F-14A Part Two
the Black Box Cockpit for Effect
David W. Aungst
1/48 scale F-14A Tomcat and
Box's F-14D replacement cockpit
are available online from Squadron.com
Painting cockpits is a
topic that I have read about on numerous occasions from lots of people, but I
still get asked how I do it. I do not do much different from that which I
have read before, but I thought that this might be a good thing to get more
explicit about. So, here I am.
This posting is "part
two" to my last posting, "Tomcat
Cockpit", where I discussed the integration of the Black Box
cockpit set into the Hasegawa F-14 Tomcat. In that posting, I left off
with the cockpit completely cleaned up and ready to be glued into the model. All
it lacked was paint.
While what I write here is
going to specifically relate to the Tomcat cockpit and the Black Box
cockpit set, the general procedures I discuss relate to almost any cockpit in
almost any aircraft or era. In spite of significant differences in the aircraft
structure, as far as modeling is concerned, the only thing really different
between the cockpits of an F-14 Tomcat, A6M "Zero", Me 410 "Hornisse",
or B-25 Mitchell are the colors you use on the various surfaces. The application
of those colors, whatever they are, is mostly the same.
Additionally, what I write
here is specific to the way I do cockpit painting. I make no bones about being
right or wrong here. Every modeler has there own tricks and styles. No tricks or
styles are wrong as long as the modeler is happy with the outcome of their
labors. While I am always looking to improve my abilities, I am satisfied with
the results I get using the procedures I am going to outline here.
The following are the
steps I use to paint cockpits. Except where noted, I use all Testors
Model Master enamel paints.
My motto is simulate, not duplicate.
I have yet to find a model cockpit that is correct to the very last button and
switch. In reality, it does not need to be. Nobody, even a plane captain for a
specific aircraft, would notice that a few cockpit items are missing or out of
place. To that end, I use a bit of artistic license during cockpit painting,
especially the highlight colors. As long as I practice some restraint and good
judgement, the results can be fantastic -- even if they are not completely and
- First things first --
I construct the cockpit. This is a judgement call for any modeler. Know your
abilities and work within them. I am a firm believer in painting cockpits and
cockpit pieces prior to assembly, but only to a point. I have an easier time
with some items if they are already attached in place. To this end, I will
attach throttles and control sticks into place before painting, as long as I
can get at them after they are in place. I have read reviews where the author
completed assembling the cockpit and locked it into the fuselage before they
painted it. I have no idea how they made it work at that point...
the case of the Black Box Tomcat cockpit, I attached the throttles,
control stick and most all the other "little details" into the
cockpit tub before starting painting. The only items I kept separate were the
main instrument panels (front and rear, upper and lower) and the ejection
seats. All the fit issues were completely worked out, though, so that all
these items needed was to be glued in (after painting).
- Using my air brush, I
paint the entire cockpit in whatever base color is most prominent. I do not
"scale effect" this base color in the cockpits for two reasons. The
first is functional -- I need to be able to touch-up the color as I continue
the cockpit painting process. "Scale effecting" produces a custom
mix color that will make touch-up painting difficult to blend in. The second
reason is theoretical -- most people will view the model's cockpit from a
range of less than 12 inches. The scale effect at that distance is not as
noticeable as it would be on the entire model viewed from a distance of 24+
inches. Whether you are a believer in "scale effect" or not, these
are my reasons.
the Tomcat, the primary interior color is Dark Gull Gray (F.S.36231). Applying
this overall color is the only airbrush work I do in the cockpits (besides
clear gloss and clear flat coats). The rest of my work is done using 3/0, 5/0,
and 10/0 paintbrushes. I allow the cockpit to dry a full 24 hours before
continuing as brush painting over the base color before it fully dries can
lift it and mar the other colors that I am going to use.
- With the overall base
color fully dried, I start painting the major areas of other colors.
the Tomcat, these are the black instrument faces, the black side consoles, the
gray ballistic curtains on the cockpit side walls, the black tops of the
instrument panel hoods, the dark gray of the canvas boots covering the
instrument hoods, and some of the major wiring and tubes running around the
cockpit (like the pilots' oxygen hoses).
