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!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

New Generation X

Fictional / Real World Background
The T-65 X-Wing starfighter was a product of Incom Corporation, builder of warships for the Galactic Republic and later, the Galactic Empire. Designed by Voors Voorhorian, it was the direct descendant of the popular Z-95 Headhunter, incorporating lessons learned from the ARC-170 starfighter of the Clone Wars. After receiving news of the Imperial takeover of the company, Incom's engineers defected to the Rebel Alliance, bringing with them the complete production blueprints. Four prototypes were recovered at planet Fresia and the X-Wing first saw combat at the Battle of Turkana. More prototypes were liberated from an Incom production facility and soon the Rebels were building the X-Wing from clandestine facilities in the Outer Rim Territories. The clandestine nature however meant poor deliveries and standardisation. Nevertheless the X-Wing commands a healthy fear from the TIE pilots and scored amazing success during the Galactic Civil War, chief of which was the destruction of both of the Imperial's dreaded Death Star battle stations.

Thirty years on after the Battle Of Endor and the signing of the Galactic Concordance after Battle of Jakku, the war started again, now between the First Order, an organisation rising from the ashes of, and inspired by, the Galactic Empire and the Resistance, a military force founded by Princess / General Leia Organa (as the New Republic refused to take the threat of the First Order seriously, and viewed her as overly paranoid and a warmonger). Chief starfighter of the Resistance is again the X-Wing, a new variant designated T-70 and still produced by the now-named Incom-FreiTek. The resistance, like the Rebel Alliance thirty years before, however did not have sufficient resources to build all the X-Wings they need and have to rely on covert support from the New Republic, such as donations from sympathisers in the Senate. Unlike the original X-Wing, the wings of the T-70 can be considered a 'monoplane', with interlocking wings that split up in the attack mode: the leading edge downwards and the trailing edge upwards.

Like the T-65, the T-70 is also a multi-mission platform, able to do space/air superiority missions and strike missions, whether against enemy fortifications, ground troops, starfighters or capital ships. To do these missions, the T-70 is armed with four fire-linked Taim & Bak KX12 laser cannons, an upgrade of the Civil War-era KX9. The weapons bay underneath the cockpit can carry and fire a variety of guided weapons, from concussion missiles to proton torpedoes and mag pulse warheads. A weapon not seen in the T-65 was also added, namely a rapid-fire, underslung laser blaster, to hold off close-range attack by enemy stormtroopers or any hostile party while on the ground. The crew comprised of one pilot and an astromech droid, using the old R2 and R5 series and also the new BB series. The T-70 also was faster than the older version, thanks to the new Incom 5L5 fusion engines. Like the T-65 before it, the T-70 had its finest hour attacking and destroying a major enemy installation, this time the planet-sized Starkiller Base.

Off-screen, the T-70 was first revealed to the public at the Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2015 in April of that year. In The Force Awakens it (and the new TIE Fighter) was shown flying and fighting in atmosphere (at Takodana and Starkiller Base), something not shown in the previous six movies involving starfighters. Despite being supposedly the new version of the X-Wing, the design of the T-70 borrowed some early ideas of the original X-Wing. Most recognisable is the half-moon air intakes which was originally seen in Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for Episode IV A New Hope. Wookieepedia however mentioned that the similarity was only discovered after the design had been prozen for production.

The Kit
The T-70 (dubbed 'Resistance X-Wing Fighter') was part of the initial release of Star Wars model kits from Bandai in 2015. The kit was made of 103 parts spread among one multi-coloured sprue (this time comprising of light grey/clear red/light blue and clear), one light grey, one metallic grey and one sand-coloured sprues plus decal and sticker sheets. While nearly all the decals look pixellated, the worst are for the grey-coloured ones. The light blue parts for the fuselage are meant to replicate the Blue Squadron X-Wings from the movie without having the modeller paint them. The wing ID  bands however use either the waterslide decals or the stickers. Two types of canopies were included : one the 'normal', clear plastic (which you have to paint the framing, or in this case, apply sticker or decal to the frame) and the other is a 'glassless' opaque plastic frame which replicate the original studio models (the canopy was made glass-less in order to avoid glare during filming). Two figures of the pilot (one seated, one standing) and of BB-8 were also included. The pilot figures, unlike those in the AT-ST kit, have properly proportioned lower arms and generally have good details.

