P-51 (Accurate Miniatures) Build #15 – Adventures in Forensic Modeling…Picking Up Where I Left Off

I have now discovered that “for now” can mean four years because that’s how long it’s been since I worked on this one. I knew when last I screwed this thing up what I needed to do to fix it…well…most of what I needed to fix it. At the time I crashed this build, I didn’t have my lathe, so I hunted eBay to acquire another Accurate Miniatures P-51. Took a couple of months of sporadic checking but I did find one and shortly it was on the shelf along with the box the aborted build was on. The big stumbling block for me, though, was how to do landing lights, or more accurately, landing lights with covers. Another problem was after I dropped the model (rarely does the build any good) and broke the propeller mount off, I tried to insert a short section of brass tubing to accept the brass post I planned on adding to the prop. The mistake there was in using a Dremel tool with a cutting disc. Cutting discs make heat. Heating a brass tube socketed into a plastic surround can (and in my case did) get you something like this:

While I was looking the model over, I noticed that the watch crystal adhesive I’d tried had failed. I don’t know how long it actually held the film with the gauge faces on it in place, but it was evidently not four years. Look under the instrument panel to the left of center:

Yeah…they’re obviously not supposed to be there. I needed to get behind that panel and the only way I could think of was to cut the nose off and I made the cut(s) along panel lines :

With the nose off, I encountered a couple of features I’d forgotten about; the tubular spacer I’d inserted to help the wings fit tighter to the fuselage and the forward bulkhead of the AM resin part:

I drilled a hole large enough to insert the tip of a saw blade into and gained access to the rear of the instrument panel:

There are many benefits to using acrylic paints. After four years, I could just dab the back-painted gauge faces with a cotton swab soaked in denatured alcohol and the white paint just came off. That enabled me to line things up nicely. Having discovered that the watch crystal cement is not what I want to use again for this task, I drilled a couple of holes in the film so that I could wick small drops of superglue in between the film and the panel. Then I reapplied white paint to the backs of the gauge faces:

I opened the second P-51 kit, assembled the wing, and then cut the cannon shroud from it. Then I (gladly) cut the shroud that I’d melted the tip of off:

Then it was a simple matter (and I certainly appreciated that novelty!) to graft the new shroud in place, shim it into alignment, and then glue the hell out of it:

The kerf was puttied and over the course of a weekend, managed to get this build back on track (the vacuformed canopy is taped in place to protect the cockpit…particularly the gunsight) (which I managed to snap off anyway, lose completely, and made a replacement for):

Well…that was easy…

The only modeling magazine I subscribe to (and recommend) is FineScale Modeler. A GREAT many of my modeling techniques have been pulled directly from their pages (the colorful invective is of my own creation). In the October 2020 issue they have an article on page 18, “Age Before Beauty.” The article is about taking one type of aircraft, the F8F-1B Bearcat, and using two kits to compare those kits. The interesting thing is that one kit is 40 years old (Hawk) and the other is modern (Hobbyboss). The intent is to see what is required to bring an old kit up to modern standards. (A LOT!)

I told you that to tell you this…

One of the things the builder did to the old Hawk kit was to replace the wing-mounted landing lights. (I was going to say, “Just like I did,” only he was successful and didn’t melt anything.) That was just the information I needed to pull this kit off the shelf and get on with it, which I did as soon as the build I was working on at the time was completed.

The idea was to take a solid piece of clear acrylic, cut/shape/polish it to shape and then drill the back of it slightly to replicate the light itself and then paint it silver or chrome…and that’s what I did:

With all that done, the back of it was painted black, it was then glued into place (a bit prematurely, as I will point out shortly), and then filed/sanded/polished into an adequate representation of a landing light behind a clear cover:

Shortly after that was glued…PERMANENTLY…into place, I decided that I could have used a slightly larger drill. But I didn’t, can’t get the part out, and had to do the other one the same way. Even so, it was a magnitude better than what I’d tried originally. (“Originally” didn’t work, this way did. I’d say that’s better.) I used the spare kit’s landing light sections as a template to make the masks for the landing light. Where the tape is stays clear, what’s around it gets painted:

The area behind the acrylic insert, being round, doesn’t quite match up with the upper wing surface. I added plastic and sanded it all smooth, scribing in the necessary panel lines.

