Mitsubishi Zero Wreck
by Jean-Baptiste Verlhac
While surfing the j-aircraft web site, I found a number of splendid pictures of Zero wrecks taken by Peter Gunti. I had intended to build a wreck of this aircraft for a long time, essentially after reading Charles Darby's book "Pacific Aircraft Wrecks". Of course, I had practiced on a Tony last year, and I didn't think going all over it this soon. But the more I saw these pictures depicting the weather beaten red-brown primer, the more I told myself there would be an interesting paint job. But before painting, you got to build!
I first tried to gather whatever documentation is available on this subject, i.e. model A6M2 type 21. I only have the Aerodetail book, and in fact, there's not much detail on internal structure or the engine for this model. So I went rummaging around on the net and found many restoration pictures that quite helped me on this project. Then, I needed some other views for my subject, other than those published on j-aircraft. I contacted Peter Gunti who very kindly sent me some excellent pictures. This is a model 21, found "almost" intact on Yap Island (Caroline Islands). Something Peter told me struck me, about the skin of these aircraft: he told me aluminum was so thin it felt like walking on paper.
This guided me through the construction of this model, and I don't know if I managed reproducing this look in 1/48th. But this meant I had to thin the plastic till I obtained a translucent aspect, at least for the most damaged parts.
Before actually tackling this project, I had to invest some serious money in a few detail sets. The first, and actually a must-buy, was the Eduard set dedicated to the Hasegawa model (as this magnificent model was the base of the project), a type 12 Sakae engine from Fine Molds (very realistic), Moskit exhausts, Eduard set for Macchi 202 flaps (you'll see later on why) and finally something I wish I hadn't bought, because the set is expensive, ugly, inaccurate and almost useless in this project, Verlinden's detail kit for the Zero type 21.
Assembly begins with the cockpit, as is usually the case. I quickly realized that if I wanted to thin down the fuselage skin to a realistic thickness (and this is necessary in order to remove all the missing parts), I'd had to build the entire interior from scratch. Canopy slides have to be entirely redone, as it is a detail found lacking in most of the kits. I thinned down the fuselage halves with a Dremel, sandpaper and a X-acto blade. I deleted the junction to the tailplane from the fuselage. The tailplane Karman is thinned from the interior using a reamer (entertaining, that one)… The void left by this little surgery is filled with plastic card at the front, and with a little triangle at the rear. Once done with all that, I proceeded with cutting away the forward fuselage (which I kept), the rudder and the various access hatches.
Now it's time to work on the cockpit, the radio bay, and the compartment for ammo boxes in the forward fuselage. Canopy rails are made using Evergreen "L" shaped beams, glued on the fuselage. Internal structure is made out of .01" plastic card. Various boxes, gauges, handles are taken from the Eduard or the Verlinden set. The perforated bulkhead rear of the seat is taken from the Verlinden set as well, but is widened with plastic card to compensate for the increased internal width of the fuselage. The bottles, the radio and all the accessories found in the radio compartment are taken from the Verlinden set or scratchbuilt using plastic card. The Verlinden floor is used too, but is widened to be correctly inserted in the fuselage. The most delicate part of this assembly is the compartment for the fuselage machine guns. As I hadn't any accurate plan for the model 21, I had to work from pictures taken of the restoration of a model 22 at the Auckland War Memorial. It's time now to install the firewall. The underside of the wings is temporarily joined to the fuselage to check the adjustment of this part.
Before gluing together the fuselage halves, the seat (Verlinden) is glued to its stand, and the interior is airbrushed using Tamiya Aluminum (new colors). An acrylic sealer is the airbrushed to allow for easy weathering using artist's oils. The fuselage halves are glued together, and the cockpit floor is inserted.
The fuselage is lightly bent between the canopy end and the base of the fin. The model is heated with a hairdryer, in several moves to avoid breaking the assembly. The fuselage skin is scraped using a curved X-Acto blade to show the internal structure. First, this structure is drawn on the plastic using a pen, then I scraped between the lines. Surface is smoothed using fine sandpaper and grade 000 steel wool. Checking the surface is done by airbrushing a metallizer (from any brand). This treatment will be repeated on the wings and controls.
