Sunday, 4 September 2016

Flying Dagger

Historical Background
On 8 October 1948, the board of senior USAF officers recommended that their parent service organised a competition for what was dubbed the '1954 Ultimate Interceptor' (as the new design was scheduled to enter service in 1954). On 4 February 1949, the USAF approved the recommendation and prepared to hold the competition in 1950. In November 1949, it was decided that the new aircraft would be built around a fire-control system; therefore the system would have to be developed first. In January 1950 the USAF Material Command issued a request for proposals to 50 companies, of which 18 responded. A board at the US Department of Defense reviewed the proposals before narrowing it down to two contenders: Hughes Aircraft and North American Aviation. The former was chosen as the winner on 2 October 1950. Proposals for the airframe was issued on 18 June 1950 and six companies responded in January 1951. On 2 July, Convair, Lockheed and Republic were invited to build the mockup. Convair, having experimented with delta-winged test aircraft, submitted its best design. The Convair design was eventually declared the winner using the designation XF-102.

To speed up development, the prototypes and pre-production aircraft was engined with the less powerful Westinghouse J40 turbojet. However, continued delays with the J67 engine and the MA-1 FCS led to the decision to place an interim aircraft powered by the J40 and using a simpler E-9 FCS into production as the F-102A. The J40 proved to be a failure and was replaced with Pratt & Whitney J57. The F-102A was considered to be a temporary design pending the development of the F-102B powered by the J67, essentially a licensed derivative of the Bristol-Siddeley Olympus engine (The F-102B eventually entered service as the F-106, thus becoming the 'Ultimate Interceptor'). The YF-102 prototype first flew on 24 October 1953 but was lost in an accident nine days later. The second prototype flew on 11 January 1954. It showed a dismal performance, being limited to Mach 0.98 and a ceiling of 48,000 feet, far below the official requirements. A higher than expected transonic drag was found to be the cause of the problem.  To solve this problem, Convair embarked on a major redesign, incorporating the recently discovered area rule effect. The fuselage was lengthened by 11 ft (3.35m) with the midsection 'pinched' at the midsection, creating the so-called 'Coke bottle shape' while two bulged fairings (dubbed 'Marilyn Monroes') were fitted on either side of the exhaust nozzle. The intakes were revised and a narrower canopy was fitted. The structure was lightened while a more powerful version of the J57 was fitted.

The revised aircraft, designated YF-102A first flew on 20 December 1954. It demonstrated a speed of Mach 1.22 and a ceiling of 53,000 feet. These figures are enough for the USAF to allow production and a new contract was signed in March 1955. The F-102A entered service in April 1956 with the 327th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at George AFB, California. The type was given the official name of Delta Dagger, although it was not commonly used; it was known as the 'Deuce' instead. Production F-102 had the Hughes MG-3 FCS, which was later upgraded to MG-10. The weapons were carried in a three-segment internal weapons bay underneath the fuselage. The weapons were initially GAR-1/-2/-3/-4 (later redesignated AIM-4) Falcon missiles in both semi-active radar homing and infra-red guided variants. The doors for two forward bays had launch tubes for 12 (for a total of 24) 51 mm (later 70 mm) folding fin aerial rockets (FFAR). The F-102 was later upgraded to fire the AIM-26 Nuclear Falcon from the centre bay. The larger size of AIM-26 require the deletion of the central door-mounted rocket tubes. A MB-1 Genie nuclear rocket was test-launched in May 1956 but the weapon was not adopted by the fleet. To train the pilots, a trainer version, the TF-102, was developed. It featured a side-by-side seating arrangement, necessitating a redesign of the forward fuselage and earning it the nickname of 'The Tub'.

F-102As served Vietnam where they were first deployed to bases in Thailand and South Vietnam in 1962 after it was feared that North Vietnam would use its Ilyushin Il-28 bombers against its southern neighbour. Afterwards it was used to escort B-52 bombers in their Arc Light raids. It was during one of these missions that a F-102A was lost to enemy MiG-21s. An AA-2 Atoll missile fired by one of the MiGs lodged itself  at the rear end of the aircraft, only to explode later destroying the aircraft. Falcons fired by the Deuces against the retreating MiGs missed. F-102As, from the 509th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, was also used against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a misuse of the aircraft's IRST tracker ball and the IR version of the Falcon missile. The tracker and missile seeker head was used to detect heat from enemy activities and attack was made using the FFAR tubes on the doors. Success was very limited as neither the aircraft nor the pilots were trained for that role. The TF-102, because of its two seats and better view from the cockpit plus the door-mounted rockets, was used as fast forward air control aircraft. The F-102As' tour of duty ended in 1968 when all aircraft returned to the United States. A total of  12 F-102As were lost due to enemy action (mostly ground fire and during attacks on airbases ) and accidents.  

The F-102A received several major modifications during its service including IRST systems, radar warning receivers, transponders, backup artificial horizon and improved FCS. Also, several new wing designs with increasing conical camber was tested with a view to increase elevon area, reduce takeoff and landing speeds, improve supersonic L/D ratio and increased ceiling. The wing modifications were known as Case X and XX wings. The F-102 remained in operational service with the USAF Air Defence Command and Air National Guard units until 1976. The target drone version, QF-102, converted from retired airframes, was fully expended by 1986. 1,000 airframes were built, of which 24 were later sold to Greece and 50 to Turkey. Both countries used their Deuces in combat during the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Both countries retired their F-102s in 1979. Meanwhile, the F-102B underwent so many aerodynamic changes, making it effectively a new aircraft with designation F-106 Delta Dart.

