Friday, February 26, 2010

Even a Blind Squirrel Finds a Nut Every Once in a While

Scootin' Right Along

Which is another way of saying that we've made a great deal of progress on the Scooter. It's a good kit, and an easy one to work with, but karma has not been with us, at least over here. This A-4 has fought back and has, at times, come close to winning, primarily due to silly mistakes on my part. We all do that sort of thing from time to time so don't try to get all uppity and say it's never happened to you, because we know better!

So where exactly are we, or am I, as the case may be? Most of the bodywork is now complete, although the application of paint (and it doesn't matter what color; black was the weapon of choice in this instance) has shown a few areas that need a little touch-up and sanding prior to the addition of all those extra little bits of detail and a trip to the paint shop (where some few of those extra little details will probably vanish into thin air, given the general state of progress up to this point). We're moving right along, even if that movement has been in fits and starts.

One thing I'm going to try, and it'll be a Seriously Good Thing if it works, is to paint the area around the intakes in 36440 (which was, in point of fact, done just a few minutes ago) in preparation for the attachment of the intake lips. Those lips fit just fine in a dry run a couple of days ago; with any luck they'll still fit up snugly when the time to install them in earnest comes around, thus negating the use of putty on the seams. It may be the Ultimate Masking Trick. If it isn't, it'll be an unmitigated disaster. Stay tuned!

There's another thing that may prove of interest today, although it has nothing whatsoever to do with Skyhawks. There are a couple of different variations of the software that's used to produce this effort, and one of them allows you to put photographs in places other than the top of the page, which means you can also caption the photos. That's another seriously good thing, and the switch was flipped a few minutes ago. Your forebearance is still required, because there's still a learning curve going on, but we're getting closer to making this a more useful exercise for all concerned. Stay tuned, and stay patient.

That Old Dog Thing One More Time

Every once in a while I post pictures of things on one of the more popular scale modeling sites. The last time I did it one of the folks who follows the boards over there complimented the model and said that it was old school, which he liked. That's high praise to my ears, and if truth be known I'm still pretty excited that he said it. In some respects time may well have passed me (and probably more than a few of you, too) right on by; I rarely pre-shade, do limited post-shading, and do my best to make my models appear like the real airplanes that I worked around for the past 28+ years. It's a personal preference, if you will.

Truth be known, a lot of things that modelers do to make their work stand out makes for beautiful models (of a standard I doubt I'll ever achieve) but some of those models are a little too well-done for my tastes, at least in the paint and finishing department. I'm a big proponent of Less is More, and you'll see that in my work here. Subtlety is a Very Good Thing in my world.

That said, it's a big world and a lot of people are doing some seriously neat things with model airplanes these days. Couple that with the amazing variety of kits we have at our disposal, along with all the aftermarket and reference publications, and we can honestly say that we've never had it so good! It's truly a New Golden Age. There's no way I'd ever try to change anybody's style because that's what makes each and every model unique unto itself, and there's room for all of it. I'm Old School. You may not be. When it's all said and done it should be a Fun Thing no matter what you call it, and we should all strive to make our current project better than the one that came before it.

So why have you just endured this ramble? Well folks, it's Friday afternoon and I'm waiting for My Far Better Half to get here so we can go grab some Thai food. It is not, in other words, a particularly serious day! Thanks for visiting this week, and we'll see you again soon.

Be good to your neighbor,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

That Sprue Thing One More Time

It Never Ends

Well, that's true to a point, but you've gotta cut me a little slack, age being what it is. It's not that I forget things, although I do, but more a case of forgetting all the stuff I meant to say at the time I should've said it. Add that to the notion of scope (We're talking about rigging a biplane so that's all we're going to do!) plus a fair dose of innate laziness and you probably get the picture and, therefore, gain a fair amount of understanding as to why we didn't discuss antenna wire (actually, that wire is the antenna on real airplanes that have it) back when we were stretching sprue. We shoulda but we didn't, so now we will.

There won't be any sprue stretching today, though. We already talked about how to do that, and once is enough. We won't be talking about the rigging of anything with more than one wing, either, because we already talked about that. Today's treatise is really simple; we're going to talk about how to do antennae with sprue. We're going to use the same white glue and the exact same technique, but we're going to add one tiny little trick to the mix. We're going to talk about how to make complex antennae with more than one wire, but it's not going to be much of a discussion because it's so darned easy to do!

First, you need to put your primary antenna (wire) in place. I prefer to put a precut end on the antenna mast with white glue, lay the other end over the mast or attachment point on the tail and glue it in place, then trim the excess off the tail mast once everything is dry. Sometimes there isn't a mast on the tail so, at the risk of being extraordinarily obvious, we'll just reverse the order and mount the antenna to the tail first, thus putting the excess on the mast up by the cockpit. We're still going to trim after it's dry, at which point we'll notice there's probably a little sag to it.

If that sagging antenna is of the single-wire variety (with no other wires running to it) then we're basically done and just need to tighten it up a bit with our trusty soldering iron, once again taking pains to only apply the heat source to the stretched sprue rather than to the model. That would be Common Sense 101, but the reminder never hurts.

Now then, what if you have a couple of extra antennae running from the fuselage or wings into the main one? No sweat, GI; just cut a piece of your trusty stretched sprue to the length you need and attach it to the proper places on the airframe and existing primary antenna wire before you tighten anything up with your heat source. You'll need to make sure you've got the right length the first time around but that's no big deal and, if you mess up, all you have to do is remove the offending wire and start over. Practice a while and you'll get it right the first try most of the time. Once you've added the extra "wire" and the white glue's had a chance to dry, you can apply your heat source like you normally would. The shorter piece of sprue generally won't tighten up, but the longer one will, thus adding the correct tension, and therefore appearance, to the antenna.

So, what if the airplane you're modeling has a taught primary antenna and a little sag to the secondary? That's easy too; just tighten up the primary antenna, then attach the secondary and don't use heat there. Too easy!

You'll need to detail the ends of the antennae too, but that's as easy as the rest of the procedure. A lot of WW2-era airplanes used ceramic insulators where the antenna mounted to the airframe, and a spot of white glue in the appropriate place will work wonders. Tensioning springs are a different matter; some antennae had them, but they're almost too small to be added as actual springs until you get into the 1/32nd and larger realm of things. In that instance, take some .006 diameter brass wire, heat it quickly over a low-intensity flame to anneal it, then wrap it around a .010 dia wire. Cut it to length and slide it over your antenna wire before you attach it to the airframe, and secure with white glue once everything's dry. Standoffs (those little posts that sometimes stick out from the fuselage or wings to allow attachment of the antenna) can be easily replicated by appropriate diameter wire; just drill the proper-sized hole, install the standoff with a tiny spot of cyanoacrylate, and add your antenna.

