Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It's like I'm actually there

If you're anything like me, you're pathetic and a failure. You've failed to achieve your childhood dream...becoming a pilot.

Okay, that was a bit dark, but I'm willing to bet you a banana split there are a lot of modelers who not-so-secretly wish they were pilots. We all have our reasons for not having achieved that dream, and at the end of the day many of us turn to scale models as a way to engage in our passion for aviation.

The internet has given us a new to enjoy aviation through the videos on sites like YouTube and Vimeo, but unfortunately the majority of them (including television shows on the Discovery and even the Military Channels) are aimed at the casual viewer not hardcore aviation enthusiasts like us. I swear if I see another video showing fast jets to the sound of Van Halen's "Dream" I'm going to shove the thickest, most flash-laden sprue from an early, Eastern Bloc model and shove it up my, well, you get the idea.

That's why I was thrilled to find this video. Maybe you've seen it.

Pilot and aviation journalist Jeff Ethell introduces us to the P-51D as if we are about to take the controls ourselves. He talks about the amount of oil to look for during the pre-flight, tells us to ensure the supercharger is set to Low, and the speed to expect on the base leg of your landing. Absolutely great stuff.

Be sure to watch all three videos of the P-51, as well as the other aircraft in the Roaring Glory Warbirds series.

Now if only someone would do this for the F-16, F/A-18, C-17, etc.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

One step forward, one step back

I really like what I've seen from the folks at Cyber-Hobby over the last year. Until I picked up their F6F Hellcat at the IPMS Nats a few weeks ago, my experience with their kits had been virtual, having seen them only online. Their SB2C has been very well received by the modeling community despite the existence of the superb Academy kit, and their Meteor looks equally nice. I was eager to fondle another example of their work.

When Cyber-Hobby released their Sea Venom in 1/72 scale, I was intrigued. Cold War British aircraft are not of special interest to me, but there's something about that big, bulbous nose that intrigued me, that and I've always had an affinity for smallish aircraft and armor. When I saw photos of the Sea Venom on the various discussion boards and saw the finesse of the moldings, I knew I had to have one.

Last week I scored a Sea Venom on eBay for a good price and received it over the weekend. In terms of detail and molding, it's really, really nice, folks. The bad news is, it has its share of flaws. Danielle Lang was kind enough to do a thorough evaluation of the kits on and share her findings on this thread and this thread. She compiled quite a list of issues. Say what you will about "rivet counting," but I appreciate reviews like this because they make me a more informed consumer, and that's never a bad thing. I bought the kit, aware of those shortcomings, and having it now I can say I'm looking forward to building it.


Why? The one glaring shortcoming of the kit is...drum roll please...the lack of an opening canopy! This is not 1971, right? This is not a Frog kit sitting before me, right? I find it surprising that anyone would produce a kit these days without an opening canopy. Maybe Cyber-Hobby wanted to hide the inaccurate instrument panel.

Let's hope this never happens again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Airfix and cup holders

The great thing about buying a car is that you can literally have one custom built just for you, assuming you can afford it of course. You can specify the engine, color, seats, audio options, pin stripes, and so on. Of course you always get a cup holder, and even Ferrari touts the presence of a cup holder in its literature for the F12 Berlinetta. Big fucking deal. Even the shopping cart at my grocery store has a cup holder.

So how close are we to being able to log onto and customer order a Bf-109? I can see the orders coming in now: David from Jacksonville wants a Bf-109E, version E-4, without a resin interior, with resin flying surfaces, photoetch for the cockpit, markings for Helmut Wick, and so on. Pretty cool, eh?

We might just be a step closer to that reality with Airfix's recent announcement of a kit to convert their impressive Vickers Valiant to a Reconnaissance or Refueller airplane. Someone at Airfix was smart. With all due respect to my friends in the aftermarket industry, someone over there in Kent said, "Hey, why should we let some cottage industry chaps do this when we can do it just as well?"

Brilliant! It's a smart move by Airfix. They don't have to manufacture, box, and store two additional (complete) kits, and they are assured of selling additional Valiants as we choose to build either or both of the variants. And we modelers benefit knowing that the parts should fit flawlessly, which isn't always the case with aftermarket parts (think resin shrinkage).

We're living in good times!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Old dog, new tricks

We're dazzled by the state-of-the-art kits that sit on the shelves of the LHS and in our stashes nowadays. Look at the Cyber Hobby SB2C or the Eduard Bf-110E and you'll see the finest examples of how manufacturers are leveraging technology to give us exceptional models that make kits manufactured 30 years ago look like toys. I couldn't explain how a "slide mold" works, but I'm sure glad the folks at Dragon do!