The Kit
In 2012, Meng Model, then a relatively new player in aircraft scale modelling released a new-tool F-102A as the third kit in their 1/72 'Dimorphodon' (Meng named their scale classes after prehistoric creatures) series. The first F-102 kit was of the 'Case X' wing type. This was followed by a 'special boxing' of the kit (featuring a Deuce piloted by President George W. Bush during his ANG days). The Case X Deuce was followed by this kit in 2013, featuring the Case XX wing. The kit comprised of 95 light grey parts and five clear parts spread between seven sprues, plus the usual decal and instruction sheets (the only difference between this kit and the earlier kit was the shape of the wing tips). The parts feature finely engraved and raised details (where appropriate) and are well-moulded. Components such as the airbrakes and the weapons bay doors can be posed open and that there are options for retracted of extended weapons trapeze. Since there are two weapon sprues and that the Deuce only carry six Falcons, there are six of them for the spares box.  In general, Meng's Deuce is way ahead of the ancient Hasegawa kit.

The kit provide markings for three aircraft:
1. 56-1436, 509th FIS, Udorn RTAFB, Thailand 1969
2. O-61363, 196th FIS, California ANG, 1968
3. O-61488, 179th FIS, Minnesota ANG, late 1960s

The decals are thin and well-printed. The only gripe was that the 'US Air Force' titles should be in Insignia Blue rather than Black, although it was not really noticeable at this scale (and to these tired eyes).

Well, almost inevitably, construction started at the cockpit. It was a rather simple affair with just a tub, a control stick, the instrument panel and a three-piece seat. The seat could do with some aftermarket seat belts (or better yet, replaced entirely). The cockpit assembly was painted the same colour as the the rest of the aircraft, that is ADC Grey while the instrument face is represented by a piece of decal. The second step in the instructions have you assemble the landing gears but I skipped it and proceeded to assemble the jet exhaust pipe. The cockpit assembly was then cemented to the nose wheel well  and together with the exhaust pipe, were then cemented to the right side of the fuselage. Before joining the fuselage, a hole was drilled on the nose (to accommodate the IRST later on). The fit is good although I'm a bit concerned about the tail fin. Meng have the right side moulded partway with the rest being moulded together with the left -hand surface. While it was made on the actual panel line, the is quite a gap which require a bit of filling and rescribing (which of course, I didn't do as it looked quite OK in the end).

While the instructions have you assemble the wings at Step 5, I continued with the fuselage assembly. The intakes were assembled and putty was needed here to close the gap on each intake. The airbrake was assembled in the closed position. There weren't any locating pins so I used superglue for a stronger bond. The main landing gear well was then fitted and only then I turned my attention towards the wing assembly.The weapons bay was cemented to the one-piece lower wing and this was followed by the two upper wing halves. The wing tips are separate pieces so that Meng can build both Case X and Case XX-winged models while using just one main wing mould. However, there was this problem of too large a gap between the upper and lower wings and also between the fuselage and the wing assembly. The next steps are concerned with the landing gear assembly which I hold until after painting has been done. Interestingly, the landing gear doors can be fixed in the closed position so a modeller can display their finished F-102 in flying pose.

After all the fuselage has been closed up, the wings attached to the fuselage and seams cleaned up, it suddenly struck my mind that Meng did not suggest placing weights in the nose. Maybe they feel that the F-102 model doesn't need one but based on experience, there might the need for one. With the fuselage complete and no ball bearing in sight, I drilled open the the nose and crammed as much plasticine as I can; I laso added more plasticine into the nose cone. As for the weapons bay, I decided to have them in the open position with a few of the missile launching trapeze in the deployed position. The trapezes were placed inside the weapons bay, glued lightly should I change my mind and have all of them extended. In any case, the extended ones would have to wait until the landing gears have been attached. The choice of marking scheme would have to be made before painting as the second option has some details on the spine removed. I decided to do the California ANG machine.

Painting and Decalling
I started by painting the interior parts. Although Meng used Vallejo paints as reference, it was quite easy to convert them into the Tamiya equivalents. Those marked 'Interior Yellow' was painted XF-4 Yellow Green while 'Interior Green' was concocted using 3 parts XF-5 Flat Green with 2 parts XF-3 Flat Yellow. For the main colour, ADC Grey (FS 16473), after looking around the internet, I settled for a 7:2:1 mix of XF-2 Flat White, XF-66 Light Grey and XF-23 Light Blue. This end up having a matt finish so a layer of X-22 Clear was applied (BTW, the instructions have you mix 80% Vallejo White to 20% Vallejo Black). The nose and the anti-glare panel was painted XF-69 NATO Black while the intake splitter plates were painted Gunze 8 Silver. The rear fuselage was painted a mixture of Silver and Burnt Iron. The instructions have you painted the wing fences 'Ferrari Red', which I don't have. So, I mixed Tamiya X-7 Red with a bit of XF-3 Flat Yellow until the mixture looks 'Ferrari-ish'.

