Author Archive: rapierfighter


Back before Facebook disgusted me enough to leave it, I had been a member of a couple of modeler’s forums. There were the standard questions (“What is the best kit for the Super Belchfire GT in 1/32 scale?”), and then there was the question about airbrushes. It was a good question. Are they necessary? What’s the difference between a single-action and a double-action airbrush? Is one type of airbrush better than the other? Inadvertently, I started a flame war when I said I thought that for my purposes (emphasis added here), single-action was good enough.

So, IS an airbrush necessary for a good paint job? No, not really. To my way of thinking, having an airbrush makes a good paint job easier to achieve.

What’s the difference between a single-action and a double-action airbrush? In the former, pressing the button on top allows the air from the compressor to siphon the paint out of the cup/jar, into the body of the airbrush to mix, and then pushes it out of the airbrush, across the few inches from the surface, and down where the modeler wants it. To adjust the width of the spray pattern, there’s a knob at the back of it that will move the metering needle in and out of the aperture and thus control the width of that spray pattern. It’s a much simpler machine and, and to my way of thinking, is why I like the single-action better. I don’t need to vary the spray pattern very often…and when I do, adjusting the knob at the rear of the airbrush isn’t a hassle. But I DO need to clean the airbrush very often…so a simpler machine makes sense to me.

The double-action airbrush is a bit more complicated. The button on top still releases the compressed air to flow through the airbrush. However, it does something else, too. Pulling back on the button while pressing down it will make the spray pattern wider. One can adjust the width of the pattern on the fly. That’s a great feature to have if it’s needed…I just don’t happen to need it. So a more complicated and harder to clean machine doesn’t make sense to me.

Either tool takes time and practice to get good with. The double-action airbrush tends to take longer to figure out than the single-action airbrush. The double-action airbrush tends to be more expensive than the single-action airbrush, too.

And once the model is done, all painted, decaled, weathered, and on display, can a person tell just by looking at it which type of airbrush painted it? I certainly cannot!

Yes…I’ve simplified things here. I didn’t talk about internal mix and external mix airbrushes, or pretty much anything else about them other than which type of action they are.

M3 Stuart (Academy) Build #3 – Finding a Home for the Battery and Getting Details Prepared for Paint

I discovered Master’s machine gun barrels (their Ground Master Series) when I did the M4A3. The .30 caliber barrels are amazing pieces of work. The cooling shroud is a separate piece from the barrel. The last time I used Master’s barrels, I used superglue to hold the parts in place. This time I used solder, only soldering the parts where they attach to the machine guns’ receivers:

As fine as these parts are, I discovered the last time I used them that painting them doesn’t really show them very well. Yes, they’re better than the kit or resin barrels, but do not show as well once painted. While running around the ‘Net doing things, I encountered someone else who thought the same way about painting these beauties. His solution was to use a solution (ain’t I clever?) that ages brass! As with most solutions, there are problems and limitations with it, but the end result makes dealing with those problems and limitations SO worth it.

The aging compound was purchased from a firm that makes chemicals to treat firearms:

I made a little cup from aluminum foil and immersed the soldered parts in the solution and stirred it a bit. Then I discovered (because the solution leaked all over the bench) that this stuff dissolves aluminum:

The solution starts out relatively clear and as the brass takes on its color, the solution turns blue. The first attempt resulted in the chemicals not really getting inside the cooling jacket to color the barrel. The parts also came out looking rather sooty:

For the next immersion, I used an empty paint bottle (because, well, can you imagine the mess if it still had paint in it?) to hold the solution. The barrels were immersed again and if they had snot, I would have shaken it completely off of them. The result was better, though not perfect. I tried a few times and have come to realize that the next time I use the blackening solution, I’ll do so before assembly (and go back to superglue because I’m thinking that much heat to a treated surface will undo all the coloration). With the coating more comprehensive, I buffed off the sooty surface and really liked the results:

Another feature I wanted to add to this build is a LED inside the fighting compartment. I added that to the firewall and ran the wires into the area where the engine would go. The leads for the LED and battery/switch assembly were ample. They were ample enough to pretty much fill the damned space with just wires. So the wires were trimmed, soldered, and insulated:

Another of those things that had been hovering over my head was the question about how the battery and switch would be accessed. My initial thought was to cut open the inspection plate on the bottom of the hull under the engine compartment where these things were going to live. Then I came out of my head and looked at what was sitting on the bench in front of me. The entire rear end of the lower hull is one piece. Hmmm… If I use that as my access door, I’m not going to make work for myself but instead would use a feature of the kit to my purposes. Okay, so how do I make the entire back of the lower hull open? Well…I could make that entire back hinged. I already had the magnets I’d planned on using to keep the access door closed (wherever I put it), so keeping the access panel closed was already considered. Okay, then I guess I should make some sort of hinge.

I used a piece of 1/16″ copper tubing as my hinge pin. .080 styrene scraps were used as the tubing sockets and were drilled to accept the ends of the tubing and glued to the sides of the hull. I drilled out .060 styrene scraps, slid them over the tubing, and then glued them to the rear plate:

It closed snugly without giving away the fact that it was hinged. However, the plastic blocks needed to have the tops of them radiused so that the door would open far enough to allow access to the switch and, more importantly, the battery because enough access had to be allowed so that the battery could be changed out.

This opening was how far it initially opened, which isn’t close to enough:

After cutting, scraping, and filing (and the requisite cursing and foul invective), this degree of opening will work:

Now the magnet had to be installed. These are rare earth magnets and they’re damned powerful for their size. However, magnetism’s effect decreases with distance. After diddling around with it, I decided that a gap of .015″ between the magnet and the small piece of sheet metal I’d glued to the rear hull plate would hold it closed without excessive force (because this IS plastic…) needed to open it:

I was also unsure how the magnet and the battery would react with each other in a confined (or even wide open, for that matter) space. I used .060 styrene to box the magnet in and keep it from contacting the steel battery:

Then it was time to start getting the interior parts ready for paint. I replaced the 37mm gun barrel with an RB aluminum barrel, which started with the removal of the resin barrel rear and drilling the receiver to socket the barrel’s pin securely and create the pivots for the trunnions:

I’ve had people ask me if all the hassle needed to replace gun barrels is worth it. Yeah…I’d say it is:

I’m using both the suspension and tracks from AFV. One would suppose that having tracks for an M3 Stuart and a suspension for an M3 Stuart from the same manufacturer would mean that the parts fit. Uhm…no. They do not. Note how the further the track wraps around the sprocket, the less the track fits…until it doesn’t fit at all:

Well, THAT makes no sodding sense! And the AFV drive sprocket is more accurate than the one Academy provided (on the left):

But if it doesn’t fit, then its seeming accuracy is an illusion. So even though the kit part doesn’t appear to be as accurate as the AFV part, if it doesn’t fit, then it’s not accurate at all. The Academy sprocket fits fine:

Go figya…

Since I’ve had my bubble burst regarding fit, now wouldn’t be a bad time to check fit for the remainder of the suspension parts. Yes…there will be some fitting required. These are suspension parts for the bogies. The part on the upper right is the kit part. Note how much larger the block where the two different suspension parts are in contact. That’s how much wider the kit’s part is, which means there’s a larger socket where it’s supposed to mount to the hull:

There is also a pin on the bottom of the kit’s hull that has to be changed to a socket for the AFV suspension:

Okay, so I drilled out what needed to be drilled out:

And I added .020 styrene to both sides of the suspension mount (and I draw your attention to the mounts just inboard of the suspension mounts where a clamp slipped off and snapped off both mounting pins…which I will have to fix):

While getting parts prepped to paint, I dry-fitted the upper hull to the lower hull to see what I needed to do to make the switch/battery access work. The first thing I noticed is that I’m going to need a blocking plate under the upper hull so that there’s no chance of see-through happening:

Then I checked (again) the ease of operating the access panel and the access to the things that need to be operated or eventually replaced:

I also checked how well the electronics (such as they are) stow. I’m pleased with how this part all came out, particularly ease of access:

The driver’s lower hatch needed a little detailing. The top of it (to the right of the photo) is hinged so that it has the room to open and it also has a leather-covered pad (probably to keep the driver’s teeth inside his mouth). I scribed a line where the hinge should be and then used .010 scrap and some stretched sprue to replicate the hinge (even though the hinged area has to be folded up to open the hatch, it’s always shown extended in my reference photos). I don’t know what the inner panel on the main body of the hatch is for, but I’ve seen it in references, so I used .010 scrap to replicate it:

I filled the mounting holes (using sprue) for the plastic grab handles because, often even when using the plastic grab handles, the mounting holes tend to be too large. Replace the plastic handles with wire and those holes become WAY too large:

The transmission cover and battery cover were treated the same way:

Seeing as I’m easily confused, I printed out a paint sheet to keep me from overlooking things (which of course I did anyway…):

There are a LOT of small parts that need paint. Holding those with my sausage fingers has shown me that that doesn’t work well. I glued things (using superglue or PVA) to bamboo skewers so that I could get a grip on things (would that getting a grip were that easy in all things):

First I threw down the steel undercoat using Humbrol’s Metal Cote #27003 (my go-to paint anytime I need something to look like steel):

Then I tried an experiment. Normally my next coat would be of flat white. Some rubbing and chipping wear would be added, then it would all be hit with a coat of clear gloss so that I could enhance details with a dark wash. Well, maybe if I used gloss white instead, I could skip an entire step. After the wash would be time to hit things with clear flat. So I tried it:

All went well with the wash, and then was time to throw some clear flat over it all…and here’s where the wheels started to come off that wagon. It seems that a flat coat over a gloss coat has a problem. As the flat coat dries/cures, it fractures as the flat coat contracts and pulls apart. Seems the gloss undercoat doesn’t give enough tooth to the flat so that it will stay together.