Today's photos are of a couple of models that have the sort of antenna arrangements we've discussed. You may have to look closely to see everything because I try to get
scale thickness on my antennae, but they're there and they'll show what I mean far better than I can describe it. The A6M2-N (Rufe) only had a single antenna and the model of same is included so you can see just how much difference those other wires make. This is another Old Dog Trick that's still useful, and it makes a nice addition to your library of techniques.

See you later,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Time to Talk of Things That Hang

Are we ready?

Not by a long shot, at least if the topic is modeling the A-4. There's been substantial progress, but the simple fact of the matter is that it's been slow going, primarily due to the unscheduled interference of Real Life. No matter, though, because there's still quite a bit we can talk about. Friends, and I actually do have some, tell me that I can always find something to talk about. I'm not entirely certain that was meant to be a compliment, but that's how I'm taking it. Let's talk!

Loading for an Alpha Strike

First, a premise. The Douglas A-4 was designed and built to drop bombs and shoot rockets at people judged to be Bad Guys and worthy of such attention. It could also tow targets, pass gas (with a Buddy Pack attached), and give a truly spectacular aerobatic demonstration with folks like the Blue Angels but, when all was said and done, it was a bomber pure and simple. The aircraft could be fitted out with a variety of weapons, some of which had the capability to melt sand into smoking green glass, but we're going to discuss the conventional stuff as used during The Late Southeast Asia War Games. There's no intention of this ever being the last word on same; for that we need to hope that either Jim Wogstad or Jim Rotramel will finish up and publish their respective projects on United States aviation ordnance. What you're reading here is a modeler's look at what to hang on a Vietnam-era A-4C and nothing more. With any luck you're ok with that.

Where Do We Hang That Stuff?

OK, here's some basics: The A-4C (originally the A4D-2N) is a three-station aircraft, as were the A-4A and A-4B that preceeded it in service. Subsequent variants had four-station wings with an additional pair of hardpoints outboard that, in combination with the centerline mounts, made for that five-station aircraft we mentioned. In other words, the A-4C can carry ordnance on the centerline and on one hardpoint on each wing.

Early in the Scooter's career the work was begun on racking systems capable of carrying multiple weapons at one time. That work led to the MER (Multiple Ejector Rack) and TER (Triple Ejector Rack) of the Vietnam era. The MERs could carry up to six individual weapons, while the TERS were restricted to three. The MER was the rack most often found on the Charlie, and was usually mounted on the aircraft's centerline station. All three stations on the A-4C were plumbed and could be used as pylons for fuel tanks as well as weapons.
Gas Bags

Let's get the fuel tanks out of the way first. They came in two varieties; 150 and 300 gallon, but wartime aircraft are almost never seen with the smaller tanks. The 300-gallon tanks can differ in appearance too, for very practical reasons. The "normal" configuration is the one most folks expect to see on an A-4 and has a pointy tail cap with fins. That one shows up under the wings. There's a variation of that, with a bobbed and rounded cap at the tail, that also shows up mounted under the wings. Then there's a third variation with a flat cap at the rear; that one is intended specifically for use on the centerline station and has the flat cap to allow complete access to the Scooter's "aft hell hole", a hinged access panel between the flaps that provides access to the aircraft's single-point refueling system (and also prevents the possibility of the extreme tail of one of the "pointy" tanks striking the deck during the catapult launch of a fully loaded aircraft, an extremely rare occurance but a possibility nontheless). The "bobtailed" tanks (as opposed to what I'm going to call the "flat-caps") could be found on any station, but the Scooter normally carried its extra gas on the wings, with the centerline reserved for ordnance.

Then there's the Buddy Store. You won't see one on an aircraft configured for combat, but if you decide your model needs one it goes on the centerline only. I think you may have to make your own if you go that route, but it's been so long since I've built a jet I'm just not sure. It's an easy mod in any case.

Finally, the A-4 was essentially a short-ranged aircraft and needed that extra fuel. Distance to target and type of ordnance would dictate how much extra fuel was carried and where the tanks were located, but those gas bags would be there. A model of any Vietnam Skyhawk needs to have a tank or tanks on it.

Things That Go Boom!

With the extra fuel out of the way, it's time to talk about ordnance. Not ordinance, which are rules, but ordnance, which are weapons. Got that? Good! With that out of the way, let's talk about carriage of weapons, and then about kinds of weapons. As always, it's best to have a photo of the aircraft you want to build rather than an active imagination.

First, where do you put your MERs? Fact is, they could be fitted to any one of the three hardpoints on the Charlie, and photographic evidence shows that they were, but the "normal" location was on the centerline (Station 2), with gasbags on Stations 1 and 3. Then, how do you load them? That seems like such an obvious question, since there are six places to hang things on a MER, but there's a catch! Shore-based Scoots, most often operated by the Marines but also, on occasion, by the Navy, generally flew with all six locations loaded. It was different on the boat, though, because the bomb in the middle at the aft end of the rack was perfectly situated to smack the deck during a cat shot, so that station was frequently left empty on ship-board A-4s. I would strongly suggest not putting anything there on your model, either, both because of accuracy and because it looks pretty cool too---most people don't expect to see that empty rack back there.

OK, now you've got racks and tanks. Let's load 'em.


The bomb was the most common ordnance used by the Skyhawk during the war. The Navy's standard bombs for most of the conflict were the Mk81 250# General Purpose Bomb; the Mk82 500# GP Bomb; the Mk83 1000# Bomb; and the Mk84 2000# Bomb, in either low-drag or "Snake Eye/SERET" high-drag configuration. Of these the Mk82 is far and away the the one you'll most often find on the Scooter and, I think, the biggest one they could lug around on the MER. (I've seen photos of Scooters with fully-loaded MERs on the inboard wing racks, thoroughly unapproved due to weight restrictions but apparently done at least a couple of times, probably by Marine aircraft, in combat. Yikes!) Early in the war a modest amount of stored ordnance (from WW2 and Korea) was expended but was considered to be largely ineffective and unreliable and its use was discontinued fairly quickly. Limited use was also made of the 750# M117, primarily by the Marine Corps at DaNang. That particular weapon was unsatifactory to the Navy and was rarely carried by their A-4s.

