Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book review: B-25 Mitchell in Civil Service

I’ve had an affinity for the B-25 going way back to my teenage years. One of the first models I built was Monogram’s B-25, and a few years later I found that an airworthy B-25 was occasionally tied down at a nearby airport. Then in 1985 I got a flight in a B-25 at (if I recall correctly) Sun ’n Fun, the big Central Florida airshow. Today I have two Hasegawa B-25s in the stash, as well as a Minicraft 1/144 kit, and I’ve been patiently looking for the HK Models 1/32 kit for the right price.

A few weeks ago while browsing the Warbird Information Exchange forums I found a promotional link to Aero Vintage books, where Scott Thompson’s book B-25 Mitchell in Civil Service is offered at a discounted price of just $10. It’s rare these days to find a true bargain, so with a couple of clicks and a short one-week wait and the book was in my hands.

And it’s a very nice book. As you know, in the downsizing that followed World War Two thousands of aircraft were scrapped or sold, and this book traces the path of many of the B-25s that wound up in civilian ownership. Chapters focus on executive and research use of the B-25 (a role in which the B-25 served in the USAF for many years after the war), air tankers and agricultural sprayers, and conversions for use by Hollywood for air-to-air filming and photography. The history of the B-25’s post-war usage is accompanied by dozens of fascinating photographs showing the B-25 in a myriad of civilian markings and, sadly, disrepair.

Interjected throughout the book are fascinating stories about several pilots who flew the B-25, such as one who flew avionics test flights for Bendix, an air tanker pilot, two who flew B-25s for movies, and another who restored the B-25 that I flew in as a teenager, 44-31508/N6578D. (On a side note, that aircraft is now in Australia, having been purchased by Reevers Warbird Roundup. It’s in restoration and will be unveiled in April 2017. Warbird News wrote about its acquisition.)

The books wraps up with a substantial history of individual B-25s.

If you’re a fan of the B-25 you’ll appreciate the history of industrious engineers and pilots who extended the life of the aircraft well into the 1960s, and beyond if you consider the 25-30 B-25s that are airworthy today. (Someone let me know if that count is inaccurate.)

Friday, October 14, 2016

More eBay insanity

A few months ago I wrote about some of the silly postings I’d seen on eBay, and needless to say the insanity continues. I don’t expect it to stop, which gives us another opportunity to enjoy and laugh at some of the crap people try to sell on eBay and via other venues. Enjoy!

This Testors F4U Corsair was described as “parts only…as is,” and “nice.” I think a more accurate description would’ve been “Testors F4U Corsair, nothing but sprues.” At least the Buy It Now was only $2.00, which buys you a good bit of sprue to stretch.

This “rare” Dragon 1/35 Shilka was offered on one of the buy/sell forums for $38 earlier this year. Nevermind that a.) there were five kits just like it on eBay at lower prices, b.) the last kit like this one to sell on eBay went for $22, and c.) there were two new-tool kits in the pipeline at the time.

If a decal sheet can be considered “rare,” the Two Bobs F-14A Splintered Tomcat sheet would qualify. An eBay seller listed this one at a Buy It Now price of $70. I could admire this capitalist for being optimistic, but see that he’d had it listed at that price for more than eight months makes me think otherwise. If your high-priced item hasn’t sold in, I don't know, six months, it just might be overpriced.

Described as having been acquired from a police locker, the seller of this “Vintage Model Kit panzer Kampfwagen ll Ausf F/G” priced at $109.99, should be arrested for price gauging.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

MiniArt’s new crockery and glass set

MiniArt just announced a new kit that will be of great interest to armor and diorama modelers, so in anticipation of its release I thought I’d look ahead and anticipate the questions and comments that will surely be made on the forums. Enjoy!

  • Can anyone tell me if Europeans in 1940s drank their coffee with or without milk? Did it vary by country? I need to know how light or dark to paint the coffee.
  • Wrong scale.
  • Which Alclad color should I use for the coffee pot?
  • Can I use the beer mug for a diorama set in Vietnam?
  • Can someone recommend the best paint to use for the green teapot?
  • Squadron is showing this as out of stock.
  • The deer emblem on the porcelain mug looks wrong. The rear of the deer looks a little too rounded compared to pictures I’ve studied.
  • How about a 1/35 T-34/100?
  • The whiskey decanter is completely misshapen. It’s a caricature of the real thing.
  • How can I represent the steam that’s rising from hot coffee?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Inspiration: Francois Verlinden

I’ve met many excellent modelers in my 30 years in our hobby and seen the work of hundreds more in print and online. There are a handful that have inspired me, whose techniques, craftsmanship, or whose approach to the hobby shaped the modeler that I am today. This is the second in what I hope to be a series of articles to acknowledge their contributions.

You’ve probably heard about Francois Verlinden’s retirement by now. A few weeks ago photos were posted to Facebook showing the closure of his warehouse outside St. Louis. It’s a sad time for the hobby, but we have much to be thankful for given Verlinden’s presence in the hobby.

