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Hasegawa's 1/48 scale
Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero

by John Maher


Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero Type 23

images of completed model by Tony Bell

Hasegawa's 1/48 scale Rufe is available online from Squadron




When I started mocking up this vignette and saw the figure close is to the wing mounted cannon, I thought of calling the piece “Me and Mr. 20mm” but in the end I opted for the more vainglorious “Defender of the Faith”. 

I’ve always liked the Zero, particularly the Model 32 with its slightly incongruous square wing tips.  But the challenge for me was that unlike a Bf109 or a Spitfire or even a Mustang, documentation on Zero paint schemes and painting practices in English are scarce.   





I started with Hasegawa’s 1/48 Zero Model 32 kit and then added as much detail as I could. 

Beginning with the cockpit, I used a combination of Hawkeye Designs’ resin update set (which I believe is now owned and marketed by Cutting Edge), Eduard’s photo etch details, and Model Technologies Japanese Seat Belts with Buckles set (sadly no longer available).  These accessories are much improved over what’s provided by the kit, particularly the following: the seat (and the details behind it), the machine gun butts that sit under the forward cockpit coaming, and from Eduard, nothing in my mind beats the look of a photo-etch instrument panel.  As with most resin cockpit and photo-etch sets, however, you do have to thin down the sides of the fuselage to get these parts to fit.


Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

To these aftermarket sets, I then added instrument dials to the left side console (using Waldron faces and bezels) plus a mass of wiring made from fine solder and copper wire to replicate the very busy cockpit of the Zero.  I then painted everything much like you paint a figure: the trick here is to paint highlights on the raised areas and likewise accentuate the areas that are in shadow.  Rather than using a wash and dry brush technique, I instead used various shades of the basic Japanese interior green by first airbrushing a base of both Model Master Medium Green (floor and seat) and FS Green (side walls and instrument panel) and then following up with shading done with Humbrol.  I painted the floor a darker colour than the walls so as to do as much as possible to create visual interest.  As sub-contractors manufacture most aircraft components, they would likely be different shades of the same basic colour anyway. 

The next project I tackled was the wheel wells, an area in which the Hasegawa kit shows its age.  As moulded, the wheel well is actually in two parts: a lower wing section that includes the oil cooler is separate from the main lower wing piece, which means there’s a tricky L-shaped seam inside the wheel well that must be dealt with.  Making matters worse, the wells are too shallow.  


Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:


I was able to resolve the seam problem with a combination of Mr Surfacer and Precision Stix, one of my favourite tools.  These are small sanding sticks in the 320 – 1500 grade range.  For this application, I cut very small sections into which I speared the point of a new No. 11 blade so that in profile, it looks like a miniature dust mop.  I was then able to painstakingly smooth out the Mr Surfacer and eliminate the seams. 

As for the wheel wells being too shallow, I decided to leave them as is and then do my best with finishing to give the illusion of depth.  In this I was aided by Eduard’s photo etch ribs that are made slightly smaller than true scale to match the profile of the kit.  I then added the duct for the cockpit fresh air intake in the starboard wing plus the plumbing for the brake lines and pitot tube.  I also drilled some lightening holes into the rear walls of the wells.  

I then masked off the wheel wells and laid down a coat of Tamiya’s AS-12 silver, which I decanted from the spray bomb and ran through my Badger 150 cut with lacquer thinner.  I then over sprayed this area with a fifty-fifty mix of Gunze’s clear blue and clear green in an attempt to replicate the elusive Aotake finish.  Once dry, I added a wash of Liquitex acrlylic Mars Black and Burnt Umber.  I applied this fairly liberally with distilled water and in layers to give the wheel wells depth, and to accurately portray one the dirtier areas of an aircraft.  Any body that’s looked in to the wheel wells of a still flying warbird knows how grimy they can get.  As a final touch, I rubbed some alcohol along the raised edges of some the wheel well details so that the natural metal shines through and adds to the illusion of depth. 

The tail wheel on many Japanese aircraft has a leather bag around it that seals out dust and debris from the inside of the fuselage.  Hasegawa makes no effort to replicate this in their Zero kits.  So, using a page from figure modellers, I figured I could replicate this leather bag by sculpting it with A+B putty.  Trying to attempt such a project after the model was built and painted sounded a lot harder than assembling and finishing the tail wheel and its bag first and then masking them off as protection from the painting stage.  

While working on the tail wheel, I decided to deflect the rudder.  One of the reasons Japanese aircraft are very light is because, well, they have a lot of lightening holes.  So when the rudder moves, you see said holes.   


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I used a rudder from KMC to replace the kit rudder after it had been carefully removed from the fuselage.  Bevelling the inside edges, adding hinges, and drilling out the lightening holes were then performed.  All that is then needed is a pin in the replacement rudder to help its adhesion to the main fuselage assembly. 

Before joining the wings and fuselage together, I first added the tail planes to the fuselage. Mounting the tail planes before the wings helps me make the whole model true.  As the tail planes and rudder are almost always perfectly square, I can use a protractor and drawings of the plane being modelled to make sure I’ve got the angles right.  Then if necessary the wings can be adjusted to fit. 

To the engine I added the push rods from brass and the spark plug wires using Detail Master ignition wires.  Also added was some Eduard photo etch parts and copper telephone wire between the cylinder heads.  The only way to see this detail on the finished model is to shine a penlight into the cowl.  Easily recognized however, are the Moskit exhaust pipes I used.  

