Tamiya D.520 – Part I: assembly and cockpit

If you ask five warbird nuts about what the best looking plane is, you will probably get about eight different responses. Some people love the classic shark-mouth P-40. Others like a clean, in-line engined plane like the 109. People who watched Baa Baa Black Sheep as a kid might have fascination with the Corsair. And this is all tinged by national pride, with Brits preferring the Spitfire and Americans leaning towards the P-51 Mustang. However, all these people are wrong because the Dewoitine D.520 is the best looking plane ever. Period. End of story.

Okay, I might be overstating my case a little, but I think you could make a strong argument that the underappreciated French fighter is objectively a very beautiful craft. With clean lines, a long nose, and a canopy that transitions smoothly into a triangular tail fin whose swept rear contour adds just a little character, it’s got a very nice airframe. On top of that, their tri-tone camouflage scheme of desatured browns, greens, and cool greys hits a lot of the right notes when it comes to colour theory. They even went so far as to paint parts of the interior in a beautiful midnight blue colour — truly, this aircraft is a testament to French elegance, at least so long as you don’t ruin it with the garish yellow and red scheme of the Vichy version.

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The D.520 was basically the French equivalent of the Spitfire or 109 — a modern, all-metal, low-winged monoplane with an inline engine that was on the cutting edge early in the war. It came into service in early 1940, which was sadly too late to make much of a difference in the battle of France. However the story didn’t end there as production was continued under the Vichy regime, and the D.520 served in a number of air forces on both sides and on three continents in Europe, North Africa, and in the Syria-Lebanon campaign.

The kit

As I dabble somewhat in aircraft, this kit was strongly recommended to me by a friend who saw me fondling the box at a model show. Scalemates indicates a mid-1990s vintage, which may not be cutting edge but is a huge step up from some of the old kits kicking around at model shows. It sat in my stash for the better part of a year before I picked up some photoetch bling and then took it out. The local IPMS club is doing a French-themed contest for early 2021 (though who knows when we might actually be able to get together again, because 2020 is a dumpster fire), so it was only fitting that I went with this entry.

d520_boxWhen you open the box, you see that the kit is just two sprues and clocks in at a bit under 50 parts. There are no excessively small, fiddly, detailed parts — the smallest parts are things like the antennae, pitot tube, and control stick, which at 1:48 scale are not so small you need to get out magnifying glasses and tiny tweezers. There is no option for an exposed engine, which really cuts down on the parts count and makes for easy assembly on the front end. It does come with a seated pilot, which, although I didn’t make use of it, is a little touch that I like.

To kick the detail up a notch, I also got the Eduard photoetch set, which came with a photoetch fret and a piece of film for the instrument panel.

Assembling the office

Like most aircraft kits, you start from the cockpit and work your way out. The cockpit is also where the majority of the photoetch bits go if you want to go that route, which I did.

As I started to put the cockpit together, I quickly came to realize why people rave about Tamiya kits. It just went together right, and could probably almost have been just snapped together without glue. While more advanced modellers can fix problems, it’s a joy when a kit doesn’t have those problems to begin with. And remember, this kit is from the ’90s, so presumably Tamiya has only gotten better since then.

In the base kit, the only part of the cockpit that required more than the most basic of modelling skills to put together was the seat — there are a couple areas on the top corners that should be drilled out and cleaned up with a knife to properly represent the tube-and-fabric construction. I’m not going to complain about this because I suspect it would be tricky to mould the part that way to begin with, but it would be nice if this was called out on the instructions instead of forcing the modeller to figure it out on their own. There are also a couple of injector pin marks that could use cleaning up, but they probably aren’t very noticeable and that is to be expected on any model.

While I’m at it, cockpit assembly brings us into the wonderful world of photoetch bling. I went all out on this cockpit, using every piece provided on the fret. I’ve grumbled about photoetch before, but this was actually a much more pleasant experience than the last time I used it. I would have to credit that 100% to having the right tools for the job. A big part of that was due to a club member loaning me some proper photoetch tools, as well as me having upgraded my tweezers since my last photoetch project.

That said, while I went all out, I think you could easily get away with not doing so if you are so inclined. The catch with this and a lot of photoetch detail sets is that most of the details are in the cockpit, and they are generally hard to see unless you have an open cockpit and are specifically looking in there. The two parts that provide the biggest advantage to this kit are the instrument panel and the seat belts. The seat belts are one of the most visible cockpit details and do legitimately stand out with even a glance at the cockpit, so you would lose out by omitting those, unless you went with the included pilot. I’m not sure how visible the difference is, but the photoetch and film instrument panel also makes construction and painting so much easier than if you were to try to use the provided kit parts and decals.

