Monday, December 31, 2012

Kit of the year!

After much thought and consideration, I'm thrilled to announce that Scale Model Soup's 2012 kit of the year is the Eduard 1/72 Messerschmitt Bf-110E. (Read a review on Hyperscale.)

This was a very difficult decision, one that I've been anticipating and contemplating since I started SMS back in July. I admit what you already know, that this exercise is inherently unscientific; I have my own personal interests and biases, and frankly, I didn't see literally every new model released in 2012. That said, I've tried to be as objective as I possibly can. I read several online forums and make mental notes of what I see, but at the end of the day ( the end of the year) I can only consider what I've seen in some form or another, whether online, at contests, or what I've actually purchased.

When thinking about the model I would select, I considered many factors. How unusual is the subject matter? (For example, do we need yet another Bf-109 or Sherman?) How detailed is the model? How profitable is the model likely to be? (I want manufacturers to be successful.) How versatile is the subject matter? Does a relatively good model already exist of the subject?

I tentatively selected Eduard's 110 when it was first released over the summer, but then Great Wall threw me for a loop when they released their 1/48 MiG-29 last month, and I was forced to reconsider my choice. After reading the glowing reviews from modelers on ARC and Hyperscale, I decided that I had to buy one myself to see if the kit lived up to the hype. And I'll be damned, it did! Friends, the MiG-29 is now, arguably, the  best 1/48th scale model ever produced, an honor which I think most modelers would've ascribed to the Tamiya 1/48 F-16C Viper.

I looked very closely at both the Eduard Bf-110 and the Great Wall MiG-29. Both feature state-of-the-art, fifth generation detail and molding. Both are positioned to be profitable for their producers. Both effectively "replace" good, but imperfect kits (Fujimi and Academy, respectively).

Two features of the Great Wall MiG-29 almost swayed me to select it. First the rivets; there are two types of rivets, each molded to a different depth! Second, the armament. The AA-10s and AA-11s are works of beauty and rival any resin missile produced in plastic or resin. This kit sets a new standard that all other manufacturers will seek to meet in 2013 and beyond. I would pre-order every new release from Great Wall, even without knowing what it would be!

What the Great Wall MiG-29 is to 1/48th scale, the Eduard Bf-110E (and the other 110 variants Eduard has since released) is to 1/72nd scale. I selected the Eduard kit as my kit of the year because, frankly, I think it's more difficult to achieve this degree of detail and finesse in 1/72nd scale than it is in 1/48th. The 110 is gorgeous. It features detail that we typically see in resin and panel lines and rivets that are truly appropriate for the scale. (I hope we see that level of finesse on 1/144 scale kits next year.) That Eduard has released at least two other 110 variants and a bunch of aftermarket (photoetch and resin) tells me that this kit is positioned to be a profitable investment for our Czech friends. After their Bf-110, I'm even more excited about the promise of what is likely to be Eduard's best release in 2013, their MiG-15.

I should mention a few other models that are among the best of 2012. Tamiya's 1/72 A6M Zero is a gem, beautifully detailed and molded. (There's a review on Hyperscale.) On the armor front, Meng's A39 Tortoise and IDF Merkavas are wonderful, setting a new standard for 1/35 manufacturers, and Bronco is producing some very nice armor; hell, I've lost count of their Chaffee releases!

(Sadly, I cannot comment on ship or car releases. I hope to find someone in 2013 who can contribute commentary on those corners of the hobby).

As I look back to 2012 I feel compelled to remind everyone that scale modelers are living in the best of times. Despite a recession in the United States and economic uncertainty around the world, 2012 was a great year to be a modeler, in terms of releases and quality. Yes, the kits from the best manufactures easily exceed $50 and many approach $100, but ours is still a value-rich hobby. 2012 saw jaw-dropping examples of models produced with the latest technologies, such as computer aided design, rapid prototyping, and slide molding. Many kits don't need the aftermarket we've become accustomed to buying. Even the cottage industry is contributing to our nirvana, with innovative releases from small businesses such as Caracal Models, Barracuda Studios, Freightdog Models, and ET Model.

