Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Supersonic Hun

Historical Background
In early 1949, with the wealth of captured German aerodynamics data, North American Aviation began researching for sustained Mach 1 flight. In January 1951 while its subsonic F-86 fighters were clashing successfully with the MiG-15 over Korea, North American Aviation handed an unsolicited proposal to the USAF for a supersonic day fighter named Sabre 45 because of its 45° wing sweep and being an evolution of the Sabre. The aircraft would be powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet which provided the best performance among the early jet engines. In July 1951, the mock-up was inspected and after over a hundred modifications were made, it was accepted as the F-100 on 30 November 1951. In January 1952, the USAF ordered 23 prototypes (YF-100) followed by 23 F-100A models in February and another 250 in August.

Like the F-86, the F-100 has a nose-mounted air intake although thinner and more oval than the original Sabre. The wing of course has more sweep angle than the F-86 and it was also thinner. Decision was also made to move the ailerons inboard, allowing the Super Sabre to have a better rate of roll. Internal armament consists of four Pontiac M39E 20-mm cannons while external ordnance can range from unguided rockets to tactical nuclear weapons. The pre-production YF-100A first flew on 25 May 1953, seven month ahead of schedule, while the first production F-100A was first flown on 9 October of the same year. Test pilots however noted lack of stability at high speeds leading to inertia coupling. Although officially entering service on 17 September 1954 with the 479th Fighter Wing, the USAF declared that it was not ready for large-scale deployment due to deficiencies in the design. By November 1954, there were six major accidents including one on 12 October 1954 which killed North American's chief test pilot, George Welch.

The accidents forced the USAF to ground the entire fleet until February 1955. Because of the still existing problems, the A model was taken out of service beginning in 1958 with the last aircraft leaving active service in 1961. During that time another 47 'A' models were lost to attrition. The F-100A's place was taken by the 'C' model, which was built to satisfy Tactical Air Command's need for a fighter-bomber. The F-100C has longer wings to improve roll but otherwise similar to the F-100A and having all its problems. The inertia coupling was partially solved when the fleet was fitted with yaw and pitch dampers. To allow carriage of weapons and extra fuel, six hardpoints were made available underneath the wings. However not all F-100Cs can carry conventional munitions and like the A model, it suffered from attrition, losing 85 by the time the variant was retired in 1970.

The final single-seat version, the F-100D, became a dedicated ground attack machine with secondary air-to-air fighter capability. Key features of this variant include autopilot, in-flight refueling, ECM equipment and Sidewinder capability. To further address the dangerous flight characteristics, the wing span was extended by 66 cm and the tail area increased by 27%. 65 of the D model were modified to fire the AGM-12 Bullpup missile. As a type, the F-100 received numerous modification programmes during its service life. Many were concerned with the structure, electronics and to improve ease of maintenance. One of them was the replacement of the afterburner can with the one from retired F-102 Delta Daggers.

The F-100 saw combat service during the United States' involvement in Vietnam. Six Super Sabres were deployed to Don Muang air base in Thailand on 16 April 1961, acting as the vanguard for the type's involvement in the conflict until withdrawn in 1971. The Super Sabres mainly acted as fighter-bombers giving close support to ground troops and anti-MiG escort while two-seat F-100F model acted as Forward Air Controllers and performing the first anti-radar, Wild Weasel missions. By the end of their deployment on 31 July 1971, Super Sabres have logged 360,283 combat sorties : just four wings of F-100s have clocked a larger number of combat sorties than their WW2 predecessor, the P-51. Despite being used as escort fighters flying into North Vietnam early in the war, the F-100s recorded no MiG kills, save for one 'probable' on 4 April 1965.  No F-100s were shot down by enemy fighters but 242 were lost through other causes (186 by AA, seven from sapper attcks and 45 in operational incidents).

The F-100 was also used by Turkey, France, Denmark and Taiwan. The last-named received ex-USAF F-100As which were retrofitted with D model vertical tails. A number was lost during reconnaissance missions over China. The Super Sabres of the Armee de l'Air was used during the Algerian War of Independence.

The Kit
The Tamiya kit was released in 2001 following the original Italeri release in 1998. It was originally thought to be a straight re-release of the earlier, 1980s-vintage ESCI kit. Close inspection revealed that while the Italeri kit may indeed a re-release, there are some difference between it and the earlier ESCI kit. as follows:
1. An extra, non-existent frame on the canopy
2. Shorter (275- US gallon) fuel tanks
3. More detailed landing gear parts
4. Raised details for the instrument panel
5. Better-detailed ejection seat(s)
6. External ordnance

The kit engineering is fairly simple but it featured nicely engraved panel lines. Two types of exhaust nozzles were included - standard and the F-102 type. However the air intake is fairly shallow and ended at the cockpit. The decal sheet feature markings for three aircraft - each from USAF, Armee de l'Air and the Danish Air Force.

