Author Archive: rapierfighter

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…