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Look at all that photoetch…

Painting the office

The D.520 is unique compared to a lot of other aircraft from the era in that it has this really interesting midnight blue colour in the cockpit, which looks really neat once it is all together.

To start out, I primed with Synylrez black and worked up through some blue-blacks into P3 Exile Blue with the airbrush. From there, I gave it a quick dry brush of a lighter blue with a soft makeup brush, then went in with my detail brushes to pick out things like buttons and levers, and finished it all off with a thinned down blue-black wash to bring it all together and reinforce the shadows.

For the leather and fabric bits, the process was a little different as they will have a bit of texture and wear to them. To do this, I threw down a quick wet-blended base coat, with dark colours in the shadows and light colours in the highlights, then went in with techniques like stippling to bring in some texture. I finished it off with some ink glazes and washes, bringing it all back together and unifying the stippling and base coat.

Remainder of the assembly

With the two halves of the fuselage together, the remainder of the assembly went pretty quickly. Like I said, it had less than 50 parts. I left a few parts off for painting. The landing gear, propeller, and canopy were left off and painted separately; the fit was good enough that I would have no problems doing this. Also, the antennae and pitot tubes were left on the sprue until I was just about ready to attach them, as I didn’t trust myself to not lose them over the couple weeks to take the rest of the model from start to finish.

Apart from that, it was just a matter of following the instructions. I threw down some quick dark coats of paint on some difficult to reach areas like the oil cooler and radiator as I built, but apart from that there were no steps where I had to stop and paint.

You have the option of flaps up or down; I went with down, though I did break one of them off a couple times and have to glue them back on. Third time was the charm.

Overall, things went together very nicely. There were a couple minor issues, but they were probably my fault. The seam on the top of the nose is a little tricky — with the flat top of the nose, if you don’t line it up perfectly, it’s going to be a real problem to sand out the step. I would prioritize this joint when doing the fuselage join and work out from there, as I had to do a lot of putty, sanding, and rescribing to fix it after being a little too aggressive trying to sand out the step the first time. The air scoop on the bottom also didn’t quite go down right because I got it slightly warped when installing the radiator and oil cooler, so it needed some sanding and rescribing to make it work out.

Apart from those minor issues, assembly was perfect. Nice and simple, no major seams, the whole thing was a relaxing build and went together with the smallest amount of putty and sanding.

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(Mostly) all together, with canopy masks applied

Final thoughts on assembly

In spite of the chaotic nature of the French aviation industry in the 1930s — a fascinating story that I may have to do some more reading on sometime — they put together a beautiful plane. And Tamiya did them justice by putting together a beautiful representation in 48th scale.

This was a nice kit. Fit was great, there were little to no frustrations, and it was simple enough that you could bash it out pretty quickly if you wanted. The Eduard photoetch bits were a nice touch and mostly went down well with the proper tools, but they ended up being barely noticeable, with one or two exceptions. There are two small bits in the wheel wells which were very frustrating, but those are not in a very noticeable place. There are some gunsights which would be a nice touch, but I chose to omit them after accidentally breaking them off two or three times, and I couldn’t find any pictures of the plane with these gunsights on them anyways. The rest of the photoetch parts are all in the cockpit, and while the seat belts are highly visible, you could easily get away with skipping the entire set, particularly if you are going with a closed cockpit.

Overall, this was a nice, relaxing build, and I’m sure this trend will continue into the paint and decals, because what could possibly go wrong with the decals that came in the box?

 

Bonus Content: Junior Commander Elizabeth Windsor

I got this bust for Christmas and decided to do it for a local model club’s blitz build a couple months ago. It is a 1/14 scale bust of Queen Elizabeth II in her ATS uniform circa 1945, from 9th Gate miniatures. The model comes in two parts — body and head — though it comes with two choices of head, with or without hat.

1/14 is a weird scale, noticeably smaller than I am used to for bust painting. Assembly was real nice, though. The cast was very clean and the two pieces keyed together so nicely you could paint them separately and avoid a lot of masking. If you looked very closely, you could see some striations from 3D printing the master, but they were so small they disappeared with a coat of paint.

I painted the two pieces separately, mainly using wet blending over a zenithal to lay down a quick, messy base coat, then smoothing it out with airbrush glazing. This makes getting smooth blends easy and avoids that misty airbrushed look. Since it came in two pieces, I could do the skin and the clothes separately without having to do any masking at all, which is very helpful in a blitz build. From there, I went back in with the brush to reinforce some highlights and shadows and paint the hair and all the little details.

I slapped it on a square black resin plinth and called it a day — finishing the blitz build with plenty of time to spare.

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