Tuesday, October 13

Build Review Pt. IV - Kitty Hawk's 32nd scale Dassault Mirage 2000C - Paint, decals, weathering& finishing...

The culmination of several weeks of hard work and time at the bench (not to mention lots of writing & updates in between) Gary has finished Kittyhawk's 1/32nd scale Mirage 2000C in a brilliant desert scheme. In the fourth part of the story, he details the combination of some excellent attention to detail & in the painting, weathering & finishing to bring out this fantastic result.

Build Review Pt. IV - Kitty Hawk's 32nd scale Dassault Mirage 2000C - Paint, decals, weathering & finishing...

Finally, after all of the sanding, filling, tweaking and reworking we are at the painting stage - but what scheme to do? I chose the interesting desert sand / brown offering that is provided in the markings, the aircraft of Escadre de Chasse 5e (EC.5), French Air Force.
Escadre de Chasse 5e (EC.5) provided the French Mirage 2000 air defence contingent during Opération Daguet - Desert Shield - and the 1991 Gulf War. During the early stages of hostilities which began on 17 January, the French aircraft were not used operationally, although they were employed from 6 February onwards as CAP cover for coalition attack and reconnaissance missions. One aircraft, No. 74 5-OP, was painted in-theatre with upper surfaces in two shades of sand camouflage.
A few things to be aware of if you plan to use this marking option from the Kitty Hawk sheet:
- The refuelling boom arm is not painted black but sand.
- None of the wing walkways or stencilling was re-applied over the sand camo when applied in-theatre. Leave these decals off
- The darker 'brown' called out by KH (C66 RLM79) for the top camo is way too dark. The two colours used were so close to each other that in some photos the aircraft looks to almost be one colour. I settled on C313 Yellow FS33531 and C321 Light Brown.
- Do not use the ribbed radome as shown in the KH profiles. This is wrong for an early 2000C and only used on the later -5, which incidentally did not have a pitot tube !!
- The antenna's shown by KH on the lower nose are wrong for this aircraft. Check the photos and make your own blade antennae.
As the paint scheme I had in mind was primarily light colours I applied an overall base coat of Mr Finishing Surfacer 1500. I find this doubles as an excellent primer (with very good adhesion) and a dark base coat to help me get some variation when I apply the final colours. The radome was painted using Mr Color C306 based entirely on my Mk.1 eyeball comparison to photos.
For the underside, I was pleased to find that MRP makes colours specifically for the Mirage 2000. I purchased both the light grey (MRP-356 GRIS-BLEU CLAIR, Celomer 1625) for my Mirage and also the darker blue-grey (MRP-357 GRIS-BLEU FONCE, Celomer 1620) which would not be used on this build but saved for perhaps a Kinetic 1/48 build later on. The MRP lacquer paint was applied thinly using my Iwata Eclipse brush making sure to slowly build up the coverage and keep it un-even.
The first upper camo colour (C313) is applied and roughly follows where I want the demarcation to be later. Once the C313 was dry I used Blu Tack rolls to form the edge between the two camo colours. I like this method as it's pretty much foolproof and I can vary the hardness of the demarcation based on the size of the Blu Tack sausage, thicker for soft and thinner for hard. I use small pieces of tape to backfill the masking to protect from overspray. 
The second camo colour (C321) is then applied, again thinly for an un-even coat over the black primer coat.
To provide more variation in the paint finish I mix some white with the C313 and apply this randomly (well it feels random when I do it) focusing hatches and the centre of panels on the aircraft skin. I also applied a light mist coat of the C313 over the darker C321 to try and blend the two together with a little more, much like the look of the real aircraft. 
The idea was to make the surface look uneven or patchy. Don't overdo this or it sticks out at you and is distracting.
This photo of a French Mirage 2000C flying a CAP mission over Iraqi provides a wealth of detail which we as modellers can use on the model. At this point, I was most interested in the weathering (oil & fluid stains etc) on the underside. Note how the grime is focused along the centerline of the delta wing, all coming from the engine components inside the fuselage. Note also the staining from the cannon and how the wings and forward fuselage are relatively clean.
With the three main colours now applied I wanted to continue working with the airbrush and apply the beginnings of the underside weathering. For this, I use an extremely thin mix of Tamiya acrylic paints (XF range) thinned with pure IPA (isopropyl alcohol). By using IPA rather than normal thinners (X-20A) you can significantly up the thinning ratio without causing the paint to "flood" the surface. It's weird but it works. Using darker (oily) colours I focused on the centerline of the underside near where the engine would leak fluids. What you see here is all done with the airbrush.
Happy with the foundation I had laid with the airbrush I continued on now (prior to clear coat or decaling) with artists oil weathering. Rather than leave this step to the end (where you have no margin for error or are too nervous to experiment) I decided to attend to this now with the understanding that if I made a mistake I could simply overspray with the airbrush and try again. Using white spirit I thinned the various flavours of oil paints and worked them into the semi-gloss MRP paint. It took a while but I got a feel for it and ended up pretty happy with the results. Note how I have avoided the outer wings and even though you can't see it I also avoided the nose area, just like the real thing.
Fast forward a little and here I have applied an overall gloss coat (Mr.Color GX100 Super Clear III thinned with Mr.Color Leveling) followed by the Kitty Hawk kit decals (which have then been sealed with the same clear gloss) and finally a panel line wash. It's worth mentioning that the KH decals were a little thick for my liking but they did settle down ok with some coaxing and Micro Sol. One benefit of this scheme is that the decals are minimal as you do not need to apply any of the wing walks or stencilling.
I sometimes get asked if a panel wash is really worth the effort. I firmly believe it is and here is a couple of before and after pics to show you why I like it. A couple of observations: the panel wash helps to bring out the surface details and it helps to visually deepen the colours of the underlying paint. I prefer to think of a panel wash as a way to bring out the detail rather than a weathering mechanism. For example, I would still apply a panel wash to even the cleanest of aircraft because without it the model looks flat and less realistic IMO. You of course need to be attentive to what colour you use for the wash as this can make or break the effect. I see people often using black for a panel wash. I feel this is not the best options as black is just too stark, better to use a dark brown or grey in my experience and adjust as needed based on the model colours being used.
With all the excess wash now cleaned away, we can get a feel for the effect it has on the overall model. At this point, I was not happy with the colour of the panel wash (Deep Brown) as it was too dark and distracting. I therefore went over the model again with a lighter, more subtle wash, this time Neutral Grey. I was much happier with this result as it blended more realistically with the sand browns and was not as stark.
The Kitty Hawk decals were overly thick but I have learnt that you can "blend" such decals in by sealing them under a couple of coats of gloss clear once they dry. This seems to level them out and as you can see here they end up looking more like painted on rather than stuck on.
The finished underside with the decals applied and masking removed. In the end, I did not apply the gloss coat over the weathered areas, only glossing near the wingtip where the roundel decals needed to be placed. If possible, minimising the number of coats of paint (clear or otherwise) on the model is the way to go.
I wanted to try and reproduce some of the localised exhaust staining that was evident on the wing roots and base of the vertical tail in photos of aircraft 5-OP. For this, I once again relied on my Iwata Eclipse to lay down filter coats of thinned Tamiya Black and a homebrew mix which approximates Burnt Umber. Personally, I feel I was little heavy-handed in the application of the stains but will take that on board and work to improve next time.
My home-built ECLAIR-M dispenser was painted and installed above the brake chute housing on the undersides. I also attached the now painted resin exhaust nozzle to the rear of the model. My nozzle was a near-perfect fit but I have had feedback from several modellers that theirs was significantly undersized. If you have this kit probably best to check and request a replacement.
In parallel, I had been working on the weapons and pylons. Here is the completed Magic 2 missile mounted on the pylon. Whilst there is always room for improvement I have to say that I think KH did a good job here.
The full assortment of pylons and stores are almost complete and close to being ready for attaching to the model. The centerline tank has been weathered to match operational photos of No.74 5-OP whilst the weapons have not had their panel line wash as yet which is why they look so clean.
One of the final tasks prior to gluing the canopy in place was painting and installation of the seat. Whilst not a perfect match, I feel the Black Box Mk.10A with my small modifications is quite passable as a Mirage 2000 seat. The detail was all hand-painted using Vallejo acrylics.
So the project is now a wrap and here are some photos of the finished model. My very last task was to add a handful of the realistic 'fabric' RBF tags from HGW to the weapons/pylons to match what can be seen on the real aircraft. I'm really happy with how the model turned out and am glad I opted for the road less travelled by selecting the sand camo scheme for my build.