I've enjoyed each of the thirty-some years I've been in the hobby, and the only thing that bums me out as we enter 2013 is that I can't build models fast enough to keep up with all of the new releases we see every year. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Aftermarket of 2012

My aftermarket company of the year is Caracal Models. Proprietor Kursad has been producing limited run decals for a number of years, but he moved his company into afterburner in 2012 and released 20 decals, mostly in 1/48th scale.

If you're not familiar with the company, Caracal produces decals for military aircraft from the post-World War Two era to the present. Kursad has been particularly adept at timing his releases to the releases of new kits, hence his decals for Kinetic's S-2 Tracker, C-2 Greyhound, F-5A Freedom Fighter, and F-94 Starfire. He has no less than three releases to support the new Kinetic T-45 Goshawk. Kursad is doing something right; almost half of his 1/48 decals are sold out!

If there's something you want to see, speak up on the Caracal Models forum on the Aircraft Resource Center. Kursad seems genuinely open to  hearing ideas and responding as best he can.

2013 can only be bigger and better for Caracal Models, particularly with the unfortunately closure of Afterburner Decals, which should expand his customer base. Kursad has already talked on ARC about upcoming releases of T-38 Talons, ANG F-4 Phantoms, and Sikorsky H-34s. I'm excited to see what he'll do next, particularly when he invests more in the scale I work in, 1/72.

Runner up: Flexible antenna bases for the 1/35 Sherman from Adlers Nest. Yes, flexible antennas! Available from Tasca.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

WTF of 2012

Every once in a while something happens in the hobby that knocks you off your feet and makes you say, "What the f**k?" I find myself asking that question more frequently than I used to; the hobby has moved further along over the years, and we're seeing some pretty obscure stuff being produced. It's not just the models, mind you. For example, a few years ago one of the aftermarket companies released a set of dry transfer decals for paint chips. Really? Are there modelers so lazy that they can't dip a paintbrush into some silver paint and dab it on the model? Really?

But it's the models that get our attention, right? I guess we're going to have to get used to seeing weird stuff like Meng's 1/35 Tortoise and Special Hobby's upcoming 1/72 Gloster Meteor F.Mk.8 Prone now that the manufacturers have released kits of nearly every variant and subvariant of the Pzkpfw IV and P-51. That's not a not bad thing, but I predict that surprise is going to become the de rigueur standard in our hobby for 2013 and every year thereafter.

There will always be a group of modelers who appreciate every new model no matter how obscure, and the rest of us will remain, at best, intrigued; we might purchase one of these oddball subjects for shits and grins. What will truly surprise us will always be the completely bizarre choices, and this year that award must go to Academy for their decision to mold their beautiful new 1/48 F-4B Phantom II in two colors. Really?

Yes, it's true. It would seem that the design and management team from 1975 Matchbox have come out of retirement and are now gainfully employed at Academy. The Phantom is molded in white and light grey, presumably to make it easier for the beginner modeler to create a reasonable representation of the aircraft without paint. Wasn't that the intent behind the two-color Matchbox kits? In fairness, that's a good idea, but how many beginners are buying a $69 kit at their local hobby shop for their first foray into plastic modeling?

Congratulations, Academy!

Now I'm going to log onto my favorite online retailer to order three.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Biggest surprise of 2012

Throughout the year I frequently go to Cybermodeler to check their list of upcoming releases, which is updated regularly and generally quite accurate. That said, sometimes a new release sneaks in under the radar and surprises us. That was the case with Roden's 1/144 C-124A Globemaster this year. Of course at my age (mid-forties) my memory ain't what it used to be, so I could be wrong; maybe it was announced two years ago. No matter, it was new to me and a total surprise.

If you haven't seen the kit, here's a review on Britmodeller, and here's a good discussion on Aircraft Resource Center.

I view the C-124 and C-131 as the first of the super cargo aircraft that eventually gave us the C-141, C-5, and C-17. The C-124 is an important aircraft that's been overlooked for a long time, not surprising given that cargo aircraft are generally less sexy than, say, an F-94 or MiG-21. Have you ever heard of a pilot graduating at the top of his UPT class and requesting cargo aircraft? Probably not. Therefore it was great to see Roden find the courage to release the C-124 this summer. On a side note, it has some meaning even to my mother, who flew to France on a Globemaster in the mid-1950s when, as a young Army PFC, she was assigned to a base in Lyon.

