The Blenheim – Part One
I know every modeler goes through it, but I’ve been in a rut again for the last, I don’t know, two months? I finished up the Blenheim at the end of March, just in time for Pittsburgh’s TRICON show sponsored by the Three Rivers IPMS. It was another good show. I brought home some gold and silver as well as best aircraft for my Mk VIII Spitfire. But then I started a project for the Fighter Pilot Podcast.
It was going smoothly for a while. Using Kinetic’s F/A-18C as a base, I’m building the host’s (Jell-o) Bug from VFA-94. I was able to find squadron markings from a few sources but obviously had to make custom decals for his individual plane. The custom markings really slowed me down. So much so that I really lost interest and have spent a good bit of time away from the bench.
I usually take photos of my finished builds as soon as I finish them but the Blenheim was a different story. For whatever reason, probably the Pittsburgh show, I didn’t take the pictures and stuck her on a shelf. I also didn’t take the time to write the second part of this review which is now a few months behind. So without further ado, let me give you a look at how the Blenheim went together.
It’s cliche, but I started in the cockpit. Everything went together well there for the most part. The plastic that Airfix uses seems rather brittle and one of the mounts for the pilot seat was broken. I was still able to get it together but it made construction in that area a little more challenging.
The assembly does go together well, though (even with the broken mount), and with the wing struts connected it is very solid.
After assembly I painted the cockpit and interior walls with AMMO of Mig’s Interior Grey-Green and an assortment of other colors for the details. I was unable to find Eduard’s photo-etch belt set so I made my own with some rolled lead wire and photo-etch buckles. Once covered by the glass they’ll be a good enough representation. I’m still not sure, however, what the big pack is behind the pilot’s seat. I’ve heard that it’s a raft or some kind of parachute but I’ve found nothing definitive. It probably shouldn’t be grey-green but until someone can show me otherwise, that’s how it is. (Also too late to change it at this point)
Once all the detail work was finished and the halves were closed up, I was able to install the cockpit glass. As I mentioned back in Part 1 of the review, the clear parts are beautifully molded, but I’m not a fan of how they go together with the fuselage. The way it is engineered, two halves of glass mate on either side of the fuselage and if anything is off just a little bit, it throws off the alignment of the entire thing. Fortunately, the gaps that I had left were manageable and I was able to move onto masking the individual panes quickly.
I masked with a combination of Tamiya tape cut into thin strips and Gunze Mr. Masking Sol Neo.
It was time to prime, but first I sprayed the framework of the clear parts interior grey-green so it would be the proper color from the inside. On bigger projects I like to mask and paint the inside of the glass, but on something this small, it was just easier to paint in reverse from the outside.
I used my favorite primer for aircraft, Mr. Surfacer 1500 Black, to get an even surface for the coming paint layers. The MS1500 does a really nice job of highlighting areas that need some touch up work while sanding smooth and providing depth to my paint work. I prefer to use it on aircraft over Badger’s Stynylrez or AMMO’s One Shot (both are the same primer, just rebranded for the European market) because of its durability. MS1500 is lacquer based so it really likes to hold onto the plastic. On armor or vehicles the self leveling properties of the Stynylrez/One Shot make it ideal for getting in some of the nooks without paint building up or spidering out of control.
The first application of primer revealed some minor areas that needed work, mainly around the cockpit and at the wing root, so I took care of them and laid some more primer to cover the freshly worked spots and to have a solid surface on which to begin actual paint work.
One thing I’ve noticed about Airfix plastic is that it’s relatively soft. And because it’s soft it shows some sink marks that are especially noticeable in large flat areas with little detail. In the photo of the wing root above, you can see some of the sink marks in the trailing quarter of the wing as well as right in the wing root. It’s not a death sentence, but it is something to keep in mind and to correct if you’re looking for a perfect surface.
I didn’t worry about filling the sink marks and, fortunately, they hid pretty well after I started getting paint down. I used Gunze Mr. Color paints for a few reasons. The first being that I prefer to use lacquers on aircraft due to their strength and resistance to lifting. I can mask all day over colors that are already put down without much of a concern of pulling anything up. Granted, I still don’t pull tape off like a gorilla but keeping the tape close to the surface as I pull it back over itself gives great results.
Another reason for these paints is the color. There are no paint manufacturers out there who get colors exactly right, and the way I vary the surface it doesn’t mean much anyway, but I’m a fan of Gunze’s representation of RAF Dark Green and Dark Earth.
Finally, lacquers, and Mr. Color in particular, can be sprayed extremely small. I generally have a process when I paint. I start with a black primer and once it’s down and I’m happy with the surface, I’ll begin with a marble coat that breaks up the solid color that would be found if I just sprayed evenly. This marble coat, especially on 1/48 and smaller, needs to be sprayed in a very tight and controlled randomness. The Mr. Color line can be thinned very far and is perfect for this tight pattern.
For all my love of the Mr. Color line, when it comes to painting black, nothing beats MR. Paint’s black for night camouflage. It’s a perfect not-black. We all know that when you actually paint black, you don’t want to use black so you have somewhere to go with shadow and depth. The MRP night black is just dark enough to look black, but it’s gray enough to allow for some room for shadow. When I painted the black on the belly, I preshaded a few lines with some RAF Ocean Grey from MRP. This gave me exactly the look I was going for on the belly.
At this point we have a mostly finished aircraft. What we don’t have are markings. I always feel like this is when a model really comes to life. Weathering helps but it’s really once markings start going down that I start getting excited. There aren’t a lot of markings included so quick work was made getting them put on. I’d typically mask and paint the RAF roundels on the wings and waist, but I decided to use the nicely printed decals that came along with the kit. They’re not the best decals I’ve used, but they’re quality. With some microset and microsol the decals conformed to the few panel lines I needed them to.
One of the few things left to do were the engines. They’re pretty simple and what you’d expect from a 1/48 piston fighter. Detail is a little bit clunky on the engine pieces but once they’re inside the cowl and behind the prop, they’re pretty hard to see anyway. There is something interesting about the Blenheim’s engines, it’s a trait they share with the Bristol Beaufighter. There is an exhaust collection ring that sits on the forward part of the cowling that has some very distinct heat staining. Unfortunately, they didn’t turn out as good as I had hoped. The engine assembly then mounts to a keyed lug on the wing.
Just like that there is one final thing to do before I can call her done. The dorsal turret. The Blenheim came with a spine mounted .303 Vickers VGO machine gun that provided defense above and behind the aircraft. Airfix includes a jig for aligning all the parts of the turret which went together without out much of a problem. Where I did have an issue was with the soft plastic. The very tip of the Lewis Gun barrel broke off and, because it’s so thin, was very difficult to reattach. The better solution here would have been to try to replace the barrel with some wire. Unfortunately the only wire I had was soft and would not have looked the part, so I repaired the barrel the best that I could. It passes the eye test.
Installing the turret came with no real surprises. Airfix engineered it in such a way that it slots in and can be installed after everything is together.
Overall, I was happy with the build, there were things I wish I had done differently but that’s the case with everything I finish. Part of my process is always to go back and review the build and see where I could make improvements. In this case, I wish I had taken more time in the actual finish. I could have worked more layers into the dark green/dark earth that would have added some visual interest. I’d also replace the Lewis gun in the turret with something aftermarket that had better detail as the gun is a visible part of the finished kit.
I’m glad to have done her though and she was a good experience for my first Airfix kit. I may end up putting her on a small base but right now she’s happy to sit on a shelf in my newborn’s nursery.