How To: Give Your Cockpits More Depth

Over my past several builds, I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with my cockpits. Despite the usual weathering, they’ve all appeared too…clean.


So, with my current set of builds, I’ve determined to see if I can’t add some depth and variation from the get-go. There’s still a lot more I can do to add visual interest to the cockpits – busying them up with wiring and such – but this how-to is going to focus exclusively on laying down a base coat that, on its own, provides an added layer of depth and variation.

1. Paint it all black

Rather than spraying your main color over gray styrene or gray primer, lay down a black base coat first. For this B-25 I used Tamiya X-1 Gloss Black since I also had some Alclad to shoot, but you can use any black base, be it gloss, flat, or semi-gloss. Hell, bust out the satin if you’re feeling saucy.

2. Base coat that bastard

For this to work, I like my paint like I like my excuses – extremely thin, random and haphazard. Tamiya and Gunze paints work brilliantly, and Model Master enamels can hold up well, too*, but I would stay away from paints that don’t reduce well, such as Vallejo.

Spray with a light, tight spray pattern and slowly build up the color. Don’t try to cover all the black, though, since that’s your source of shading and depth.

Here we are midway through the process:

And done. Here’s the B-25 cockpit floor and seats:

…the P-51B cockpit floor…

…and the Dewoitine D.520 cockpit…

From this point, there’s obviously still a lot of work to be done to bring the cockpit home, but the added depth and shading offer a much better foundation to build from.

Try it for yourself and let me know how it works in the comments!

*Heavily-thinned Model Master enamels can tend to get a bit run-happy. You can tame them down a bit by adding some hotter lacquer thinner to the enamel thinner.

On the Bench: 1/48 Tamiya Dewoitine D.520

The Dewoitine D.520

In the late 1930s, the major European powers all undertook the development of a new generation of fighter aircraft. In Germany, this development resulted in the Messerschmitt Bf 109. In Britain, the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire. And in France, this development coalesced, too late, around the Dewoitine D.520.

The lack of an engine on par with the Daimler DB 601 or the Rolls-Royce Merlin combined with numerous developmental delays kept the first D.520 from rolling off the production line until October 1939, and even then, it wasn’t declared combat ready until April 1940.

When the Germans invaded France on May 10, 1940, only 228 D.520s had been produced and of these, the Armee de l’Air had only accepted 75.  In the air, the D.520 could hold its own against the Bf 109E-3, but its limited numbers translated to limited effectiveness. By June 1940, France capitulated.

After the Armistice, something somewhat unique happened. A number of pilots flew their D.520s to North Africa – and a smaller number to Britain – to avoid capture and form the nucleus of the Free French Air Force. Meanwhile, the Vichy regime continued production of the D.520 for its own use. This eventually led to a rare and possibly unique occurrence in the war – pilots of opposing sides flying the same aircraft against each other.

Several more D.520s were given to the Regia Aeronautica, the Romanians, and even served as trainers for Luftwaffe pilots. By early 1943, however, they were phased out of frontline duty with the allies, and the Free French were graduated to first P-40s and then P-47s as the war moved back to mainland Europe.

While the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Spitfire and the Hurricane all flew into legend, the Dewoitine D.520 became little more than a footnote in the history of the Second World War.

The Tamiya Kit

Since my return to modeling, I’ve heard occasional mention of the D.520 being one of the finest kits Tamiya has ever made. I don’t know about that – in 1/48 alone their P-47 line is difficult to top – but the D.520 certainly appears right at home in their mid-90s line of what I call “two-sprue wonders” such as the F4F Wildcat and P-51 Mustang. These kits tend to share similar characteristics – excellent exterior detail, excellent fit, competent-but-not-amazing cockpits, and a low parts count that enables them to fit, in their entirety, on just two sprues.

Conceptually, they’re a far cry from where Tamiya’s operating these days, and in my mind they’re a sweet-spot combination of the simplicity of the old Monogram kits and the detail and fit of Tamiya’s latest.

Of course, being a Tamiya kit, the decals are crap and a half, so I’m taking a chance on some replacement markings from Berna Decals.

Why the D.520?

Sadly, there are no lofty reasons behind why I’m tackling this particular kit at this particular time. There’s a French aircraft group build kicking off over on FSM, for one thing. For another, I really dig the gray-blue, brown, and khaki green camoflage scheme. That and I’m hung up for the moment on the P-51B and B-25 builds as I await a few items from Sprue Brothers. I also had a lot of fun building some other quirky footnote aircraft of late – namely the Fiat G.55 and the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura – and who knows, maybe lightning will strike again!