While I was at the site of past trauma, I decided to stay there and get the shrouds ready for the cannon barrel analogs. One of the thing I’d noticed is that most of the cannon-armed P-51s had barrels that free-floated inside their shrouds. I drilled away the mounting collars (the white plastic) I’d originally installed, then used the same diameter styrene rod to stuff into the holes of the shrouds:

After cutting the rod flush with the shroud, I used the rod to push the stub inside the shroud in a wee bit and then glued it. Once I treated all four shrouds that way, I drilled a hole in each to slide the barrels through. The result was nicely floating cannon barrels (the tape on the nose in the lower photo is to protect it from the putty I added when I corrected the panel lines under the nose of the fuselage):

Having done that, I was now completely recovered from prior oh-gawd-dammits and the “forensic” part of this build was done. On to new stuff!

“New stuff” started with the canopy. One thing I noticed with some of the earlier P-51s (and others…the P-38 did it the same way) was that the armored glass wasn’t a part of the canopy but instead mounted on brackets behind the front canopy section. To do that I used the canopy I’d tried to vacuform a canopy over and cut the section out between the two framing sections:

With that section cut out, I used .010″ (.254mm) styrene scraps to form the mounting frame and then sanded and polished it, resulting in a to-scale thickness “armored” panel:

Now all I had to do was to glue the armored glass inside the canopy and then add all these delicate and thin parts to the fuselage:

“All I had to do,” he says as if it were simple. ::giggles::

My original intent was to use the vacuformed rear canopy sections. After carefully trimming them and noticing how FREAKING THIN they are (which is actually the point to vacuforming to begin with), I realized that I had an incredibly small contact area for adhesives (and yes…I did realize that I would have that same problem with the rest of the vacuformed canopy…but I’d bridge that cross once I got to it). Once again my original intent was discarded and I tried something else. Instead of the vacuformed parts, I used the kit parts. The fit wasn’t the best, which is why I tried using putty to make up the difference (the white stuff around the top of the part):

Then I figured I’d deal with the very thin canopy and see what I had to do to get that part glued into place (other than virgin sacrifice…at my age I don’t have the time to find one of those). I used superglue and it worked, after a fashion (no frosting), resulting in the application of more putty:

While the glue was curing, I turned my attention to the propeller and spinner. The kit’s propeller blades aren’t at all representative of what the P-51 used; they’re more like ungainly canoe paddles. Instead I used a set of props I bought for an A-20G Havoc I have in queue. I took molds of the props/hubs and cast resin copies to use. The P-51’s prop was 10’6″ (3.2m) long and the A-20’s was 11’3″ (3.43m) so I shortened them slightly:

I cut the kit’s paddles…er…props from the mount and added pins to glue the resin prop blades more securely:

And what’s a propeller without a spinner? (Oh, I dunno…a drag, maybe?) While cutting the parts from the sprues, I cut just a wee bit too closely and flat-spotted both the base and nose of the spinner, which required me to add styrene scraps:

Perfection still eludes me.

With the glued canopy now cured, I opened the parts box and realized that yes…perfections ELUDES ME. There are PE frames in there that I wanted to use! Well, okay, then…let’s get these things to work. Shortly after my initial attempt to fit them, I realized that once again my “error” saved me from AN ERROR. Or if not having saved me from AN ERROR, the “error” actually saved me a metric tonne of hassle. The vacuformed canopy (courtesy of Squadron Products) is very thin. Trying to bend PE parts to conform to them without deforming them would have been OH such a joy. It was enough of a “joy” with the bottom of the canopy glued into place, offering much more rigidity than would have otherwise been possible had I not “erred.”

I started bending, fitting, and bending some more. (Repeat those steps a lot so I don’t have to write them out.) Eventually I got the right side frame in place (totally ignoring…by intent…how much fun I was going to have getting that thing painted):

Then I had to form the outside frame, which also included the top of the canopy that swung open to allow the pilot to get in and out of the kite, as well as the left side of the canopy that hinged downward to enable such access:

In my attempt to add the inside PE frame to the hinged top I realized that the result of two PE frames and the plastic between them would result in something far too thick. Bugger that. I didn’t add the inside frame, figuring to replicate it with paint. Some detail would be lost but it struck me as an adequate trade-off to a part that was ridiculously thick. To avoid the same problem with the open side canopy, I used some .005″ (.127mm) thick acetate. Still a bit thicker than I would prefer but it falls within the 90-95% tolerance.