One point to watch, at least if you're using one of the Mk-Something-or-Other bombs, is the surface finish of the items you put on your model. The bomb casings were in an as-manufactured condition for most of the war, but the horrific accidents on the Oriskany and Forrestal led to the introduction of an ablative coating late in the conflict, in the hopes that it would delay the unintentional detonation of bombs involved in a shipboard fire. That coating appears as a highly wrinkled surface finish on the body of the bomb only; not on the fins. Standard paint color is olive drab for any bomb used during the war.


Ask anybody serving on a carrier during the Vietnam era which weapon made them the most nervous and most will reply "napalm". The stuff isn't as dangerous as you might think, and is in truth extremely difficult to ignite without a detonator, but it's scary stuff nontheless. It was used throughout the war for antipersonnel work, and was highly effective in that role. Nape cans were rarely painted and most often appeared in natural aluminum with minimal stencilling. The standard loads were on the front three positions of a centerline MER, or on the lower and/or outboard stations of wing-mounted MERs or TERs (and, as with a centerline rack, on the front half of a wing-mounted MER).

Rocket Pods

We're talking Vietnam here, so rocket pods will basically come in two varieties utilizing two types of rockets, the 2.75-inch FFAR and the Zuni. The 2.75s were carried in either the 7-round or 19-round variations of the LAU-3 rocket pod with the 7-round seeming to be the more commonly used of the two, while the Zuni was launched from the 4-round LAU-10. Aerodynamic fiberglass covers could be fitted to either end of these pods, although they worked just fine without them. From a practical standpoint either of these pods could mount to any station on the Scooter, but as a modeler you need to let Good Sense prevail. You could, for example, mount a LAU-3 to all the stations of a MER as long as you left off the protective caps, but the fallacy of that sort of madness should be pretty evident to you without me even having to say anything; in Real Life the rockets in the pods at the back of the MER would have to fire through the pods attached to the front of same, a practice that would severely limit the ability of the shooter to collect his retirement pay. And yes; this is an absurd thing to mention, except that somewhere, sometime, some modeler will do it. That person need not be you.

One further note while we're talking about rockets: The A-4's only MiG kill of the entire SEA conflict came on 1 May, 1967, when VA-76's Ted Swartz nailed a MiG-17 with a Zuni. That's not the best way to shoot down another airplane, but there's no doubt it works!


Although the AGM-45 "Shrike" was carried by the later Skyhawk variants (VA-212 is noted as having done it), only two types of guided missiles were utilized by the earlier, 3-station birds. The AIM-9B "Sidewinder" was used by Scooters employed as CAP aircraft for those ASW carriers still operated by the Navy during the war, with two rounds being attached to a LAU-7 rail on Stations 1 and 3 for a total of four missiles. The other weapon, the AGM-12 "Bullpup", is perhaps the most famous missile ever carried by the A-4, at least as far as scale modelers are concerned. That fame comes not from any operational success, but rather because almost every kit of the A-4 ever issued had a pair of "Bullpups" included with the model.

"Bullpup" was an interesting round to say the least, being a standard 250# GP bomb with a different fin arrangement (which included the tracking flare) and a guidance unit attached to the nose. You can tell when an A-4 has been configured to carry the missile because a small blade antenna had to be added to the nose gear door to allow guidance transmissions to the weapon. A small control panel, complete with joystick, was mounted to the left-side cockpit console so the pilot could "fly" the thing to the target through visual acquistion of that very bright, and sometimes disorienting, flare at the back of the missile; "Bullpup" most assuredly was not of the launch-and-leave variety of weaponry. It had to be steered all the way to the target and it's guidance parameters (I think it was something like 12-degrees on "Bullpup A", which is the round we're discussing here) meant that the launch aircraft had to fly almost directly behind the missile until it impacted the target. If command lock was broken the missile would immediately become ballistic and unguided, resulting in a miss and a wasted mission. Those guidance parameters ensured that "Bullpup" missions were somewhat less than fondly regarded by those who flew them. The AGM-12 could mount to any station on the Charlie but was conventionally carried on the wing positions.


Yep; gunpods. The A-4C could and did occasionally carry the HIPEG 20mm gun pod in combat. This twin-gun weapon was deadly when employed in the strafing role but, as with "Bullpup", required that the aircraft fly a predictable flight path which in turn provided North Vietnamese AAA gunners with a relatively simple tracking solution. HIPEG proved to be far more popular in operations over South Vietnam; in the North, strafing was nobody's favorite pastime and a highly unhealthy occupation as well. As with most weapons found on the Charlie, the HIPEG can mount to any station via use of an adaptor rail.

Is He Done Yet?

Yep. All finished, almost. This is nearly the end of the weapons part of our Scooter Adventure, but I really ought to remind you one more time to look at lots of pictures of early A-4s before you go sticking ordnance on there, at least if you want to end up with an accurate model. As with almost every aspect of our hobby a good photograph, or two or ten, is a Very Good Thing.

Finally, you might wonder about the illustrations, and rightfully so. They were originally generated (or annotated, in the case of the drawing that's so obviously of a technical nature) for a piece that never got published Way Back When; that "technical" drawing was intended for use with the 1/72nd scale Fujimi A-4C and therefore mentions a missing approach light and a "short" refueling probe, neither of which are an issue with the 1/48th Hasegawa kit. The Morgan Brothers, Rick and Mark, helped considerably both with the drawings and with technical information in general---many thanks, Bros!---and your model will be that much more accurate because of them.

The photo is via my old friend John Kerr (where does he come up with this stuff?) and shows A-4C BuNo145070 tanking off a contract A-26. The Scooter is from the NATC but that's about all I know; if you can add anything to our knowledge of this photo please drop me an e-mail at .

We get by with a little help from our friends...

Be good to your neighbor, and we'll see you again real soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Short Day

It's been a busy couple of days, but most of the time was spent on things other than airplanes or plastic models. Still, we're going to do a little something today, just to keep that whole A-4C thing from growing out of hand. There's been progress of a sort, so without further ado let's jump right to it.

Where'd All That Red Paint Come From, and Why Didn't You Get Any On Yourself This Time?

I dunno. If you look at the photos (and how could you miss them?) you'll see red paint, and all of it really did end up on the airplane instead of on me this time. Miracles can still happen, I suppose.

Anyway, since 1940 or so the Navy's liked to paint interior surfaces that deploy into the airstream (flaps, slats, dive brakes, etc.) gloss Insignia Red, which means we need to replicate it on our model. That's no big deal, but undercoating with white will make the red more brilliant and reduce the amount of it necessary for solid coverage. (I normally thin all my paint 40% or so, and sometimes more. A big proponent of several light coats rather than one heavy one, I am.) It's not a bad idea to do some masking first; you'll notice there's light overspray anyway, but that will go away during the final sanding/polishing of the model prior to application of the Light Gull Gray and Insignia White fuselage colors. Let's make this easy if we can.

