Started: Sep 2006
Finished: Nov 2006
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The Bell P-39 Airacobra is a fighter produced by Bell Aircraft for the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. It was one of the principal American fighters in service when the United States entered combat. The P-39 was used by the Soviet Air Force, and enabled individual Soviet pilots to collect the highest number of kills attributed to any U.S. fighter type flown by any air force in any conflict. Other major users of the type included the Free French, the Royal Air Force, and the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force.
The Airacobra had an unusual layout, with the engine installed in the center fuselage, behind the pilot, and driving a tractor propeller in the nose with a long shaft. It was also the first fighter fitted with a tricycle undercarriage. Although its mid-engine placement was innovative, the P-39 design was handicapped by the absence of an efficient turbo-supercharger, preventing it from performing high-altitude work. For this reason it was rejected by the RAF for use over western Europe but adopted by the USSR, where most air combat took place at medium and lower altitudes.
The United States requisitioned 200 of the aircraft being manufactured for the UK, adopting them as P-400s (named for the advertised top speed of 400 mph (640 km/h)). After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the P-400 was deployed to training units, but some saw combat in the Southwest Pacific including with the Cactus Air Force in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Though outclassed by Japanese fighter aircraft, it performed well in strafing and bombing runs, often proving deadly in ground attacks on Japanese forces trying to retake Henderson Field.
With the recent release of the new P-400 tool from Hasegawa, I decided to continue my run of WWII aircraft. As you would expect this kit is worth the A$40. I deviated from the kit build (and markings) where I thought it would benefit the end result.
The main addition was the extended flaps and I found a much more interesting P-400 paint scheme in the Eduard Profipack kit (Sand & Spinach I have been told by a reliable source) than the brown/green options provided by Hasegawa.
Construction begins as always with extensive dry fitting of major components. I can report that the fit is excellent. Not something I always take for granted with Hasegawa (even new tooling like this). My experience with the 1/48 Harrier kits being an example of a newer kit with fit problems.
A quick check of my references (mainly Detail & Scale Vol 63) shows that Hasegawa have gotten the cockpit pretty much correct. As always there is plenty of scope for adding extra detailing, something I chose not to do in this case (I'll reserve that for my jets :)
Having the Eduard Airacobra Profipack kit in the cupboard, I took the opportunity to do some comparisons and it was then I realised I had a PE set for P-39 flaps. The P-39 has split flaps (the upper surface of the wing remained fixed, whilst the lower section extended). The picture shows me sizing up the Eduard flap set (designed for the Eduard kit of course) against the Hasegawa kit. Its actually a good deal shorter (about 5mm).
Here you can see clearly that the flap insert is too short for the Hasegawa wing.
Despite the fact I could not use the Eduard PE set directly, I decided nonetheless to drop the flaps. I also had a rush of blood and decided to separate the ailerons as well.
Had I realised that the upper and lower halves of the ailerons did not line up (thanks Hasegawa), I'd have left them alone. Oh well. As you can see here, there is a rather large gap that needs to be filled. (Edit: I have since been informed that Hasegawa is completely correct in the way the ailerons are molded. They should be asymmetric. Licking my wounds, I have since re-attached the ailerons in their original/correct location)
With the lower wing flap section removed, the upper wing plastic is thinned out and it will be skinned with 10thou card as shown here. Later on the whole thing will be boxed in with more card.
Because the flaps extend past the edge of the upper wing into the fuselage proper, when viewed from above as here, the new card skin is seen.
Having dropped the flaps and the ailerons, I figured the elevators and rudder where next. Using a sharp knife, its an easy operation to separate the horizontal stab from the elevator.
Once separated you need to decided how you are going to display the elevator is a drooped fashion (without leaving an unrealistic gap). The best looking solution (although not the easiest) is to create a channel in the trailing edge of the horizontal stab. Here you can see that I have secured the stab to a metal ruler and am using the Dremmel tool and a round bit to route a channel.
The end result is a semi-circular channel in the back of the stab. All we need to do now is round off the front of the elevator and slot it into the channel.
The end result is a fairly accurate representation of a functional elevator. Little touches like this all add up to give your model that something special.
Whilst I'm sure its perfectly accurate to have raised panel lines on the drop tank, its a damb pain in the arse for us modellers, because there is no way you can both save the panel lines and sand the join seam . In such cases, I always sand and fill the seam and remove the panel lines.
Of course, the panel lines need to be re-added and to do this I use my scriber. As mentioned above, it would be more accurate to create raised panel lines (I sometimes use stretched sprue for this), but also much more problematic. Here you can see I have scribed the lines and re-added the small details from punched card.
A shot showing the engine intake part, the interior green paint to cover the intake interiors and finally the flap skin extensions.
