On the Bench: Eduard 1/48 MiG-21MF Dual Build

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When I ordered Eduard’s MiG-21MF “Bunny Fighter” last fall, I remember wondering (and probably snarking about it somewhere) who in their right mind would build the garish “Bunny Fighter” scheme.

As it turns out…me.

My Bunny Fighter happened to arrive as I was outside with the kids, and when my son saw the box art, he became obsessed with “the carrot plane”. I knew then that my goose was cooked.

Now, I couldn’t bring myself to throw all the goodies Eduard included at said Bunny Fighter. I mean…they shipped this thing with a full Brassin cockpit, gear bay, wheels, color photo etch, the whole nine yards. No way I’m putting all that into a build that my son will probably find a way to destroy in short order (at four going on five, “look but don’t touch” is a very slippery concept).

So I did what any good modeler would do. I picked up ANOTHER MiG-21MF, this time the weekend Edition.

The original plan went something like this: I’d build the Bunny Fighter “Weekend Edition”-style, learn off it, then throw all the resin and PE and other awesomeness at the Weekend Edition kit.

Well.

When I started poking through the Bunny Fighter’s instructions, I quickly realized I needed to yank out the Weekend Edition manual to make sense of how to pull off the simpler build.

And then, just to keep things straight, I decided it would be easier to build the things in parallel. So…there are now two MiG-21s on the bench. The first will be built in the garish Bunny Fighter scheme, but without all the resin and photo etch.

And the Weekend Edition will be built to the nines, utilizing the resin, photo etch and other goodies from the Bunny Fighter kit, as well as Eduard’s recently released bronze gear struts.

Oh, and Master’s sick-looking pitot tube:

For the scheme, I’ll be yanking one of the Bunny Fighter’s alternate options, a bare-metal Czech Air Force MiG-21MF from 1991.

I’ll probably let the Bunny Fighter run a bit ahead so I can still “go to school” on it, but not too far ahead.

Stay tuned for some quarter-scale MiG goodness…

1/48 Hobby Boss Me 262A-1a/U4 Part III – Paint

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Part I | Part II | PART III | Part IV

The 262’s turn at the airbrush came at a frustrating time for me. On the one hand, I’ve been increasingly falling in love with Gunze paints and their excellent spraying characteristics. On the other hand, issues with paint peeling have massively undermined my trust in Gunze Mr. Surfacer 1200 as a primer medium.

But the 262 moved toward paint just far enough ahead of ModelFiesta that I knew, if I really moved, I could probably have it ready to go for the show. That meant no waiting for my other primer of choice, Model Master enamel, to cure. So…Mr. Surfacer it was.

As per usual, Mr. Surfacer 1200 yielded a wondrously smooth finish with a slight amount of wet sanding and a few passes of the Dremel buffing wheel. I then moved on to the black base coat, using my ample restock of Gunze C2 black.

The underside of the 262 called for RLM 76. My first attempt, using the Gunze color, was less than successful. I don’t know if it’s a bad pot of paint or what, but it did a weird sort of vanishing act, so that after a few minutes sitting it looked like ass, with bits of black showing through.

So I pulled out my Tamiya paints and made a bastard RLM 76 mix which went down MUCH better. You can see the difference in the picture below. The starboard wing (the one on the right) is the Tamiya RLM 76, and the port wing, main fuselage underside aft of the landing gear bays, and a few other areas are still in Gunze RLM 76.

Suffice to say, I finished out the underside in the Tamiya mix.

After the snafu with the RLM 76, the upper surfaces went by fairly quickly. For these I used Gunze RLM 81 and RLM 83, freehanded using my recently-acquired Iwata Custom Micron CM-B (which is flat-out amazing). The 81 and 83 displayed none of the bizarre behavior I got from the 76, and before I knew it, I was out the other side of the main paint scheme.

Next up, decals, weathering, and angst over gloss coats.

Part I | Part II | PART III | Part IV

1/48 Hobby Boss Me 262A-1a/U4 Part II – Construction

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Part I | PART II | Part III | Part IV

Sometimes kits just fall together. I normally associate them with Tamiya, Wingnut Wings and a few other select manufacturers.

Trumpeter – and by extension Hobby Boss – have never really fit into that hallowed league, at least in my experience. The two early Wildcats I built for the kids way back in 2010 were beset by an idiotic wing/fuselage join, awful lower fuselage fit, and canopies that were too tall to be posed closed, but too thick to be posed open. And the Trumpeter P-47…well…it’s been a slog.

I have to say, though, this Me 262 has forced me to reevaluate what Hobby Boss is capable of. There are still a few minor issues, but by and large, this kit is easily as good as almost anything Tamiya has put out in the last ten years.

