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Build report: Sword’s 1/72 Vultee P-66 Vanguard

1-nose-close.jpgSome of my earliest memories of airplanes are from watching “Flying Tigers”, the old John Wayne movie. In fact, my early understanding of WWII aviation was that the Flying Tigers won the war. Such is the understanding of a 5 year old and world history.I still have a great love for the history of the American Volunteer Group, and in reading the history of that heroic group of flyers, and the USAAF flyers of the 23rd Fighter Group who followed them, I read of an aircraft I’d never heard of, the Vultee P-66 Vanguard. Looking a bit like an F4U Corsair minus the cranked wing, I thought it represented a neat slice of WWII aviation history. After doing some searching, I finally found a kit on Ebay.

Vultee began development on what would become the P-66 Vanguard in the late-1930’s. Their concept was novel- design a set of four aircraft, all with common parts, that would stretch from primary trainer to front line fighter. The concept was good; unfortunately, the reality did not meet expectations.

The US government was not very enthusiastic about the aircraft, but Sweden contracted to buy them. Before they could all be delivered, the US put an embargo on exports to Sweden. The USAAF put fifty of the aircraft in service as trainers and serving pursuit squadrons on the west coat. The British government was to get the rest of the Swedish order of aircraft, but they relinquished them to China. Eventually, some of these aircraft made their way into service with the Chinese Nationalist Air Force, where they had a short and rather uneventful career.

Though pilots did praise the maneuverability of the aircraft, it simply could not compete against enemy aircraft as well as other fighters under development in the US. Eventually it was replaced by P-40’s. According to Wikipedia, some may have been held, still in crates, to be used in the expected war against the Communist forces once the conflict with Japan ended.

The Kit
1-front-high-2.jpg The front of the box proudly proclaims “short run technology”. Or maybe it’s just notification. In any case, Sword’s P-66 is the only game in town as far as I know in 1/72 scale, and about the only kit you’ll find of a P-66 period. Parts consist of injected parts, resin parts, a small photo-etch fret, and a vacform canopy.

The injected parts, while obviously “short run technology “, are not too bad. Detail is a bit soft, and the recessed panel lines are extremely shallow. Some folks would probably say that’s more accurate- to scale- but I like them a bit deeper. The resin cockpit is actually a real nice little work, with extremely nice detail. Photo-etched parts include seat belts and an instrument panel- a clear IP backing is also provided to give extra detail. The injected parts don’t have alignment pins, typical of many kits made in the Czech Republic. This didn’t prove to be near the problem I’d thought it might.

The Build
1-ip.jpg Assembly started with the cockpit. The major parts are resin, consisting of a cockpit “tub” minus sidewalls. The sidewalls are separate pieces. All are cast very nicely, with good detail. The instructions call for you to assemble the sidewalls as part of a single unit for the cockpit. However, I’d read a build report that suggested gluing the sidewalls into the fuselage to minimize the gap between the fuselage wall and cockpit side wall. Some test fitting showed this to be a wise move.

1-cockpit-rear.jpgNot finding a good reference for color, I defaulted to Zinc Chromate Green, airbrushing on Model Master Acryl. I used Pollyscale Black to pick out some detail, and a wash of the same color to bring out the details. I mounted the clear acetate instrument panel backing to the photoetched panel (after painting it black, of course…), and fixed this to the forward firewall. After putting the resin seat and it’s photo-etch belts in place, the cockpit was ready to go.

1-cockpit-right.jpgBefore closing up the fuselage, you need to assemble the two piece engine, consisting of a front and bank row of cylinders. The parts are a bit soft, but due to the close fit of the cowl, very little of the engine will show, so I chose to apply a coat of Model Master Gunmetal, dry brush with some silver and give it a wash before calling the engine done.

