F*CKING IRENE!: Building Kitty Hawk’s 1/35 UH-60L “Super 64 – Venom”: Part 2 – Engine.

As seems to be typical with Kitty Hawk kits, this came with a rendition of the two GE T-700 turbo-shaft engines. The T-700 is the workhorse of the United States military helicopter fleet being found in everything from the Blackhawk, to the Viper, Apache and others. As such, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see what I could do with the kit engines. And, as my vision for this project was for her to be displayed as she would have been early in the morning of 3 October 1993, an open engine compartment is a reasonable configuration as the crew could have been pre-flighting the bird to prepare for any potential mission of the day.

The engine is essentially two rather ill fitting halves with plugs that go on both ends for the compressor face or exhaust detail, and some plumbing. It fits securely into a very complicated engine nacelle assembly that requires a great deal of test fitting and patience to get aligned properly (this is not including the insane assembly for the transmissions, rotor hub and intakes that will be addressed later). When together, it’s a pretty impressive sub assembly straight out of the box. But, to do this right was going to take a great deal of plumbing to get anywhere close to satisfying an inspection on the judges’ table. So, I scoured my references and the internet for pictures of the number 1 engine in situ.

One of the better references was actually this video of a pre-flight inspection on a Blackhawk.

Pausing that at key points will allow you to see about any of the wiring and plumbing that you could want to add for whatever of realism you are wanting to build to.

Once I had a enough references and a plan in mind, I broke out my collection of lead wire, plastic rod, mini-drill set, and got to work. After several sessions at the bench I had something that I felt was a decent representation of the engine and plumbing.

I masked off the surrounding area and primed the engine and compartment with Mr. Finishing Surfacer 1500 black. I sprayed the engine with several shades of alclad including steel, dark aluminum, anodized aluminum, and white aluminum. Then, I sprayed the engine compartment with Gunze stainless steel.

Next it was time to pick out the wires and other details, beginning with Mig Silver applied with a fine brush and continuing on with a citadel brass type color and Vallejo Model Color’s light rubber, red, yellow, white and custom mixed combinations of the same with Tamiya’s green and blue. Then, I cleared with Alclad’s Aquagloss in preparation for some decals and weathering.

With the color mostly down it became apparent that some detail was lacking and that some placards on the engine would add a touch of needed realism. I dug out my sets of Aeroscale cockpit placards and tried to replicate a few of the more noticeable markings that exist on the engine and plumbing.

Now it was time for some light weathering including a simple dark enamel wash on the engine and compartment to add some depth and a tiny bit of grime. I opted for light weathering on the engine and compartment as these aircraft from the 160th SOAR were famously well maintained. In fact, in Durant’s book “In the Company of Heroes” he commented how his crew treated his aircraft like a hot rod, including putting armor all on the tires between missions. I put his book in the upper echelon of aviation related books. It is probably not as good to me as Robin Olds’ “Fighter Pilot” or Dan Hampton’s “Lords of the Sky”, but it is a good read.

In any event, after a light coat of Testor’s dullcote, the engine is complete and ready for installation when the fuselage catches up to it.

PROLOGUE: Taking Kitty Hawk’s 1/35 MH-60L on a personal journey.

October 3, 1993, is a day that many will probably only remember because of the 2001 Ridley Scott film “Blackhawk Down” (based on Mark Bowden’s 1999 book of the same title). It’s something more important to me.

Super 64 in her final resting place.

In a very real way, though nothing as significant or as tragic as those that were actually involved in Mogadishu on that Sunday in 1993, the arc of this story had a profound impact on my life. I recall being 14 and following the story of the total loss of the aircraft and pilots of Super 61 in Mogadishu. I vividly recall reading of the loss of Super 64, the capture of Mike Durant, the loss of 64’s remaining crew, and being in awe of the subsequent heroics of two Delta operators who held off a whole city of hostiles until they gave their own lives, eventually being awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Durant’s tale was the proverbial straw that convinced the camel’s back that while I knew I was going to be a pilot, that instead of the Navy (thanks “Top Gun”), or the Air Force (despite “Iron Eagle”), being an Army pilot was my life’s calling. My father, a civilian fixed wing pilot and aerospace engineer, was not particularly pleased. I heard more than once that “those things aren’t supposed to fly” and helicopters just “beat the air into submission”. To him, while he never pushed me in any direction and was always supportive of my decisions, I should be going “mach 2 with my hair on fire.”

