Minicraft 1/144 C-118A
In the 1960’s, during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, many airports could not yet accommodate large jet powered aircraft such as the Boeing 707-based Air Force One VC-137C. For trips into these smaller airports, the President used a VC-118A transport, known by its tail number “3240.”
Having previously served as a transport plane for President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, during the Kennedy administration 3240 received the same two-toned presidential paint scheme as the VC-137C. Even when the President did travel on board VC-137C, 3240 often went along in a support role or as a back up plane.
Length: 106 ft. 9 in.
Wingspan: 117 ft. 6 in.
Tail Height: 28 ft 9 in
Engines: Four Pratt and Whitney R-2000 @ 2,400 hp each
Takeoff Weight: 108,000 lbs
Maximum Range: 4,000 miles
Ceiling: 27,200 ft.
Speed: 265 mph cruising, 360 mph max
Overall, I like Minicraft kits. The parts generally have minimal flash and fit together well. The kits are generally good, albeit simple, renditions of their subject aircraft, with no interiors.
Best of all, Minicraft has excellent decals. The subjects are well rendered. The decals are thick, unquestionably opaque, and hold up very well under Micro Sol solution making it easy to get them to nestle down into and around complex curves. (A big plus on this kit.)
I also like the fact that Minicraft cabin windows are usually represented with black decals rather than molded in. It’s just easier sliding decals than dealing with all those clear parts and masking, etc. But I find it curious that the cockpit windows on Minicraft kits are usually molded clear, as they are on this kit. However, this kit did provide a black cockpit window decal to enable you to black-out the cockpit windows to match the rest of the plane, which I did.
The instructions are thorough – two pages containing eight diagrams, noting when and when not to glue, and indicating right next to the drawing what colors small parts or assemblies should be painted. There’s also a diagram of the parts sprues. The third page on the back has a very good painting/decal diagram for both sides and the top and bottom of the aircraft.
It’s best to always check references for proper markings as painting/decal diagrams may have minor inaccuracies, as did this one. (There are black leading edges on the propellers. More on these later.) Most of the time simply typing in the designation, i.e., “VC-118A,” or nickname, i.e., “3240,” or “Air Force One,” of the aircraft into Google Images will find plenty of reference pictures, as it did with this aircraft.
The kit has three white plastic parts sprues and a single clear part, the cockpit windshield/roof. One plastic sprue contains the left and right fuselage halves and upper wing halves. The second contains the lower wing half. The third contains all the other smaller parts to construct the engines, landing gear, gear doors, and rear wings, etc. Again, some had minor flash to be lightly sanded, but nothing out of the ordinary.
After first gluing a good size fishing weight into the nose cavity so the finished plane will sit properly on its tri-landing gear, I clamped the two fuselage halves together and bonded them with a few touches of Zap CA super thin glue, letting capillary action draw it along the seam.
Unlike in the instructions, I preferred to complete the entire fuselage first, so the clear cockpit window/roof section was attached next with thick super glue, and then sanded to get the surfaces to align after first covering the windshield frame lines with masking tape to preserve the scribed surface detail.
The next thing to be done on the fuselage was to fill the factory scribed front and rear passenger doors on the model with thick super glue. They are not properly shaped or placed and are way too thick for this scale. Furthermore, decals are provided to simulate the doors anyway.
Next came the wings. After dry-fitting to check the fit, I decided to put the front wing bottom on the fuselage first. Then I attached the upper wing halves to the bottom of the wing and to the plane on each side where I used thick super glue to attach them to the wing roots and fill the minor gaps at the same time which I subsequently sanded smooth. The rear wings were molded as single pieces and required only very light sanding around the edges and were attached with a drop of thin super glue in the receiving holes. I then attached the air scoop on the belly as instructed and the smaller antennae parts, #’s 62 & 63, as per my references on the lower left forward fuselage.
Note: This plane has a bare metal exterior which means a silver or metallic paint finish. These finishes reveal any imperfections which are even more noticeable at small scales like 1/144. I used Flex.i.File sanding sticks, working down to and including the #3210 Polisher/Finisher to a very smooth finish. I then draw a Metallic Silver Sharpie marker along the seams to reveal any tiny gaps requiring extra attention with super glue and more sanding. After cleaning up all the seams, I re-scribed any sanded down panel lines across the top and bottom of the fuselage with my #11 blade.