Well, damn and bugger.

Luckily a strip and repaint drill wasn’t required. Where the clear flat pulled away from itself won’t be visible once the interior is assembled, weathered, chipped, and stained. Lesson learned.

At this point something that had been nagging at me, the ol’ “Have you forgotten something,” showed that yes…I had forgotten something. Inside the turret cupola are the armored covers for the direct-vision slots and I had neglected to put those in. Well, groovy. I stripped out the steel and white paints (and interestingly, as I went after the acrylic paint with denatured alcohol, I discovered that it also lifted the enamel steel paint as well…so that requires further experimentation also, since turpentine STINKS) so that the resin parts would glue in securely.

The cupola is curved, as are the armored covers. However, the radius of the arcs between one side of the cupola and the other are different. The resin armored covers were fit to the rear of the cupola, not the front. Note the gap under the center of the cover (if you can…not the best photo of it, just the best I could get):

After filing and sanding all three front covers, they now fit as they should:

There is a very slight gap around the edges of all the armored covers so the 3M acrylic putty (LOVE that stuff!) and a chisel-tipped toothpick took care of that (and all the slots were cut open and the armored covers aligned with the openings):

The pistol ports with the kit were okay, but the aftermarket set from Verlinden has an even better set (which is where the armored covers came from…I copied them from the Verlinden resin parts):

The two-part hatch for the cupola needed some work as well. When closed, there is a gap between the two hatches. I added .020 styrene to the edge of one to fix that:

The hinges on the hatch halves doesn’t quite match the hinges on the cupola. Since fixing the hatches on the cupola are easier, that will come soon.

So the inside of the turret will get painted with steel again. And since I’ll have that paint in the airbrush, the guide horns of the tracks also need to be painted steel. So while this stuff is now ready for paint, I have to get the tracks ready for paint too:

M3 Stuart (Academy) Build #2 – Adding Rivets, Fixing a Mistake, LED Placement, and Backdating the Turret

Satisfied with how the .30 caliber machine gun plugs came out, I glued the L-shaped parts to the upper hull:

If you look at the photo above, you’ll see how the vertical side to the left of the opening is doubled. That’s way too thick, so I scraped the inner panel away, which resulted in a more scale thickness.

As more parts were cleaned up, pouring stubs removed, and parts dry-fitted, I came to the realization that somehow I managed to put the floor and walls in the wrong position; they were too far forward. The first step to fixing that was removing all three parts and then reattaching them correctly:

The idea of doing ten track links a day worked well. Most of that tedious task I wasn’t really aware of. I sat there, drinking coffee and drooling, while my fingers did a mindless task…and now that task is done:

The early M3s had rivetted hulls (and turrets, but the turrets switched to all-welded construction before the hulls were switched) and the inside of the hull had straps of steel that supported the hull plates and gave the rivets something to attach things to. Since those sections can be easily seen through the front lift-up hatches, I cut .015 styrene into strips and used Archer’s rivet decals to add that detail:

More rivets will be added to the exterior, but given how fragile they are once laid down, I’ll wait until later (and as close to painting as can be).

One of the things I want to do with this build is to add a light to the interior. The battery and switch will go into the space where the engine would be, and the LED is going here, not finding any references as to where, or even if, the actual tank had a light, I put it at the upper right side rear bulkhead (that little yellow rectangle is the LED; I had the choice between cool white and warm white and I went with the warm white to replicate a 1940 lightbulb):

I tested the amount of light that TINY thing puts out and, once everything is painted white inside, that should be enough light without overdoing things:

The tray on the floor next to the co-driver’s seat held two .30 caliber ammo cans on end. The resin part was too small for the cans I’ll be using, so I made one from .015 styrene scrap:

Frequently while I’m building things (usually what I know how to do), my mind ponders things I’ve yet to do (usually what I don’t know how to do). In this case, I want to backdate the turret from the D58101 turret that came with the kit:

To the earlier D39273 turret:

To do that, I’m using the turret from the old Tamiya M3 kit. I had intended on using the top of that turret to replace the top of the turret that came with the kit. Then I realized that doing it that way would leave me with an internal seam that would need to be filled and sanded. Being an internal seam, doing that, though possible, would be an ass-pain. Instead, I decided to assemble the Tamiya turret to the extent where I could cut the commander’s cupola off as a unit and graft it onto the Academy turret.

So the first step is to assemble the Tamiya turret. The mistake I made, though, was using a rubber band to hold the cupola sides together. The rubber band wicked the glue to places I didn’t want glue to be:

While the glue was curing, I checked the locations of the three pistol ports. One of the changes between the two turrets was that the D58101 turret (on the right below) had the pistol ports higher than the D39276 turret I’m backdating the turret to had them. (The D58101 turret also had the ports arranged asymmetrically and the D39276 had them evenly spaced between the two sides.):

There are also openings in the turret top that need to be filled:

Scrap styrene does the deed for periscope locations and the loader’s hatch fills the hole it’s perfectly sized to fill:

I also needed to see exactly (or within 90-95%) where that cupola sat on the curve of the turret’s side:

With the openings filled, things got smoothed flat:

Then started cutting away the first pistol port:

The plastic from the side of the turret had to be removed as this port not only needed to be moved down, it also needed to be moved forward:

I’d initially thought that I’d have to fill the space where the port came from with styrene…which meant getting the curve and thickness correct. Then I realized that I’d just cut away an L-shaped section of the turret to move the port to. I tacked the port in place and added scrap to fill the kerfs:

I added the section of the turret I’d cut away and puttied over the joints:

Then I added the cupola and puttied the top:

With the cupola added, the top smooth, and the gaps around the repositioned pistol port puttied and sanded, that all looks like this:

One down, two more to do. The right side pistol port, though needing to be moved down the same amount as the left side pistol port, wasn’t as far rearward:

Two down, one more to do. This port was just moved down:

There are a few more details to do to complete the backdate transformation from a D58101 turret to the earlier D39273 turret. But, having this done, it’s now no longer hanging over my head and bugging me!


M3 Stuart (Academy) Build #1 – Parts Layout, Assembling Tracks, and Making Resin Parts Fit

This is the kit:

To start with, it’s not an M3A1. The back of the upper hull of the M3A1 has a curved section that M3s have angled the way this kit has it. So, literally, right out of the box, decisions have to be made about what I’m going to build. If I want to do an A1, then I have to replace the angled section with a rounded section. But mate…there’s war… The interior of the M3 is DRASTICALLY different from the M3A1. The kit has the M3A1 interior…complete with a turret basket that was not used in the M3. So, do I do an M3 and change the interior or do an M3A1, leave the interior as it is (or will be, it’s in parts presently) and change the outer hull?

Let’s do the M3…it needs more work to represent!

So presently, these are some of the items I’ll be adding to the kit.

The interior is done by Tiger Model Designs:

The tracks and suspension by AFV Club:

2019-03-28 08.JPG

My intention is to build a representation of a mid to late production M3. That intention rules out two of the four possible turrets that had been fitted to the M3. That leaves two possible turret options to choose from. The different turrets have been referred to by their drawing numbers. The first two turret designs have flat-faced sides, extending up at the left rear corner to form the commander’s cupola (differing only in that the first turret was riveted and the second welded together). The “horseshoe” turrets, so called because instead of having a faceted side have curved sides, are what interest me. The question is do I use the kit’s part, the D58101 turret that has no cupola and two hatches (that’s what’s pictured on the cover of the kit’s box), or do I go with the earlier D39273 turret that has a rounded cupola only.

If I go with the D39273 turret, I’ll use a combination of the old Tamiya M3 kit’s turret by removing the top from it and grafting it onto the Academy turret. If I do this, I’ll use (some of) these parts from the Tamiya kit:

The first time I did individual link tracks was when I did Tamiya’s M4A3. Tedious. I try to learn from errors, so this time, instead of just sitting there for hours and hours putting little tiny track bits together, I’m going to do something different. I’ll do ten links a day:

The first thing I noticed as I was removing parts from sprues is that there is a faint ejector pin mark on one face of every track shoe:

Will it show up after paint? Will it be obvious if I don’t remove them? Dunno. I do know that if I remove them, the answer to both questions will be “no.” I used double-sided tape to stick a piece of 400 grit to the bench and each side with the ejector pin mark is quickly sanded smooth:

Then I noticed that the connectors fit the shoe pins a little too loosely…loosely enough that I had no idea how I could keep the parts assembled short of gluing them. Nope…made that mistake with the Sherman. Instead, I used a set of smooth-jawed pliers to press the pins SLIGHTLY, causing them to go out-of-round which allowed just enough friction (something I’m told I’m good at producing) for the connectors to stay on the pins. If you look closely at the pins in the below photo, you might be able to see where the tops of them have been SLIGHTLY flattened on the right side of the shoe:

Doing the tracks a bit daily is SO MUCH BETTER:

This is what the kit provided for the drive cover at the front of the lower hull:

AFV’s suspension kit is obviously taken directly from their M3A3 kit (I think). They just produced the sprues that have the suspension parts, packaged them, and sold them (thankfully!) as an update set. What’s nice about that for me is that this drive cover came with the suspension parts (cat hairs were produced on-site):

Now I just had to saw off the kit’s nose and graft that one on (later, I added Grandt Line bolts to the circular depressions):

Much more nice better!

