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Build Report: Drew Hatch’s Academy 1/48 CH-53E Super Stallion

Drew Hatch shared this detailed build report on his great looking Super Stallion. Thanks Drew!

Have you ever seen this helo up close? To say it’s a big bird is gross understatement. Academy has in come out with this modern US helicopter and hit the look right on. The CH-53E was one that was sought by most every modern military aircraft builder and then some that just like big!  When the kit was released a buzz was felt by its’ shear size. The fuselage is larger then most fighters of the day and with its rotor blades in the flight position is larger than the 1/32 aircraft I have on the shelf. This thing is huge! Good thing I build in the corner of the garage – it needs that much room!

First inspection of the kit yields great surface detail. Very fine recessed panel lines and crisp detail. Small parts are plentiful with no flash or poor moldings. The large fuselage had a slight twist in it but was nothing that a fast fix with hot water couldn’t take care of. The interior cabin is a separate ‘box’ that fits inside the fuselage halves. Now this is where the only real problem with the kit shows up.  The interior compartment is riddled with ejector pin marks. There are so many surface dimples that it looks like it was hit with a shotgun! There are some that I just simply gave up on as they were just in such a small area it was too difficult to fix and likely would not be seen in the finished model anyway. Some of the sub assemblies would need to be painted off the model then assembled. There would not be any way to paint them after assembly.

The cockpit and cargo area of the model are a gem detail wise. There is enough to keep the average modeler happy and enough room for the super detailer to go bonkers. I opted for the interior as is. No particular reason as there is a lot to be seen however, I decided to concentrate on the exterior finish and not get stuck with over detailing the interior (which I am known to do). Some decent painting overall would satisfy my needs for this build. Giving everything the base colors I started a light weathering regime of airbrushing low lights, dry brushing and filter washes. For dry brushing I do things a bit differently. By using artist oils and mediums I can control the depth of shading to remove it, blend it away or increase its visual depth. This can be done with acrylics also however I prefer oils. Give it a try – you likely have the needed materials already. Picking out switches and knobs I do things a bit differently. I opted for a lighter mark on the item rather than paint the individual knob. This I find particularly effective on circuit breakers where the black on black if broken up with the white fuse rating. Using a light grey and blending medium I paint a small line or dot on each breaker. Everything else I do is standard for cockpits. Using Mike Grants Jet instruments to detail the IP was a cinch, just moderately time consuming. The overall fit of the interior is very good. One must really study the instruction on this kit. There are decals and details that need to be added before closing the interior that are only mentioned later in the instructions. The way they jump around it’s very easy to miss one or twenty small details and the locator holes they require opening before hand. The flight engineers jump seat is one that can be easily missed.

Once the parts are assembled for the interior the fuselage can be closed up. Here is where one must be careful, if the alignment is off or the width of the fuselage is slightly off there will be large gaps to fill and potential misalignments of the tail and clear nose. The seams were rather easy to clean up and required only brushed on primer as filler. Attaching the sponsons is where the alignment is tested. If there is any bulge or recess at the fuselage from assembling the interior box to the fuselage halves poorly this is where it will all be seen. I test fitted to my hearts content and felt I had it nailed. Once glue was added all bets were off. It’s always that way isn’t it? A couple coats of thick primer and a heavy sanding with sandpaper wrapped over a scrap stabilizer fixed any issues I created for myself.

I assembled the engine pods separately from the model. I realized that if I added those components then I may not be able to paint correctly nor apply the top side decals. Painting these components before assembly would be mandatory to satisfy my finish requirements. Issues with the engine pods are the instructions state the need to have the exhausts painted and installed prior to the pod halves being assembled. This simply would not work. I removed the internal attachment points for the exhausts and installed a bulkhead for a stop. That way I could assemble the pods without the exhausts, paint and install the exhausts during final assembly. Sounds good in theory, however I found I had more issues with the exhaust alignment than I anticipated. They are passable but far from perfect compared to the kit alignment posts.

Turning my attention to the complex rotor head, I had to come up with a painting strategy. Most I have seen were painted black – to begin with. I decided I wanted an oily metal finish. Not entirely accurate perhaps but something achievable. I began assembling the complex folding hinges paying particular attention to the instructions for the proper way to assemble each piece. The assembly of the hinges to the rotor head has to be thought out in advance. The numbered mechanisms can make it easier if you pay attention to them and the sequence in the instructions. Once it was all glued tight I added the collector links. I glued them to the rotor head assembly only, leaving off the lower portion and only using it to align the linkage. I did this so it could be painted easier. I applied 3 coats of Alclad steel to the assemblies and it looks the part. A black filter really makes everything look the way I wanted. The rotor blades had the leading edges and bases painted with the same Alclad steel. Everything was masked and the blades painted with the discontinued Polyscale grimy black.  I chose the grimy black as it would look better with a streaked black wash later on. A couple of flat coats later and I had the look I wanted.

Painting the airframe itself was something that I had to think through. There are a lot of little things that have to be looked at and others not over looked. I simply painted an overall dark ghost grey using Polyscale right form the bottle. After that had a chance to cure for a few days I masked off the vertical sections of the fuselage at the sponsons and engine fairing to protect from over spray. I painted the Medium grey with Gunze paint free handing the feathered edges in two coats. Once the paint had cured a couple heavy doses of Future readied the big bird for some decals.  – Author Rant – Modern aircraft have too many markings! – I spent what felt like 10 hours applying all the decals. Take your time on the black walk way decals; if you think it through and use the panel lines as alignment locators you should have no problems with them. I must admit I may have missed one or twenty of those stencil decals.

Before I started weathering I gave the model another coat of Future to seal in and protect the decals. Since I didn’t go overboard on the rotors or interior, I couldn’t over do the exterior weathering now could I? Keeping to that same degree of weathering, I opted for a bit of contrast rather than weathering to start. Using the base color I lightened it with about 30% RLM 76. I used a lighter blue grey to lighten the base color rather than add white and whiten the color. While it may not be an issue on this one, it makes a difference if you try to go two or three steps further with lighter shading. A fast spray of panels, some random high use, high maintenance and stress areas made the finish look like a patch quilt. This is ok as a fast oil wash of Paynes Grey streaked in the direction of airflow brought the tonal differences back into check. A clear satin coat prepared the model for a second go round of Paynes grey. This would add more depth and definition as the satin coat would grab and hold more of the wash. Weathering on different finishes will yield a different look. Use a flat coat and the look will again be more in depth compared to a satin coat. I also picked out a few streaks in Vandyke brown and Burnt Umber on the lower surfaces for some added contrast. Final weathering came with a few pigments on the nacelles to give that “hands on” dirty feel.

Final assembly consisted of attaching the engine nacelles, landing gear and rotors. With the final bits of antennas, cable hoists and the cockpit windows added this bird really comes together. While this is a large but fairly simple build, its shear size and massive interior had slowed the build down compared to other modern jets.  Weathering this model was kept modest even with the vast references showing the contrary. Well they came out of maintenance at some point don’t they? I really wasn’t too comfortable weathering to that degree in this scale anyway so I only took it as far I knew I could pull off realistically.

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