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1/48 AMT/ERTL P-40F
by Lee Rouse

 

As most readers who are familiar with WWII aircraft will know, the Curtiss P-40 was the result of a successful attempt to mate the body of a Curtiss P-36, which carried a radial engine, with a 1700 hp Allison inline engine. The switch from radial to inline engine required numerous problems relating to weight and balance to be overcome. Additionally the inline engine required many items not demanded by the radial engine. The result, the XP-40, was a much sleeker looking aircraft, with its long pointed nose and large chin radiator air intake.

The P-40 that I modeled is a -F model. According to the Squadron/Signal Publications Curtiss P-40 In Action book, the -F could carry a heavier bomb load than the -E model. Later model -Fs had a slightly lengthened fuselage (approximately 2 feet), which improved directional stability during takeoff. Late model -Fs also saw the addition of a radio mask directly behind the cockpit.

The kit instructions indicate that this aircraft was flown by Lt. Richard Lander of the 315 Squadron, 324th Fighter Group, and that it was based in the North African desert in 1943. The presence of the radio mast suggests that this is a late model -F.

On opening the box, I was impressed by the cleanly recessed paneling and good detail of the model. There was quite a bit of flash, as can be seen in the photograph. The cockpit is somewhat simplified, but can still yield a nice build up straight out of the box. In fact, the only thing I added were photoetched seat belts and shoulder harnessing from Eduard. As usual for me, I started with the cockpit. Borrowing on a technique I learned from Brett Green on Hyperscale, I airbrushed the cockpit floor, sidewalls and seat flat black. I then airbrushed these with Tamiya XF-5 Green lightened with white. When airbrushed from an angle of about 45 degrees, the green filled in the highlights, but left recessed and "shadow" areas darker. This provided a nice simulation of depth and color variation which would not have been present otherwise.

In fact, in finishing up the cockpit, I really didn't need to apply a wash - see photo. The kit instrument panel did not seem to match with photos in the In Action book of a P-40F cockpit, but since I was trying to do this mostly OOB I left well enough alone. I did add Reheat instrument face decals, then touched up various knobs with a dash of artist oil red or white here and there.

The fuselage halves were glued together. Before slipping the radiator facing (A4) in through the bottom of the fuselage, the seam line along the inside of air scoop was filled and sanded out. The fit of part A4 was not that great, requiring a bit of maneuvering to get it right. (This part was painted with a hand brush later in assembly after the main exterior painting. I carefully applied a coat of Floquil Acrylic Steel, and then drybrushed highlights with a medium gray). After part A4 was in place, the cockpit assembly was inserted through the bottom of the fuselage and glued into place. The fit was generally good, although there were small gaps between the cockpit coaming and the top of the instrument panel.

The wheel well areas on the undersides of top wing pieces B1 and B2 were airbrushed flat black, then lightened XF-5, as I had done with the cockpit sidewalls. Wheel openings in the bottom wing were also airbrushed green. Each top wing piece was glued to its corresponding half of the bottom wing. When I fit the wing assembly up into the fuselage, there were large gaps along the wing root/fuselage joint. These gaps were a bit too large for modeling putty. Since I was going to rescribe the joints, I elected to use a filler which would lend itself to that. I had recently purchased a product called Magic Sculpt, which is a two-part epoxy putty. This stuff is GREAT. I have been using Milliput White for years, but Magic Sculpt is definitely finer grained, less sticky, and dries rock hard in about 4 hours. If you use epoxy putty in your modeling, I highly recommend this product. One other tip about using Magic Sculpt (this applies to any epoxy putty): You can clean up any excess on your hands or the model with a disposable diaper wipe. That's right - diaper wipes. Once the putty was dry, I sanded and rescribed it (unlike other epoxy putties, Magic Sculpt can be drilled or scribed with absolutely no flaking or breaking apart). Before turning my attention to another subassembly, I drilled out the 3 machine gun barrels in each wing. Next, part A3 was attached to the bottom of the fuselage directly behind the radiator scoop. The part fit was not great, and once again, I used a small amount of Magic Sculpt to fill in the seams, which were later sanded and rescribed.

Exhaust stacks were drilled out and glued to the backside of engine access panels F1 and F2. Their fit with the fuselage was slightly short on both sides, requiring styrene sheet to fill the gaps at the front.

It was about this time that the clear parts disappeared. In case you don't know, I have a knack for losing kit parts, and this modeling project was to be no exception. Try as I might, I could not find the plastic baggy in which I had oh so carefully stored the clear parts. I finally decided that I must have thrown them away inadvertently. This was a major bummer! Thank goodness for the Internet, Hyperscale, and rec.models.scale newsgroup. I posted a beg-o-gram on both, and eventually received a reply from a kind soul who sent me the needed clear parts.