As nearly always with aircraft model kits, construction started at the cockpit. Also, as usual I painted the parts while still on the sprue - Gunze Aqueous H317 for the majority of the cockpit and seat, Tamiya XF-1 for the instrument and side panels and  the sidewalls white for the switches and dials. While having more details than the original ESCI kit, they were quite pitiful compared to other kits in the scale. Before joining the fuselage halves together, a ballast of 20 grams was placed at the nose (I just crammed plasticine in the nose halves until it feels 'right'). The wing parts were assembled; no problems here really, but the wing fences were a bit loose in their slots. As the intake trunking was non-existent, the 'bulkhead' was painted black before the intake was cemented to the fuselage. The intake-fuselage joint was not smooth and I had to sand the area for a seamless joint. Another area with bad fit was the lower tray on the fuselage (with two troughs for the two of the cannons) - I still wonder why do they have to make that area separate. As the canopy is a one-piece affair and a couple of decals go on both the canopy and the fuselage, it was attached and masked off. However, like the lower tray mentioned above, the canopy-fuselage fit was not great.

Painting and Decalling
I decided to finish the kit as a Hun from the 353rd TFS, 354th TFW (based at Myrtle Beach, Florida) 1958. Tamiya's instructions have you paint the interior compartment silver but I am of the opinion that they were actually painted US Interior Green. So I made a mix of 2 parts XF-5 Flat Green to one part XF-3 Flat Yellow paint the interior accordingly. The unpainted rear fuselage (on the real aircraft) was painted a mix of Gunze 8 Silver and 61 Burnt Iron while the exhaust was painted straight Burnt Iron. After masking, the rest of the fuselage was painted Tamiya TS-30 Silver Leaf (although with hindsightI think TS-17 Gloss Aluminium would be more appropriate). Afterwards the decals were applied. No problems here as Italeri's in-house decal are pretty good. Inside faces of landing gear bay covers and the airbrake were painted Gunze Silver 8. Tamiya Weathering master 'Soot' was used on the exposed metal area of the fuselage to simulate heat weathering (maybe other shades or colours were more appropriate but that's what I have in my arsenal).The decals were the treated to the usual decal solution application.

I forgot to mention that I tried to remove that extra frame on the canopy. While it was removed without a hitch, the clean-up process went awry in the sense that I could not get the canopy clear again - not sure why but I guess my sandpaper were not fine enough (just down to 1500 grit only). Anyway, lesson learnt - try find finer grade of sandpaper and more importantly, do on scrap plastic before committing yourself. As usual, the landing gears were added first to allow the model to stand on its 'feet'. As for 'things under the wings', I decided to substitute the M117 bomb and rocket pods with a pair of AGM-12 Bullpup and a pair of Mk 81 bombs. Both are from Hasegawa weapons sets. The Bullpup has raised mould parting lines while the bombs have a pair of ejector pin marks, all of which needed cleaning up. Flat clear was sprayed onto the bombs while the Bullpups received a semi-gloss coat. Although many photos show USAF Super Sabres have their speed brakes raised while on the ground, I have them lowered for added visual interest. Some paint touch-ups were needed after removing the masks.There was no locating hole on the wing surface for the refuelling probe so I have to cut off the locating tab and just use Mark I Eyeball to place the aforementioned probe.

Although rather old, the Tamiya/Italeri/ESCI F-100 kit is still a good model. The glitches in the kit are rather minor and any reasonably competent modeler can sort them out (and count me out for that). Coupled with a rather low price (I got mine for RM36.00 which I think is half the price of of Hrumpeter's Hun) it was indeed a bargain.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

турбинный таик!

Historical Background
The T-80 series of Soviet and its successor states' MBTs can trace its origins to turbine-powered tanks proposals designed by one A. Ch. Starostienko for Leningrad Kirovsky Zavod (LKZ) in 1949. The tanks were never built because of very poor quality turbine engines of the time. In 1955, two prototypes were built at the same plant utilising 1,000 hp turbine engines by a team led by one G.A. Oglobin. Two years later, a team led by Josef Kotin constructed two prototypes of Obyekt 278 heavy tank, which were hybrids of the IS-7 and T-10 tanks, powered the GTD-1 turbine engine. Although weighing 53 tons and armed with a 130mm gun, the tank can reach a top speed of 57 km/h. It's range was poor however, due to high fuel consumption. The project was not resumed, not because of economic considerations, but also because of the death of Stalin in 1953 precluded any further work on heavy tanks.

In 1963, the Malyshev Factory in Kharkov, designed a variant of the T-64 tank dubbed the T-64T, powered by 700-hp GTD-3TL turbine engine and was tested until 1965. At the same time, the Uralvagonzavod factory created Obyekt 167T tank, powered by an upgraded (801 hp) GTD-3T turbine. In 1969, another team from LKZ, led by Nikolai Popov, designed a turbine-powered tank designated Obyekt 219 SP1, using the new GTD-1000T multi-fuel gas turbine developed at KB-3 of the LKZ since 1968. It was later renamed T-64T. The increased weight and dynamic characteristics of the more powerful engine than previously used required a complete redesign of the drivetrain and tracks. This resulted in Obyekt 219 SP2 with larger road wheels and return rollers while the road wheels was increased to six (from five previously). The turret was modified to use the same compartment, the 2A46 125mm gun and the autoloader as the T-64A tank. In 1976, Obyekt 219 SP2 was accepted for service as the T-80.

The T-80 has a similar layout with the T-64 with the driver at the front centre of the low, highly sloped hull. The two-man turret has the commander located to the right and the gunner to the left. Apart from welded steel RHA and laminate armour, the sides and the lower hull of the T-80 were protected by rubber flaps and skirts against infantry anti-tank weapons. Power from the engine was transmitted through a manual transmission system with five forward and one reverse gears. The hydropneumatic suspension of the T-64 was replaced with the conventional torsion bar system. The 125mm 2A46 gun was similar to the one arming the T-64 and was loaded using the Korzina automatic loader. While reliable, the system took between 7.1 to 19.5 seconds to load, depending on the initial position of the ammunition carousel.

