Dress to Impress


The art of scale modelling is alive and well; you just have to dig a bit deeper to find it than in previous years. There are plenty of enthusiasts beavering away on a vast selection of own-design, plan and kit-built models, but its true to say that you don’t see so many on club flightlines these days. This is a shame because their presence often inspires, encouraging others to try their hand at ‘club scale’ modelling. Much enjoyment can be gained from basically finished and detailed models of modest size and economic operation.

The club scale scene was once heavily populated by .25-powered, 50″ span plan-built designs for 3- or 4-channel R/C, and indeed there are many such designs available from the RCM&E plans range. But times change, and the emphasis has shifted to the vast number of scale ARTFs now available. These certainly take the pain out of the wood selection and building processes involved with a traditionally-built model, but at the cost of individuality. It’s not uncommon to arrive at the flying field and unload your scale ARTF only to find that there’s another one exactly the same already there.

So there you are at the flying site with your new ‘scale’ model, furtively eyeing up your model’s twin. You’ve finally got the retracts working okay, the aerial didn’t fall off in the car and you coughed up for a roguish-looking pilot and a cool aluminium spinner, mainly because they were shown on the box but weren’t included in the kit. Even more disappointment, then, to find that the guy with the same model had parallel ideas, too… same spinner, same pilot figure!


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Many modellers accept this situation with little or no concern, however for those who arent so happy at the prospect at owning one of two (or more!) identical scale ARTFs at their patch, I’d like to make some suggestions. What follows, then, will give your ARTF some much needed individuality, personalising the thing so you can present something unique on your next visit to the flying field.

Before we begin, please bear in mind that you’re not going to turn any ARTF into a competition winner by adding some scale detail. What we’re trying to achieve is a cosmetic improvement to draw some extra realism out of the model. To this end I decided that my Hangar 9 P-40 Warhawk could be quite easily made into a Kittyhawk, as used by the RAF in the western desert circa 1941. Basically it involves a re-paint, some new decals, and a little bit of implied detail. This re-vamp also provided the ideal opportunity to re-engine the model with an ASP 70 four-stroke, which fitted into the cowl much better than the original ST61 due to the fit of the exhaust. Although the ASP wouldn’t give as much power, it would sound more authentic and give me a good chance to compare the model’s performance with an alternative powerplant.

The first job was to remove all the original decals. They came off easily in just a few minutes, making for a quite satisfying start. I then cleaned the entire model with degreaser, having first removed the engine and rear-mounted elevator and rudder servos. I did consider repositioning these inside the fuselage, but you can go on and on making changes and you’ll always end up with nothing more than a sport-scale model. Another good example of knowing where to stop, for instance, concerns the shark’s teeth nose art. The Hangar 9 version is based on the Flying Tigers colour scheme, but the teeth design is quite different to those painted by the RAF in the desert. There’s little point in re-painting the design as this defeats the object of a quick re-finish, and if left alone not many observers would notice it anyway. Check out photos of 112 Squadron in books or on the internet and you’ll see what I mean.


Everyone has their own idea about what’s worth doing and what’s important to them, indeed for me the objective was to reapply the P-40’s paint scheme and spend a little time ‘dirtying it up’. Masking off the canopy frames took the most time, but it was worth it. Apart from moving the servos inside the fuselage, which will certainly improve the look of the aeroplane immensely, you can add machine gun muzzles along the wing leading edge, cut out the raked instrument panel and fit one in the correct position, make up a gun sight, throw away the ABS headrest and make a scale version from scrap. The list goes on. But as I mentioned earlier, all you will ever end up with is an ARTF that’s been improved… it will never be a true scale model. Mind you, fun is what the hobby’s all about, so you can try out lots of techniques and have something to be proud of on the flightline.

As luck would have it I already had a suitable set of RAF decals to hand, but if I hadn’t then I would have bought them from Pyramid Products in Bedfordshire, who have a vast selection of insignia to suit almost any size of model. You can buy these individually, in pairs or in a complete set.
For the re-paint I used car spray cans sourced from the local auto accessory shop, changing the P-40’s green and brown top surfaces to sand and khaki, and the underneath from light grey to a mid-blue tone. There’s a huge selection of touch-up cans to choose from, and I found that Ford Wedgwood Blue was a pretty good match for the azure blue of the original’s underside. Sandglow was chosen for the sand colour. Unsurprisingly I couldn’t find a car paint that matched khaki so I used Humbrol spray enamel, which was excellent; you could, of course, use Humbrol for all the colours if you wish.

Having dropped the landing gear and wrapped it in newspaper I applied the blue to the wing underside, the undercarriage being handy for holding the wing whilst spraying. Incidentally, I didn’t mask off any other parts of the model as overspray wasn’t an issue at this point. The upper surface camouflage needs a bit more thought, and the sand colour is the first to be applied. One advantage with painting over an existing scheme is that you can simply follow the demarcation lines between the colours and save yourself an awful lot of marking out.


