So far the Accurate Miniatures Dauntless has proven a lot more…daunting…of a build than I anticipated. Not difficult, exactly, but somewhat overwhelming, and punctuated along the way with a lot of experimentation and learning.
It’s also made me realize, far more than the P-51B, how sloppy a modeler I used to be.
Now that I’m hovering around the halfway point, I figured I’d go ahead and dedicate a post to the trials and tribulations I’ve encountered to date.
It’s What’s Inside that Doesn’t Count
The Dauntless began where most aircraft kits begin: the cockpit. But that’s where the similarities end. With most kits, you build and paint the entire cockpit, then install it against one half of the fuselage before joining the fuselage halves together. This works pretty well because it lets you dry fit the entire cockpit before you bust out your adhesive of choice.
The Dauntless’ cockpit was totally different. First, it’s basically a mini-model in and of itself, consisting of something like fifty pieces. To which I added the additional hell of a photoetched detail set.
Second, the cockpit is built in pieces. Some bits attach to the cockpit floor. Others attach to the sides of the fuselage. And still others attach up into the fuselage once both halves are joined together. And there’s pretty much no chance for dry fitting. When everything is glued to everything else, you’re basically left to hope that the cockpit floor just happens to slot up into the joined fuselage, and that none of the pieces end up trying to occupy the same space at the same time. It makes for a rather harrowing build.
Still…that much detail should look pretty cool, right?
Sure, if you can see it…
And this right here is my chief complaint with Accurate Miniatures’ cockpit engineering. If all that detail was visible and on display, I’d still gripe, but I’d understand. Instead, outside of the pilot’s seat, stick, and instrument panel, and the gunner’s turret, you literally cannot see any of that elaborate cockpit detail. All that detail painting, all that wresting with tiny photoetch parts, was pretty much for nothing. Yeah, I know it’s there, which is great, but it strikes me as time wasted. It’s like taking the time to make sure the inside of a coke can looks really amazing.
With future builds, I’m going to focus the detailing where it counts. The seating, the main instrument panel, and up front, the engine:
Too Clever by Half
The Accurate Miniatures kit is highly detailed and, in places, breathtaking in its engineering. But there are times where that cleverness just fails. The gun deck just forward of the cockpit is a perfect example of this.
You can see the gun deck in the second shot. It extends from the instrument panel forward to right behind the engine cowl. In theory, it seems like a really cool idea. The kit provides actual machine guns to mount up inside the gun deck. You can see the barrels poking out of the front. What you can’t see are the backside of the machine guns, which are supposed to line up so they flank the pilot’s instrument panel. Only…they didn’t fit. Not even close. Nor did the entire gun deck, because it just didn’t line up happy with the instrument panel. And because of the tight fit everywhere else, there wasn’t exactly any wiggle room. I ended up taking my “detail you can’t see is detail that doesn’t matter” lesson to heart and cut off the gun deck’s locating tabs and the entire back end of the machine guns. I also ended up having to trim the instrument panel to get everything to fit, but now that it’s all been wrestled into place, you’d never know.
The engine cowl was another source of frustration. This is arguably one of the most important focal elements of any WWII-era aircraft. To that end, more and more manufacturers are offering these highly detailed, one-piece cowls. In fact, of the six aircraft I have “on deck”, four of them have one-piece cowls. And the other two are Mustangs, whose liquid-cooled engine and closed-nose design don’t benefit much from trying to do a one-piece cowl.
Anyway…the Dauntless does not have a one-piece cowl. It has a three-piece cowl. Two halves and a top. My belief is that they did this so the could just swap in different top pieces for different SBDs. But it’s damn annoying, since the fit isn’t super-amazing, and the various curves and creases don’t make it easy to clean up any seam lines.
Paint the Town Bluegrey
Navy and Marine aircraft cycled through a few different paint schemes over the course of World War II, but early in the war, the prevailing scheme was a two-tone job of non-specular bluegrey over light grey.
Thing is…Tamiya doesn’t make bluegrey. Testors has something close, but I really don’t want to go back to enamels, and I hate their acrylics. So…I cast about for a few different options, and found Lifecolor and Vallejo. The cool thing about both of these is that they are straight-up acrylics that you can literally thin and clean with water. The uncool thing is that the exact same color, with the exact same Federal Standard number, came out vastly different when I tested them on the Fail Dauntless.
Not only are the two paints not anywhere close to one another, neither is close to the bluegrey seen above on an actual, real Dauntless. After several days experimenting, I ultimately decided to go with the Vallejo (the darker of the two) and add some flat white to mix my own approximation of bluegrey. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get myself to like the Lifecolor paint. No matter what you do to it, it airbrushes like a watery mess.
So, that’s a quick update on the Dauntless. Right now it’s going through the tail end of seam repair and sanding, and will probably get sprayed with primer in the next day or two.