In 1978, the improved T-80B was introduced. This model featured a new turret, laser rangefinder, fire-control system and a new autoloader. This allowed the B model to fire 9M112 Kobra (NATO AT-8 Songster) anti-tank missiles (and later supplanted by the 9M119 Refleks / AT-11 Sniper missile). In 1980, a new SG-1000 engine rated at 1,100 hp was fitted. In 1982, the B variant received a new gun and in 1985, fittings for explosive reactive armour (ERA) blocks were received. In the same year, Kontakt-1 ERA blocks were fitted to the T-80B, resulting in the T-80BV. The smoke grenade launchers were relocated to the sides of the turret to make way for the ERA bricks. On the front of the turret, the ERA blocks are joined to form a shallow chevron. ERA is also fitted to the front roof of the turret to protect against top-attack weapons such as the Swedish RBS-56 BILL and the BGM-71F version of the TOW missile. While giving additional protection against HEAT rounds, the Kontakt-1 ERA was not effective against APDS and APFSDS rounds. Further development resulted in the T-80U series. Ukraine pursued further development of the T-80, resulting in the diesel-powered T-80UD and the T-84.

Between 1986 through 1987, 2,256 T-80/T-80B/T-80BV were stationed in East Germany and by the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, 4,839 T-80s of all variants were operated by the Soviet Army. Their high speed and powerful armament led concerns in the NATO, leading towards the increase of the development of attack helicopters and anti-tank guided weapons. However, instead of leading the Soviet drive to the Bay of Biscay, they were first deployed during the political and economic turmoil in Russia in the early 1990s. They were first deployed in August 1991 during the attempted coup by hard-line communists and their allied military commanders against Mikhail Gorbachev. T-80UDs of the 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division drove onto the streets of Moscow but the crews' refusal to fire on the crowds and the parliament resulted in the failure of the coup. In 1993, during the Russian constitutional crisis, T-80UDs of the same Division was called upon by president Boris Yeltsin. Six tanks of the 12th Guards Tank Regiment took positions on the bridge opposite the Moscow White House and fired on it.

The true test for the T-80 only came during the First Chechen War. However, they were used in the effort to capture Grozny, a task unsuitable for MBTs and suffered accordingly. The tank crews were inexperienced, whereas the Chechens were mostly veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The T-80s used in the campaign were either baseline T-80B models without ERA blocks or having their ERA blocks empty. Furthermore RPG shots were aimed at the weakest part of the armour. Some tanks suffered catastrophic explosions when the ready rounds in the vertical carousel exploded after contacting the molten jet stream from a HEAT warhead. The T-80 performed so poorly, in that General-Lieutenant A. Galkin, the Head of Armour Directorate, convinced the Ministry of Defence never to procure gas-turbine tanks. In all 225 tanks were destroyed. But the Russians learnt the lesson and the T-80s only gave support to infantry from a safe distance during the Second Chechen War. Nevertheless, the high operating cost of the T-80 precluded its use in subsequent conflicts.

Unlike the T-64, the T-80 was exported to a number of countries, including South Korea (as payment for Soviet-era debt), Egypt, Cyprus, Pakistan and Yemen.  

The Kit
As part of Trumpeter's wave of Soviet/Russian AFV kits, the T-80BV was released together with the baseline T-80B in 2013. The parts were laid across 27 plastic sprues (including 1 clear), two PE frets, the turret shell, the lower hull, a length of braided copper wire plus a decal sheet. No turned metal barrel was included. The parts look well-moulded and based on my experience with the T-64, should have a good fit. Unlike the T-64 however, Trumpeter provided certain parts in plastic as an alternative to PE parts. The turret frontal ERA blocks, a scourge on the already less accurate Dragon kit of the 1990s are of multi-part assembly. While more involved, they should be of better placement. There are a few errors in the instructions and instead of adding an errata sheet, Trumpeter sticked on the revised instuctions where approrpiate. Decals provide markings for four vehicles, all without description:

1. 410, Green (probably during the Soviet era);
2. 41, Green, Tan, Black (current, usually seen during parades)
3. 703, Green, Sand, Grey (probably during the withdrawal of the former GSFG)
4. 210, Green, Black, Grey (current)

As usual, construction started at the lower hull. The first step is concerned with wheel assembly but I skipped them and go straight for the lower hull. At a first glance, the lower hull featured a lot of detailing and as work commenced it sure involved quite a lot of work: the shock absorber alone consists of five plastic and one brass PE parts, and there are six of them. To save time, I used plastic alternatives instead of PE parts where applicable. Small details on the entrenching blade were left off as they would be hidden by the dust flap. And talking about the latter, Trumpeter provided them in plastic and vinyl. Also, the return rollers were not cleaned up as they would also be hidden behind the RPG skirting. The suspension arms, although having positive alignment tab, were quite loose and I managed NOT to line up the wheels properly. As per my usual style, the lower hull and the wheels were painted at this time (with the wheels still on the sprue). The paint were touched-up after the wheels had come off the sprue. Also, only the outside wheels have their seam lines cleaned up.

