Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Rareplane 1/72 Douglas C-54 Skymaster!

Here's a classic Rareplane Douglas DC-4/C-54 Skymaster vacuform model from England. Advertisements in old SCALE MODELER magazines show these were imported into the U.S. sometime in 1977. Had I found one of these at Peterson's Hobbies or one of my other favorite hobby shops in the L.A. area at the time, I would have bought it because I liked the DC-4 since I was ten. Never mind the fact that I wouldn't have been able to tackle such a difficult construction project; I had a challenging enough go at it in 2015! This is actually my second attempt at a full vacuform plastic model airplane kit, but my first successful one. The first was a 1/48 scale Ta-154 Moskito in 1994 which ended up in the trash can after a fit of rage.
This time I read some articles on vac-building from old issues of FINE SCALE MODELER. The experts were very helpful in coaching me how to properly cut out the pieces and sand them before gluing. Their main advice however was PATIENCE. This Rareplane DC-4 is made from thicker than usual sheets of plastic probably for extra strength since it's a large model. Construction was straight-forward in accordance with the simple instruction sheet provided with the kit. I had to decide early on what version to make this model, and after scouring many photographs of DC-4s and C-54s and what decals were available, I ended up settling on a straight USAAF C-54 - an early one. In fact this model represents 41-20137, the first Douglas DC-4 off the assembly line in Santa Monica, Ca. in 1942. The first 25 DC-4s ended up being basically olive drab painted airliners. 20137 and the following 24 others down the line were originally bought by American Airlines, but were commandeered by the Army for troop transport. Apparently, 28 G.I.s could be carried in luxurious comfort!
To replicate this earliest version of the Skymaster, I had to do some things: first, Rareplane molded the C-54 cargo door on the fuselage. I had to scrape all that off and sand the area down. Second, the first C-54s did not have de-icer boots so those were omitted by filling in the line which marks them along the leading edges of the wings and tails. Third, minimal antennae was installed, as pictures of some early C-54s showed mainly the basic football thing underneath and perhaps a few other doo-dads but nothing worth replicating to any extent. And finally, I applied early USAAF stars with red dots and "U.S. Army" on the wing undersides. On the real C-54s, these early stars were probably on for only a few months, maybe weeks until the 1942 blue and white stars without red dot were made standard. I would imagine in the field, the red dots were just painted over white.
Rareplane includes clear window pieces for this model, but I did not feel like spending another month
cutting each oval window opening out let alone the cockpit windows. So I just painted them black as Rareplane also suggests as an alternative. It makes the model look more like a vintage Douglas factory desk model, but it's not bad. Omitting the landing gear and the prop blades also hastened completion. A lot of filling and sanding was required along the wing joints and I'm not sure the air scoops on top of the engine nacelles are the correct length and shape, but oh well. This was quite an ambitious project for me and I'm happy with the results. She's big and looks great in my office from several feet away. I'm going to bring her up to Renton later this month for an I.PM.S. show. I doubt I'll win any award with it but I would like to show her off any way.

Otaki 1/48 Kawasaki Ki-61 "Tony"

As I was constructing the Nichimo Ki-45 I simultaneously worked on this Otaki Ki-61 because it's my second favorite Japanese subject in 1/48 scale. The Otaki Tony is a classic. It was the first one out in 1/48 scale, sometime in the late 70s. Arii got hold of it and produced it well into the 90s. I chose to build this one in a solid color like the Nick, but using a light gray in a spray can close as I could find to the medium light gray used by the Japanese Army. Again, Donald Thorpe's book was helpful in this as it showed several Tony's in basic solid color with minimal markings. No conversions here, just straight out of the box.