As mentioned before, I decided to finish the kit in the California ANG markings. The decals behave beautifully and responded well to decal setting solutions. I did however manage to goof up on the 'U.S. Air Force' decal on the left side by not placing it in parallel with the fuselage axis. After the decals have cured from the application of Mr Mark Softer, I proceeded to highlight the panel lines using AK Interactive Paneliner for grey and blue camouflage solution.

As usual, this stage started with the landing gear. There is one great problem which somehow escaped my attention - the nose landing gear was either broken or short-shot (probably the latter as I couldn't find evidence of it being broken). I can write to Meng for replacement but feeling that it might take several more weeks, I decided to improvise, even when the end result would be inferior, not to mention inaccurate. The wheel mount was cut off and I used a scrap plastic piece (flat in nature, rather than tubular as the actual strut should be) to replace the part. The linkage on the main gear struts are also fiddly to assemble (in fact they went flying off the tweezers twice!) Once that was done, the rest of the remaining parts followed. Being the innermost parts, the missiles were cemented into place, along with the weapons bay doors. Although not mentioned in the instructions, I placed 'Warning' decals on the inside face of the doors after seeing photos on the internet. Two of the missile trapezes were in the lowered position to show off the Falcon missiles.

The two external fuel tanks were then attached with one of them having a less than perfect fit. It required a simple solution - just enlarge the location holes! The stripes on the nose probe and airfield emergency hook need to be painted and as usual with me, they are uneven! During all these handling, the aerial on the spine broke and an emergency operation had to be done (and that's why I hate moulded-on details). The last items were the nose probe, tailhook and the cockpit transparencies. The stripes on the first two items need to be painted and in my case, in ended up uneven! The Delta Daggers, because of the gloss paint used in service, were shinier than other USAF tactical aircraft of the era so to replicate it, the model was finished with a spray of Tamiya TS-13 (Gloss) Clear. The masks were removed, finishing the build.

Meng is already a household name in armour models (and I have two of them waiting their turn) and I think it would be the same with aircraft kits. The kit came together relatively easy, the parts are well-moulded (except for the nose landing gear in my case) and basically way better than the ancient Hasegawa kit. It also came at a good price (RM119.00) for a relatively large aircraft (at first I thought the Deuce was of roughly the same size as a Mirage 2000). There was also the alternative display option thrown in and I think the only tue shortcoming of the kit was the lack of a seat belt.Oh, the marking schemes provided are also very nice OOB although you can always look for aftermarket decal should you fancy other units operating the F-102.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Black TIE Affair

Fictional / Real World Background
With the transition from the Galactic Republic to the Galactic Empire, the Republic Navy's older starfighters such as the Eta-2 Actis class interceptor and the Alpha-3 Nimbus / V-Wing starfighter began to be phased out of service. To replace them, the Imperial Navy ordered the new TIE starfighters from Sienar Fleet Systems. The design of the TIE starfighters however bear strong relationships with the earlier fighters (designed by Kuat Systems Engineering) as Sienar had acquired designers, engineers and key assets from their competitor. The mass-production TIE/Ln fighter was derived from the original T.I.E design, which took its designation from the Twin Ion Engine propulsion employed by the craft. The engined utilised microparticle accelerators to agitate ionised gases to relativistic velocities. The engine also featured ion stream deflector manifolds for pinpoint maneuvering accuracy. The stream of particles gave the engines a distinct 'howl' which became one of the hallmarks of the TIE series of starfighters. However the engine was not compatible with the current hyperdrive, shielding and life-support technologies of the day, denying the TIEs to lack these essential items.

The TIE fighter sported different power generators for engines and weapons, removing the need to balance between engine and cannon power. The lack of shielding, life support and hyperdrive, although a liability, conferred extra maneuverability due to lower mass. The wings are actually a collection twelve solar panels that collected sonar energy and directed it towards the fighter's systems. Flight controls were considered intuitive and easy to master. However, with the lack of deflector shields, the TIE series are pretty easy to destroy and the craft and its pilot are considered to be expendable. Their pilots were instructed to ignore their own well-being in order to achieve their objectives. But with the Imperial navy's vast size, mass-production of the craft and ready supply of pilots, the matter is not of concern to them. The TIEs were designed to attack in large numbers. So many were build and used that they became the symbol of the Empire's military might.

The TIE Fighter is armed with a pair of relatively powerful Sienar L-s1 laser cannons which can take out enemy starfighters or medium transports with just a few shots. No missile launchers were carried although it can be refitted as such. Due to the lack of life support equipment, pilots have to wear fully sealed flight suit. In combat, without any shielding, they have to rely upon the maneuverability of their craft to avoid catastrophic battle damage. The Empire viewed the TIE fighters as expendable, together with their pilots and the latter were expected to consider themselves as such, in accordance with their ideological training. Meanwhile, the absence of hyperdrive unit means TIEs are fully depended upon carrier ships, be it a modified bulk carrier or a Star Destroyer.