In the spirit of making things easy, you might want to paint the intake lips red too, before you put them on the model. Take a look at photographs of real A-4Bs and Cs and you'll notice that the red warning color does indeed extend into the intake for a short distance, that distance conveniently approximating the thickness of the Hasegawa intake lips. The Smart Thing to Do would seem to be to paint the intakes red, finish off the other body work as required, then carefully attach the lips to the fuselage. Most of the parts on this kit fit really well so cleanup shouldn't be much of a problem, leaving us with just a little bit of easy masking in order to get things ready for final paint. I don't know if Hasegawa actually designed the kit with that in mind or not, but it's sure convenient!

You'll probably notice that the entire speed brake well area has been painted red too. It's my intention to have the speedboards cracked slightly open so the red needs to be there as well as inside the speed brake panels themselves, but there's a huge caveat there: Most model companies give us lots and lots of open panels, flaps, and so forth, that just don't appear in the open configuration unless the airplane is hard down and undergoing maintenance. Once again, look at photos of parked A-4s (of any variant). Those speedboards may well be cracked open a couple of inches or two, but rarely if ever will you see them fully deployed on the ground. The real airplane doesn't work that way, which means you either want your speedboards completely stowed (closed, that is) or barely cracked.

The slats are another story. They're red on their inside surfaces too, as are their wells in the leading edge of the wings, and they most assuredly will be open on the ground unless the aircraft in question is a Blue Angels A-4F. That's because the slats are aerodynamically actuated, and when the airplane is sitting still they droop. Always. They don't do that on the Foxtrot models flown by the Blues because those aircraft had the slats pinned in the closed position to prevent actuation and subsequent uncommanded attitude change of the aircraft during flight demonstrations. We're doing a VietNam-era Charlie, so our slats droop.

There's not much else to discuss today (there's lots going on around here right now!), but I did throw in a shot of the forward cockpit for your perusal. That panel and the side consoles are from the Eduard Zoom Set that we discussed a few days ago and they, plus the belts and harnesses included on that same set, really bring things to life in the cockpit. Eduard's interior sets are usually a great value for the money, and this one is no exception; it's hard to see much in the cockpit of a quarter-scale Scooter because the cockpit opening is so tiny, but those belts, consoles, and panels really help a lot.

As a final note before we leave the A-4, I've begun working certain subassemblies such as landing gear and gas bags (possibly known to you as drop tanks, but my naval aviator friends from back in the 80s always called them gas bags and I, in turn, always thought that was cool, so gas bags they are) and there's a little thing regarding those tanks that you need to be aware of. The kit's instructions tell you to use the separate rounded caps for the aft of the tanks rather than the pointy ones with the fins. You can do that, but remember that the rounded, non-finned caps allowed the tanks to be used on the centerline pylon on the fuselage and kept said tanks from striking the flight deck during a catapult launch. There are plenty of photos out there showing Charlies with finned tanks on the wing stations. You need to keep that in mind and, if possible, refer to a photo of the specific aircraft that you intend to build. It's not a 100% thing by any means, but it is almost certain that those wing tanks will have fins, particularly if you're doing a wartime aircraft configured for an alpha strike. We'll discuss that more in a couple of days when we get around to talking about ordnance.

That's it for today, folks. We'll convene again soon and see if we can't get a little farther along with this project.

Stay safe,


Monday, February 22, 2010

It Ain't What You Do; It's How You Do It

Scootin' Right Along
But we're still sanding a little bit at the moment. There was this flash of inspiration, you see. If I had a chance to do things over I'd probably think something along the lines of "that would fix the seam in a hurry, all right, but it's way too coarse for plastic". Mostly I do my preliminary sanding with 600 grit wet or dry, then 1800g, then 2400g, then maybe, if the part needs it, with the really fine grades of polishing paper. Mostly I do that. Last Friday afternoon I decided to save some time and go to a heavier grit to start with. There's no doubt those big scratches will come out of the A-4, but they didn't clean up in time to provide a photograph of the progress for this installment. (Don't laugh at me like that---we've all done it!) Bottom line is that we're pretty much treading water with the Scooter at the moment. Patience is a virtue.

School Days at The Old School
So, today we don't have a jet to mess with. It ain't no thang, ya'll; let's just do something else instead. And, just to make it interesting, let's do something a lot of folks think is difficult to accomplish. Let's talk about a way, but just one, to rig a biplane. (It also works for antenna wire and similar, so don't run off and leave us just because you don't normally build bipes. There's no telling when or for what reason you may need this technique!)
Any of you who know anything at all about me are aware that I started doing this whole airplane thing back in the 60s which was, coincidentally, also when I started rigging biplanes. Revell had just started issuing all those spiffy little Great War kits in 1/72nd, and the lure was too great to pass up. Initial attempts at rigging are probably pretty universal in our hobby, except that Way Back Then there weren't many choices of materials available to us, although there actually were a couple of options even then. You could, for example, rig with sewing thread. It came in different colors, and in different weights. That was the Good News. It was also hairy unless you ran it through beeswax or similar before you used it, diameter was anything but consistent, and attachment could best be defined as problematical, even Way Back Then. The thread didn't care much for humitity, either.

Some folks used monofilament fishing line (and still do, I think) for their rigging instead of thread. It was a tremendous improvement, to be sure, because it was of consistent diameter and looked a whole lot better. It was a bear to attach to anything, though, because it wasn't possible to buy cyanoacrylate on the open market in the 60s, and nothing else available to us (Way Back Then, remember?) would hold the stuff on the model, leaving us with the alternative of drilling lots of holes and running the monofilament through them. Some folks mastered the technique, but I wasn't one of them, although I learned a lot from the experience and added some colorful metaphors to my vocabulary in the process.

Then I discovered the miracle of stretched sprue. All of a sudden life in the biplane lane got a whole lot better. You could pick a color of plastic (kits came in all sorts of colors Way Back Then; shades of gray had yet to become standardized in the realm of plastic modeling), clip your sprue, stretch it, and attach it to the model with white glue. (I did, and still do, use Elmer's, but any decent white glue will work.) In what amounted to one fell swoop you could control the color and diameter of your rigging, attach it with a common, easy-to-find and easy-to-use adhesive, and easily repair it when the inevitable occured and you stuck a finger through a wing bay. That was 40+ years ago, and I still use the stuff to this day, except for when I rig a bipe that in one of the large scales such as 1/32nd. For that I use wire, but that's a ramble for another day. Today it's sprue, remember?

