Airfix 1/72 A-4B/P Skyhawk Build Review
By Alexandros Anestes
|Date of Review||January 2014||Manufacturer||Airfix|
|Kit Number||3029||Primary Media||Styrene|
|Pros||Nice kit||Cons||See text|
|Skill Level||Basic||MSRP (USD)||$10.95|
Generally speaking it is a very good kit which combines very good value for money. On the other hand, I would appreciate more delicate panel lines, but we can't have everything. Since I have always wanted to build an Argentine A-4 during the Falklands/Malvinas War I started at once.
Originally, I removed the kit main parts from their sprues and consequently I started a thorough examination by comparing them to the Argentine aircraft photographs that I had already accumulated from various sources (thank you all). My findings were interesting. The reinforcing plates and the nose panel located in the middle and the front part of the starboard fuselage respectively had to be removed in the former case and filled-in in the latter case because there were nonexistent in the Argentine aircraft. Then I re-scribed the panel lines were necessary.
As far as the aerodynamic fairings located on the spine of the aircraft and the lower part of the fuselage as well as the antenna found on the vertical fin, all of which are customized modifications for the Argentine aircraft is concerned, I will comment further at a later point as construction of the model progresses. Now that I am done with the prerequisites I will proceed with the kit's cockpit which is complete but not good enough for me. I own an Aires, A-4E resin cockpit set though, which I liked it a lot because of the side wall and the aft cockpit components for which I believe are similar among the A-4 early versions.
Up to now I didn't have the chance to see a photograph of an Argentine A-4P cockpit. However, based on the fact that the Argentine A-4Ps were refurbished machines that some of them were delivered during late 1960's early 1970's that combined characteristics of the later Skyhawk variants such as the flap/spoiler assembly I assumed that using the Aires set would be an acceptable solution.
From that point on I extensively used my reliable Dremel motor tool to remove a lot of plastic from the cockpit inner walls. I spent much time in doing so. Finally when the sides became very thin, nearly transparent I was satisfied. I also removed very carefully the excess resin from the Aires set and lowered the front wheel well by a millimeter or so. After putting a lot of effort I managed to fit all the above sub-assemblies in the heavily modified cockpit in a very acceptable way.
With the fuselage complete I will next work on the wings. While I was working on the A-4P wings, I received an email from an Argentine modeler, Mr. Pablo Ziegler, primarily concerned with the reinforcing plates which I have already removed. Pablo indicated (and his indication was accompanied with some close up photographs) that all "late" Argentine A-4Ps were equipped with the plates. In the process I have asked him if the "early" A-4Ps were refurbished to the same standard and furthermore if he could provide some serial numbers for both the "early" and "late" aircraft during the war in order to reach a sound conclusion. He replied that he did not have such material and that was too hard to find such information.
After a lot of discussion on this issue we reached the conclusion that most probably during the war all aircraft should have been equipped with the plates. Airfix plates are very thick and the best way to represent them correctly is either to trim and make them thinner or better to completely remove and make them from scratch. Pablo was kind enough to provide some more information that I will refer to when the time comes. At this point I wish to thank Pablo very much for his valuable information which will greatly contribute to make this project a more accurate replica of the real aircraft.
I also take the chance to invite all fellow modelers to feel free and make their comments provided for they serve the above mentioned goal. After this absolutely necessary prologue, it is about time to go on with the development of the A-4P wings.
While I was going through the Cybermodeler Online's walk around photographs for the Skyhawk
I noticed the gun gas diffusion area which is located in the front section of the wing roots. I liked what I saw and I decided to do the same in the kit. Subsequently, I removed carefully the thin plastic membrane that was covering the respective point and then I added two small pieces of plasticard accordingly. It is an easy thing to do which contributes a lot to the better overall representation of the model.
Then I proceeded with the flap/spoiler section. Unfortunately, Airfix does not provide for separate flaps which are extended when the aircraft is parked. Therefore, with the use of Dremel in the first place and various kinds of sanding paper later, I removed the excess plastic simulating the retracted flap.. Then, after studying very carefully the respective area, I scratch built the flaps using .13mm and .25mm for the lower and upper part respectively and at the point where they hinged to the wing, I also add a13mm in order to to replicate the three dimensional effect of the real thing. In my first attempt I glued them with Tamiya glue but I was not really satisfied because in same parts the thin plasticard was crazed. Then my very good friend and fellow modeler Fotios Rouch gave me a clue about using super glue in such thin plasticard parts. So I did and everything worked out smoothly. I went on by removing the flap area that the spoiler actuator is going through.
