Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ralph Koziarski's Airfix Buffalo

I’ve seen the little Airfix Buffalo in stores many times over. I finally purchased one in October of 2009, perhaps 20 years after first seeing it at the now defunct Stanton Hobby Shop in Chicago, Illinois. As Airfix kits go, this one is pretty much standard fare; good overall shape, simplified detail, and a surface festooned with rivets. Airfix provides you with decals for both an U.S. Navy and a Royal Australian Air Force Buffalo. The decals in this recent boxing were on the 2006-2008 era brown backing paper that Hornby introduced and appears to have since done away with. Good thing, as the brown paper decals are utterly useless. More on this later.

I decided to build the Australian Buffalo, and to do so, a few simple modifications were necessary. I fashioned a new tail-cone from epoxy putty, and installed my approximation of the roll-bar and armor plate installed behind the pilot’s head. While I was at it, I also drilled out some machine-gun holes and shell ejection chutes in the wings (an easy modification that most Airfix kits need), and reattached the pilot’s head in a more dramatic pose.

The fit of the major components was mediocre to good. The fuselage halves fit relatively well, and only a small plastic shim was needed to fit the wing/belly assembly to the fuselage. The three part engine cowling needed a bit more coaxing, but after some filling and sanding, I got it to look acceptable. A considerable amount of sanding was necessary to fit the wheels in the closed position as they’re thicker than the little wheel bays inside the fuselage. In terms of fit, the most problematic components were the clear parts. As much as I love Airfix kits, I always dread the clear bits, as their notorious for either not fitting, not having well defined frames, or both. In this case, the frames were very well defined, but the fit was just awful.

Here is how I approached the canopy, but I’m sure a better way exists. First, I attached the rear piece and installed a plastic shim into the large gap between it and the spine of the fuselage. I smoothed this all over with some epoxy putty, and also added some putty along the base of the part where it meets the fuselage sides. Next came the windscreen, which just needed a little putty at the base to close up an uneven articulation with the fuselage. Finally I installed the middle portion of the canopy, which sits at a bit of a jaunty angle relative to the windscreen, but matches up well with the rear canopy piece. Go figure. Each time I tackle a project like this, I remind myself that I need to learn how to crash-mould my own canopies, and each time I get lazy and go with what is in the kit.

As the kit is so small, I decided to paint my Buffalo with a brush. I used some home-brewed shades of Polly Scale acrylics to approximate the US equivalent colors in which the Australian Buffalos were painted; a dark green slightly lighter than RAF dark green, and a dark earth slightly redder than British dark earth were applied to the top, while sky and black went onto the bottom. Later I would come back to paint in some wing-tip lights with red and green. One of the nice things about the RAAF Buffalos is that they had the bottom window painted over, and since the thing is so small on the kit, it would have been a nightmare to mask. Once the paint dried I applied a coat of Future and began to work with the decals.

Perhaps work with is the understatement of the year; what ensued was a titanic struggle, and an exercise in futility. I had heard many horror stories about the brown paper decals and as many bits of advice on how to fix them. I will not go into extensive detail on either, but will summarize by saying that the horror stories are true, while the solutions for managing these monstrosities are not. Painting them with future doesn’t help, painting them with decal fluid doesn’t help, using boiling water to remove them doesn’t help. Each decal will either crack, not come off the backing paper, or if it does come off, it will not have any adhesive to stick to the model. From the kit decals I was able to use two roundels. This meant going back to the paint shop (which is approximately 3 inches from the decal shop on my tiny modeling desk), masking off and painting on a sky band, and then scrounging up decals from the spares box. I unfortunately had little in my spares to work with. I cannibalized some roundels from a Hasegawa Hurricane, serials from a Mosquito, and fuselage codes and tail flashes from a Special Hobby Beaufort. Yes the squadron codes are inaccurate, but if I was strictly after accuracy I wouldn’t be building Airfix kits. Fun first, that is my modeling motto.

And fun this build was. Fun like most CBKs. Maybe that’s why we keep returning to them? It certainly is one of the main reasons for me. In keeping with the fun ethos of the build, after weathering with silver paint and pastels, I decided to hang up the finished model on my ceiling…just like in the good old days.