When the Galactic Empire-inspired military junta known as the First Order arose from the ashes of the former, it too took the design of the original TIE to equip its forces. The new version of the TIE, designated TIE/fo has the same look as the original although slightly smaller (due to advanced and more efficient solar panels) and was armed with a pair of the new version of the original laser cannons, designated L-s9.6. Other improvements include a stronger hull and the use of a rudimentary deflector shield, reflecting the First Order's change of attitude towards starfighter pilots, viewing them as. Externally the body and the solar panel /wing framing are now painted black, to act as camouflage against visual tracking during space battles. The wings are also strong enough that the craft can be landed on its wings. Another version, TIE/sf, is a more heavily armed, two-person starfighter but are only issued to elite pilots.

The TIE fighter was created by Industrial Light & Magic's Colin Cantwell for Episode IV : A New Hope while the distinctive sound was created by Ben Burtt by mixing the sound of an elephant call with a car driving on wet road. Grey was used as the primary colour of the TIEs as the original maroon was found to blend too quickly into the star field background when moving away from the camera. The TIEs in The Force Awakens were able to be painted black due to a more modern method of filming and creating special effects.

The Kit
Another member of the first line-up of Bandai Star Wars kits released towards the end of 2015, the TIE/fo kit is simply not a re-tooled Imperial TIE/Ln, also released around the same time. Using the studio model as guide, the TIE/fo kit has subtle changes that differs it from the TIE/Ln. Most noticeable is the smaller wings compared to the TIE/Ln. The wing construction is also simpler than the TIE/Ln. Most of the parts were moulded in black, save for the windowless windscreen and wing solar panel in light grey, display base in sand yellow, optional crew hatch and windscreen in clear and the 'laser beams' in clear green. A decal and sticker sheets plus the instruction sheet completed the package. As usual the parts are very well moulded. The painting instructions are very simple, consisting of just four colours (make that grey and three shades of black). Two crew figures are included, one standing, the other in a rather stiff sitting posture.

As usual, although a fictional vehicle, construction started at the cockpit. Part A5 was placed first and although the fit is fairly tight, the part was cemented to the cockpit floor. The crew seat was cemented into place, having been painted XF-63 beforehand. Parts A4 and A6 (apparently the control columns) were first painted Gunze H315 for the 'stick' half and X-18 Semi-Gloss Black for the 'display panels'. Decals were then applied to represent the instrument readouts. The Pilot was then inserted onto the seat. I didn't paint him, save for some buttons on the suit and applying X-22 Clear Gloss. More decals were applied to the crew compartment shell although they end up being invisible from the outside. The shell of the TIE's fuselage was then closed up. For the crew entry hatch, I used the clear plastic version, with the windows masked for painting. The windscreen was however left off at this time to facilitate painting while the aerial was left off due to its vulnerability.

Painting and Decalling
At first, I was thinking of leaving the model unpainted. However I changed my mind after realising that the sonar panels have a lighter colour than the light grey of the plastic, in fact it was almost white. To get a uniform colour between the clear and black plastic, the fuselage (if you can call it that) and the wing frames were sprayed Tamiya TS-6 Matt Black. The wing panels were painted XF-2 Flat White mixed with a little bit of XF-19 Sky Grey to make it a little off-white.The canopy frame was painted Tamiya TS-32 Haze Grey. As for the decals....what decals? OK, actually there are up to eight pieces to be used on the outside surface of the model but I painted the windscreen frame and the crew hatch door instead. The rest (specifically on the cannon assembly and the engine) are pretty problematic to get in place, as they were in recesses and the carrier film was in the way, they were not used. Instead XF-7 Flat Red was painted on the relevant areas.

I did not wash the model as the paint is already dark and I'm not a believer of having lighter colour inside the engraved panel lines . With hindsight, maybe I should have painted the model with something lighter, like dark grey or the like. I end up dry brushing dark grey on the raised details. The display stand parts were painted X-18 Semi-Gloss Black as a base. As with the Resistance X-Wing Fighter, the display base have textures suggesting the sand dunes of Jakku. While the early starship dogfight scenes were shown to be on Jakku, I decided to paint the base Flat White to represent the snowy surface of Starkiller Base and act as a companion (sort of) to the Resistance X-Wing. The whole assembly was then sprayed with a sealing layer of semi-gloss clear.

All my lingering prejudice against Bandai was swept away by the time I opened this kit's box. As mentioned before, the parts have very nice and crisp details and once construction began, it went on very smoothly, even better than the X-Wing I built previously. The kit can also be built unpainted as the majority of the parts are moulded in their respective colours although the wing panels are really too dark as they were. I'm looking forward for more Bandai Star Wars kits in my collection! And I should add that before placing the model onto its display base, I took the time to zoom around my hobby room with the model while making a terrible impression of the sounds a TIE fighter makes!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Not Enough, Give SOMUA

Historical Background
During the interwar years, the French Army, like the British, was a firm believer of the division of labour between tanks, categorising them into cavalry, infantry and heavy tanks. By French law, tanks (chars) were operated only by the infantry, forcing the cavalry to name its tanks as automitrailleuses. The French preferred to fight a defensive battle but was realistic enough to understand that it might have to be on the offensive. Each of the two offensive phases - breakthrough by the infantry and exploitation by the cavalry, called for specialised vehicles with the cavalry ones designed to fight enemy armour. Plans for the cavalry tank (or Automitrailleuse de Combat, AMC) were made as early as 1931, but on 26 June 1934, the requirements were revised. The new specification called for a heavier design, able to resist contemporary anti-tank gun fire. The Army has already contacted Société d'Outillage Mécanique et d'Usinage d'Artillerie (SOMUA), a subsidiary of Schneider et Cie, on 17 May to build a prototype. Construction began on 12 October 1934 and the first prototype, designated AC3 was completed on 12 April 1935. Four more prototypes of an improved type designated AC4 followed the AC3. All these vehicles were fitted with an APX1 turret, armed with a short 47 mm SA 34 gun (production models used the longer SA 35). On 25 March 1936, the AC4 was selected to be the standard medium tank of the cavalry with the official name of Automitraielleuse de Combat  modele 1935 S, or more commonly known as SOMUA S35.