So, what is stretched sprue, and how do you use it? The "what" part is easy: It's those plastic runner thingies that all your parts are attached to when you open the kit. The "stretched" part ought to be fairly obvious too, because you heat the sprue over a low-intensity flame and then stretch it. Then you cut it to length, attach it with (all together now, gang!) White Glue and then, after said glue dries, you tension the rigging and it's done until you stick a finger through it and have to do it over. Too easy!

As for How You Use It, please consider the following simple, easy, and logical (bet you didn't think I could pull off that "logical" one, did you?) steps. Think about what you've read for a minute and then go try it for yourself. Nothing could be easier, so without further ado:
  1. Safety First! You'll be using a low-intensity flame for this procedure, along with a hot soldering iron, so think ahead and make sure your work space is cleared of anything flamable. Cap off your paints and thinners, get any paper or card products away from your work area, ditto any fabric (particularly rags that might have paint or thinner in them), and move anything you could knock over with your hands or tools. Make sure your work area is ventilated too; if you accidentally set the sprue on fire it's generally not a big deal, at least if you cleaned your work area when we told you to, but styrene fumes are toxic. Think ahead, and remember: You're responsible for your own safety here, so take the appropriate precautions and THINK before you start.
  2. Get a heat source. I use my dad's old (from WW2) Zippo lighter. Back in those previously mentioned Old Days a lot of folks tried to use candles, but candles don't produce consistent heat. Use a lighter.
  3. Clip a piece of straight sprue from a kit. Silver, gray, and clear are good choices, but you could also use green or olive (if you have a kit molded in that color) if you're trying to simulate flying wires of that hue. Be sure to cut the sprue piece long enough that you can grip it from both ends without burning yourself on hot plastic. That goes back to that Safety First thing, and I'm not responsible if you hurt yourself, folks, so be careful! Use sprue of a decent quality, preferably from a mainstream kit made by someone such as Tamiya, Hasegawa, or Eduard. There is a difference in the plastic they use, and you'll notice it when your end result is of inconsistent diameter because you used plastic of a lesser quality from some other kit.
  4. Now for the One Hard Part (but not really) of this entire operation. Ignite (a fancy word for "light") the heat source and hold the sprue over it until it starts to sag. If it catches fire, pull it away from the flame and blow it out. All you want to do here is get the stuff in a semi-molten state so you can stretch it; a limited goal of sorts, and Mr. Fire is not our friend in this particular aspect of the hobby. When the sprue sags, pull it away from the heat source and quickly but gently pull it apart. When you've stretched it, hold it by one end and let the other end hang free. This will insure that your brand new rigging material doesn't curl up and make things difficult for you later on. Extinguish your flame if you haven't already done that.
  5. The plastic filament that resulted from what you just did will be thicker at the ends than in the middle, but you should end up with several feet of usable rigging material when you're done.
  6. Take a pair of draftsman's dividers and measure the distance to be rigged. (I usually do this part by guess and by golly and accept that sometimes I'll get to do a line twice. Go with what you know.)
  7. Cut the rigging to length, with just a little bit left over. Dip one end in a tiny puddle of white glue and attach it to the appropriate place on the model, then carefully swing the other end to, where else but The Other End, and attach it. If trimming to length is necessary use a really fine pair of manicure scissors, snip off just what needs to be removed, then use the tip of a toothpick (trimmed to a fine point) or similar to put a spot of white glue where the line's going to end up. Let it dry (but you can keep working too--just don't mess up what you've already done).
  8. Once you've rigged the model you're probably going to notice a line or two that's sagging a little bit. That's pretty much inevitable, so go get your soldering iron (preferably a pencil iron with a really tiny point), let it heat up to temp, then pass it close to the cured rigging. Your loose rigging will sag just a bit, then magically tighten up right before your astonished eyes. Please note that if you aren't careful with that iron parts of your model may conceivably melt before your astonished eyes as well, thus making a good point for the practice of Situational Awareness. Pay attention to what you're doing, ya'll! Don't melt that model!
  9. Sooner or later you'll break one of those sprue lines, even though the stuff is a lot sturdier than you might think. When that happens, pull the remains of the line off the model, then use a damp toothpick or the tip of a new #11 blade and remove the tiny spot of the dried glue. Re-rig as required.

Pretty easy, huh? There are other ways to do it, of course, and one of this days I'm going to invite a master such as John Seaman to explain his methods to you, but this is how I've done it pretty much forever. It's simple, and it works.

What's That Thing You Rigged?

Today's object of affection is an Eduard Albatros DV in 1/48th scale. This particular kit was one of Eduard's ProfiPak offerings and came with photoetched parts, a few of which ended up on the completed model. The markings are also from an Eduard kit, but I honestly don't remember which one; it might not have been the same one that had the PE in it. While this isn't a kit review by any means, you should know that the Eduard DV and DVa kits are getting a little bit long in the tooth now, but still make up into excellent models, although there's a major issue with the undercarriage and the way it makes the airplane sit---sure wish either Eduard or some aftermarket company would address that particular issue for us---and they're easy to build, making them a good introduction to biplane modeling too. Build time on the one you see before you, including the rigging, was about 20 hours.

The markings are, as previously mentioned, from one of Eduard's many boxings of this venerable kit and represent a machine from Jasta 12. Most of the paint colors were mixed from enamels in the ModelMaster range, and in that regard please note that the colors on the upper surfaces of the wings have fairly sharp demarcations. Weathering is absolutely minimal.

What's That Thing The Thing You Rigged is On?

As it happens, that's actually a base for a different Great War project that hasn't been started quite yet. The wooden part is a cutting board, obtained from the Friendly Neighborhood Giant Discount Store of your choice. The dirt is actually dirt, gathered years ago for just such silliness and sifted to get a consistently fine texture, while the green stuff is a blend of several shades of Woodland Scenics grass; you can find that stuff at any hobby shop that sells model trains. The ground cover was bound to the board with a watered-down application of artist's polymer gloss medium.

And Finally

I'm told that it's possible that you may be receiving an e-mail telling you when this site has been updated, at least if you decided to register as a follower. That updated thing may be a nuisance for you, because I often go back into these pieces to edit them after the fact, because I don't ever catch everything on the first pass and I want what you're reading to be as good as I can get it. The problem lies in that updated e-mail part of the evolution, because you may be getting an e-mail every time I catch and correct a spelling or point of grammar. If that really is happening I apologize, and promise I'll try to get the editing done before any given piece is posted. I'll try. I can't guarantee the results, though, 'cause like I mentioned a whole bunch of times before, I'm still learning! Anyway, we're all bozos on this bus, right? (The Congress of Wonders said that way back in 1969 or so and it's still valid, I think...)

