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Building a hybrid 1/48 scale P-40B
To "B" or not to "B"

by Jose Rodriguez

 

Curtiss P-40B

 


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Introduction

 

"As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have"

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld 

Although this quote is recent, the sentiment is an equally valid characterization of why, six decades earlier, the P-40 was pressed into battle on every front despite its lackluster performance.  It is also a poor excuse for the state of affairs of the U.S. Army Air Corps prior to Pearl Harbor even though the drums of war had been beating for years and Britain was not yet out of her times of toil, blood, sweat and tears.  I have an old book that I picked up at a small town public library liquidation sale for a nickel.  It is titled Victory through air power, written by Major Alexander P.de Seversky and published in 1942.  Many of you may recognize his name as the one legged WWI ace fighter pilot, a Russian emigree, visionary, holder of numerous worldís speed records, and founder of Seversky Aircraft Corporation which became Republic Aircraft Corporation, the builders of the P-47 Thunderbolt, the first American fighter to measure up to the Axis fighters.  From Major de Severskyís writing I have compiled the following poignant passages which I now quote, 

The national genius of supersalesmanship played a sad trick on the American people, betraying them into complacency.  For years they have been lulled into the belief that their military aviation was not only equal but superior to any in the world.  In the light of what airmen knew than, and even laymen know now, it is shocking to recall, for instance, that in the autumn of 1939 a national magazine boasted that ďOur War Birds Are Best.Ē Only our sedative adjectives, alas, were best....

The P-40's - called Tomahawks by the British -had been widely hailed as our first line of defense in the skies, and cumulative evidence of their inferiority in action has been openly resented on this side of the Atlantic.  They consequently offer a fair test of American standards of realism in relation to aircraft production.  American newspapermen confirmed what aviation men knew in advance: that the P-40's were lamentably inferior to the British pursuits.  Hundreds of these craft sent to England were not even uncrated for months, despite that nationís lie-and-death hunger for fighter planes.  They were adjudged obsolete and put ďon iceĒ for possible auxiliary uses.  When some of them were assembled in England as trainers with the Army co-operation force, American publicity tried to convey that they were being used with the regular Fighter Command over the British Isles!

For nearly a year the British did not know what to do with these pursuits.  Finally they sent them to Libya, where they proved a match for the obsolete French and Italian airplanes.  In the British offensive in North Africa in the winter of 1941-42, the P-40's served well enough as a kind of cross between pursuit and attack airplanes, flying at low altitudes and dealing with Stuka dive-bombers and other inferior Axis aircraft.

What had been advertised as the very backbone of our pursuit forces thus turned out to be a mere accessory of the land forces, useful within a most limited scope.  It was a left-handed compliment, indeed, which General George H.  Brett paid this plane when he declared, in a London interview, that ďthe present operations in Libya at least ought to prove the quality of our material for that theater of war.Ē 

de Seversky makes another points regarding the sad state of affairs of the Army Air Corps and they include the fanatical and hard headed decision to only accept liquid cooled engines as the power plant de rigeur for fighters despite the fact that proven air cooled engines were available delivering almost twice the horsepower.  He also assailed the anemic armament, the lack of armor, of self sealing tanks, the lack of hard points for bombs and rockets, and the short range of American airplanes.  His words of admonishment were accompanied by his own solution to the problems he had listed, the P-47, an airplane with the biggest, most powerful radial supercharged air-cooled engine available and bristling with guns from wing tip to wing tip, with a range that allowed it to escort bombers behind enemy lines, and enough armor to protect the pilot.  His bitter complaint was that he had proposed the Thunderbolt to the Army in 1938 and had been rejected off hand because it had the wrong engine. 

 

 

The original P-40 had no armor plating, no bullet proof windshield, had two 50 caliber nose guns and only two 30 caliber machine guns on the wings and lacked self sealing tanks and thus were considered unsuitable for combat.  The P-40B was a catch-up design that made the original design suitable for combat with the addition of more armor, self sealing tanks and two more wing guns.  The P-40C was another stop-gap measure based on the existing P-40B to address some of the deficiencies pointed out by de Seversky and only 193 were built; it had a 52 US gallon belly drop tank and the internal tankage was increased to correct the short range limitation of the original P-40B; also, improvements were made to the self-sealing fuel tanks. By late 1943 the Tomahawks had been designated as ďlimited standardĒ and were relegated to stateside training units.  Despite its lack luster performance, the aircraft was rugged and well built and it fulfilled its duty in far away fronts where the enemy didnít have front line fighters.

 

 

Construction

 

To be or not to be, that is the famous line from the Bard that applies to so many things in life, and it aptly applies when deciding to built an early P-40, Monogram or Academy. I wrestled with these two kits for hours, looking at them in their boxes and trying to decide which one was the lesser of two evils. My Monogram kit is a late incarnation: the plastic is too thin, the wings are warped, the detail is soft, and the alignment of the parts is disastrous. The fact that it has engraved panel lines and rivets doesnít bother me but the flimsy and deformed plastic does.  

