Underside of port wing shows pencil-applied panel lines with light smudging to soften the intensity. Note the scale-looking wheel hubs made from sheet plastic.
Here’s the “Before” photo of the stock, out-of-the-box KMP(ESM) Spitfire during flight. The difference a little weathering and a scale pilot bust makes is striking.
There sure are a lot of ARFs out there and the quality keeps improving. Today, they seem to have become the primary model for many flyers rather than a backup or secondary model as it used to be. You know, “I’ll fly this while I’m building my super-duper scale model equipped with every neat feature known to man.” We all know the frequent outcome… a layer of dust on the airframe, which is now tucked neatly behind the two new ARFs in the workshop.
While guys like me lament the apparent decline in builders in the hobby, it’s a fact of life. We must recognize that there are those RC modelers who claim they don’t have the time to build, but are actually saying they don’t have the interest, motivation or, perhaps, skills to build from raw materials or a kit. Since we all have the same 24 hours in a day, it really is a question of time allocation against a set of priorities or preferences, isn’t it? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with ARFs, they have become an integral part of the hobby and lots of new flyers may have never gotten into the hobby without them.
So, what, if anything, are the drawbacks? Not many, except for the sameness and the total lack of individuality or personalization. Positive response from you guys to my past similar articles on improving scale models tells me that a lot of you would like to make your scale ARF just a bit more “yours” without investing a lot of time and money. We plan to continue doing these kind of “dress-up” pieces, so if you’ve got a subject in mind, let us know!
The KMP (ESM) Spitfire XIV is a large model that has been the subject of a complete MANproduct evaluation sometime ago so I won’t re-hash the nuts and bolts of assembly, set up and flying. The subject of this article will be dressing up the model with additional realism by way of panel definition, weathering and adding some minor, easy-to-make details. Key to this, and any scale activity for that matter, is the documentation, which are your drawings, photos and data of the real airplane from which you can replicate features for your model. In the case of the Spitfire, there’s a ton of stuff available. KMP(ESM) even made it easier by choosing a color scheme from an actual Spitfire for their model, so the paint job is correct, right out of the box! You could expand this technique by including a complete repaint, but I chose to simply rework and enhance what’s already there.
Since the KMP(ESM) Spitfire has a molded fiber-glass fuselage with the panel line, hatches and fastener details already molded in place for you, this is about as easy as it gets. It’s just a matter a using a soft pencil to further define the molded line and panel edges and then smudging them lightly to soften the effect. It’s amazing how the details pop out adding a new dimension! The wing, since it’s a conventional built-up and covered structure, can be improved using the same soft pencil technique. This time, however, you need to refer to your documentation and create the visual equivalent of the panels and hatch lines by drawing them directly on the surface. It’s a bit more time consuming, but the end result is the same and the effect is very convincing.
PANEL EDGE CHIPPING AND WEAR
The easiest way to do this is to simply apply it where you want it! While more sophisticated efforts will have you making panels using chrome MonoKote or litho plate and then chipping and sanding the paint from the panel, we can visually add chips with a small artist’s brush and some Testors silver paint-the same stuff plastic modelers use! Randomly apply it to some, but not all, of the edges and surfaces of panels, seams and fairings. Be careful not to overdo it or apply it too uniformly. Remember, we are trying to approximate “wear,” not apply pin striping or trim paint! Forget about symmetry; similar panels rarely chip in exactly the same locations or patterns. The key words to remember are subtle, moderation and subdued. Chipping, wearing or highlighting every panel is unrealistic and unconvincing!
There are some areas on airplanes where the paint actually does wear through, which removes all the paint and doesn’t just chip it. To duplicate this appearance, I use a material called “Rub ‘n Buff,” which is available at most craft shops. I use the silver, although it comes in other colors, for most of the wear spots where raw aluminum will show through. It’s a heavily pigment wax-based paste and can be applied to nearly any surface and buffed to a shine. You can both apply and buff it with a cotton swab but do some practicing on a test piece first to develop your own application technique. Work carefully though, because once it’s applied, any rubbing effort to remove mistakes will only polish the material, not remove it. It can, however, be removed with alcohol provided the underlying base finish of the model will resist alcohol.
EXHAUST STAINING AND BURNING
The ports through which the Spitfire’s Merlin or Griffon engine relieves itself are pretty straightforward and punch through the sides of the engine’s cowling. The air stream carries the exhaust back along the fuselage depositing varying degrees of dark staining along the way. This can be simulated in a variety of ways, most effectively with an airbrush. Alternative means are pastel chalks, but these are more difficult to control and apply in a convincing manner. When using the airbrush, mix the paint (grayish-brown, not solid black) to a very thin consistency and apply in multiple, LIGHT passes, each starting at the exhaust port and ending just a little further aft than the previous pass. Once again, refer to your photos for actual exhaust pattern and intensity. Do not blast black paint in a straight line from the exhaust to the tail.
The Spitfire has got some very distinctive (and long) gun barrel fairings that are very characteristic of the airplane. I duplicated these with wooden dowels, chucked in an electric drill, sanded to the correct shape and painted them a gunmetal gray color. After knocking both of the longer fairings off the wing while unloading the model at the flying field, I embedded 4-40 threaded inserts into the leading edge of the wing and used a short length of 4-40 threaded rod in the rear of the fairing. I can now remove and replace them without damage.
After you’ve done all the things described here, you’ll need to seal everything in with a clear coat applied over all of your efforts. The choice of this material is determined by the power system you use (glow, gas or electric), and the ultimate finish desired (flat, satin or gloss). There is a variety of materials that may be used for this purpose.
None of these techniques are difficult to master and your skills will improve with every model you do. Remember, the one essential ingredient for every realistic scale model is the documentation on which you base your efforts. The single most important point to remember above all else-don’t overdo it!
This article depicts relatively easy means of making your model look better and more realistic than the next one that came from the same factory. In future issues, we’ll be presenting additional ARF “refinement” articles so, if you have a subject you’d like to see overhauled, let us know! Who knows, someone may even accuse you of building it yourself because they don’t recognize it as an ARF!