Next, I cut and cleaned up all the engine parts and propeller parts, including the propeller hubs. The engine cowlings are molded in two halves with the engine pistons molded as a third piece to be set inside. I made sure to mate the correct engine halves together. Each engine has exhaust ports on one side only, the other sided being smooth. When the engines are attached to the plane, the exhaust ports go on the outermost sides of the plane respectively.
To achieve smooth round seams where the two engine halves meet both inside and outside, I glued them together and filled any gaps with thick super glue, then sanded the outside and twisted progressively finer grit small rolled sandpaper sheets back and forth inside the cowling until the seams disappeared under my silver pen. After dry-fitting, I then inserted the piston part from the back with thin super glue. Then I dry fit all the engines and propellers to each other and to the aircraft and left the engines and propellers off for painting separately and attachment later.
Next, I cut and cleaned the landing gear pieces, tire/hubs, and gear doors. Then I dry fit them to each other and to the aircraft and left these pieces off for painting separately and attachment later.
My references showed two prominent antennae on the roof of the plane. I scratch built these two “fin” antennae from sheet styrene stock. I attached the antennae with droplets of super glue. (See my technique in the final assembly section below.)
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
This kit requires both metallics and colors. For the metallics, I used the Alclad ll metal painting system. For those not familiar, the Alclad system consists of a black primer coat, which dries as smooth as glass, over which the metallic carrier coats are sprayed. You can also spray the metallic carrier over high gloss paint finishes as well, which I did on this kit for the leading edge of the tail fin over the white gloss paint. While the primer requires at least 24 hours to cure, the subsequent metallic carrier coat(s) dries within a half hour and then may be masked and painted over if needed.
I made a makeshift handle out of a coat hanger by cutting it on each side of the hook, then twisting masking tape around each of the three “prongs” and bending them to fit into each of the three landing gear openings. This allowed me to prime, paint and hang to dry without ever having to touch or set the plane down.
The instructions only indicate basic general colors, e.g. Polished Aluminum, White, Black, and Steel. For the metal surfaces I used Alclad #105 Polished Aluminum and #112 Steal. For the colors, I used enamels. I used Testors #1145 Gloss White on the fuselage top and #1149 Flat Black for the tires. While the painting diagram doesn’t show them, the box art and my references showed light gray sections on the top and bottom of the wings behind the engines. For these I used Model Master FS#36492 Light Gray
I almost always make actual size copies of the decal sheet. In this case, they particularly came in handy as templates to determine where to mask along the separation line between the white top and natural metal bottom of the fuselage. I cut out each entire side decal copy and trimmed it right on the bottom edge of the stripe lines. I lined up the decal copy with the rear wings and below the cockpit window frames scribed on the model to get the required alignment and I taped them in place. I then slightly folded back the decal template and masked under the stripes. Afterward, I spot checked by holding my thumbnail at the bottom of the windows and folding back the template. I should always see masking tape to know I didn’t mask too high and that the decals will cover the line between white and metal when I put them on.
The following how I primed, masked and airbrush painted the aircraft:
1. White Primer, then Gloss White Paint:
· Mask front and rear wings
· Spray entire fuselage and tail
2. Alclad Primer:
· Mask upper fuselage as described above
· Spray bottom of fuselage
· Front wings; top & bottom
· Rear Wings Top and bottom
· Engines, propellers and propeller hubs
· Landing gear and gear doors
· Tire hubs
3. Alclad Polished Aluminum:
· Spray bottom of fuselage
· Front wings
· Rear wings
· Masked then sprayed the tail fin leading edge (the carrier will work fine on the smooth gloss white surface)
· Engines, propellers and propeller hubs
· Landing gear and gear doors
· Tire hubs
4. Alclad Steel:
· Masked then sprayed engine exhaust sections of the cowlings
5. Light Gray:
· Mask front wings; sections behind/around engines, top and bottom
· Spray front wing sections
· Mask and spray lower halves of the propellers
6. Flat Black:
· Carefully hand-brushed the tires around the aluminum hubs
First, I attached the four engines to the plane, ensuring that the exhaust ports went on the outermost sides of the plane respectively.
