Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Playing With a Tinker Toy

At the conclusion of yesterday's installment of this ongoing ramble we decided that we'd build something. There are a couple of things already in work on the bench even as this is written, but we really ought to start fresh for our first let's-build-it-together adventure. My first thought was a P-40, but I suspect everybody's at least temporarily P-40'd out. Next came a biplane, but I'm just finishing up one of those myself and this time I need a break. So, what to do?

How about a jet? I don't know about you, but I personally haven't done one, not counting that HobbyBoss MiG-17F last year, in longer than I can remember. They just don't do much for me anymore, with a couple of exceptions, one of which will be the object of our affection for the next couple of installments. If you read the title to this missive you already know what to expect: The Tinker Toy. The Hot Rod. The Scooter. Yep, we're going to do the immortal (in my book, anyway) Douglas A4D or, more properly, a Vietnam War-era A-4C. Why? Well, for starters, because a big chunk of the early A-4 attack missions were flown by A-4Cs. They're colorful, and most folks are more in tune with the later variants such as the Echo and Foxtrot. Most folks. I'm not, so we're doing a Charlie, but the concept's the same no matter where your personal interest lies. (If you're a prop guy please bear with us; I need to get this particular Jones out of my system!) Follow along if you'd like, or maybe even build along. You wanted a Scooter anyway, didn't you?

Gettin' Ready for the Boogie

We've got a project. Do we have a kit? As far as I know (and I surely don't know everything; just ask my kids) there are only two kits of the Charlie available; the excellent but somewhat aged Fujimi effort in 1/72nd, and Hasegawa's recent offering in 1/48th. Nowadays my personal collection is in 1/48th so the choice is made. What follows is only applicable to the Hasegawa kit. If you build in a different scale please bear with me---you gotta go with what you know!

The kit we're going to work with is Hasegawa's PT22. We aren't going to offer you an in-depth review of the thing because that was pretty well exhausted when the kit was initially released. We aren't going to give you a highly detailed how-I-built-my-Skyhawk sort of thing either because, quite frankly, I never much cared for that approach. What we will do is follow along with the kit's instructions and provide a few photographs of what we're trying to do. Our purpose is to end up with a good model of the Charlie, not a super-detailed contest winner but rather the sort of thing most folks have living on their shelves. We also aren't opening any panels. Some folks do that, and it seems to be all the rage in some circles, but my personal preference is for models that bear at least a passing resemblance to the real thing as it sits on a ramp ready to launch. Feel free to model that bird that's hard down for maintenance, but you'll have to do it on your own. We aren't even going to open up the aft hell hole on this one. (We'll explain what that is a little later on.)

So, where to start? First, find that page on the instruction sheet that tells you what to discard and do that. Do it now, so you don't end up sticking stuff that doesn't belong on the Charlie on your model. It's a recent Hasegawa kit so it's modular, remember? That modularity happens to be a Very Good Thing in my book but it can also lead to confusion, so let's head that off at the pass. (And yes, you're discarding the short wing pylons too. Those are for the 5-station Scooters; the Alphas, Bravos, and Charlies were all 3-station birds.)

Now, carefully examine the instructions, no matter how much that goes against your grain. There are a handful of little boxes that show areas of the kit where certain details need to be modified or removed and this is a good time to do that. It'll save unnecessary use of profanity down the line because this basic kit is used for several variants, remember? While you're at it, find all those goofy little "drill a hole here" symbols and, you guessed it: Drill some holes! (As a personal aside, there have been times when I personally have neglected to drill some holes in a model. That's something you generally don't notice until the big pieces are solidly attached to one another and the location holes are no longer available for use. Doing that sort of thing may well build character but it'll frustrate you no end, so let's just side step the issue this time and drill the darned holes.)