When I started building plastic models I focused solely on aircraft, but an early mentor introduced me to armor, sometime around 1983 I think. At the same time he introduced me to Francois Verlinden’s work just when his business was taking off. My mentor had incorporated some of Verlinden’s techniques into his own armor modeling, and I dutifully followed his lead by doing the same. All these years later I can credit my mentor and Verlinden for my interest in armor, even if the techniques we use today have significantly changed over the years.

I saw Verlinden do a presentation at the 1984 IPMS National Convention, which I recall was simply a slide show of his work, but what we saw was inspiring at the time. He painted and weathered armor with much more contrast than we’d ever seen before and the results were stunning. In the years that followed I bought some of his books — those about modeling techniques as well as the Lock-On series featuring what we might today refer to as “walkarounds” — and several issues of Verlinden Productions Modeling Magazine. They made me a better modeler.

Several years later I was driving through Missouri and had time to stop at VLS’s headquarters and see Verlinden’s models in person (as well as Bob Letterman’s dioramas). I have to admit that their work didn’t look quite as good in person as it did in photographs, but the ambition of their efforts was a point of inspiration. I don’t think it’s a surprise that many modelers today are drawn to big, expansive dioramas, in part due to Verlinden and Letterman’s early work.

Verlinden’s products, while not always the easiest to build, set a standard for the products that we now enjoy from the aftermarket industry. His company produced products for armor, aircraft, and figure modelers. Other modelers and entrepreneurs with good product ideas followed Verlinden’s lead. I’m sure many of you still have a Verlinden conversion or detail set in your stash.

It’s unfortunate that the Verlinden brand didn’t continue beyond its founder’s retirement, but his presence in the hobby laid a foundation that many others built upon.

Who else has inspired me? Here's the list, so far....

Bob Steinbrunn

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Two models that almost broke my spirit

Scale modeling brings me great joy…and moments of intense frustration. I’m sure you’ve had these mixed emotions, too. The hobby should be about relaxation, but some models seem to fight you through the entire process of building and painting them, and that was exactly my experience with my last two – yes, two – models.

Airfix 1/72 P-40

I planned my build of Airfix’s 1/72 P-40B with great optimism. My experience with their 1/72 P-51D confirmed the reports I’d read about the manufacturer’s attention to engineering, so I anticipated the same experience with their Hawk. I hadn’t super detailed a model for a long time, so I bought CMK’s Allison resin engine, replacement spinner and prop, and exhaust stacks, as well as Dana Bell’s excellent book to show me all the great detail that I needed to add.

The final product and what remains of my first, scrapped effort.
My project went to crap as soon as I removed the engine panels as recommended in CMK’s instructions, and it continued to go south as I tried to determine how the resin parts of the engine should be assembled. Once those panels were removed the front half of the fuselage lost all structural integrity, and it was clear to me as I taped the major pieces together and joined the fuselage to the wings that none of it was going to fit. And as I tried to visualize how to install the engine into the fuselage it was clear to me I was in over my head.

I should be honest and forthright and admit that I’m more of an artist than an engineer, but I like to think that with a little time and concentration I can surmount most of the engineering challenges that a model can throw at me. But not this time.

I eventually scrapped the model, after having done a good bit of detailing in the cockpit and cutting open the cargo hatch on the port side of the fuselage, and purchased a new kit via Amazon. I began the replacement with lowered expectations, but even it didn’t work out so well. I opened that same cargo hatch and detailed the interior of the fuselage only to discover that the opening was too large. I tried to fix it but the results were shabby. I finally filled the opening, sanded it smooth, and rescribed the panel lines.

I ultimately finished the model, although even in its final moments I encountered further issues. When I attached the landing gear the airplane seemed to sit a bit too nose-high, so I pull them out, cut them down a bit, and re-attached them. The slight change of angle from that minor “improvement” resulted in the pre-flattened tires provided in the Airfix kit from not sitting completely flat. And you’ll notice that I didn’t have the spirit to replace the wing machine guns as I had planned. But hey, it’s done, and it looks halfway decent with Starfighter Decal’s markings and a bit of weathering. Like most of my models, it looks really good…from a distance of 10 feet.

Hobby Boss 1/72 Rafale M

The other hot mess that’s consumed the better part of my time at the workbench this year is Hobby Boss’s Rafale M. Unlike the Airfix Hawk I didn’t set out for it to be a super-detailed model, opting to use only an Eduard Zoom set, so I wasn’t expecting to struggle with it as much as I did. I blame my own lack of foresight as well as Hobby Boss’s poor instructions.

The remains of another failed project.
The engineering of the fuselage is a bit complex with multiple pieces coming together resulting in many seams that need to be addressed, much like most of the F-4 Phantoms on the market. I failed to fill the seam that runs the length of the forward fuselage before I attached the intakes, so cleaning it up would’ve been extremely difficult. And it was only after I’d attached the intakes that I realize the lack of intake trucks meant there was a HUGE void when you look into the intakes. Now I’m not one of those guys who obsesses over intakes, but this was too much.