In fairness, Roden's kit doesn't have the finesse we see in the latest fifth-generation releases from Eduard, Cyber Hobby, and Tamiya, but as it's unlikely we'll see those heavy hitters produce a Globemaster anytime soon, we're lucky to have manufacturers like Roden to give us decent models of more obscure aircraft. While not perfect, a talented modeler can create a real gem with them. The model shown below is Carl Knable's C-124, which is the perfect kit to show off his talent with natural metal finishes.

A couple of weeks ago Roden announced a C-124C, the variant with the distinctive, bulbous nose (the one seen on Carl's coversion). We can only hope that 2013 will see them release a C-133!

Runner up goes to the Great Wall 1/48 MiG-29. This came out of nowhere and has made many of us very happy! The only reason it doesn't take the Surprise award is that it's not as risky a release as the Roden Globemaster.

Tomorrow I'll give you the WTF award of 2012!

Thanks to Carl for sharing photos of his model.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Most unusual release of 2012

I know most of you aren't figure modelers, but having spent a good many years in that corner of our hobby, I keep an eye on the latest releases from manufacturers such as Andrea, Pegaso, Alpine, and so on, mostly via planetFigure. One of this year's releases that made me scratch my head was Metal Modele's release of a 54mm Columbo. Yes, the Columbo portrayed by Peter Falk in the popular 1970s American television series by the same name.

 Okay, I get the interest in obscure aircraft types such as the Meteor F Mk.8 Prone (which I'd never seen until Special Hobby announced their release of the plane last month) and little-used armor such as the beastly VsKfz 617 mineroller. I even get the interest in the flurry of science fiction figures we've seen over the last few years, including the bizzaro fantasy subject matter that's followed (check out the Terrible Kids Stuff figure titled Joe Petrosino). But is there really a group of modelers who've been asking for a figure of Columbo?

Maybe there is. Maybe after watching the show's theme song you can't help but feel the compulsion to paint a figure of Mr. Falk.

 I haven't thought about this show in nearly 25 years, not since the days when I was forced to watch police and detective shows while visiting my grandparents in the late 70s and early 80s. My grandfather was particularly fond of Columbo, The Rockford Files, Hawaii Five-0, and Barnaby Jones. Listening to these classic theme songs takes me back to those days. Those were good times. In fact, my first memories of building models was with my grandfather, when we cleaned our paint brushes with the gasoline he used to fuel his lawnmower. How times have changed!

But I digress. Don't get me wrong. I wish Bruno Leibovitz all the success in the world. His Napoleonic figures are among the best researched, sculpted, and cast figures in the hobby, but I can't help but be amused at unusual choices like this one.  Maybe I'll buy a Columbo and paint him in memory of my grandfather.

Tomorrow I'll give you the biggest surprise release of the year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

When I'm right, I'm right

I told you this could suck...and I was right.

Back in August I wrote about my desire to learn how to rig bi-planes, and I set out with great enthusiasm to build Eduard's little 1/72 Nieuport Ni-17. I did my research, finding several good articles about how to rig and assemble bi-planes, and I embarrassed myself by going into a beading store in New York City to find appropriate nonfilament wire. I bought a set of Eduard photoetch seats at the IPMS Nats in August.

The project started well. The major assemblies of the airplane went together neatly, and my painting of the airplane was outstanding. (If I have a strength as a modeler, it's painting and weathering.) But then I had to assemble the bad boy, and that's when everything went south.

First of all, I found that the attachment points for the various struts and other fiddly bits are rather small and shallow, and none of the holes ensure that the parts will be properly aligned. In addition, a friend tells me that these Eduard 1/72 kits are like this, so the Nieuport was probably not the best choice for my first attempt with a bi-wing. It simply wasn't clear to me when each part should be attached, so I winged it (pun intended), figuring there'd be some wiggle room when the time came to bring everything together.

