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.