Work on the upper hull started by drilling 28 holes into the front glacis plate. This was followed by adding small details onto the plate and once done, the ERA blocks. The holes drilled to fit most of the blocks were symmetrical so you have to make sure the orientation of the blocks before cementing them (I got the main block (part M15), the other way round initially). The completed upper hull was then cemented to the lower hull pan. The engine deck was next. Nothing unusual here except that the mesh for the air intakes were of separate panels, creating extra work. Before proceeding any further, the tracks were assembled and painted. The guide teeth were separate so I add them to the link before joining them together. Again, I got lazy and left the upper run of the track altogether. The fenders were then assembled. Trumpeter provided an option for the mud flaps - styrene or vinyl. I chose the former as the vinyl alternative in my example were deformed. The ERA blocks for the side skirts were of the 'minimal', rather than the 'full option' variety.  

Work on the turret can now commence. As with the T-64, the turret shell was completed first, together with the barrel for the co-axial machinegun. The right-hand side ERA bricks were tackled first. These consist of five pairs of blocks with separate bottoms (presumably to avoid sink marks) with a PE part in between so that the bricks be propped up at the proper angle. They are marked I to V and I found it easier if one worked backwards i.e. V to I. Because of my sloppy handling the wedges aren't really straight. The left-hand ERA wedges were less tedious as most of the were moulded as one and as most would be hidden and just for structural integrity, only the outermost and the middle PE spacers were put in place. The rest of the left cheek ERA bricks are still separate however but they went on easier. The barrel is a two-piece affair with hard-to clean seam lines. Also, like the T-64, there are two mantlet covers, this time I use the raised one. The boxes mounted on the snorkel were placed at roughly 45-degree angle as many photos show them in this position or fully horizontal and not vertical as in the kit instructions. Certain other items were left aside at this time to facilitate painting.

Painting and Decalling
To simplify things and also as a throwback to the Cold War days, my T-80BV was painted green overall. The Trumpeter instructions once again mislabelled 'Light Green' as 'XF-20' (which was Medium Grey). For the green, I used Vallejo Air 71.017 4BO Green. The tracks were painted Vallejo Anthracite Grey and washed with Tamiya XF-72 JGSDF Brown. The RPG skirting was painted Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Grey. Although many photos show the unditching log being painted the same colour as the vehicle, I painted it using wood-y colours using XF-55 Deck Tan as base and afterwards, XF-64 was drybrushed onto it. The mantlet cover and the spent case container were painted XF-49 Khaki. Decaling was very simple as there were only five pieces. Each of the split two-digit number on the right-hand side of the turret shared a single carrier film so it's best to cut the film to avoid it bridging the gap between the ERA bricks on which they are located.

I started by adding the dust skirt on the lower front hull. Like the mud flaps, Trumpeter provided two types of the skirt and this time I chose the vinyl alternative. The braided copper wire was then cut to recommended length but then I realised that 110mm was too long - it was too late as the wire has already been superglued to the cable ends. The unditching log was then secured to its place, followed by the external fuel tanks.The rest of 'things around the turret' were then added and the joint scar retouched. The commander's cupola is a mini-kit and was assembled and painted separately with the basic cupola and the NSVT mount being cemented together before the rest of the assembly. One comment here: the commander's sight is solid plastic and I have to use gloss blue/black to simulate glass. The model was then given the usual wash treatment. The whole of the model was then given a thin coat of XF-57 Buff (double coating for the lower extremities). Afterwards a rather thin application of Vallejo Thick Mud was applied to the running gear and lower hull and was then washed with AK Interactive Earth Wash, finishing the build.

I had the old Dragon T-80BV (marketed as T-80 with ERA) years ago and comparing the experience of building the two kits, it goes without much dliberaration that the newer Trumpeter kit was hands down the winner. Sure, there is no such thing as a perfect kit but I have a way much better experience in building this kit. The only 'downside' (if one decides to call it) was the mass of parts needed to assemble (although not as bad as some other companies' or even Trumpeter's other kits), besides I cheated! One particular thing though - the suspension arm should be absolutely be made having a proper fit as it was quite tough to line them up straight and level. A bit more caution should also be exercised when assembling the right-hand side turret ERA blocks as they might not be symmetrical at the end of assembly. Otherwise the kit is very nice.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Gallic Spitfire

Historical Background
On 15 June 1936, the French Air Ministry promulgated the specifications for a new fighter aircraft. It called for an aircraft with a speed of 500 km/h at 4,000 meters, climb to 8,000 meters in less than 15 minutes and with take-off and landing runs not exceeding 400 meters. It was to be armed with two 7.5mm machineguns and one Hispano-Suiza HS.9 20mm cannon, or two such cannons. The private design firm led by Emile Dewoitine, whose D.513 design was rejected by the Armee de l'Aire in favour of Morane-Saulnier's M.S.406, responded by using a design utilizing the latest construction techniques and the most powerful engine at the time, the 890 hp Hispano-Suiza 12Y-21 liquid-cooled engine. The original design was rejected after the specifications were uprated. The Dewoitine concern revised their design but the nationalisation of the French armaments industry in 1937 and continued changes in the manufacturing programs delayed the work on the aircraft, designated D.520. On 3 April 1938, the Air Ministry rewarded contract No. 513/8 to SNCAM (the state-owned consortium of which Dewoitine is now part of). 