So I’m not going to go into a detailed, blow-by-blow overview of the build. It’d be pointless. Instead I’m just going to focus on the areas that might need some attention.

The biggest issue with the kit is the way the wings go together. Instead of the usual top-bottom sandwich, toward the trailing edge the upper and lower wings fit together on this weird seam that bisects the control surfaces.

This…shouldn’t be there. On the real 262, there’s a very fine rivet line that runs in roughly the same spot, but a rivet line is not the same as a giant trench. So this needs filling.

The only other real sticking point is the join between the engine pods and the wing. There is a prominent line at the rear that needs to be filled, and some very slight ridging along the front that will need some aggressive sanding and filling action.

Apart from these areas, Hobby Boss’ Me 262 goes together like butter.

I’m not really sure what else to add, save that I wish they’d done this kit with separated leading edge slats. The real 262 had spring-loaded slats that would stay open at lower speeds (and parked, duh), and only close when air resistance overcame the spring force and pushed them closed. This is something that Trumpeter gets right in their 1/32 rendition, but that Hobby Boss and Tamiya both overlook in the 1/48 kit.

Up next – painting the 262!

Part I | PART II | Part III | Part IV

1/32 Trumpeter P-47D “French Jug”, Part IV – Paint

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Part I | Part II | Part III | PART IV | Part V

Finally!

After first starting this kit waaaay back at the start of November, three months later, it’s finally ready for paint. And with the wife and kids out of town for the weekend, I decided to buckle down and get it done in hopes of just maybe having this build wrapped in time for ModelFiesta on February 16th.

Primer

To my mind, the best primer is still a tossup between Model Master gray enamel primer (bottle not rattlecan) and Mr. Surfacer 1200. Of course, enamel requires more curing time, and with a weekend to work in, I wanted to move fast. So Mr. Surfacer it was, smoothed down nicely by high-grit polishing sandpaper and micromesh.

Are You Yeller?

Next came the various stripes. C9*I was festooned with a yellow tail band, yellow wing bands, and yellow wingtips. So, counterintuitively, I started with Gunze C2 Black.

This made a very nice base for a haphazard white that would underpin the yellow. I used my go-to white, Gunze C69 Offwhite. The stuff sprays beautifully and isn’t quite as vibrant as other whites.

This was topped with some Gunze Yellow. Sure it looks kinda patchy here, but that’s intentional.

The reason is simple. If you look at just one color, your eyes are fairly sensitive to micro changes in contrast. But when you add additional colors around it – like olive drab – and break the surface up with markings and whatnot, your eyes lose that sensitivity, so even a really patchy yellow looks way more cohesive at the end of the painting. You’ll see!

After giving the yellow a night to cure, I masked it off with Tamiya tape. 10mm for the tail band, and 15-ish millimeters for the wing bands.

Shading

Then, lacking my go-to Gunze Black (I’d run out), I opted for the darkest gray I had on hand, Gunze Engine Gray, and used some Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black to pre-shade panel and rivet lines.

Next I turned to RLM 70 Black Green and RAF Dark Green to add some streak-shading and disrupt things. This was done with my Grex Genesis XN by streaking the airbrush close to the surface in rapid sweeps.

After the shading I tackled the underside with Gunze Neutral Gray.

And then moved on to the upper surfaces, which were sprayed with Gunze C12 Olive Drab.

As mentioned above, the addition of multiple colors really crushes down the local contrast of each one…those yellows don’t look anywhere near as patchy with the olive drab flanking to either side (nor does the olive drab look as patchy…).

And that, as they say, is that for the main painting of this big Jug. But the airbrush isn’t done yet. In the next section, I’ll be using paint masks to tackle the major markings of C9*I.

Part I | Part II | PART III | Part IV | Part V

1/32 Trumpeter P-47D “French Jug”, Part III – Engine

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Part I | Part II | PART III | Part IV | Part V

With construction complete and bench time stuck in the interminable hell of filling and sanding, I decided to shift gears on the Trumpeter P-47 and knock out the kit’s Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine.

This proved to be something of an experience.

The Problem(s) With Trumpeter’s Engine

I will give Trumpeter this – the R-2800 they provide with the P-47 is one heck of a detailed piece.

That said, it suffers from three problems.

Problem 1 – It’s not entirely accurate. This isn’t a super-big deal to me, since the engine is all ensconced within the cowl anyway, but several small details appear slightly off. If I were planning to display this monster with the cowl off, that would definitely be a point of frustration.

Problem 2 – It doesn’t all fit. The exhausts and collector ring just don’t fit. Seriously. They just don’t. I seem to remember very early on having them somehow fit perfectly, but when it  came time to revisit the engine, there was no way to get things to line up.