With step one of the flap scratchbuilding dry, its time to start boxing in the flap interiors. Here we can see 10thou card in place to achieve this.
With the wings drying, its time to focus on the cockpit painting so fuselage construction can keep pace with the wings. Gunze H58 Interior Green forms the based coat, with the details being picked out using Valejo Acrylics.
After detail painting of the instrument panel, a coat of Future is applied via brush in preparation for application of the instrument panel decal.
Rather than apply the kit supplied decal as one. I prefer to punch out each dial and apply them separately.
My Waldron punch set has made light work of this task.
Certainly a better result than my dodgy hand painting could have achieved, and infinitely better than just slopping the whole decal sheet on. Admittedly more work but in this case the result is worth it.
The cockpit following a light wash of Burnt Umber enamel. This helps give more depth to the parts and the illusion of age.
The completed cockpit being test fitted to the fuselage. As mentioned before, no fit problems at all here. Thumbs up Hasegawa :)
You may be wondering where the seat is. Well I'm waiting for my order from Ultracast to arrive and see no reason to halt construction in the meantime. The seat can be slotted in fairly late in the process.
The instructions call for 15g of nose weight. Being a cautious fellow, I always stick as much in as I can fit. I find basic split shot fishing lead the most economical and versatile.
With everything in place its time to seal her up. The fuselage join is generally good and to ensure no annoying gaps appear overnight, I have applied several of my collection of clamps to the task.
Well, my Ultracast order arrived. This is my second order from Ultracast and I have to say the customer service is excellent. I think you'll agree the resin is a definite improvement.
The Ultracast exhausts will make a visible difference as well.
A test fit of the exhaust showed that because the Ultracast set was designed for the Eduard kit, a 20thou spacer was needed behind to get it protruding correctly.
The resin seat gets a test fitting. All looks fine. This is the Sutton Harness seat as used in the RAF aircraft.
Before sealing up the nose, I tested the amount of nose weight needed. Just as well I did, Remember the P-39 sits quite nose high on its undercarriage, leading to a natural tendency for the model to want to tip backward.
Its pretty obvious that Hasegawa are planning on doing several variants of the Airacobra. I was not that happy with the fit of the nose section. The gaps here are too big to live with, so will be super glued, sanded and re-scribed.
Hasegawa provided a separate part for the guns (which is better than the Eduard kit). Unfortunately they require that you install them before the nose section is glued on. After closer inspection, I decided that trying to mask the guns to protect them during major painting would be troublesome. So I decided to re-engineer the gun ports to allow the guns to be installed from the exterior (after final painting). Here you can see some plasticard that will act as a holder for the rear of the guns
With the guns ports faired in (see white plasticard), the nose is glued in place. This photo is taken after the seams have been filled and rescribed. Note the card that was needed to fill a nasty gap at the rear of the nose section. This part was more work that it should have been (memories of the AV-8B)
The cockpit and intake are temporarily masked in preparation for a coat of primer. I always prime any seam work to check for problems that must be corrected before final painting. Better to discover them now rather than after the first colour coat :)
The rudder received some detailing using plasticard.
The Alclad Primer has been applied and sanded back (using Micromesh pads) to check for any problems. The extra work done on the nose is worth the effort on this highly visible part of the model.
One place that will prove tricky to sand is this small section just in front of the spine air intake.
Turning my attention back to the flaps, I used the Eduard PE set as a guide, the interior ribbing and actuator rods are added.
A shot from the side shows the shape of the ribbing (10x60thou) and the brass rod (15thou)
The actual flap itself is also provided in the Eduard set. The detail here is impressive and is worth the effort involved in building them. Here we see the imposing PE part for the main body and ribbing of the split flap.
The part has been carefully removed from the sprue. As you can see the ribbing which needs to bent is VERY delicate.
Here we see my 'Hold n Fold' in action. This great tool was purchased from The Small Shop and is used to hold PE parts whilst they are bent. It's not something I use all the time, but when working with PE, it is invaluable.
The main flap ribbing and strengthening strips have been carefully bent and glued in place. If, like me, you have trouble controlling the amount and placement of super glue when working with PE, remember to freshen your glue puddle every minute or so (fresh CA glue is thinner and flows better on PE), also frequently replace your applicator (I use simple copper wire on which the glue builds up after a couple of dips).
There is no doubt that PE can be tricky, but gee, its often worth it in the end. There is just no way you would re-produce this scale detail in plastic.
And finally it all comes together. The Eduard PE flap is mated (using hinges of my own design) to the scratchbuilt flap interior. Should look a treat once painted and weathered.
Hasegawa gives the option of using clear or molded parts for the navigation lights on the wing tips. Here I have removed the plastic light so that its clear alternative can be used later.