While I was waiting for these to arrive, I went ahead with the major painting. Cockpit and wheel well openings were stuffed with tissues. Fuselage seams were primed with airbrushed Mr. Surfacer 1000 (thinned with lacquer thinner). A few problem areas were found, which were puttied, sanded and resprayed. When I was satisfied with the result, I airbrushed Tamiya Light Blue XF-23 onto the underside and along the sides. The demarcation line between upper and lower colors was then masked off using drafting tape. I pulled up the edge of the tape just enough so the line when airbrushed would have a slightly feathered look. The upper surface was painted the lighter color with a custom mix of Tamiya paints to simulate Sand. Don't ask me which ones or how much of each - I just kept mixing paints until I got something that looked similar to the box art! The darker brown color (Dark Earth) was mixed in a similar very unscientific manner. Once the Sand color was dried, I applied paper masks which I had cut out from enlarged images on the instruction sheet. I attached these cutouts with poster tak so that they sat very slightly over the surface of the model. 

The Dark Earth color was airbrushed with careful attention to point the spray directly only the model, not at an angle (this helps prevent airbrushed paint from creeping too far under the edge of the paper mask. Masks were removed and some edge areas (there some underspray - oh well, and a couple of places where the demarcation line looked too sharp) were airbrushed freehand using my Iwata HPb. I could have left the finish alone at this point but decided to experiment with a shading technique described by Gregg Cooper in his excellent 3-part article on building the Tamiya Gekko at Hyperscale. Basically, this involves going back over each camo color with a much lightened, much thinned version of the original, working from the center of each panel toward the outside, then finally going back over that each color with a very thin mix of the original color. Gregg recommends using Mr. Color Thinner (an acrylic lacquer thinner) to thin Tamiya paints for this. I agree that the effects achieved by using Mr. Color Thinner are more desirable, and leave a translucent, satin finish. With practice, you can get just about any gradation of color and shade. The effects are much more subtle than preshading. In my opinion, this is when modeling really does become an art project as much as a construction project.

After the fuselage was painted to satisfaction, a coat of Future was applied to serve as a base for the decals. I would have to give the kit decals a rating of 8 out of 10. They were durable, in good register, and of appropriate color. The only slight negative was that several coats of Solvaset were required to really get them to snuggle down in the panel lines. For the smaller decals, I applied Future as a base. This ensured that there would be no decal silvering.

Weathering was next. Panel lines were highlighted with a wash as described in the next paragraph. Exhaust stains were airbrushed using acrylic artist's black ink highly thinned with alcohol. Paint chipping was simulated using a Prismacolor Silver pencil, and SNJ aluminum powder applied lightly with an old 3-0 paint brush whose bristles had been cut back to a stub. Gun powder stains were added around the gun barrels using blacks pastel powder.

Landing gear were painted using Polly Scale Acrylic steel. A wash of brown pastel powder/water/dishwashing liquid was applied around highlights and in recesses. This was allowed a couple of minutes to settle, and excess wash removed using a slightly dampened q-tip or flat brush. Wheels were painted flat black, then airbrushed with a very thinned coat of gray. Parafilm was used to mask the tire leaving the wheel exposed. Then both sides were painted Steel. The wheel cover was then airbrushed red to match the color of the spinner (this was not indicated in the kit instructions - purely artistic license on my part). The tail wheel was hand painted and attached. Landing gear doors were airbrushed the appropriate interior/exterior colors. Landing gear and doors were then attached in their appropriate locations using gel superglue.

Other underside parts were painted and attached, including the centerline external fuel tank, and bombs. The bracing structures for these pieces looked overscale and clunky, but I used them anyway. I might also mention that one of the bomb fins was missing due to poor molding. This was replaced with a small piece of sheet styrene.

Now the clear parts had arrived, courtesy of USPS. Fuselage side windows were fitted and glued onto the fuselage using Micro Kristal Kleer white glue. The kit canopy and windscreen were masked off using Bare Metal Aluminum foil, trimmed with a NEW #11 hobby blade, and sprayed with my custom Sand mix. As usual the Bare Metal left a slight adhesive residue which was dealt with using a little lighter fluid on the end of Q tip. These parts were then attached to the fuselage using Krystal Kleer. Unfortunately, the sliding canopy is molded too thick to settle down onto the fuselage spine when posed in an open position. The longer I looked at it and the windscreen, the less I liked the look of it. The frame lines just seemed too heavy. I decided to vacuform a new set. After several screwups, I finally was able to create a usable set using the "heat and smash" method. This is a simple procedure requiring a candle, a sheet of butyrate (.010" thickness recommended) and a firmly mounted master (i.e., the kit parts). Once formed and trimmed, windscreen and canopy were masked with Tamiya tape and airbrushed. The result was a definite improvement over the original kit parts.

A couple of final touches. The gunsight was "upgraded" cutting off the styrene sight and replacing it with a small piece of clear styrene. Eduard photoetch ring and bead sights were installed in front of the windscreen. The attachment point along the spine of the fuselage for the radio mast was carefully enlarged to provide a solid foundation. The mast was painted Sand and attached using a small amount of gel superglue. Monofilament clear sewing thread was inserted into a small hole previously drilled out in leading edge of the tail. A small drop of superglue was applied. After this was dry the thread was pulled taught and glue to the top of the radio mask.

There you have it. Not the easiest model to build due to excess flash, and occasional fit problems. Still the result is a good looking aircraft which I will be happy to find a place for in my display case among my other WWII model aircraft.