The prototype eventually flew for the first time on 2 October 1938 but only reached 480 km/h while suffering from dangerously high engine temperatures. Further modifications, including changing to a newer -29 engine, three-bladed variable-pitch propeller and incorporating exhaust ejectors, finally allowed the prototype to reach its design speed. Two further prototypes include a larger tail, sliding canopy and longer undercarriage legs. They were also armed with a Hispano-Suiza HS.9 cannon in an engine mount and fired through the propeller spinner and two MAC 1934 7.5mm machine guns (one under each wing) were also fitted. A small tailwheel instead of a skid was fitted to the third prototype. Flight tests were successfully undertaken, resulting in a contract issued in March 1939 for 200 machines, powered by the -31 (later -45) version of the 12Y engine. A contract for additional 600 machine was issued in June but was later reduced to 510 in the following month.

The outbreak of war in September 1939 resulted in a new contract which brought the total order to 1,280 while the Aéronautique Navale ordered another 120. The first production D.520 flew in October 1939. The production aircraft have the rear fuselage extended by 51cm, redesigned engine cowling panels, the curved, one-piece windscreen replaced with one containing an optically flat panel and armour plate behind the pilot's seat. The production-standard armament consist of an engine-mounted Hispano Suiza H.S 404 20mm cannon and four MAC 1934 M39 7.5mm machineguns in the wings. Despite the improvements, the first batch of 520s failed acceptance tests due to insufficient top speed and troublesome cooling. Redesigned compressor intakes and modified cooling pipes improved the latter while propulsive exhaust pipes cured the former. As a result, the type was not declared combat ready until April 1940.

As the aircraft was not operationally ready until the stated time, Group de Chasse I/3, the first unit receiving the D.520, only used them for training. By 10 May 1940, 228 were manufactured but the Air Force only accepted 75, with the rest being sent back to the factory to be retrofitted. Only GC I/3 was fully equipped and on 13 May, they clashed with the Luftwaffe, shooting down one He 111 bomber and three Hs 126 observation aircraft without loss. The rapid fall of France meant that only four more groupes de chasse and three naval escadrilles equipped with the type before France's capitulation. Of the eight units, only GC I/3, II/6 and II/7 and AC1 saw action. Against the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica, the Dewoitines claimed 114 kills (plus 39 probables) while losing 85. By the time of the armistice in June 1940, 437 D.520s had been built with 351 delivered. 165 were evacuated to North Africa while another three escaped to Britain. In April 1941, German authorities allowed the Vichy government to resume production of 1,000 aircraft. As part of the agreement, 550 D.520s were ordered to replace all single-seat fighters in service. The Vichy D.520s were in action against the Allies during the Syrian campaign in June-July 1941 and also against Operation Torch in November 1942.  The aircraft was also used by the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica.

The Kit
Rather surprisingly (as French WW2 aircraft were rarely kitted by the mainstream manufacturers), Tamiya came up with the kit of the D.520 in 1996 as part of their 1/48 renaissance in the 1990s. There were just 45 parts in dark grey sprue and 5 more in clear styrene. Although obviously some compromises had to be made to ease construction, the level of detail is adequate for the average modeller. Some options are available such as separate canopies and positionable radiator shutter and flaps. There is also an option for a different radio aerial but you have to check your references first before using the alternate aerial. The particular kit used here was the 2011 re-release with new decals and the addition of a Citroen Traction 11CV (to avoid licensing fees, it was simply dubbed 'staff car'). Actually I don't do car models (except for that single 1/24 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X) especially in 1/48 but perhaps it could be used as an introductory kit for my son. The alternate radio aerial is now shown to be used for two of the marking options available in the kit. Speaking of which, they are:

1. Adjudant Chef  Bouton, GC II/3 Dauphine, 2 Escadrille , June 1940
2. Adjudant Chef Denis Ponteins, GC II/7, 3 Escadriile, June 1940
3. Sous Leutenant Pierre Le Gloan, GC III/6, 5 Escadrille, Spring 1942

The decals are quite thick however but the red in the French roundel has been corrected (the red was more burgundy in the earlier release). As a matter of interest, the original Tamiya kit also include markings for Le Gloan's earlier plane, aircraft No.277.

As usual with aircraft kits, work started at the cockpit. And as per my usual style, the parts were painted while still on the tree. The interior was not painted XF-24 Dark Grey as suggested by Tamiya but a custom mix of XF-17 Navy Blue and XF-8 Flat Blue which may or may not match the dark blue of the real aircraft. The seat back was painted XF-49 Khaki while the seat cushion was painted a mix of XF-10 Flat Brown and XF-64 Red Brown (to imitate the colour of leather). There should be an opening at the top corners of the seat, between the frame and the canvas seat back. It should be drilled out but I left them as they were. The instrument panel was painted Flat Black as per the instructions. The decals were then applied on the instrument panel and they fit nicely over the raised detail, especially after receiving a dash of Mr Mark Softer. The completed cockpit was then sandwiched betwen the two fuselage halves

Although Tamiya instructed the modeller to cement the exhaust manifolds at this time, I left them off as it might complicate matters during painting. The wing halves were cemented with no problems encountered. Some care had to be taken when fitting the wing to the fuselage to avoid gaps, especially towards the rear (a tiny gap did appear at the rear joint but easily filled with super glue). The flaps, which can be positioned in the down or up positions (cut off the tabs if you want them in the 'up' position) were left off at this time as I wanted them in the 'down' position. The tailplanes fit without any issues. The lower nose fairing however did not fit well, resulting in gaps at the wheel well and on one side of the fuselage. The radiator fairing was assembled, the grilles painted first with Mr Color Silver and then cemented to the fuselage. Finally the nose was cemented. I couldn't find the supplied poly cap; thankfully I still have leftovers from previous Tamiya kits and found one which matched the slot.