Unlike most model kits of 'flying things' (whether real or fiction), the X-Wing has one starting at the wings. They are moulded with an opposing upper and lower wing on each half .The very first step was concerned with the starboard upper/port lower wing assembly.The wings were moulded as one with certain panels and parts being separate. The intakes have engine detailing inside which I painted a mix of Burnt Iron and Silver. The rest of the wing panel went on easily although there may be gaps between the hole in the wing surface panel and the snap-fit locating post (to be checked before painting commences). There was also the need to check the orientation of the wing during assembly at it involved some flipping. The exhaust ends were left off to facilitate painting. The same steps were repeated for the other pair of wings. To complete the assembly, the two wing sub-assemblies were simply pushed together. A 'stopper' was then placed on each end of the wing pivot, to help modellers pose the wing at the proper angle.

The next step is concerned with the fuselage and this time, construction started at the cockpit. While still on the sprue, the cockpit parts were painted XF-69 NATO Black. The control stick was painted X-18 Semi-Gloss Black. Afterwards, they were cut off the sprue and more detailed painting was done in lieu of the decals, except for the instrumentation panels at the front end of the cockpit. The upper fuselage assembly started by getting the 'exposed wiring area' and astromech droid compartment insert into place. Although having a tight fit, I applied some cement, just in case. Before closing up the fuselage, the wing was put into place first. Finally the upper fuselage half was mated to the rest of the model and this was followed by the one piece nose. The multi-piece fuselage, incorporating separate 'blue panels' caused a number of gaps which had to to puttied. I intended to place the model on its display stand so I used the closed gear door parts (the alternative parts were placed in storage).

Painting and Decalling
One problem about these Bandai Star Wars kits is that they are meant for the Japanese market only. This in turn meant Japanese-only descriptions in the instruction sheet. It wasn't really a problem during assembly but was quite problematic for painting. The painting instructions, when translated, only gave generic paints (light grey, black, green, orange etc). After testing various shades of grey (ahem) in my inventory and after browsing through the internet, I came to the conclusion that the best colour would be Light Grey FS 36495. I also decided not to use the decals for the blue trims on the model. Instead I painted them a mix of X-14 Sky Blue and XF-8 Flat Blue (basically the same colour for the nose of my P-51 Mustang). Again, the exposed interior bits on the wings were painted a mix of Burnt Iron and Silver. The canopy frame was painted a custom mix of metallic colours. The pilot's flight suit was painted a mix of X-7 Red and XF-3 Flat Yellow but with more emphasis on red to match the colour of the suit in the movie (the instructions have you paint the suit International Orange, as used in the original trilogy).

The decals were then applied. They came off the backing paper easily, even in room-temperature water. The drawback I noticed was that some of the pattern decals (the dark grey ones) did not exactly match the shape of the panels, were pixellated and were not quite responsive to Mr Mark Softer. Sure, I can have them painted instead (like the blue portion of the wings) but I decided to use the decals anyway. Despite fairly thin, the decals have trouble over curves, especially decals for BB-8.

To start, I washed the model with dark grey and applied a slightly thicker mix on certain areas such as the wing pivot and the torpedo launcher troughs. And yes, the cannons were washed separately. Once done, the pilot and the BB droid were placed at their respective positions and the canopy fitted. I wanted to take some photos of the model with the landing gears attached but I made the mistake of placing the closed doors first. They fit so tightly that I can't remove them. So, the gear down photo session was cancelled. The display stand parts were sprayed TS-6 Matt Black as a base. The display base have textures suggesting the sand dunes of Jakku but apart from Poe's X-Wing seen in the opening scenes, no X-Wings was seen flown over the planet. I therefore decided to turn it into the snows of Starkiller Base.

There was however no snow substitute available so I simply paint the display base Flat White. The stand remain matt black. The stand has multiple slots to allow a number of possible poses and are meant to be fully poseable. The fit is however, too good here that I find it hard to pull them apart to make the variable poses; I just manage to get two for the photos. The whole assembly was then sprayed with a sealing layer of semi-gloss clear. 


