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F7F-3 Tigercat Firebomber

by David W. Aungst


F7F-3 Tigercat Firebomber


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This aircraft is one of several operated by TBM, Inc. in California during the 1980s. The building of this model started as a joke between a friend and me. He knows I like colorful subjects and that I was looking for a good reason to build a natural metal model, so he bought and gave to me the AeroMaster decals for this aircraft. The decals came with the challenge that I actually build the model. Since I did not want to disappoint my friend (and I did kind of like the subject), I built the model and converted the W.W.II fighter into a modern day fire fighting aircraft.  





This is the AMT 1/48th scale F7F-3 Tigercat. I did the following to build the model and make the conversion:

  • I incorporated the AeroMaster Resin Tigercat update set (kit #AMD631). The set includes a complete cockpit replacement, replacement wheels (flattened to show weight), and replacement flight control surfaces (but I elected to not use the control surfaces). AeroMaster used a medium blue-gray resin that is the toughest resin I have ever worked with. You can not cut it with a knife; it just crumbles. I had to machine it with my Dremel tool to use it at all.

    It is nasty stuff.
Model Picture
Model Picture Model Picture
  • I added seat harnesses to the pilot's seat using True Details brass seat harnesses.
  • I incorporated the Ventura Hobbies Firefighter Tigercat conversion set (kit #4000). This amounted to adding the enlarged belly tank used for Borate fire retardant. This tank is the extra-large, double-bay fire retardant tank. It is huge and not to be confused with the smaller single-bay tank provided by several other after-market manufactures.
  • I sealed and sanded smooth the gun ports in the nose and wings.
  • I drilled out the engine exhausts.
  • I removed the W.W.II antenna fit and scratch built replacement antennas for more modern radio gear. This includes:
    • the whip antenna on the top of the nose
    • the "V" antenna behind the cockpit
    • the DF "football" antenna on the spine
    • the mast and line antenna running to the top of the tail
  • Not as apparent in the final model, I partitioned off the interior of the entire nose section around the nose landing gear bay and under the cockpit floor. Then I completely filled the area with lead shot to offset the weight of the fire retardant tank (most of the tank is behind the main landing gear and behind the center of gravity). As heavy as this made the nose, it proved to be only just enough weight to overcome the fire retardant tank's weight.

Construction of the model went pretty smoothly with only the previously mentioned problems working with the AeroMaster resin. The AeroMaster cockpit pieces do not interact well with each other. I needed to grind off about 1/8th inch of the right side of the main instrument panel to clear the side wall detail piece so the fuselage would close around the cockpit.



I attached and detached the fire retardant tank three times until I got it in the right place. Thankfully I was using super glue to attach the tank, rather than the two-part epoxy that the Ventura instructions called for. This made slipping a knife blade in and cracking off the tank a simple task. The problem is the tank's shape. It is not as symmetrical as it should be, making it difficult to line up on the airframe. When I finally got it lined up as best as possible, I called it quits and painted the model. On the completed model, the lack of symmetry on the tank is not that noticeable.



Painting and Markings


I used all Testor's Model Master enamel paints and metalizers to finish the model. Oddly, the Ventura conversion instructions provided a better color reference than did the AeroMaster decal sheet where I got the markings. The Ventura instructions claim that Model Master Chevrolet Engine Red is a near perfect match for the red used by the TBM Company on their firefighters. Armed with this information, I painted the whole model gloss white, then masked and painted the red areas.

Natural metal is every modeler's nightmare. I look on it as a challenge, though, and have developed a system that works for me. I use gloss paint to prime the model for metalizing, turning a weeklong polishing job into an evening's air brushing with an overnight dry. This was why I painted the entire model in gloss white. It was not just to prime for the red, but also to prime the rest of the model's surfaces for metalizing.

I use multiple shades of metalizer, masked and applied like a patchwork quilt to represent the varying panels of metal. Then, I apply varying shades of metalizer (without masking) to the center areas of the already painted metal panels. This gives a good feel of weathering and fatigue to the metal. I polish with a facial tissue and seal with clear lacquer between each metalizer application. As long as the metal shades are not too widely varying in color, the effect comes off quite good (I won "Best Natural Metal Subject" at an IPMS regional competition with this model).



The decals are from AeroMaster sheet #48-307. This sheet provides markings for three different fire fighting Tigercat aircraft, all from TBM, Inc. - #62, #63, and #64. Since it was #63 that I had pictures of, I chose it to model. The decals went down easily, although the long stretches of striping required careful alignment. Especially difficult was the alignment of the stripe running around the fire retardant tank. The white numbers for the tail were not opaque enough to match the white painted areas of the model, so I secured a second AeroMaster decal sheet to apply a second set of decals over the tail numbers. The doubling of decals allowed the white numbers to turn white enough to match the white painted areas of the model.

The aircraft name, "Pregnant Guppy", on either side of the nose is my own touch. I could not leave those massive nose sides all white, so I pretended that I was the pilot (my name is under the windscreen on each side) and named the aircraft something fitting. The look of the fuselage through the entire build, with that huge fire retardant tank attached, reminded me of the guppies I used to have as a kid. When the Mommy guppies were "expecting", they had a very similar shape. I created these decals on my computer and printed them onto clear decal film so I could apply them to the model.

I weathered the model using dilute mixtures of enamel paints, both as washes and as airbrush shading. Primarily this was done in black and rust, but the exhaust stains used some dark gray to get the proper feel. A somewhat heavy coat of insignia red applied under the fire retardant tank and on the lower rear fuselage represents the look of the aircraft after returning from a Borate drop. For a more complete discussion of what I do to weather my models, see my posting on "Weathering Aircraft".





The model is striking sitting on my display shelves. It is funny how sometimes your more favored models are the ones you build by accident without a long planning period.


Post Script

This Tigercat model is a reposting of an article I placed on HyperScale in March of 2000, four years ago. I decided to take newer, better pictures of the model using my Canon PowerShot-G2. Two days after I took the new pictures, I had what I call the "great avalanche". I was carrying a stack of five models out to my car for a model club meeting, this model amoung them. I slipped on the steps leading out of my house. You can guess the rest.

It is funny how your mind races at critical times like that. In a split second I weighed the differences between me trying to save the models and breaking my leg or saving myself from substancial injury and forgetting the models. I released the model box from my grasp and caught myself. Then I watched in slow motion as the model box crashed to the bottom of the steps in a heap. The two models in the box survived mostly intact. The Tigercat and two other models that were on top of the box were not so lucky. The following image shows what happened to the Tigercat.


Broken Model


As can be seen, the damage is not as bad as it could be. The model shed its wings and engine nacelles, but these are all clean breaks thanks to the usage of super glue in assembly. The worst damage is that all three landing gear legs were crushed. I have since purchased another F7F kit just so I can use its landing gear in the repair of this kit.

The spirit has not motivated me, yet, into fixing the model, though. The "avalanche" happened November of 2002. The model still looks like this image, today. Someday...



Additional Images and Project Summary


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Project Statistics

Completion Date:

17 July, 1997

Total Building Time:






Painting (includes creation and printing of custom decals):


Decals / Markings (includes creating and printing custom decals):


Extra Detailing / Conversion:


Model, Description and Images Copyright 2004 by David Aungst
Page Created 29 April, 2004
Last Updated 29 April, 2004

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