Author Archive: rapierfighter

M3 Lee (MiniArt) #3 – Small Parts Get Added and My Tolerance is Reached and This Build Gets Benched for Now

The next item added to the engine is the ignition wiring loom. The kit didn’t make provisions for adding the ignition wires so I had to. The first part of that is getting the loom nestled into place and then using a fine Sharpie to mark where the wiring would break out of the loom (as an aside, most permanent marker marks can be removed with denatured alcohol unless the surface is porous):

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Then I used .035″ (.890mm) styrene rod as the break out points:

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The wiring loom was painted and the major engine parts glued in place. While the paint was drying (Tamiya TS-6 Matt Black) (no relation to Jack Black, thankfully…he annoys me), I drilled out sockets in the break outs .010″ (.254mm) to accept copper wires. I added lead foil to the exhaust manifolds to replicate the mounting brackets. Wear, chips, and basic color were added with a Prismacolor Argent (silver) #PC949 pencil (this is quickly becoming my go-to tool for subtle wear and precision chipping):

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Before I could begin painting the engine bay, I wanted to see where the light would fall and where the shadows would be. Since much of that space is filled by the engine (go figure), I dry-fit the engine into its place. With it in there, I very lightly delineated where the light would “pool” using very light touches of a white pencil:

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It was while I was trying to dry-fit the hull parts to act as light blocks that I noticed they didn’t fit correctly. In order for the fit to be less off, I had to break loose the right side of the hull and reposition it slightly. In the photo below, almost centered under the square opening for the pistol port you can see the light color where the panel had originally be glued. It took three clamps to get things to stay in position long enough for the glue to set up:

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Yeah…three clamps:

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While that sat, I decided to start assembling the parts for the sponson-mounted 75mm main gun. Though the barrel was slide-molded, the bore wasn’t centered well:

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I chucked the barrel into my lathe and carefully worked the outside of the muzzle so it was less obviously off center:

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Not thrilling but it’s about the best I can get. (Reminds me of my love-life.) (OLD memories, unfortunately.)

There were more “not thrilling” observations about to be made. Once I removed all the clamps and started checking fit on hull panels is when I realized that they’re not fitting well at all. Is it possible that I made a mistake when I glued up the sides of the lower hull? It’s always possible I made a mistake. (More reminders of my love-life.) (Actually, of my life in general.) In going over the hull closely, I can see no place(s) where I did (which doesn’t mean I didn’t, just that right now I can’t see them). But for whatever reason, not fitting is not fitting…and not remotely pleasing.

I sat there for several hours spread over several days before I finally realized that I didn’t want to fiddle with this thing’s fit right now. I am NOT good at trying to do what I do not want to do and since this thing is styrene, there is a limit to how much rough handling it can withstand (visions of hammers danced through my mind…big, steel, hammers).

Right. Everything got bagged, stuffed back into the box, and put back on the shelf. I don’t always bail out on a build but when I do, I always bail out for a reason. I have a temper and no temper is a “good one.” I reached this point doing the P-51 build, set it aside, came back several years later, and ended up with a nice build. I intend on the same thing happening with the M3 Lee. Later.

The Monsters

I encountered the phrase I used for this post’s title a year or so ago and when I discovered what it referred to, I thought, “My, how incredibly polite!” A Monster is one of those kits from the long-ago 60s and 70s.

Standards were so much different back then. It was a rare kit I couldn’t complete in one sitting (sure do wish I had a dollar for each glue fingerprint I left on them!). If I remember correctly (saying I remember anything at all, regardless of accuracy, is rather like trying to carry water in a colander), the first kit I built was back in the early to mid 50s (when I was something like four or five). It was a Grumman Panther F9F molded in dark blue, the pilot was part of each fuselage half; there was no cockpit. I don’t remember how many times I glued myself to it. It was easy to see where the decals went, that place was outlined by raised lines! But that glue-bomb started me on the builder path.

Standards were SO much different back then. When I decided that maybe painting the “model” would hide fingerprints forever embedded into the plastic by glue (Testors tube type), I bought nylon brushes and (also Testors) paint that came in square bottles. (My painting skill was substantially less than my gluing skill.) (And yes, it is possible to have something in the physical world that has a value of less than zero.) But accuracy? Does not compute. Fit? I thought that was something someone had which didn’t figure into things. They were build-them-yourself toys. The best ones had the most working features. Canopies that slid, landing gear that went up and down, you get the picture… They were played with until they broke (fix something?! You can do that?) and then out came the BB gun.

Model display was never an issue back then. Sweeping up plastic fragments didn’t require display space.

Life took me as it has taken so many others (all?) down unintended paths, and one of the major lessons from those paths was that “Time” really is a four-letter word! Puberty hit me, books took me many amazing places, then I got my driver’s license, then I learned how to drive, and then Vietnam loomed in everyone’s mind, and (amazingly) I found myself in my late 30s. (“Found” is relative, of course.) I had an itch to make something. Being more broke than I was dumb, I fell back on my childhood favorite, assembling models. I assembled Tamiya’s venerable M3 Lee. I used rattle-cans (Testors, of course) and ended up with something that didn’t look half bad (and no glue-immortalized fingerprints). The decals looked like crap, of course, because I didn’t know to use the clear gloss trick. And here’s when The Hook got jammed down into my gills.

“What’s behind those big side doors?”

And that all led to here. The Monsters.

IF there is a golden age of modeling, it has to be now. So many kits of SO MANY things, aftermarket bits (regardless of what your take on them is), ACCESS TO ONLINE REFERENCES. Not having to buy a $35 book to build a less inaccurate $20 model? Worldwide access to everything a modeler could want!

I dove back in after my brief involvement in the late 80s. Oh my freakin’ GAWD! CAD/CAM dies!! Fit that fit. Accuracy, more advanced finishes, you know the list. You probably use them daily. I loved (and continue to love) the fit of the new kits (even the ones that have reputations, usually deserved, for fit problems, because those STILL offer a universe-sized better fit than those Monsters), and all the tools!

And then I remembered how fondly I recalled some kits from my yout’. I was surprised to discover I could still get my hands on some of them! Maybe it really is Evilbay, but eBay (and my checkbook) has done me solid service enabling me to revisit a dimly recalled series of events through glasses a lot more red than mere rose-colored. Yep…this far off the map, there do indeed be Monsters.

But if someone really wants a B-24D in 1/48 scale, where’s the kit for it? Right. Monogram, mid 70s. Right. Fit, mid 70s. And these are the less toothsome of said monsters. But where else can I get that kit? Right. Monogram it is. And for that time, those 1/48 kits Monogram did of the B-17s, B-25s, C-47s, and so on, were not bad kits. That was the standard of the day, a standard that I suspect was because the dies were not cut with the computer precision of a computer. All those dies were cut by people. Yeah…the fuselage really had to be that thick because “that thick” wasn’t “that thick” back then. There was even thicker. So the Monogram kits didn’t look like monsters (and aren’t those the most dangerous monsters? The ones that don’t look like monsters?).

I have a few fairly well built recent kits. If I did that B-24D to the potential of the kit, I wouldn’t be at all happy with it. I certainly would not be comfortable displaying it next to modern kits. And that’s when the hook stuck in my gills thirty-some-odd years back tugged hard.

“Okay, so I fix it. All of it.”

Right. That’s why I spent 975 hours on the Testors SR-71. I had to fix all of it…and there was a lot to fix.

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A Monster, is what it was. I think a good definition for Monster is the kit that is, out of the box, only good as a BB gun target. Anything more than that, as in, a decent replica of the Real Thing, requires a lot of time and a lot of work. It’s daunting to even consider!

A banquet is pretty daunting to consider, too. “You want me to eat how much?!” Well, one bite at a time ain’t all that hard.

We all pretty much establish our building order. When I do an aircraft I usually start in the cockpit. However, in Life, when I have a multi-staged task, and the Blackbird was definitely a multi-staged task, I start with the most difficult aspect first if possible. The beginning of a project is when my enthusiasm is highest (a scary thing, I’m told) and frustration free. With the Blackbird, that was the nose landing gear bay and landing gear. It all had to be scratch-built. (Other options have since presented themselves commercially.) When looking at reference photos, I was again daunted. And again, I reminded myself (talk about the blind leading the blind) of a banquet and started taking small bites at it.

This kit is a Monster. There were two and a half years (I’m not a fast builder. All I can do quickly anymore is gain weight) of small bites, and there were a couple of large bites for added frisson. Eventually I achieved what I wanted and wasn’t displeased with the overall results. And it was a MONSTER that consumed hundreds of hours and two and a half years.

The worst monster was the Gemini capsule. So much so that if you’re interested, go check the after-action report on it. I ain’t gonna talk about it.

There’s something else that Monsters are good at. Teaching you to build. The engineers who created this kit won’t be there to help you…they weren’t there to help you, that’s what makes a Monster. You have to identify the problem (easy to do, as it’s a main trait of Monsters…problems). The obvious next step is to figure out (teach yourself) how to fix the problem. (Do that enough times and you could end up being pretty good at this hobby.) Often the problem isn’t that difficult to fix when looked at. This part sticks out here, that part shouldn’t be hollow, and a lip is missing from that edge. So you take it off, fill it in, and add it. Under paint, nobody will know. Don’t let that thing scare you. If you so totally screw it up, toss it and start another one. Having solved a problem often leads us to the next one, which gets dealt with in the same manner. When I started the Blackbird, I SUCKED at scribing panel lines. The kit was all raised lines and its overall length is just over 27″ (685.8mm). That’s a lot of panel lines and most of them had to be rescribed frequently due to sanding or other work. I no longer suck at scribing panel lines.

And that is the real reason to build a Monster. (That, and the hook still stuck in my gills.)

MiniArt #35321 Continental R975 Radial Tank Engine Review

MiniArt R975


Once upon a time, if a modeler wanted to add an engine to an M4, M4A1, M18, etc., the only aftermarket set I could find was produced by Tank Workshop (TWS). As with all things, time brings changes. TWS is up for sale (last I checked, dunno if it’s been sold) and isn’t (or wasn’t) answering emails regarding acquiring any of their items. So that source for the Continental R975 has dried up.

During my build of MiniArt’s #35206 M3 Lee Early Production (with full interior, including an engine and engine bay), the engine parts impressed me. I thought it would be a grand idea if MiniArt produced a stand-alone kit of just the engine. Then it occurred to me to check their website and check…and YES THEY DO! It was released in 2019.

I have a few more Shermans in queue and there are Tamiya’s #35190 Early Production M4, and a couple of M4A1s (both Asuka). I haven’t tossed the coin yet to see which of the three I’ll add an engine to, but thanks to MiniArt, now I can! (And yes…one of their R975s are on the way). The R975 kit #35321 has the same sprue layout as the engine provided for the M3Lee kit. I’m reviewing the M3’s engine as it’s the same as the R975 kit.

The engine parts are on four frets. The parts are nicely (and as you’ll see shortly, almost too nicely) molded showing excellent and comprehensive detail. The reason I say “almost too nicely” is because the kit also supplies oil, fuel, and an air-bleed line and they are very finely molded, AKA very thin. As they were packaged in the kit, insufficient care was taken to keep almost every of those very thin lines from breaking (all the parts were packed in the same cellophane bag). If you get this engine kit, before you remove any of these parts from their sprues, check closely to see if any of them have broken. It’s so much easier to glue the broken lines back together while they’re still on sprues, if only because gluing them on the sprues maintains their alignment(s). Hopefully MiniArt will package these fragile parts better in the stand-alone kit than they did in the M3 kit. DON’T use nippers to remove them from the sprues or you will break them. I used a very thin razor saw (RB Products) to remove the parts from the sprues.