Problem 3 – Trumpeter’s whole engine mounting scheme is a giant middle finger to buildability. Most engines mount to some massive peg on the fuselage assembly, or seat right into the cowl. But that’s not good enough for Trumpeter. No, they would ask the builder to hang the engine by a few flimsy plastic rods doing duty as engine mounts, plus the two tubes of the exhaust collector ring.

This is NOT a secure mount, especially considering the need to stuff thing into the cowl.

Fortunately, I got around all three problems. The first by not caring and the second and third by taking a few shortcuts, since the engine’s going to be stuffed into the cowl and all that really matters is the face of the thing. Continue reading

1/32 Trumpeter P-47D “French Jug”, Part II – Construction

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Part I | PART II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

I recently read a review of Quentin Tarantino’s latest, “Django Unchained” (excellent flick by the way), that started off by saying “this movie is a motherf****er”.

Well, Trumpeter’s P-47 is also a motherf****er. It’s big, it’s bad, it’s awesome and it’s a massive pain in the ass all at once, and that becomes glaringly apparent as you move into the main construction process.

So let’s get to it, and you’ll see what I mean. Continue reading

Review – Zvezda 1/48 Yakovlev Yak-3

A few years ago, Russian kitmaker Zvezda released a 1/48 Lavochkin La-5FN (soon followed by the earlier La-5), sparking a complete re-evaluation of their reputation and kicking off what’s become a more-or-less steady trickle of new-tool VVS subjects. Considering the dire state of the Soviet VVS in 1/48 scale, even this trickle is a blessing for fans of World War II-era Soviet aviation.

The La-5 kits were – and still are – remarkable kits, packed full of detail and possessed of an intricate build process that would make Accurate Miniatures proud.

Ever since the La-5s, however, Zvezda has wandered off the VVS track and into Luftwaffe territory with the Bf 109F-2 and the recently released F-4.

Now, they’re back, and with the one aircraft that might give the La-5 a run for the title of best Soviet fighter of the war – the Yakovlev Yak-3.

How does this new Yak stack up? Read on…

The Yakovlev Yak-3

The story of the Yak-3 begins with the Messerschmitt Bf 109. When the German fighter made its debut in the 1930s, it sparked a modernization effort throughout Europe. The Soviet Union, realizing its Poplikarov I-16 was hopelessly outmatched, rolled the dice with three different fighter designs – the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3, the Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3 and the Yakovlev Yak-1. The Yak-1 was probably the best-regarded of the three, but its wood construction added weight and degraded performance against the Luftwaffe’s 109s.

In 1943, Yakovlev took the Yak-1 as a base to create the Yak-1M, a smaller, lighter variant with improved aerodynamics, armor and engine cooling. The chief test pilot of the Yak-1M prototype was so impressed that he recommended that it should replace the Yak-1 and Yak-7. That’s exactly what happened. Redesignated the Yak-3, the new fighter entered service in the summer of 1944.

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During its service tests, the Yak-3 proved itself with an authority matched only by the Grumman F6F Hellcat in the Pacific. From June-July 1944, the Yak-3 flew 431 missions with the 91st IAP of the 2nd Air Army, where it shot down twenty Luftwaffe fighters and three Ju 87 Stukas to a loss of just two Yaks. In one dogfight on June 16th, 18 Yak-3s took on a mixed force of 24 German 109s and Fw 190s. They shot down 15 of them, losing only one Yak-3 in the process.

The Yak was so fearsome that the Luftwaffe subsequently issued orders to “avoid combat with Yak fighters without an oil cooler under the nose and with an inclined aerial mast below 5000 m”. The Yak-3 didn’t have an aerial mast, but still…dang!

Not only feared by its enemies, the Yak-3 was beloved by its pilots for its speed, maneuverability, and ease of operation. Again, like the Hellcat, it was a forgiving aircraft that could turn rookies into aces with aplomb.

Marcel Albert, the top French ace of World War II, who flew the Yak-3 with the Normandie-Niemen, considered it the best fighter of the war and superior to both the P-51 Mustang and the Spitfire.

The Kit

Zvezda’s Yak-3 comes in your standard lift-off box featuring some attractive box art marred by the usual Zvezda branding elements.

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When you remove the top, there’s a nice surprise. A clamshell cover to further protect the kit from crushing. I’ve seen this on larger kits like the HK Models B-25, but never on one of this size. Nice touch, although one marred slightly by the fact that none of the sprues are bagged.

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The kit itself is spread across four sprues – three of Zvezda’s soft gray plastic, and one clear sprue for the canopy.