The rear sides of the canopy also has PE frames:

Though not especially large, these frames are not the smallest part I’ve used. They’re also not the smallest part I’ve dropped. My ability to find this PE part that I dropped indicated to me that SOMEwhere on the floor of my shop is an inter-dimensional portal. After I dropped it, I spent the next hour crawling around on the floor, moving everything movable (my drawer units are on wheels enabling that to be accomplished easily) out of the way and, as I sit here typing this, have STILL not found the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] thing. And while I’m on that topic…

Four years ago when I was constructing the cockpit from AM resin parts, I discovered that the joystick had a bubble in it just below the grip of the joystick. I discovered this by snapping the Damned Thing off. That part, also, eluded recovery. Lost and gone. Alas. Then four years passed. During that time the shop floor has been swept (relatively frequent occurrence) and vacuumed (I do that at the end of every build). Four years. Frequent sweeping and not infrequent vacuuming. While I was down there looking for another part I’d dropped (I’m old and feeble…I drop things) (so far not me, but I’m sure that’s coming), guess what my frail and ancient eyes did spy.

The grip of the joystick!

Go figya, because I certainly can’t…because the Damned Thing was right out in the open and not in or under anything else. (And don’t go there because I DO know how to vacuum and sweep!)

Moving on.

Since that PE part is in some undiscovered dimension elsewhere, I used the remaining PE part as the template to copy another one. That’s why the photo above has an aluminum background, because my first attempt was to use thick aluminum from a disposable baking pan…which created many more problems that it would have solved:

Yeah…go ahead an trim that for size and smooth edges! I’ll sit and watch. I tossed it and used .005″ (.127mm) styrene instead (yeah….005″ (.127mm) styrene was a better choice, that’s how difficult it would be for me to clean up the aluminum copy):

I added the frames to the rear canopy sections and fared them into the fuselage with putty:

While the putty was curing, I went back to diddling with the PE canopy frames. This time I got smart (or more likely less dumb) and didn’t add these parts before I masked them (A quick word about Tamiya’s masking tape. It’s great. It’s thin and a little stretchy, enabling it to be curved around shapes, and isn’t highly tacky, enabling it to be removed without taking off what it’s stuck to. End commercial.):

Having gotten those parts masked, I added the side/top framework to the canopy. With those in place, I started building the framework for the front canopy using .005″ (.127mm) scrap:

With the canopy frame built it was time to mask it, and this is where I found a pothole in the path of my build. Just the wrong amount of pressure (with a very sharp knife) at just the wrong point of the canopy exceeded the gripping strength of the superglue and the whole fornicating thing popped off:

I was so thrilled.

And then I looked a bit closer at it. Y’know…I’d totally overlooked the fact that the INside of white plastic strips is also white. But the INside of the P-51’s canopy framing wasn’t white. It was the same color green as the rest of the cockpit. Well, well, well. Dodged another one! It will be SO MUCH EASIER to mask and paint the inside of the canopy with it off the fuselage than it would be on the fuselage.

Yep…sure was:

It’s true. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky rather than good (assumes the person who’s still working on “good”).

Before the canopy can go back on, it needed to be painted the green of the cockpit. While I was at it, I filed/sanded down the added chunks of styrene to the spinner, used white glue to hold the parts together, and painted both parts:

I glued the canopy back onto the fuselage and then turned to the PE rear-view mirror. I put a tiny drop of superglue onto the PE part and then pressed standard (aka, thin) aluminum foil into the depression and then trimmed the foil and painted it semi-gloss black before adding it to the inside of the canopy:

The canopy was glued back onto the fuselage and gaps around the edge was puttied:

I usually don’t remove the masking tape until after painting has been done but this time I removed it to be certain that I’d trimmed the putty back far enough…and it looks like I had:

A friend of mine’s father used to be a dentist. He retired, moved away, and my friend was getting his house ready for the market. Any modeler will become emotionally erect when the phrase, “dental tools” is mentioned. Yes…they’re that handy. And all of the hand tools my friend passed on to me are that handy. But the really BIG SCORE was this little beauty:

It’s a Buffalo Model #15 electric grinder. Zero to 25K RPM controlled by a foot switch. It also came with a lot of really small burrs (grinding tips). Some of which are REALLY SMALL.

Those aren’t even the smallest burrs. What that lovely little machine allows me to do are things like this:

In 1994 when this kit was copyrighted, slide-molds weren’t used in making model kits (I don’t know if slide-molds even existed at the time). That means the outlets for the exhaust tips, which is what those two parts are, were molded solid. If you look closely at the strip of tips to the upper right, you can see where I used that LOVELY little machine and the smallest burr to depress the surface of the exhaust tips. They’ll look great once they’re painted!

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