The worst part about working on a 1/32 scale F-104 is contending with its shape. The combination of a long, cylindrical body and short, stubby little wings makes maneuvering the thing to different positions a logistical nightmare.
The complete inability to securely position it at anything other than an upright angle has led to plenty of frustrations both with painting and with masking, since getting at the tail or the undersides usually has involved having to hold it, robbing me of one of my hands. It’s also held me back from doing any kind of video surrounding this build.
Nothing insurmountable by any means, but certainly a quirk of building the F-104 if you decide to take one on.
So the aim of this post is to talk about the painting of the 104. I’ve decided to skip over the cockpit and the buildup and all of that because, meh. Boring. All you really need to know on that front is that the 104 is pretty good for an Italeri kit, which puts it pretty squarely in the “decent but vaguely disappointing” camp. The closest analog I can think of is probably, oh, Trumpeter’s 1/32 MiG-21 kits. Not bad per se, but they could certainly be much better. At least it’s a relatively simple build.
Anyway, in the leadup to priming, I did some pre-painting in specific areas just to make life easier, then laid down the black primer. For this I used a mix of Mr Surfacer 1500 and a new (to me) primer I’m putting through its paces, Modo MK-12. This stuff is quite a bit similar to MS1500, but seems to behave a bit more like Mr Surfacer 1200. That is…it goes down nicely, but perhaps very slightly rough. Then, when you swipe it with some fine grit sanding sponge, it just goes absolutely smooth.
Once the primer was down, I installed the windscreen and aft canopy (which took some careful shaving to fit…) and did some light mottling on the surface with MRP Swedish Dark Green.
After the install and cleanup around the windscreen were taken care of, I masked everything off. Around the same time I went ahead and knocked out the spiraling on the pitot tube. It’s hard to get a really good look at this in the photos I have, but it seems to be dark green with a yellow stripe, so that’s what I went for.
The stripe was masked by spraying the pitot tube yellow, then wrapping it with some Aizu tape and spraying over it with SEA Dark Green.
The Main Event, Round 1
With all the little stuff out of the way, it was time to get to the main paintwork. Now…if I were doing a fresh Danish F-104, that’d be as easy as bombing the entire thing with dark green. But Danish 104s (and F-100s and Drakens and…) have a very pronounced wear pattern where the dark green seems to fade and desaturate. And subsequent touch-ups just highlight the hell out of this.
The challenge, really, is in the touch-ups. But there’s another one in sorting out just how exactly to fade and desaturate, especially given how completely different it can come across in photos of different 104s.
I originally started aiming for this bottom one, R-832. Starting with MRP Swedish Dark Green and SEA Dark Green and working lighter and more desaturated using tones such as Dark Gunship Gray (which is rather warmer and lighter than that shade, but works nicely here), Light Khaki and Brown-Green. I also found that PRU Pink works wonderfully to lighten and desaturate green tones.
Many different shades and slightly tweaked blends were put down in a marbled fashion, or highly thinned and applied almost as filter coats. By the end I had a nicely varied and faded looking aircraft.
Things Go Wrong
That’s when everything went wrong. I started laying down touch-ups, and while yeah, they were too precise, it was more that the touch-up contrast was way too strong.
So I slept on it overnight and decided that…yeah…I wasn’t happy with it. R-832 is a problematic one to tackle because the one image I have is relatively low-res and it’s tough to get a great sense of what all is going on. So I decided to shift to another F-104G, R-340.
The Main Event, Round 2
First thing’s first, the original paint had to be covered. After sanding it back slightly, I went over it with a few coats of MRP SEA Dark Green to re-establish a baseline. This worked out slightly lighter than the radome, which worked out nicely.
Next, marbling with MRP Light Khaki.
On top of this, I added some Field Green in places, as well as three different Olive Drab tones, sometimes mixed further with Light Khaki.
All slowly building up layers along the way.
After several layers, I got to this point…
And decided that I’d reached a good place to call it. It may look a bit patchy here, but that is by design. The first go-round revealed that the contrast of the paint touch-ups blew out a lot of the subtle variations in the faded out base coat, and I wanted to preserve more of that this time around, which requires pulling up just short of what might seem right.
While the faded and battered paint is in itself interesting, its the contrast with fresher touch-ups that make the Danish 104s crackle with visual interest. And recreating them is, in my opinion, critical to pulling one off.
My first bid at this fell woefully short. For the second go, I pulled out an old trick I’ve used with things like mottling in the past. Rather than going straight to SEA Dark Green, I went with a 50/50 mix of it and olive drab. This helps preserve separation from the base paint, but also reins it in somewhat so that it appears more unified.
To help with getting the spacing right for the various vertical touch-ups, I used a Sakura Micron brown brush pen to mark locations, then wiped it away, leaving faint brown lines. These I followed with my GSI PS-770.
I wish I could convey a more useful tip here…but it’s really…know your airbrush, know how to spray fine lines, and take your time. Be a bit intentionally sloppy. And change up the touch-up colors. In addition to mixing SEA Dark Green with olive drab, I mixed it with a different, darker olive drab, with field green, and even sprayed it straight in some places.
The ultimate result?
All of this brings us up to the end of main painting, and the spraying of the stencil markings, but that’s for a different post. Stay tuned.