Yes, apart from the "Charlies" the "Bravos" were similarly equipped with spoilers and as a matter of fact, after spending lots of time in studying and verifying the dimensions in question I rescribed the upper wing area representing this feature. I hope I did it right. While I was enjoying the end of my extended flaps scratch built, I have decided to further develop the specific area. This time I would try to replicate the real shape of the flap aerodynamic fairing while in extended position. Even though this area is hardly seen in the internet walk arounds, I remembered that I have a couple of relative photographs taken at Quonset Point Museum, Rhode Island, which helped me to understand how the whole system works. The end result is what you see in the photographs.
I do not know how all these components will go together when the time for the final assembly comes. I have a strong feeling though that since everything is proportional to the real thing will do fine. Another issue of concern to me was the rear part of the slat inner part which does not end smoothly as on the real aircraft but instead it leaves a step. To correct it, I also used .13mm plasticard rods cut accordingly (see photographs) and subsequently I also glued them with super glue. Then I trimmed the whole area carefully and the end result was very satisfactory. Talking about the slats, I also trimmed down to a third of the original the slat actuators afterwards looked much more authentic.
Another important issue when you want to build an FAA A-4B is the customized antennas and fairings. It was really something that I was looking into for at least two decades. The above situation was vastly improved when I receive again from Mr Pablo Ziengler some photographs from an Argentine A-4B that resides in the Buenos Aires FAA Museum. Even though, they weren't close up photographs, thanks to the digital technology I could manage to get a good idea of their shape and with the comparisons and double checking that followed helped me to reach a sound conclusion.
As you see in the photographs provided, all antennas and fairings were made from scratch using generic materials like Evergreen plastic card. The respective pieces were very small and required very much attention and time in order to do them accurately as possible. Also, I did not have in my possession all around close up photographs and therefore I had to be very careful shaping the components. The most demanding of all was the spine fairing. It was the most demanding and the most tiring to deal with. As you see, I scratch built the basic platform which I gave it the original shape. Then, I removed the rear part and trimmed to a great extend along the lower side of the respective part provided for by Airfix. Then I also scratch built the extension for the reshaped Airfix part and then I joined them together. Finally, on the rear part of the new fairing I also scratch built and installed the small base where the navigation light will rest.
I think that the end result is very satisfying. I do not say that it is perfect, but I certainly believe that it is among the most representative as of today. At this stage I did not deal with the vertical fin elliptical antenna. I leave it for a later stage because I have to verify whether there is a reinforcing plate under it or not.
Now for the VOR/ILS elliptical antenna issue and one more time the photographs that I had in my disposal also coming from Mr. Pablo Ziegler helped me to resolve it. After careful examination of the respective area on the vertical fin I verified that there is a small metallic plate under it, which according to my limited knowledge it was probably added to structurally support the antenna. Therefore, I had to represent this plate on the model. The flat area and the correct angle of the photographs helped me to find the proper dimensions relatively easily. Thus, the result is a very small plate of plastic which was made by using 0.13mm plastic card and further sanding it down.
I used the metal wire taken from a cable with a thickness that looked fine for the scale and I finally glued them together by using superglue. Taking into consideration my presbyopia (still no glasses for me), the most challenging part was the adjustment and placement of the two on the tail of the model!! I spent quite some time there but I finally got it down to my satisfaction.
One outstanding issue I have also mentioned in the beginning of this article was the fuselage reinforcing plates. I remind you that I had already removed them and it was time to do something about it. Since it was about a reinforcing plate, again I used the same method and material described above. The important point here was to reproduce these plates correctly due to their particular shape. Photographic material from the same source came to my aid and I believe that the end result is much more convenient than the original one provided on the kit.
Another area that I slightly improved was the landing gear wheel wells. In the main ones the detail is more than acceptable for the scale and the only thing I did is to add two rods (one in each well) made from stretched plastic sprue of appropriate diameter, cut it accordingly and placed it in the rear part of the wheel wells.
In the nose section things were a bit different. The port side of the wheel well houses has a lot of piping which I also constructed from stretched sprue but much thinner than the rods before. I made six very similar pipes to each other and then I also scratch built from plastic card again a suitable plate that supports them. I consequently made six holes by using a very fine drill and finally I passed all six of them through it. Then I attached the whole unit in the model wheel well. On top of that I also added two additional pipes by using very fine metallic pieces also taken from cable, to represent the "S" shape piping.
Why use metallic material? Because the stretched plastic breaks very easily if you try to give it a different shape than a straight line, whereas the fine metal one is much more pliable, easier to work with and to create more complex works with. My feeling is that with the above mentioned additions the nose wheel well is vastly improved and as a matter of fact looks the part.
Thinking that I had finally finished with scratch building parts so I could go on doing regular assembly, I was very disappointed to realize that another part of the kit should be scratch-built. As you may have noticed from the previously published photographs, the instrument panel coaming as well as the panel itself have been removed from their original place. I did so for two reasons; the first one was that I wanted to expedite the assembly of the kit by putting together the fuselage halves and doing other works simultaneously and the second one was the improvement of the instrument panel and its coaming.
