F*CKING IRENE!: Building Kitty Hawk’s 1/35 UH-60L “Super 64 – Venom”: Part 3 – Corrections.

The phrase “paralysis by analysis” seems fitting as Venom has slowed to a halt as a multitude of changes and additions are required to get the most accurate MH-60L out of the Kitty Hawk kit. I’ve already blown through two self-imposed deadlines to have the entire kit completed, and I don’t think I’m getting any closer.

It seems that Kitty Hawk’s model is indicative of a later MH-60L, and is much closer to the type used in the movie Blackhawk Down, the type that appears to be shown in these great pictures on aircraftresourcecenter.com. In fact, it seems the model was specifically based off of those pictures (note the ceiling, the orientation of the crew seats, the internal aux tanks, etc).

Here are a few notes based on my primary sources. These are good for S64, and likely hold true to any of the Lima UH-60s present on October 3, but check your references (whew, good luck).

  • The interior floor of the crew compartment was covered in an armored blanket. The blanket was installed as 4 largely rectangular pieces. There is some uncertainty as to how many access holes to the cargo rings on the floor the blanket had, and if it extended to the rear bulkhead or ended where the aux tanks would be. There were pieces of the blanket under the pilot and co-pilot and it extended up the interior wall in front of the crew chief seats. The blanket appears to be more olive green than olive drab.
Correct orientation of crew seats also showing armored blanket.
  • The crew chief (CE) seats actually face outwards behind the mini-guns, not with their back to the pilots. This requires creating a bracket on the ceiling to attach the CE seats in their proper orientation.
  • The ammo cans in the kit are wrong, as is their location. We are researching to correct these aspects.
  • The SATCOM antenna on the kit is incorrect. It is not the cross antenna (parts C52 & G32) Kitty Hawk supplied. Again, research is being conducted to correct these parts but it will be more like the so-called bat wing antenna present on Little Birds in Mogadishu.
  • There were no laser threat detectors on S64, or likely any of the UH-60s on October 3, 1993. This means omitting D63 and D62 in step 14, and modifying the tail assembly in step 13 to reflect a more typical UH-60 tail. This will require some cutting and filling but isn’t anything too difficult.
Cut the kit part back to replicate the dimensions of scaled up schematics of the UH-60A.

  • The hoist controls (for the aircraft that had a hoist) in the kit are for a later version (also like was linked in the pictures linked above). We have designed a corrected hoist control that is being 3d printed.
  • There were no auxiliary fuel tanks present in S64. The distance to any target was too short to require the tanks, and the extra crew space was needed for Rangers.
  • The soundproofing material was present covering the entire ceiling, not leaving the ceiling structure partially exposed as in the kit. I fixed this by simply taping over the exposed interior structure and painting it. There are many ways to skin this cat, however.
  • On S64 the fast rope bars were locked in the extended position with the ropes installed. The ropes were 30′ long with the excess coiled on the crew compartment floor.
  • The external stores support system (ESSS) wings were not present on any of the aircraft on the October 3 raid. This means ignoring those assemblies in steps 17 and 18. Not referenced in the instructions, but included in the kit, are the correct ESSS stubs. These will be used instead of the wings.
  • The kit omits the prominent towel-rack antenna along the port side of the tail. This will require some scratch building.

This is the bulk of the corrections that we have noted and believe need to be corrected for a more accurate Mogadishu raid Blackhawk.

Next up I hope to have the interior together and the fuselage halves closed.

F*CKING IRENE!: Building Kitty Hawk’s 1/35 UH-60L “Super 64 – Venom”: Part 1 – The Cockpit.

Good luck boys, be careful.

All units IRENE, I say again IRENE. It’s time to get started on this long awaited project.

I’ve never built a Kitty Hawk kit, but I’ve heard lots of…things. Upon opening the substantial box, I am extremely impressed. I don’t feel a need to do sprue reviews, as others have done a far better job, but the detail is indeed very nice.

That said, I am trying to build Durant’s “Super-64” as it would have been on the morning of October 3, 1993. To do that as accurately as possible, my references indicate that there are some changes that will need to be made with the kit.

We will begin with some bullet points in the cockpit and crew areas.