CONCLUSION - Kitty Hawk 1:32 Mirage 2000C (KH23020)
I have to say that the plastic in Kitty Hawk boxes is definitely improving. This build felt way less over-engineered than any other KH kit I have built or reviewed. The fit and overall shape is good and the options, including decals and weapons, provided in the box represents good value for money.
But ... the elephant in the room continues to be the poor instructions and generic (one size fits all) approach to the marking profiles and odd paint colour recommendations. It feels to me like there is very little QA done on the instructions and hence all the hard work done by the kit design team (providing multiple options to represent many variants of the Mirage 2000 etc) goes to waste. The amount of time I wasted having to do my own research on which tail to use, what RWR sensors for what variant etc should have all be taken care of by KH. Other kit manufacturers seem to have this sorted, why not Kitty Hawk.

A few close-in pictures of detail...
In the end, it really does make into a nice model, but the instructions really hinder rather than help get you there. If you are in the market for a large scale Mirage 2000 then this is the kit for you. Just be warned that you will need to do the leg work on which options are the right ones for your build as KH will be of no help.

Final photos from further out showing the whole aircraft
Gary Wickham

Thanks to Kittyhawk for sending this kit to Gary for him to build and to review. You can see more about Kittyhawk's models on their Facebook page and right here on the news...
If you like Gary's work then please do go to his website www.Scalespot.com for a whole lot more of that...