Painting and Decalling
Before painting can be done, the choice of markings has to be made beforehand. All three are interesting but I was quickly drawn by the Armee de l'Aire de Armistice's garish red and yellow stripes on Leutnant Le Gloan's plane. I was also intrigued by the story of the pilot, who fought for both the Allies and the Axis. He joined the service in 1931 and at the outbreak of war, he served in GC III/6, flying Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 fighters. He shot down his first victory, a Dornier Do 17P on 23 November 1939. He shot down three more enemy aircraft (another Do 17P and two Heinkel He 111) before the squadron re-equipped with D.520s and moved to Southern France. On  13 June, Le Gloan shot down two Italian BR.20 bombers, achieving 'ace' status. Two days later he shot down four Italian CR.42 fighters and another BR.20. GC III/6 was later withdrawn to Algiers and following the fall of France, the unit became subordinated to the Vichy government.

In May 1941, the squadron was transferred to Syria. On 8 June 1941, he shot down his first Allied fighter, a Hawker Hurricane. By 5 July, he had claimed five Hurricanes and a Gloster Gladiator and thus can claim a unique record of becoming an ace for both sides. GC III/6 was then withdrawn back to Algiers. Following Operation Torch, French forces in North Africa returned to the Allied fold. GC III/6 the re-equiped with P-39 Airacobras and it was in this aircraft that Le Gloan met his end on 11 September 1943. The engine of the Airacobra malfunctioned at Le Gloan tried to make a wheels-up emergency landing. However being used to external tank-less French fighters, he probably forgot the drop tank of the aircraft which should be jettisoned before landing. The remaining fuel in the tank exploded, destroying the aircraft and killing Le Gloan instantly. He was just 33.

The model was painted according to Tamiya's instructions. The lower parts were painted a mix of 2 parts XF-25 Light Sea Grey and 1 part XF-2 Flat White. The grey portion of the upper parts were painted an equal mix of XF-25 and XF-23 Light Blue (the original release of the kit has a mix of 1 part XF-18 Medium Blue and 3 parts XF-53 Medium Grey). The green was a mixture of 2 parts XF-49 Khaki and 1 part XF-5 Flat Green while brown was straight XF-10 Flat Brown. The yellow nose cowl, spinner and rear fuselage present a challenge as with white, yellow is not an easy colour to apply and require several layers to make it opaque. I originally wanted to have a richer, deeper yellow by adding a bit of red but I decided to go for straight XF-3 Flat Yellow. The decals were then applied. They are quite thick and a number of decals broke over raised details. The decals for the tail required some cutting to position it accurately. The fuselage chevron tricolor stripe and the bottom red stripe were made as a single piece of decal. This may cause problem during application and I therefore cut it into three pieces for an easier handling. And as I was half-asleep by the time I did it, I read the instructions wrongly and have the upper left wing ID stripe at a shallower angle than it should be. By the time I realised the error, the decal can no longer be moved. Stupid boy!

With a kit this simple, there wasn't really much to do at this stage. The landing gear however needed some trimming to the fairing and to the top of the gear itself so they can fit properly into the well. The aerials at the top and the bottom of the fuselage was cemented and so while the flaps were then permanently cemented into place. The torn areas of the decals were touched up using Tamiya paints (X-14 Sky Blue, XF-2 Flat White and a mix of X-7 Red and XF-3 Flat Yellow). The model then received panel line enhancement using AK Interactive Paneliner solution with thicker application being done on the borders of the control surfaces. The exhaust manifolds were painted Burnt Iron and afterwards Tamiya Weathering master 'Rust' was applied onto them. Tamiya Weathering Master 'Soot' was then applied on the fuselage to represent exhaust deposits and also propellant residue near the gun openings. Finally, an overcoat of Flat Clear was sprayed, finishing the build.

Tamiya's kit of the 'French Spitfire' is another prime example of Tamiya philosophy of having simple to build yet having great details (OK not that great but highly acceptable, except maybe for the cockpit and the landing gear). Even though a few problems arose during construction, in general the parts were very well-moulded and engineered. The subject matter is also welcomed as like French early war armour, there aren't that many choices and types kitted by mainstream manufacturers. As for the Citroen, it went into my to-be-build stash. 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

A Revolutionary Armour

Historical Background
By the early 1960s, the T-54/55 family was a rugged and proven design. However, realising the Western armies were catching up and that the T-54/55 family have come to the end of their development potential (being based on World War 2 ideas and concepts). A new design team at Nizhny Tagil was designing the rather revolutionary (as it was designed with a smoothbore gun) T-62 to adress the issues. At the same time, Alexander Morozov, chief engineer of the T-54/55 moved to the KMDB bureau in Kharkov. Studies have begun in 1951 and the KB-60M team led by Morozov came up with Obyekt 430, with three prototypes built. The new design was radical by using a compact opposed-piston engine with two lateral gears on each side. It also has a new suspension featuring lightweight, small-diameter road wheels and tracks with rubber joints. However the armament was the same D-54TS 100mm gun as the T-55 and the glacis armor was kept at 120mm. As it did not present clear superiority over the T-55, production was not pursued and worked commenced on a newer design, Obyekt 432.