This is also a pretty good time to do a little pre-painting. The insides of the speed brakes, the speed brake wells, the flaps, the slats, and the slat wells are all going to end up being Insignia Red, while the intake trunk, the inner gear doors, and the insides of the intakes will be Insignia White. (Those speedboards are just going to be cracked open a tad, which is typical for the Scoot, but you'll still be able to see the red---it's a good idea to do it. Trust me on this one.) I think it's easiest to do the white first, before anything gets stuck together. This is also a good time to squirt some dark gray into the interior and related components. If you're the least bit inclined to panic you might pick this time to decide that you've bought a defective kit, that notion being created by the wrinkled surface of the cockpit walls that are molded to the inside of the fuselage. Fear not; the Scooter's cockpit walls were padded---it was a tiny airplane and things are really tight in there. The padding was a good idea on Douglas' part, and it's really nice that Hasegawa provide us with a representation of it.

A couple of other notes while we're pre-painting. There's a nice representation of the face of the engine compressor molded into that intake trunk, and the blades aren't white! You can carefully mast off your white trunk and airbrush those blades in some sort of darkish metallic gray color if you'd like, but you don't really need to do that if you have any skill at all with the airbrush. Instead, just carefully paint those pesky blades after you've painted the trunk. There won't be much overspray, and what little there is will be lost in the shadows down there. No point in beating yourself up if you don't have to! You might also want to consider investing a couple of bucks in the Eduard Zoom Set for this particular kit (it's #280). You can, in all honesty, get a really good interior using just the kit pieces and the A-4's cockpit opening is so tiny that you really can't see very much in there anyway, but the Eduard set provides the belts and harnesses to replace those that Hasegawa provided (possibly as if to prove to us that we really don't want them to do belts and harnesses in their kits; these are molded to the seat cushions and aren't very good) along with a nice instrument panel and consoles. The Zoom set also makes easy work of the ejection seat handles and supplies those tiny little canopy mirrors in something approaching scale. It's a worthwhile investment.

Do You Shoot Black Powder?

Now we're to the point where you can start building subassemblies. In fact, it's my firm intention to leave this keyboard in a couple of minutes and go do that very thing myself, but we have one more thing to deal with first. The A-4 has tricycle landing gear and a lot of mass behind the main mounts. It's going to require either a prop at the tail (please, please, please don't do that!) or some kind of weight in the nose or it will never, ever sit on its gear. With that in mind, it's time to figure out how to ballast the thing.

Hasegawa tells you to stick 8 grams of weight in the nose, but unlike the guys over at Tamiya they don't provide any sort of ballast with the kit so you've got to figure that part out for yourself (and I'm not a metric kind of guy anyway, and don't have a clue how heavy 8 grams is). In the distant past I tended to use fusible metals such as Cerro Safe, but they're hard to find these days, are toxic, and difficult to use with plastic. You can use them, of course, but it's not a particularly good idea. My personal preference is to use the lead balls that are sold for use with reproduction black powder revolvers. Two sizes, .36 caliber and .44 caliber, will handle almost any space requirement, and you can always smack 'em with a hammer (but not while actually in the model---I know that sounds silly but sure-as-you're-born somebody will try it if I don't say something now) or cut them into smaller pieces since they're soft lead. (This is the part where I get to tell you that lead is potentially hazardous to your health and that of others so don't eat it, smear it on yourself, or store it near food. And please keep those projectiles away from your kids. To a child those round lead balls are just marbles, and kids play with marbles. You don't let them drink your paint, so don't let them play with your ballast either! 'Nuff said.) Put the weight forward of the cockpit and epoxy into place. That should do it, but just to be safe, tape the fus together, slip the wing in place, and make a balance point of your fingers just where the main mounts attach to the wing. If the fus rocks forwards (towards the nose) then all is well. If not, you may need to add a little weight immediately aft of the cockpit. Just keep your ballast a bit in front of those main mounts and all will be well.

Now we've reached the part where I go do something on my own A-4, so it's time to go. First, though, a word about the photos. The work in progress shots of the kit are pretty obvious, but the deck shot is ca. 1965 and was taken aboard the Ranger. The Scooters are from VA-93's Blue Blazers and VA-94's Shrikes while the C-1A belonged to VR-21. The photo is from Ranger's cruise book and was provided by Rick Morgan. The other two pictures were shot by Frank Garcia while he was assigned to the Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1961 and depict aircraft from VA-176's Thunderbolts. With any luck they'll inspire you to do your best on your Scooter model!

And that's what I know. See you next time!

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