My source of information came again from the famous by now Mr. Pablo Ziegler. Actually, I have asked him for a war period A-4B/P instrument panel photograph. His reply was that the material I received was the only one he had in his possession and he was not 100% sure that is coming from the war time period. Since I had nothing else in hand, I started thinking the way I would replicate it in 1/72 scale.
My first thought was to make it by using Reheat bezels and instruments. After careful study of the bezels I rejected the idea. My second thought was to do it from scratch by using plasti-card as described in some old modelling techniques books. I finally ended up by combining two of the above methods. First I formed the background plate. Then I created a similar plate and started drilling holes which would represent the instrument cavities. The first attempt didn't work at all. The second was better, but it was the third example that was finally greatly acceptable. What you see in the pictures is not the exact shape of the instrument panel. The extra plastic at the sides of the main panel involved was formed in order to fill the gap which is created between the instrument panel and the kit sidewalls. However, the instrument types and arrangement is nearly identical to the real one.
So, after drilling the instrument arrangement in the second placard I chose and applied the Reheat instrument decals. Then I aligned the instruments placed in the sandwiched type instrument panel. As far as the coaming is concerned, I added the bit pieces in the inner part. Then I proceeded by painting the new parts and putting them into place.
Before I go on to the main assembly of the model, I would like to expand a bit on the instrument panel. Three instruments on the panel were framed by using very thin plastic card which was further sanded down. I drilled the plastic first and then cut to create the desired shape and dimensions. I also added tiny parts of plastic to the lower part of the panel to represent the frequency switches, communication box-like device and the computer which are found under and on the right side of the panel respectively. I then washed it with dark shaded painting oil and dry brushed it with light gray pastel color. I finally added a drop of Krystal Klear behind the instrument holes to give it a more realistic look. Taking into consideration the gray color of the instrument panel and the faded black tone of the Reheat instruments, I believe that the overall picture is quite acceptable.
After checking lots of photographs its proper position, I placed the dry brushed coaming on top of the instrument panel and then fill the surrounding gaps. For the first time I used a dense liquid substance which was composed of plastic sprues diluted in a liquid cement bottle. I was given this dilution by a fellow modeler who had experienced very good results with it. He advised that minimum drying time (for sanding) of this substance was two days. I followed his tip very strictly and two days later I started sanding the newly placed coaming. I was very happy because when I dry fit the windscreen in the respective area everything was in place and thus the end result was very satisfying. The above issue marked the end of the scratch built works and the beginning of the main assembly of the little model! Therefore, I also provide the first dry fit photograph of my A-4B Skyhawk.
I moved on by gluing the wings to the fuselage. A bit of pressure to both units resulted in a very good fit of the joints. Then I added the cannon fairings which according to reference photographs are a compact part of the wing and not a separate unit as selected by Airfix. However, in order to be on the safe side I decided to add Gunze Sangyo 500 liquid putty on the above mentioned areas. I let it dry for approximately two days and then with the help of a Qtip dipped in alcohol, I started removing the excess putty little by little until it became very smooth. I repeated the same procedure twice. Then I glued the horizontal stabilizers to the fuselage and even though the fit was good I repeated twice the above mentioned Gunze Sangyo 500 liquid putty procedure as well. I also checked and corrected various smaller areas like the air intakes, the wings, and the fuselage itself.
While I am waiting to receive the resin copies of the various antennas and the flaps that I had made earlier, I decided to paint all the red surfaces like the flaps, speed brakes, slats and landing gear door edges in order to start giving the kit a more colorful appearance. I first masked the respective areas using regular paper tape so as not to have red color in major areas of the model and then I painted both inner sides of the wing/fuselage and surfaces themselves (slats/speed brakes/flaps) where appropriate. During air brushing I found out that it would have been more convenient if I had painted the areas gray where I had previously added plasticard because it took more time to have a homogeneous appearance. I used Gunze Sangyo flat red and white at a 80/20 percentage in order to give it a scale effect based also on the fact that FFA used their own and not FS colors. The result was satisfactory and any corrections will be rectified after the camouflage colors application.
I received the first resin copy from my original masters of all three kinds of antennae, antenna fairings, flaps and the rear flap fairings. While I was dealing with the resin parts, I found out that the cannon fairings on both sides needed some retouch. I added cyanoacrylate glue in the beginning and after reaching the much wanted shape I applied liquid putty (Gunze 500) that was consequently sanded by using originally #800 and then #1200 sandpaper. I also added the small extensions to the far end of the main landing gear canoe and dry fitted them both in the neutral and dropped positions. I was satisfied and all worries I had mentioned at an earlier stage went away.