Obyekt 432 was armed with a smoothbore 115mm D-68 gun and replaced the human loader with an elctro-hydraulic automatic loading system. This risky feature allowed a smaller internal space which in turn lowered the silhouette (by 76mm) and consequently the weight (from 36 tonnes in Obyekt 430 to 30.5 tonnes). The capture of an Iranian M60, armed with the L7 / M68 105mm gun resulted in the adoption of composite armour. Although raising the overall weight to 34 tonnes, it was compensated by installing a more powerful (700 hp) 5TDF engine. Morozov considered Obyekt 432 worthy of production and gave the greenlight after the tank prototype was unveiled in September 1962 and successfully passed all tests. The production line was set up in 1963 and the tank was redesignated T-64 after the year of its introduction into service. The T-64 was considered a better tank than the T-62, with regards to greater mobility and protection.

Even as the first T-64s were just rolling off the assembly line, the design team has already begun work on Proyekt 434. This would be armed with the new and more powerful D-81T 125mm smoothbore gun derived from the towed 2A45 anti-tank gun (and given the GRAU index 2A46). The larger gun would mean a low ammunition load (just 25 rounds and unacceptable by the authorities) but the dimensional parameters did not allow the designers to enlarge the design. Therefore the autoloader was retained (although using a new 6ETs10 design), allowing 28 rounds to be carried. The gun was also equipped with a 2E23 3-plane stabiliser coupled to a TPD-2-1 sight. A TPN-1-43A periscope for night driving was provided for the driver while a L2G infrared projector was mounted co-axially to the left of the gun for night fighting. Armour was modified and spring-loaded plates ('gill armour') were mounted along the mudguards. Some small storage spaces were created along the turret while the snorkel was mounted to the rear of the turret. Hatches were widened and an NBC system was installed. Prototypes were tested in 1966-1967 and production of the type, known as T-64A was started in 1968 after 600 T-64s were built. Morozov was awarded the Lenin Prize for his work and the T-64A also influenced the cheaper T-72 design.

Designed for elite formations, the T-64A underwent a first round of modernisation in 1971-72. The fire-control system was upgraded, replacing the original sights with a TPD-2-49 day sight incorporating an optical coincidence rangefinder and a TPN-1-49-23 night sight and stabilisation using a 2E26 system. Night vision was provided courtesy of TBN-4PA (for the driver) and TNP-165A (for the commander) night vision equipment. The commander was also provided with a 12.7mm NSVT AA machinegun, which can be remotely controlled through a PZU-5 sight. The T-64AK command version was also introduced during that period. Work beginning in 1973 with Obyekts 476 and 477 ended with the 'B' variant of the T-64 in 1976. The T-64B has a more powerful engine and the ability to fire ATGMs through the main gun tube. Both versions underwent  other modernisation cycles until production ended in 1987. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, which now controls the factory in the renamed city of Kharkiv, continue the development of the type, resulting in the T-64BM Bulat.

Despite being produced since 1963, the T-64 family only entered formal service in 1967 with the 41st Guards Tank Division in the Kiev Military District. As a tank with various new technologies, teething problems were anticipated and it was prudent that they were based near the factory for technical support. As the Soviets' most modern tank at the time, they were concentrated in East Germany and Hungary in anticipation of war with NATO. They were not deployed during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan although it was possible that some were tested there. T-64s of the 59th Guards Motor Rifle Division saw limited combat experience during the crisis in Moldova in 1992 and they may also got involved in Chechnya. T-64s were finally used in a larger scale during the Ukrainian Civil War in 2014 when the Ukrainian forces were deployed against pro-Russian separatists. Due to the high price tag and the high technology used, the T-64 was never exported by the Soviet Union. Post-Cold War, Russia still operates around 2,000 T-64s. Ukraine has 1,500 (900 of them were in storage for reserve and export) of which 100 are of the latest T-64M Bulat standard. Other ex-Soviet Union users include Kazakhstan and formerly, Belarus. The T-64 were also used by emerging small states such as Transnistria and Donetsk Peoples' Republic. In 2014, The Democratic Republic of the Congo received T-64BV from Ukraine, so far becoming the only non-CIS nation to operate the tank.  

The Kit
In 2012, Trumpeter came up with the first of their T-64 family, dubbed 'T64' Mod 1972. I put the quote marks as this kit is actually T64A Mod 1972. The 550 or so parts were spread among  20 light grey and 1 clear plastic trees, 1 soft vinyl tree (which, rather inexplicably, includes the unditching log), a one-piece hull and turret, three small frets of PE, a metal barrel and the usual decal and instruction sheets. At least some of the PE parts have no plastic originals, PE is all you have. The tracks are of the link-and length variety although trumpeter do have a separately available workable separate track links. There are two styles of mantlet covers : one for 0 angle and the other at a slight elevation. Build options allow two versions : with ('Estate 1') or without ('Estate 2') the commander's MG (Cookie Sewell mentioned that the those are Model 1972 and 1969 respectively but added that a bit more work need to be done other than simply adding or leaving the machinegun). The decals provide a pair of Guards badges, five sets of numbers and pairs of numbers 0 to 9. There is just one colour option.

