A Pair of Wildcats



Back in the 1930s and very nearly up to the eve of Pearl Harbor, the warplanes of the U.S. Navy sported one of the most vibrant paint schemes in the history of aviation, and certainly of military aviation. The silver fuselage and yellow wings are almost synonymous with that golden age of flight. While the scheme was devised to help search and rescue teams find downed planes (comforting!), it seems to radiate a certain naivety about the horrors of war that lay just over the horizon.

Is it any wonder that George Lucas chose the yellow/silver combination for those Naboo fighters in the Star Wars prequels?

When I decided to build a pair of models for the kids, I locked onto the yellow wing livery immediately. It’s the kind of thing that’s perfect for a kid’s room…heck you see variations on the theme all over the decorations at places like Pottery Barn Kids or Babies R Us or what-have-you.

The Kits

For the aircraft itself, I chose the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, specifically the Hobby Boss F4F-3 Early Version. There were a few other interesting aircraft to choose from, but the Wildcat’s one of those planes that, if it didn’t exactly win us the war, it certainly played a major role in keeping us from losing it, so you know, pay some respect.

I won’t bore with details of the construction. Suffice to say, the Hobby Boss Wildcats are strangely inconsistent kits. Some pieces are wonderful and downright impressive in their detail and fit. Others make you want to hurl the half-assembled plastic airplanes against the nearest hard surface.

For me, the high point of the kits were definitely the cockpit assemblies, which went together with such precision that they could stay together on their own, without any adhesives.

The low point? Well, there were several. The lower fuselage, the wing-to-fuselage seams, and the main landing gear struts were all plagued by vague fit. But I’m going to have to give the nod to the canopies, which didn’t align with the windscreens but were too thick to be posed open. These ultimately forced me to order a set of aftermarket vacform canopies and slowed things down by at least a week.


Once I wrestled the kits together, it was time to paint. Since these Wildcats were going to be getting their fair share of bright colors – yellow, pink and blue – the first step was to lay down a nice coat of white primer. Easier than it sounds. My can of Tamiya White Primer was an all around fail, and I ended up having to strip it off the wings. I ended up having to go back with Testors Classic White. Next came the colored tails – Tamiya Gloss Blue for Nolan, and Tamiya Gloss Pink for Lola, which were then masked off. Next came the yellow wings and cowl ring, which were painted with Gunze-Sangyo Orange-Yellow.

As you can see from the above picture, I’d originally intended to use the orange-yellow for the fuselage band as well, but I couldn’t seem to get the masking right, and ultimately broke down and ordered a set of wing and fuselage stripes from Yellow Wings Decals.

While I waited for these to arrive, I glued the engines in place, attached the cowls, masked off the wings and cowl rings, and got ready to paint the fuselages.

Natural Metal Finish

One of the more challenging finishes to pull off on model aircraft is the natural metal finish. Silver paint tends to look like, well, silver paint. When I was building models as a kid, there were basically two options for achieving that metal finish. One was foiling – literally covering the plane in adhesive-backed foil. I didn’t have the patience for it then, and I don’t have the patience for it now. The other option was the Testors Model Master Metalizer line, which does the job but suffers from some major durability issues.

Today there are a few more options, and I decided to use these Wildcats as a contest of sorts between two of them – Alclad II metallic lacquers and Talon acrylic metalizers. Since the Wildcats weren’t actually left in bare metal, but rather painted with an aluminum lacquer, I opted for more of a semi-matte finish. With Alclad II, this meant Semi-Matte Aluminum. With Talon, this meant straight-up Aluminum without any polishing powders.

Both paints call for a similar application of light, misting coats to build up coverage in layers.

The Alclad went down without a problem and built up well in consecutive layers. But…for semi-matte…it went down very flat. I have to admit it has me wondering what their Dull Aluminum looks like. Is it just grey?

The Talon gave me a few problems coming out of the airbrush. It seemed to get hung up in the nozzle until I had the trigger pulled back to about 75% throttle, when it would just come gushing out. I suspect user error is probably to blame. Maybe I didn’t mix the paint thoroughly enough. Maybe I didn’t clean the airbrush as thoroughly as I thought after spraying the Alclad. Maybe the Iwata’s 0.3mm nozzle is just too fickle. Whatever the case, it made the light, misting coats somewhat of a challenge, but I managed to get the paint down well enough, and with the exception of a small area aft of the cockpit on the starboard side, everything came out looking uniform and clean.

In terms of the final verdict…it’s tough to tell. I think the Talon (applied to Lola’s pink-tail) looks closer to metal, but then I wasn’t playing with one of Alclad’s “proper” metallic finishes like Duraluminum. Of course, I didn’t bring polishing powder or a buffing wheel to bear on the Talon, either. And I haven’t been able to test how well either hold up under masking. So at this point I guess I’d have to say it’s a tie, with maybe a slight edge to the Talon.

Either way, I’m looking forward to playing with both again, and considering the number of aircraft I’ve got on deck with either partial or full bare metal finishes (at least six!), I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunities.

Decals and Finishing Up

Once the fuselages had time to cure, I moved on to the decals and finishing touches – painting up the final details, unmasking and attaching the canopies, and such. Keeping in mind that these planes are for the kids, I opted to leave a lot of the fragile details – pitot tubes, aerial wires, etc – off.

The decals themselves – a mix of Yellow Wings stripes and national insignia, Aeromaster ID letters, and a smattering of kit decals – went down surprisingly well, though in the case of the Yellow Wings stripes it took some aggressive applications of Solvaset (the BFH of decal solvents) to get them to settle down over and into the surface details.

In the end, I’m quite happy with how these two Wildcats turned out, and I’m looking forward to applying the many lessons learned as I move on to future kits.

If you want to see more pictures of the build process, head on over to the Flickr Album. And if you want to see the real nuts and bolts of the build process, check out the Photobucket Album. I’ve started using Photobucket as my main repository for in-progress photos to keep them from completely overtaking the Flickr photostream.

Next up, two Soviet fighters that played no small part in driving the Germans out of Mother Russia – the Lavochkin La-5 and the Yakovlev Yak-3…

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