The metal engine from Fine Molds is used straight from the box. It is completed, with all exhaust collector and piping made out of sprue. Using the forward fuselage part I had already cut off, I made the flame damper. The rings that go around the engine are made out of paint bottle caps I cut with a saw. Cowling flaps come from the Verlinden kit, and the exhaust pipes from Moskit. The front of the firewall is detailed using sprue and plastic card, and the oil tank is made out of thick plastic card. The oil cooler is made, but rather roughly, as nothing much will be seen anyway. The engine is temporarily secured to the fuselage, and its bearer arms are made. Once they are dry, the whole engine assembly is removed. It will be glued in place just before painting.
The wings get the same thinning treatment as the fuselage, with the exception of the wing root (0.5 to 1 inch, we need some strength there!), both on the under and the upper side. The ailerons and the flaps are removed, as the cannon access hatches, fuel tank caps, and some other access hatches. The two spars are made of plastic card on almost all span, and some ribs are made where they are going to be seen. The wings are then glued to the fuselage. I always start with the upper side, as I don't want to putty the Karman.
The lower side is glued, then off we go for an entertaining exercise: it's time to break the wings! This is a pain, as there's not enough styrene on the upper side, and too much on the lower, so it's hairdryer time again. I made the ailerons (well, what's left of them anyway), with Evergreen stuff and their ribs are made taken from the Eduard set for the Macchi 202. The 1/48th plan in the Aerodetail book is used as a master.
Metal parts of the ailerons are cut from aluminum used in food wrapping, using the same plan. The ailerons will be glued in place before painting.
Elevators and Rudder
The rudder didn't take much work, as it had been thinned before fuselage assembly. But the elevators are another story: as they are one part, I needed to have them more "scale thin". As I'm lazy (Translator's note: yeah, of course…), I sanded the underside (from the spar to the trailing edge of the fixed part) and put some 0.1 mm plastic card to replace the missing material.
On the left side, the elevator is missing, so the structure had to be made. On the right side, the skin is badly damaged and the spar can be seen through the holes. Then I made the moving parts: plastic cards, Eduard ribs, aluminum card… I glued a small metal tube in each surface at first spar level and glued the surfaces to the fuselage.
Landing Gear, Spinner and Canopy
The landing gear isn't modified much. Only the tires are removed. The wheel is attached on a Dremel, and the tire is removed using a file or a blade. Beware! A Dremel spins fast, and styrene tends to melt, so take your time. The spinner is cut, and the axle is made using round Evergreen.
The canopy is made using plastic card (025 mm), using the kit canopy as a master. Believe me, this is the easiest way.
Now, it's time to glue all that in place, and to make some more holes in before painting.
I've always feared Natural Metal Finishes because of their fragility. Moreover, in this case, with all the thinning down of the plastic, I couldn't use a buffable paint. Then again, aluminum that stayed forty years under not quite clement weather isn't really shiny. I used the new Tamiya metallizers.
I first sprayed a coat of aluminum, then a very thin coat of bronze (which has a lightly purple look) on some parts of the model. When everything was dry, I sprayed Future to protect the base coats. The red brown primer is made of a mix between Japanese Red Brown primer and some red, both from Aeromaster. You have to vary the mix proportions when painting and even add some yellow or orange to get a warmer tone Some panel lines are post shaded with the airbrush, using a dark brown mix. Some details are made with a fine brush, oil paint and pastels.
The wing interior is treated with a blue wash (aotake like), as this color is still there in some parts, as Peter Gunti told me. I added a bit of aluminum here and there, with SnJ powder mixed with oils.
I used a cheap mirror to make the base, in which I poured a mix of plaster, wood glue and paper paste. Then I painted it with a mix of natural pigments (Burnt Sienna and Ochre) and white glue. Grass is made with a Heki high grass, as used in railway modeling. The "tropical" vegetation is from Scale Link range, and some are made by me. Now, I just had to paint all this with various shades of green to complete the scene.
Translation to English made by Sébastien Privat.
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Model, Text and Images Copyright © 2000 by Jean-Baptiste