The engine set supplies any part I could think of, mostly, including the wiring loom ring (if you want to add spark plug wires, you’ll need to add the stubs where they emerge from the wiring loom ring as they are not molded on. I used .025″ (.635mm) styrene rod to replicate them and to mount the individual plug wires, I drilled out the ends of the stubs using a .016″ (a hair larger than .381mm) so that I could use .010″ (.254mm) solder as the individual plug wires. They also supply both early (for M3s) and later (for M4s) air intake trunks and exhaust manifolds.

Fit is good but requires patience to add a few parts. When adding the rocker arm covers, one part (Dn3) has a line that connects it to the adjacent rocker arm cover (Dn2). Glue the Dn2 part in place first! The line that connects the rocker arm covers is very thin and seeks any opportunity to break off. By gluing Dn2 in place first, when you add Dn3, you will not only have support on both ends of that line, it lessens (and of course never removes) the chances to snag it on an errant finger and snapping it off. You will need to diddle these rocker arm parts a bit once they’re glued on to achieve a good fit:

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The paint call-out would have you paint the crankcase gray. Don’t bother. Once the shroud, clutch,  front engine mount (the crossbar), and fan are in place, it’s impossible notice it no matter what color you  paint it:

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Overall, the fit is very good. Yes, you’ll need to diddle the rocker arm covers for a better fit, but it’s not difficult to do.

The exhaust manifolds require care to mount correctly. DRY FIT FREQUENTLY so that you have them aligned correctly and attached where they should be. On the actual engine, the manifolds have what look like sheet metal brackets that support the manifolds once in place and the kit doesn’t supply them or attempt to replicate them. I used lead foil to replicate them.

There are a few other parts you need to add if you’re after a really detailed engine. You’ll need to add the end of the throttle linkage to the carburetor (a small piece of wire, nothing involved as most of the throttle linkage lives under the engine and can’t be seen) and a fuel line to the fuel pump (again, I resorted to .010″ (.254mm) solder for that).

As of this writing, I haven’t completed the engine. Before I can add the generators, carburetor, and fuel pump, I have to add the rear engine mount. I’ve dry-fitted the remaining parts I have to add and the “very  good fit” continues with them. (You can go to “Behind the Scenes” to see how final assembly and installation into theM3 works out.) (Later…once I’ve gotten to it.*)

I am very pleased with how this engine went together and even more pleased at the accurate representation of the R975 engine. Yes…there are some bits you could add. I mentioned the stubs on the ignition wire loom. There are also the throttle linkage to add and the fuel line where it attaches to the fuel pump. The linkage can easily be done with a short piece of straight wire as most of the throttle linkage lives under the engine and can’t be seen. The fuel line I did using .010″ (.254mm) solder after drilling out a hole in the fuel pump to socket it into. Doing both aren’t particularly difficult.

All said, it builds into a nice engine without too much difficulty and the results are definitely worth the effort, time, and cost. If you want to build a track that used the Continental engine, this is the answer. Heartily recommended!


*Don’t bother looking for the M3 build. It was MAXIMALLY frustrating and is now spare parts. I did, though, use the engine reviewed here on the M4 build and it worked GREAT! So I still heartily recommend it to anyone looking to stuff a Continental R975 engine into their kit.

M3 Lee (MiniArt) Build #2 – Whereupon I Get Back to the Workbench, Engine Parts Get Painted and Some Assembled

I had to go out of town at the beginning of June so I’d spent some dedicated time at the bench so that I would be ready to get back to work when I got back. Yeah, well, that didn’t exactly happen. What exactly happened was that I got back okay, and then did nothing worth noting for the rest of June, all of July and August, and just a wee bit in September (which is what comprises this post).

I picked up a couple of sets of Master-Model’s M1919A .30 caliber (7.62mm) barrels (two per set) part number GM-35-004, which are the earlier two-piece conical muzzle version. Whenever I do armor models that have machine gun barrels hanging out in the breeze, I use Master-Model’s product. They’re fantastic. As usual, I used Birchwood Casey’s Brass Blackening compound to darken them. I let them soak in the solution for an hour or so and took them out. They’re covered in something that looks like soot, but once that soot is buffed off, one ends up with these:

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Having already assembled some of the lower hull and interior, I hit the assembly with Tamiya’s XF-1 Flat Black. This is my pre-shading coat. Then I added the sides of the hull, the differential cover (there’s a gap where the gear covers meet the differential covers that should not be there, as the parts were cast as a single unit, so I used the white acrylic putty to close those gaps) and final drive covers (one on each side where the sprocket wheels attaches), and the bulkhead between the crew compartment and the engine bay (I also added a number of parts that will also be done in preshaded white). In my last post I warned that parts Db3 (of which there are two) should be added later than the directions call for. Parts Db3 are easily seen in the following photo because the replacements for the kit parts that snapped off and vanished are the only white parts (I used styrene rod) in the photo (I don’t count the acrylic putty as a “part”):


Some of the interior parts that were preshaded were then painted. The breech blocks were painted Humbrol Steel #27003, and everything else was painted Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab (3 parts) and scale-color-corrected with Tamiya XF-2 Flat White (1 part). The radio is in the upper left, below that are .30 caliber (7.62mm) ammunition cans, a 5 gallon (18.93L) gas can and its handle, the auxiliary power unit (APU) at the bottom left, the 75mm cannon and the 37mm cannon to the right:


Next up I started cleaning up the parts (some very small and very delicate parts) for the engine. As I performed that task, I started dry-fitting things check for fit (pretty good) and then decided that I might as well start putting some of the engine assembly together:

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A suggestion when you (if you) start building either this kit or use MiniArt’s engine set for something else. Small and delicate parts can be (frequently) a tedious hassle. In assembling the rocker arm covers, I realized that one method of construction was (relatively) easy and would help support the DELICATE section that connects one rocker arm cover to the next. Part Dn2 should be added before part Dn3. This way having Dn2 already in position not only keeps the small section of Dn3 that connects the two parts supported, assembling in this order will help reduce the chance that this small section will be caught by an errant finger and sent flying, thereby ensuring that one spends a stupid amount of time trying to find such a small part (yes…speaking from experience) (and yes, the photo of the plastic part and the printed instruction don’t match…I flipped the part over, took the photo, and am just too sodding lazy to re-shoot the photo):

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Once I had all the rocker arm covers glued in place, I dry-fit the engine parts on one side to see just how much could be seen once all the parts were glued on. Short answer, very few:

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So once the parts are painted, using Tamiya’s rattle can lacquer AS-6 Matt Black, no details need be added (this is the side of the engine closest to the bulkhead between the engine bay and the crew compartment), and dry-brushing edges (or, more likely, using a silver colored pencil to do that) will be minimal and limited to the sections of the cooling fan and shroud at the top. The crankcase, which is the conical shape in the center of the engine, is supposed to be gray. As you can see, I could paint it paisley and NObody would see it anyway, so it stays black:

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I had considered using Tamiya XF-1 Flat black for the engine cylinders and heads and cooling fan but so little will be seen once this is placed into the engine bay that there’s no point to doing that. (I also like the AS-6 Matt Black because it’s more satin than matt and certainly more scale (to my eye) than the semi-gloss which appears to me to be far too shiny.

And that’s it for this update. Perhaps my sloth will now subside and next month’s post will be chock full of Modeling Glory ™ and clever repartee.


M3 Lee (MiniArt) Build #1 – Parts Layout and Getting Started

I’ve been wanting to build a model of the M3 Lee since I saw the Bogart movie, “Sahara,” when I was a kid (like thousands of others, no doubt). I had intended on using the Academy kit because it had an interior, but dealing with other Academy kits made me think that I was going to have to do some updating and changing to get the interior details a little less soft than I’ve found Academy’s kits to offer. To my delighted surprise, I found this gem:

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Not only does it come with an interior, it also has an engine and engine bay! I hadn’t even considered doing the engine on an M3 but now…

I was favorably impressed upon opening the box. The parts (LOTS OF THEM) are molded in gray styrene and are all packaged in one of what feels like a cellophane bag. The packaging leaves a bit to be desired, cramming everything into one bag (except for clear parts and decals, which are in one little bag with the clear parts fret and the PE parts which are packaged in a cardboard packet which protects them nicely). Opening the bag shows that some very small parts, some from the tracks, one that looks like a small engine part, had already broken off the frets. I fished them out of the bag and put them in a small container figuring that eventually I’d go looking for a part, not find it on the sprue and know I didn’t remove it, which would then send me to the little container (I wouldn’t have to wait all that long).

If you look at the back pages of the instructions, there are paint/decal diagrams for three Russian M3s, two captured Wehrmacht M3s, two US M3s , and one Canadian tank. When you look at the decals, you’ll see there are early US markings included:

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I prefer to get the tedious and/or odious tasks out of the way first. When it comes to individual track links, that’s generally the tedious task I start with.

::clears throat meaningfully::

I don’t know who engineered these tracks to go together this way. The copyright date of the kit is 2019 so this is a recent, current, MODERN, kit. Simple, effective, ways have been figured out how to assemble 79 track shoes and two track guides per shoe years ago. MiniArt decided to ignore all that.

Tracks. Lots of parts for tracks. The body of each link is molded in halves and the end connectors have the pins molded to them which in turn fit inside each link. I know many people don’t like individual track links, I’m one who does like them. What I don’t like at all was how MiniArt engineered the tracks to assemble. HATE IT. Instead, I’m using tracks from Panda. I used a set of Panda’s tracks on my M4A3 75 ( W ) Sherman which were easy to assemble… Since the M4 Sherman was based on the M3 Lee, I expected that these tracks will fit, assuming that MiniArt nailed the scale.  The Panda tracks that arrived are just as nice as the ones I used on my M4A3 build. They also fit the kit’s drive sprocket as if they were made specifically made for them. Panda doesn’t offer the T48 tracks, which were reversible once one side had worn down too far. What they do offer are the T51 tracks, which were thicker on the outside and not reversible. Yes, if you look closely at the tracks and know the difference, it’s evident. Otherwise they’re indistinguishable from the T48 track shoes. Yes, there are a total of 162 track shoes and since there are two track links per shoe, that comes out to 324 links. And yes, there’s a lot of tedious work to cut each shoe and each link from the fret and then remove the sprue attachment points, two per shoe and link. However, unlike MiniArt’s tracks, once the minimal seams and all sprue attachment points are cleaned up, they go together easily and (unlike Bronco’s tracks) they stay together. I modified the inner edges of the rubber blocks that will wrap around the sprocket and idler wheels by filing the edges round so that they would wrap around the sprocket and idler wheels tighter (the same as I did with the Sherman M4A3):


Each bogie has its own fret which contains all the parts to assemble one complete bogie. Road wheels are on separate frets.

The engine seems to be quite complete and superbly detailed. I won’t know how all the parts fit (and there are a lot of engine parts) until assembly time. The engine seems to be a kit of its own and I hope it’s available as a separate kit. [It is, kit #35321!] At present, the only other R975 engine available is Tank Workshop’s resin AM set and“available” is a relative term. The business is up for sale and the owner has stopped answering emails so “available” doesn’t mean much at this point (unfortunate…I liked his line of products and customer service). Just looking at MiniArt’s engine shows me that it’s a MUCH better representation. Comparing the two isn’t fair to TWS’s effort. A modern corporation had better produce something better than a cottage-industry offering! From my initial inspection, it would be a shame (bordering on criminal) to build this model in such a manner as to hide the engine; this thing begs to be displayed…and I will build it in such a manner that it can be. It appears to be sufficiently detailed that if someone wanted to hang the engine from a chain outside the tank, it wouldn’t require much more than the base, a hoist, and chain.