Next, I assembled and attached the landing gear, struts, and gear doors. Doing so with just a tiny drop of super glue is an extremely delicate task. Precise placement of these often tiny parts without unsightly gobs of glue is always difficult at the 1/144 and smaller scales. For this reason I find the use of a “third hand” indispensable. Available at most hobby shops and on-line, it is a small stand with a heavy iron base and one or more ball joint mounted arms with alligator-type spring clamps to hold a part in any angle required. I use them in combination with plastic hemostats (i.e., scissor clamps,) so as not to scratch the part, to position and then hold these small parts in place while the super glue dries, as using super glue accelerant may mare the finish and maybe even dissolve surrounding paint. (This is how I attached the antennae earlier.)
As mentioned, the kit provided excellent decals. But placement is challenging. The key to getting the proper alignment of the decals is to start with the front blue decals around the cockpit. Getting them placed properly is crucial as the rest of the decals going back down the fuselage align to these front decals. I used the scribed cockpit window frames on the model as a guide and used plenty of the red Micro Sol “for highly irregular surfaces” as these decals must conform completely around the cockpit.
The fuselage decals are delivered one for each side, with the “United States of America” above the windows/blue, gold & white trim lines, extending from the front decal all the way down the side to fit above/around the rear tail wing root areas. When in place they should cover the separation line between the white upper fuselage and bare metal lower fuselage and because these decals are so thick and opaque there was nowhere that the separation lines showed through. (Man, I love Minicraft decals!)
Again, on this kit Minicraft provides black cockpit window decals to cover the clear cockpit windows (which I had previously painted over with the white gloss paint.) I used these decals so as to match the black cabin windows. I first carefully trimmed away the clear carrier film connecting them before floating, and then placed them one by one inside the scribed cockpit window lines. I then trimmed and placed the blue window framing decals between/around the black window decals.
I placed the blue tail fin decals, flag decals, and tail number decals on each side of the tail fin. Checking my references, I used my dividers to ensure the proper spacing between the top of the tail fin and the top of the flags and the base of the tail fin and the bottom of the flags. This ensured both were in the same spot on each side. Then I used the dividers to make sure the tail numbers were the same height from the base of the tail fin on each side.
On the front wings, I trimmed the clear carrier film from around/inside each letter in the “USAF” and then using the decal copy as a template, I placed each USAF and the insignias on the top and bottom of the appropriate front wings as instructed.
With the cockpit decals in place, I put the matching light blue decals on the tips of the front gear doors. Then I carefully painted the exposed nose section #1149 Flat Black up to the bottom of the cockpit window frames. I also touched the tips of the bottom antennae with black as well as the “openings” of the engine intakes to simulate these holes.
I finished with the propellers. The red, white, & blue tip decals took a lot of red Micro Sol to get the front and back decals to join together and nestle down around the blade tips. Finally, my references showed that the leading edges of each propeller blade have a black leading edge. I imitated them with black stripe decal with lots of Micro Sol on each blade. When done, I attached the propeller hubs on each propeller with a touch of thin super glue.
After letting the decals dry over night I gave the entire model a coat of Future to give it a gloss finish. I then “weathered” the engines a bit with a “wash” of black paint and thinner. I then set in the propellers.
I enjoyed the kit. It’s a fairy easy kit to build, but with some slightly tricky masking, painting, and decal placement. It should be a good challenge/practice for a beginner (especially bare metal finish and the decals around the cockpit) and a fun build for the intermediate (me) to expert modeler.
· Planes of the Presidents: An Illustrated History of Air Force One; Bill Holder; Schiffer Military History Books, Atglen, PA, 2000
· Various/numerous web sites for reference photos, generated by search engine entries on each plane’s military designation, callsign, and/or nick name, i.e., “C-118A” and/or “Air Force One” into Google Images. Save the photos (right click on them and click “save photo as”) to your hard drive, then just zoom in on the area you want.
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