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F/A-18C Hornet

VFA-86 Sidewinders
USS George Washington

 

F/A-18C Hornet

by Fred List

 


Hasegawa's 1/48 scale F/A-18C Hornet is available online at Squadron

 

Background

 

For those who have not built one of Hasegawaís Hi-grade modern jet aircraft kits (F-14, F-15, F-18 etc), the prospect can be intimidating.

Upon opening the box youíll be greeted with no less than 6 sprues of gray or clear plastic as well as white metal landing gear, a small photo-etched brass sheet and a relatively comprehensive instruction booklet. In short, thereís a lot of stuff here. Those modelers more used to dealing with World War II single engine fighter kits might be tempted to quietly put these kits back in the ďto be done laterĒ pile and tip-toe away, but Iím here to tell youÖ fear not, it isnít as tough as it looks. What it will require is time.

 

 

My overall strategy for this kit like many others was to build the major structural components first to get all the filling and sanding out of the way, then add the small items like antenna, wing pods and landing gear. This necessarily means that I deviate from the sequence shown in the kit directions.

 

 

Construction

 

For this kit, I elected to start construction with the landing gear and landing gear bays instead of the cockpit. This was for no other reason than simply a change of routine.

The metal gear is very nicely cast but will require a bit of work with an X-Acto knife and sandpaper to remove the mold line. Running the knife gently along the mold line with the edge away from you will remove the lionís share of it. Follow that with a few passes with a Fine (600 grit) sanding stick to smooth and reshape the curve. After adding the plastic parts to the landing gear with CA glue, I primed them with a light coat of Humbrol gray Primer. The paint highlighted some areas where additional sanding was needed, after which I re-primed. When dry, I painted the gear with Model Master Insignia White, which is a gloss and set them aside. The gear bays were painted MM Flat White and the hydraulic details painted in. A few of the more conspicuous hydraulic lines were added using 20-gauge aluminum wire.  A dark ochre wash was applied to provide some depth and weathering.

I decided I couldnít put it off any longer. I elected to throw caution (and dollars), to the wind and obtained the Black Box F-18B cockpit set and the F-18 Multi-Purpose set. While the kit cockpit is fairly well done, there is no sidewall detail and the mail instrument panel is somewhat two-dimensional even with the photoetch add-ons. Both the BB sets were as expected, beautifully cast with no flaws. I should mention in case youíre curious, buying the F-18B set and the multi-purpose set allows you to build any variant from A to D with both Martin Baker SJU-5/6 & SJU-17 NACES ejection seats.

The cockpit tub, sidepanels and main instrument panels were airbrushed Dark Gull Gray FS 36231 while the Ejection seat, rear panel, avionics bay and canopy actuation equipment were airbrushed Interior black. (Interior black is actually a very dark gray that I made up from 50% Floquil Weathered Black and 50% Flat Black.) The instrumentation and seat details were hand-painted in using several different sources of reference. The MFD displays on the instrument panel were painted Gloss Black, then a coat of Humbrol Clear Green was put on to try to give the green glow that these panels tend to display. The effect was not very visible. The instrument dials were drawn in using a very sharp silver pencil. One puzzling issue was the ejection-seat cushion color. Of the four different comprehensive photo sets I had of the SJU-5 ejection seat, no two had the same color of cushions! The khaki color I elected to try to duplicate was from photos of an early SJU-5 seat.

 

 

Assembly and installation of the BB cockpit was simple and was accomplished just prior to gluing the fuselage halves together. The only caveat was that the main instrument panel seemed to sit slightly too far forward and was largely hidden by the coaming. This conflicts with actual cockpit photos that show only a small overhang of the coaming over the instrument panel. Some effort was made to shorten the overhang by sanding off a bit, but this did not fully correct the problem. In the end it didnít look bad to me, and I didnít feel the problem was worth the effort that would have been required to correct it. Care should be taken when installing the avionics bay and deck behind the ejection seat. The Black Box resin part replaces kit part G3 for this step, but the resin part is not nearly as robust as the plastic part. Any pressure up, down, or from the sides could easily crack this fragile piece. To make things worse the fit of this piece was a bit loose which required me to fill along the sides with Squadron White putty, sand smooth and put on a coat of Mr. Surfacer 500. Predictably, later on in the construction of the fuselage I cracked one of these seams, which fortunately only required another application of Mr. Surfacer and some light sanding to fix. If I had it to do over again I would support the resin piece with a couple of 2mm strips of  Evergreen plastic to support the resin and help prevent flexing.

At this stage I decided that I should make sure that all the necessary holes were opened up for the wing pylons and external details, after which I glued the wing halves to the upper fuselage section.

