as the radome and anti-glare panel, but left the rest in the natural silver-gray plastic.
When it came to rebuilding this kit 36 years later, I knew it had to be shinier than the dull plastic color. I wanted it to look like the one on the box art, so I sprayed it with Testors chrome; which in my opinion is the poor-man's version of Liqua-Plate or some such other esoteric hobby product intended to replicate bare aluminum. I think it looks good and somewhat vintage-like. After all, if one really wanted to stay within this kit's original context, that is, an English kid in 1975 would have brush painted it with Airfix or Humbrol silver, it would look a lot like my rebuild pictured below.
I really enjoyed building this model again, as I have with most of the others. Maybe it's because my memories of doing so the first time are still so vivid. One thing I did differently the second time was to build it 'gear up' like the one on the box top. One reason for this is the nose wheel piece is famous for its weak strut, which breaks very easily. I remember my original breaking several times right where the nose wheel forms with the compression cylinder. I say this is "famous" because it's mentioned in the review of this model in a 1976 issue of SCALE MODELER magazine. Another reason is I like the way the Sabre looks in flight mode with the wing tanks. So why not forget the gear this time? I know there are modelers out there who absolutely have to have a wheels-down model every time. But for me, it's nice not to have mess with the extra assembly and painting every now and then.
This is one of my favorite Airfix kits because it was still pretty new when I bought it the first time, and is an excellent quality kit. This rebuild may not be the last time I'll build one of these.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hasegawa's Classic 1/72 F-104J

The 1/72 scale Lockheed F-104J is the first model kit by Hasegawa I ever built. I bought it at Peterson's on a shopping trip with my friend Phil. I remember painting a few details on it such as the white wing tops and black anti-glare panel, but that was about it. It remained in my collection up until we moved from J-5.
Building this kit again was fun, but I was surprised at the low quality of the parts. The F-104J must have been one of Hasegawa's early airplane kits because the parts do not fit well, and the plastic is molded in a hard, brittle, silver-gray. There was a fair amount of flash on some parts. At some point in the early 70s Hasegawa must have had a quality improvement initiative, because other kits such as the A-4E Skyhawk (post forthcoming) are like night and day compared to this one.
For this rebuild I chose the Japan Air Self Defense Force version "666", same as my original. Instead of leaving the fuselage bare plastic though, I sprayed it with Testors primer gray, which seemed to match the Federal Standard shade of gray recommended on the instruction sheet. For the shiny aluminum part around the tail pipe, and the canopy framework I used metal foil with Micro Metal Foil Adhesive. I chose to omit the under wing fuel tanks and Sidewinder missiles in order to keep the Starfighter's sleek appearance. I don't think Hasegawa ever released an airplane model kit with a display stand, so wheels down is always the "option" unless one wishes to hang their kit from the ceiling.
This is an okay kit, not my favorite, but it was fun to revisit. I'm looking forward to rebuilding Hasegawa's better kits such as the A-4E, Mig-25, and Thunderbirds T-38.