Another inaccuracy to the Academy kit is the bottom of the sponsons. The fenders attach underneath them but no attempt was made to blend the fenders to the sponsons. Academy’s engineers missed that and did blend them, so that has to go. First, scribe a line to delineate the bottom of the armor, then cut away what should not be there:

Having accomplished that, I needed to make the sponson bottoms fit the cutouts:

Just have to do the other side…

There is always fitting when using aftermarket parts. Sometimes is just a little tweak or two, sometimes it approaches re-engineering. So I fitted, sawed, filed, sanded and glued…first the sides and floor:

As produced from the factory, .30 caliber machine guns were installed in the sponsons. As received in the field, those useless things were taken out. It’s pretty useless when it’s removed and empty space is more valuable. (Eventually the factories stopped putting the machine guns in there.) Armor plates were welded over the holes.

When I have to put plastic over something like this where its placement has to be aligned over something I won’t be able to see with the plastic in place, I use clear plastic (which turned out to be butyrate, so the styrene cement had no effect on them…but the ring left behind allowed me to align it anyway):

There are direct vision slots at the sides of each of the driver and bow gunner positions, so I drilled them out and trimmed them. Then I just put the panel in place to use as an alignment tool because those slots are supposed to go all the way through):

Yep…there’s gonna be LOTS of resin carving and fitting to come (and this is just the fighting compartment…there’s still the turret…whichever one I decide to go with):

Stuart – A Brief Overview

Until the advent of the M-24, America’s armor was mired in WWI and the armor of the 20s and 30s showed that. The M3 wasn’t an inspired design, even though it was the culmination of US armor design of the 30s. The main inspiration at the beginning of US armor (not counting the license-built French FT17) was the British Vickers six-ton (which was actually closer to eight tons) export tank. The M3 evolved from the M1 Combat Car (no…not something found on the Long Island Expressway…though that’s not a bad idea) and the M2 Light Tank. For really convoluted thought processes and design considerations, because the Cavalry was, by law, forbidden to have tanks, the M1 was called a “Combat Car” and was used by the Cavalry. The almost identical M2 was called a “Light Tank” and was used by Army Infantry…and both the M1 and M2 were built at the Army’s Rock Island Arsenal. From my viewpoint, it seems that even from the outset, nobody could really decide who was getting what equipment or what it should be termed. As a base to this institutional indecision, all this was happening (the limited extent it was happening) without much funding (Congress was very parsimonious during the inter-war years and kept military spending VERY low.)

Both the M1 and M2 were armed with machine guns, not cannons; the M1 with a .30 and .50 caliber machine gun and the M2 with two .50 caliber machine guns. The reasoning for this armament was that the .50 caliber machine gun could penetrate most armor of the early to mid-30s.



And then came the Spanish Civil War. This war was a preview of what would and would not work for machines and tactics during WWII. One of the observations was that Soviet T-26, armed with a 45mm cannon, was a more effective war machine than the German PzKpfw I, armed with a pair of 7.92mm machine guns or the Italian CV.3/35 (being turretless, it’s actually more of what is now called a “tankette” and less a light tank) armed with a pair of 8mm machine guns.


PzKpfw I





It was decided that the M2 (the M2A3, specifically) needed to be upgunned and, since at the time the 37mm anti-tank gun was effective, that would do.

Defensively, it was determined that sufficient armor to stop a 37mm from penetrating (even though the Soviet T-26 was armed with a 45mm tube) needed to be added. However, it wasn’t merely a matter of just bolting/riveting more armor on. With more and thicker armor came more weight and the hull lengthened to accommodate a larger turret. To be able to push more mass around the engine was also upgraded to the Continental W670-9 radial aircraft engine. To be able to handle all the additional weight, the suspension bogies (using vertical volute springs) were moved closer together and the rear idler wheel was greatly enlarged and became a direct part of the load-bearing suspension. Most of the improvements to the M2 line were also applied to the M1 line as well (specifically theM-1A1).

And none of this, even while the US Army was beginning to develop medium tanks (like virtually every major combatant of WWII was doing, except the Japanese), addressed the role lightly armed and armored fighting vehicles had on a battlefield where medium tanks were starting to appear (though later in the war, light tanks were referred to as “anti-tank gun bait,” hardly complimentary).

For whatever reason, in 1940 the US Cavalry mostly ignored the lessons of the Spanish Civil War and continued to concentrate their efforts on the M1 series of combat cars.

The changes necessary to turn the M1/M2 line of vehicles into something that could handle the 37mm, its recoil, and mass, evolved into the M3 line.


The first widespread use of the M3 was lend-lease vehicles with the Brits in northern Africa. Though the initial shipment of Lend-Lease tanks was of the M2A2 in the summer of 1941, once production lines started producing the M3, deliveries switched to the M3.

As a side note…

There are no period references indicating that the Brits actually called the M3 the “Honey.” It’s not a British phrase indicating anything other than a bee product. The US didn’t name the M3 the “Stuart.” The Brits did.

The November 1941 operations, Crusader, was the first time the M3 was committed to battle and they did not fare very well. The M3 never really fared that well again in battle…not counting the Pacific.

For whatever reason(s), the Japanese did not invest adequately in armor, armor tactics, or anti-armor tactics (the latter they devised as they went along). When the M3 encountered the light tanks (some of which were called “medium” tanks by the Japanese…pardon me while I giggle) they fared better. The Marines first used the M3 during the Guadalcanal campaign effectively (also learning on the go how to fight with them and how to protect them against a very determined and inventive foe). The 37mm gun had a cannister round that worked well against massed infantry charges.

The M3 matured into the M3A1, then evolved into the M3A3 (almost exclusively provided to allies) and finally the M5 series. It was obsolescent at its first deployment and rapidly obsolete shortly after. It was reliable but had a very limited range (75 miles on hard surfaces…roads…45 miles off roads, and numerous M3s were captured by Germans in northern Africa after they’d run out of fuel and abandoned). Neither its armor nor gun were sufficient when it was first deployed and time did not improve those situations, not being remotely remedied until the advent of an entirely new light tank was produced, the M24.

SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #25X – A Pause in the Action

If you’ve been following this build (though some of you, Bruce, don’t seem to be looking quite closely enough, Bruce), by now you know I’m not exactly thrilled with the decal situation I have to deal with. They’re too thick. Could I make them work? My Ego tells me “DEFINITELY.” However, it’s the very same Ego that on more than one occasion landed me in the ER telling the attending nurse/doctor, “Well, it seemed like a good idea…”

It wasn’t. Ever.

I’m NOT PLEASED with the results of my decal-making endeavor(s). I was just about to bite the bullet (where the hell did that phrase originate, anyway?) and continue when I heard a rumor that a reputable decal making company is producing two new sheets for the SR-71 Blackbird! I contacted the firm and the rumor is correct. Since this build isn’t for me, I discussed this new development with the person this build is for. Thankfully, he’s a craftsman (different mediums) and understands that the time “saved” now taking shortcuts results in something that’s never really correct…and every time the eye falls on it, the thought, “Why the intercourse didn’t I wait and do it properly?!” follows.

So I’m waiting and doing it properly.

At present, I have about 775 hours into this thing. What…like I should take a shortcut now?!

I’m going to put this thing (safely) away and covered for now. In the meantime, I’m going to start a different project.

See y’all here when the decals are in hand! (And hopefully at the next build as well.)

SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #24 – Not Quite Ready for “Good Enough” & I Kick Back

When looking close at the surface, I discovered that troweling on the clear flat had unforeseen consequences. Look at all those crazed lines:

In addition to the crazed surface, also notice that each of the decals has a border that doesn’t match the paint. Between the two, that has to go (actually, either by itself would be enough).

And go they did…ALL OF IT:

And that’s how I spent most of February…rubbing things down with alcohol and sanding. And the end result after painting it again is this:

Okay. This I can work with. Next is to put down (reworked) decals again. But this time I think I’m gonna try something a little bit different…

SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #23 – Not Quite Ready for Paint and Decals Kick My Ass

Okay…I see a pattern here. I do some work, I get to what I think is close to the end, and then I suggest that maybe the next post will be the last. Yeah… I see the pattern and at this point, I shall not declare the next post may be the last one. I’ll just let y’all be surprised.

Obviously, I thought this would be the last post on this build. The underside was painted, the topside was primed, all I needed to do was to paint the topside with color-corrected paint like this:

I had the decal paper, I got both sets of graphics (the decals that were printed on clear paper and the decals that were printed on white paper) sized and printed out, and then I started putting the under-decals (printed on white paper) where I wanted them. I started with the refueling receptacle and discovered that the white decal paper was fairly tough; had I treated commercial decals as roughly as I did this one, I’ve no doubt it would have ripped:

And then I realized that I didn’t have quite all the decals I need. There is the crest for the “AF Logistics Command” on the vertical stabilizers (and what the hell the Logistics Command had a Blackbird for I’ll never figure out) that I didn’t have. I went to my reference photo and copied that section of the photo and started converting it from a photo to a graphic for decals:


Once I’d taken care of that, then I was able to continue. When I started laying down the decals with white backing, I noticed that where I’d cut the decals from the paper, the white of the paper showed at the edges:

Once all the white paper decals were down, I used paint to cover the white edges of them:

The decals I’m using were from the kit’s decal sheet that I scanned into the computer. So that means that this decal was wrongly sized at manufacture:

In the process of producing two sheets of usable decals, I managed to make several more (of both types) that were not usable. That meant I had extra decals that I could use to do what Italeri evidently didn’t figure out:

Instead of trying to wrestle with the long decal on the top that delineates the no-step area, I cut it into four easier-to-manage sections. Finally, all the under decals were in place on top (I’ll do the underside once the topside is all finished):

Until this point, I was pleased with myself for having figured out how to avoid using old decals in uncertain condition. As I was putting the under decals down, I thought that maybe they were a bit on the thick side and hoped that a coat of clear matte would take care of that. As I started putting down the color decals, my hope gradually vanished.