The S35 became the first tank in the world to be constructed from cast steel. The hull consisted of four sections (two bottom longitudinal plates, front and rear upper plates) bolted together. The maximum thickness of the hull was 47 mm. The turret, with a maximum thickness of 40mm, was derived from the APX1 turret fitted to Char B1 heavy tanks. Known as APX1 CE . This turret has a larger turret ring, allowing the radio operator to act as gun loader. Even so, the commander, like in the Char B1, was expected to direct the tank while loading, aiming and firing the gun. The gun was provided with 118 rounds and unlike British tanks, include both HE and AP rounds. A Riebel 7.5 mm MG was mounted co-axially with the main gun and was provided with 2,250 rounds. Like German panzers, radio was expected to be part of the standard equipment. In practice however, only the platoon leader's tank was equipped with an ER 29 for communications with higher command level. The programme to fit short range ER 28 set was postponed to the summer of 1940 and was of course overtaken by events. The suspension was based on the Skoda LT35 tank. It was however too weak, too complicated and too maintenance-intensive. This was further complicated by the fact that the cast armour modules preclude easy access for maintenance.  

The four pre-production AC4 series of the S35 entered service in January 1936 with the 4e Cuirassiers. The first production S35 tanks left the factory in April 1937. By July 1938, 128 hulls have been delivered but only 96 received their turrets. At the outbreak of war, 246 had been delivered and following the outbreak, another 374 was ordered, bringing the total ordered to 824. Later it was decided that from the 451st vehicle onwards, the S35 would be replaced by the more advanced S40. By June 1940 however, only 440 tanks had been completed. At the beginning of the Battle of France, 288 were in front-line service with the 1e, 2e, 3e Divisions Legeres Mecaniques. The 2e and 3e DLMs were concentrated in the Gembloux Gap between Louvain and Namur. From 13 to 15 May 1940, the French divisions clashed with the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions at the Battle of Hannut, still one of the largest tank battles of all time.

On one-to-one basis, the S35 proved themselves to be superior to the German panzers. However they were hesitatingly deployed by the French High Command as they thought the German attack at the Gembloux Gap was the schwerpunkt of the offensive and reserved their armour should the Panzerwaffe erupted from elsewhere. The attack was indeed a feint, causing the 1st DLM, earlier heading northwards to help the Dutch, to be hurried south again. The resulting disorder and breakdowns weakened the division which was defeated by the 5th Panzerdivision on 17 May. The remaining DLMs then only fought delaying battles as the initiative was firmly in the Germans' hands. Apart from the three DLMs, the S35 was issued to ad hoc units such as the 4e DCR, 4e DLM, Corps-francs Motorises, the reconstituted 1e, 2e and 3e DLMs, 7e Cuirassiers and a platoon in the 3e RAM of the 3e DLC. After the fall of France, 23 S35s were sent to West Africa to bolster Vichy French units stationed there. After the French units in Africa sided with the Allies following Operation Torch, the 12e Regiment de Chasseurs de Afrique who operated the Somuas, used their tanks against German and Italian forces during the Tunisian campaign. They were replaced by M4 Shermans following the defeat of Panzerarmee Afrika. 

Some 297 S35s were captured by the Germans. These were taken into German service as Panzerkampfwagen 35-S 739(f) and were used to equip Panzer-Abteilung 211. The unit was sent to Finland to take part in Operation Barbarossa. The S35 was also used by 22 and 25.Panzerdivisionen when they were reformed in 1943. Some of these units fought against the Allies at Normandy in 1944 such as 100. Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs-Abtelung and 206. Panzer-Abteilung. Others fought against Yugoslav partisans with the 7th SS-Freiwilingen Gebirgs-Division 'Prinz Eugen', 12. Panzer-Kompanie z.b.V and I/Panzer-Regiment 202. Germany's allies also received captured S35s with Italy receiving 32, Hungary 2 and Bulgaria 6. After the liberation of France, 17 S35s recaptured from the Germans, formed part a the newly-raised regiment, the 13e Regiment de Dragons and fought against the remaining German pockets of resistance in France.