  1. The most substantial accuracy issue is that, at least in Super 64, the crew chief seats are positioned with their backs to each other, behind the mini guns, and not with their backs to the pilots as is the only option in the kit. To correct this accurately will take a ceiling bracket that we have designed and had 3d printed. You could probably make the same with some scratch building skills.
  2. The ammo cans for the miniguns were 3000 round and probably positioned between the crew seats and the pilots seats. Ignore the kit directions on their locations. I am working on some confirmation of their positions and locations but it is clear that with the proper crew seat position the kits position of the ammo cans are incorrect.
  3. There were no internal fuel tanks as she was carrying 18 Rangers and needed the maximum passenger load.
  4. The fast rope bar would have been locked in the extended position with the rope attached and the running end coiled on the floor.
  5. There should be two survival bags mounted to the rear cabin wall. I am going to create this with apoxie sculpt. This too might be something we include in the aforementioned correction set if we find there is enough interest.
  6. The floor in the cargo area and around the pilots would have had 1/2″ thick rolled steel ballistic armor.

With those changes in mind, I started building the crew compartment. This is a very clever sub assembly that will be trapped in the fuselage halves once built up. The detail is superb, but there are a few problems.

First, note the way the instrument panel attaches into the combing along the top. These holes will have be filled and sanded along with the two circular holes along the top that are for parts not present in 64 (both parts F-34 should be deleted but not discarded).

Second, the instructions would have you install the rudder pedals (E-21) backwards. It’s difficult to explain how you can tell the difference, but the picture below should show what I believe to be the correct orientation based on several reference photographs of the same.

Also shown in the picture above is the re-use of parts F-34 under the instrument cowl and the location of the PE angle brackets. The instructions do very little to help install the PE brackets in a way that makes sense and that is as close as I could get them to my reference photographs (note: I’m not as confident about this orientation as I am the pedals).

Third, the ceiling, while a nicely rendered part is in desperate need of some up-detailing with wires and some plaisticard. The UH-60L ceiling could be covered with a type of soundproofing panels and Kitty Hawk has decided to have part of that covering off exposing the underlying structure. I initially tried to build this to some reference photographs I have of an aircraft with a similar configuration and I got about about halfway done with some plumbing when it was confirmed that Super 64 had all of the soundproofing panels in place. Back to the drawing board. Note also in this photograph that if you are moving the crew chief seats into their proper assault configuration as discussed above, there are holes to be filled (and holes that exist to apparently receive the bracket for the crew chief seats leading me to believe the bracket has been contemplated by Kitty Hawk but not included for some reason).

Getting to this point, I was eager to get some paint on the instrument panel and see what I could do with it. Even with that, I wanted to try out the kit instrument panel decal. By trial, and without reservation, I can say do not use it in its entirety. Instead, punch out individual dial faces, or other minor details, and use them individually. I did that and also augmented those with some aeroscale instrument decals, then painted the MFDs with transparent green, picked out a few dials and buttons per references, and gave it all some weathering to tie it together. I also added some lead wire in bundles behind the instrument panel to give a hint of the business behind there. After a coat of dullcote the lenses of the instruments were filled with Bondic, or Future for the MFDs. I’m pretty impressed with where this is headed so far.

Up next, I’m going to give the engine some detailing before I get back to the crew compartment.

The Airfix Spitfire FR Mk XIV: The First Few Days

When I first saw the photos of the Spitfire FR Mk XIV from Airfix, I wanted to build it. The mark fourteen is arguably the best looking Spitfire that was ever produced. The clipped wings, bubble canopy (on the later XIVs), Rolls Royce Griffon in the nose, and 5-blade Rotol propellor made it one of the sexiest aircraft in the sky and deadly at lower altitudes. It was also a quick and stable photo reconnaissance platform, which is what this kit represents.

This is now the fourth Spitfire I’ve built so I have some experience with them. I built the Eduard Mk VIII (1/48) a few years ago as Lonesome Polecat. Then in 2017 I built the Tamiya Mk IXc (1/32) as Pierre Clostermann’s Normandy ride with Invasion Stripes. 2018 saw me build Lonesome Polecat again, though this time with the Tamiya Mk VIII in 1/32.  Airfix’s offering is the weakest out of this bunch, but these other kits are really just outstanding.

The Airfix kit is pretty simple out of the box. It actually is very reminiscent of the “two sprue wonders” – the older, but excellent, Tamiya boxing’s in 1/48. 4 gray sprues (that really should have been 3) and one clear make up the entirety of the kit. The clear parts aren’t as clear as what came in the Airfix Blenheim, however. The gray sprues all have a little bit of flash that I’m noticing to be typical of Airfix. Also some significant ejector pin flash on a few pieces but they were on areas that would eventually be hidden.

The cockpit comprises 17 parts, 8 of which are for the seat alone. Also included with the cockpit assembly is the camera since this is the FR version of the Spitfire. I painted everything with AMMO of Mig “interior grey-green” over a base of black Mr. Surfacer 1500. AMMO paints don’t have the durability of lacquers like Mr. Color or MRP but I like having the ability to touch up areas with a brush and I can also achieve some interesting effects while brushing the paint. I also used metallic colored AK Interactive weathering pencils for some chipping and wiring.