As soon as I started putting the color decals down, I realized (after approximately ten minutes as I tend to be somewhat dense at times) that the red decals were not exactly the same size as the under decals! I have absoLUTEly no idea why that happened. I used the red decals FOR the white ones, the only difference being the color ink that would print. But nope…the red decals are just slightly smaller. That meant that for the top decals of the no-step markings I cut the “no step” away from the stripes and aligned them separately:

As you can probably figure, this did not please me. At. All.

Once all of the color decals were down, treated with decal setting solution and solvent, I let the model sit overnight and the next day put down a couple of light coats of Tamiya Flat Clear (TS-80) from a rattle-can to cover the decals, create the degree of light reflection I wanted, and blend in the decals.

The decals did not blend in.

The decals did not REMOTELY come close to blending in.

Once panic had subsided (and after a dozen phone calls to friends, hoping I could convince one (or more…I’m adaptable) to stop by, take my shotgun, and put me out of my misery) (none of whom stepped up, in case you were wondering), I thought of a fix. And a fix was desperately needed because if these decals didn’t work, I’d have to strip the top down to bare plastic (and resin and putties), repaint it, and then…and THEN…

::shudders:: Use the old kit decals instead. I cut out one of the decals from the old sheet that I knew I wouldn’t use and tested it.

It came off in three pieces (threatening the entire time to shatter). So that showed me that the decals were probably just over the line separating usable from unusable. That means I HAVE TO make these decals work.

After an inordinate amount of time (most of that time spent whimpering, whining, gnashing teeth (both of them) AND wringing my hands) I figured out a method that just might save things. Saving things was good because the alternative was a nicely built (I hope) SR-71 without any markings. The solution was to cover the decals in a very thick coat of flat clear. Once the clear had dried, sand down the raised areas (stopping before sanding decals) in the hope that with enough paint on there, I can fill that stepped edge of the decals and make it look as if it’s flat.

To make the coats of flat clear any thicker, I think I would have needed a trowel (note the panel lines…there is SO MUCH PAINT on this thing that the panel lines look like something usually found on a diecast model):

I started sanding with 2000 grit paper; I didn’t want to blow through the paint and dig into decals. When that seemed to take forever (seemed to because the 2000 grit didn’t seem to be doing anything), I went to 1500. Then 600. 400. Finally 320 started doing what I wanted…taking the paint down before I ended up being moved to an Assisted Living Facility.

Note the difference between the left side of the photo under the canopies on the side of the fuselage where things haven’t been sanded, and the right side of the photo where they have been:

And the panel lines really did look like diecast panel lines. I remedied that by, starting with 320, sanding up through the grits to 2000 (rescribing as necessary along the way):


Yes…in several places I not only sanded through all the clear flat, I also sanded through the black paint, and then through the primer right down to plastic. But two things: The panel lines now look like PANEL LINES and not trenches, and once all the decals are done on top, I can repaint the black once I’m done:


At this point, I came about six inches from complete disaster.

I have reached over, under, and around this model for many, many, months and hundreds of hours. No problem. Evidently, I was saving up all the small problems of reaching over, under, and around this model for ONE REALLY MASSIVE PROBLEM. While returning my arm to a more usual position after having reached over the model, my cuff caught it and knocked it clean off the workbench.

I caught it, falling toward an oak floor, landing gear down (of course), SIX INCHES from the floor. I would have sworn that my ability to move that fast had gone away forever a few decades ago (three, if that sort of thing matters to you). I caught it by the outside wing on the right side (right side because I caught it and if that doesn’t impress you, you are impress-proof). As I caught it, I heard that little “snick” that indicates that something formerly adhering to something else had ceased any sort of adherence. Indications were correct. Where the outer wing met the curve of the nacelle was a plastic-to-resin join of superglue. It cracked, requiring regluing, sanding, etc.:

What REALLY impressed me with this almost-disaster what not having to change any undergarments because shock and horror did not affect any sphincters adversely. (Something else I’m inordinately proud of.)

Since I have to finish troweling on the clear flat and sanding away the steps created by too-thick decals. It’s a lot of sanding and I’d rather not have to sand everything. I masked the areas of the upper surface with tape I don’t want to coat under a very thick layer of clear. Once it’s dry, I’ll start sanding and rescribing.


SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #22 – Not Quite a Myriad of Small Tasks and Ready for Paint

There are still more things that need to be attended to before I can begin painting the overall build. I started by painting the inside of the landing gear doors:

In addition to paint, there are decals (lots of decals) that need to be addressed. The kit came with decals…and if the kit is old, so are the decals. I have no idea how the kit, and decals, were stored. I’ve been surprised by decals that looked in good shape, but when wet, they fractured into many tiny, unusable, shards. I’ve already ascertained that decals for this aircraft are preciously rare (and not what I need), so I have to use these decals. But since I don’t want to use these decals, something else has to be done.

I started that “something else” by making a 600dpi scan of the decal sheet. Then I digitally reworked the image for sharpness and clarity, which I then printed onto plain paper so that I could scale the digital scan to the required size. My intention was to print the decals onto decal paper and use those decals.

Of course, things aren’t quite that simple. Inkjet printers don’t print white. Where white is needed, the printer just doesn’t print and lets the white of the paper take care of that. Fine for documents, not so fine for multicolored decals, of which one color is white. The work-around for that is to print decals that require white on white decal paper and then use those white-paper decals under the colored decals.

Not all of the kit’s decals will be used, so I copied the ones I will be using and separated them into the under-decals (printed on white paper) and top-decals (on clear decal paper):

Being INKjet, the ink is the usual ink and will smear when wetted. And since decals get wetted, something has to be done to keep that from happening…something like coating the inked surface with a clear fixative:

So far so good. So far, though, only goes so far. When I cut out a decal and applied, it, however, things just went immediately into the crapper. IT’S TOO FORNICATING THICK:

Okay, so let’s try using this stuff on it:

And then this stuff:

And they didn’t have much effect:

An hour later, not much more of an effect:

And not much the following two hours:

Well. THAT didn’t work…and I had to scrape it off and repaint it, too:

And since I’m going to continue to try to get these INTERCOURSING DECALS to work, I did what I should have done at the outset…make a decal test plate from painted styrene:

One thing I ascertained with certainty is that the red ink on the black background means the decals will be invisible. That means I have to double up on all the decals because they all need white backgrounds to be seen. So I had to make another set of decals in white to put down under the colored decals:

Next trick was to put down the white decal and then the colored decal, and then align them:

In this part of the adventure, I learned a couple of things. If I thought one decal was too thick, two are TOO THICK. The other thing I learned is that the more I moved the colored decal around, the more ink I removed with the cotton swab.

Not acceptable.

Here I stalled for a few days. I had no idea on how to proceed and even considered saying a prayer (and thereby risk being struck by lightning) and use the kit decals. Then I found out that LASERjet printed decals don’t require a fixative layer! This is good news for a couple of reasons. First, not throwing a layer of essentially clear paint on top of an already too thick decal makes sense to me as each decal will only be half as thick…and each decal needs two. Secondly, fixative isn’t a decal. Not being a decal, it doesn’t respond to solvents while the decal under the fixative does, resulting in that uselessly wrinkled result. My hope is that the laserjet printed decals will be useably thinner AND respond positively to setting and solvent solutions.

Laserjet decal paper was ordered and once it arrives, that particular hurdle will be gone at again. In the meantime, there are other things to do.

Things like making the hydraulic struts from paper clips and then attach the doors to the fuselage…which I was in the process of doing when I noticed that the damned doors are too narrow, so THAT had to be fixed, puttied, sanded, and installed:

Then I needed to attach the linkage rods from the main landing gear to the doors (using .010 strips):

To keep masking tape from adhering to anything I don’t want it to (which is often the only thing it will adhere to), I wrapped the delicate bits in cigarette rolling papers, then stuffed the bays with cotton (to keep air out and the paint the air is carrying) and finished off with tape:

And then I painted the underside matte black using a Tamiya rattle can (TS6):

The upper side I covered with Tamiya’s light gray Fine Surface Primer:

And just like that, I’m at the painting stage! (And today the laserjet decal paper came in, so more about that in the next, and hopefully last installment of this build.)

SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #21 – A Myriad of Small Tasks to Ready the Build for Paint

With the corners of the vertical stabilizers sharpened, it was time to add them:

There isn’t a lot of surface area to bond the stabilizers to the nacelles so instead of adding green putty, which isn’t structural, I used epoxy putty, which is:

While the epoxy putty was curing, I pulled the parts out that needed to be painted and painted the landing gear parts:

When possible, if I have to replicate a steel part, I try to use steel instead of steel-painted plastic. The difference is evident. The upper parts are the steel-painted plastic, its lower counterpart is steel. The large cylinders are landing gear parts (using steel welding rod), the smaller ones on the penny are for the canopies (using straight pins):

Then I needed to attach the control surfaces in the slightly-drooped position. Doing this offers more visual stimulation but I really dislike the task itself (frankly, I’d rather scribe lines) (spits). Once I had the inner control surfaces in place, the gaps on the lower sides had to be filled; I used styrene to do that:

I am SO GLAD when they are all done and added:

At this point I looked at where I had masked off the clear sections of the canopies. Then I realized I’d masked them in August of 2017. Oh bugger. Masking tape tends to separate paper from adhesive if the tape is left in place too long. Sixteen months qualifies as too long. It would be better for me to attend to that now before paint is laid down:

With the masking tape removed, a cotton swab dipped in lighter fluid dissolved and removed the stuck on adhesive left behind:

The next bit of masking tape won’t be there as long:

When I started to add the inlet spikes to the engine intakes, I was only half successful at first. The port (or left, if I’m not trying to impress) spike went in fine (or so I thought at the time…later on I discovered it had drooped a little before the glue set…and now there isn’t any way to fix that, so the next spike would have to have the same, inaccurate, droop). The starboard (or right, if I’m still trying to impress), however, managed to dismount its connecting point as I was pushing it into place. I thought I had that assembly well-glued, reality indicated otherwise. Aside from the obvious, the part that came completely disconnected is inside the nacelle:

I was wroth and most vexed. Oh, and I was COMPLETELY LIVED as well. I came up with two possibilities that could fix the problem. The first was the most complicated (of course), involving cutting open the nacelle behind the spike mount and gluing it in place from inside. The second was simpler, involving taking a 1/8″ brass rod and putting a 90 degree bend in it and using that to pull the mount forward into contact with its attachment point. I decided to try the simpler fix first this time, figuring that if it didn’t work, I could always cut the thing open later. I don’t know it it was exactly luck, but so far it seems to have worked. The inlet spike in the foreground is the one where its mount came loose (and by the way, isn’t this thing starting to look like an SR-71?):

The next step was to attach the landing gear. Along the way, I’d dry-fitted the landing gear several times and each time I had no problem with fitting the trunions into the landing gear bays. So with everything inside the bays painted and the fuselage parts all permanently attached, of course the sodding things won’t fit inside the openings; neither main landing gear does:

As there was NO “Plan B” to fit these things, my only option was to cut a notch in the fuselage to allow these parts to sit inside the bay, then to plug the gaps I’d have to cut…and so I did:

And fit they did. Here’s the build standing on its own legs for the first time:

With the major landing gear components installed, the lines needed to be attached to them as well as the extension/retraction cylinders:

At the absolute tail of the fuselage are the fuel vents. The Blackbird had to deal with a weight limit on the amount of fuel it could have for its takeoff roll. If it had too much fuel, the tires showed a disconcerting tendency to come apart. Since this tends to be a specifically bad idea (not just for stability but because the early wheels were constructed of magnesium and magnesium burns MOST intensely…which tends to be bad for the paint job), takeoff fuel weight was limited to 80,000 pounds or less. Conversely, when landing, the weight limit was still the limit so if the aircraft was approaching with too much fuel aboard, the excess was dumped out of the fuel vents.

I constructed this section out of .005 styrene:

Another small detail was to add a fin-shaped antenna under the port nose (or left, if I’m not trying to impress):

Since I’d done so much work on the back of the fuselage from so many different colored pieces, a coat of primer showed me the few areas that still needed some attention:

At this point, I realized that all I need to do is to attach the landing gear doors, mask the landing gears, and this thing is ready to paint!

Oh my…this thing is almost done…

SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #20 – Engine Nacelles Done and Afterburners Added

With the engine nacelles mostly done, it was time to permanently attach them to the rest of the model. Before I started that process, I knew that there would be much handling because (and here’s a surprise) there are substantial gaps between the engine nacelles and the inner wing panels. And because my case of laser-focus frequently likes to gnaw on me, I knew that the edges of the fuselage chines (those VERY THIN edges) wouldn’t fall within the scope of my laser-focus and would get bumped on the workbench…probably on the worst part of the workbench, the hard, unyielding, and unforgiving edges of the workbench. As I’ve already discovered, any bump leaves a divot at the point of contact on the chines, meaning I would probably spend many hours chasing my inattention and rebuilding each of the (probably many) divots.

This time I manage to get ahead of my inattention and fixed the problem before it became a problem…wrap the forward fuselage in bubble wrap:

Subsequent events proved that this was a good idea.

With no more little tasks to distract me, it was time to pull the trigger and glue the ill-fitting (he says as if this is a new thing) nacelles to the inner wing sections:

I was quite generous with the styrene cement and before it set up too much to move the nacelles, I aligned them and used tape to hold them where I wanted them…then let things sit overnight:

The next day, with the glue as cured as it will ever become, the tape was removed and I looked at the gaps (you can click on the photos and zoom in on them if you’ve a mind to, although to me they look like they should be visible from orbit):

I used epoxy putty for its strength and additional adhesive properties to hold the nacelles securely in place. I laid down masking tape to keep the epoxy putty from going places I’d rather it did not and ran a strip of tape around the edges of the fragile resin intakes to protect them from nicks:

The epoxy putty takes about 24 hours to cure just about completely. With the gaps stuffed full of the putty, this was set aside overnight. In addition to filling the gaps, the putty was also going to enable me to fix the misalignment at the leading edges of the inner wings where they met (sort of) the nacelles.

The next day I sanded the putty, starting with 100 grit, working my way through 220, 320, 400, and 600. I was QUITE PLEASED with how well I was able to get the leading edges and nacelles to play nicely with each other:

I used Tamiya’s TS-6 Matte Black rattle can as a primer to check surfaces and, with a few minor tweaks still required, found myself very pleased with how this problem was resolved:

With the afterburners painted and assembled, I wanted to keep paint from infiltrating the interior. I stuffed a cotton ball into the interior and taped over the ends:

With the afterburners glued in, the fit problems and gaps become evident:

Again, the epoxy putty does double duty; it fills the gaps and adds more attachment points for the assemblies:

Filing, sanding, and scribing gets me to this (these?) point(s?):

The vertical stabilizers/rudders were assembled, puttied, and scribed. Then they were dry-fitted to see how things are going (and they’re going…and they’re going just as everything else has been…fit problems):

While fitting, filling, and sanding the vertical stabilizers/rudders, I noticed that three of the four corners of each part were not as sharp as reference photos show them to be; there were radiuses at the corners that shouldn’t be there. The corners were cut away and .060″ styrene blocks were added:

Filing brought down the excess plastic and sharpened the corners nicely and the latex putty filled in the small seams:

A bit of sanding and now all the corners are nice and sharp:

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Next step is to attach them to the nacelles.

SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #19 – Engine Nacelles Get Some Attention

One of the areas that I thought would give me problems were the replacement resin engine inlets.

Each assembly is comprised of four parts. Fitting them requires that the leading edges of the engine openings be cut back and that the insides of the engine nacelles be sanded/filed away so that they would fit inside the openings. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy that part of the build went:

The round openings in the center of the inlets are where the shock cones attach. Here’s one dry-fit:

While the superglue was curing, I reworked most of the PE grills for a better fit. In the process, a friend of mine informed me of an acrylic putty that he suggested might work well for fine filling jobs:

This product is intended for the autobody trade. It certainly works well for certain applications in modeling!

The green putty works well for filling medium to small voids and depressions, but it doesn’t “feather” out, well. When the coat of putty is sanded very thin, it tends to break off at the thinnest sections and the epoxy putty is even worse to feather. I needed something very fine that would adhere strongly to styrene and this 3M stuff does that well:

So now I have three grades of putty, very fine (3M acrylic putty), medium but non-structural (the Squadron Green I’ve been using), and strong and structural (Aves Apoxy Sculpt):

So, now that I have the resin engine intakes in place, it’s time to fit them. As is evident, the plastic doesn’t quite match the resin:

To start to fix that, I filed and sanded down the areas that are too high. Once done, I used the epoxy putty to bridge the gaps and to fill in sections of plastic that were below the edges of the resin:

After the first application of epoxy putty and working it down, there were a few places that needed another application of the stuff:

Once the putty had cured and been filed/sanded, there were several places where I needed a fine putty that would feather well…which I just happened to have, now:

Once the acrylic putty was sanded smooth, all surfaces met perfectly:


Then I replaced the pitot tube/yaw sensor with an AMAZING piece. This part is so fine that it looks more like a needle, an actual needle, than it does a model part. It’s comprised of three parts, all of which fit within each other to produce an incredibly detailed part. Once assembled, I cut off the kit part, drilled a socket into the mount, and got the drooped angle of the pitot/probe where it belongs:

With the intakes of the engines taken care of, I turned my attention to the engine outlets. My initial thought was to use the PE afterburner (AB) vanes:

I like the level of detail and the scale dimensions. Unfortunately, the vanes attach to the kit part (shown above between the copper of the vanes and the tan of the resin). What’s unfortunate about that is that there is a curved interior detail that’s missing from the kit parts but present in the resin parts. Yes…I could modify the kit part accordingly, but the technical phrase for this job would be, “a bitch.” Had enough of “bitch” jobs, thanks. Yes, the resin vanes are also going to take some work to approximate what I’m after and the ends of them will be thicker than I’d like, but it’s still less work than filling in the kit parts and then getting that filled section’s profile correct.