That said, I'm always thrilled to see a 20- or 30-year old kit built and painted particularly well. Only the best modelers can take an old, 70s era ERTL or Hasegawa kit and turn it into a masterpiece. It gives me hope for all those "obsolete" kits I see on the vendors' tables at IPMS contests.

This 1/72 A-7A, from Floridian Ken Belisle, started life as a Hasegawa kit. Yes, the same one released in the 1970s with minimal cockpit detail and raised panel lines. It stopped me in my tracks when I saw it at the Virginia Beach IPMS Nats a few years ago. Ken is, in my opinion, the best 1/72 scale modeler in the hobby these days. He could've built the Fujimi kit, which is miles ahead of the Hasegawa, but he used what he had in his stash and showed us what real modeling looks like.

Here's a build of an "obsolete" kit I spotted on Aircraft Resource Center this week. It's the old ESCI 1/48 F-4 Phantom, and I think it would pass for a Hasegawa kit in any contest. The finish really sets it above most kits we see online.

I also noticed this build from André Teppers on Missing Lynx of the venerable Italeri 1/35 Steyr RSO (which has recently been superseded by Dragon's new offering). I can't wait to see this one painted!

Do you have old kits in your stash that you're too quick to dismiss?

Friday, August 17, 2012

This could really suck

There are many skills in our hobby that are inherently difficult. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the challenges of decaling, but other tasks come to mind as well, such as applying a natural metal finish or masking and painting canopies. One of the lessons I learned far too late in my modeling career is to charge head-on into anything that intimidates me. Worst case scenario: I fail miserably and toss a $15 model into the trash. Big deal. Try, try again as they say.

Thanks to Alclad, a gift from the gods to modelers around the world, I've achieved a degree of confidence with a NMF, and I have a Fujimi Judy in the stash awaiting my attention just for the exercise of masking its ridiculously complex canopy. What next?

The one area that still needs my attention is rigging. (Okay, there's vacuform models, too, but no one really builds those anymore, right?) I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't attempted rigging since I built Airfix's tiny Tigermoth many years ago. It was a half-hearted effort due to Justine Bateman detracting my modeling after I heard a rumor that she didn't wear underwear while filming Family Ties.

Mind you, I'm primarily a jet guy, but I do have a couple of kits in the stash that have intrigued me over the years that require some rigging. I recently acquired the classic Airfix Handley-Page HP 42 after seeing the plane in Imperial Airways livery, and I have a Williams Brothers 1/72 Douglas World Cruiser in my stash that I bought when I started getting serious in the hobby some time around 1985, a plane that I've always thought was particularly rugged.

Douglas World Cruiser

 With that enthusiasm I nervously clicked the Buy It Now button on eBay for an Eduard 1/72 Nieuport 17 with the intention of using it for my first, earnest foray into rigging. Was I foolish for choosing to do this in 1/72nd scale? Perhaps. Okay, yes, but it's my scale and I'm a glutton for punishment. I also picked up Eduard's WW1 photoetch seats at the IPMS Nats.

Ready for rigging

Next I had to find a few articles online about rigging. I found this thread on ARC's forums, this article from John Seaman on Austin Scale Modeler's Society site, and another one on

Finally, being a JEEP, (that is, "just enough education to pass" in military slang), I disguised myself as a 19 year-old girl and snuck into a beading supply shop and bought some monofilament thread.

Now I'm ready to begin this new chapter in my hobby. It could really suck. And it could really be great. Some of the best looking aircraft ever manufactured were the early bi-wing types, so if all goes well I may find myself spending less time on jets. Time will tell.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The weird and the bizarre at the Nats

Hidden among the ever-popular F-16s and Sherman tanks in the contest, in between the deeply discounted Hasegawa Bf-109s in the vendors room, exists the weird and bizarre world that is scale modeling. Here are a few of the more esoteric and stranger things I noticed, excluding of course the attendees ourselves.

Looking through the contest room I found what may be the first entry of its type ever to be entered in the Nats, this tiki pole. There was at least one entrant from French Polynesia, so I'm guessing that he was the modeler of this most interesting model.

I saw this entry of a stealth fighter. I'm usually not a party pooper in our hobby, but please, let this be the last of its kind. The idea has been done many times before, and it's not funny anymore. And more to the point, no one can do the concept any better than this modeler. Kudos!