Until next time,


Friday, February 19, 2010

Thoughts For a Friday

Progress on the Scooter

There's been some of that. Progress, I mean. All the big pieces are on the fuselage and the wings are together, and the parts that are going to end up being Insignia Red have all been painted without getting an undue amount of red paint on me. That's quite an accomplishment, although there's no way you could've possibly known that. I rarely spill anything else, but red paint is, and pretty much always has been, an invitation to complete and absolute disaster as far as spills in my house are concerned. Give me a bottle of red paint and I guarantee you that I'll end up wearing some significant portion of it, almost every time. It never fails. Of course, the worst thing I've ever managed to do with red paint doesn't even come close to the time another one of my mentors from The Good Old Days managed to tump (that's a word, "tump", because I'm using it---if I wasn't using it it might not be one, but I am so it is) a nearly-full can of Floquil DioSol into his waiting lap, thus inducing a physical reaction that we shall call The Diosol Boogie and Subsequent Maddened Dash to the Showers. And you didn't think modeling was a risk sport!

But we digress. The interior is in place, the model has been ballasted, and most of the sanding is complete. (Yes, that was accomplished in less than 3 days and yes; I probably do have way too much time on my hands!) I've learned a couple of things about Hasegawa's A-4 family along the way, and I'd like to share them with you:

  1. Everything fits just fine if you treat the kit as if it were a 1/48th or 1/32nd Hasegawa P-40. It's modular to an extent, and careful pre-fitting is your friend. So is attaching the halves of the nose to the appropriate halves of the fuselage before joining said fuselage. Care in fitting will minimize the putty/sand/curse part of the evolution.
  2. The tub for the interior and nose gear bay fits farther forward in the fuselage than you might expect. That gear bay has to end up all the way forward, and the detail that Hasegawa provided to attach to the aft side of the cockpit bulkhead has to be visible; if it's hidden inside the fuselage you've got things too far back. Fix it now or forever hold your pieces. (I had to say that---this is, after all, a scale modeling forum! Apologies all around.)
  3. Hasegawa may well have provided us with every single projection, lump, and bump that could possibly be found on the Scooter, the vent tubes on the auxiliary tanks (henceforth to be called "gasbags")are a fine example of that. They're represented by tiny pips that you'll inevitably sand away when you get to that part of the build, thus causing you to do an insignificant amount of scratchbuilding to replace them. There are other, similar features on the model and you might want to be prepared to make up a few tiny bits as you go along, because you'll almost certainly sand something off. This is one kit that requires you to pay absolute attention to what you're doing. Forewarned is forearmed.

Building this thing really isn't that much of a deal if you aren't opening panels, adding loads of scratchbuilt parts, and so on. We aren't doing that, or at least I'm not doing it, so it's not much of an issue. Instead, we'll spend most of our time talking about finishing the thing; that would involve paintwork, markings, aircraft configuration, weathering, and ordnance. Maybe someday somebody will do one of those "Modeling the ..." books on the Scooter. It won't be me, but maybe somebody will. That's a rambling way (and I have no other way, as I'm certain you've discovered by now) of telling you that we'll discuss the potential pitfalls and problems with the build, but we aren't doing a blow-by-blow account complete with annotated pictures, background music, and dancing girls. When we're done we ought to have a pretty fair Scooter. That accomplishes the purpose, I think, and we'll do a little more on that next week, but for now:

We Never Had It So Good

It's not unusual for us to complain about one thing or another on the kits we have available to us nowadays. Way back when, a long, long time ago, there was no such thing as an authentic, easy-to-build plastic scale model. That sort of thing came to us in 1939 with the advent of Frog's very first plastic kits, but prior to that display models were made out of wood. Some were carved from scratch, and some were from boxes full of miniature lumber that we're going to call "kits" (it's a humor thing, that, and highly optimistic to boot), but whatever they were made of, they were all wood, with maybe the odd bit of wire or acetate thrown in for good measure. What you started out with wasn't very much, and what you ended up with was entirely up to you and your skills, or lack of same. Funny how some things never change, huh?

Anyway, you see before you in the pictures a fine example of 1940s modeling at its best. The model is a more-or-less Martin B-26MA Marauder (note the short wings and empennage, spinners, and tail turret!) with package guns more appropriate to the later variants of this aircraft, and that's pretty close to being in 1/72nd scale. It was built during WW2 by my First Former Father-in-Law, Jim Denson, and he did a good job of it, all things considered. Notice that the "scribing" was done with a knife and is limited to just a few significant features such as control surfaces, cowling panels, and canopy frames, and that some details (mostly the gear doors) were done from stiff paper. I have no idea who manufactured the kit; Strombecker comes to mind as a possible culprit but there were other companies doing this sort of model too. May you know who's kit it was. I don't have a clue.

What I do know, however, is that Jim painted the thing with real Olive Drab and Neutral Gray paint direct from the paint locker on the flight line. It looks odd under artificial light, but out in the sunshine (the absolute best lighting you can possibly have for color fidelity) it all comes together. Markings were apparently done with cut-out-and-color paper images from the instruction sheet that were glued to the model and they haven't withstood the test of time very well, joining such items as propeller blades and gun barrels in a departure from contribution to the scale effect. (Huh?) Still, the model survived not only 66 years of existence but also the play habits of Jim's kids. Most of it is still there, and it's in good shape too.

Jim isn't with us any more; fewer and fewer of The Greatest Generation are. He left a treasure behind in his Marauder, though. It holds an honored place in my collection, and just may be the model I'm proudest of. Thanks Jim!

Old Dogs

Ever have one of those models sitting on the shelf that you liked but not really? You know the kind; it's too bad to brag about and too good to throw away. We all have them, and we all, sooner or later, end up wishing we didn't. The Spitfire you see before you is one of those models. It's the respected Tamiya Spitfire MkI, uncorrected wing-to-aft-fuselage curvature and all. It was built four or five years ago, but the best I could ever say for it was that it was OK. Not good, and certainly not great, but OK.

It finally got to me a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to do something about it. There were options, of course. I could've just scrapped the thing out and pitched it, but that was a little too severe. I could've taken it apart for pieces ("reduce to produce" is the operable phrase here, I think) and thrown away the hulk, but I didn't want to do that either. That left me with what was behind Door Number 3: a general freshening up coupled with some weathering (the model as-built was pristine and suffered because of it) and a little bit of additional detailing. That was the path taken.