Looking over the other frets (and there are a lot of them, too…this thing has a high parts count!), I’m generally impressed with details molded onto the parts and for provisions for detailing parts that would be too difficult to mold as one part. (Protectoscopes are too often rudimentarily detailed in other kits, not so this time!)

And while speaking of frets right after the engine parts, a bit of a warning. If you’re doing this kit, be prepared to have most of the very fine lines supplied with the engine set break. No…I’m not talking about breaking them during the process of removing them from the fret. I’m talking about them breaking off the fret in the bag before you get to them…or even open the bag. ALL the frets are packed in one large bag (that feels more like cellophane than plastic) and boxes get tossed around during shipping. Of eight very delicate lines (probably oil lines), which were very nicely done, seven of them had broken. I found one of the parts inside the cellophane bag when I (carefully) removed the frets from it. It was in the bag totally broken off of the part it should have stayed attached to, as were a few other parts as yet unidentified whose location(s) I have yet to find. The rest of the broken engine lines were at least still attached which simplified gluing…just align the broken ends and a light touch with the glue brush does it.

If the fit is decent, this kit could build into a very impressive rendition of an early M3, once the errant belly hatch is closed over; early Lees didn’t have them (MiniArt provides a plug for the hatch hole):

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The Academy kit (also in my stash) suffers in comparison.

Construction begins by assembling the lower hull bottom and all the pieces that comprise the interior. My initial intention was to follow the kit’s directions, as I’ve never done a MiniArt kit before. That notion didn’t last past step one (page 6), when I started assembling the interior parts. Most of the interior is painted white as usual. There are details that get painted other colors. Without even being very conscious of it (probably in the morning…all I’m conscious of is the location of caffeine and the state of my bladder in the morning) I just departed from the instructions. The interior of this tank seems to have been full of stuff. I wanted to get as much of the interior that gets painted white assembled as I could. I’m not certain at this point how much of that I can do (well, I can do it, it’s just the order of assembly that’s uncertain).

Speaking of directions, before I go any further, a warning.

Attach parts Db3 (there are two) AFTER you’re completely done adding the interior parts. Otherwise you will get the repeated opportunity to break them off, crawl around on your workspace floor looking for them, and then reattaching them. A LOT.

Having that warning out of the way, the first thing I started with was the transmission. Then I did the raised floor sections that go on either side of the transmission, the control levers, the driveshaft cover, and glued the escape hatch plug in:

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Then I attached the rear of the hull bottom to the front of the hull bottom. Once I made sure that the bottom was level and straight, I set the assembly aside overnight so that I had a solid assembly to start populating with lots of delicate parts. The following day I finished puttying the hatch plug to invisibility, added the driveshaft cover, then used the driveshaft cover to help me align the transmission/differential assembly:

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Be careful when assembling, particularly when attaching the transmission/differential housing to the front edge of the hull bottom. Actually, be careful when attaching the transmission to the differential housing! The vertical face of the transmission should be perpendicular to the underside of the differential housing and that can be a little difficult to see. When that assembly is attached to the lower hull bottom, the underside of the differential housing (one of several parts with a nicely rough surface texture) should extend straight out from the hull bottom.

Also be very careful when detaching and cleaning up attachment points for the many control rods that comprise the driver’s position. I snapped pretty much all of them and I was careful (clearly just not enough…it appears that my razor saw is going to get a workout!). The steering levers can also be a bit of a pain. I broke one, fixed it, and when adding them realized that I should have glued them to their attachment points much later in the construction sequence (like just when their subassemblies were being glued to the floor). I had to snap one off so that both levers were installed at the same angle (thankfully, the raised floor sections in the driver’s position hid the minor surgery).

Also difficult to see is the exact attachment point of part C17. There is a ridge on top of the driveshaft cover. The shorter side of C17 should attach with that ridge inside C17. Sometimes the exact placement of a part can be difficult to ascertain; look at later images because they will often be quite helpful about where parts earlier in the recommended sequence go. (Thankfully MiniArt’s directions will show all the previously installed parts and their locations, unlike some manufacturers who shall remain unnamed [Bronco]. Oops…that just slipped out. I’m so embarrassed.) In the following photos, the driver’s seat is just set in place for illustration:

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Things inside needed to be painted, detailed, etc., before the outside(s) go together. I’m at that point where getting things ready to paint is what’s driving the build. There is, of course, flat white. There is also OD Green, steel, leather, flat black (both for pre-shading and coloring parts), and rubber black. (And while all that goes together and ultimately gets painted, I really like the details provided by the kit, particularly the 75mm breech!):

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The turret basket on the right in the above photo is for the top turret and was comprised of three pieces. Since what’s driving the build at this point is getting things ready to paint for the interior, I wanted to do that as well.

And there are more interior parts…


M3 Lee – A Brief Overview

The M3 Lee is the tank that it seems history has, if not forgotten, not been much interested in. Given its place in history, its descendant, the M4 Sherman, gets all the press. That’s a pity because without the M3 Lee, the M4 would not have been the tank it was…for better (mostly) or worse (yeah…that profile).

It’s not a new observation to state that the US was not at all prepared to fight WWII at the start of 1940. During the interwar years from the end of the Great War (subsequently termed WWI) and the start of WWII, the world’s economic state after the Great Depression meant that funding for another Continental war (or much else) wasn’t available. The state of America’s military had not advanced a great deal from WWI, particularly in armor. This state was not only technically but doctrinairely as well. Congress did not allocate funds to develop anything called “tanks.” The way military procurement worked around that was to term its armor as “combat cars.” Armored, tracked, and armed vehicles are not “cars,” they’re tanks, to my way of thinking but it’s obvious that Congress was clueless back then as well as today. The M1 and M2 series of tanks weren’t very good tanks, and they were very small tanks, but that’s what the US Army had so that’s what they worked with (as the war seemed more immanent, to train against medium tanks it was cheaper and easier to paint a big “M” on the side of the “combat cars” and treat them as if they were medium tanks).

Doctrine also affected the design of these tanks. Nobody was aware of the impending Blitzkrieg (nor was the US aware of Pervitin, which certainly added the “blitz” to the krieg) and the US did not see tanks as a separate tactical branch, subordinating armor to the infantry as it had been during WWI (and in fact had been developed for as evidenced by its trench-busting genesis). According to prevailing doctrine in the 30s, armor was to support infantry (a concept that reversed itself by the end of WWII when infantry supported tanks, particularly with the US Marines in the Pacific Theater).

Even in that role, US armor of the 30s was inadequate. Infantry tanks are best illustrated by Germany’s PzKpfw VI, the Tiger tank. It was heavily armored and mounted the largest gun (until the M26 Pershing, which used a 90mm gun of questionable effectiveness), and Britain’s Matilda. The Matilda’s armor was difficult for Panzer IIIs and short-barreled Panzer IVs to penetrate (everyone had problems with the Tiger’s 88) (even the Wehrmacht, but of a different sort).

Cruiser tanks were intended to operate independently of infantry as mechanized cavalry. Cavalry’s role was to exploit breaches of the enemy’s lines and raise havoc and mayhem behind the enemy’s lines, emphasizing speed and maneuverability over thick armor. Cruiser tanks weren’t expected to withstand incoming fire while moving at a walking (or running, if I’m the infantry) pace. They were less armored than infantry tanks, which allowed them to be faster and more maneuverable.

America didn’t have an infantry tank. (I haven’t seen any evidence that the US Army intended on having infantry tanks.) They had “combat cars,” and when it was decided that something larger than the M1/M2 series of “combat cars” and light tanks, respectively, was needed, Ordinance came up with the M2 Medium. It was armed by one 37mm anti-tank gun in a turret (which was a creditable anti-tank gun in the early to mid-30s and useless against armor by 1941) and machine guns every place they would fit. The M2 Medium also used the vertical volute suspension system and live tracks. What the M1/M2 combat cars/light tanks and M2 all had in common was an aircraft radial engine for motive power. The M1/M2 used a Continental R670 engine rated at 250 hp, the M2A1 Medium used a Continental R975 E2 engine rated at 400 hp. Using an engine originally designed for aircraft, the radial, resulted in a trait shared by both the M3 and M4 tanks. A high profile.

When WWII started, and particularly in the North African campaign, the first US tanks to be committed to action were M3 Stuart light tanks, armed with the 37mm anti-tank gun used in the M2 Medium. (By that time, as an anti-tank gun, the 37mm was useless…armor thickness had passed it by, unless the opponent was Japanese armor.)

The M4 medium tank was in planning stages and problems were encountered with producing a turret large enough for the 69” (175cm) turret ring that could handle the recoil of the new 75mm medium velocity gun. Rather than wait, because who knew how much time would be needed to solve those problems, it was decided to design a better M2 Medium using as many of its parts for the new tank as possible.

The M3 Lee was the result (once again, named by the Brits, probably because there were already enough different types of vehicles running around with an M3 nomenclature, because evidently no one was aware that there were many numbers that could be used, not just “3”). It used the same engine as the M2A1, the Continental R975, as well as the same suspension and track design. The most obvious difference was the 75mm main gun mounted in the right sponson (with limited traverse due to the mount). There was also a small turret on top with the obsolete 37mm gun as well as the Ordinance tradition of adding machine guns any place they would fit. There was a small cupola on top of the small turret with a .30 caliber (7.62mm) M1919A4 machine gun, another .30 caliber (7.62mm) coaxially mounted next to the 37mm, as well as two semi-fixed (adjustable in azimuth only…traverse was adjusted by turning the entire tank) .30 caliber (7.62mm) M1919A4 machine guns in a fixed mount in the bow to the left of the driver. The M3 Medium was a stopgap measure to get something in the field that could toss big enough rocks at the German tanks to discommode them (which it certainly did, leading to the PzKpfw IV being upgunned with a long-barreled, high velocity, 75mm gun). Having a turret on top of the already tall hull combined with its main gun being mounted in the right sponson meant that the M3 Lee couldn’t take advantage of hull-down defilade (fancy word for “hide behind a hill with just the gun poking over it”). Much of the tank was exposed when using terrain as a defensive barrier…meaning that the terrain didn’t provide much defense.

However, 6258 of these stopgap tanks were produced in several different variants. As useful as the M3 Lee, and the later M3 Grant with the larger 37mm turret used by the British, was, its real utility was as a test and development chassis for the impending M4 Medium tank.

With the exception of Ford’s GAA engine used in the M4A3 series of Shermans, every engine used in the Sherman had been installed in an M3 Medium first and bugs and problems were resolved there. Welded armor, which required a different type of steel than riveted armor, was first tested on the M3A2 Medium (12 produced). The M3A3 tested the GM 6-71 diesel engines (322 built). The M3A4 tested the Chrysler A57 Multibank engine (with a stretched hull to accommodate the longer engine, which was the same modification to the M4A4), as well as removing the side doors from the upper hull (109 built).

In addition to engine tests that were incorporated into the M4 Medium line, the M3 Medium was also the initial platform for the M7 (See? Other numbers than 3!) Priest (105mm howitzer Gun Motor Carriage) that saw widespread use (over 4000 encompassing three variants), M12 (155mm Gun Motor Carriage), M31 series of tank recovery vehicles (TRV), and the M33 (developed from the M31TRV with the turret and crane removed) as a Prime Mover tractor for artillery.

It seems that history has treated the M3 Medium more dismissively than it deserved. No, it certainly wasn’t a great tank with thin armor, a high profile, and a main gun with limited traverse due to its mounting in the sponson. But it was what Ordinance could get into the field quickly. It was mechanically reliable and served as one of the evolutionary steps (perhaps even the foundation) that led to the M4 Sherman tanks. At the time of its introduction to combat its 75mm gun was more than adequate (as well as for the first M4/M4A1 Sherman) against the Panzer III and IV.