You know you're living in the best of times when you can find a book that completely documents the jerrycan. Yes, that's right, those little water/fuel cans that most of us glue onto our tanks and softskin vehicles as an afterthought. Are you sure the jerrycans on your Matilda should be three-handled rather than two? The book has been described as "lavishly illustrated" and "superb" by reviewers and people are even tweeting about it. If it's not in your library you're a loser. Contact Casemate Publishing for your copy today, and be sure to suggest a book about Italian crowbars circa 1935-38.

Japan is often known for its eccentricities, and our hobby is not a sanctuary for those seeking the unconventional. I found this model of dumplings from Bandai on Hobbylink Japan's table. Not buying it may be my one regret coming away from the Nats.

Speaking of Japan, I spotted these anime models in the back of the vendors room. I'm always surprised to find that naked women can make almost any grown man giggle.

Sitting next to a model of the World Trade Center was this model of Epcot Center's Spaceship Earth. It's always nice to see a model reflect the location of the convention.

Finally, I captured these two signs in the vendors room in the final hour of the show. I never understood why eBay sellers discount items at 5 percent off, so I almost LOL'd at this one. Guess which vendor took home most of his stock.

I'm already looking forward to next year!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dang, I bought the wrong kit!

So I'm unpacking my haul from the Nats this morning, eager to fondle one of the kits I was most looking forward to buying. In the final 30 minutes of the vendors room I was excited to score what I thought was the new Tamiya 1/72 A6M5 Zero, which if you haven't seen it is a gem of a kit. But no, what I actually grabbed off the table was their 1/48 version of the plane. Dang!

Anyone else do that? Or maybe buy a duplicate of something you already have?

Oh well, at least I scored a $50 kit at a deep, deep bargain.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Best Of Nats winners!

Well, the 2012 IPMS National Convention is complete. Pictures are slowing being posted across many of the sites, and I will be posting a few of my favorites soon, but in the meantime here are the Best Of winners from this year's Nats.

(My apologies if I mangled anyone's name.)

Best Junior: Travis Blemins, Space Marine
Best Florida Subject: Closed Went Fisher, James Decker
Race to the Moon: Frienship 7, Mark Saxon
1942 Guadalcanal: USS Atlata, Richard Schliefka
1942 Stalingrad: Ju-87, Tom Gastaneau
Cuban Missile Crisis: Zil-157/SA-2, Kevin Farris
100 Years of Chevrolet: Century of Excellence, Rocky Saint
60 Years of Sebring: Corvette Grand Sport, Larry Litaborski
Best US Naval Subject: SBD, Pat Donahue
Wings of Gold: SOC, (Didn't catch name over the cheering)
Best Use of IPMS Decal Sheet: MiG Killers, Robert Booth
Best WW1 Aircraft: F2B 148, Jose DeCarlo
Best British Subject: Avro 504K, Alejandre Bige
Best Sharkmouth: A-10, Cyrus Tan
Best Fleet Air Arm: Swordfish, Bill Devins
Best Aircraft: A-10, Cyrus Tan
Best Military Vehicle: Sdkfz 6/3 Diana, Mark Ford
Best Ship: USS George H. Bush, (didn't catch name over cheering)
Best Figure: Templar Knight, Luis Mendoza
Best Automotive: Yamaha YZRM motorcycle, Richard Gonzalez
Best Space Subject: Space Police Vehicle, Emil Zumbia
Best Diorama: Casualties Many, Brian Goslin
Best Miscellaneous: Mother and the Ones, Ken Belisle
Best Group Entry: Egg Plans, IPMS Orlando
Popular Best of Show: Red Tails on Attack Diorama, (didn't catch name over cheering)

Best of Show: Yamaha YZRM motorcycle, Richard Gonzalez...from Venezuela!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

So you're attending the Nats!

When you became an adult and entered the workforce you left behind the wonder and joy of summer vacation. What do we have to look forward to now? Nothing. Okay, maybe you're one of those adventure-seeking types who zip-lines over the Amazon or climbs a snowy mountain in Asia. Odds are your week-long vacation is spent sitting on a hot beach with the family (not that there's anything wrong with that).

But wait! We're modelers. We look forward to the childlike joy that comes from attending the IPMS National Convention! Four days surrounded by plastic, resin, photoetch, decals, and books of every variety. I'm convinced that most children don't feel as much joy on Christmas morning as we do walking into the convention space on that first day.

I've been fortunate to have attended nearly a dozen Nats over my 30 years in the hobby, so if this is your first convention I'd like to pass along some advice.