I’m going to be finishing the build in a small vignette of Eindhoven airfield during the wet winter months of early 1945. Some of the photos I’ve seen of Eindhoven show tons of mud on the airfield so I dirtied up the cockpit floor with AMMO “airfield dust” pigments and a mix of oils to vary the final color.

One downfall to the kit is that it doesn’t include belts for the seat. This is fine if you include the pilot, but I don’t think I’ve ever included the pilot in one of my builds. So I purchased Eduard steel belts that also came with their LööK instrument panel. The panel is hard to see in the tiny cockpit but it’s still an improvement over the clunky kit panel. After attaching the belts I added some shading with oils.

As I mentioned earlier, the camera is included as part of the cockpit assembly so before I can close the fuselage, it needs to be dealt with. It’ll be next to impossible to see once closed so I didn’t go overboard. I simply painted the framework interior grey green and the camera black. I used some liquid mask to cover the lens of the camera, which comes as a clear part, just in case it could be seen.

Closing the fuselage came pretty easily. The fit is snug, but there were no real gaps anywhere. I did have to keep pressure on the nose while it dried but that was only to keep everything aligned. I’ll mention this now but didn’t notice it until later, but there is apparently a notable twist in the tail. I’ll go into more detail on that shortly.

Airfix, for some reason, decided to leave the fuel tank forward of the cockpit as a separate piece.  This would have been ok if the piece fit properly, but it doesn’t.  It sits skewed with the whole thing sitting slightly clockwise compared to the rest of the fuselage.  It’s also too narrow.  Holding pressure while MEK setup allowed me to force it a little bit wider, but I still needed some filler along the starboard side where it nears the cockpit.  I used Bondo Spot and Glazing Putty for this job.  I like Bondo because, once dry, it’s very similar to the plastic and, because of it’s lacquer base, it bonds well.  In addition to that, it scribes nicely with only a little bit of pressure.

I cleaned up the seams with CA glue and sanded everything smooth. The lower wing section was attached to the fuselage at this point. I noticed a section of the wing was warped as well. I found this before it was attached to anything so I was able to fix it with some heat and brute force. The joint between the lower wing and fuselage is, again, pretty tight and I had to keep my hands on it while the MEK set up, otherwise the wing would have pushed away from the fuselage. Once it was solid, I test fit the top wing sections before adding the wheel well walls that slot into the lower wing section. The upper wings appeared to mate well with only a small gap and an area at the trailing edge where some filler was needed to make the surface flush.

While waiting for glue to dry between the wing halves, I built the prop and spinner for the Griffon engine. It appeared that the molds for the prop weren’t polished very well and there were some machining marks that transferred to the plastic. With Airfix’s soft plastic it was a little bit challenging to sand the rotol prop without damaging anything. The five bladed propeller looks very mean once it’s together and gives the whole aircraft a rather stunning look.

At the same time I was able to start installing the gun barrels and clipped wing tips.  The shape of the 20mm barrel is a little questionable and it it needed a lot of filler where it meets the wing.  The clipped wing tips come as clear parts and, to attach them, you have to cut the original tips off of the upper wing sections.  I carefully cut the original tips off with a #11 blade and a razor saw. A quick test fit of the tips showed that I had to make the molded-in hole bigger to make the tip piece line up. The tip blended seamlessly into the wing.

This is where the tail twist was found. Because of the shape of the fuselage, the twist couldn’t be seen earlier. But at this point I attached the horizontal stabilizers to the tail. They should sit perpendicular to the vertical stab and they do. The fit is very good here (once you remove some flash from the holes). After getting the stabs located, I sat the plane on my bench and looked at it from the front to make sure they were aligned properly. The twist became clear as day here.

The only way I could think of to try to fix it would be to heat it up and bend it back where it should be. But at this point, with the fuselage glued and everything attached to it, I didn’t think the reward was worth the risk. It’s also not quite as noticeable with the elevator in position. I decided to drop the elevator a little bit just to give the plane a slightly dynamic pose.

I had already sprayed some seam lines with primer to check for seams, but now started putting it down on the rest of the plane. It took a few layers as I always seem to find a spot that needs to be fixed up as I prime. So I fixed the few spots and gave it a quick polish with a buffing stick.

And that’s where we stand. I’m ready to start laying paint which will start with aluminum in strategic areas for chipping. I’m happy to be at this point only a week into the build. It’s a nice change after spending months on my two previous builds. I’ll pick back up with part two once I get painting.

Stay tuned.

The Blenheim Part 2 – Building the Thing

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.