Here I deviate from the directions by jumping to Step 5 and doing everything but the nose cone before I do Step 4. I took the lower fuselage half and carefully fitted the side panels, which include the engine intakes and glued them with Tenex 7R applied to the inside seam. This is a critical step. The fuselage sides are convoluted and you need to be careful that the side panels fit flush with the rest of the fuselage as much as possible. After these pieces were on, I fixed any seams that I could find with either Mr. Surfacer 500, or Liquid Paper.* This is the time to get these seams tight, because once the upper and lower fuselage goes together itíll be a bear to get to with a sanding stick. Since I was doing an FA-18C, at this point I removed the AN/ALR-67 antenna bulges from the underside of the intake nacelles, as the C model didnít have them. In addition to the fuselage sides the intakes should also be added at this point, because there is a definite step between the fuselage and the intake piece which needs attention.

 

 

If you havenít used Liquid Paper as a filler, let me say that I use it when a gap is too wide for Mr. Surfacer 500 to fill, but too small to accurately apply putty without careful masking. The Liquid Paper goes on as a thick liquid that dries very quickly. I can usually sand in 10 Ė 20 minutes. I find itís not as difficult to sand as gap-filling CA, which means I lose less surrounding detail. Liquid Paper does not hold a scribed line as well as Mr. Surfacer, but Iíve done short scribed lines across a seam filled with LP and had no problems. LP sands as smooth as glass and contrary to what Iíve heard some others say, Iíve never had it lift off with masking tape. Very Important: Donít use the new water based Liquid Paper. It doesnít work. Youíll need the old type, the kind thatíll make your eyes water, to do the job.

Once the cockpit was installed, the fuselage halves were glued together. This step requires a lot of adjusting before the two halves snap into place. The underside of the Leading Edge Extensions (LEX), in particular had trouble mating up on my model. Small padded clamps were needed to hold the upper and lower halves together. Once everything was in the correct position I used Tenex 7R to bond the halves together.  The vent holes and the muzzle opening for the 20mm gun were opened up with a scalpel and micro-drills then the insert was glued onto the nose cone.  The insert needed considerable filling and sanding to fit flush. All the rest of the filling and sanding of the nose cone seams are best done before the nose is glued to the main fuselage. Once the nose is on, I jumped to Step 14 in the kit directions and installed the spine piece behind the cockpit as well as the aforementioned avionics bay and deck. The remainder of the kit directions were generally followed except I did not install the landing gear until after the painting.

One concern I had in the construction was the pronounced mold line down the center of the FA-18s canopy. I hadnít done this much cleanup on a clear piece before, but it turned out to be an easy fix. I wet sanded with a medium grit sanding stick until the canopy was smooth, then wet sanded with progressively finer grits until the canopy appears fairly clear. This was followed with a thorough polishing with plastic polish. The canopy and windscreen were then washed in soapy water, dried, dipped in Future, covered and allowed to dry for two days. After masking the glass areas with Bare Metal Foil the windscreen was glued to the fuselage and the main canopy was temporarily affixed in place over the cockpit.

One difficulty I did run into with the construction of this model was the alignment of the left and right main landing gear. If the gear donít angle down and out at exactly the same angle, it produces a very noticeable tilt in the planeís stance. Make sure the wheels are installed on all the gear prior to gluing them into the wheelbays. I stupidly installed the gear first, then put the wheels on, only to find out I had wheels pointing in every damn direction, but straight! It seems that the left and right main gear were both subtly bent and there was no way I could get enough leverage to unbend them while they were attached to the plane. After gingerly applying some acetone-based nailpolish remover to the glue I was finally able to remove the gear without destroying either the plastic or the paint. The wheels were installed and the landing gear was repeatedly test fit to be sure the angles matched. When I was sure Iíd got it right, the glue went back on, and I felt like I had dodged a bullet. Minor adjustments to the main wheels camber and toe-in can be made by bending the axle, but youíve got to be VERY careful. The front gear installation was not a problem.

 

 

Painting

 

Painting for this ship was a snap. The main colors are Dark Ghost Gray (FS36320) and Light Ghost Gray (FS36375). I used Testors Model Master enamels lightened with white (1 part white to 4 parts gray), for scale effect. To check the that the colors were right, I sprayed both lightened colors onto a scrap sheet of Evergreen plastic that had been primed in light gray. Once I got the ratios where I like them, I made up, what I thought was more than enough of each mixture. In the end all of one color was gone and only half an ounce was left of the other. The painting itself was thankfully uneventful. After the paint was allowed a day to dry I airbrushed two thin coats of Future about 8 hours apart and allowed that to dry for another day.

