After wrestling with the Meng D9R and the old Hasegawa 1:48 F-86 kits, a process that seemed to go on for much too long, especially considering this is a hobby and I’m allegedly doing this for fun, I took a step back and thought about me and modeling. I began modeling in the 1950s and like many others, took a break when the late teen and early twenties arrived. Besides, modeling on one of Uncle Sam’s destroyers was not a realistic undertaking. Years later, I did succumb to a Tamiya motorcycle kit which, with the arrival of a small infant didn’t actually get finished. No surprise there.
When the infants had grown to near adults, I ventured into the world of internet modeling to see what had been happening over those intervening years and shazam! The modeling world had changed. One thing led to another and I’m still building plastic scale models. All though this my skills have overall improved, somewhere along the way I began to envision other modelers inspecting my work and passing judgement, even if unspoken and that notion was living solely in my own mind. Not a sure fire way to keep a hobby fun. In any event, I continued to measure my skills against the master modelers I correspond with or just observe on the internet sites. And I was not happy with the results. Dumb, I know, but there it is.
So, after completing the Meng bulldozer, which is a hell of a nice kit and builds into an impressive and unusual beast, I could too easily see the flaws and issues when I compared it to Marcus Nichols’ D9R. I decided next to launch into the old Hasegawa F-86 kit and quickly messed up the aluminum paint job. It is fixable of course, but I also damaged my decals in the process so the Sabre went back in the box for later consideration.
What was wrong? Well, the enjoyment mojo had up and split. I took a short break. What, I said to myself, would be a fun, short and inexpensive project to undertake in order to find my modeling joy again? No PE. No after market resin. No complex details. No innards or ambitious realistic weathering. Just a freaking cool airplane.
I think Spencer Pollard was influential in moving me toward looking at the Airfix 1:72 Harriers. I had never built a Harrier before. I have always thought they were way cool and technologically ahead of their time. Not lightning fast or super streamlined, but a shapely workhorse of a jet. Get the job done. Get tactical. I spent a bit of time on YouTube looking at Harrier videos and found a good documentary on the design and development of the aircraft. Nice. I was interested.
Airfix. Hmmm…. Having never built an Airfix kit before I thought it would be great to build my first Harrier by Airfix. Besides, the new Airfix kits get outstanding reviews and on Sprue Brothers they go for $14 USD. A neat, quality kit for $14. Yes. (I think when Airfix became available in the US, I was probably rolling around in heavy seas on that tin can, so I missed out on the whole Airfix thing.)
So, I ordered a 1:72 Harrier GR.3 from Sprue Brothers. Opening the box I was immediately taken by the color and feel of the plastic along with the nice details cast into it. Wow! $14 for such a nice kit. Would the fit be as nice as the parts?
Within two days I had the cockpit built, fuselage closed, wings and tail surfaces on and was nearing the painting stage. But, as with all builds, the seams appeared to spell trouble. The wing roots, especially where they fit the top of the fuselage were separated from the other parts by varying sized gaps. Not great yawning gaps or steps, but gaps there were, and too obvious to ignore. I dealt with them by stretching some sprue from the kit’s trees and filling in the gaps. Cemented with Tamiya Extra Thin, they soon partially melted and I was able to press them down into the gaps with a small amount standing proud of the surface.
Then I sanded. And sanded, and sanded some more. A little more fill. More sanding. What would have been a better technique would have been to use a Sharpie to mark the seams and then sand until all of the black ink was gone. This worked well on the wing drop tanks and I plan to use it on all of my other seam issues. (Thanks, Spencer!)
Even so, I found that I was still having fun. Even whilst sanding.
I masked the canopy and windscreen with Tamiya masking tape, a new scalpel blade and strong light. Worked a treat. I was next test fitting the windscreen to the fuselage preparatory to painting and I squeezed it a bit too hard. There is the rough shape of a wiper cast into the front of the windscreen which also serves to focus stress along its length. Then it cracks. Many strong phrases and incantations I learned in the military were quickly applied but it was the masking tape and Tamiya Extra Thin that finally did the job.
I next dithered around with how to mask the camouflage pattern. I rolled thin strings of Blu-Tack and shaped them across the airplane. Yuck. I tried to flatten Silly Putty into the proper shapes. Not so much. I re-scaled the images on the instruction sheet to 1:72 scale, cut them out and began attaching them to the plane. Not a neat solution. I tried cutting the shapes out of masking tape, but didn’t like that either. So, I just fired up the compressor and used the Tamiya airbrush to freehand them. Worked pretty well. More importantly, that was more fun than screwing around with masks.
Cool. The wind had dropped outside, I put on a latex glove, grabbed a can of Tamiya TS-13 clear gloss and hit the plane with a pass. What? Where did all of those silver splats and globs come from? I hit the box with a short burst. Not only was the can almost empty, but somehow the TS-13 lid got put on an Aluminum spray can. Who could have done that? Dark thoughts about what evil gnome was now screwing around with me. But, I had to admit the high probability of memory freeze or plain carelessness.
Back to the airbrush for a new, second camo paint job. Still, strangely enough, I was enjoying myself.
Grabbed the new, sealed, unused can of Gunze Mr. Clear. I made a couple of light passes with it. Fine. It was clear. Not silver. After sufficient drying time I hit it a couple times more, a bit heavier. Next day I began deacaling. The big underwing decals with a good percentage of clear film demonstrated right away that my gloss coat wasn’t. Gloss enough. Punctured the decals. Sliced them with the scalpel blade. Applied Micro Sol. A couple of times. More of the same until most, but not all, of the silvering disappeared.
More gloss coats. Yet, even more gloss coats. I think this Gunze stuff can be lathered on after the first few light coats have dried. I think I got maybe six or seven coats on but yet it wan’t quite enough for perfect. So what? It was really pretty good and I was ok with that. I finished the decals and sprayed a couple more passes with the Gunze clear over the decals. Meh. OK, but not great.
Now, I’m near to finished with the stencils. Got the drop tanks on and the pylons on. The gear is done and painted, although I have to say that the design of the front landing gear assembly is poor engineering. It could have been done much simpler than casting it in two ill-fitting pieces. Besides, you don’t see much of it any way.
I’ll do a final update this weekend when I get the entire thing together.
I’m still having fun. I discovered that Airfix also makes a the GR.8 version in Spanish Navy markings. These airplanes were stationed at the Navy Airbase in Rota, Spain where I spent a couple of years working with our nuclear Polaris submarines. So, I’m getting one. I think my second harrier build will be a bit better than this first one.