The model was originally completed as Robert Stanford-Tuck's GR+P N3249 as flown with No. 92 Squadron in May of 1940. That particular scheme had been chosen because I had a decal sheet for it (Victory Productions VP48006) and I liked the markings. Those markings were left alone, and the cleanup began.

First off was a good coat of Testor Metalizer Sealer. It's acrylic-based and doesn't mind moderate applications of oil paint thinned with turpentine, which is what was used to accentuate the panel lines that I'd ignored when the thing was built. That was followed by an application of DullCote, which provided the base required for moderately heavy weathering with pastels and a silver pencil. ("Gee Phil; I bet that airplane was beat all to hell in real life. Why's it so clean?") That took care of the airframe.

The interior was ok, having had the addition of the ubiquitous Eduard Zoom set at the time of initial building. Exterior detailing was mostly ok too, with a couple of caveats. When the thing was built I made the decision to use True Details wheels. Unfortunately, a great many of their wheel sets offer what can only be described as pre-flattened tires, and the set for the Spitfire was no exception. Even more unfortunately, said wheels were attached with 5-minute epoxy because I got sick of knocking them off (all the cyanoacrylates are great in tensile but lousy in shear, and I'd drilled the holes a little too big when prepping them, setting up the tiny bit of play necessary for them to be knocked off, hence the expoxy). I suspect it will now take something approaching thermonuclear war to separate those accursed wheels from the airframe so they're still there. Live and learn.

The final detail was the antenna wire suite that I'd been too lazy to add when the model was initially built. N3249 apparently had a UHF radio fitted (the mount for it is that little "tab" thingy that sticks off the back of the radio mast) so that wire was added along with a set of antennae for the IFF set; those three little extra pieces of stretched sprue added quite a bit to the final appearance of the model.

There are still a couple of little things yet to do, presuming I ever get around to them: Those red patches over the guns are missing, and there's a small brass placard that needs to go on the starboard cowling just below the hole for the starter crank. It's possible that there are other issues as well, since I saw a feature on this very aircraft a while back that noted more problems than I fixed. Maybe I can find that article some day. It'll be a dandy excuse for another rework of this airframe!

Why There Isn't a Forum Anywhere On This Blog

Nobody asked but somebody will. (Sounds like a song title, doesn't it?) Where's the forum? Howcome we can't engage in free and open discussion on this site? Why can't we share ideas? Why is there air?

Well, Gang, I thought about adding a place for public discussion but decided against it after looking at all those forums on other sites (not just modeling-related). Things get a little sporty in those places sometimes, and the friction created, intentional or otherwise, just isn't anything I want to have here. I'm extremely interested in what you have to say, though, and am going to invite you to e-mail your comments to . I can't promise I'll post them, although I might, but what you think is important. Just remember, it's only me over here and the chances that I can maintain this site, learn how to do it better (and boy do I need to learn how to do that), answer all the possible correspondence, and still build the occasional model is problematical in the extreme, so you may not always receive an answer. Your message will be read, however; I can guarantee that much anyway.

Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo

Since it's Friday and we're in a kicked-back mode over here, let's consider something of a tangent for a minute. Back in 1966 or so there was a song on what was then called an "underground" album entitled "Ode to a Hawker Hurricane". I can't remember the band (Mr. Aging is not our friend) or the album name, although The Peanut Butter Conspiracy's "Is Spreading" (a real band and a real album; this ain't no joke, ya'll) comes to mind as a possibility. Then there was a song in the 80s that seemed to be about the debt owed by the British to the guys who fought the Battle of Britain (I can remember the video, done back in an era when MTV actually showed a lot of music videos, but not the name of the song or the album) and I think the band might, might have been FM, but I'm not sure of that either. I do know, with absolute certainty, that Captain Lockheed and The Starfighters (a project name for a couple of the guys from Hawkwind about the Federal German F-104 scandal of the 1960s) is a real album and one well worth obtaining if you can find it. Are there others? Does anybody know? (Does anybody care?) It's always been odd to me that anybody in popular music would write about military aviation at all, but people have obviously done that.

This particular aside wasn't/isn't any sort of test or anything. It's just that kind of day around here. Still, there must be other songs about airplanes out there. Anybody know what they are?

Farther On Down the Road

Finally, although I think I might have sort-of mentioned this before, my intention with this site is to build it into something similar to what I think the original RIS would have been had we stayed around a little longer. I can build and I can write, but the rest is going to be learning and evolution, and it's going to evolve as quickly as it can given the limited (!) staff, lack of knowledge of the medium, and the constraints of the blog environment. Just thought you ought to know that.

That's it for now. See you next week!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Little Progress on the Scooter

But maybe not much. the fuselage and nose are together now, and we'll do a little painting in a bit, but it's officially time to start sanding some seams---boredom personified!

We do have a couple of things to talk about, though. The first is holes. Today's illustration is an annotated scan of the instruction sheet for the Charlie, with red circles showing where Hasegawa wants you to drill holes. It's moderately important that you do that before you assemble the fuselage, because it'll make locating those scoops and the blade antenna that lives just aft of the canopy a whole lot easier to do. I've also circled the few areas that need to be filled and sanded, not so much because you'd ever forget to do it, but because I usually do. You'll note, however, that I didn't open up the hole that facilitates installation of the boarding ladder, that being because my intent is to have said ladder either on the ground in an extremely basic diorama, or nowhere near the model. Time will tell on that one.

The interior was simple, and Eduard's belts and harnesses provided a lot of activity in the cockpit, making things really busy in there. That's a Good Thing. The cockpit/nose gear tub fit without any issues, and the ballast was a snap; two .451 round balls epoxied inside the fus immediately behind the cockpit bulkhead, and another one epoxied inside the nose. Three balls may have been overkill but it's not unduly heavy and the model is properly ballasted. (Don't you love it when a plan comes together?)

I almost forgot to mention; there's a jetpipe inside that fuselage too. It has a bulkhead with a representation of the engine's flameholder at the front end, but you'd need a small flashlight to know it's there. There's a certain tempation to eliminate the seam and paint the jetpipe, but the honest truth is that all you can see of it is its insides once it's installed in the model. Paint it if you want to, but unless you open things up nobody will ever see it.