The Vendors

When you arrive at the convention (whether you arrived early on Wednesday or later Saturday morning) the first thing you should do is walk through the vendor rooms. Don't buy anything. Your goal is to get a sense of the items available and the vendors' prices. Most of us have a budget, so you don't want to blow it all in one room only to find two more rooms at the end of that long hallway.

I know I just said not to buy anything, but if you come across that kit, book, or accessory that you've been looking for for the last seven years, you should probably buy it when you first see it. There's a good chance it may not be there when you come back. That said, if you do buy something be prepared to kick yourself in the arse when you find another one an hour later at a better price. That's not uncommon at the Nats.

Finally, forget about the wish list you compiled the week before. When you're walking among thousands of kits, decals, photoetch, and books it's all about bargains and impulse purchases. You're much better off compiling a list of the items you *do* have (such as decals, aftermarket, etc.) so you don't accidentally buy duplicates. Yes, I've done that.

The Contest

For goodness sake people, please enter the contest! I can already hear the whining and excuses:

"I don't like contests."

"The judging isn't fair."

"I'm not good enough to win."

I call shenanigans on all of you! Yes, it is a contest and the primary purpose is to judge models and reward the best, but there is a secondary purpose that we frequently overlook. If you're anything like me you enjoy looking at models! Crazy, I know, but it's true! Look at it this way, if only the truly competitive guys entered the contest, you'd see maybe 200 models on the tables rather than 1,000.

So I beg you, enter the contest so that we can enjoy the fruits of your labor and vice versa. One of the best modelers I've known over the years refuses to enter contests. He's a great guy. Very friendly, very helpful. But I've always thought it a shame that the only people who get to enjoy his models are the select few invited into his home.

Finally, you should enter the contest because it's important to support the convention itself. It's expensive and labor-intensive to host a convention, so it's good when you register and participate. The sponsoring club wins, we win, and the hobby is better for it.

The People

You are probably an introvert like me. You might enjoy spending time in your man cave, hunkered down over a model. The bright light of the sun might hurt your eyes and burn your fair skin. But hey, it's great to see so many of us trolls venturing to the Nats and spending time together.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of talking to the other convention attendees. The real value of the convention is the information that we have and share. If we don't talk among ourselves we've lost the opportunity to learn. And to make new friends. I met most of my best friends in IPMS clubs and contests. Don't be afraid to ask someone a question, and if you're in the position where someone is asking you a question, engage in a conversation. And remember, if someone doesn't respond when you reach out, it's a reflection on his character not yours. There are a few hardcore introverts among us.

Enjoy the convention and the remaining contests of 2012!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

So you're not attending the Nats?

Many of you will wake up tomorrow and the next few days and the reality will hit you. "I'm not at the IPMS National Convention!" You might cry a little bit. Go ahead. We understand.

It's a sad fact of life that we can't attend every National Convention. Maybe your budget is limited, maybe you can't get the vacation time at work, or maybe you have family obligations that come first. No matter what the reason, it's a bummer to log onto your favorite forum and see all the chatter among the attendees and realizing you're not enjoying the great models, finding that rare kit in the vendors room, or taking home the Best of Show award for the model you spent 50 hours on.

What's a modeler to do?

If you're not attending the Nats this weekend, here are a few suggestions.

1. Get together with a few of your modeling buds and have lunch or dinner together. The Nats is primarily about friendship and camaraderie (or it should be), so if you can't spend the time with 500 friends then find four or five and enjoy a few hours of modeling chit chat.

2. Go to your Local Hobby Shop (LHS) and splurge a little on a few models, books, and supplies. A big attraction of attending the Nats is bring home some booty from the vendors room. If you can't be there, treat yourself and support your LHS in the process. Both of you will be glad you did!

3. Spend the day at the workbench. I don't mean one or two hours; I mean the entire day. Tell SHMBO that you need the time to decompress, and then lock yourself away in your room from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. and enjoy doing what you love. If you want to be really ambitious, commit yourself to completing one model, whether it's one you start that day or one that's nearing completion.

4. Watch a favorite war movie. It might be Top Gun, Band of Brothers, Henry the V (great battle scenes), etc. Whatever it is, engross yourself in a movie that will inspire your modeling.

No matter what you do, enjoy the weekend and our hobby. And start saving your pennies for next year!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I love Solvaset!

Practically every model I build has at least one decal that has to conform over some contorted area, and as I wrote about yesterday, decaling is the one step in the process of building a model where everything can go horribly wrong.