The last colour to be applied is where you need to control the overspray, otherwise the effect you’re after will be lost. Here I used stencils made from cardboard, with the required outline cut into them. You can copy this directly off the model, unless you want a different pattern. Hold the stencil over the wing in the desired position and spray the dark earth colour. A slight amount of feathering will look fine, and can be achieved with the stencil about 1/8″ off the surface. It doesn’t have to touch the wing, and as long as there isn’t lots of overspray, the effect should be quite acceptable. Work carefully around the model and expect that you may have to apply the last colour over more than one session. You can tape the card in place lightly or get someone to assist you (the best option). When painting the canopy frames, either mask off each window panel (as I did) or cover the whole canopy and hand-brush the frames in later. When assembling the P-40 I’d already decided to re-paint it after the initial review, so I fitted a ‘Pete’s Pilot’ bust figure that immediately sets the tone for the rest of the re-painted model. I added no other cockpit detail.

As already mentioned, the cowl has those fantastic shark’s teeth and eyes already painted on, which have to be carefully masked off before spraying the camouflage (I used ordinary paper masking tape here). Note that the cowl needs to be screwed in place in order to get overlapping colours, i.e. from the adjacent fuselage, correctly aligned. Finally, as far as painting is concerned, the ABS exhausts can be carefully removed and finished with some rust-coloured paint.

Having produced a blank canvas for detailing, we now have to decide how much is worth adding. For my part the answer is… not a lot! A few panel lines and an exhaust stain down the fuselage is enough to give the P-40 that little bit extra. What about adding machine gun muzzles along the leading edge? You have to consider that we don’t know exactly what the leading edge is made of, so it’s best not to start drilling holes in it. One particularly easy detail to add, however, is the wheel covers, which on the P-40 are simple discs. These can be made from card or plastic sheet; I used glossy card, painted red and cyano-glued in place. Youll note that both sides of the hub are covered, the inside faces in azure blue to match the underside of the wing.


Although I made an effort to get the exhaust stacks looking like the real thing, in all honesty I don’t expect them to stay on for very long, even though theyre glued with epoxy. I painted the surround a gunmetal colour, whilst the stubs received a coat of orangey red to replicate a rusted look. A little work with an airbrush got the exhaust stain in place, and its worth noting here that theyre pale grey, not black! Refer to colour photos of the full-size and you’ll soon realise the correct tone to apply. The final bit of detailing concerned the hitherto unpainted aluminium spinner. Many Kittihawks had red spinners to match the wheel covers and tie in nicely with the nose art. To this end, then, I used brushed-on Humbrol enamel. As I think you’ll agree, it makes quite a difference to the overall appearance of the finished model.

We enjoyed an extended summer in my part of the world, with a mid-October morning finding the Kittyhawk at the flying site ready for action amidst blue skies and a light wind. The ASP 70 had been treated to a tank of fuel the previous weekend, enough running for flight readiness in my book. This may seem pretty minimalist in running-in terms, but my experience with these excellent engines shows that virtually no ground running is needed, a slightly rich needle setting being sufficient for initial flights. A Graupner 14 x 7″ prop was strapped on, and with the engine having plenty of power to turn it with authority, getting airborne wasn’t going to be a problem!

A long, slow, scale take-off saw the Kittyhawk airborne, and once she’d cleared the runway I selected ‘gear up’ on the Tx. The ‘twist and turns’ did their stuff and a few clicks of trim set the model up for the first circuit. I prefer the sound of the four-stroke to the original ST61, and there was certainly plenty of power in hand. The P-40 will fly very slowly indeed, and the dihedral is such that you can fly it on rudder and forget the ailerons altogether. Not very fighter-like, but certainly easy to operate for the novice warbird pilot.

I set up for the landing by reducing the throttle to two-thirds on the far side of the circuit, performing a curved ‘fighter’ approach (good fun and an interesting manoeuvre to learn), and reducing the power still further on this final turn. The critical element here is to have a low enough idle to really reduce the speed, otherwise the model will just float past and you’ll have to go round again. With the power right off, I just let the model settle herself onto the ground and roll out. Re-fuel, re-arm, and we’re ready for Rommel again!

Definitely! I now have a personalised model that I really am pleased with, and I get more enjoyment from flying it now than in its previous ‘ready built and finished’ guise. The cost and effort of making the changes amounts to nothing more than a set of decals, some paint, a pilot, a spinner and a few evenings. With this particular model most of the time was spent either waiting for the paint to dry or masking the canopy frames. Each element of the customisation was fun and rewarding and, personally, I feel the results speak for themselves. Why not dig out an old ARTF and have a go yourself?

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