Nichimo 1/48 Kawasaki Ki-45 "Nick"

Although I didn't build my first one of these until about twenty years after they came out, the Nichimo Ki-45 is one of my favorite Japanese subjects in 1/48 scale. It's also featured in a 1976 issue of SCALE MODELER magazine, so I'm including it here because it's sort of a model kit from my childhood. I built the first one back in 1995 and did it straight from the box, painting it in the usual light gray-green with dark green mottling. For this second go-around, I chose to do an early version without the guns sticking out the top behind the cockpit. I also chose one of the solid color schemes the Japanese Army used - the medium blue gray. I put minimal insignia on it with no squadron or tail markings. This decision was based on some photos and diagrams I saw in Donald Thorpe's excellent book Japanese Army Air Force Camouflage and Markings by Aero Publishers, 1968.

Tamiya has the correct medium blue gray in a spray can, so painting was easy. The decals are a mix of the ones which come with the kit, and from the Otaki Ki-61.
Even though the Nick was a mediocre twin-engine fighter (like the Me-110) I still think it's a bad-ass looking airplane and I'm happy to look at it every day in my office.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Al Letcher's Mojave Meteor and Vampire in 1/48 Scale

The memory of those Saturdays spent at Mojave airport in the 70s are very special to me, and I'm happy to have finally built proper models of the two airplanes I loved to watch fly back then: Al Letcher's Armstrong Whitworth Meteor NF.11 and Dehavilland Vampire F3. Classic Airframe's 1/48 scale Meteor and Hobbycraft's Vampire in the same scale were perfect for this project. As I mentioned earlier on this blog, at the time I used to see these planes fly out at Mojave, there were no model kits of the night fighter version of the Meteor, or the early Vampire.

Classic Airframe's Meteor NF is a short-run injection kit from the Czech Republic which came out around ten years ago. It's moulded in a dark gray, brittle styrene plastic. The canopy is a horrible one-piece translucent thing, and mine had cracks in it from the factory. The pieces fit together poorly, and needed much filling and sanding, especially around the wing roots and engine pods. This didn't bother me though because I knew the whole thing was going to be sanded smooth and painted overall gloss white.
Al's Meteor was delivered to him straight from the U.K. bearing faded Royal Navy markings from it's last days in service as an aerial target tow plane. Al had the towing gear removed in England before the ferry flight across the pond. Not long after it arrived at Mojave, he had it completely covered with gloss polyurethane white to keep the aircraft cool while parked in the hot desert sun. Even though he wasn't concerned about historical accuracy with the paint job, he did have the correct size and style RAF roundels applied. He did not apply any squadron lettering or numbers. The only additional markings other than the roundels were very small registration numbers under the horizontal stabilizer, and "experimental" below the canopy opening. For my model, I chose not to duplicate the registration numbers or the "experimental" but I did apply the correct size and style roundels. I had to do some small modifications such as remove the guns from the wing leading edges, and scratch build a small antenna of some kind just aft of the front wheel well, and another antenna or vane underneath the left engine pod. I have no idea what these were on Al's Meteor; I wasn't able to find any reference to these on the internet either in pictures or schematics. They could have been something associated with the target towing role.
As for the Vampire, Al bought his F3 from a guy named Pete Regina in Van Nuys Ca. Pete had purchased the Vampire from another owner either in the late 60s or early 70s, and had it in restoration for a few years. Pete had a zero-time surplus Goblin engine installed, and painted the airplane to look like an RAF Vampire, even though this particular F3 flew operationally with the Canadian Air Force. When Al bought it from Pete, it apparently didn't need any work on the outside, so it stayed in its ersatz RAF scheme during it's tenure at Mojave. I chose to replicate this on my model, using Testors Model Master RAF Medium Green and Sea Gray. The underside is gloss silver with no roundels or squadron lettering, as per the actual airplane back then. I have no idea if Pete Regina's RAF squadron markings and lettering were correct, or if it was something he made up just to look like an RAF Vampire. At any rate, I applied "YG" and "VN68" using spare USAF lettering decals, with some correct Vampire roundels.
I love having these two models together on my office bookshelf. They were two very special airplanes in those days. At the time
the Vampire was the oldest jet airplane flying in the U.S. It flew pretty much continuously under different owners until just a few years ago when it crash landed and was totaled in Wisconsin. The Meteor was retired to static display sometime in the early 1980s and I think is still somewhere around Mojave or Edwards AFB.