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M3 Lee

FT17 (Meng) After-Action Report

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Total building time 108 hours

Begin date February 17, 2021 – May 21, 2021



Kit #TS-011 – French Light Tank (Riveted Turret) FT17

E.T. Model

Photo-Etch set #E35-199 French FT-17 Light Tank (Cast Turret)

My opinion

This is my first Meng kit and on the basis of this one, I would try another kit from this manufacturer.

I think they took a shortcut (what a surprise for a corporation!) with this kit. From what I can tell, it’s their TS-008 kit only without the sprues containing the engine parts…and unfortunately some interior parts. If it’s your intention to build this kit with all the hatches closed then the missing parts don’t matter. If you want to model open hatches then you’ll have to flesh out the commander/gunner’s position by doing something for the mine rack and ammo rack, as well as the rear bulkhead of the fighting compartment.

Had the missing interior parts been supplied, this would have been an OOB build. I think I was fortunate in finding the AM PE set that I did, even if it’s for the cast turret variant. What I needed was the mine rack and ammunition rack. There were a few more parts that were nice to have in PE, though I didn’t use everything I could have. PE is very good for some things and not so good for other things.

If you build by following the provided instructions then you shouldn’t have the problems I encountered, which were largely self-inflicted. Figure out a better way than I did to align the sides of the turret and don’t out clever yourself with the gun the way I did. From what I can tell, fit was good and things went together well (unless you out clever yourself, too.)

At 108 hours, it’s the quickest build I’ve done since I started keeping track of time (in 1991). I’m pleased with a model of the first type of tank the US Army used in combat. This model is marked as a tank from the 2nd Platoon, 1st Company, 344th Tank Battalion, 304th Tank Brigade of the US Army (American Expeditionary Forces) as deployed at Verdun, October 1918.

FT17 (Meng) 1/35 Scale

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FT-17 (Meng) Build #4 – The Exterior Gets Paint & Things Really Start Going Together…and Done

Good news. I had absolutely no problem adding dirt and some wear after the hull had been assembled.

The next task was to get the hull ready for paint. Small hull, few openings, easy job:

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Masking the suspension was a little finicky but nothing serious. What was too annoying to mask could be touched up later, as most of those parts would be hidden by the tracks:

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Hull and turret parts were pre-shaded with Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black. The tracks were painted with my custom mix for “gunmetal”, Tamiya X-18 (5 parts) and XF-20 Medium Gray (4 parts):

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For the overall base coat I used Tamiya XF-57 Buff:

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To replicate wear of the tracks’ surface, I used a cotton swab dipped in acrylic thinner to “wear” the surface so that shiny steel showed through. Then I mounted the tracks onto the suspensions, gluing each track shoe to the adjacent shoes as well as to the wheels of the suspension:

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With the base coat down, I copied the camouflage pattern using a soft touch with a standard pencil to define the two added color blocks. I used Tamiya XF-58 Olive Green and XF-64 Red Brown. In adding the camouflage, I departed from my usual method of airbrushing it. The first combat use of tanks was at the Somme, September 15, 1916. I have no way to know whether or not the camouflage paint was added at the factory. I decided to assume it was done in the field. In 1916, power tools of any sort were not as portable as over a century of technological advances have made them. I know compressors were in use (isn’t that what an internal combustion, or Otto-cycle, engine is essentially?), I just don’t know as they were portable (which I rather doubt). I do know that a bucket and a brush are portable, so I made the red and green paint obviously applied by brushes (by brushing the colors on):

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Then the suspensions were glued to the hull as was the unditching skid:

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Then all the other small external bits like the engine vent, tools, and hatches were glued in place (and I got a little ahead of myself by adding wear at this point…usually I wait until the decals are on) (oops):

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One thing that just looked incorrect to me was the angle of the driver’s upper hatch. It wasn’t open enough to clear the clam-shell hatches. I worked it loose and raised it until it would just clear the hatches. And then I added decals.

The markings are for a tank of the  2nd Platoon, 1st Company, 344th Tank Battalion, 304th Tank Brigade, US Army, Verdun, October 1918. The decals came with the kit and are another set of wonderful decals from Cartograph. There were only six decals. They went on easily, snuggled down well (I used Walther’s Solvaset because there were rivets and depressions where the turret decals went. Then decals handled the Solvaset without any problems and the carrier film vanished without an overcoat of clear flat.) (More decal heresy.)

Wear, scrapes, and nicks were applied using Humbrol Steel #27003. Then the decals were toned down using pastels, which also added dirt and smudges. I considered adding mud to the tracks (and tank) but the coin came up tails so I didn’t.

And like that, it’s done:

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FT-17 (Meng) Build #3 – The Interior Gets Paint & Things Start Going Together

As sometimes happens, while I was cruising around the ‘Net looking for better photos than the ones I had, I actually found a better photo! One of my epigrams is that solutions create new problems. The solution of finding a better interior photo created the problem of discovering that though I did the best I could making the mines from the photo I had, it was NOwhere near accurate enough. That meant I had eleven useless little resin buttons I’d thought were mines. That meant I had to do the whole mold/casting process again (the old master is on the right):

While I was waiting for resin to cure, I attended to something that had occurred to me. These mines go into a rack. I doubt they just floated there, that meant each aperture in that rack had to have a sleeve inside it to hold the mine in place. I checked my styrene tubing stash and didn’t see anything I thought would work. Then I checked my metals scrap box and found a short section of .25” (6.35mm) thin-wall copper tube. To make matters easier in terms of thin slices taken off the tube and the cuts perpendicular to the tube’s length, I used my lathe to cut off three sleeves (ultimately I only used two). Once cut and the ends cleaned up, they were superglued into the rack. This way the empty mine locations look like they’d actually hold a mine:

Once the (fresh, because I tossed the stale) resin cured, I demolded the new mines and cleaned them up. While I was removing pour stubs, I realized that once again bubbles were in the castings. As before, I used cast-off resin to make plugs and superglued the plugs into the squared off holes. Just as before, once the plugs were taken down, I added the handles that I’d popped off the inaccurate mines, added .010” (.254mm) gluing discs, and then stuck them to scrap cardboard with double-sided tape so that the airbrush didn’t launch them into cat-toy land. I used a mix of Tamiya X-18 Semi-Gloss Black (3 parts) and XF-2 White (1 part) to paint them.

Something is always driving a build and I’m at the point where getting the interior parts all painted is in the driver’s seat. That starts with painting all the parts Tamiya’s XF-1 Flat Black to pre-shade things:

While I let the black dry, I mounted the gun to the front plate of the turret and then added wear, then I added lead foil to replicate the leather straps on the inside of the turret’s rear doors as well as the PE striker plate:

I misted several light coats of Tamiya XF-2 Flat White over the interior parts, laying down more white where light would hit more directly, making things look more white than white things in shadow (hence the term, “pre-shading”). After letting the white sit overnight, I added the mines and ammo to their respective racks. Then I painted the fire extinguisher copper and the gauge faces dirty white. The steering controls, shifter, and foot pedals were painted with Tamiya’s X-18 Semi-Gloss Black. The leather pad and seat back were painted a “leather” color using Tamiya XF-64 Red Brown and XF-49 Khaki evenly, one part of each color. The floor was painted Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab. Before adding the raised and textured floor to the base floor, I used a silver-colored pencil to replicate wear on the floor, pedals, and lever controls:

 The gun was glued to the front of the turret, the turret top glued down then I started assembling the lower hull and interior:

I did something less than a perfect job aligning the individual plates of the turret’s sides which left gaps. I used Vallejo’s Acrylic Putty, #70.401, to fill in those gaps between the plates that comprise the turret. It took a few applications in a few very small areas (as well as a couple of judicious uses of the 3M white acrylic putty) but eventually I closed all the gaps:

A quick word about puttying things around details you want to keep. Whenever possible, cover the details with masking tape. When that’s either not possible or more hassle than you want to deal with, instead of sanding the putty smooth, use the edge of a sharp knife (on this turret, I used a scalpel) and scrape the putty away. It’s easier to keep the detail from being lost than sanding permits. (I also used the scalpel to place the putty as well.)

One thing that turned into a moderate ass pain was the armor plates around the driver’s position. (And as a side note, this place is the easiest “tell” between the FT-17 and the licensed copy the US Army fielded, the M1917. On the latter, the sides on either side of the driver’s position do not pinch towards the upper hatch opening the way the FT-17’s does.) Each part has to be in place to allow the other plates to align properly. The problem comes when one realizes that the other plates have to be in place to allow each part to align. (A problem compounded by only having two hands.) It took me longer than I’d anticipated and judging from the styrene I had to add to make things “fit,” as well as some sections I had to remove and reshape, somewhere along the line I have something out of alignment (too late to fix whatever that is now…). The two sides to the upper opening for the driver are supposed to be vertical and they obviously are not:

No, I’m not pleased with how that opening turned out. I also spent quite some time to get them to where they will remain.

So again, getting things under paint is what’s driving this build presently. I attached the forward mounts for the suspension (MORE operational parts ridiculousness. Okay…make the weight bearing parts from metal. Makes sense. But another operational set of springs?! [There’s also an operational spring in each suspension assembly.] I hope the engineers responsible for this sober up [or perhaps simply grow up] before they start work on their next project):

It was at this point that I realized that I can finish assembling the tracks onto the suspension before mounting the suspension assemblies to the hull! That will make things SO much easier! I tried dry-fitting the suspension assemblies to see how workable the notion of finishing them before attaching them could be.


It’s one thing to know this is a small tank. It’s something else to pose a 1/35 scale figure (the same scale as this tank is) to get an idea of HOW SMALL A TANK THIS IS:


And just as I’m about to post this, I finally figured out what’s been nagging me the past couple of days. I forgot to wear and stain the interior. Well, at least it’s easier to get into where I need to in order to add what I forgot to add. Swabs and brushes can reach where I need them to.


FT-17 (Meng) Build #2 – PE Parts Arrive and Time is Consumed with Small Parts

After much waiting for the PE parts to arrive, they finally did. Some of the PE replaces kit parts (actually, all of the PE replaces kit parts, I’m just not going to use all of it to replace kit parts) and there is about 16 ¾” (42.54cm) of chain that was supplied with the PE frets. (I’m not exactly certain where it goes but it’ll go someplace interesting.) What it enabled me to do was to have the dimension that I needed to turn acrylic rod on the lathe to (what I hope is) the proper dimension for a mine:

The rack will hold a dozen mines. rather than waste acrylic rod and frustrate myself to incontinence (always a possibility) trying to machine a dozen identical parts, I decided to make a mold…well…twelve molds, and cast the mines using resin. (Though I have a lathe, I’m not a machinist. Perhaps a real machinist could crank out a dozen of these things…that ability is beyond my skill set. Making one acceptable part and then pulling molds from it is within my skill set.) The mines are small. In order to make molds, I will need a master first. I started with .25″ (6.35mm) acrylic rod and turned the master until it would just fit inside the openings of the mine rack:

Using silicone molding rubber to make a dozen SMALL molds would be very time consuming as well as a waste of a relatively expensive material. However, I do have this stuff:

It’s a solid at room temperature (assuming one doesn’t have their room on Venus), but if heated in a microwave, becomes liquid at about the viscosity of honey. Not as time consuming OR expensive a process, I just had to do it a dozen times. I mounted the master inside the lid of an empty paint jar, heated the mold making stuff, and poured it into the cap and covered the master. I went through the process a dozen times. (Just be VERY CAREFUL to not overheat the molding material…the plastic cup it comes in can and will melt.) (Don’t ask.):

Once I had twelve molds, the resin was mixed, molds filled, and the whole messy assemblage placed into my pressure pot for six hours.

