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A Thunderbolt from the past

A few months ago when I got back into building model airplanes, I started searching through EBay to find old kits I remembered building as a kid. I ran across this old 1/72 P-47B Thunderbolt from Lindberg. It was the first model kit I built. I actually found two of them- one was an opened kit issued in 1967, and another was an unopened, still shrink wrapped kit from 1974. The only difference was the box art, and the ’74 kit was the one I built.

This gave me an idea- build the opened kit, and set up a nice display using the completed kit and the unopened box. I posted my idea to the Fine Scale Modeler forums, and one of the forum members offered to send me (free!) a re-issue of the kit from the 90’s. So now I could have an even better display- build the re-issue, use the unopened box for display, and use the un-built parts and instructions to round it out.

The kit itself is typical of 40 years ago. The scale is off, the raised rivets in the plastic would look like walnut on the real thing. The fit is poor, the detail is almost non-existent. Still, it was my first kit, and I loved that plane.

The interior had no detail- a pilot and what was supposed to pass for a seat. I got ambitious, and purchased an Aires resin cockpit to try and shoehorn it into the fuselage. The resin set actually had more parts than the kit itself- some less than 1mm across. (No joke!) I could barely see them. So I built what I could actually see, using about 70% of the Aires parts, then tried to get it to fit in the fuselage. The resin set was not designed for this kit, and after much sanding, scraping, and gluing, I managed to get it into the fuselage. Upon gluing the halves together, it promptly shifted down one side to an odd angle. After fiddling with it a while, I finally took the seat out, glued it in straight so it would look OK unless closely inspected, and called it done. (Lesson learned- my eyes are not good enough, nor is my hand steady enough, nor my patience thick enough to deal with a 1/72 scale resin cockpit with photo-etched brass parts.

Once I finished wrestling with the cockpit, I got on to putting the rest of the plane together. As I mentioned earlier, the overall external detail was typical of kits from 30-40 years ago. Lots and lots of raised rivets that if scaled up would made the plane look like it had a disease. I decided that to stay in the nostalgic mode, I’d build the plane without to much more worry about adding detail or correcting things that weren’t scaled right. (Sure, you could call that laziness….)

Putting the fuselage and wings together did require filling some gaps, but not as much as I had worried would be required. The final fit was not too bad between wing and fuselage, and after sanding, it looked pretty good and ready for the final coat of paint and weathering.

The paint scheme was fairly simple- gray undersides and OD upper surfaces. I brush painted the lower surfaces, then after a good curing time, did the OD upper surfaces. I had the benefit of having actual color & B&W photos of the real plane I was building- not just similar- but the actual plane. Once the OD dried, I began the process of masking off the various stripes and cowl bands. The re-issue kit did not come with decals, and the decal set for the opened vintage kit was so old and yellowed, it would have likely disintegrated.

Painting the fuselage stripes went OK. I should have taken more time to measure them off a bit more carefully, but oh well- live and learn.

The real problems started in the decal application. I purchased a set of decals for P-47’s that included most of what I needed to finish the kit, and then purchased a decal maker kit for my printer. the aftermarket decals had the US stars, and I planned to use the decal making kit to produce the tail numbers and fuselage numbers.

Turns out- the decal making kit (or me) just didn’t work out. I printed out the tail numbers, but when applied to the aircraft, they simply were to thin to show up. They should have been a fairly vivid dull yellow- but the color just washed out. And since the “1” on the side of the aircraft was white- and I don’t have white ink- I had to resort to the aftermarket decals.

For the “1”, I managed to cut up an “F” and turn it into a “1”. Since I could not print the correct tail number- and couldn’t find it either, I just used on of the existing tail numbers.

To cap off the decal disaster- I placed the US star on the fuselage and the “1” in the wrong place. The star should be forward of the stripes, but aft of the side vent, and the “1” forward of the vent. Well, I goofed up and placed both forward of the vent. Oh well.

While it’s not what I envisioned ending up with, it’s certainly better than the results I had as an 8 year old. And I had fun doing it. the gear legs are too long, the rivet detail is too huge, the decals aren’t historically accurate, and the cockpit sits at a weird angle.

However, none of that matters. What matters is I got in touch with that 8 year old in me that so long ago flew a thousand missions with Captain Thunderbolt and his amazing P-47B.