I'd have gotten around to this model in due time, but the choice of Fleet Air Arm as the subject for the March 2005 SIG Naval Aviation meeting bumped it to the front of the queue. The kit in question is Fujimi's H-6. The H series were a followup and update to the G series of Phantom kits, and depicted the Spey engined types. Although time has overtaken the original G series in the form of the new Hasegawa Phantoms, the Fujimi Brits are still the pick of the bunch (possibly because Hasegawa never did British Phantoms in 1/72 scale). The 'Silver Jubilee' in the kit description, by the way, has nothing to do with the plane or the squadron, but refers to the celebrations surrounding queen Elizabeth II's 25th year on the throne.
I intend to build this kit more or less as intended by the folks at Fujimi, with some minor updates and changes. Below and to the right are the decals and sprues as supplied by the kit. The decals will be used as is, but there will be some changes to the plastic. The Sidewinder missiles and the launchers and pylons they attach to are slightly improved compared to those found on the Fujimi G series. I don't intend to build this one with Sidewinders, so these parts will be swapped with a set of pylons from another G series kit. The older pylons are just as good for hanging anything else under, so no loss there. In this particular case, each of the inboard pylons will carry a TER. TERs are in short supply over here relative to things that are carried on them, so I took the liberty of making copies of those from another kit, and two of those copies will be used on this plane. On those TERs will hang 6 SNEB rocket pods, taken (and salvaged) from several Matchbox kits (no mocking comments, please. I realise Matchbox kits weren't the greatest in the world, but these particular items are every bit as good as those from better brands). As two of the pods are salvaged from other planes, I'll have to do some cleaning on them. The gunpod from the kit will have to go, as the F-4K in Royal Navy service could not carry it. The two wingtanks will be replaced with identical ones from the spares box, that were assembled years ago for use with a kit that I botched. I will also replace the ejection seats with a more detailed Aeroclub pair.
I don't expect to run into any serious problems during construction of this kit, after all, these are high quality kits.
Some minor changes of plan have turned up. The cockpit tubs have the ejections guns moulded into them, so replacement ejection seats will not fit without major surgery. The seats included with the kit may not be up to aftermarket standards, but they are good enough to persuade me not to spend hours hacking away at the tubs to replace them. Rob de Bie pointed out to me that my initial evaluation of the Matchbox rocket pods was rather too kind, and I have to agree that on closer inspection these pods are some of the worst of a very bad lot. As near as I can tell, there just aren't any good Matra rocket pods out there, and that scratchbuilding them is going to be a long and difficult process. I don't think I'll have time to wait for new pods to become available, so I'll probably end up robbing some other Fujimi kit of it's pods.
The cockpit tub is now ready to fit into the fuselage segments, and partially painted. Even with the blanking plates for the rear cockpit side consoles some work is needed to avoid gaps between the cockpit elements and the sides of the fuselage. The front cockpit simply fits. The only noteworthy event so far has been the high speed departure of the control column. I had a real good grip on it with a pair of tweezers, right until my grip shifted slightly, at which point the tips of the tool were no longer directly opposite each other, and the stick went flying. I heard it impact on at least two other objects, but I have no idea where it went. Time for the spares box to earn its upkeep.
Well, its been far to long since I got down to some work on this kit, let alone the logbook, so this entry will not correctly represent the chronological sequence of the sporadic work of the last months, or the frantic work of the last weeks. Buying and selling a house does that to you, I guess.
As I had expected, construction of the kit went very smoothly. The cockpit took the expected amount of fiddling, but nothing unexpected of overly problematic occurred. I used a very thin wash to bring out the surface detail inside the cockpits (as I'd done on Viggie 3). It turned out rather nice again, so I guess washes have definately found their way into my toolbox on a permanent basis. The ejection seats turned out rather nice as well, although unfortunately, most of this detail will be obscured by the closed canopy. Oh well, I know it's there, and in a way, that's all that matters. The rest of the kit went together like a dream, up to the point where I had everything but the undercarriage and the weapons on.
Maybe it was because everything went so ridiculously smoothly, or perhaps it was the
18th of March deadline breathing down my neck, but for whatever reason, I got carried
away, and installed the tanks and inboard pylons before realising that even with an
airbrush, this was going to cause problems with painting, and worse, that the plane's
serial number was painted on the wings under both wing pylons on both wings.
The painting problem, fortunately, camouflages itself; the eye has as much difficulty reaching the out of the way places as the airbrush. Minimal retouching with the hairbrush reduced the problem to acceptable levels. The problem with the markings was trickier. The only solution I could think of was to rebuild the decal in three parts, with the gaps at precisely the right place for the pylons. It took the better part of one of my (now very scarce) evenings, but in the end, the ALPS spat out a bunch of that did the job nicely. More on decals later..