The Kit
After releasing the Char B1, Renault UE and Citroen 11CV, Tamiya's next French vehicle was the Somua S35, released early in 2015. The release of this tank (and the previous French subjects) are most welcome as the market isn't exactly thick with them, and what's already in the market were long in the teeth. The kit consists of some 190 parts spread among five light sand-coloured and one clear sprues , a mass of separate-link tracks, a number of polycaps, a length of chain and the usual decal and instruction sheets. The parts feature fine detail especially the cast texture while the track assembly follows the same method as those for the Char B1 kit. The running gear on the real tank was quite complicated although Tamiya managed to simplify them without sacrificing too much detail. Decals provide markings for three vehicles :
1. '56', 18th Dragoon Regiment
2. '42', 13th Dragoon Regiment
3. '20', 4th Cuirassier Regiment

As usual with vehicle models, construction started from the bottom. It consists of a single-piece lower hull with separate front and side panels. Holes for the chain hangers were drilled into the rear panel face. Tamiya have the holes in 1 mm and 1.5 mm. I however have lost the larger drill bits and simply drill all holes in 1 mm, enlarging the required holes using another method. The side panels, the road and idler wheels and the drive sprocket (at this time still on their sprues) were then painted Olive Green (Tamiya XF-58 in this case) which seemed to be the basic colour for the Somua. The suspension and wheels were then assembled and cemented to the lower hull and followed by the armoured panels. The track skids and return rollers were then cemented; I almost lost one of the track skids when it flew off the tweezers (the track skids were located in rather tight spots and needed a tool to get them in place). The return rollers were also quite tight you need to insert them until you heard (or rather, feel) a click to show that they're properly in place. The next step would be assembling and fitting the tracks but I skipped this step and went for the upper hull.

The upper hull is a one-piece affair, somewhat replicating the real thing. The engine deck hatches were cemented in place and this was followed by the crew compartment hatches. The crew hatch on the left side of the hull can be posed open but with a totally empty interior, it was not a good idea. One of the shutters for the driver's vision hatch is moulded in the open position. Although not as obvious as the entry hatch, this one was also closed by cutting off the moulded-on hinge. The upper hull was then mated to the lower hull. The halves were secured by poly caps on the rear half while a tab secures the front. Tamiya Extra Thin Cement was used to plug the minor gaps. The rest of the hull fittings were then cemented on the hull although I left the exhaust and the pioneer tools until later. The storage boxes on the right side of the hull were of two parts and this necessitated some puttying to be done to make the moulded-on holding straps 'one', otherwise you'd end up with 'cut' straps (the best thing is to shave them off and replaced with PE replacement). The decision to use which markings also have to made here as the third marking option features a different style of towing hook.

Turret assembly was started by gluing the hatches on the turret sides. They fit OK, just remember to centre the part in the opening. The turret shell and the bottom match perfectly although a joint line was fairly visible when dry-fitted. To avoid that, I applied a bit more of Tamiya Extra Thin Cement, ooze off the melted plastic, cut them off and sand the joint. The mantlet and the cupola had the same issue and was dealt the same. I wanted to use the crew figure but since he sits on the hatch door and the door needs to be painted continuously with the rest, I temporarily stick the door in the closed position. Some lost cast texture caused by the sanding was restored, sort of, by stippling cement onto the affected areas. They may not be the same as the original pattern, but at least it restored the rough looks. Finally the tracks were assembled although they would be also be left off at this time.

Painting And Decalling
The decision to use which marking option was narrowed down to two when I selected the particular towing hook during assembly. It was now down to two - either tank number '56' or '42'. I selected '56' as the pattern was easier to paint. The model was painted accordingly using Tamiya paints (I almost exclusively use them). There is a bit of a problem while painting the black demarcation line as I couldn't keep a steady hand for a consistent width. The line was repaired in places using the base colours where needed. The tracks were painted a 50/50 mix of Flat Black and Red Brown. The decals were then applied. As nearly all the relevant surfaces have that rough texture, a layer of gloss clear was needed to prevent the decals from silvering. All of them bar one settled nicely. The recalcitrant one was the French roundel on top of the commander's cupola which needed a rather copious amount of Mr Mark Softer, and some cutting in order for it to settle on the surface. The model then received a filter layer of Buff.

The tracks, which had already been assembled and painted was then mounted on the model by running them through the sprocket wheel. Although there wasn't much room between the hull sponson and the upper run of the track, it was quite easy as the track has become quite stiff (although still pliable) from the paint. The storage box straps on the right side of the hull was painted XF-10 Flat brown as it gave more contrast than XF-64 Red Brown as suggested. The pioneer tools, after being painted, were cemented onto their places on the hull. The model was then given the usual wash to highlight the details. The lower hull was given an 'extra' application of Ak Interactive Earth Effects wash. Afterwards I picked up Mig Productions' Europe Dust pigment, mixed it with water and applied it all over the lower hull and the tracks. The crew figure was assembled, painted and then placed in the open turret hatch.

Early World War 2 tanks, especially the French ones aren't exactly thick on the ground. Again Tamiya had to be congratulated for bringing armour modellers this rather significant French medium tank which became the perfect partner for their Char B1 bis and Renault UE kits. It featured Tamiya's well-known hallmark of being easy to build (construction actually took me three days compared to at least one whole week for a similarly-sized model). The parts fit perfectly while having good surface details. And like the Char B1 bis, the snap-click tracks is the highlight of this kit, although due to its size, it's not as easy as the Char's tracks (why couldn't all model tank tracks like these?). I think the only drawback is the rather parsimonious selection of markings. And with the release of the Tamiya version of the S35, the old Heller kit can now be retired to become a collector's item.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Too Little, Too Late