While studying the instructions prior to assembly, I noticed that there are a number of unassigned slots on the lower hull sides. The instructions didn't mention anything about them but I guess it has something to do with other versions of the T-64 (mounting for the bracing struts of skirts, perhaps?). They were duly filled and sanded off. While a review site mention that the axles fit loosely inside their slots, I found that they are not and fit positively. The mud scrapers are PE and Trumpeter provided a template to bend them into shape. No problems here although I got disoriented while looking at the diagram (that's what you get when building the model at 11.30 p.m) which also resulting in Parts B17, B18 and B25 initially cemented the other way round. Rather than continuing with the wheels and tracks, I decided to do the upper hull first. This also means that Parts B26 would be left off at this time.

Before cementing the upper hull plate, three holes need to be bored in first. The mass of indents underneath the upper hull plate means you have to study the diagram a bit before committing your drill bit. The upper hull plate did not really fit well to the lower hull tub, but I just need to apply a bit of a pressure for a clean fit. The fittings on the front glacis plate were then cemented onto it but I left the towing clamps off for the time being (BTW, the kit only provides towing eyes but not the tow cable itself, which needed to be sourced from elsewhere). The three thingies on the engine deck are made of vinyl and one one of the suffered from slight deformation. Parts PE-B11 and -B12 were left off at this time as I found they could be knocked out easily during handling. Although not mentioned in the instructions, Part B24 (2 pieces) were added onto the engine deck. Areas soon under PE screens were painted Flat Black before the screens were added.

I decided to use the long-range fuel tanks, thus parts PE-A13 and D14 were used. Instructions for the assembly of the tanks were not included so I resorted to the internet (using the instructions for other Trumpeter T-64 kits). Before adding the wheels and tracks, I decided to add a basic mud mixture to the lower hull at this time as it would be easier without the wheels in the way (although the smaller wheel of the T-64 could make it easier even when already cemented to the suspension). Only afterwards the wheels were joined and placed on the suspension. Although no polycaps were provided, friction kept most of the road wheels in place while the loose ones were cemented. And as per my usual MO, the tracks were painted first before being snipped off the sprue tree.There were no real issues with the tracks with just a real minor clean-up problem.

Work on the turret was started by removing details on the turret roof and drilling a number of holes into the turret shell. While most manufacturers mould shallow holes to mark the areas to be drilled, Trumpeter have them in the shape of faint raised ridges (perhaps because the dome-shaped turret makes it harder to mould the indents inside the turret shell?). BTW the decision whether to finish the model with or without the commander's NSVT machine gun would have to be made at this time as each version have different details to be removed. The sub-assemblies such as the turret-mounted boxes, the main searchlight, station-keeping light and the snorkel were tackled first and they were then set aside. The 'straight' mantlet cover was used and the turned metal barrel was chosen. However, part PE-A19 cannot be slipped over the muzzle. The trick I learned and used in my AFV Club Centurion model cannot be used here as the fume extractor  is moulded together with the barrel and any horrible cut cannot be hidden as with the Centurion. So, it was left off. The rest of the turret fitiings, PE parts and the sub-assemblies were then cemented to the turret. The holes I drilled earlier turned out to be out of alignment, resulting in a rather asymmetric position of the boxes. Trumpeter also didn't mention that there are two types of the searchlight arms, to be used in conjunction with the mantlet cover selected.

Painting and Decalling
The instructions, like Hobby Boss's ZTZ-96, puzzlingly suggests Tamiya's XF-20 Medium Grey to represent dark green! Instead I used XF-65 Field Grey (which is green) instead of XF-20. This was followed by the regular wash process. The tracks were painted a base of XF-64 Red Brown and accented with AK Interactive Track Wash. The model then received the regular wash treatment. For markings, they are rather bland (as befitting the Soviet tanks of the Cold War era). Trumpeter provided five number sets and a 'number jungle' for those to fancy their own selection of three digits. Also available are two Guards badges. For my kit, the factory worker generously provided an 'extra' decal sheet for my spares stash! Anyway I chose number 576 and ignored the Guards badges as they were usually applied during parades only.

Despite its shortcomings, I had to use the kit-supplied unditching log. It was painted a base of XF-55 Deck Tan and dry-brushed with Vallejo Camouflage Medium Brown. The NSVT machinegun, which remain separate from the mount until now was cemented. Graphite from a pencil was rubbed onto the machinegun to get that 'metallic' look. As Trumpeter did not include the towing cables, the spares box was raided again, using a leftover string while the cable eyelets came from the kit (it's a mystery why Trumpeter only gives you the eyelets only). Although two cables were made, I only used one at the end. Some paint scratches were made using Tamiya XF-11 JN Green and oil/fuel spills were made using X-19 Smoke. The lower hull and the tracks were then slathered with Vallejo thick mud and when dry, AK Interactive Earth Effects was applied. The turret was then put in place. It was a tight fit but it means that I wouldn't have to worry about the turret falling off in a mishap! 

Trumpeter's T-64A Model 1972 is a good kit with not many problems encountered while building it. While the kit itself is all right, the instructions is slightly confusing with a few mislabelled and unmarked parts - perhaps not a problem for a seasoned modeller but can be a bit confusing to newcomers. The instructions also omitted steps to assemble and install the long-range tanks, but in the age of information, you can go to certain websites which have instructions from other Trumpeter T-64 kits to use as guide. Other negative points include the rubbery unditching log - with soft surface details unlike the regular styrene type.