Thursday 29 May 2014

Modelling In The Eye of the Beholder

An anorak; the pockets are the wrong shape and size and its the wrong colour...

One of the curious aspects of modern modelling is how as kits have become more advanced and detailed over the years the accuracy of their shapes and even their smallest details has become more hotly disputed and subject to more demanding expectations. Forums are awash with pages of debate showing models and photos, claiming supremacy of this kit's shape over that or identifying the World's Greatest Fatal Flaw. This can even precede the release of a new kit as arguments are launched about the mock-ups and pre-production images. Once released a new kit is usually hailed for a brief period until inevitably its fatal flaw or flaws are pointed out and it suddenly becomes unbuildable without much hand wringing, soul searching and the correct resin correction sets, the accurate ones not those others which have got the shape of that tiny panel wrong. Or it becomes a  pariah of the kit world.

This disdain of 'inaccuracy' even extends to old kits once hailed as excellent in the simpler, less expectant era when they were first released. It is sometimes not even a question of criticism within reason as perfectly respectable but ageing kits are dismissed or scorned as a 'POS'. Call me an old cynic but I have sometimes dug out example pairs of the supposedly less than twin subjects of gushing praise and vitriolic ridicule, compared them and scratched my head to see much appreciable difference. A lot of it, like colour, seems to come down to preference, especially to brand preference, where A can do no wrong and B can do no right.

"Do not forsake me oh my darling..."

Reviewers once wrote glowingly of some kits which are now panned (e.g. Academy's 1/72 Spitfire XIV). Were they lying? Were their references less reliable or has the accessibility of imagery provided by the internet facilitated comparisons to an extent and level of scrutiny that were just not feasible then? The Spitfire is a good example because the demand for accuracy has now reached a stage  of critical scrutiny and expectation of details to the 'enth degree that make the building of a model a pretty intimidating prospect, especially for a tyro. And this is just at a time when if you compare a Frog Spitfire VIII (1974) to an Airfix Spitfire 22 (2012) the advance of moulding finesse and parts count over those 38 years is nothing short of staggering. But will my oleos be correct? What about my wheel hubs? Should that blister be there? Should it be as big as that? Is the cowling too long/too short/too square/too thin? And what about the panel lines? Better put the parts back in the box and wait for the perfect kit...

Saturday 3 May 2014

Tachikawa Ki-77 in 1/48th Scale by John Haas

Here is another of John Haas' expertly scratch built Japanese aircraft models in 1/48th scale, in this case the experimental long range communications aircraft Tachikawa Ki-77. This time John has treated us to photos showing the various stages of his build, using wood and plastic card. The model was only completed last month.

The Ki-77 originated in 1940 from an Asahi Shimbun sponsored project for an aircraft designated the A-26, a very long range promotional transport capable of non-stop flights between Tokyo and New York. Dr Hidemasa Kimura of the Aeronautical Research Institute of Tokyo University led the design project assisted by Ryoichi Endo of Tachikawa. Following the outbreak of war the original concept was taken over by the Imperial Japanese Army to furnish an aircraft capable of non-stop liaison flights to Germany from the staging post of Singapore and a prototype was completed by November 1942. On 30th June 1943, after a series of successful tests and trials, a second prototype undertook an inauguration flight to Singapore. The flight to Singapore was successful but after the Ki-77 took off for the second stage of its journey to Germany on 7th July it was never seen again. It was reportedly shot down by intercepting RAF fighters over the Indian Ocean but details of the encounter remain obscure as recorded here. A Ki-77 flight to Germany was not attempted again but in July 1944 the first prototype established a non-stop long distance record of 8,900 miles in 57 hours 11 minutes over a closed course.

A wooden fuselage was made using a set of plans enlarged to 1/48th scale. The interior was furnished with plastic card. Tail surfaces also made from laminated 3mm plastic card. Wings and cowlings were also fabricated from wood. 

Instrument panel, seats and other details added to the cockpit. Props and undercarriage were scratch built too.

John writes that painting was done this way. Firstly four coats of white primer. Then two coats of Humbrol gloss dark grey to check the surface and two final coats of Humbrol 11 Silver. Additionaly John applied Rub'n'Buff Sterling Silver to touch up some parts like the props and the leading edges of the wings.  

The Ki-77 carried a crew of six, pilot and co-pilot, two flight engineers and two radio operators.  Maximum speed was 273 mph at 15,000 feet with a cruising speed of 186 mph and a ceiling of 28,500 ft. Range was just over 11,000 miles and the aircraft could carry 3,000 gallons of fuel in the wings. The performance figures reveal that the aircraft would have been relatively vulnerable to interception by contemporary fighters.

AFAIK there are no 1/48th scale kits of the Ki-77 but in 1/72nd scale there was a limited edition vacform and resin kit by Friendship Scale Models and a resin kit by Planet Models which is still available. 'Higeki No Tsubasa A26' (Tragic Plane A26) by Fukumoto Kazuya (Kadokawa Shoten, 1984) tells the story of the A26 but is in Japanese only.

Friendship Scale Models 1/72 Vacform and Resin Ki-77

Planet Models 1/72 Resin Ki-77

'Higeki No Tsubasa A26' by Fukumoto Kazuya

Image credits:- All model photographs © 2014 John Haas; Box art via net; Book cover via

References:- 'Japanese Experimental Transport Aircraft of the Pacific War' by Giuseppe Picarella (Stratus 2011)