 

 

The decals for this aircraft were done by CAM decals. Sheet No. 48-073. I chose this scheme for no other reason than I liked the look. The CAM decals were very thin and went down well with a drop or two of Micro-Sol. Due to the frequent repainting and the fact that this was one of the oldest FA-18Cís, stenciling was minimal. Two thin coats of Future were applied and allowed to dry fully over two days before I started the weathering.

 

 

Weathering

 

The aircraft modeled was the Wing commanderís machine, but it was also the eighth aircraft in the first block (23) of FA-18C Ďs built in 1987, (and thus was nearly 10 years old at the time depicted in the model.), so I wanted to keep the weathering moderate, but clearly visible.

The first step was to simulate fading paint on the upper surfaces of the aircraft. This was easy, since the clear-coat deepened the base color and I just needed to spray a highly thinned base color over the most exposed areas. Coverage was very thin since I didnít want to highlight too much and I was careful to stay away from the decals. The area along the spine and wings got the majority of the attention. The highlight color was sprayed from a fine tipped Badger 200 airbrush at 9 psig, keeping to the areas that would be faded by the sun the most. The color was applied to the center of each panel and worked out toward the seams keeping the sweep of the airbrush parallel to wind flow. When finished the results are very subtle. If a mistake is made or if you donít like the look you can overshoot the area with Future, Doing this will make highlight color will blend in with the base color and you can start over. A couple of panels were also masked off using Post-it notes and sprayed more thoroughly to simulate re-painted panels. A very dilute black-gray was sprayed aft of vent openings and the wing folds to simulate wind blown exhaust oil, dirt and graphite lubricants and highly thinned flat black was lightly sprayed around the engine nozzle to dirty it up a bit.

The shading, of aircraft panel lines is one of the ongoing debates that never ends among modelers. Some like very dark, pronounced lines and others, no lines at all. While it depends greatly on the subject, generally, I stay close to the middle, with subtle shading of panel lines over most of the aircraft becoming darker along frequently opened doors and plates that would be exposed to more grime. But there is no right or wrong here. The payoff is not in how it is done, but how well the modeler does it.

 

 

Simulating shadows underneath antennas and wing pylons etc., and to very subtly define the panel lines was done in my usual way, with tinted Future. I make up this wash by putting a drop or two of brown or ochre and two or three drops of black acrylic paint into a small container of Future acrylic. This makes a colored mixture, not unlike Tamiya clear Smoke acrylic paint. I make up the mixture a batch at a time and it lasts for months. Using this concoction I carefully draw a fine 000 brush along all the panel lines. The effect once dry, is similar to a typical enamel wash and can be repeated several times to get the desired effect. Once the panel lines were done, I shot the whole model with 2 coats of Polly-Scale Flat.

Final weathering is done using artists pastels to simulate exhaust stains, graphite stains and foot traffic along the wings and LEX. The final very thin coat of Polly-scale flat tones down the pastels, which may need to be touched up.

I found Dave Aungstís Weathering Feature here on HyperScale to be a great aid in helping me develop additional skill in this area. I donít follow his steps to the letter, but his article is full of good ideas that helped me define a consistent technique for weathering scale models.

 

 

Final Details

 

I wanted the ordinance load to reflect a typical loadout for Operation Southern Watch, enforcing the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. The F/A-18C Walk-Around book had a couple of reference photos of Hornets flying patrols, and the US Department of Defense website has an enormous amount of archived photos that showed a wide array of loadouts for this operation.

The four AIM-7F Sparrow, two AIM-9L Sidewinder Air-to-Air missiles and the two AGM-88 HARM missiles were all taken from the Hasegawa Aircraft Weapons C set. The weapons set included the Aero-5A-1 launcher for the AGM-88s, but did not include any provision for mounting the two Sparrow missiles under the wings. Fortunately, a photo of the Sparrow launch adapter was soon in my e-mailbox shortly after sending up a distress call on Plane Talking. Thanks. From this photo I was able to make a pair of these launchers from strips of Evergreen plastic.

 

 

The ďRemove Before FlightĒ flags were made on my printer here at home and hung from fine brass wire painted with Humbrolís Polished Steel.

Finally, the antennas, AOA indicators, and boarding ladder were installed on the plane and weathered. I estimate that total build time was close to 100 hours, but keep in mind that I build very slowly anyway and the average modeler would probably take less time to finish it.

 

 

Conclusion

 

In the end, while not exactly a shake and bake kit, the F-18 is certainly not the beast I imagined it to be and the time invested produced a fine addition to the display case.

 

 

Additional Images

 

Click the thumbnail to view the larger image on this page:

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Text, Images and Model Copyright © 2001 by Fred List
Page Created 03 October, 2001
Last Updated 04 June, 2007

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