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"Tomcat Cockpit"
F-14A Part Two

Painting the Black Box Cockpit for Effect

by David W. Aungst


F-14A Tomcat


Hasegawa's 1/48 scale F-14A Tomcat and 
Black 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.



Doing the Deed


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 totally accurate.

  1. 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...

    Cockpit Picture - No PaintIn 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).
  2. 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.

    Cockpit Picture - Base ColorFor 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.
  3. With the overall base color fully dried, I start painting the major areas of other colors.

    Cockpit Picture - Major ColorsOn 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Cockpit Picture - Flat Coated Following WashesFollowing 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.
  7. 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 dry.

    Cockpit Picture - Primary Dry BrushingOn 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.
  8. 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 right.

    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.
  9. Cockpit Picture - Details HighlightedAfter 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 RIO's feet.
  10. The last thing I do is optional. Sometimes I do it and sometimes I do not. Cockpit Picture - Details HighlightedI 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.



Additional Images


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)

Click the thumbnails below to view the images full-sized.
Use the "Back" arrow of your browser to return to this page.




Go 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 Aungst
Page Created 27 June, 2001
Last Updated 04 June, 2007

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