Evidently the resin was a bit too old. Yes…it worked as I’d intended. But instead of curing in six hours, I needed to let it sit overnight. It still hadn’t cured totally but it had gone far enough down that path to demold the parts without deforming them. Letting them sit overnight again resulted in them being properly hardened. One of the mines was unusable (don’t know what happened…if I did it’s possible it wouldn’t have happened), three others had LARGE bubbles in the resin. I used cut off pour stubs from other mines to fill the bubbles after I’d opened the bubbles up and squared them off:

Having eleven mines to use, I cut the PE mine rack from its fret and folded it. To make assembling the mine rack and mines to the inner hull easier, I used a section of scrap 0.010” (.254mm) styrene to make a backing plate for the rack, then I used more 0.010” (.254mm) styrene and punched out discs to glue to the back of the resin mines. The backing plate will be glued to the mine rack and with the styrene discs glued to the back of the mines, I can use styrene cement to glue the mines into the racks, allowing me time to be certain things are properly aligned:

Of course, painting all that will be interesting.

With the mine problems solved, I needed to assemble the ammunition rack. Here’s where things got a bit odd. If I’d assembled the ammo rack as the PE manufacturer suggested, I can’t see how it would function as an ammo rack. As directed, there wasn’t enough room between the shelves to load/unload the ammo as the rounds would be too long. Instead I only used two of the three (or four…the illustration cannot be correct!) rack shelves:

Each rack shelf would hold 26 rounds. I want to model this tank as if it’s just come back to friendly lines after being Out There, so I made 17 rounds, leaving empty spaces for rounds that had been “shot”. I used .035” (.89mm) styrene rod as the rounds. I used the assembled (such as it was) rack to determine how long the rounds had to be, then used 220 grit sandpaper to taper the tips of the rounds to replicate the projectiles:

Once all 17 were done, I stuck them flat side down onto double sided tape and painted them using Tamiya XF-6 Copper (six parts) and XF-2 Flat White (one part). Once the paint dried, I mixed Tamiya XF-25 Light Sea Gray (three parts) and Tamiya X-18 Semi-Gloss Black (one part) and painted the projectile section of the rounds (after the paint cured, I popped the shells off the tape and touched up the bases):

Painting the insides of the two racks and the items racked is going to be even more interesting.

The PE parts offered nice alternatives frequently to the plastic parts of the kit (which is their function, yes?) and are sometimes better than the PE parts that came with the kit (sometimes, not always). On the outer sides of the suspension frames there are oval Renault logos. The AM PE parts replace the molded-on details with something finer, so I carved off the molded details and replaced them with the PE details. I also added the strengthening plates to the lower front corners of the suspension frames (these PE parts were provided by the kit):

The AM PE set provided grab handles for the mines. Those were folded and glued into place:

This little brass bit of origami will end up being the support linkage for the driver’s upper hatch. I had such fun getting it together (and then STAY together) that I’m not going to trim any of the hinge pins until the last POSSIBLE second:

The AM PE offered better interior bits than had been molded on, so I carved away the molded on bits and replaced them with PE. I also glued the backing plate of the mine rack into position (that’s the large white part). Thinking about using plastic glued to PE parts away from and off the model to ease installation later on appeals to me. I’ll be using scrap styrene glued to the back of the PE ammo rack and then using styrene cement to attach the rack to the inner hull side. This gives me more time to position parts before the adhesive sets up:

The AM PE set also offered a PE replacement for the unditching skid that mounts on the rear. I briefly considered using those PE parts but I liked the kit’s parts better so I assembled them:

My next challenge will be to figure out how (or even if) to preshade the interior paint and with the mines and ammunition painted prior to installation. I’m thinking that I’ll paint the interior parts (and yes…there are more of them to come) before I assemble the hull.

FT-17 (Meng) Build #1 – Parts Layout, Assembling Tracks, and Marking Time Awaiting Parts

Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, I had a notion to do a model of each tank that the US Army deployed. (I may still have that notion…check back and see if I live long enough.) (At 70, that’s a factor.) The first tank deployed was the Renault FT-17, not the M2 or M3 Light Tanks or Combat Cars.

Meng makes two kits of the FT-17 in 1/35 scale. #TS-M008 (has an engine for the engine compartment) and #TS-011 (no engine). Since I didn’t want to model it with the engine compartment open, I’m building the TS-011 kit.

Here’s what the kit offers:

Since this has individual track links, I started by assembling them. I was going to do that with my new traditional method, assemble track links while having my tea and waiting for my brain to start functioning. They were so easy to assemble that rather than do ten a day, the second day I just finished them all; the instructions state there’s only 32 links per side. They were cleanly molded with only a few instances of flash. There is a nipple in the center of each link that needed to be sanded flat and a circular depression around the nipple that needed to be filled (the white dots you’ll see in the photo):

If I have a choice, I prefer to start with the most annoying and/or difficult tasks first while my enthusiasm for a given project is at its greatest. In this case, perusal of the instructions indicated that the suspension was going to be that job this time. LOTS of little wheels and other metal bits:

Painting them is going to be so interesting.

When Meng decided to release a FT-17 kit without its engine, evidently they didn’t include the frets that had the engine parts. Logical. Unfortunately, it seems as if in so doing, Meng didn’t provide significant interior details, either. There’s no bulkhead between the crew compartment and the engine compartment. There are no ammunition racks on one side of the commander/gunner position. There are also no (what appear to me to be) mine racks on the other side.

I actually considered buying another kit, the TS-008 kit with engine and missing interior parts. While thrashing about on the ‘Net, I found a firm in Australia that makes a PE update set that happens to include the ammunition and mine racks. Of course, there’s no mines OR ammunition included with the set. I’m guessing that I’ll have more than a few days to decide if I want to add the ammo and mines, and if so, just how the intercourse I’m going to. But in the meantime, I decided to make the bulkhead. That started with taping the sides of the hull and floor together so that I can fit .020″ (.508mm) styrene to make the basic bulkhead:

There is a protrusion on the bulkhead with details. One of the details is the crank used to start the engine. The other detail I have no idea what it is and I haven’t found any reference photos that will tell me (my suspicion is that it’s part of the transmission), but since it’s there and visible, I make the attempt to include it. First, let’s start with the bulge itself. After laying out the design on the .020″ (.508mm) that will become the bulkhead, I used .080″ (2.032mm) and .040″ (1.016mm) scrap styrene and bonded them together:

After spending the night clamped into a vise, I squared all the sides and then transferred the measurements on the bulkhead to the laminated plastic and started cutting (double-sided tape applied to a welding mask shield enable me to cut just the plastic and not my precious, if scarred, fingertips):

The starting crank was made from various scrap bits of styrene (because who throws anything out?!) and then drilled the depression for the Mystery Part using a 3/16″ (4.76mm) bit, then checked it all for fit and alignment:

My first attempt to make the Mystery Part was to use 3/16″ (4.76mm) styrene tube, fill it with Apoxie Sculpt epoxy putty, and then I would turn the end down on the lathe once the putty cured (an overnight process):

Almost a nice idea but the putty didn’t adhere to the inside of the styrene tube. The next attempt used clear acrylic rod in the lathe and that worked well enough:

Test fitting it does what I wanted it to do (and here’s hoping what I wanted it to do was correct) so I superglued it into place:

Dry-fitting again showed me that it’s what I wanted (with the same caveat as before):

Since I’m waiting for parts to come from Australia, and I don’t expect them to arrive quickly, I started working on other things. That started with the gun assembly, assembling parts and adding putty where needed:

While the putty cured, I started assembling the turret:

There were some small gaps between the panels that were puttied, then I test fit the top and realized that I’ll be adding more putty when that gets added later after painting the interior:

I wanted to assemble the muffler next. Before I did that, I decided to thin the exhaust tip to something a little more scale:

I assembled most of the upper hull. The open slot in front of the rectangular part sticking up wasn’t assembled because another part that goes there is supplied on the PE fret that’s coming from the other side of the planet. I want to see which one looks better before committing to it:

This is where liking something sort of slopped over onto something it should not have. I liked how the exhaust tip turned out so much that I decided that I would treat the bore of the cannon the same…without checking references before I did so:

Sure…it looks good. But once I finally checked references, that good look is also wrong. It’s a thick-barreled cannon. ::sighs:: Okay, so I filled it with styrene rod:

Then I drilled the bore back to where I should have left it. Well, almost, anyway. Sodding thing was off center. Filled the hole, glued more rod, and it was off center in the other direction. Of course the THIRD attempt was off in another direction and the small, frail, piece of plastic that should have been left alone to begin with told me that it was no longer interested in playing my stupid game. Fine. So I cut it off and made a new one on the lathe from acrylic rod:

At this point the gun barrel looks better than it has since before I “improved” it:

Belaboring the point, the FT-17 was a very small tank. It was so small that to traverse the turret, there were two leather handles the commander/gunner grabbed and then he pushed with his feet to rotate the turret. Instead of fins, there should be leather straps instead. I carved away what had been molded on and replaced both of them (one on each side of the turret) with lead foil (it’s the yellow part left of upper center in the photo):

I added the “mushroom cap” hatch to the turret top and removed molded-on location marks on the inside faces of the turret’s doors to add more lead foil “straps” later:

I mixed a batch of my home-brewed “gunmetal” paint (5 parts Tamiya X-18 Semi Gloss Black and 4 parts Tamiya XF-20 Medium Gray) and painted the gun and all the suspension wheels:

It’s likely I’ll probably diddle around some more while I’m waiting for the PE parts to arrive, but essentially, the build is on hold until they arrive.



Renault FT-17 – A Brief Overview

When I used to hear, “WWI tanks,” I would think of the British rhomboid-shaped tanks. They were, to my way of thinking, fairly task specific. After the outbreak of hostilities, in short order both sides had dug into trenches that stretched for ridiculous distances. Between the two trench lines was “no man’s land,” an area of shell holes, barbed wire, and little cover. People would go over the side (up the trench walls and onto no man’s land) and charge the other trenches. Barbed wire restricted access, forcing attacking forces into choke points where machine guns would pile bodies high. When the attackers had enough, they’d make for their own lines. Less came back than went out…and this went on for years.

The Brits came up with a solution. They developed a mobile armored strong point that could lead attacking troops across no man’s land, offer some cover during the crossing, and then straddle the trenches and open fire. If you look at the placement of the armaments on the British tanks, that explains their placement:


British Mk I

They were large and since they were intended to support infantry, they didn’t move faster than a walking pace. They were also complicated for the time and as new technology frequently is, they were also mechanically unreliable. The Brits’ code name for the new project was “tank,” implying that it was a water storage device.

The French had a different idea (what a surprise). Designed in 1917 and the project overseen by Louis Renault, their machine was much smaller and from what I can tell, much more mechanically reliable. What was also interesting about the FT-17 is that it seems to have become the first tank with the layout that has come to be almost universally adopted (Israeli armor excepted). The engine was in the back, the crew (driver and commander/loader/gunner; there were only two) in the front, and the armament in a fully traversing turret. The armament during WWI was either a Hotchkiss machine gun or a small 37mm cannon.



As you can see, it wasn’t a very large machine.

During WWI, the US Army was ill prepared or equipped for the European war. As with the aircraft the American Expeditionary Forces used, its armor was also equipped from external sources. The US built a licensed version of Renault’s tank, being slightly larger and a little modified version of the FT-17 and named it the M1917. As far as I can ascertain, no M1917s saw combat. The AEF used the FT-17 with the riveted turret and was armed with the 37mm cannon.