Though there are no alignment pins in the fuselage, careful alignment and use of some rubber bands will make fuselage assembly pretty basic. You’ll need to be careful gluing the engine in place. As there are no alignment tabs for it, I found the best way to get it lined up close to correct is to apply glue to one side of the engine,and then close the fuselage temporarily up using rubber bands. I then carefully aligned the engine by reaching through the front of the cowl, and the open underside, until I got it where I wanted it. I then stuck a small piece of Play-Doh in place to hold it until the glue dried. This worked out really well, and served as a good alignment point for the front of the fuselage.

Once the engine dried, I temporarily placed the cockpit in place from the open underside, and using the tip of my X-acto knife, made marks to show me where to place the cockpit sidewalls. Gluing them in place gave a good alignment point for the rest of the cockpit. Once the sidewalls were in place, I slid the cockpit floor in place, made sure the fuselage halves were aligned, and used a few drops of CA at a few critical points to tack things in place. Once satisfied with that, I used Tamiya Thin Cement along the seams. The fit was actually very good, with only a small bead of CA applied along the seams to allow for a good, seamless join to be sanded.

The Hard Part
1-front-high.jpg The next phase of building was mounting the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. Neither had alignment tabs or holes…. not even recesses in the fuselage. And of course the fuselage had a rounded profile, while the edges of the parts was flat. I decided to start with the vertical stabilizer. I used a thin sanding stick to sand a bit of a concave shape in the base of the vertstab, test fitting frequently until I achieved a reasonable fit. I then referred to a few pictures for help on where to place it, and after much consultation with Googles image search, I thought I had a pretty good handle on where to place it. I put some Testors cement on both surfaces, and gave them a minute to soften up the plastic before placing the vertstab in place, holding it vertical with some small pieces of Play-Doh. This allowed me to make small adjustments to get the correct fit. I let that dry for a while, then applied some Tamiya Thin Cement to really bond the join well. After letting that dry overnight, I applied some CA to fill the remaining gaps. A final sanding to blend the vertstab in, and it looked pretty good.

The horizontal stabilizers were a bit tougher. The curve ont he fuselage was a bit more severe, and there was a large gap on the underside of the horztab when the top surface was put in place and aligned horizontally. And of course…. the two stabs had to appear to be mounted exactly opposite each other AND look parallel to each other AND perpendicular to the vertstab. The basic procedure was the same as the vertstab, but it took a lot- and I mean a lot- more adjusting until I finally got it right. Well, I got it right enough to say “Enough of this…. that’ll do!”

1-top-rear.jpgThere was still a pretty big gap to fill on the underside of the fuselage/horztab join, so I did what any careful, precise, attentive modeler would do. I dumped in gobs and gobs of CA until it was built up enough to sand down. It ended up looking pretty good from the top and sides, though I’d never show off or brag about the underside, as it looks…. well….. like a careful, precise, attentive modeler dumped a bunch of CA in a gap.

The Rest of the Build
The wings were a nice change of pace from the “excitement” of the stabilizers. A simple wheel bay glued in place on the lower wing part, two upper wing parts glued on, all held in place nicely with rubber bands and joined with Tamiya Thin Cement.

The fit of the wings to the fuselage was actually quite nice. A little CA was used at the fore and aft portions on the lower fuselage join, and these sanded out nicely. A very small gap between fuselage and wing on the upper surfaces was closed simply by using a spot of CA to “tack” the two parts together, and Tamiya Thin Cement completed the join, and nicely set the dihedral.

As the panel lines were a bit shallow, and I prefer them to stand out a bit. I used a Model Master Scribing tool to deepend them a bit, which was fairly quick and easy to do.

With the major parts in place, I did a final gap check, filling and sanding to get it all looking reasonably like a single unit, and cleaned off the whole assembly with a rub down of isopropyl alchohol.