Historical Background
Following the successful test flights of the world's first jet aircraft, the Heinkel He 178, the Reichluftfahrtminisiterium (RLM) issued a request to Bayerische Fleugzeugwerke / Messerschmitt for a jet aircraft capable of an hour's endurance and a speed of at least 850 km/h (despite Heinkel also have a follow-on design, the He 280 - this was because Heinkel was not in favour with the RLM, besides, they were also running behind Messerschmitt). Designated P.1065, the plans were drawn up in April 1939, featuring wing root-mounted engines. Technical issues with the BMW 003 turbojet delayed the progression of the project. In the meantime, the designers had the engines moved to underwing pods for ease of maintenance. As the BMW 003 was heavier than anticipated, the wing was swept slightly to accommodate the change in the centre of gravity. Funding for the jet engines were also lacking at this time as the many high-ranking officials such as Hermann Goering, Willy Messerchmitt and even Adolf Galland (later one of the Me 262's champions) thought that the war can be won by conventional, propeller-driven aircraft.

The first test flight of the now-designated Me 262 took place on 18 April 1941 but because the BMW turbojets were not ready for fitting, a Junkers Jumo 210 piston engine was mounted on the nose of prototype V1. When the jets were ready, the piston engine was retained as a safety measure. It was a wise decision as both BMW engines failed during their first flight in November 1941, forcing the test pilot to use the back-up engine. Prototypes V1 to V4 were also unusual by having conventional two-wheel landing gear. This caused the jet exhausts to deflect off the surface of the runway, while turbulence negating the effects of the elevators. On 18 July 1942, the first attempt to fly the Me 262 on purely jet power was abandoned because of this problem. To overcome it, test pilot Fritz Wendel tapped the aircraft's brakes at takeoff speed for his second attempt. This lifted the tail off the wing's turbulence, allowing the elevators to function. The engines however has been changed, the Me 262 was now using Jumo 004.

The landing gear was changed to a tricycle configuration from V5 onwards to simply take-off. Despite the change in powerplant, engine problems continue to plague the project, delaying serial production until 1944. Even then deliveries were slow. The delay in engine deliveries were caused by the lack of strategic materials, especially metals and alloys that can withstand the high temperature produced by a jet engine. Completed engines had a low service life of 50 flight hours, with many having an average of just 12. These early turbojets also develop less thrust at lower speeds, resulting in slow acceleration. However at high speeds, the Me 262 enjoyed a far superior rate of climb than a piston-engined aircraft. Fuel consumption was double the rate of conventional aircraft, allowing an endurance between 60 to 90 minutes with 2,000 liters of fuel. Being primarily intended to down heavy bombers, the Me 262 was fairly heavily armed with four MK 108 30 mm cannons (just two for the bomber version).

In November 1943, prototype V6 was demonstrated before Adolf Hitler himself. He was so impressed that he suggested the Me 262 be used in the tactical bomber role for which Messerschmitt was not completely ready to undertake within the tight delivery schedule. Nevertheless they promised the fast bomber version (nicknamed 'Sturmvogel' (Stormbird); the original fighter was nicknamed 'Schwalbe' (swallow)). Despite Hitler's insistence, work on the stormbird takes second place until May 1944, as the Me 262 was seen to be the answer against the mass bombing raids by B-17s of the US 8th Air Force escorted by the superlative Mustang fighters. In that month, Hitler expressly ordered that the A-2 bomber version be given priority over the A-1 fighter. Even then, every 20th airframe was marked for fighter role.

To test the aircraft under operational conditions, Erprobungskommando 262 was formed at Lechfeld on 19 April 1944, commanded by Hauptmann Werner Thierfelder. Upon his death in July 1944, ace Major Walter Nowotny was appointed as commander and the unit was renamed Kommando Nowotny. The Me 262 scored its first kill (though unconfirmed) on 26 July 1944, claiming a reconnaissance de Havilland Mosquito. The erratic nature of production and distribution at this stage of the war meant that only small numbers reach operational units. On 28 August 1944, the first Me 262 was shot down by two P-47 Thunderbolts. The Me 262 was sporadically used, mostly in the fast bomber role, until the end of 1944. With Allied bombings increasing in tempo, Hitler finally allowed the production of the fighter version to go ahead, allowing the first fully operational wing, Jagdgeschwader 7, under Major Johannes Steinhoff to form in early 1945. Another wing, Jagdverband 44 was formed in February 1944. It was led by the recently dismissed General der Flieger, Adolf Galland and are mostly staffed by the highest-scoring aces of the Luftwaffe. A number of Me 262-equipped Kampfgeschwaders were also re-roled during the final days of the Third Reich, in order to stem the Allied aerial onslaught upon Germany.

About 1,400 units were produced although only around 200 were available at any one time. The pilots claimed around 450 Allied aircraft shot down, while losing 100. Production was continued at Czechoslovakia postwar, as the Avia S / CS-92. Nine C-92 and two CS-92 were built.