Not so. Super glue isn't very forgiving when you try to move it around, so when I joined the fuselage/lower wing assembly to the upper wing, nothing aligned nor fit. The vertical stabilizer promptly popped off, and other bits and pieces decided they'd had enough and left the party. After much cursing I finally got everything together, figuring I was done except for the rigging, but then POP! The struts detached from the upper wing and everything lost whatever tenuous rigidity it might have had.

So the model sits in pieces as you see it. I'm not the kind of guy who will belabor a failing project, so I'm done with this.

Here's the deal. If one of you can salvage the Nieuport, drop me an email and I'll send it to you at no charge. I have only two conditions. First, I ask that you have at least some experience with bi-planes and rigging in order to do the kit justice, and I ask that you be willing to send me decent photos of the model when you finish it. I'll even send some high-res photos I took of Kermit Weeks' airplane back in August to help you with the rigging and such.

I'm going back to my Trumpeter 1/72 Su-15 now. I know how to build a jet!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dioramas that don't stink

Some of you know that my other interest in life is cooking, so when I'm not browsing the LHS or searching the Models category on eBay you're likely to find me wandering the aisles of area food stores looking for unusual or hard-to-find ingredients. I've compiled a good selection of spices over the last few years, including coriander and, thanks to a recent post on Hyperscale, I have now found a new use for it in the workshop!

There are three things that are incredibly difficult to represent in scale: flight, smoke, and vegetation. I haven't seen anyone come close to the first two, but as modelers stretch their imaginations, we're finding ways to create increasingly realistic plants. In case you missed it, Panagiotis has created a labor-intensive technique for creating palm trees that result in a very realistic representation. Check out this thread on Hyperscale.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Modern Guide to the Harrier on the way?

It was subtle and easy to overlook. Check out this thread on the Aircraft Resource Center forum. Jake Melampy pretty much confirms that one of the four Modern Guides he's working on at the moment is on the Harrier.

But that still leaves us wondering, which non-US aircraft is among the remaining three? Anyone care to speculate?

Check out Jakes entire line of books at Reid Air Publications.

Monday, December 10, 2012

More on the Dragon T-28

Back in September I lamented my need for an apprentice in order to build Dragon's big T-28 Super Heavy Tank. Marcos Serra recently completed a very nice build of the kit on his blog Panzerserra-Bunker, and we can now see just how much work is required to assemble the suspension. I don't think it's as bad as I had thought, but I'm still accepting applications for an apprentice.

In the meantime, this looks like an impressive model. Be sure to look for the picture of the T-28 next to a Jagdtiger and Tortoise!
A big thank you to Marcos for use of his photo.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Speculating about Kitty Hawk's next release

You can glean the most interesting nuggets of information if you follow every discussion on every forum and read every post. In case you missed it, ARC forum participant "song" (who works for Kitty Hawk Models) essentially said on this thread that the next Kitty Hawk release will be Russian.

I thought it might be fun to speculate about what aircraft it might be because, well, I have too much time on my hands. It's an interesting exercise, especially if you're able to step away from what you would like to see and carefully consider what would be profitable in the marketplace. I'm going to assume this next release is a 1/48 scale jet but could be wrong right from the start, in which case all of this is moot.

Let's think about what the kit will NOT be. It won't be a MiG-21 because Eduard and now Trumpeter have released their respectively nice kits. A MiG-23? Not likely considering Trumpeter kicked of its series of MiG-23s earlier this year. It could be a MiG-27, but if I worked for Kitty Hawk I wouldn't take that risk given that it wouldn't be difficult for Trumpeter to modify their -23 molds to produce a -27.

A Mig-29? No way, not with Great Wall's promising new kit. Many of you would be thrilled with a MiG-31 (as would I), but having seen limited service it wouldn't be quite as attractive a subject as other aircraft. That said, a new MiG-15 or -17 might be interesting, but I'm not sure modelers would find those to be truly must-have kits. Ditto for a MiG-19, though a Farmer would be fairly high in my product backlog.

I think that leaves three strong possibilities.

I think Kitty Hawk's next release could be an Mi-8 Hip. The helicopter was produced in many variants and was used by more than 50 nations, so there's no shortage of camouflage and markings options for the modeler.

It could be a MiG-25. Personally, I find this to be the most exciting possibility, and the Foxbat is always popular on internet wish lists. We're long overdue a fifth or even fourth generation representation of that impressive aircraft, and there are at least three distinctively different variants that Kitty Hawk could produce -- I'm thinking a fighter (either the P or PD), reconnaissance type, and trainer), and with a variety of markings for several nations. But there's a more compelling possibility.

My prediction is that Kitty Hawk's next release will be an Su-22 Fitter. I think a Fitter would make for a more interesting model than a MiG-25. It was used by at least a couple dozen air forces around the world in a variety of schemes, and the loadouts would provide a great deal of creativity for the modeler. It wouldn't be that difficult for Kitty Hawk to produce an Su-22A, an M4K, and a two-seat UM3K. The only thing that might weigh the choice in favor of a MiG-25 would be Eduard's recent release of their Su-22 package, but given that it's built around a merely average kit, I think the folks at Kitty Hawk might see the opportunity for improvement.

What do you think? No wish lists please, just viable, profitable models.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Modeling a gingerbread house

As a scale modeler I like to think I’m a fairly creative guy but, as I learned over the weekend, I may not be. Or at least not as creative as my girlfriend. I'll let my readers be the judge.

Christine and her two children, ages 6 and 8, spent the weekend at my house and, on a whim, Christine and my mother bought two DIY gingerbread houses at the grocery store Saturday night. She decided we would have a house building and decorating contest. Once I accepted the fact that my kitchen would be a mess for a few hours, it seemed like a good idea. It was my mother and me against Christine and her daughter. Her son (the six-year-old playing video games on the computer) would be the judge.

I began the contest with great confidence, after all, I’m a modeler! I had the house assembled with the sticky, sugar-glue very quickly, must faster than Christine and her young apprentice. A lesser man might have smiled a little when the two of them broke one-half of their roof assembly, but not me. Mom and I pressed on with time now on our side.

 Note the neat construction and minimalist design of my house.

But then a clarification from the opposing team. “It’s okay to use anything we can find, right?” Sure, I told them, why not? After all, their house was looking like it had been in Hurricane Sandy’s path just a few weeks ago. Mom and I found interesting ways to use the gumdrops, M&Ms, and tiny beads. I used Hershey Kisses to represent brown perennials, green drum drops to represent evergreens, and half a candy cane as the chimney (resisting the urge to use a #60 drill bit to drill it out). I even engage in some psyops as I not-so-quietly tell my mother misleading things like, “This will be the radon mitigation system,” and, “Put the ADT Security sticker above the doorknob.” Remember the deception strategy the Allies implemented on the Germans prior to D-Day? That was me Saturday night! I was just waiting for high tide to begin my invasion!

Then my reconnaissance satellite downloaded some troubling images from the other side of the table. They’ve procured a large cookie sheet from the pantry and built out an entire scene! I thought this was a contest to see who could decorate the best house not create the biggest freakin’ diorama! They’ve also found tiny plastic lights for the roof of the house, a small mirror to represent a frozen lake, and penguins to skate on it. Oh, and ceramic soldiers standing amid hundreds of cotton balls as snow!

Note the creative use of a Hershey Kiss, the paper representing smoke,
and the SlimJim logs. And yes, those chocolate chips are penguin poop.

Whatever. I still think I have the best house, so at judging time I show our judge how neat and perfectly assembled my house is and I tactfully explain that, except for the candles, everything on my house is edible. Meanwhile my competition is trying to dazzle the judge with the expansiveness and fanciness of their creation.

At the end of the day reality mirrored what we typically see at with the Most Popular vote at any IPMS contest. The size of Christine and Emma’s diorama dazzled the judge. He ruled in their favor. I congratulate them on their victory, though I feel a little mislead given the ever-changing parameters of the competition.

Having a clearer understanding of the ROE I've already begun planning next year’s gingerbread house. This morning I set out some copper tubing to age in the weather to acquire that lovely green patina we often see accenting houses. I have a rough draft of a three-story, Victorian house, complete with garage and backyard gazebo. I envision Pop Rocks recreating the sound of a fireplace inside, and tiny Bose speakers piping out Christmas carols.

Rest assured, next year I will win!