In 1999 after Bowden’s book was released, I was a 20 year old college student at Ft. Benning, Ga., going through Airborne training. I was checking all of the right boxes to earn my gold bars and then my slot in flight school. While there, I read Bowden’s book, reinvigorated in my career choice, and I knew that those coveted silver airborne wings were soon going to fall slightly on my uniform to be replaced with the wings of an Army Aviator.

In early 2002, having just watched my peers get their commissions and head off to lead men in far away deserts, I watched “Blackhawk Down”, broken hearted, having my life’s dreams dashed by the cold, final determination of a medical discharge. As much time as I had spent devouring all things helicopter, it took the better part of two decades for me to look at one again with any sort of awe or appreciation. I could only see what should have been and feel the hurt of losing control of my life’s direction.

In late 2019, as a 40 year old father and husband, supremely happy and content with the life that I have been blessed with, I have finally decided to revisit, and both put to bed and again appreciate with child like wonder, a part of my youth that had such a big impact on my life. This project is the result.

While I don’t have permission to use any names, I have reached out to, and surprisingly was able to enlist the help of, an individual who is very important to this story. I want to try to get the UH-60L “Super 64 – Venom” as correct as possible for the memories of all of those affected by that day almost 30 years ago. To that person, who will probably never see this, you have my most sincere gratitude for more than you can possibly understand.

Tamiya’s “White Box” 1/48 P-38F/G – First Thoughts, Part 3.

See part 1 and part 2 to get caught up to what has brought us here.

This update took a little longer than expected as life and a drive for perfection got in the way. Most of the delay cannot be attributed to Tamiya, as the kit is as close to perfection as I have encountered, especially for a twin boom aircraft.

The first place for some delay was my decision to replace the kit barrels, modeled as smooth, with better turned brass barrels. This is such a prominent feature on the P-38 that it deserves better than some decals to indicate the holes in the cooling jacket. I wanted to do this before I installed the nose to try to use the locating mechanism provided in the kit to help with alignment. It turned out surprisingly well, I think.

The second place where delay crept in was with the masking the canopy and windscreen. Before I talk about masking I must discuss the kit clear plastic. The fit, engineering, and clarity, are above reproach. The kit even has a closed window option that is three pieces instead of the 5 pieces required for an open canopy. I decided for the closed option as I wanted a cleaner and quicker build and review, and because the plastic is so clear that the work put into the cockpit will still be very visible.

Insofar as the masking, Tamiya (as per their large scale kits) provides a sheet of the masking paper with the masks drawn on. The modeler is expected to cut these out and apply. For kits like a P-51 with a bubble canopy, and in large scale, this is not a terrible issue. For a smaller scale P-38 with the deceptively complicated cross bracing of the side windows, and the compound curves and bracing on the canopy top, this can become an unnecessarily complicated effort. Before I began, I scanned in the masking sheet so to have a duplicate pattern should I destroy mine. I then sent to a friend who had a Cricut and he duplicated the sheet with beautiful pre-cut vinyl and tape. While I was waiting on that, I attempted to carefully cut out the masks. I didn’t particularly like they way the masks fit, but with some extra care and multiple iterations of trimming, I got them to a place that was serviceable. When I got the pre cut masks, I abandoned my attempt at cutting, trimming, and burnishing, to use the pre-cut masks hoping for better results. They had a similar issue as the lines printed by Tamiya have enough slop as to make cutting them an art more than a science. After several hours I had an idea…bare metal foil. I jettisoned the Tamiya masks and just used bare metal foil and a sharp blade. The results, at least from what I can see, are much better and will probably remain the best option until the kit is released and the aftermarket steps in with pre-cut masks. One would think Tamiya could afford a Cricut and solve this issue, but like their decals, Tamiya holds on to surprisingly primitive and lack-luster additions to kits that are otherwise stellar.

After several days of wrestling with those masking issues, I finally got the Lightning under a coat of primer. I was absolutely unsurprising to see that there were no seams or issues that appeared to need further cleaning, filling or sanding.

Then it was time to paint.