During the 1920s, M1917s were deployed with the Marines in China and, oddly enough, some FT-17s were used by the French in the opening months of WWII, even though obsolete. The Germans used captured FT-17s for basic sentry duties and the cast version of the FT-17 turrets were also used on fixed fortifications.

P-38F (Tamiya) After-action Report

P-38F-5-LO Lightning Serial Number 42-12652 Nose 33 (White 33)

Total time building 117.25 hours (that’s about 4.89 24 hour days, 2.93 work weeks).

Begin date November 27, 2020, end date February 15, 2021.



P-38F/G Kit #61120 1/48 scale


P-38 Lightning Seats #48223

P-38 Lightning Wheels (Block Tread) #48219


P-38 Early Lightning Armament #48114

EZ Line

Fine black

My Opinion

This kit is so good that I can see at some point I’m going to end up hating it. It’s so well engineered that other kits are definitely going to suffer in comparison. I’m not talking about 20–50-year-old kits, I’m talking about other modern kits that also (at least theoretically) enjoy what’s possible with CAD/CAM. Tamiya’s engineers have raised the bar with fit and the speed and ease with which a nicely done model can go from box to cat-magnet.

It’s still a commercial kit, however. One place that needs fixing if you want a shot at winning your class at a contest is the propeller and engine controls. They’re inaccurate and out-of-scale. They’re also a bitch to fix. The pilot’s seat is merely adequate without a harness and all that Tamiya’s provided for the harness is a decal. Not acceptable, which is why I used Ultracast’s P-38 seat (harness is molded with it).

If you want to model an early P-38F, you might want to consider using Ultracast’s wheels/tires with the rectangular-block tread; diamond treads, as provided with the kit, were used later.

There are air intakes inside the main landing gear bays that I’ve not seen any references showing. I modified mine by removing what’s probably the air filter assembly. Speaking of air intakes, the intercooler vents near the upper wing tips are incorrectly molded rectangular. One side (towards the leading edge of the wing tip) should be rounded.

There is a prominent antenna mast under the nose where earlier variants of the Lightning had their pitot tubes mounted. The F/G models should have the mast there as the pitot tube is under the wing, so you’ll need to make one. This kit is so well engineered I don’t understand why the antenna mast under the nose was left out.

Due to the kit’s engineering, adding engines and/or the gun bay will NOT be easy.

And there it is. This kit only (all terms being relative…I’m not a fast builder) took 177.25 hours. Filler was needed in a couple of minuscule areas and that was it. It’s not that I skimped on detail this time, it’s that this is what can happen when the builder isn’t fighting fit problems. It was such a pleasure to build that I’m sorry it’s done. HEARTILY RECOMMENDED!

P-38F (Tamiya) 1/48 Scale

P-38F (Tamiya) Build #3 – Painting, Decals, Final Assembly, and Done

With most of the assembly done, the painting starts (generally) with light colored paint first and working darker. The underside was painted with Tamiya XF-25 Light Sea Grey and 25% Tamiya XF-2 Flat White for scale color correction. The top was done with Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab, also with 25% Tamiya XF-2 Flat White for scale color correction. The main landing gear doors were just dry-fit in place so that I could mask the landing gear bays:

This particular aircraft, “White 33,” on December 31, 1942 collided with a Ki-43 Oscar which damaged the right wing tip (tore it mostly off) and right aileron. Here’s where imagination kicks in… White 33 was stationed at the 14 Mile Drome located at Papua, New Guinea. That’s a really long supply chain from Lockheed’s plant in California to get spare parts, things like wing tips and ailerons. However, being at war, some aircraft, though they made it back to base, had been damaged enough where they ended up being worth more as parts (White 33’s ultimate wartime fate). So my imagination decided to model this aircraft after repairs were done using parts salvaged from the boneyard. To indicate that, the right wingtip and aileron are painted slightly different shades than the rest of the aircraft.

My first attempt was just wrong:


Glaringly wrong. My second attempt was a little less obvious (the splotches are where clear gloss and decals were done):

The locations for decals were all hit with Tamiya’s X-22 Clear (gloss), all 139 places. Just the application of decals took 16.5 hours over four days (small decals, diddling them into position). The decals I was most concerned with screwing up were the shark’s teeth decals. Each set of teeth were two parts, plus the eyes, plus the brow. The surfaces that the eye decals had to conform to were a more severe curve and the process of getting MicroSol decal solvent to get them to conform to the surface caused them to tear and wrinkle (and one of the lower sets of teeth also wrinkled, as evident in the upper photo below):

Once the decal solvent had completely evaporated and the ink of the decal was firm, the wrinkles were (mostly) dealt with using 2000 grit sandpaper to lightly sand most of the wrinkles out. Where the decals tore, an application of Tamiya XF-2 Flat White fixed those. And decals, decals, decals:

And then I screwed up. For whatever reason, the clear flat I’d been using started blowing chunks. Since the result wasn’t useful at all, I tried using a cotton swab lightly moistened with denatured alcohol, to remove them. You can see how well that didn’t work:

Since I had the denatured alcohol handy…:

Which leads to repainting things:

And finally, they were all on:

Even fresh off the assembly line, these things didn’t look that clean and the finish wasn’t that uniform. Time to add wear and staining. All of where the OD has worn away to show aluminum underneath it was done with a silver pencil (turns out the undercoat of aluminum was a waste of time and paint).

I added the antenna wires to the vertical stabilizers and ran them forward to the canopy, then added .015″ (.381mm) solder for the brake lines on the main landing gear. One section of the brake lines was painted Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black to replicate the rubber section of the brake line. Then the landing gear and gear doors were added as well as the extended boarding ladder, and just like that, it was done:


P-38F (Tamiya) Build #2 – Painting Parts and Preparing to Paint

With the major bits glued together, I turned my attention to the smaller bits that need paint. Before I could attend to that, I realized that the turbos don’t have the butterfly valve that control how much boost the turbos provide. Open the valve and exhaust gasses simply exit. The more that valve is closed, the more exhaust gasses are routed through the turbine housing, spinning it faster, and providing more boost thereby. Tamiya didn’t mold in or provide those butterfly valves so I used my punch/die set and .005″ (.127mm) styrene scrap to make them. A small section of stretched sprue provided the shaft of the valves and then they were glued into place:

To paint the propellers, I started with a 1/1 mix of Tamiya’s XF-3 Flat Yellow and XF-60 Dark Yellow because the flat yellow alone was too bright to my eye. Then I masked off the tips and used Tamiya’s rattle-can TS-6 Matte Black because it’s more of a satin finish than a flat finish and that looks to my eye more like what the actual props looked like:

The gunsight was painted and then I tried to glue it to the inside of the windscreen and here’s where things took an unfortunate (or, more accurately, a distracted) turn. I’ve gotten pretty good at getting a very small amount of styrene cement on the applicator brush…if I’m paying attention. Somewhere between dipping the brush into the glue and wiping most of it off on the neck of the bottle I was distracted. My brain, however, lovely little lump of jelly that that thing is, told me once I’d turned my attention back to the task at hand…wiping most of the glue off…that I’d already done that. At the instant the brush touched the parts I could see that I had not wiped most of the glue off and it flowed onto the clear part:

I was indescribably thrilled. (Sarcasm. One of the many services I offer.)

Could I fix that? Yeah…probably. But I was so upset at ANOTHER case of brain fade that I got emotional. Emotions are wonderful things when a person needs to feel something, they are not wonderful things when a person needs to solve a problem. Being emotional, I didn’t really solve the problem. Instead, I went online and purchased another kit. This time it was Tamiya’s P-38H kit. No, that’s not the F/G kit I’m building. But it was much less expensive than the F/G kits available and the windscreen of the H variant was identical to the F/G windscreen. About a week later the kit arrived.

I should have realized when it arrived in a white box without the full-box graphics production kits come in that Something was different. I cut the wrapping, opened the box, and realized that this kit was a limited run kit (complete with the card from the CEO). Well, intercourse and excrement. I didn’t want a limited run kit! I wanted a spare parts kit. Now I felt (that whole emotion thing, y’know) lousy that I’d taken a limited run kit and ruined it for some collector somewhere by opening the box. So, rather than trash an entire kit for just one part, I decided (rational mind, this time) that what I should have done from the outset was to pop the gunsight off the windscreen and sand/polish the glue over-spill away. So I bloody did:

[Sidebar, obviously: Now that I’ve successfully fixed the glue spill, I have an entire P-38H kit in the stash. The H model was a stopgap model between the G and J models and wasn’t produced in very large numbers. It looks like a G model but inside it’s more of a J model, including the uprated engines. However, the uprated engines couldn’t use the additional power because the old style intercoolers inside the wings’ leading edges couldn’t keep up with the additional heat and had a disconcerting tendency to explode when taxed too far. That meant that the pilots had to be CAREFUL not to over-boost the engines if they didn’t want to swim or walk back to base. So all of that means that I’m not especially interested in building a P-38H at this time.]

With the windscreen repaired, I masked off the canopy parts and set them aside for a bit:

With the paint now dry on the props, the faces of the blades were clear coated and the decals applied. I used Walther’s Solvaset to get the text near the hubs to wrap snugly around the props, then came back the next day to shoot the blades with Tamiya’s Semi-Gloss clear to maintain the satin finish I wanted:

While the semi-gloss was setting, I used the mix that Tamiya suggested on the spinners of five parts Tamiya XF-14 Sky Blue with one part Tamiya XF-1 Flat white. When the paint dried, I assembled the spinners and props, then used a silver pencil to replicate chipping of the spinner parts:

Back at the beginning of this build, I’d cut off the kit’s propeller control levers because they were not only out of scale but were also incorrect. That meant I had to come up with something in scale and less incorrect. Unsurprisingly, nothing that I tried to correct those two deficiencies pleased me very much (or at all). Once again, while looking for something completely unrelated to modeling (and my present problem of just how to make in-scale propeller controls), I encountered glass beads on a crafting website. I mean BLOODY SMALL glass beads…so I ordered the minimum amount I could (or, in other words, a METRIC BUTT-LOAD of ’em). And, boys and girls, these things are really small. As it turns out, they’re also of varied sizes, which meant I picked through them to get the ones that were sized correctly:

For the levers I used the aluminum from a disposable baking pan. To have enough surface area to glue the beads onto, I put about a forty-five degree bend on one end, then dipped that bend into a small puddle of superglue, then touched the bent part to the beads:


I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly that went, so I figured getting seven levers into the cockpit would be equally smooth. If your idea of “equally smooth” encompasses FIVE HOURS OF TEDIUM trying to get these things into position then it was indeed, equally smooth.

But now that they were in place, I could glue the canopy parts that could be glued at this point into place(s). As the P-38s left the factory, they had a glare shield installed. It was canvas and came back just short of the yoke, which made it difficult to see the gauges without having to jack the head around to see underneath the shield. In the field, these canvas shields were removed, so I didn’t add the part that replicated that canvas shield:

Now that the control levers are in place, I could glue the front and rear sections of the canopy in place:

With those in place, I dry-fitted the canopy sections I’ll be using to see how they fit (wonderfully):

Then I took the canopy section I won’t be using, masked it off in case I want to use it for something else later on, and used white glue to hold it in place to mask the cockpit:

Since the parts are clear, and the inside of them were painted cockpit green, in order for that green to be visible, the canopy parts were painted cockpit green (the wire sticking out of the top of the rear canopy section is where the antenna mount goes and that wire is there to keep paint out so that it’s one less thing I have to clean later):

2021-01-14-08-1 Continue reading →

Going From Point Z to Point A

For the sake of discussion, I’m of the opinion that modelers, regardless of what type of models they do, tend to fall into one of two categories. There are assemblers and builders. And before we go any further with that notion, I don’t think one is better than the other. People tend to forget this is just a hobby. We do this (unless one is a professional modeler, of which I am not qualified to comment upon) because we enjoy it. An assembler is someone who puts together what’s in the box. Out-of-box, or OOB. Builders start with what’s in the box (usually) and then fix what the kit manufacturers got wrong (often), add what they left out, take out what they put in that doesn’t go with the particular variant, and rework or scratch-build the parts they think they need (even more often). Assembler or builder, I judge not and care less. It’s a hobby and you should build what and how you want. It’s your game.