If you look closely at the vane sections below, you’ll note they’re slightly oval. Hot water and fingertip pressure will fix that (in addition to cutting away the excess resin):

Once free and reshaped, the edges of the vanes needed to be sharpened up. To support a fairly thin resin part (the vanes), the vanes were attached to their mount (compare the part on the left, which has been reworked, to the one on the right, which has not):

Then the notches that appear between the vanes had to be cut out (done vanes on the left, unstarted on the right):

And of course, that was done again on the part on the right:

Along the way, I discovered that (with the exception of the epoxy putty, which just would not work for such tiny fixes…not enough surface area to effect a good bond) none of the putties I have bond to this resin formulation. That meant I had to use small fragments of the resin that had to be removed to fill the small bubble holes:

I dry-fit the components to see how they fit and, mostly, they do, but later on there will be some fitting to get the resin parts to match the kit parts at the nacelles correctly:

Yeah, so, I like what I see! If I can paint this correctly, the parts should look tres chic! So I started by laying out the colors with the parts they’re going onto:

And then I got the paint onto the parts:

Now painted, pastels created the sense of reality. The inside of the vanes was painted Tamiya’s Titanium Silver (X-32) and over painted with Tamiya’s Flat Clear (TS-80 rattlecan) so that the pastels would stick. The inner surface of the afterburner body and the conical flame holder were painted Vallejo’s Model Air Aged White (71.132), and the turbine blades were painted a mixture of Mr. Hobby’s Burnt Iron (H76) and Tamiya’s Flat White (XF-2) before having the blade edges dry-brushed with silver. Once the paint all dried, I used dark orange, medium gray, light gray, and black pastels to create the “cooked” look:

Before and after:

Then black paint needed to go on while I still had easy access to the parts:

Once the paint had dried, I scraped off just enough paint from the face of the “fins”  for the vane mounts to have some surface to glue onto:

And then I’m reminded of why I generally do not do any work in the morning until the coffee percolates upwards into where my brain used to be.

I dropped one of the assemblies and took a nick out of one edge:

Y’know…the edge that was painted and had pastels applied. That edge.

Ever quick on the uptake (yeah, right), I finished my coffee. Silently. No cursing, screaming, or scared cat kind of quiet. I knew it was time to fix the nick once I figured out how to fix the nick. Glue a small piece of resin into it:

Then use a SHARP knife to whittle the resin into obscurity (because dull knives tend to tear plugs out), add a dab of paint and a touch of pastel (the inside of the former nick is in the second photo):

From every photo I’ve seen of the Blackbird while it’s parked, either at active airfields or in museums, the control surfaces at the trailing edges of the wings droop slightly. I cut the inner control surfaces away from the inner wings so that means I have to do the outer wings:

This time, I added a sheet of .030 styrene to the inside of each wing. Before adding them, I scored the length and bent them along the scored line to the approximate angle I want the control surfaces to droop:

I like the way that worked so well, I’m going to do it to the inner wings as well.

Again, I’d done SO much work fitting parts and pieces that I was losing sight of the state of my work. This time, instead of using proper primer, I used a rattlecan of Tamiya’s Flat Black (TS-6) to check fit and if I can paint this without packing up the grills I spent so much damned time fitting:

Yep…worked just fine… Very glad to know I can get those grills to display!

SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #18 – Fuselage Tedium Continues…With a Much-appreciated Detour on the Engine Nacelles

After taking August off and away from the bench, I’m back at it. And since the fuselage isn’t finished, yet, I’m back at that, too.

I’ve done so much work on sections of the fuselage and, more importantly in terms of my ancient eyes, have used so many different materials that my ability to see the surface has diminished. To work around that, cue the primer! Normally I tend to not use primer as each coat of paint (of whatever type) fills in details, some of which I have labored to include. But this time, what the light does as it reflects off a surface that is mostly black, some white, and the green of putty, makes getting things correct has become a struggle.

Sod that…grab the rattlecan of primer (Tamiya Medium Gray):

Once under a uniform gray coat of primer, areas that still need work become evident (for me, the most important part of priming). These areas still need further sanding for filled areas to become invisible:

Some areas need just a little bit of filling (the holes will show you where they are):

Not everything needs more work, though:

And one spot needs just a little tweaking (note how a thin coat of primer, just enough to cover, has almost completely filled the two grills at the bottom-center of the photo):

After sanding and another touch of primer, one spot still needs more work:

Putty takes care of the small holes and surface imperfections:

With those small sections attended to, I wanted to check the…well…”fit” isn’t quite accurate, but it’s the least foul word I can think of…of how the engine nacelles and outer wings…well…yeah. Look closely. Where the nacelles attach to the inner wings has a LARGE GAP and those sections are supposed to meet:

Yeah…that’s going to need some work (and it’s going to take enough work that in contrast, I didn’t even mention the gap that runs the length of the attachment point). But before any fitting of these parts can happen, there are a number of details and modifications that have to be done to the nacelles/wings, first. It will be MUCH easier to do the work and make the modifications before these parts are attached.

About this time, the upgraded engine afterburner sections arrived, giving me a sincerely appreciated break from the ongoing fuselage diddling. The white conical parts (fuel spray assemblies) are 3D printed parts (something I expect I’ll be seeing more of as that technology becomes more affordable and commonly used) and the remainder of the parts are nicely cast resin:

I checked fitment of the provided parts and I like them much more than the modified kit parts I had done. It’s interesting in that I like the PE afterburner feathers much more than I do the resin parts that came with this set and they fit the kit parts more precisely. When it comes time to add these to the nacelles, the combination of both AM parts sets and kit parts will really dress up the business ends of the engines.

One of the things I wanted to see was how easily (or not at all) the engine intakes are going to fit. That AM set is very nicely cast resin and requires a bit of modification to the nose of the engine nacelles. For the resin intakes to fit, the molded-on lips had to be removed and the leading edge of the intakes cut back (the AM set provides a new, more accurate, part).

These are the intake parts:

The resin parts were cleaned up and everything fitted, then glued into one unit (twice):

With the resin parts assembled, it was time to cut, carve, and sand the nacelles to slide these things into place. The nacelle on the left is unmodified, the nacelle on the right has had its lip removed:

Once I had one side cut back and cleaned out, I slid the resin parts into place to see how they fit. There will be some work required (big surprise) to make them fit correctly but the overall effect is good:

I cut, carved, and sanded the other nacelle and the other intake “fit” equally “well”. Each side is specific to its location and I dry-fitted the shock cones to see how it all worked together. Again, some work required but the end result will be worth the effort:

There are replacement grills to add. Looking at references show that these panels fit flush with the surface on the Blackbird. That means I have to socket them into the nacelles. I started by taping the grills in place, tracing them with a needle, and then using a chisel blade to remove plastic.

This is what the kit parts look like:

I determined where the PE grills needed to go and taped them in position, then outlined the exposed grill with a needle:

Then I added tape to the exposed end:

And repeated the tracing process:

This is the result:

Now that I know where it goes, it’s time to cut plastic, leaving me with this:

Which enabled me to glue the grill into position:

Yeah…there’s a gap around the grill. I taped over the subtle surface detail and applied putty:

There are eight places on each nacelle where this had to be done. (Some of them came out better than others, requiring varied ways of filling gaps around them.) After seeing how easily the grills packed up with paint when I applied a light coat of primer under the nose, I wonder just how much of these details will be visible once everything has been painted. But having started this process, I saw it through until all the molded-in details had been replaced.

Scribing panel lines is an annoyance. I don’t like it. One little oops and things have to be fixed. (“One”…that’s funny!) In the process of socketing the grills and panels into place, I needed to scribe the panel lines of the nacelles. One little oops and this line isn’t quite straight:

Panel lines. ::heavy sigh:: If they’re correct, they’re mostly unnoticed. If they’re not correct, they’re as obvious as a hooker’s wink. To fill that one little oops with putty will result in the putty breaking out when the area is re-scribed. To avoid that annoyance, instead of using putty to fill the bobble(s), I use stretched sprue. It’s the same material as the surrounding area and the scribing tool cuts plastic, not putty and plastic. So a piece of stretched sprue gets glued to the bobble and let sit for a couple of days to be completely hardened:

Once that’s completely hardened, the sprue is trimmed and then sanded so that the surface is smooth:

A straight edge is laid down to connect the grooves and this time no bobble occurs:

The area is sanded through progressively finer grits until it looks like this:

Yes. Each time I bobble a scribe (something that happens MUCH MORE than I like) (hell, once is more than I like!) in a spot that will need to be re-scribed, I go through this process. (I also curse a lot.)

When I assembled the upper part of the nacelle/wing to the bottom part, the gaps were substantial. Also, note that the panel lines below the corrugated sections in the photos don’t match, so that had to be fixed as well:

MUCH FILING AND SANDING ENSUED. The white plastic I used to fill the gap below was .015 thick. The step from the trailing plane of the elevator to the body of the elevator was a LOT more severe than the above photo showed. I didn’t measure it but it was about 3/16″. “Was” is the operant word, here:

While I was making the two surfaces evenly meet, I kept looking at the trench between the strake (leading edge of the wing along the side of the engine nacelle) and the nacelle. The gap was huge and my initial intent was to stretch more sprue, fill the trenches, and spend many hours sanding, filling holes, and more sanding. I really wanted a structural putty, but making my own by partially dissolving styrene scraps in plastic cement resulted in something a lot more porous than I wanted. “Gee,” I thought, “I wish I had structural putty.” Miliput would work, but it doesn’t store well after opening the package, so that was out. And then I remembered I’d purchased some epoxy putty to do something with the Gemini build that I ended up doing differently. I put the epoxy putty in the drawer and promptly forgot about it. Well, if you need epoxy putty, allow me to mention Apoxie Sculpt.