The Academy (Hobbycraft clone) has much better quality plastic and a superb fitting plus it has recessed panel lines - the thing begs to click together. The problem is that this kitís shortcomings make it into a toy more than a true contender: the wingís angle of incidence (or attack) is too high making the wingís leading edge ride too high on the fuselage and worst of all, it gives the airframe a rather sleek look belonging more to a late variant P-40 whereas the early P-40 had a pudgier look with a deeper fuselage. Talking about bellies, the Academy belly belongs to a later P-40 variant and it is not a B/C belly, and some of the panel lines are either missing or in the wrong place, the windscreen is wrong, and on and on. 

There is an article right here in HyperScale written by Rick Barnds on how to apply surgery to the Academy/Hobbycraft kit to lower the wingís leading edge, the worst offense, and to rework the bad belly. I printed the article and I read it and reread it cringing at the idea of doing all that cutting so I decided to build the Monogram kit and use bits from the Academy. At least the Monogram kit is correct in every shape and panel line. After I glued the Monogram wings together I noticed that the bad fit would take serious effort to fix, that the alignment tabs were so deformed that they didnít click together, and that the wings were still warped.

 

 

Back to the Academy kit. At this point I had determined that I had two worthless kits so if I were to slice and dice and glue back things together and fail, I wouldnít lose two kits but two headaches and I would get to keep the decal sheets. With the determination of a man who has nothing to lose I cut the belly out of the Monogram kit, cut the belly out of the Academy one and grafted the green Monogram belly into the gray Academy wings. To my surprise, the implant actually fitted like a glove. By that I mean that after some putty and sand paper, both parts matched rather well.

 

 

Now I had an Academy wing with a correct P-40B/C belly. This cut and paste stuff isnít so hard, I told myself, so I decided to do more surgery. In order to close the gap between the bottom end of the fuselage cowl and the start of the belly, I cut one Monogram tire halve in half and I glued it to the beginning of the belly to give this area a rounded and flush look. Because I had trouble placing the wing with the new belly onto the fuselage, I removed the molded in closed cowl flaps and rebuilt them open using beer can aluminum after the wing was in place. 

The main landing gear pods on the Academy wing have a funky shape and ride too high on the wingís leading edge. These blisters should be below the wing and mesh with the wingís leading edge; they donít go over. I hacked the Academyís blisters off and grafted the ones cut out from the Monogram kit. Again, to my surprise, the fit was very good. Now I had an Academy wing with the correct wheel well fairings and belly. Being on a roll, I used the Monogram kit as a guide to erase bad panel lines and scribe correct ones in the Academy airframe. I have never done scribing before so this was a good learning experience for me. 

Inebriated with success I decided to really do some damage so I followed the instructions in Rick Barndsí article and cut the wing /fuselage roots from the fuselage using my newly discovered scribing tool. Before that I had to obliterate all cockpit detail inside the fuselage halves, but not to worry because I had a True Detail cockpit on standby. I glued the cut out wing/fuselage roots to my wing. 

Following Mr. Barndsí advice, I thinned down the wing/fuselage fillets so they could blend with the new scratch built fuselage sides that would fill the void left when the leading edge of the wing were glued to the fuselage in a position lower  than Hobbycraft/Academy had intended. This new location gives the model a deeper fuselage and captures the fatter look of the B/C series.

 

 

 

After all this cutting and grafting this kit had more Bondo that my first car in college and I spent a good amount of time sanding, refilling, sanding again, refilling and sanding again to get all the scars out. If you have an aversion to putty filler and are in a hurry, please do not attempt to build your own Frankenstein; treat yourself better and go buy a Tamiya or Hasegawa kit. 

The pundits say that the Academy/Hobbycraft spinner is not pointy enough so I used the Monogram spinner and propeller attaching it to the nose with a brass tube shaft. I had to sand down the nose around the spinner a little bit to flush the spinner to the fuselage. 

I used the Academy/Hobbycraft exhausts pipes after drilling out the holes. These pipes look too big but I had no choice; when I tried to use the Monogram pipes, which seemed to be in the right scale, they were so out of round and deformed that they were useless. Moskit pipes are always the best but this Frankenstein kit didnít deserve the expense of fancy parts; it was more like graveyard parts for this project. 

The Academy horizontal tail has no panel lines while the Monogram is full of them, albeit engraved, and has the texture of a porcupine with all those rivets on it. I decided to use the thinner Monogram tail and, still tipsy with my previous successes, I cut the elevators off with the scribing tool and repositioned them in the down position. I sanded away all engraved stuff and re-scribed the panel lines. 

The main landing gear legs and doors are from Monogram and the leg bracing is from Academy plus a few scratch built parts made out of brass wire. Despite their age, the Monogram gear legs and doors are better molded than Academyís. 