My last project was the main landing gear legs, for which I used Tamiya’s 1/32 scale Zero landing gear as a guide.  The torque link was an Eduard photo etch part.  The oleo was wrapped with household aluminium foil using Microscale’s foil adhesive. 

The main gear cover as moulded by Hasegawa does not sit tight against the leg, so I lengthened the attachment arms with Evergreen StripStyrene.  I could then use a round file to shape the extended attachment arms to wrap around their respective landing gear legs.   

Holes were also drilled in to the centre of the attachment arms through which I ran fine solder to represent the brake lines.  The two ends were then connected respectively to the wheels themselves and the plumbing already installed in the wheel wells with stretched sections of a Q-tip. 

I also added to the legs tow rings and the arms that extend below the axle.  The latter engages the inner wheel cover during the gear retraction sequence.  This part was made by pining a section of Evergreen StripStyrene to the bottom of the kit part.  It was then sanded to shape using the Tamiya part as a guide.  Next, a small plastic disk punched out using the Waldron sub-miniature punch was attached to the tip.  When five-minute epoxy is then applied to the disk, it dries in a half-moon shape.      



Painting and Markings


The colour scheme represents a hypothetical aircraft, as I wasn’t keen on either an all grey or a mottled scheme. 

I decided to instead show a Model 32 that had been repaired with a replacement aft fuselage and tail section from a Model 52.  While I have no direct photographs supporting this approach, I have circumstantial evidence from a web site (www.kilroywasthere.org/003-pages0glenwallace/45-03-18/html) that at least the Model 32 was still operated late in the warThis page is the story of an American navy pilot recounting a mission over Kyushu in March 1945 during which he claims to have engaged Zeke 52s and 32s.  I know from Osprey’s IJN Aces that 203 Kokutai was based there at that time and interestingly, its commander, Takeo Tanimizu, had flown a 32 with some success the previous December with the Tainan AG. 

I therefore painted the model in two sections: the wings and forward fuselage were painted first overall with Gunze RLM02 (H70) mixed fifty-fifty with Gunze White and then the upper sections were painted with five shades of Gunze IJN Green (H59).  I used this many shades to make it look like this section had been repainted a couple of times. 



The upper aft fuselage and tail were painted in a custom Gunze colour mixed by my friend Garfield Ingram, to match the green surround on the Hinomarus I used from Aeromaster’s late war Zero sheet.  The lower sections were painted Gunze Sky (H74).  I used paper masks for the colour demarcation and for the background of the manufacturer’s (Nakajima) data stencil on the port fuselage. 

I did my usual pre-and post-shading to accentuate panel lines and simulate uneven fading.  Only the following areas received a wash: the panels around the engine area, cowl machine guns, wing gun covers, and around the control surfaces.  Decals were sealed with multiple coats of Polly Scale gloss, followed each time by a gentle rub down with Micro Mesh 6000, 8000 and 12000 grades.  As car modellers discovered long ago, this is a great way to make the raised edges of a decal truly disappear.  The entire airframe except the cowl was finally sealed with Polly Scale flat. 

The cowl was painted first with a fifty-fifty mix of Model Master’s Insignia Blue and Aircraft Interior Black.  I then post-shaded with a very thinned down Aircraft Interior Black.  Paint chipping was done with a Prismacolor pencil.  

I used a combination of Winsor Newton oil paints, Liquitex Acrylics and Mig Pigments for weathering.  I like to apply these in layers so that the oil paints make the prominent oil streaks, the acrylics are for the subtle staining and the pigments are a great way to show the streaking back from the wheel wells.   



Base and Figure


As always, to give my model a sense of scale and place, I created a base and added a figure. 

The grass field had its basic contouring done with a pre-mixed dry wall compound.  I then added the very fine dirt found in your garden after which I smoothed out some of the contours with Celluclay, particularly around the tire tracks, as I wanted the look of soft ground and not a muddy quagmire.

You're now left with an ugly grey base with dirt on it.  I then stained this groundwork with Woodland Scenics earth pigment, as raw plaster would soak up gallons of my shading colours.  It was now time to add every day static grass and the trick here is to apply lots of white glue thinned with water. Then, after dumping the static grass on to the wet glue, you blow across it very hard to get it to stand up.

Once the grass dried, I airbrushed six different Humbrol colours for shading and blending including greens, yellow-greens and browns. I also planted and then painted some pieces of dried flower material, dry brushed the whole thing with the same shades of Humbrol, and finished it all with Flowering Foliage from Woodland Scenics sprinkled very lightly (to represent dandelions) and held in place with hair spray. My last detail was oil stains applied with Winsor Newton oils. 

The figure is from Jaguar and sculpted by Mike Good.  His skin was painted with Winsor & Newton oils and his clothing and sword were done with Humbrol. 

My final touch was adding turned-brass cannon barrels from Fine Details.  Purists may argue that the long-barrelled cannons were never used on a Model 32 but I imagined this aircraft as being like something out of a Japanese version of the “Blue Max”, set in WWII so I used them anyway.



Finished Model Photography: Tony Bell

In-progress Photography: Richard Briggs  & Garfield Ingram

Thanks also to Harvey Low for sharing his knowledge of Japanese aircraft



Additional Images


Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

Model and Text Copyright © 2006 by John Maher
Images of completed model Copyright © 2006 by Tony Bell
Page Created 25 September, 2006
Last Updated 21 February, 2007

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