Mr. Paint Laquer “Neutral Gray” was painted on the bottom, and Tamiya”Olive Drab” on top. Both mottled over a dark grey base of Mr. Finishing surfacer, sanded with 1500 grit sanding sponge. Before the OD, I applied some Alclad Aluminum and chipping fluid around the cockpit for some heavy wear and chipping. The OD was post shaded with various amounts of yellows and whites mixed in with the paint to represent fading under the intense pacific sun. The camo pattern is tricky, so using references I sketched it on the primer and free handed the camo with my Sotar 20/20.

After a few minutes with a toothpick and stiff brush, I had the area chipped around the cockpit in a way that resembled my references. I find that with Tamiya, especially their OD, that the paint is very fragile and likes to rub off, chip off, or discolor with handling. In this case, I applied some Future across the OD to seal it in to prepare for decals. In my experience, this ameliorates those issues.

I’m waiting on some green to paint the stripes on the tail, but in the meantime I will be working on decals on the remainder of the kit. Then, the fun part…weathering.

My picture build log is always updated, here.

Tamiya’s “White Box” 1/48 P-38F/G – First Thoughts, Part 2.

Last week I began the build of Tamiya’s new tool P-38 (see: Part 1). With only a few hours invested I had gotten the build to the point that it was time to start assembly of the twin booms, a place in the construction that makes most who have ever cracked the box of a P-38 model at least a bit anxious. But, this is Tamiya, and Tamiya doesn’t allow for antiquated ideas of fit and engineering.

Since my return to the hobby, I have built two 1/48 P-38 kits, both Academy plastic and generally regarded (until now) as the best in this scale. Much has been written about the difficulty of alignment of the booms to the wing, to the tail, and each other. Otherwise well regarded builders have found these kits to be tricky. In fact, Paul Budzik’s alignment jig instructions were a necessity. Needless to say, getting an above average result of the complicated alignment has been a tricky process, until now.

Tamiya’s fit and design is so spectacular as to be unspectacular. Everything fits, and there are no alignment issues. Those who have never built a P-38 in 1/48 before will wonder why people had so many problems. This is a game changer for P-38s and I hope it portends a 1/32 kit in the near future.

The wheel bays are well detailed, but the linkages for the main gear will be difficult to protect from breakage during painting and handling.

That said, there is always room for improvement. I am not a fan of kits that require building up parts that dangle outside of the wheel bays throughout construction. Tamiya has done that here. If I had another one to build I would experiment to see if you could wait until after paint to get the linkage arms and other bits into the wheel bays. I think you can. The wheel bays are beautifully detailed and have pre made weights that fit into cups in what would be the engine compartment. Based on my unscientific balance tests, I think it’s safe to assume this will not be a tail setter.

Further, to pose the canopy open on the G (if you build the F, the canopy has a particularly interesting and easy to build option) to show off all of the exquisite interior detail (as long as you use some good seat-belts and not the kit decals) requires installing the headrest with a part that protrudes outside of the cockpit and canopy. This is the attachment point for the open canopy on the G but complicates masking during paint. I elected to cut that piece off and for masking will temporarily use the closed canopy option to cover and protect the exposed cockpit. I will manufacture a hinge from some spare photo-etch later. It goes without saying the clear parts are beautiful, distortion free, and fit perfectly with no effort.

The clear parts are beautiful, and I highly recommend HGW fabric belts for WW2 American fighters.

The most difficult part of the construction, to date, has been fitting the armored glass to the gun-sight and that assembly to the wind screen in a way that is a strong bond but doesn’t mar the crystal clear plastic. I used super thin CA a glue looper, and prayer.

It feels weird complaining about these issues, given the substantial ease of construction of the rest of the kit. The perfection of the boom to wing and tail fit is enough to make up for any of the other minor flaws I’ve noted here.

In less than two weeks linear time, and only a handful of hours invested (I’ve spent significantly more time painting and weathering the cockpit and wheel bays than I have for construction of the entirety of the model), I have a P-38. In other builds, at this point, I’d still be building jigs, arguing with boom alignment, and getting ready for significant filling and sanding. Here, I’m looking at a bit of Mr. Surfacer 500 on a few spots, and some primer.

Note: test fitting of the nose/gun assembly shows a typical clean fit, but I am trying to determine if I want to replace the barrels or move forward with the kit barrels and decals.

Unless there are some unforeseen issues, update 3 will be beginning paint and the multi-step process to heavily weather the whole thing.

As always, I keep the photo build log updated in real time.