 

 

I decided to build a P-40C whose looks can be differentiated from a B only by the presence of the belly tank; the other differences are internal. There is irony to ponder here; Monogram labels its kit as a B but comes with the belly tank. Academy labels its kit as a C but has no belly tank. I used the Monogram belly tank and I drilled holes in the tank and the belly and added sway braces and a fuel line built out of brass wire. Now the Academy kit does look like a P-40C.

 

 

Painting and Markings

 

I went for the A.V.G. aircraft belonging to Robert H.  Neale, 1st Pursuit Squadron ďAdam and EvesĒ, June 1942, that came with the Academyís decal sheet.  The other option was for another A.V.G. plane flown by Charles Older, the famous White 68.  When it comes to painting A.V.G. camouflage there are as many paint recipes as chicken recipes.  The original colors were Dupont enamels that tried to mimic the standard RAF camouflage colors.  For my P-40 I went with Tamiya Sky Gray for the bottom and Model Master acrylics, field drab FS30118 and green FS34079 for the top colors.  Are these the right shades?  I donít know and your guess would be as good, or as bad, as mine. 

I used Cutting Edge Black Magic pre-cut masks ( CEBM48153) for the Hobbycraft/Academy kit.  These masks are a time saver and I highly recommend them but donít do what I did: when applying the base top color donít try to guess where the darker color is going to go because you, like I did, will guess wrong and will miss some areas.  Paint the whole top in the base color (in my case the field drab) and donít try to save paint.  I had to go back and retouch the bold spots. 

 

 

This time I tried a new painting technique.  First I sprayed the colors as they came out of the bottle.  Second, I mixed the base color with a little bit of white (that famous 10% reduction for scale effect) and sprayed this mixture in the center of all panels leaving the original paint on the edges. This produces a checkered look..  What I really like about this is that if the final effect is too garish because the dark and light colors are too contrasting, it is really easy to come back with the original base color diluted with thinner and spray the whole thing with it.  Layers of this thinned down coat will blend the colors and eliminate the excessively checkered look.  

The weathering was done using the usual techniques: Future clear coat, decals, wash with acrylic paints diluted in soapy water, dull coat, more oil stains and chips and finally, a dusting with MIG powder pigments.  I used MIG pigments to simulate smoke stains, dust and dirt. 

About the Academy decals, I swear that I will never used them again.  They are thick, they donít react too well to solvents, they silver, and their glue is too strong.  Placing the decals in place is like throwing pancakes on a table from across the room and hoping that they will land right on the breakfast plate; if you miss, they are almost impossible to relocate.

 

 

Finishing Touches

 

I used a neat trick to tie the three antennae at the top of the vertical fin.  I cut a sawing needle and inserted the head with the eye in the fin so I could thread the monofilament lines through it. This embedded needle head provided a strong anchoring point that let me tight the antennae without fear of breaking anything.

Did I miss anything?  Sure I did, as usual.  There is a retractable landing light under the port wing.  I missed making the kitís original round panel into this light and to add insult to injury, a decal covers half of it.  Next time I may remember to drill it out, put a backer plate behind, add some aluminum foil and fill the hole with Kristal Klear.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Monogram or Academy. Which kit would I recommend?

I would recommend neither.

If you can find an old issue of the Monogram kit, the closer to its original birth date of 1964, the better off you are, then buy it and build it. Before the molds wore out the Monogram kit was a masterpiece but todayís kits are so badly deformed that they are not worth messing with. The Academy/Hobbycraft will build with no fuss and make a good looking model but will not stand close examination by anybody who knows anything about P-40ís; so if you build it, donít show it to your modeling friends (let it be your dark secret, tucked away in the back of your model shelf). 

Trumpeterís new P-40B is the newer and best hassle free option. I donít have a kit yet because I have a few other kits that I want to build before starting another P-40B but the on line reviews that I have read and the pictures that I have seen make me believe that the Trumpeter has become the king of the hill; not because it is flawless but because it is not as bad as its competitors.

The issues with the Trumpeter offering such as big rivets, shallow cockpit, small horizontal tail feathers and too wide vertical fin chord are nothing compared with the modeling shenanigans I had to go through to kit bash a Monogram and an Academy together in order to get something that resembles an early P-40. At least the Trumpeter kit has the correct belly and the fuselage is deep like the real thing so despite any other surgery it may need, it cannot be as bad as what I had to go through.


 

References

  • Walk Around P-40 Warhawk, Walk Around Number 8, Squadron/Signal Publications

 

World War 2 US Army Fighter Modeling
Modelling Masterclass
 

Authors: Jerry Scutts, Brett Green
US Price:
$29.95
UK Price: £19.99
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Publish Date:
 September 25, 2003
Details: 128 pages; ISBN: 1841760617
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Buy it from Osprey Publishing

Model, Images and Text Copyright © 2005 by Jose Rodriguez
Page Created 23 May, 2005
Last Updated 23 May, 2005

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