Back to the actual construction. Not everything was perfect, but the real problems were limited to the canopy not fitting just right (not good enough to be perfect, but close enough not to make it worth the risk of tinkering with transparent plastic, filler, and files), and the rocket pods. Strictly speaking, those rocket pods are no fault of this kit, as they came from another. However, that other kit is another Fujimi Phantom, so I'll count the fact that they are not entirely round, fit badly, and need a nose job against it anyway.
Then, there was paint. The airbrushing went smoothly, with only a small number of
patches stripped bare when removing the masking tape, and only a few places where
the paint managed to dodge half a ton of tape and end up where it wasn't wanted.
Still, those that did occur were easily corrected. There must be a way to avoid
these issues completely, but so far it escapes me. Some smaller parts (the
undercarriage comes to mind) needed to be painted by hand, and of course, they
needed to be white, which means half a dozen coats on itsy bitsy parts, with all
the risk of deformations that entails. Sure enough, when the time came to fit the
undercarriage, most pins were now too thick for their intended sockets. One day I
will find a way to remove any and all ejector marks from these parts and airbrush
Although I caused some decal trouble myself, that was hardly necessary, because Fujimi had thoughtfully provided plenty of entertainment is this department. For starters, these decals take forever to soak up enough water to move them from the backing paper. Once you do get them to move, you'll notice the white indercoat, virtually invisible against the pale blue backing, is out of register by about 0.1mm. This is bad enough on ALPS prints (although I usually manage to avoid this, after considerable effort), but is decals produced by a professional printer, I find this unacceptable. This counts for very little of course, but, hey, I'm entitled to an opinion or two. So far, I've ended up replacing a black decal that runs along the spine of the airplane, and which sported a very visible white lining. All hail the ALPS printers, saviours of kits with lousy decals! Some leftovers from my home printing also came in far more handy than they should have. Fujimi decided to split some decals in two, including the decoration on the nose, and the 'Royal Navy' markings on the side of the plane. Good luck lining the two parts up perfectly on the plane. I'll stick them onto some scrap decal paper that's flat on the table first, and then apply the whole assembly to the plane if you don't mind. And of course working late in the evening, I didn't spot an error in the instructions (again, will I never learn?) and put the nose decorations too high on the nose. Only those who know the original or read this text will notice though, so the effect should be limited.
While working with the decals, an old enemy of mine resurfaced. While I was working on the F-11 Tiger of VF-121 I'd run afoul of some dirty red residue, which at the time I blamed on the orange ink in the decals running when treated with Microsol/set. I had the same problem with this Phantom, and where it showed up, not a single decal had any red in it at all. Obviously then, the decals themselves can't be the source of this residue, so the current theory is that the Microset is the culprit. Fortunately, cotton swabs and soapy water are all it takes to get rid of the problem.
Once all the paint, decals, and external bits and pieces were on the kit, it hit
me with another surprise. As a final coat, I sprayed on Floquil satin varnish,
and overdid it slightly. As a result, the varnish turned white on me. When this
happened, I had literally hours left before I had to pack up the kit and go to
the meeting, so I didn't really have all that much time to think of a fix. Once
the varnish was mostly dry, I recoated the affected areas with a generous coat
of the same varnish, this time applied with my trusty old hairbrush. The gamble
paid off, and all white vanished.
It it important to note that once this was over, the right wing was under three heavy coats of varnish, and that the decals had had the full gloss undercoat, Microset, and Microsol treatment. I other words, there should have been no way they could get off the wing. Should being the operant phrase here, because when I arrived at my parents place (close to where the SIG Naval meetings are held, and thus a standard stop over on the way) and carefully removed the masking tape I use to keep kits in their place while travelling, the roundel on the right wing came off (well, it tried, I caught it halfway). A drop of water, carefully brushed under the decal, put it back in its place, but frankly, I can do without this sort of nonesense.
Anyway, despite last minute resistance, the kit is complete, and looks roughly as it should, as can be seen from the pictures below.
So off to the meeting to show off the new Phantom it was. And guess what, about halfway through the evening, one of the others walks in with an F-4K of 892 squadron in 1/48 scale. Fortunately, this was a different plane from the same squadron, at a different time, with some redecorating done to it by American ground crews, but otherwise, the FAA jets on the table would have been an extremely monotonous bunch.
The pictures below are also from the meeting. None of these models were built by me; as soon as I have a list matching builders and kits, I'll update this page to include the builders' names.