I also realized too late that you have to install the main landing gear BEFORE you join the upper and lower fuselage halves.  The instructions don’t make that clear, so between this, the labor required to properly address the seams, and the black hole behind the intakes, I decided to scrap the model. Like the Airfix Hawk, I bought a replacement kit and started over. The result was much better the second time around, even if my spirit was slightly broken. The rest of the project went well, and the model looks good if I do say so myself. I like the look of the GBU-24 under the aircraft, but I didn’t have the energy to scratchbuild the targeting pod that’s mounted behind the starboard intake.

So, what can you learn about my experience with these two kits?

Read reviews and WIPs of the model you’re planning to build. A modeler on Brit Modeller who built the Rafale pointed out the issue with the landing gear, but I hadn’t seen it; if I had, the project might have gone a little smoother.

Carefully study the assembly of the model before you start it. Determine where the seams are going to be and how other parts will affect your ability to fill them. Look at the assembly sequence and don’t assume that the model will go together exactly as the last 20 models you build.

Consider removing the major parts of the model from the sprue and temporarily assembling the model to see how it looks.

Finally, don’t hesitate to scrap a model that’s not going well. You could argue that the time you’ve invested in the kit is wasted, but I believe that any time at the workbench is time spent improving your skills. As long as you’re learning from the experience, you’re on a good path.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Scale Model Soup’s aircraft wish list

I really dislike the recurring threads we see on the forums where everyone submits a list of the aircraft, armor, ships, cars they’d like to see in kit form. After two or three pages of these lists the manufacturers — assuming they’re even reading the forums — are left with a list of pretty much...everything! Whenever I see a new thread I think to myself, here we go again.

Well, here we go again!

Being as big a hypocrite as the next guy, I’ve compiled my own list, too. But my list differs from those I've seen online; these are kits I believe would actually sell. As much as I’d like to see a 1/32 Convair B-36 Peacemaker, I doubt that more than 100 modelers would buy one. My list includes models that I would invest my own money to see produced, which implies that I’d see not just a return on my investment but a profit as well.

Two notes on these choices. First, I’m assuming these kits would be new-tool, injection molded kits from a major manufacturer, not short-run or resin kits. I realize that some of these aircraft are already available in kit form, such as the Otaki C-5 Galaxy; where that’s the case, these are models I’d like to see replaced with a better product with more options. And second, I did not list models that (to my knowledge) have been announced for future release, such as a 1/32 F-111A and F-111E, which Tan Model lists on their web site.

So onto the list!

Douglas C-133 Cargomaster
Martin JRM-1 Mars
Boeing B-29/B-50 Superfortress
Martin P5M Marlin
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress series

Lockheed B-2 Spirit
Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot
Grumman F7F Tigercat
Cessna T-37 Tweet
Sikorsky H-53 series (HH-53, MH-53)

Bell AH-1 family
Bell UH-1 family
Bell CV/MV-22 Osprey
Northrop B-2 Spirit
Lockheed U-2 series

Waco CG-4A glider
Martin B-26 Marauder
Lockheed Martin F-22
Lockheed Martin F-35
Lockheed U-2 series

So there you go. I don't doubt that we'll get some or all of these eventually, an increasingly move toward a day when the manufacturers have run out of subjects. In the meantime, where would you invest your money?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Bachelor build

Our hobby tends to be a solitary one, each of us building models alone in our workshops. We come together only for club meetings or contests. When I lived in Ohio my friends and I would occasionally get together to build models, sharing ideas and techniques, or to simply make modeling a social experience. I don’t have any modeler-friends near my today, so it’s great to see other modelers coming together from time to time.

This article by Craig Gregory originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of The Navigator, the monthly newsletter of IPMS/USA Alamo Squadron. My thanks to its editor, Len Pilhofer, for allowing me to share it with you.

On Saturday, July 9th and Sunday, July 10th I hosted a bachelor build weekend at my house; as my wife was visiting the East Coast with her relatives from China. There were three of us on Saturday; one started a new tank project, another a new aircraft build, while I continued working on an aircraft and a starship projects. I also BBQ hamburgers, while others brought the associated sides.

I joined Alamo Squadron for two reasons: to learn and improve my plastic modeling skills, the other to meet people. I had built a few models after college, but I had no mentors. I did not know about seam repair or how to mask canopies; my work did not meet my expectations. I still continued to grow my stash waiting for that day I would build models again. In 2013, we moved to San Antonio, I decided that this might be the time to start anew with plastic modeling. I was also new to San Antonio and wanted to meet other like-minded people (well like plastic modeling at least.)

I am of the opinion that meeting once a month for a club meeting is not enough. I am always looking for other ways to learn more about our hobby and meet others. Hosting the bachelor build weekend accomplished both goals. There is no better way to learn than to see it happen; and then to do it yourself. And no better activity that to share with others.

What did I learn? I learned that a tank has a hell of a lot more parts that a typical aircraft kit.