I like to think I’m a builder (and copious examples have shown me other things I thought I was capable of and discovered I wasn’t capable of). In essence, and I’m only speaking for myself, here, I’m after what I want and will do what I must and/or can to get it. I’m not big on settling for something less than that. The two questions I get asked most often are, “How did you do that?” and “How did you know how to build that?” (The first question is my favorite.) This post is to address the second question.

I like combat aircraft, armor, cars, and whatever else catches my attention. So like most of you, I buy a kit of what I want to have sitting on my shelf when I’m done. That’s the easy(er) part. With sweaty, shaking, hands, and a gleam of ill-concealed anticipation in my eye (whichever one is working that particular day), I can’t wait to get home and open the box (even if that journey is only from the front door where UPS/USPS/FedEX delivered the package and across the house to my shop).

Generally, by the time I get to the box-opening point, I have as many reference photos and kit reviews as I can find on the subject of the box’s contents. I frequently find that what’s in the box isn’t exactly what I want to build…sometimes it’s not even close. Take for example the M3 I did. The box states that it’s an M3A1. When I opened the box I found a couple of reasons that it wasn’t AT ALL an M3A1. In the case of this example, the rear hull was wrong. The M3A1 has a curved transition from hull top to hull rear and the kit had a definite sharp angle. But the kit also wasn’t an M3, either. The interior was of a late-production M3A1 as was the turret. Before I even picked up sprue cutters, I had my first decision to make. Which variant did I want to model? If I wanted an M3, I had to change all of the interior. If I wanted an M3A1, I had to change the rear hull. If the amount of work was the driving factor, then I would do an M3A1 because that would have taken less work (I assume, not actually having done that). But what I wanted to build was an M3 as the Marines used on Guadalcanal in the summer of 1942. That meant that not only did I need to redo the entire interior, I also had to back-date the turret since the exterior of what the kit offered was an M3A1 turret. As it turned out, Tiger Model Design (TMD) offered a complete resin interior of the Marine version of the M3.

And while all this was going on, I was working on the build order. In order to do that, I needed to build the model backwards in my mind. I open the box, examine the supplied parts closely, and then read the directions. Sometimes the directions are mere guidelines, other times the directions are necessary to follow exactly.

I knew what I wanted the finished project to look like. I didn’t even need to close my eyes to “see” the thing finished. There it was, clearly defined in my mind, worn, dirty, stained, and used. The last thing I would do would be to apply those stains, the dirt, and chips/wear. But before I could do that, I had to paint it with a clear flat paint. But before I could do that, I had to apply decals. But before that I had to put down a coat of clear gloss where the decals should go. But before I could do that, I had to paint it OD Green. But before I could do that, I had to add this and that detail and get that painted. But before I could do that

And the list of “before I could do that” kept having prerequisite steps added onto the list. I kept adding the steps I would need to take backwards from the finished model I could see in my mind until I got to a step that didn’t require any prior steps. By the time I reached that point, that being where I was, not where I intended on going with it, I had a fairly detailed series of steps and tasks already defined in my mind. And the point where I was at before doing all the subsequent steps is often driven by the realities of construction. That being, if your model has an interior, whether it’s just (he says as if “just” means easy…and it’s not, always) the cockpit of an aircraft or the interior of the fighting compartment of an armored fighting vehicle (AFV), it means I have to build all the subassemblies that I need unfettered access to so that I can then close the fuselage and/or hull permanently (fixing unplanned excursions to the floor not withstanding).

Well…okay. Since I can do this step, that’s where I start…almost. Since I’m old and my memory rolls as well as a cart with square wheels, I make notes on the instructions. I make notes about what parts I don’t need. I make notes about what parts I have to modify. I make notes about which parts I need to completely replace. I make notes about what parts I want to add. I make notes about which parts I can buy. I make notes about which parts I have to make. I make notes about what gets painted and which color that paint has to be. I make notes so that once I’m earlobe deep into a build, some of which take a very long time to complete, I don’t forget where I wanted to go (which is easy for me to OH LOOK A SQUIRREL!).

Having an understanding of what I needed to do next, which is what building the model backwards in my mind engenders, enables me to get there more-or-less efficiently (defined as not having to take something apart to do something I hadn’t considered, yet).

If I’ve created the erroneous impression that the path in my mind is THE PATH to completion, please consider that erroneous impression to be a limitation of the written word. It’s rarely (okay, okay…never) that simple.

As I start trimming resin, folding PE parts, cleaning up parting lines from kit parts, THE PATH often gets modified. I thought this part would fit…and it doesn’t. That means a step gets added while I solve that particular problem (my builds have problems, not “issues”…I’m not a publisher putting out a periodical and I don’t have to worry about savaging someone else’s tender sensibilities). As those of you know who have followed this blog have likely noticed, some of the problems I encounter are mistakes I make along THE PATH because perfection still eludes me…and at my age, Brain Fade is always one blink away from happening (and I tend to blink a lot). So fixing errors (like dropping a cordless vacuum onto a build in progress) is just a manifestation of the absence of perfection (like the rest of my life is).

Sometimes THE PATH changes a bit because I’ve uncovered a fact or reference that shows me that I’d gone off in a direction that would have resulted in me either totally screwing up the build or ending up with something that falls outside my target of 90%-95% accuracy (like the Gemini build which barely made it to 50% for a few interlocking reasons). So though THE PATH is my intended method, reality shows me that in order to get what I want, I have to drop back, reassess and re-engage, and sometimes even junk the kit and start over from the absolute beginning. (Yes, that’s a direct reference to Eduard’s “Early Lightnings” debacle.)

So to summarize, I build the model backwards in my head first. This gives me an understanding (variable, of course) and awareness (even MORE variable, I’m afraid) of the steps involved and allows me to prioritize these steps to set me up with the minimum order of the building process.

And in the way that theories should be reworked and/or tossed when the facts no longer support the theories, THE PATH is also a variable. THE PATH will get modified as the build itself shows me what I really need to do next instead of what I thought I needed to do.

P-38F (Tamiya) Build #1 – The Parts and Construction Goes Quickly Because of EXCELLENT Parts Fit

I had originally intended on using Eduard’s limited edition of the Academy P-38 as my next build. You can find my opinions under “Opinions, Reviews, & Tips,” under the title, “A Big, Steamy, Cup of Disappointment. My Experiences with Eduard’s Limited-Edition Early P-38 Kit. It Ain’t Pretty.” To summarize, if you really want a P-38 kit sitting on your shelf, don’t bother with either Academy’s kit or Eduard’s limited-edition offering, “Early Lightings.” Both are a waste of money individually and together they’re a waste of too much money.

Moving on…

When I opened the box, this is what I found:

The AM parts I’m pretty sure I’ll be using are seats and wheels/tires from UltraCast, machine gun barrels from Master,  E Z Line Fine antenna lines, and possibly oxygen lines from Model Design Construction:

Construction begins as it usually does for me when I’m doing an aircraft, with the cockpit. What drives the build at this point are the things I need to clean up, paint, and install inside the fuselage so that I can assemble that fuselage. In this case, it starts on the left side of the cockpit, especially featuring the throttles/propeller controls. As provided by Tamiya, they’re out-of-scale and inaccurate. Each of the molded on control levers is a single and they should be doubles (twin engines, y’know):

The seat that comes with the kit is okay, but the decals intended to be used as the seat belts and harness are just not acceptable. Instead, I’m using the UltraCast seat:

And preparing all the kit parts (with a few simple modifications, starting with cutting off the incorrect control levers) and then painting them is where it starts.

Speaking of painting, a word about “cockpit green” and Tamiya. Stated simply, Tamiya doesn’t offer the US cockpit green as a paint option. However, since this kit calls for that color, and what’s Tamiya going to do…call out another manufacturers paint? Guess not. What they did do was supply the mix formula! Two parts XF- 3 Flat Yellow and one part XF-5 Flat Green will get you to cockpit green:



Then all the parts that need to be (or mostly be) black were done with Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black mixed with 25% Tamiya XF-2 Flat White for scale color correction after I used double-sided tape to fix the parts to a scrap of cardboard. Some of the parts should be semigloss black but since all the parts regardless of color have to be hit with a clear gloss for a wash, using semigloss made no sense. It’s all getting covered with clear flat after the wash; I can hit the parts that want semigloss black later:

Once the cockpit green sat overnight, I detail painted Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black, Tamiya XF-16 Flat Aluminum, and Tamiya XF-25 Light Sea Gray:

Some of the radio parts, which had been covered in flat black, needed to be aluminum. I used the flat aluminum from before on those parts and detailed some of the black sections with a silver pencil. The knob on the end of the emergency hydraulic pump handle was touched with red:

The seat was its own special paint challenge. The harnesses were painted Tamiya XF-49 Khaki, and the hardware was painted Tamiya X-11 Chrome Silver. After a clear gloss coat, the wash, a clear flat coat, and worn areas touched with the silver pencil, this is now the seat:

I’ve seen a number of modelers who paint the small parts while they’re still on the sprues and that hasn’t been my choice until now. I decided to try it and see how it worked. For the landing gear and their bays (and all the assorted bits that go into those areas), I wanted to preshade with black and then just mist flat aluminum over the black. The first step is Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black:

With the cockpit parts painted, washed, and worn, then they were assembled and glued into place. The gauges on the instrument panel are done with a decal (that aligned perfectly), overshot with flat clear, and a drop of clear gloss replicates the glass gauge faces:

The fit of the parts was flawless. What a lovely thing!

Since I had the radio parts (as well as the support arm for the control yoke) decaled, it was time to add the wiring harness. I used 48awg. wire, doubled (and tripled where necessary), stuck the ends into drilled out locations and held in place with superglue. The resulting wiring harness was painted dirty white:

The nosewheel bay was painted black, assembled, and installed in the lower half of the fuselage pod (the masked area at the rear of the bay was painted khaki and masked):

Tamiya not only provided three places for weights, nose and inside both engine nacelles, Tamiya also provided three steel balls (11.5g each) as weights, the first of which was superglued into place:

Then the lower half of the fuselage pod was cemented to the upper half and thus the cockpit parts were (mostly) in place:

I then started work on replacing the kit’s machinegun barrels with Master’s amazingly machined brass replacements:

The machinegun barrels were all of one part, the cannon barrel (the one furthest forward) was separate. To replace those with those tiny barrels required (by me, anyway) them to be individually mounted. I used scrap .015″ (.381mm) styrene, drilled to accept the barrels, and the barrels aligned to be as vertical to the styrene mounts as I could get them.

But before I could do that, I needed to color them. I used this stuff to color brass machinegun parts:

It’s acidic enough to dissolve aluminum, so if you decide to use it, pick something it won’t react with. I use an old paint jar because it’s glass.

The barrels before color:

Experience has shown me that they have to be colored unassembled. When they’re assembled first, the chemical doesn’t get into the cooling jacket (the tubes with the holes) well enough to cover completely, so clean them with denature alcohol, drop them into the jar of chemical, and shake them vigorously:

The liquid turns progressively darker the longer they stay in there. After about fifteen minutes, I use tweezers to remove the parts and drop them into water to neutralize the caustic elements of the compound:

I drop them onto a paper towel, dry them, and then buff them. As they come out of the chemical (and water), the surface is powdery. Buffing them removes the surface powder:

Frequently, as was the case this time, the parts go back into the chemicals to either darken the finish, cover the spots that didn’t color…or both. One application may not be sufficient.

Then the butts of the barrels were superglued into the styrene mounts, the mounts were trimmed to fit inside the nosecone and not protrude far enough to interfere with the nosecone’s fit. In this case, I had to use my Buffalo Model #15 to grind away some of the backs of the barrels to get the fit I wanted:

It took a bit of time to be certain that the barrels came out inline with the long axis of the fuselage and parallel with each other. The time spent was well worth it:

Then I added the skins to the upper wings:

The early variants of the P-38 had the intercoolers for the turbochargers located behind the skin of the leading edges of the wings. Not a particularly inspired design feature and before the J model was a limiting factor as to how much boost the engines could have and consequently how much power they could reliably produce. Supply too much boost and the intercoolers had a tendency to explode. Doesn’t do good things for aerodynamics or keeping the pilot from an involuntary stint with the infantry…or worse. The entry for cool air were holes just outboard of the engine nacelles where they joined the wing. The exit point for the hotter air was a port on top of the wing near the tip. The actual ports were shaped differently from the way the kit had the ports. I made a template from some scrap .010″ (.254mm) brass shim stock and carved away (LOVE that Buffalo Model #15 for things like this!) what was incorrectly molded:

An “interesting” feature of this kit are parts that fit in the main landing gear bays that are evidently air filters for the air intakes of the carburetors. I’ve not seen any references that show these things used in the field, so I decided to not include them. That required me to resculpt (Buffalo Model #15 again!) the mounting point to an air intake (mounting point on the left one, opened intake on the right one):

With the upper fuselage and wings in place, I finally noticed two spots that will need a tiny bit of filler. I added tape around where the filler would have to go to keep from removing any more surface detail than I absolutely had to. This had to be done on both sides:

And since handling this bird was going to become more cumbersome as parts get added, I taped the canopy parts (another job of beautifully molded parts that fit perfectly) in place to protect the tiny bits. Since I had to do that, I decided to add the rest of the cockpit parts (seat and radios):

I didn’t take any photos of the landing gear bay parts as I assembled them. Again, they went together flawlessly and fit where they had to go with equal aplomb. I did, though, take photos of them after painting:

With the main landing gear bays mostly assembled (fit is wonderful…this really could spoil me, y’know), it was time to assemble the booms. The parts (times two):

And the assemblies:

These were done twice, of course.

The radiator areas were painted Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab and the kit supplied decals for the radiator faces. The decals were a bit thick so I used Walther’s Solvaset to get them to snuggle down (took two applications):

With the interior of this area painted and the decals set, the shrouds went on (they fit better than they show in the photo due to the paint inside covering the mating surfaces):

Now that the booms are built, they get added:

Having gone this far, I added the elevator and rudders:

Yeah. That’s definitely starting to look like a Lightning.

P-38F (Tamiya) A Brief Overview

The P-38 Lightning was designed by Lockheed (Hal Hibbard was the lead designer working with chief engineer Kelly Johnson) to fit an Army requirement for a high-speed and high-altitude interceptor that was intended to shoot down enemy bombers.

There was a very interesting procurement officer and his name was Benjamin Kelsey. That the US Army Air Corps had the fighter it needed in spite of nobody’s interest in developing it (yes, I’m talking about the P-51) is due in large part to Lt. (at the time) Benjamin Kelsey. He was a very creative and inventive gentleman (because, by an Act of Congress, all officers are gentlemen) (back when Congress was capable and interested in acting) who used some very fancy verbiage to find funding at a time when Congress and the population was not at all interested in getting drawn into another European war, and thereby provided profoundly little money to upgrade our 1920s level of a military. Lt. Kelsey was joined by Lt. Gordon Saville in a dance around a recalcitrant Congress in actually convincing the Army that they really did need a modern fighter.

The word “fighter” wasn’t used. As far as the Brass was concerned, their tactical paradigm was firmly rooted in the 20s, and that was in spite of some lessons that should have been taken from what happened during the Spanish Civil War (and that was true for more than just the Air Corps…armor ignored these lessons as well). The Brass really did want a single-seat fighter, armed with .30 caliber machine guns that were restricted to 500 pounds of arms and a powerplant less than 1000 hp. Kelsey and Saville were thinking more in terms of .50 caliber machine guns, 1000 pound of arms, and a 1500 hp.

A two-part proposal was solicited, one part for a single engine fighter…er…interceptor, and a twin engine interceptor. To give you some idea as to the thinking of the dinosaurs in charge, drop tanks were administratively banned. (I have no idea why, but yeah…they were banned. I think the only reason the US wasn’t rolled over as quickly as France was when WWII kicked off, because the Brass in both countries had their heads stuck firmly in WWI doctrine, was because France wasn’t separated from belligerents by an ocean or two the way the US is.) Tricycle landing gear and a large fuel capacity were specified as preferred.

There is a fascinating analysis of the P-38 here:

The single seat fighter contract ended up going to Bell who produced the P-39 (and history has not treated that aircraft kindly), Lockheed’s proposal, Model 22, was awarded the twin engine contract.

The first prototype, a hand-built aluminum beauty, the XP-38 was trucked to March Field on December 31, 1938 and flew for the first time January 27, 1939.


She was sleek, shiny, and fast. Armament was intended to be four fifty caliber machine guns and a 30mm cannon. All the guns were to be in the nose of the pod between the two engines and this meant that if the pilot were hitting with one gun, he was hitting with all his guns, something that aircraft with their armament in the wings couldn’t count on. With the guns in the wings, they had to be aligned so that they aimed slightly towards the center of the flight path at a place called the point of convergence…and if the guns were fired too close or too far away from that point, not all the rounds could hit the target…circumstances the P-38 never dealt with.

It was decided that this shiny, radically different, and FAST aircraft was to attempt to break the cross-country speed record. (Something that some sources have said was decided at the last minute…like when Lt. Kelsey landed in Dayton, Ohio to refuel, he was told to hurry it up, get back in the air, and try to get to March Field and break the transcontinental record kind of last minute.) (Interesting note…the transcontinental record is held by another Lockheed/Kelly Johnson creation at present, the SR-71 Blackbird.) A long approach to March Field ended up icing the carburetors resulting a consequent loss of power when the carburetors didn’t respond to the throttles, and Kelsey bellied in on a golf course (sustaining minor injuries), wrecking the prototype:

The Brass, however, was suitably impressed by this new interceptor that they ordered thirteen pre-production aircraft for further testing based on tests already completed. This model was designated YP-38 and any similarity between the YP-38 and the XP-38 was incidental. They were two very different aircraft utilizing different engines (Allison engines in both variants) and engine cowlings.


The British and French were both very interested in this hot new aircraft and placed orders for them, looking for a non-turbocharged version using the same Allison engine, the V1710 (neither the British nor French seemed to understand that using the V1710 without turbochargers and without the counter rotating propellers would result in a very different aircraft with very difference performance characteristics). This variant used engine cowlings that were more like the XP-38, being tightly wrapped around the V1710 engines. The Brits ordered 667 (Lockheed thought that, maybe, the US would order about 60), the Lockheed model number M322B, and the French version was M322F. France was overrun by the Wehrmacht before any M322F was delivered and the Brits (who, thankfully, called it the Lightning instead of the Atlanta that Lockheed was using) cancelled their order after only a few M322B Lightnings were delivered in their caponized state. The Luftwaffe’s air assault (eventually called the Battle of Britain) showed the British that a low altitude fighter, which the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk was well known to be (and the specific aircraft the Brits wanted, which led North American Aviation to build what became the P-51), was of no use in the present war. The majority of the British order was rejected by the British and was retained in the US for training low-hour pilots in the demanding task of handling this complicated, hot, and huge, bird. Some of the 322B Lightnings had their same-rotation engines replaced with counter-rotating engines (the latter requiring different engine cowlings than the 322B’s same-rotation engines…none of the 322s were turbocharged).

The first production Lightning was the P-38 with no suffix. It was armed with four .50 caliber machine guns, carried 200 rounds for each gun, and though intended to also be fitted with a 37mm cannon, few were. 29 were produced and assigned, along with YP-38s, to testing and training duties. They were eventually redesignated RP-38, restricted to non-combat duties, and were not considered combat capable.

The first Lightnings that were deemed “combat capable,” though that wasn’t really the case due to various tactical equipment requirements not installed, was the P-38D. The D model didn’t have the cannon fitted, though it did, unlike the earlier variants, have a low-pressure oxygen system, armor plate, and self-sealing fuel tanks. It was armed with four .50 caliber machine guns but they all extended the same distance from the nose, unlike all subsequent variants that had the guns mounted in a staggered fashion. The D also saw the addition of wing-root fillets that, unlike the mass balancers that the Army insisted be added to the elevators, solved the elevator buffeting problem (just as Kelly told the Army it would, though the mass balancers stayed on every variant of the P-38). 36 D models were produced as part of the initial order of 66 aircraft and were assigned to 54th Fighter Squadron and sent to Alaska and some were sent to Iceland with the 27th Fighter Squadron. 36 were produced.

The P-38E was the first fully equipped and combat-ready Lightning, having had over 2000 changes to get the aircraft to get to this state. The 37mm cannon was replaced by a 20mm cannon, the electrical and hydraulic systems were improved, better radio and communications equipment was installed, as were better flight instruments. The drag link on the nose gear was redesigned, moving it from the front of the nose gear strut to the rear, a move that allowed the ammunition load to increase from 200 rounds to 500 rounds per gun. Single scoops over the turbocharger intakes were replaced by smaller individual scoops.

This was to be a continued state with the P-38. Each subsequent variant was improved over the previous variant. The canopy was changed to open rearward instead of to the right side. The main wing spar was strengthened (to carry drop tanks and bombs and even torpedoes were tested), engine controls were simplified to lessen the pilot’s workload (and on this aircraft, the workload was high), the turbo intercoolers were moved from inside the leading edge of the wings to a more functional location in chin scoops under the propeller spinners, resulting in the ability to use the later, more powerful Allison engines at full rated power, instead of choking them back so as not to overtax the intercoolers (which could explode if pushed too hard…not a good idea in general and a bad idea given that they were located at the leading edge of the wings…and the space formerly used for the inefficient intercoolers was instead used for additional fuel), the P-38 could dive so fast that compressibility, where the airflow over the top of the wings de-laminated and caused a high pressure area over the wings instead of the lift-producing low pressure area, which resulted in large, P-38-shaped craters in the ground when pilots ran out of altitude before they could regain control. With the L variant, electronically operated “dive flaps,” more like small flaps, were installed that eliminated the airflow’s de-lamination and subsequent loss of pitch control.




The P-38L was the last production variant (the P-38M night fighters were conversions of P-38Ls) as well as the most numerous with 3924 produced. It was visually very similar to the J variant, the primary difference being a pair of 1600 hp Allison V17140-F30 engines, hydraulically boosted ailerons, and “dive flaps” to counter the compressibility problems that had plagued the P-38 from its beginning.

Also, using lower engine speeds with higher boost settings and coarser prop settings, the P-38 was able to almost double its range (It seems that this was at the suggestion of Charles Lindbergh who operated as a civilian tech rep for United Aircraft).

As the most recognizable allied aircraft, the P-38 was tasked with air cover over the Normandy beaches on D-Day.

The P-38 Lightning was the only US fighter that was produced before and throughout WWII.