Here is where a small variation in colors can go a long way in adding
interest to the cockpit. Rather than using true black on the instrument faces,
I use Testors Interior Black. Years ago, Pactra made a similar
color they called Scale Black. Both of these are actually extremely dark gray
colors. Once all the instrument panels are painted in one of these colors, I
come back and pick off a few odd panels and instruments in true black. I pick
off a few others in a dark gray like Engine Gray (F.S.36076), European-I Gray
(F.S.36081), or even Black-Gray (RLM 66). As the instrument panels are truly
just a patchwork of adjoining panels, this helps break up their
"one-ness" and hints that they are each removable (which they are in
the real aircraft). Do not overdo the variations, though. Too much variation
makes the cockpit to busy.
At this point, do not get concerned if the paint looks too
"uneven" or the sheen is off. The upcoming steps will correct this.
Because of a varying sheen in the paint, I have painted dark gray and true
black side-by-side and had them look like the same color. I fought the urge to
be more drastic in my color choices and was rewarded after gloss and flat
coating to see the colors were just subtly different and really improved the
look of the cockpit. With practice, I learned which colors work well together
and trust my past experience in painting the cockpits.
- By now, all the basic
cockpit colors are in place. Now I switch to a mode of painting that is
closely related to weathering. Using my airbrush, I give the entire cockpit a
good coat of clear gloss using Floquil Crystal Coat. I dilute the
Crystal Coat 50/50 with Xylene as thinner. This is actually a lacquer paint
and thinner, but I have never had trouble covering Model Master enamels with
them. The purpose of this clear coat is the same as when I do it to the
exterior of the model -- I am preparing the cockpit for application of washes
using thinner-based paints. After applying the gloss coat, I let the cockpit
dry overnight so the washes do not eat into the gloss paint.
- Next, I apply the
thinner-based washes. Like on the exterior of the model, I tend toward the
darker colors, usually black. I usually will also include a medium brown or
dark tan wash on the floor areas to simulate dirt. I apply these by dipping a
paintbrush in the paint color, then swishing the brush in a cap full of
mineral spirits (thinner) until the brush is mostly clean. The brush tip, wet
with "dirty" thinner, is then carefully touched to the corners of
details. Capillary action draws the "dirty" thinner off the brush
and along the edges of the details. Controlling the "dirtiness" of
the thinner effects the darkness of the washes. Repeated applications also
make progressively darker highlights.
Resin replacement cockpits benefit the most from the gloss coat and washes.
On simpler kit cockpits where there are not so many raised details, I
sometimes omit the gloss coat and washes and go straight to the next step, dry
brushing. It basically comes down to your preferences and how far you are
willing to go on the cockpit you are working on in any given model.
On the Black Box Tomcat cockpit, there are a great many details to
highlight with washes. All sorts of wiring and plumbing is present on the
cockpit back walls and in the forward areas where the pilot's and RIO's feet
go. On kit cockpits, there are not generally as many details to highlight. In
those cases, if I do choose to do washes, I use the washes to just darken the
inside corners of the cockpit.
the washes, I flat coat the cockpit, again using my airbrush. For clear flat
paint, I am hooked on PollyScale (used to be PollyS) Flat
Finish. This paint gives the flattest finish I have found. Here is when the
fruits of my labors start to come alive. With the cockpit now a uniform flat
sheen, all the subtle variations in colors start to become really visible.
- After the clear flat
coat, I start dry brushing. Good dry brushing is a lesson in patience. I dip
the paint brush in the paint color of my choice, then wipe most all the paint
off on a piece of facial tissue. After a quick test on a scrap piece of
plastic to verify the brush is dry enough, I start working on the cockpit
raised details. When the brush is dry enough, the first couple passes over the
details almost show no difference. Repeated passes over the raised details
start to bring out the details. Slowly building up the dry brushing provides
the most control over the process. It is easy to get over-anxious and dry
brush with too much paint in the brush. This is where the patience lessons
start. You'll do much better if you can control your urges and keep the brush very
the Tomcat, I did most of my primary dry brushing in Light Ghost Gray
(F.S.36375). The Light Ghost Gray is lighter than all the other colors I had
thus far applied in the cockpits, so it showed up subtly on the Dark Gull Gray
areas and more noticeably on the black and dark gray areas. By avoiding silver
and white as primary dry brushing colors, the details do not scream at you
when viewing them.