Painting and decals
1-top-rear-2.jpg The kit comes with 3 sets of markings and color choices: a USAAF bird in OD/Neutral Grey, an RAF option in Dark Earth/Dark Green/Sky Gray, and the option I chose, a Nationalist Chinese P-66. The colors call for medium green and light blue. Not having the exact colors called for, and being slightly lazy, I used RLM 78 and US Medium Green, both Pollyscale shades. Applying the colors was fairly standard. I applied some pre-shading along the panel lines with PS Night Black, then applied the underside color, masked that off, and applied the upper color. Taking the masks off, I did some quick “chipping” with a Prismacolor silver pencil, then gave the entire model a coat of Future to prepare for the decals and panel wash.

The decals are printed by Propagteam, a name that I’ve seen several of my Czech kits seem to use for decals. They take a bit of care- lots of soaking in the water. I tore the first roundel by tugging on it too impatiently. If you work with decals like this, just give them time. I let them sit in water for an amount of time that most other decals would’ve floated off.

Once loose, however, the decals set nicely, and settled in nicely when pressed down gently with a piece of paper towel. Adding Pollyscale Decal Softener made them hug down tight, with no bubbling or wrinkling whatsoever.

I followed this with a panel wash of acrylic artist’s paint and liquid soap made for foaming dispensers. This worked out fabulously- the soap is very “liquidy”,and mixing with the thicker artists acrylics turned into a great combination. It settled into the panel lines nicely, and the excess cleaned off flawlessly.

1-tailwheel.jpg1-gear-close.jpg The landing gear have no mounting holes in the inside of the wings, so I used CA to hold them in place. They are very fragile- only time will tell how they hold up the weight of the model. Landing gear doors are photo-etch parts, so they are very thin, but not too difficult to work with. The tail wheel is shown in the instructions as being inserted into the tail wheel well, but no mounting hole is provided. I solved this by leaving a piece of the sprue attached to the top of the “stem” for the tail wheel, and cut this to fit after test fitting so that all was required was a bit of CA to hold things in place.

If I had it to do over, I’d have inserted small pieces of sprue with holes for the struts inside the wing and tail assembly. However, things worked out well even without that.

I airbrushed on a coat of Pollyscale Flat to take away the shine on the kit. I’ve never really had a problem with it, but quite a few people reported that PS Flat left a “grainy” look. I read the way to insure this did not happen was to cut the PS Flat with some Windex. I thought I’d give it a try.

Which left a “grainy” look. Oh well- live and learn. Call it “weathered”. 😀

All that was left to do now was add the canopy, of the vacform type. And thus, I ran face to face with my old nemesis.

“We meet again, Mr. Vacform Canopy…”
I’ve only worked with a vacform canopy once before, on an Anigrand Craftswork XP-60. It was not easy, but I managed to hack cut it so that it mostly but not really fit.

I started on this canopy as conventional wisdom seemed to direct- paint it before cutting it, use a sharp x-acto to score it, and clean up where needed with a sanding stick.

The problem was the lines where the cuts needed to be made were not very apparent. Canopy framing was actually adequate enough for good masking, but they just sort of trailed out around the bottom edge.

Note to manufacturers of vacform canopies: Consider recessed lines where the cuts need to be. It will make life easier for all. I now return you to your regularly scheduled build report.

The process that followed was basically sand, hack, fit, hack, sand, fit, hack, stare angrily at the canopy, fit, hack, sand, hack…. and finally get to a point where I said “OK- that’s close enough.” I glued the sucker on with some white glue.

Which popped out of place a few moments later.

So I decided to throw caution out and use CA. I knew it might fog up….. but I figured if CA didn’t hold the canopy, nothing would. And no fogging can stand under the mighty tools of Photoshop, right? 😀

In the end, it held. And I called it done.

Despite the difficulties with the stabilizers and canopy, this was really a fun build, and I’m happy with the final result. This kit, with it’s multi-media parts, really stretched me as a modeler. For all I’ve heard about short run kits, I was quite pleased with the overall fit. And if you’re interested in rare aircraft of WWII, this is certainly one airplane that qualifies in that area.

I recommend it, though I would suggest it’s more appropriate for a modeler with a few builds under the belt, and will require some patience and strategy.