Bandai has done it again and after looking at photos of its Revell counterpart, the Bandai T-70 leaves the 'other guy's' X-Wing parsecs behind. The Bandai T-70 has better and crisp details, especially on the cockpit instrument coaming, the exposed areas on the top and the rear of the fuselage and the engines. Sure, there were hiccups such as the less than ideal fit of the fuselage and the snap fit posts in the canopy but those still do not detract from the fact that this T-70 is a nice kit. The snap fit nature, while causng some loss of details, especially around the landing gear doors, makes it easy for one to change the way the model is displayed. I am looking forward to more Star Wars kits...too bad the TIE Avenger, Defender and various other starfighters have been relegated to 'Legends' status and most probably won't see the light of the day as a 'legit' kit.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Achtung! Jabo!

Historical Background
Even before the Hawker Hurricane entered production in May 1937, its designer, Sydney Camm (later Sir Sydney) has started the design for its successor. Two designs, similar but larger than the Hurricane were drawn and were later known simply as 'N' and 'R' , as they were designed to use Napier's Sabre and Rolls-Royce's Vulture engines. Both used 24 cylinders in a 'H' configuration (Sabre) and 'X' arrangement (Vulture) and designed to produce 2,000 hp. Hawker submitted the designs to the Air Ministry in July 1937 but was advised to wait until a specification for a new fighter is issued. After further prompting by Hawker, the Air Ministry issued Specification F.18/37 in March 1938, asking for a fighter which would be able to reach 400 mph (644 km/h) at 15,000 feet (4,600 m). It should be powered by a British engine equipped with a two-stage supercharger and armed with twelve .303 inch Browning machine guns with 500 rounds each, with provision for alternative weaponry.

With government sanction, Camm and his team officially started work on their prototypes. Aircraft R became Hawker Tornado, the development of which was terminated in 1941, following the failure and the termination of its Vulture engines (in Avro's Manchester bomber). Aircraft N was called the Typhoon and both it and the Tornado have their front fuselage structure made up of bolted and welded duralumin or steel tubes covered with skin panels while the rear fuselage was of flush-rivetted, semi-monocoque design. The skin panelling on the forward fuselage are large to allow easy access to the engine and other important equipment. The wing was designed with a small inverted gull-wing bend and with a thickness to chord ratio of 19.5% at the wing root. The thick wing possessed great structural strength, provided a lot of room for armament and fuel and also became a steady gun platform.The thickness however created a large drag rise, preventing speeds from exceeding 410 mph at 20,000 feet. Climb rate and performance also suffered above that height. Because of problems with the Napier Sabre, the Typhoon's first flight only took place on 24 February 1940. Further delays to the programme happened on 15 May 1940 when Lord Beaverbrook ordered that aircraft production would only concentrate on five types (Spitfire, Hurricane, Blenheim, Whitley and Wellington).

Nevertheless, on 3 May 1941, the second prototype, armed with four Hispano Mk II 20 mm cannons flew, as the prototype for Typhoon Mk.IB (the twelve MG-armed version was known as Typhoon 1A).The first production Typhoon first flew just three weeks later, on 27 May 1941. The introduction of the superb Focke Wulf Fw 190 outclassed the main RAF fighter at the time, the Spitfire Mk.V. Therefore, the Typhoons were rushed into service with No.56 and No.609 Squadrons. However, several aircraft were lost to unknown causes and the Air Ministry began consider halting the production of the Typhoon. In August 1942, a test machine was lost over Thorpe, killing the pilot. Investigations revealed that the elevator mass balance has torn away causing an intense flutter to the rear fuselage. This caused structural failure, tearing the tail away.  To overcome this problem (only partially as there were instances of the tail being ripped away until the end of the type's service life), 20 alloy 'fishplates' were riveted externally across the rear fuselage transport joint.

Another problem, the first actually, and also never fully solved, was carbon monoxide seepage into the cockpit. Despite the lengthening of the exhaust stubs and the sealing of the left cockpit access door (for the 'car-door' type), the problem remained and it became an SOP for a Typhoon pilot to use the oxygen mask from engine start-up to engine shut down. As originally designed, the Typhoon was fitted with a car-door style cockpit doors. This restricted the pilot's visibility and from November 1943 onwards, all production aircraft switched to the 'bubble' canopy, offering greater visibility. In order to have as many as possible bubble-canopied Typhoons for Operation Overlord, conversion kits were produced to convert many of the existing car-door Typhoons. Once operating from forward airfields in Normandy, it was found that the 80% of the dust clouds stirred by propeller wash consisted of hard, abrasive materials causing excessive wear and tear to the engine. A dome deflector was hurriedly designed and fitted. These however has the propensity of being thrown off whenever the engine backfired. They were soon replaced by a drum-shaped filter which has a 'cuckoo-clock' door at the front which opened when sensing pressure changes caused by the engine backfiring. Earlier, when it was determined that the Typhoon can carry loads up to 1,000 lb under each wing, a four-bladed propeller was adopted to increase take-off performance. It was also decided that the larger tailplane of the Hawker Tempest improved the handling characteristics of the Typhoon while carrying its bombload. However the modification programme took time and it was several months before the majority of the Typhoon received the four-bladed propeller and the enlarged tailplane.

The Typhoon did not mature into a reliable aircraft until late 1942. It was at one point almost cancelled but for the strong urges of one of its champions, Squadron leader Roland 'Bee' Beamont of No.609 Squadron who also worked as Hawker's test pilot while being rotated from 'line' service. From late 1942 to early 1943, Typhoon squadrons were based on airfields on England's south  and south-east coasts to intercept the Luftwaffe's nuisance raiders (mainly Fw 190s carrying a single bomb) doing 'tip-and-run' attacks. The Typhoons (and also the first of the Griffon Spitfires) were successful in intercepting these raiders. However, the profile of Typhoon resembled a Fw 190 from certain angles, causing friendly fire incidents. This led to the Typhoons being marked with white noses, and later with black and white stripes under the wings. It was then realised that the Typhoon was more suited to the ground attack role rather than being a pure fighter. The powerful engine allowed it to carry two 1,000 lb bombs and the first 'Bombphoon' squadron, No. 181 was formed in September 1942. A year later, four RP-3 60 lb rocket projectiles were mounted on each wing. Although requiring more skills to use, a full salvo of the rockets from a single Typhoon was said to be an equivalent of a full destroyer's broadside.

The rocket-armed Typhoons formed the basis of the RAF's Second Tactical Air Force. Although interchangeable with bomb racks, line squadrons were specifically assigned as rocket- or bomb-armed units, in order to simplify logistics. It also allowed units to be proficient in one particular weapon. By the time Operation Overlord commenced, 2 TAF had 18 Typhoon squadrons (Fighter Command has another 9 for anti-raider duties). The Typhoon proved to be the most effective ground support aircraft, making interdiction raids against communication and transport targets prior to D-Day and giving direct support on D-Day and beyond. Despite a rather poor hit rate of the rockets, a combined bomb and rocket attack was devastating to the morale of German troops. The usage of air observers, acting as liaison between the troops in contact and air support further increased the effectiveness of Allied air support. Typhoons were used until the end of the war and were totally removed from the inventory in October 1945. 3,317 Typhoons were built, most of them by Gloster.

The Kit
Hasegawa released their first 1/48 Hawker Typhoon, a car-door version, in 1998. This was followed by the bubbletop version in 1999. As 'Kings of Reboxings' they re-released the two Typhoon types in the following years with different markings. The kit I used here was released in 2003. The parts were spread among 13 medium grey and one clear sprues, some poly caps plus the usual decal and instruction sheets. The parts, as usual, are well moulded and feature nice engraved surface detail. In order to save production costs, the main fuselage was moulded sans the mid-upper part. These were moulded separately so that Hasegawa can mould just the cockpit area for the car-door and bubbletop versions. The decal sheet provide markings for two aircraft:
- ZY-B / MN316, No. 247 (China British) Squadron
- HF-L / JR128, No.183 Squadron

As usual construction started at the cockpit. Hasegawa provided the basics of a Typhoon cockpit, including a separate tubular framework. There is some confusion about the colour of the cockpit but I decided to go with Hasegawa's recommendation of British Interior Green. The colour was a mixture of Tamiya XF-21 Sky, XF-5 Flat Green and XF-65 Field Grey. The assembly was then cemented to the right fuselage half, along with the XF-1 Flat Black-painted radiator. The fuselage inserts were then cemented to the respective sides of the fuselage halves.They fit OK to the main fuselage but when the fuselage were mated, there was quite a sizeable gap down the spine. which I couldn't eradicate fully. The two-piece horizontal tail was cemented together and mated to the fuselage with no fuss. After the cement has cured, I found that bubble-top Typhoons have flat black interiors with natural metal seats!

Before assembling the wings, holes were drilled into the lower wing half for the rocket pylons and the entry footstep. The upper wing halves were then mated to the lower half and the entire assembly was then cemented to the fuselage. While other modellers said there wasn't any problems here, I found a gap and each of the wing roots; but nothing too serious. The radiator flap was put in place and as usual, the landing gear parts were left off at this time.

Painting and Decalling
RAF tactical aircraft in Europe after 1941 were painted Medium Sea Grey (bottom) and a camouflage pattern of Ocean Grey and Dark Green. The paints I used for the colours are Tamiya XF-83 (Medium Sea Grey) and XF-81 (Dark Green). IPMS Stockholm suggested that XF-54 is a good match for Ocean Grey and that's what I use, although I modify it a bit by adding XF-18 Medium Blue. The ID band on the leading edge and propeller blade tips were painted XF-3 Flat Yellow. The prop spinner was painted XF-21 Sky while the blades were painted Flat Black. The wheel bay and landing gear were painted Gunze 8 Silver. Being invasion stripe-challenged, I chose the markings for HF-L. Looking at a photo HF-L/JR128 in flight, I noticed a slightly different camouflage pattern than suggested by Hasegawa, so I touched up the relevant areas and thankfully the tonal difference was not that apparent. The decals were then applied the usual way. There were also a number of stencils seen in the photo but was nowhere seen on the decal sheet.

As usual, I started by assembling the landing gear and then cementing them to the fuselage. Because of the flat spot on the tire, the tail wheel was cemented first. The main wheels were then cemented and adjusted so that the flat area is well, flat to the surface.The rocket rails, which was painted separately were then fixed to their places under the wings, followed by the rocket projectiles. The propeller assembly was inserted into place and was followed by the canopy. Feeling the build has been completed, I cleared my working table and threw the plastic runners and un-needed parts. While looking at references in order to write this article, I gasped when I realised that the Typhoon squadrons have specific weaponry accorded to them (and were not interchangeable). No.183 Squadron was a 'Bombphoon' unit and therefore it was wrong to have its aircraft outfitted with rocket rails!

The rocket rails were duly removed, the mounting holes patched and the paint retouched. While I have a couple of British bombs in the spares bin, there were no pylons to hang them on. In the end, I decided to leave the Typhoon in clean configuration. Apart from lack of pylons, this was also done in homage of its earlier task as an interceptor/fighter (that is, until I manage to find Typhoon bomb pylons, or scratchbuild them).

Apart from older Monogram offering, I guess the Hasegawa Typhoons are the only game in town for that aircraft in 1/48 scale (the Italeri offering is a reboxing of Hasegawa kit). On the plus side, the kit has good overall detail, on the inside and on the surface. On the negative side, chief among them was that fuselage insert (although, I think, with careful handling, it might fit without problems). Another drawback, realised afterwards (which I should have caught earlier), was the relative lack of research, and in turn lack of alternative parts suitable for respective 'Bombphoon' and 'Rockphoon' units. This kit for example, have the bomb pylons but not the bomb themselves. Plus, it was nowhere noted in the instructions that bomb pylons should be used with the No.183 Squadron option. And finally, the bad fit between the wing and the fuselage. Nevertheless, it was still an enjoyable build.