It was almost time to start painting the model. Before I could do that, I washed the model very well by using warm water and dish soap. After drying, I first painted the black color along and across the panel lines in order to create the pre-shading effect, the coaming, the windshield and the canopy as well as the area around the guns. As far as the camouflage colors are concerned I decided to follow the recommendation of an unknown Argentine magazine. I do not know its name because the materials I possess are just photocopies, however Aztec Decals propose the same colors for the A-4Bs.
The suggested colors are field drab FS 30118, earth brown 30099, and light blue FS 35550 for the upper and the lower surfaces respectively. I couldn't find a ready to use under-surface color and therefore I made one of my own. In this case, my base color was the light blue FS35622 H 314, in which I added 2-3 drops of blue H and then I sprayed the under-surfaces. When I got a satisfactory result I let it dry and proceeded with the brown color. Gunze does not have earth brown 30099 or field drab FS 30118 in its line. After searching in my color box, I found the exact colors from Floquil Polly S line that I was given nearly 25 years ago by my very good friend Fotios Rouch!
I grabbed the brown color which was quite dense. However, the Tamiya thinner for acrylic colors came to my help and after adding a generous quantity it was brought down to spraying standards. I did not apply any masking on the upper surfaces apart from the cannon area. As soon as the color dried, I realize that it is a bit reddish effect which I do not feel it is what I was expecting out of it. I have started thinking of respraying the same color by adding a few drops of brown.
To those of you who follow this build, I would like to apologize for the long interval, but sometimes we encounter difficult situations in life that we can't really control. Anyway, I am back in business now. As you remember I had started painting the A-4 upper colors and started with what I thought it was the FS 30099 but because I had lost the label from the bottle, I found out later that it actually was the FS 30117 paint bottle! That was also explained from the "exaggerated" reddish effect of the final result that didn't match at all with the actual color. I carefully removed it and started all over again. This by the way, is an advantage of the acrylic colors that in case of a mistake, you can rectify any uncomfortable situation relatively easy and without making a mess of the model.
After masking the lower surfaces of the horizontal stabilators, I went shopping and I got from the Gunze acrylic series a bottle of red, yellow and mahogany. I had mahogany as the base color in a clean bottle and then I played with yellow and red in order to reach the desired shade. Next step was to reapply base black for the pre-shading effect.
After doing so, I diluted the paint mixture with Tamiya thinner (60/40), dialed low pressure on the compressor, and sprayed it on the model. As you will notice from the photos, I chose this shade because I want to emphasize the "dark brown" shade of the Argentine Bravos. Then the green color followed. Here too, I chose a mix from the Gunze acrylic series again, green FS 34092 and olive drab, roughly 60/40. I sprayed the green mixture freehand. However, during painting I faced another challenge - the camouflage pattern!
As you will notice in the photographs below, there are some gray areas on the model. This is because I intentionally didn't cover them with the brown color! I had to stop the whole process, start the computer and go over all the gathered material, compare and reach a conclusion very quickly, that these were not green painted areas! I am describing all these details because this is an in-progress build review and I believe that situations like these I have mentioned so far, happen to all of us modelers when dealing with a not very well documented project!
I decided to change the basic colors. That was the outcome of two combining factors. My fellow modeler's opinion, who suggested that the shades of brown and green were too dark and too drab respectively and a relatively good quality photograph/color reference that I have received from my friend Pablo (thank you all). I think that most of you will agree on this decision. As a matter of fact, I made a new lighter and more reddish shade of brown and a more greenish rather than drabish shade of green. I also chose to lighten the camouflage basic colors in order to reflect the scale effect.
When I was ready I sprayed the new shades free hand, but I did not feel comfortable with the end result. In other words, I did not like the demarcation lines among all three colors. Therefore, I started masking the blue surfaces first, and consequently the new brown ones. I use plural tense for brown because I sprayed two shades of it. For that purpose I used a blue-tack like (actually it was white) rubber substance to cover both the blue and especially the brown areas. I made macaroni like bars and applied them cautiously on the respective model surfaces. Then I proceeded by covering the spaces in between the macaroni bars with appropriately cut pieces of napkin. I use this material because of its flexibility which is very helpful when masking irregular lines of camouflage pattern or curved surfaces like the Skyhawk fuselage-wing joint. It took me roughly two hours to finish masking.
I spayed three shades of green at different areas of the plane. Thank God the acrylic Gunze colors dried fast and that helped a lot. I also forgot to mention that after finishing each coat, I sprayed very carefully a small amount of leveling thinner which actually homogenized the painted surfaces. Looking at the final result, I really appreciated its contribution.
I was satisfied with the basic color painting and consequently I added in selected green painted areas very light tan pastel powder as the green color would fade much quicker and at a greater degree than the brown. That was the second step of weathering. The first was the three different shades of green as I mentioned earlier.
To be continued...