- At this point, the
cockpit is mostly complete. Now is the time to add the "fire" to the
cockpit. All cockpits usually have some little details that stand out in
bright colors -- red, yellow, white, silver, green, or blue. Using the finest
brush point I have (a 10/0 brush with half its bristles cut off and shortened
to only about an eighth of an inch), I add these colorful highlights. Here is
where my artistic license comes into play. I do consult my documentation as I
work. But, occasionally an extra red or yellow patch adds more interest to a
cockpit. So, with attention to the overall presentation of the cockpit, I add
a few (if needed). I do take care not to go overboard with this, though. It is
easy to overdo this step and put too many colorful spots into the cockpit. I
also take extreme care with green and blue. These colors do not show up often
in cockpits, but when they do, they are real eye-catchers.
In the Tomcat cockpit, there are various buttons and switches marked with
yellow and black striping. I paint the yellow onto the panel first, then use
the tip of a needle to scratch in the black stripes. While the yellow paint is
still not fully dry, scratching the yellow paint reveals the black underneath.
Ejection seat handles look better, though, when I paint on the black stripes
after the yellow dries. While the painted on stripes are three to four times
too big, the effect they create convinces your mind's eye that they look
Another place I try to add some colors are the Built-In-Test (BIT) panel
lights. These are banks of small rectangular lights grouped together that will
light up if any aircraft systems have problems. I'll usually pick off some odd
lights in this panel to be red or yellow. This adds a little more color. The
last places for color are the instrument faces. Most of these are marked in
white, so I carefully pick off the highlights in these with white paint. If
you are really feeling your oats, most round instruments have a fluorescent
red flag that pops out when the instrument is malfunctioning or is not
powered. I have successfully added these to some cockpits, but it is really
easy to get the flag too big. Then it ruins the whole effect.
all the color spots are applied, they are usually a little too bright, so I
dry brush again in light gray to tone them down. During this final dry
brushing session is where I finally do use silver as a dry brushing color,
too. Staying away for the instrument panels, I only dry brush silver onto
surfaces that are wear areas. These areas are the floor (or whatever the
pilot's feet rest on and the outside corners of the cockpit.
In the Tomcat, I did just as I wrote here. I toned down the yellows and reds
and silver dry brushed the floor to show the wear areas from the pilot's and
- The last thing I do is
optional. Sometimes I do it and sometimes I do not.
have not decided whether I like the effect or not. I take clear gloss paint
and add a drop to each of the instruments that have glass faces. This includes
all the round instruments and the radarscopes. The glare from the gloss paint
can add a nice touch to the cockpit, but most cockpit instruments use low
glare glass (for obvious reasons), so the effect is not really accurate. I'll
let you decide for yourself whether you want to do it or not.
As I am working on the
cockpit, I also work on the ejection seats. I use all the same steps and
processes to paint the ejection seats, including the simplified (no gloss coat)
approach when using kit-provided ejection seats.
There, you have it. While
I do use some minor variations on this process, this is the basic process I use
for cockpits. Ten steps sounds like a lot, but in reality they go fast. The
longest times are spent waiting overnight for various paint applications to
completely dry. If I opt for not doing the gloss coat, washes, and flat coat,
the whole process takes two nights -- one to paint the original base color and
the second to do the rest of the painting. This timing is for a
"normal" one or two seat cockpit. Something like the interior of a
B-25 Mitchell will take more time.
The following pictures
show the fully painted cockpit and ejection seats as they appeared before gluing
together the Tomcat forward fuselage. The third button on the left will start
the engines... ;o)
the thumbnails below to view the images full-sized.
Use the "Back" arrow of your browser to return to this page.
to Part One - Black Box Cockpit Close-Up
Go to Part Three - Tomcat Construction
Go to Part Four - Painting an NSAWC Tomcat
Model, Description and
Images Copyright ©
2001 by David AungstPage Created 27 June,
Last Updated 04 June, 2007
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