The first sprue contains, more or less, the entire fuselage. This includes the fuselage halves, the two different approaches to the engine/cowl area, the radiator scoop, propeller, gear doors, tailwheel, exhausts and so on.

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The propeller, frustratingly, is molded to the spinner cap, meaning you’re going to be in for some masking challenges when it comes time to paint.

The detail on the fuselage halves and the cowl panels is crisp and refined, and the fabric surface of the rudder is subtle, a refreshing change from many kits that tend to flub this aspect across a range of subjects.

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The instrument panel, too, is well done if somewhat simple. A decal is provided for the gauges, though I would be tempted to punch out and place the gauges individually rather than as a single unit.

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The next sprue is dominated by the horizontal surfaces – the wings and stabilizers, as well as the upper cowl, wheels, and some other small bits.

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The two-piece wing is an interesting design that would have you join the wing, then plop the fuselage down on top of it. This can pose some problems, but it also ensures proper dihedral and removes any possibility of wingroot gaps.

Even though there’s not much detail to be had – the Yak-3’s mostly plywood skin makes for a dearth of surface detail – what’s there is excellent and a massive improvement over the soft, wide detailing on the old Eduard kit.

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The metal areas, around the cowl and cockpit, and aft of the gear bays on the underside of the wings, show off some well-done rivet detail. Sadly there is no option to deploy the flaps, but I have to imagine Eduard is probably working up a photo etch detail set as I write this.

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The last gray sprue contains the Klimov VK-105 inline engine and a rather well-done pilot figure. Both are optional to the build, but both are also good enough that there should be no need to go seek aftermarket assistance.

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The clear parts are clear and a massive improvement over the somewhat thick and foggy elements of the La-5 kits. One particular item of interest is the way Zvezda handles the problem of posing the canopy open or closed. Some manufacturers tackle this by providing you with two canopies, one designed to be used in the close position, the other opened up. Zvezda goes in a different direction. The sliding portion of the canopy remains the same, and instead they provide two different rear elements.

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The Instructions

In my past experience, Zvezda’s instructions have been a bag of hurt. Not so with the Yak-3. Though crowded with various languages, the instructions themselves are clear and easy to follow. They also – in keeping with past experiences with Zvezda – continue to follow different build versions. For the Yak-3, you can choose to build it opened up with the engine and UBS machine guns exposed, closed up and on the ground, or closed up and in flight.

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The instructions help keep you sorted throughout…though honestly you don’t really have to choose which build version you’re going to do until you get close to paint. Well, unless you want to pose it in flight, in which case you’ll need to commit to the pilot early on.

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One aspect of the build that I find really fascinating is how the engine/cowl is handled. Perhaps due to complaints with the La-5’s complicated forward assembly, the Yak is a model of simplicity. If you want the engine exposed, you just install the engine. If you want it closed up, it’s a simple matter of placing three cowl pieces (two halves and the upper gun deck). No messing about trying to fit cowl panels over an undersized engine…I have to admit for 1/48 scale I really prefer this either/or approach quite a bit!

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Markings

The Zvezda kit comes with markings for three Yak-3s, two Soviet VVS aircraft and, as seems the case with any Yak-3 release, the obligatory Normandie-Niemen scheme.

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The decals look decent, but not stunning, and this is definitely a case where I would recommend seeking out some aftermarket markings (Authentic Decals makes an epic Yak-3 sheet covering something like fifteen aircraft).

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Test-Fit

The Yak is a much, much simpler kit than Zvezda’s La-5s and 109Fs, which definitely made my job of test fitting the thing far easier.

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Overall, everything fits and looks appropriately Yak-ish, though I will stress that it doesn’t hold itself together with pressure the way the La-5s do. That goes a long way toward explaining the gaps you see where the fuselage meets the wing and where the cowl meets  the fuselage. With some glue, these areas would mesh fine.

The only exception is the gun deck, which seems slightly too long. Nothing some quality time with a sanding stick couldn’t address.

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The Verdict

What’s there to say? Zvezda’s Yak-3 is an excellent kit of the vaunted Soviet dogfighter. It’s not as ambitious in its engineering as their La-5s or Bf 109s, but then it doesn’t really need to be – the Yak-3 is a pretty simple aircraft.

I do think the decals could have been more impressive, and there are some small details I would consider replacing with aftermarket – namely the wheels and exhausts (which aren’t hollowed out).

My only major quibble is that this kit isn’t 1/32 scale. But then, that’s my quibble for most all Soviet VVS kits. Manufacturers, if you’re listening, there’s a great gaping hole there waiting to be filled!

Highly recommended.

My sincere thanks to my own wallet for providing this review kit.