This is a project that has been on and off my table for a while since I picked up the kit almost a year ago. For a few months, I would take it out, look at the sprues, then put it back, close the box, and back away slowly. Eventually, I got it started, but then I kept getting distracted with gaming pieces that I wanted to either clear off my shelf of shame, or get painted up for demos or tournaments. Because I suppose is theoretically possible that I could go to another tournament.
The theme of the contest I’m building for is “In Enemy Hands.” So, as a tip of the hat to the Spanish Republicans and because I love their red-yellow-purple scheme, I’m doing the one Bf.109 that they managed to capture. The challenges of this project started early; I thought it would be fairly easy to find a Bf.109, but the only kit that I could find of a 109B (or any early 109 with the Jumo engine) was the AMG kit in 1/48 scale.
Now, I’m not sure that I’ve built enough model kits that I can offer a fair assessment of the fit and finish of the kit, and I definitely haven’t done enough research to determine if it has the correct number of rivets along the upper lower left panel line second from the front on the cowling or if the johnson rod is a hair out of scale. However, my impression is that this is not a kit for the faint of heart. There are a lot of photoetch details, particularly in the cockpit, and it comes with resin and rubber parts as well, not to mention a commensurately large pricetag. There are also a lot of small parts, and the sprues aren’t exactly Bandai or Games Workshop quality, though they are a step up from the 1960s kits from behind the iron curtain that I’m used to. Notably, there are a lot of places where the engineering is such that you don’t have much in the way of locating pins and tabs to help you align the parts.
But, if you’re too much of a hipster to build a popular subject like I am, sometimes you have to take what you can get.
So far, I managed to muddle my way through the infuriating photoetch on the cockpit, painted it up, and got the two halves of the fuselage together. I did depart from the official instructions, gluing the side panels into the fuselage first rather than gluing them onto the floor of the cockpit and hoping that they somehow fit flush against the inside of the fuselage. The two halves of the fuselage went together fairly well, though there was some filling, sanding, and re-scribing necessary.
Departing from the instructions again, I installed the tail wheel before putting the fuselage halves together. While I did end up accidentally snapping it off later, I was able to drill out a hole for a brass rod on both ends of the break so it should be a simple repair that will probably end up with something that, with the brass rod at its core, is stronger than the original.
From there, I taped over the cockpit so I don’t mess it up and started getting the big pieces together – wings, control surfaces, etc., so it would look like a plane. I did paint up and weather the engine, only to nearly completely cover it up. At least I know it’s there.
The nose in particular was a challenging affair. On this kit, the nose consists of eight pieces. With so many pieces, most of which are connected by simple butt joints, one has to be very careful to get the fit just right. Otherwise, the slightest error will carry over and be magnified with each subsequent piece and you will need to use a lot of putty to get everything looking okay in the end. Further, the seam along the top of the cowling is difficult to fill and sand without accidentally obliterating the detail around the guns.
With all the filling and sanding done on the main structure, it is starting to look like a plane. I’m thinking of hitting it with some Stynylrez black before I start putting all the small, fiddly bits on and covering up some areas around the radiatior that I should paint before I assemble. I find it difficult to really see how well you did with fixing the seams until you actually prime it, and if it turns out after the primer that I didn’t do a good job, I want to have a chance to fix it without snapping off the pitot tube and other small pieces.
My goal is to finish this thing for a contest in early March. I feel like this isn’t an unreasonable goal, so long as I don’t run into any major hiccups. And, while things are starting to come together, there are a number of places in this project where things can go wrong. First, I think landing gear is going to be a challenge. With the narrow track of the landing gear on the 109, the slightest misalignment could result in one wing being much lower than the other, and this kit doesn’t exactly have the most builder-friendly engineering to start with.
Next, the canopy could potentially be an issue. You have to be very careful when working with clear parts because you can’t just paint over mistakes, and there is potential for issues like glue fogging the canopy. I’d like to display it with the canopy open, but I’m not sure how realistic that is. And, there is also some of the aforementioned photoetch on the canopy as well.
Finally, my scheme involves a natural metal finish. While I’m not stranger to painting some shiny metal bits on models, I haven’t done an entire model in a natural metal finish. Obviously, I’m going to use Vallejo Metal Color, but I will probably need to head to the hobby store and pick up one of the 16 shades of grey metal that I don’t already have in order to get it historically accurate. Further, while the scheme itself isn’t too complex and can mostly be achieved through masking and spraying, I am a little concerned with decal application as that is new to me and I’ve seen enough silvered decals to worry about my chances.
That said, I’m really excited to get the thing together and primed and get started on the fun part. I can’t wait to start painting in the red-yellow-purple of the tail. And, none of these challenges are insurmountable. I believe in painting bravely, which is why I do stupid things like trying a resin pour for the first time on a display piece.
No man is an island
The other interesting thing is that this project really shows how the internet has helped connect modellers. First, when I googled pictures of finished scale models of the 109B, I found one made by fellow local figure painter. His is from an older kit, and is painted up in the colours of the bad guys, but I did get a chance to chat with him a bit about things like the proper colour for a Jumo-engined 109 and which seam lines are supposed to be panel lines and which need to be filled.
Second, I’m part of a facebook group for Spanish Civil War modelling, and recently, someone posted their rendition of this plane. Not this type of plane, but this specific aircraft. While my initial reaction was to be disappointed that my idea is clearly not as original as I thought it was, seeing his rendition was a great help in figuring out things like what colours should go where. Also, he linked to a veritable treasure trove of reference material. Couple that with some other pictures of people’s takes on not just the 109B, but any of the early Jumo-engined 109s, and I’ve got some reference material which, if not authoritative, is a big help to me as someone working on a more obscure aircraft.
This kit is… well, it’s somewhere between a Bandai Gundam kit and a communist bloc 1960s kit in terms of engineering, details, and ease of assembly. I think I can finish this thing in time for the contest. The sprues are starting to get pretty bare, and the plane actually kind of looks like a plane. So long as I don’t get distracted, I should be able to… hey look, something shiny!