The nose wheel support structure can benefit from some detailing. Careful use of a sharp #11 blade gives the desired result. Its not uncommon for kit manufacturers to leave section of delicate parts filled like this. To do otherwise would make the part more difficult (and costly) to mold and also more prone to breakage.
Wishing to make the model's pose a little more interesting, I like to rotate the nose wheel a small amount. Here we see the nose wheel strut has been cut and to ensure a strong re-bonding, I have inserted a small length of 15thou brass rod. Note the ejection pin mark that must be filled and removed.
The finished nose strut with an appropriate (ie small) amount of rotation applied. Note also that the ejection pin mark has been filled with a punched plastic disc and sanded using superglue.
Plenty of ejection pin marks to go around. Here we see both main gear doors, the bottom one has had the pin marks sanded out.
The wheel covers also had some visible ejection pin marks. These where too deep to sand away, so instead will be filled using superglue and then sanded.
Whilst mating the wing and fuselage, the only problem area encountered was a mismatch (leading to a step that will need to be removed) on the leading edge (near the nose wheel well). This happened on both sides. I wondered if it had anything to do with my surgery to the flaps, but I doubt it as that was at the very rear of the wing.
The rear wing to fuselage join was also a fairly poor fit, but I am pretty sure this was due to work I had done to the flaps.
This photo shows the ribbing (10x20thou strip) inside the wheel well, as well as the work done to remove the bad fit and overlap of the wing to fuselage join (mentioned earlier)
With the rear join filled (superglue) and sanded, its time to replace the panel line detail. Here I am using Pactra tape as a scribing guide.
An overall view of progress so far.
Hasegawa has very cleverly provided the doors as clear parts. I must say that the fit of the door and canopy sections is excellent.
The door window must be masked both inside and out. Here I have started the job with some Tamiya tape strips. The door is being held steady by a lump of blutac.
The outline has been masked using Tamiya tape strips. The interior can be masked using more tape, or liquid mask (Maskol) as shown below.
As I plan to display the model with one door open, the interior canopy ribbing will be visible. Here I have masked the interior in preparation for painting with interior green.
Much of the fiddly work is now under way. Painting of seats and belts, masking and painting wheel hubs etc
The wheel wells and flap interiors receive a coat of Gunze Interior Green.
Once dry, the interiors are masked. I've grown to be quite a fan of wet tissue paper as a quick form of masking interior hollows like these. I first tried it on the P-47M and have used it since.
The Ultracast seat (with US harness), gunsight and control column have now all been painted and glued in the cockpit, in preparation for attaching the canopy. Notice the silver finish along the wing roots. This is Alclad Airframe Aluminium. It has been coated with Future and my plan is to wear away the camouflage colours down to the silver to simulate the wear and tear present on the real aircraft in this high traffic area.
If you are observant, you will be wondering why the propeller is silver here and yet it looks finished (black with yellow tips) in a previous photo. Well its because I was not happy with the initial painting efforts and so stripped it back and here i have taken the opportunity to spray it and the drop tank silver (to allow the same weathering method I discussed above on the wing root).
A final close-in shot of the Ultracast seat and the completed kit cockpit.
I mostly attach my canopies using thin super glue. To ensure the clear parts do not move during the gluing process, thin strips of Tamiya tape are used.
Once the glue has dried (a few minutes), the task of masking the curves of the Airacobra canopy begins. All up, the masking took about 45mins.
With the window outlines masked with tape, the interiors can be quickly filled with Humbrol Maskol. With the imminent decline of Airfix/Humbrol I wonder if Maskol will be available for much longer :(
Ever since I discovered Bare Metal foil I have used it on undercarriage struts to simulate the chrome parts. Being self adhesive, the foil is very easy to work with and really looks the part, better than any paint ever could.
With all the masking complete, the first of three final colours can be applied. The scheme I have chosen for my P-400 is actually from the Eduard Profipack kit and represents an aircraft from the 41FS, 35th FG out of Milne Bay in 1942. I chose this scheme as it looks more interesting than the stock RAF brown and green offering in the Hasegawa kit. The top two camo colours will be Sand & Spinach, with the undersides (as shown here) being light blue.
With the light blue dry, I was keen to see how my weathering plan would work out. The drop tank got a very lite coat of the undersurface blue and so it only took a couple of wipes with some MicroMesh sanding pads to start to wear it off. I think the result looks effective, however in this case, perhaps a tad too heavy. I'm hoping that with appropriate oil washes and panel lines, it will look about right. Either way I think with more practice, this will prove to be a useful technique.
The spinner received the same treatment as the drop tank above, but in a more restrained way.
As the demarcations between upper and lower surfaces appear to be hard, I have used Tamiya tape to mask off the blue.
Probably the most tricky masking challenge here was under each horizontal stabiliser. The round corner of the camo demarcation has been achieved by using a scribing template and sharp blade to cut out a circular section of tape and then trimming to leave on one quarter of the circle.