The gaps and spaces in the two nacelle/wing parts have been filled with Apoxie Sculpt and it works VERY well:

Apoxie Sculpt saved me tens of hours of work to fill the trenches and I suspect it’s going to save me a metric (or SAE) buttload of work getting the wings to meet the nacelles properly!

SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #17 – Fuselage Tedium Continues…as Does Another Scare

I let this sit for a couple of days to be certain that the glue had completely cured before I finished it off:

I don’t know what they are, but I know what they look like and where they go. There’s a couple of blisters under the nose/cockpit area. They’re triangular in shape with a recess in the front. After flipping through the various reference photos, I put down some masking tape and outlined the places where they go:

Then it was a matter of finding the styrene that stood off from the surface far enough and transferring the dimensions; as you can see, I used .040:

Then two were cut and glued in place:

Adding tape, removing tape, working the surface, and so on, will certainly show the builder where something wasn’t quite glued on properly, so yeah…that got redone:

At this point, I needed a break from the tedium. I figured since I was just about done with the fuselage (sometimes I crack myself up, I’m so funny), I’d turn my efforts to the next tasks which will be the engine nacelles, the outer wings, and the varied details that need to be added and upgraded. The first step is to see how bad the fit of parts will be.

Well, the fit isn’t exactly the best, and adding a couple of decades of sitting around in a box, migrating between shelves, has caused just about every part IN that box to warp, which is what is keeping the two surfaces at the top of the next photo from meeting:

In addition to having warpage to deal with, well, there’s also the “fit” that’s been an ongoing feature of this kit, too:

The nacelles attach to the main wings. So that they would align later when it’s time to attach them, I used the main wings as my gluing jig (MANY other things aren’t going to fit, but at least where these parts attach to the model will):

While I was gluing the upper outer wings to the bottoms, I got a little bit too enthusiastic with a clamp. The curved line in the photo below is where the glue had softened the plastic sufficiently for the clamp’s pressure to flatten out the curve that’s supposed to be there:

I was far too thorough gluing these parts together. As I was trying to separate them, it became obvious that the amount of damage I’d do to this section would be significant. Having a second kit, though, provided me with the parts I needed to redo this section properly:

Even Dick Bong, Chuck Yeager, Erich Hartmann, Glenn Cunningham, Robin Olds, and Gordo Cooper wore parachutes…

With that oh-god-damn-it moment passed and dealt with, I decided to work a few PE parts and I started with the nosewheel landing gear bay doors. That started by cutting the parts away from the frets and folding them:

With both sides folded, alignment is checked (I love these flat-jawed clamps):

Satisfied, soldering flux is applied, and then the solder is cut (the lines of the cutting pad are in millimeters):

Then the parts are realigned, clamped, and thin slices of solder laid along where I want the parts joined:

A quick pass with the butane torch liquifies the flux, melts the solder (which follows the flux), and it’s attached (and yes…I had to file off a small bit of solder that wandered):

A couple of more VERY tiny parts are added and the doors are done:

While I was on a tear, I decided I’d do the “turkey feathers,” the movable vanes at the engine outlets, of the afterburners next.

Well, once again “confidence” rose and bit the body part I use to sit on. “Confidence” can sometimes diminish the caution and care that must be taken. While I was trying (unsuccessfully) to solder the exterior afterburner vanes into a truncated cone, I smelled burning plastic.

Unless intended, which this was not, burning plastic is never a good thing. I followed the line of the torch, since that was the only heat source around, and discovered this:

“This” is the edge of the fuselage chine. At least I didn’t smash this thing. I turned off the torch, apologized to the cat (wherever she’d run off to in panic) for screaming, and went off and did something else for the remainder of the day.

So. The next day, I put the soldering stuff away and decided that this time I’d use superglue to hold these [MANY DELETED EXPLETIVES] together. Getting the curve gradual and even was quite the chore. Twice. And then I had to do the INside. TWICE. As if that wasn’t enough fun, I had to fit the inside parts to the outside parts. But I got it done and I’m mostly satisfied with how it all fits.

These are the brass PE parts compared to the kit’s part(s):

And here are the tailfeathers in place against where they attach:

When I dry-fit all these things together, I noticed that the depth of the internals was off. If assembled as molded, these things will be too shallow. So I fiddled and figgered and realized that .75″ PVC extension collars from the plumbing supply department would work with a little bit of modification.

I chucked one into the lathe and started turning it to dimension where it needs to fit inside the bases that the turkey feathers mount to:

With the body of the afterburner section lengthened, I had to remove the fuel sprayers from where they were cast on the kit part so I could move them to the inner end of the PVC. I didn’t have a boring tool that would fit. And then I realized (again) that this is plastic, not any sort of metal, and that I could use the back of a #11 blade to cut the section out:

Worked fine:

And then I did it all again for the other side. What I ended up with looked a lot better:

And…then Loki and Eris showed up. While I was online looking for something entirely unrelated to this build, I found that Lonestar Products has a resin set to bump up the accuracy of the engines:

So those parts are on order. ::sigh:: Once they arrive, I’ll cut/fit what I have between made and purchased parts to see which combination of bits gives me what I’m after.

With all that done and/or pending, it’s time to fix the melted plastic. (The cat came out of hiding a few hours after my scream. Food does that.)

The fix started by cutting out the melted area:

Then it was time to add plastic, which in this situation was .080 sheet, to the bottom:

Then the hole was filled with more .080 and clamped together:

I waited a few days before I went back at it to allow the glue to cure. The first step was to knock down the excess with a Dremel tool (yeah, I got sloppy and gouged the area above it…perfection still eludes me):

That was followed with a lot of scraping, filing, and sanding, ending with panel lines being scribed (and putty being added):

Having no (good) excuse to avoid working the fuselage again, I went back to it and discovered that one (VERY ANNOYING) section of the underside rear had snapped free, so I had to reattach it, fill it with plastic and putty, then sand, sand, and sand:

With all that done, I’ll be going back to those mystery triangular blisters under the nose. I’m hoping that the coming month does NOT have any more ugly surprises for me. But since I’m not perfect, I’m not betting on that…

SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #16 – Fuselage Gets Tedious Attention

I ended the previous post with “whew.” I was premature. Putting all the parts together was one (very small) step of a long walk. Now that the parts (sort of) fit, I have to make the parts fit. And I also have to get everything to look integrated, smooth, and have all the gaps filled.

One of the things I noticed when I was at the NAS Museum was that the triangular sections of the wings were actually raised, so .005 sheet was fitted and putty used to blend the ones that need to be blended:

Naively, I followed the raised lines on both sides of the wing. The problem with that is that the alignment of the lines on top did not match the lines underneath. Of course I didn’t notice this until I’d glued the plastic to the bottom, so I removed the panels on the underside and made sure to align them to the panels on the upperside:

When I separated the upper fuselage from the lower, a section of the elevator ripped out. That needed to be repaired and adding new plastic was the easiest path:

At this point I started scribing panel lines. Though I still don’t figure I’m good at scribing panel lines, I have gotten better at it (and this is good because I have SO much room for improvement!). One of the things I’ve learned with this build is that yes…adding sprue to fill large gaps can be good, and it can also be bad. Unless otherwise shaped, the sprue is round. This isn’t a problem as long as the removal process doesn’t remove more than half the diameter of the sprue. If it does remove more than half the diameter of the sprue, a gap is revealed (hopefully it’s obvious – there’s only supposed to be one line here):

I cut away the dodgy section and replaced it with scrap sheet styrene:

Something I didn’t realize at the time is something I will now draw your attention to. Look in the middle photo of the three previous. See that dark, short, line in the area I’d cut flat? That’s a void; there’s nothing there. As I later found out, leaving a void in an area that is going to be both thin and scribed won’t work well. The scribing breaks through the thin plastic and has to be filled. Again.

Sometimes scribing panel lines can be interesting. This is a raised panel line in an interesting place:

That line need to be recessed. To do that, I had to remove the line so that I could scribe the area:

That had to be done again on the other side.

I thought I had already addressed a fit problem but where things actually went after assembly required me to rework the fuselage between the main landing gear openings (the added plastic was filed/sanded to fit smoothly):

One thing I noticed when I got the ill-fitting fuselage section to fit was that there were gaps. The procedure for this build is fill with plastic, shave plastic down, fill smaller gaps with putty. But this time to get access and to rework the elevators and fuselage, removing the elevators (something that was on the to-do list since the elevators droop as #972 is displayed) was called for:

These photos show how far from meeting the surfaces that are supposed to meet are:

Scrap styrene acts as both wedges to keep surfaces aligned and fill for the gap (a file was used as a wedge to hold the surface in alignment):

I also added flat styrene to the elevators to close the ends since they’ll be visible once in place:

Lots of plastic needed to be added and then puttied over:

After these steps, days and days of sanding, adding putty, sanding, adding more putty, MORE sanding, ensued. I’m still not done yet and here is where things stand presently. All the white plastic areas are where I added plastic:

I haven’t even started on the engine nacelles and outer wingtips yet…

SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #15 – Fuselage Gets Assembled and I Get a Right Proper Scare

Before I do something as “big” as assembling the fuselage, “big” because once that’s done, there isn’t any “going back inside and fixing something” that can happen easily…if at all, I’ll sometimes sit and stew (or ruminate, for those who are adults) for days. But unless that “big” something isn’t done, the model will never be, either. In short (finally), I started at the nose and put the sodding fuselage parts together.