Stay tuned…

On the Bench: 1/48 Tamiya P-51B Mustang

The North American P-51B Mustang

The North American P-51 Mustang is one of the great success stories of World War II, not only for its stellar combat record, but for its winning design, and its origins, which are a testament to American scrappiness.

The P-51 was conceived when the RAF wanted more P-40s than Curtiss could manufacture. When they approached North American Aviation about building additional P-40s on license, NAA instead offered an entirely new aircraft design utilizing the latest aviation advances, the main one being the laminar flow wing, which significantly reduced drag. The Mustang went from napkin sketch to prototype in a matter of months, but the final product was underwhelming due in large part to its Allison engine. It soldiered on as a competent strike aircraft, but didn’t really have the chops to go toe-to-toe with the Luftwaffe.

Then somebody had the idea of shoving a Merlin engine into the P-51. Where the result had yielded slight gains when the similar step was taken with the P-40, it transformed the Mustang into a war-winner. The P-51B and P-51C (identical, and only designated to denote where they were built) began equipping USAAF and RAF squadrons at the very end of 1943, and the rearmament swelled in the first few months of 1944. By summer, every fighter group in the 8th Air Force save for the 56th had converted over to the Mustang, and the iconic bubble-top P-51D was making its way into the field. But the -B continued to serve pretty much up to the end of the war.

The Tamiya Kit

Two years ago, in July 2010, I kicked off my return to modeling with Tamiya’s P-51B Mustang. It was the perfect choice. While perhaps not reaching the masterpiece level of Tamiya’s P-47 lineup, the -B outstrips the -D handily in terms of cockpit detail, and is an absolute pleasure to build, almost falling together in a way few other kits do.

When I was casting about for a simple build to refresh myself on, the -B seemed an obvious choice, especially since I’ve long wanted to build one in the markings of Henry Brown’s “The Hun Hunter ~ Texas”. Brown’s one of my favorite Mustang pilots, not only for the sake of his being a fellow Dallas boy, but for his exploits in the air, which on one mission included outmaneuvering and driving off six Bf 109s – without ammunition! His Mustang’s striking scheme of RAF Dark Green over bare metal only adds to my want-to-do-it-ness.

At the moment I’m waiting for several Ultracast bits. Once they arrive, it’s off to the races!

On the Bench: 1/48 Revell/Monogram B-25J Mitchell

What the Hell’s Going On Here?

Yesterday, I put the massive HK Models B-25 back into its box, for a myriad of reasons. The summer heat, the lack of certain aftermarket items, and most importantly just where I’ve been at mentally. I’ve been at that kit for over a month, with precious little to show for it.

Rather than keep slogging away at a kit that’s overwhelming me, I’ve decided to shift gears to a commission build – which is coincidentally a B-25J Mitchell from the exact same bomb group as the big Mitchell I’ve set aside. Why is the 340th so popular? I think part of it is simply that there are decals for several of the 340th’s aircraft. That and the striking mix of bare metal overpainted with green – a measure taken in the aftermath of a Luftwaffe raid on the group’s airfield. And in the case of this particular aircraft, there’s a personal connection involved. I’ll just leave it at that.

The Revell Kit

Considering this is a commission build, and one that will need to thus be shipped (I’m already shaking at the thought), it was mutually agreed to forego the larger HK kit in favor of the venerable old 1/48 Monogram kit, which is these days sold as a Revell.

Despite the raised panel lines and age of the molds, the Monogram B-25 is actually a rather solid kit. When you poke around its sprues, you can see immediately just how much inspiration Wingscale/HK took from it in designing their 1/32 kit. A ridiculous number of subassemblies actually have the exact same build mechanics, only 50% smaller and sometimes lacking in crispness of detail.

A quick test-fit reveals that everything goes together more or less as it should, though there’s some gap issues where the engine pods meet with the undersides of the wings. Barring any nasty fit issues with the clear parts, I imagine dealing with that will be the greatest challenge of this build. The rest of the fit of the major airframe is actually very good, even if the wings are a bit sloppy on the wing spars.

As for aftermarket, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Eduard makes a very thorough, if not colorized, photo etch set for the old girl. Likewise, True Details makes a wheel set that is hands down the best thing I’ve ever seem them produce. Another area in desperate need of attention is the gun barrel detail on the .50 cals. I’m planning to replace these, likely with Quickboost barrels as I used on the PV-1.

Being lazy in the presence of so much clear stuff to deal with, I also broke down and purchased a mask set.

Stay tuned…this one will be a longer term build…but it will be fun all the same, and a good run for whatever I ultimately decide to do with the HK kit.