Wednesday, February 14

Gary's Construction Guide: Meng Models 48th scale Lockheed Martin F-35A JSF Lightning II Pt.II: A lot of bodywork and plumbing (did we mention re-wiring?)

After an In-Box and the first part of Gary's Construction Guide featuring the Cockpit tub & Pilot - today sees the second part of the build where Gary plumbs the gearbays in some great details and attempts to replicate the intricate bodywork seen on the real JSF to Meng Models 48th scale Lockheed Martin F-35A. See how it is progressing in today's story...

Construction Guide - Lockheed Martin F-35A JSF Lightning II
Pt.I: Cockpit & Pilot
From Meng Models
Product No# LS-007
Scale: 1:48th
Product Link on the Meng Website
Previous articles in this build

Today: Meng Models 48th scale Lockheed Martin F-35A JSF Lightning II Pt.II: A lot of bodywork and plumbing (did we mention re-wiring?)
My plan is to have my model displayed in flight in a very sharp turn, meaning that the bottom of the aircraft will be easily seen. With this in mind, I absolutely wanted to have the main weapons bay open. I was a bit underwhelmed by the level of interior detail provided by Meng and decided to add some of my own based on what reference I could find. 
One thing to note is that the two bays are not symmetrical. To this end, you should omit part F1 from the starboard bay as it looked to me to only be present in the port bay.

A quick comparison of the real thing with the Meng moulded on weapons bay detail made up my mind on what would come next. When it comes to adding detail in areas like this I never try and match 'wire for wire' but rather try to add enough to the model to make it look 'busy' or 'full'. I also kept reminding myself that once the weapons were added much of the underlying detail would not be seen.
With electrical copper wire (of assorted gauges) in hand, I started making looms or bundles to represent electrical cables which weave their way through and within the weapons bay. 
A thicker wire was employed for the hydraulic piping and strips of Tamiya tape used to simulate the insulation on the thickest pipes. As I mentioned before I like to use reference photos to give me a general sense of where cabling and piping run and then just used my imagination. 
I could have always added more, but decided that I had enough for my original objective of busying up the bays.

With the detailing work complete it was time for a coat of grey primer (Tamiya) to seal the metal parts and see how it looked. Next came a base coat of black (Tamiya X-18 Semi-Gloss Black) over which I then painted the final white coat (Mr Paint). 

These days whenever I paint white I always use a black base coat as I find it just gives the white more depth.
An hour or so of detail hand painting the cable and pipes and the weapon bays are 90% complete. I like to use Vallejo acrylics for hand painting and for metallic brush painting I have yet to find a better option than Citadel 'Games Workshop' paints.
The intake trunking of the F-35 is pretty well hidden and will be all but impossible to see on the model but nonetheless, Meng provides a full set. The parts fit nicely with no gaps apparent and the join along the interior edges means that we can paint the interior white prior to assembly (which makes things so much easier). Part G7 represents the engine compressor face and is buried so deep in the model as to render it invisible.
The interior of the F-35 intakes are white (like just about every other modern military aircraft). I painted the two halves of each intake in white before applying glue as the mating edges are not really visible when complete and would not need sanding like most traditional rounded intakes. The forward section of the intake parts G19 & G18 actually forms part of the fuselage during final assembly. I noted when dry fitting that these butt joints could be improved by the addition of a simple strip of 20thou card along the inside of the join. It provides a more positive alignment and strength.
This closeup shows more clearly the masking of the interior demarcation which I applied prior to assembling the outside half of the trunking. Being able to do this made life much easier. The engine compressor face was sprayed with Alclad II Aluminium prior to attaching to the rear of the trunking.
Moving towards closing up the fuselage the next step is to paint and attach the engine exhaust, weapon bays and wheel wells. Unfortunately, Meng has moulded the engine exhaust tube (F14) as a single piece which makes it a bit of challenge to paint properly. If you use the photo etch part (W2) which covers the exhaust tube completely then you probably don't need to worry about painting the interior of the tube.

However, I could not find any supporting reference photos that showed any such part as indicated by Meng so I left it off which meant I had to find a way to paint the interior properly.
The nozzle for the F-35 consists of a complex series of overlapping serrated petals which seek to maintain a low radar signature. The interior plates seem to be a familiar ceramic covered white finish, essentially the same as found on most other contemporary US manufactured engines. The Meng exhaust looks to me to be a very good reproduction and will need some fine masking of the petals to match the colours found on the real engine.
To allow me access to the interior of the exhaust tube and the rear engine blades I used a razor saw to simply cut the end off. This allowed me access with the airbrush to both ends of the tube. Once painted I just glued the end back on before securing the whole assembly into the fuselage section. I would recommend that you ignore the Meng assembly sequence here and leave the nozzle (part F3) off until the end of the build. 

The fit of the weapon bays was very good with only a small amount of pressure being applied as the glue set. Note that because my model will be in flight I did not assemble or attach the undercarriage bays. The wheel well doors, however, were glued shut and I'm happy to advise the fit was again gap-free.
Just forward of the nose wheel well, integrated into the F-35 Lightning II's fuselage with a durable low-drag sapphire window is the stealthy Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS). As the first sensor to combine forward-looking infrared and infrared search and track functionality, EOTS enhances F-35 pilots' situational awareness and allows aircrews to employ short-wave infrared, high-definition television, and high-resolution laser to identify areas of interest, perform reconnaissance and precisely deliver laser and GPS-guided weapons. Be sure to paint and install part F22 into the lower fuselage interior at this point. The clear faceted window will be added and masked later prior to painting.
With the underlying weapons bays installed its time to secure the intake trunking and main wheel wells into the fuselage. Alignment tabs are provided along the centerline of the lower fuselage halve to ensure the intakes sit correctly in relation to the lips and forward fuselage section.