One (of many) thing that really does torque me out of true is when thin parts break off; it doesn’t matter if it’s during assembly or once it’s finished. I wanted something that would prevent that from happening with this one. What I came up with was to make the nose-probe (which on this bird was the pitot tube and a sensor) easily removable…as in, hit the thing hard enough to snap it and it’ll just fall off unbroken. I decided to hold the probe part on with magnets.

The first part of that involved getting the probe TO FIT tightly. Once that was taken care of, I wanted to socket a piece of steel sheet into the base of the probe. That started by cutting a piece from an old can, cutting the recess, then gluing the steel in place:

Next was to fill the socket where the (now removed) locating pin was to seat and then drill holes for the magnets to sit (, part number ZD12, 1/16″ x 1/8″ rare earth magnets):

Works just fine:

Before I could start closing the fuselage, I needed to finish painting the landing gear bays and glue the nose bay into place. I misted Tamiya’s X-32 Titanium Silver over the flat black, and then touched a few connectors/caps on the spaghetti plumbing with Tamiya’s X-23 Clear Blue:

Okay, I liked how that came out, now to attach the nose gear bay. Since this model has some heft to it, I wanted to be certain I had enough surface area to support things. The first step was to get the bay in place. The vise on the right is supplying pressure to get a good bond in an area that wasn’t really fitting all that well (and there really wasn’t enough material left there to diddle around with):

I added some scrap .080″ stock to both sides of the box to increase the surface area the glue could act on:

And then I noticed that the box was too narrow. If I knew how that happened, it would not have happened. The bottom edge in this photo doesn’t quite come out to the edge of the opening:

My “fix” was to add a strip of plastic to move the edge of the opening inward…and with how far out of true the underside of this nose is, that little strip of plastic isn’t the worst of it:

Time to put these parts together:

Putting these parts together required a bit of adamant persuasion:

About the time I got this far:

I noticed this broken part sitting on my cutting mat:

That broken part came from here:

Not. Remotely. Pleased. The broken part was reassembled (almost completely…a very tiny part of it was never found) and glued back into place. NOT. FORNICATING. PLEASED.

To keep some moron (me) from blindly stuffing his finger into the bay again, I covered them all with excess plastic from a vacu-forming session:

I also noticed the numerous places where “fit” would need work to FIT, in addition to numerous places where plastic needed to be added to fill gaps. Flat .010″ fitted the underside of the nose:

And where the edges of the nose had gaps took some thicker scrap styrene:

Thicker stock filled gaps near the main landing gear bays:

And where fuselage sides met wing roots:

And where the fuselage met the fuselage:

Some places I filled with sprue:

At this point you get to see the “Right Proper Scare” mentioned in the header. I turned the fuselage onto its back and discovered that THIS part doesn’t come anywhere near close to fitting:

Well. That did fascinating things to my blood pressure.

Yeah, that’s going to require some sort of magick or some sort of trick or some sort of SOMETHING SODDING CLEVER on my part because if that ISN’T made to fit, I either end up with a 3/16″ step where there IS none:

OR I end up with a small hole like this:

I spent a few days considering how I could explain to the person that this is being built for that he wasn’t going to (ever) get it. I also spent a few days considering how I could fix it. I realized that fixing it was going to be easier.

If you look at the lower left corner of the photo above, you’ll see there’s a section missing from the edge of what is the elevator. That’s because I split the fuselage parts aft of the main landing gear bays. The fuselage part that doesn’t fit was added to the underside (mostly because that’s where it’s supposed to go), the glue allowed to set up for a couple of days (because there’s going to be SOME FORCE applied here, dammit), and once I was satisfied that the part was as bonded as I could make it, I started bending things a bit (as well as more than a bit) (and in one place a lot), until things actually lined up.

That required me to hold the upper and lower fuselage sections apart while the glue set up enough for me to release it:

But I got it to fit:

“Fit” is a relative thing, sometimes… (And can be the difference between someone who assembles a kit and someone who builds a model. It’s only when things head for the crapper does it become an indicator of the builders’ skills. If it all goes correctly, it’s all easy.)

Now I had to reattach the bottom of the fuselage to the top and get all that to fit as well. As things turned out, this problem, even though it scared me to borderline incontinence, actually solved a different problem I had been concerned about. Having to bend and force things to fit the underside piece properly actually straightened out the warped fuselage parts and that will end up making it much easier to attach the engine nacelles:


One of the things I noticed when I was at the NASM was that there were a number of fuselage panels that weren’t butt-fit but overlapped instead. The first place I noticed that was where these panels sat higher than the ones adjacent behind the leading edge of the wings:

I used .005″ sheet to raise them:

Once all the panels were added to the tops of the wing roots, I needed to blend one panel with putty:

And since I had the putty out, I added it underneath to make the part I’d forced to fit blend without any ridge (and I did more panel scribing while I was under there):

When doing a large area like this, it’s not uncommon to need to add putty here and there. Several thin layers to achieve the desired result is better than trying it in one, thick, pass:

Unsurprisingly, most of that got filed, scraped, and sanded away.

There was a lot of filing and sanding to smooth surfaces where plastic was added. Actually, there is a lot more filing and sanding to do yet, but much of what has been added has been smoothed:

And there is more to do yet, such as this repair when a chunk of the elevator tore loose when I split the fuselage:

There are more .005″ plastic panels to add, more fit problems to fix, panel lines to be scribed, and no shortage of work left. This is the underside with that gaping hole cleverly (and laboriously) filled and some of the panel lines scribed:

Did I mention “whew” yet?


SR-71A Blackbird (Testors) Build #14 – Bays and Main Landing Gear Done For Now

For all the work that was done this month, I don’t have a lot to show. I have, however, gotten both the main landing gear bays AND the main landing gear completed! All pronouncements of “completed” come with the caveat, “for now.”

Having constructed the basic landing gear, it’s time to detail them. The first part of that was to make a bracket for Mystery Bits to attach to and I went to .005″ copper shim stock for that, cut out both pieces, and soldered them together into one bracket:

I don’t know why these lines are coiled, I just know that they are and they are visible, so, the coils get added to the bracket (I used solder for ease of manipulation) and the bracket as well as a junction block on the left side get added to the trunion wings:

There is another Mystery Bit on each strut that evidently serves as some sort of distribution block for what I assume are hydraulic lines (they also provide mounting points for the linkages that the landing gear door attaches to, which I will deal with later on). Those had to be made and are comprised of about 10-12 pieces each:

Setting those aside, I wanted to paint the compressible section of the struts before I populated the parts with more details. I used Humbrol’s Metal Kote Steel, #27003, which is my go-to paint whenever I need something to look like steel and I can’t put steel in (and yes…I thought about it). It’s a buffing paint; once cured, it buffs to a very nice representation of shiny steel. (And I didn’t take any photos of that; you can find how #27003 looks after being buffed in the Sherman M4A3 build as I used it frequently.) But what I really need is anodized aluminum (and note how well the landing lights on the nose strut turned out!):

The NASM has #972 on display and they have it up on stands that attach to the landing gear. The stands keep the weight off the tires. To keep the oleos from compressing as the seals dry and stop sealing, collars are attached to the compressible sections. To my eye, they look like anodized aluminum. To replicate that, once the steel paint had been buffed and cured, I coated that with Tamiya’s X-27 Clear Red. It’s not aluminum, but the effect is close enough:


While the red is still easy to access, that area was masked.

I started the pre-shading process by painting the inside of all the landing gear bays Tamiya’s XF-1 Flat Black:

There are circular blast shields inside the main landing gear bays. Evidently the tires got hot enough to sometimes explode and given how many hydraulic lines and how much wiring is in the area, Lockheed’s engineers decided to protect them. Those were also painted flat black and then glued in place:

Then I added all the details I could to the main landing gear (the yokes are spread so that I can put the center tire in place once the landing gear has been painted):

My next task is to take a mental-health break while I figure out what the next step will be. I’m thinking it’s time to start putting the fuselage parts together. This will require me to glue the nose landing gear bay in place, fill MANY GAPS where the fuselage goes (relatively) together, and scribe panel lines…

F-5F Tiger II (Monogram) 1/48; 527th Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron Markings

This was finished in ’91 and then boxed and stored shortly after it was finished…for about twenty-four years. I figured some bits would break off, which they did. I just thought more would have come off. For thirteen of those twenty-four years this was stored in an unheated and uncooled attic.

When it was built, I did a bit of detailing (not a lot). The canopies were vacu-formed (as were their inner frames), the pilot figures were modified from a Tamiya AM set, the oxygen and G-suit lines were made from guitar strings, some details were omitted from the cockpits (the Navy F-5s didn’t have on-board radar so I cut the radar screens off) and some were added (the hydraulic rams of the rear canopy hinge look like steel because they are – they’re straight pins), the formation lights were made from translucent toothbrush handles, hoses and lines were added to the landing gear (and the gear doors were scratch-built), and this was my first (somewhat poor) attempt at scribing panel lines.

Since I was taking it out of the box to display again, some fixing was called for:

This isn’t the first time the front landing gear has snapped here, so this time I added a pin to help keep it where it belongs: