I just finished building Academy’s 1/72 B-17G “Special Nose Art Edition” — after five months of work. It’s not that the finished model is so amazing down to every detail after all that time (though I did try to make it my best aircraft model to date). Really, it took so long because I have been very busy with a new job, and because there were stretches of weeks at a time when I just couldn’t face some aspect of the project. I’m talking about things like forcing the fuselage halves together and dealing with the gaps, or the bafflingly complex sequence of airbrushing without ruining all the windows and machine guns. I am breaking new ground in my model-building these days, using an airbrush, bothering to fill gaps with putty, and going the extra mile to weather the finished products a bit.
The “three bombers” of this “tale” are three examples of how my hobby skills have developed over the years. I built the first, Airfix’s B-24J Liberator, 15 years ago in 2001, when I was 35 years old. I had already been building models for at least 25 years at that point, and I was very happy with the B-24 when I did it. Of course I was doing nothing more than to glue the pieces together, brush on paint and apply the decals, but I was doing all of that pretty well. I had long before learned to paint certain pieces ahead of assembly, and to paint the insides before they got encased under the outer skin. I could also paint the window frames by hand, not super straight but decent enough.
The second bomber is also from Airfix, the 1/72 B-17G “A Bit O Lace,” which I bought around the same time as the B-24 but did not build until just last year, in 2015. By that time I had an airbrush, but I did not want to use it on this plane. I tried brushing on some silver (from a little Airfix paint pot that came with a jet plane I got for my little boy to make!) and thought it looked pretty good, streaks and all. Painting large surfaces with a brush is something of a lost pleasure, in my view. Without the considerations (and tedious clean-up) of an airbrush, the painting was not difficult. Lots of other aspects were, however! I had only just started using putty on gaps, and I am still quite unpracticed at weathering. Nonetheless, when all was said and done, I was again very pleased with the outcome. The gallery is here.
Which brings me to the third bomber, Academy’s “Mount ‘n’ Ride.” By way of measuring my development as a modeler, these are all the steps I intended to put into it which I would not have done when I was 10 years old:
- cutting rather than pulling the pieces off the sprue (when you’re a kid, like as not you just twist and pull!)
- painting pieces before gluing them into hard-to-reach positions
- painting the inside of the airplane before closing it in
- painting the window frames
- masking the glass, in fact, with tape before painting
- using putty to fill the inevitable open lines down the fuselage’s spine, belly and wing joints
- and then trying to sand it smooth (still not all that good at that!)
- spraying all parts with a primer
- painting the outside with an airbrush
- using a wash to accentuate the panel lines
- using a decal set to get the decals on tight and molded to the texture underneath
- further weathering with powder for exhaust streaks
- adding radio wires
I airbrushed the fuselage halves and the wing and stabilizer halves before gluing them together. I did that so that I would not have to mask every little window or cover the machine guns to paint the large surfaces. I don’t think I’ll do it that way again! Just mask it. Maybe moving parts can’t move. Maybe the inside half of the machine guns is on the inside, and you glue the barrel on after the fuselage is painted. I forgot to put the waist MGs through their ports before I joined the fuselage halves anyway! There were a great many problems to solve, despite the good quality of the kit. I was getting discouraged, but then I watched this video series of a B-17 build and was inspired to finish the kit off, finally. My Academy B-17 has some problems, the most obvious of which may be the sloppy putty work, but for all that I do think it turned out to be my “best airplane to date.”
So what’s next? Well, for one thing I just need more practice on my new hobby-skills plateau. Beyond that, I suppose, it is the “after-market” frontier of special parts and decals that are meant to be better than the ones “in the box” — though right now I am not at all sure I will ever open that door. Of course, that’s what I said about the airbrush…