The Kit
For years, the best 1/48 scale Me 262 was from Monogram and Dragon but they were getting rarer as time goes. In 2002, Tamiya came up with their version of the aircraft. Some modellers were underwhelmed as Tamiya chose to model the A-2 / Stormbird version first. Their disappointment did not last long as Tamiya released the -A1 version several months later. The kit featured all of Tamiya's well-engineered characteristics of well-moulded parts and crisp panel lines. In 2003, Tamiya came up with the 'clear version' where the fuselage, engine nacelles and certain other parts were moulded in clear plastic to allow modellers to show off the interior.  Critics of the kit pointed out the recessed panel lines (the real item had overlapping panels, so raised panel lines are more accurate) and non-deployable flaps and slats. Like their He 219, the nose wheel well doubles as counterweight. External items include R4M and W.Gr21 rockets, 250kg bombs, RATOG booster and engine FOD covers. Markings were provided for three aircraft:

1. White 2 / Werknummer 170071 , Eprobungskommando 262
2. Yellow 3, III. / Kampfgeschwader (Jagd) 54
3. Werknummer 111603, Spring 1945

I would like to say that I was actually looking for the 'regular' Tamiya Schwalbe but the local shop did not have one in stock, just the clear version. Despite the less-known marking options, I grabbed it as I want a 262 in my collection and disregard the reason why it was mainly moulded in clear plastic. Anyway, construction started at the cockpit of course. As usual, the parts were painted while still on the sprue, although this time I only painted the general colour, namely XF-63 German Grey. The parts were then cut off the sprue and have the base painting retouched, afterwards more detailed painting was done and instrument panel decals applied. They were then assembled and at this point the choice for markings would have to be made as the modeller would have to chose between parts G13 (for options A and B) or D2 (for option C). I chose the former. The rear fuel tank was left off as it won't be visible from the outside.

Next up was the landing gear / cannon bay module. The instructions have you add the complete landing gear strut at this time - something which I don't like in any aircraft kit. I however just superglued the part which holds the strut and left the nose wheel strut off. The cast metal wheel well should be painted AS-12 Bare Metal Silver but nothing beats simulating bare metal than bare metal itself, so it was unpainted. The cannon bay was next. As I intend to have it closed, it was unpainted and I only put the cannons (without the ammo chutes) and the two braces. As with the rear fuel tank, the forward tank was not used by me. The wheel well / cannon bay module and the cockpit was then cemented to the right-hand fuselage half. The cockpit sidewalls were painted AS-12 and XF-63 and their respective colours for the detail parts. Again, as they won't be visible, the radio, compass and oxygen bottles in the rear fuselage were discarded.

The wings are next and before I forget, holes were drilled on the lower wing half to accommodate the rocket racks. The upper halves and the one-piece lower half was then mated together and then cemented to the fuselage. Somewhat surprisingly, the upper surface did not fit well with a sizeable gap on the right and a step towards the trailing edge on the left wing. It must be me as all other reviews stated that they have perfect fit (that or the fit was off for the clear version). There were two types of rudder (early and late) and it was indicated which goes with which marking option(s). The navigation light cover was a separate clear piece. The 'light bulb' was a hollow 'pimple' inside the part but since I was afraid of ruining it, the bulb was not painted. As for the engines, there were two choices, a detailed one for display outside the pods, or inside (taking advantage of the clear parts) or just the engine face exhaust. As I'm gong to fully paint the model, the latter option was taken.

Painting and Decalling
The plane I chose, Yellow 3, has fairly simple scheme of RLM 83 Hellgrun upper works and RLM 76 Lichtblau lower down. The latter was applied using Tamiya AS-5 while Gunze H423 was used for the former. As with my Fw 190D-9, the mottling was done by applying paints of differing density and using stabbing motions occassionally. I also deviated a bit from the instruction sheet by having the fuselage area next to the wing joints painted Hellgrun. Afterwards the decals were applied. At first I was concerned that the tail camouflage colour was different from the rest of the upper fuselage. However, after seeing colour profiles and built models, it was indeed like that and I continue decalling the aircraft. Interestingly, should one build the kit as intended, Tamiya provided semi-transparent decals for fuselage bands, individual aircraft number and unit insignia shields. As usual, the decals received the Mr Mark Softer treatment.

As always with aircraft models, I started with the landing gears. No problems here except I found that it was rather fiddly to attach the already in place retracting arm to the nose gear stalk (because of my fat fingers, I guess). Although not widely used (the first usage was in March 1945) and it was unknown whether any of KG(J) 54's Schwalbes ever received them, the R4M racks were assembled and cemented to the lower wings, just to show the one of the air-to-air weapons available to the Me 262 (although in retrospect, since the it was a re-roled unit, the Wikingerschiffe pylon underneath the fuselage may be more appropriate). The most vulnerable parts such as the DF loop aerial, pitot tube and the FuG 16ZY radio aerial were then cemented. The model then received an application of AK Interactive Panel Liner solution. This is another great stuff from them and will replace my usual sludge wash technique used previously. A final coat of Flat Clear finishes the build.

The difficulties I encountered in mating the wing to the fuselage may be entirely my fault and not Tamiya's as virtually all reviews stated that they did not face the same problem I had. As with the 'regular' kit, the Clear Edition includes a variety of external stores to be hung on the aircraft. Although I did not take up the option, the kit allows modellers to test their skills by building and painting the interior and have their masterpiece be shown through the transparent fuselage. Despite the problems, the clever engineering and good fit overall allowed a rather short building time and I am very content that I have a miniature milestone (make that a quantum leap) of military aviation in my collection. The drawbacks? Basically none. OK, Maybe those non-deployed slats and apparently, the recessed panel lines. But I don't really paid much attention (and grief) to that!