The masking is complete and she's ready for the spray shop.
The 'Sand' coat is applied first. This colour was matched to the Eduard Box Art (yeah, I know, not very scientific) and is a custom blend of (roughly) the following: Humbrol 93 Desert Yellow 80% + Humbrol 82 Pale Yellow 10% + Humbrol 29 Dark Earth 5% + Humbrol 130 White 5%
Having allowed the Model Master 'Aircraft Interior Black' to dry on the propeller, its time to see if I can 'subtly' wear away the black to reveal the underlying silver. Again using the micromesh sanding cloth, I carefully abrade the black, concentrating on the propeller leading edges as this is wear is most evident. I am pretty happy with the results.
Next major step is to apply the green (Spinach) camo colour to the uppersurfaces. As the demarcation needs to be very tight, I choose to use blutac masking rather than trust my, less than consistent, freehand airbrushing. To roll the Blutac into 'sausages' that can be laid out on the model, I use a wide metal rule on a clean cutting board.
Using the painting instructions as a guide, layout the blutac sausages on the model surface.
To fill in the masking I use Tamiya tape, cut into small squares. I have used Maskol liquid mask before and it is quicker to get the masking done, BUT its a right royal pain to get off in large amounts like this, preferring to remain in any hard to get at seams or panel lines.
The 'Spinach' coat is applied now. As with the Sand before it, the colour was matched to the Eduard Box Art (yeah, I know, still not very scientific) and is a custom blend of (roughly) the following: Humbrol 80 Grass Green 70% + Humbrol 155 Olive Drab 20% + Humbrol 130 White 10%
Its one of the ironies of modelling that masking (no matter how you do it) takes hours to lay down, its only needed for 5 minutes (while the model is painted) and is useless once removed :) But we could not live without it. The end result (like most of modelling) is worth all the effort.
Fading of the two upper surface camo colors has now been completed. Each colour is heavily thinned and lightened with a touch of white. This is then sprayed (misted) over the model, concentrating the lighter colour at the centers of panels. Compare this photo with the one above, which shows just the two base colours.
With the main painting complete, its time to attend to the finishing painting touches. One such area is on the nose of this model. The A/C must have had at one time during its service life a sharks mouth, which as subsequently painted out with black. To allow us to paint this outline, Eduard kindly provides a pre-cut mask in the profipack (perhaps in the other non-profipack kits as well, I don't know). Here I have separated one side of the mask and attached to the fuselage.
Here we see a closer shot of the other side mask. These masks are self adhesive. You can see that when you lay them on, its best to leave the center section in place to allow it to hold its shape. Once the outline is held firm on the model, the center section can be removed and discarded. This photo shows the major center section has been removed, but the smaller rear section is still in place.
The mask gives us the shape and sharp demarcation for our painting, but we need to protect the surrounding areas from overspray with Tamiya tape and Maskol
With the painting is complete, the masking on the nose, wing root walkways and wing guns can be removed. Once allowed to dry overnight, the nose and wing roots will receive some light weathering to simulate wear and tear.
A final close in shot of the end result of the Eduard mask. Seems to work as advertised. Not sure I'd spend extra money on buying a mask, but when its included in the box, why not use it.
With the black dry, its time for some more weathering. This time, the micromesh pads are used to gently wear away the green paint and the black walkways to simulate the effect of harsh tropical sun and feet on the wing.
The black 'sharks mouth' on the nose area gets the same treatment. A gentle touch is called for here
With a couple coats of thinned Future to provide a gloss finish, the Eduard decals are applied. This is the first time I have used Eduard kit decals and they performed excellently with some help from MicroSet and MicroSol
With the Future and decals now dry, its time to attend to the panel lines. In case you have not explored my website fully as yet, here is a link to a full article on the technique I use.
The uppersurfaces get the same treatment.
Notice the wear and tear applied to the star decal on the wing. This again was achieved by gentle rubbing with Micromesh over the dry decal.
Once the panel wash paint has dried (give it 30mins or overnight), a clean cloth and cotton buds can be used to remove the excess (overflow) leaving the paint in the panellines.
I am happy with the effect the Burnt Umber paint gives when used as a panel wash. This lot will be left overnight to dry and receive a coat of clear flat in the morning.
Final weathering has now been completed, with an oil wash (note the oil streaks coming from the fuel filler cap on the wing) and exhaust stains (very prominent on P-39's) being handled by a coat of Tamiya Smoke Clear followed by Humbrol H196 Light Grey.
The undersides also get some oil wash treatment and dry brushing of wheel well and flap interiors.
With all final touches complete, all that remains is to take some last photos.
The underside received some last minute oil splatters and stains. I'm generally happy with the final result, especially the drop tank.