There's another issue too, and one that's really surprising. On the real A-4 the rudder is a single piece of skin with external doublers. It was a quick fix during the early days of flight testing and it's on every operational Scooter ever built. Hasegawa gives us a fine representation of it, but it's really thick, which is a shame, 'cause it's not that way on the real airplane. It won't be that obvious once the model is done so I'm leaving it alone; nowadays I've got enough seniority on life that I build for pleasure, and in my world rebuilding that rudder and the aft part of the vertical stab wouldn't be pleasurable. Feel free to do it on your model if you're so inclined.

Next on my agenda is addition of the intakes and a little more prepainting, plus final bodywork on the fuselage. Somewhere along the way we'll sneak in another couple of photos, but not today. I'm spending the rest of the afternoon in the attic, looking for those old Hasegawa weapons sets left over from the first iteration of RIS, so I can put some Mk 82s on a centerline MER once the model is done. (You'd think there'd be a MER in the kit, but that's not how Hase does things; they've got weapons sets for that, and that's how we get our ordnance. I'm not entirely certain I agree with that philosophy, but that's how it is. It's no Big Thing either way.) That said, we're done for today.

So, be good to your neighbor and we'll see you soon.

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!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Zipper in The Nav

Anybody who knows me well knows I've got a thing for the Lockheed F-104. My dad gave me a primordial Revell Starfighter kit for Christmas one year (along with the other jets in Revell's "Century Series" gift set) and that planted the seed. A little later, in 1959 to be exact, a flight of F-104As (probably out of Webb AFB, but they could've been from Mars that day) howled their way over our playground at Sheppard AFB during afternoon recess. I'm here to tell you right here and right now that nothing, and I mean nothing, sounds like an F-104 at low speed with the blown flaps and slats in action. It's a primal sound that I may well take to the grave; there's just nothing like it. Talk about leaving an impression on a little kid!

Anyway, so much for why I love the Zipper. Everybody knows all about them, right? They were useless because they used too much gas, didn't have much in the way of weaponry, couldn't turn, didn't have a decent radar, had a killer (literally) ejection seat, and the list goes on and on. All those things are common knowledge and, to one extent or another, all of them are wrong. Take that range thing, for example. The Zip had a greater unrefueled range than the F-4 based on internal fuel only, and presuming the '104 driver could stay out of afterburner after takeoff. The early models were slim on weaponry, it's true, but the advent of the F-104G substantially changed that scenario, and the Canadians operated their CF-104s in the tactical nuclear strike role for years in Northern Europe (and thankfully for all concerned never had to actually use the aircraft in anger). The G also improved the radar and avionics suite beyond recognition, thus adressing that particular bugaboo. The airplane could out-turn almost anything at the supersonic speeds it was originally designed to fight at; that particular capability was a mistake on the part of the designers, but in that one, design-specific environment the F-104 was a world-beater. The downward-firing seat was replaced early in the airplane's production, after the death of a number of pilots proved the notion of a downward-firing seat to be a truly Bad Idea, paticularly when viewed from the perspective that most F-104 accidents occured while the aircraft was low and slow. At the end of the day, though, and with or without qualifiers or apologies, the F-104 was the wrong airplane for the United States Air Force of the day. Lockheed's later development of the airframe, Project Lancer, might have provided the blue suiters with the right airplane but that program was stillborn, an apparent victim of the politics of the day, so we'll never know.

One thing the F-104 could do, though, and could do in spades, was go very fast, which brings us to the purpose of this piece. In the mid-1950s the United States Navy was hip-deep in the development of supersonic fighters for the Fleet, and it went without question that those aircraft would all carry the then-new AIM-9 series of air-to-air missles. Both the F8U Crusader and F4H Phantom II were slated to use the "Sidewinder", but neither airframe was quite ready for service use and the Navy needed a platform with which to acquire experience with supersonic AIM-9 operations. That requirement led directly to the F-104 which had the speed, was already configured for AIM-9 use (with one missile on each wingtip in the air defense role), and was available for test use since it was proving to be a marginal platform for its intended role as an Air Force air superiority fighter and interceptor.

That's how the Navy came to operate the F-104. In 1959 the Air Force bailed a YF-104A (55-2956) and two F-104As (56-0740 and 56-0757) to the Navy Weapons Test Center at China Lake. The aircraft were crewed by USAF pilots on TDY from the 83rd FIS, since they were already trained on the airframe and weapons delivery and were, in theory at least, familiar with the airplane's quirks and coffin corners. Most of the testing took place during 1960 and 1961. Of the three aircraft, only the YF-104A survived the test program (and later became a QF-104A drone); 56-0740 crashed to destruction on 22 September 1960, followed in short order by 56-0757 on 7 April 1961.

The loss of two-thirds of the test force in accidents was perhaps indicative of the service career of the early F-104s, but the program was a success in that the Navy was able to obtain the first-hand data they required for high-Mach operations with the AIM-9. The Starfighter experience made things a little easier when first the F8U, and then the F-4H, were introduced to the Fleet.

The photographs you see before you are all of the aircraft assigned to the test program. All still carry their Air Force serial numbers, but note that they've been reconfigured to reflect Navy practice of the era (including a BuNo presentation on the rear fuselage in the case of 0740, and probably the other two as well). Paint is standard for the F-104A right down to the white upper wing surfaces, but with certain anomalies; note the ejection seat panel on 0740 and the way the fuselage stripe on 0757 abutts the painted panel in front of it. Note that the photography only documents the two F-104As; to date I've been unable to locate an operational photograph of 55-2956 as bailed to the Navy. All photographs were supplied by the NWTC, and their kindness is gratefully acknowledged.

As for modeling, my personal choice of a kit would be the recent Hasegawa 1/48th scale offering, although I'd fill in every one of those "rivets" that they chose to sprinkle liberally all over the model. Said rivets may well prove to be one of the great mysteries of our time, since the real aircraft isn't covered with golf ball-sized divots, which is about how things work out in scale. Just when you thought you'd gotten away from that whole putty and sand thing! I'd also be careful not to accidentally push those tiny position indicator lights into the fuselage during sanding (if you've got the kit you know what I'm talking about).

At any rate, the Navy's sojourn with the Zipper gives us the opportunity to build a unique model of a really spiffy airplane. You can't ask for more than that.

So Where Are The Drawings?

Nobody's asked, but sooner or later they will; where are all those drawings that made the original Replica in Scale such a neat publication? Well, folks, the truth is that I was the modeler, the editor, the primary writer, re-writer, and ghost writer, and caption writer too, but never the artist. Bottom line, no drawings this time around. On the other hand I do have a fairly extensive photo library that will be shared as we go along. Let's hope that will suffice, at least for a while.

So, howsabout we build something when we convene again? Sounds like a deal to me!

See you next time,