The forward section of the intake assembly also forms part of the forward fuselage and so care needs to be taken when gluing these as the seams fall on natural panel lines.
As mentioned previously I had applied some plastic strip along the forward butt joint to provide accurate alignment and strength in the join. With the intake sub-assembly held in place, I applied liquid glue from the inside of the seams and gave them a moment to set up. Some small amount of glue can be used to secure the outer walls of the intake trunks to the fuselage as well.
Step 14 requires us to make a couple of choices in the way we model our F-35. First up you need to decide if you plan to have the refuelling doors open (parts F4 & F8) or closed (F5).  You also need to decide if you will attach the Luneberg Reflectors parts (F23/F24). These are designed to increase the F-35's radar signature several hundred times so that when flying in peacetime inside normal airspace the F-35 will be clearly visible to civilian air traffic controllers.

The Luneberg lens sits inside four small domes fitted to the top and bottom of the F-35 airframe and they are the most efficient passive radar reflector available and require no power supply nor maintenance. Part H6 (in clear plastic) is also installed at this point and will need some masking prior to painting.
In general, the fit of the top and bottom fuselage halves is very good. Because the seam runs along a narrow angled mating surface which runs the length of the airframe I did find a few gaps appearing where the liquid glue did not penetrate. Here I have sparingly applied super (CA) glue as a filler and it will be sanded to remove the gap.
Part H6 is provided in clear plastic is so that we can accurately depict the two sensors mounted in this location. I am not 100% certain but I believe that at least one of the sensors forms part of the AN/AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System (DAS). You will need to paint and mask the hexagon shaped sensor as well as the truncated triangular sensor seen in the close-up photo. If like me you use the Galaxy Models pre-cut mask set then both these masks are provided ready to apply (too easy).
With the fuselage complete its time to focus on the wings and tail. Meng kindly provides two options for displaying the all moving horizontal tailplanes. You can opt for the tail to be displaced by 0 degrees (ie neutral) or 10 degrees. Select and install the appropriate spacers onto the very rear tail section. 

The wings are a simple top and bottom assembly and if like me you plan to use the external pylons be sure to pre-drill the mounting holes before gluing the wings together.
I have included these two reference photos to highlight that there are no seams or panel lines present on the F-35 along the wing roots, either top or bottom. This will require us to completely remove the wing to fuselage seams and care will be needed to ensure we don't damage any of the raised RAM panel detailing on the models surface.
Starting with the upper seam, my first step was to remove the RAM panelling that extends from the centre section towards the wing leading edge. I could not find any reference photos that had this present. As it is raised only a light sanding was needed to remove it prior to filling the seam with Tamiya Basic putty.
The lower wing join required a bit of care to not damage the surrounding detail. I quite often use masking tape as protection as shown here when nearby delicate detail is in danger from my sanding efforts.
A couple of fairly generous layers of Tamiya Basic Putty were applied to the wing root seam. This section incorporates a blended curve where the fuselage merges into the wing and so you need to have a light touch with the sanding stick to ensure the curve is maintained while eliminating the seam. I had to apply a couple of layers of blended filler before I was happy with the result.
I'm very much an advocate of using sprayable filler/primer (like Alclad or Mr Surfacer) to check the progress of your seam work. It's not until you get a coat of primer on work like this that you can truly tell if the seam is gone or not. The proper sprayable primers adhere to the plastic so well that you can confidently apply putty over top of them to correct any issues you find.
The empennage (the stabilizing surfaces at the tail of an aircraft) for the F-35 consists of two vertical fins and two all moving horizontal stabilizers. In most 1/48 models its normal for these parts to be moulded in two halves with the seam running along the edge as this makes gluing and seam removal fairly painless.

Unfortunately, Meng has decided to break with that standard engineering practice and have placed the seam for the vertical fins right along the middle of the fin, a seam that is very hard to remove due mainly to it running directly over the raised RAM panel details. 

The horizontal stabilizers likewise have a join along the surface of the part bit thankfully it is not impacted by any raised detail.
I considered a number of different options for dealing with this annoying (and frankly easily avoided) seam and in the end just tried my best to fill the join with filler and sand around the raised panelling. The result was 'OK' but still frustrating as it could have been so easily avoided had Meng just moulded the two halves of the fin so the seams were along the edges. I'm not sure if it's a coincidence but Kittyhawk did exactly the same thing on their F-35 kits (even then it was a silly idea).
The horizontal stabilizers are a nice click fit and I smoothed over the resulting tiny gaps with moist Milliput to reproduce the 'edge' free surface of the stealthy F-35. I plan to leave the vertical fins off during main painting as they are near perfect drop-in fit and so will not need any filler.
When attaching the vertical fins (before or after main painting) the fuselage top has correctly sized/shaped mounting slots which do a good job of firmly holding and positioning the fins at the correct angle.

As previously mentioned I decided that the fit of the fins is good enough to allow them to be painted separately and then attached at the end of the build. This should make masking and decaling considerably easier.
The vertical fins are shown loosely dry fitted to the fuselage. No glue has been used here as I will paint/decal them separately, then attach.
Gary Wickham

Many thanks to Meng Models for the review kit. Stay tuned for more of this build to follow very shortly.