I use Microscale's Micro Set and Micro Sol on most builds and those two products alone allow me to lay most decals onto a model with reasonable success, but when I need to apply a decal over a particularly complex shape nothing beats Solvaset. I don't know what's in this witch's brew, but I'm convinced it's not of this world. This stuff is great. The bottle I have has been in my toolbox for more than 25 years!

I had to use Solvaset this weekend on my 1/72 F-15B. The unit tail bands at the top of the vertical stabilizers lay over the ECM blisters on the trailing edge of the vertical stabilizers. I knew Solvaset would work its magic, and it didn't let me down! (That said, if you look carefully you can see some issues with my application of the decal for the tail code. Ugh!)

If you don't have a bottle of Solvaset on your workbench you really need to get a bottle, or two.

If you're in the United States you can get Solvaset from Sprue Brothers. For my UK readers I'm told Hannants stocks it but I don't see it listed on their web site.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

So close yet so far

Last night I sat down to apply decals to my latest build, a 1/72 F-15B (actually a TF-15A, but who cares). As I put the first decal into the bowl of water I started getting nervous. "This is where the whole project can go to shit," I said to myself. Now mind you, I wasn't using those old Microscale decals I've had in my stash for 30 years; I'm using markings from Wolfpack Decals, so I was pretty sure they would go down beautifully and not shatter.

And yet I was full of anxiety. I don't think that's being melodramatic. Think about it. You've put many hours into building the model, making sure the seams are relatively smooth, ensuring everything is aligned, adding detail beyond what's provided in the kit, applying a smooth coat of paint, blah blah blah. In addition to the time investment, you may have easily put over $100 in the model.

Applying decals is that final, yet crucial, step in the process of building the model where you don't really get a second chance. Screw it up now and you may find yourself repainting part or all of the model. Or buying a replacement set of decals (assuming they're not out of production). You should be nervous!

Ironically, a few hours after I applied the decals to the F-15 my life-long friend David called me on the phone. His most recent project, a Hasegawa 1/48 TA-4J in those pretty white and orange training colors met a tragic fate when several of the kit decals refused to adhere to the model and the national insignia refused to settle over those problematic vortex generators on the wings. He's decided to repaint the model in adversary colors, and frankly I can't blame him.

The decals on my F-15 are complete now, so from here it's just a matter of sealing them, weathering the model, and assembling it. Anything could still go wrong, but one more crucial process is behind me. Why must the hobby fill me with so much anxiety?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Initial reactions to the Airfix 1/72 A-4B Skyhawk

Airfix has released some real gems over the last year or so, most notably their 1/72 scale Swordfish, which I understand is a beautifully detailed model and one that signaled a new commitment to quality by a manufacturer that is arguably one of the oldest and most respected in the hobby. While their latest kits are not yet on par with the Fifth Generation kits we've seen, they are much better than their older releases as well as recent releases from other manufacturers. Their new A-4B Skyhawk seems to be no exception.

I don't have the kit in my grubby little hands yet (I'll be looking for it at the IPMS Nats next week), but it's enticing for sure. It certainly looks nice in Drew Manton's hands. That said, I have to admit I'm a big fan of Fujimi's various incarnations of the Skyhawk, so I'm eager to see how the Airfix kit compares in a side-by-side comparison. Initial thoughts from others in this discussion on ARC are promising despite what some might consider shortcomings, most notably the kit's panel lines. I'm hoping Eduard eventually does a photoetch set, if only to fill up the cockpit.

If you missed it, Tailspin Topics, a fine blog that you really must bookmark, just published an article about the Airfix Skyhawk with some tips on improving it and making it more accurate. Be sure to check it out if you plan to buy or build the kit.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When models meet history

Most, if not all, modelers I meet are armchair historians at heart. Take the models out of our sticky, paint-stained hands and most of us would be watching the History Channel or reading a biography about Zemke, Wittmann, or Halsey. We're aviation, armor, naval, and automotive enthusiasts, and models are one of the ways we get closer to our interests.

That's why this story on Hyperscale caught my attention yesterday. Yufei Mao talks about meeting Zhushu Wang, a fighter pilot with the PLA in Vietnam. He and his wingman shot down an American F-4C Phantom II in 1967. Yufei built a model of Mr. Wang's aircraft, a MiG-19. He describes the model in this article on Hyperscale, and I found this step-by-step of the build on ARC's discussion forum.

BTW, if you're not familiar with Yufei Mao, he's one of the finest modelers in the hobby today. Check out his MiG-29, Su-27, MiG-25, and F/A-18C on ARC.