Robinson’s Raiders WIP

This is one of the largets projects I’ve ever put together and will be a 2-Part Diorama Featuring 2 Master Grade G-Fighters, 1 U.C. Hardgraph Core Fighter and several Hardgraph figures.

I started this project in early 2013 with the idea to finish it by Anime Expo 2013 to enter it in the Gunpla Builder’s World Cup. The main idea was to imagine if a normal air squadron had G-Fighters but didn’t have to use them to shuttle a big old Gundam or a huge set of stupid tank treads around. Without either of those things the G-Fighter has a cavernous bay that I decided should be filled with bombs, missiles, and a folded core fighter that could be launched in flight to defend the G-Fighter from small fighters or conduct independent attacks. The idea was inspired by a real-life attempt in the late 1940s to dock a small folding fighter jet in the bomb bay of a large bomber. You can read about it here:

XF-85 Wikipedia Page

Back in 2013 I worked on the trapeze that would catch and release the Core Fighter. The first thing I did was see if you could actually store a Core Fighter in the G Fighter and swing it out past a bomb bay full of weapons.

Once I had worked out the basic feasibility of the design, I went to work building the actual trapeze apparatus that would launch and catch the Core Fighter. I tried to keep things realistic with representations of hinges and hydraulic pistons. While the final versions won’t be functional I want it to look that way.

I got the Core Fighter end of one trapeze done and had a bunch of other parts cut out for the other one but I was feeling pretty burnt out dealing with these tiny fiddly details so I switched to working on something bigger, the G Fighter’s flying surfaces. I tossed all the wings, canards and fins that come with the kit and redesigned new sets using sleeker and more modern shapes. I designed the new shapes using Corel Draw and then took the printouts and started cutting plastic. In this first round of work I only got as far as cutting the middle layer of each surface. All of them are designed to be a sandwich of 3 layers with the details being on the thin outside layers.

And that’s where I put this project aside last year. Progress had been really slow both because of all of the scratch building and detailing as well as a lot of household projects that kept me from working on the model. So I took a break when Bluefin asked for help building Sinanjus for their Barnes and Noble displays.

By this time it was summer and Anime Expo 2013 was already over so I moved on to working on my iDOLM@ster F-22 for OrangeCon, which I also didn’t get done… Then I actually finished an MG Wing Gundam for SCGMC 2013 and after that I felt inspired to work on the old G-Fighter again. I finished cutting out the other layers of the flying surfaces and scribed on the details. They’re mostly cleaned up and with a bit more work they’ll be ready to cast. That was around Christmas 2013 and at that point I didn’t have any casting materials so I put those aside and began to work on the turrets. I really dislike the crazy huge tank turrets on the G-Fighter so I decided to redesign those as smaller manned turrets for air defense. Each turret needed a missile launcher and Gatling gun as well as an ammo drum and some kind of radar. It was back to fiddly bits again.

Which got me to this point where almost all the exterior work is done and you can start to see how the new G-Fighter will look.

And keeping with the pattern I moved onto something else. Those turrets burnt me out some so I switched projects but instead of abandoning the whole thing I switched to the UCHG Core Fighter. I hoped to get it done by ValleyCon in March to take by itself but that’s not going to happen because it won’t be done by this weekend and it turns out I already had plans for the weekend of ValleyCon.

I got to work on the cockpit of the Core Fighter. I decided a long time ago that the flat plastic seat had to go so I picked up a 1/32 scale resin ejection seat for an F/A-18C Hornet. It’s a good deal bigger than the plastic seat so I had to trim away the side consoles to get it to fit. Once I did that and got the seat in place I realized that the poor pilot had no leg room. The front wall of the cockpit down by the feet meets unevenly and looks terrible so I cut the bottom half away and replaced it with a plastic sheet wall that meets the top half of the wall more evenly. With this fixed, I was able to glue the foot pedals from the original plastic seat down onto the floor.

Next I went to work detailing the side panels of the cockpit which are bare flat plastic and look pretty lame. I added some strip plastic “ribs” and some Kotobukiya detail bits. I also hit the side walls behind the seat since they show pretty well.

Next up I copied some other Core Fighter builds and added an LED behind the instrument panel. The instrument panel is made of a clear layer with a solid gray overlay so when backlit with a green light you get green light-up instruments.

Next up I added a refueling probe receptacle similar to the ones on USAF jets like the F-15, F-16 and A-10. This would be the point where the Core Fighter would first link up to the G-Fighter. Once that connection was made, the G-Fighter would “reel in” the Core Fighter and clamp it down with the trapeze. I also added some countersunk latches that would be used to lock the Core Fighter in place.

I stopped working on the Core Fighter to design some decals. Not that I was burnt out, but at the time I thought I had to make them right away if there was any chance to get the decals shipped from Hong Kong in time to get the Core Fighter done for ValleyCon.

The decal designs are mostly inspired by modern U.S. Navy and Marines aircraft markings. I came up with this whole backstory of a squadron based in the Pacific Islands running guerrilla-style raids on Zeon bases in Asia with their G-Fighters. I drew inspiration for this project from real units in WWII like the Flying Tigers, Air Apaches and Jolly Rogers. I gave the unit the name “Robinson’s Raiders”. “Raiders” is in keeping with the guerrilla-warfare theme and “Robinson” is just a good bit of alliteration. I used “RR” like the tail codes on Naval aircraft and the skulls and stripes are a mash-up of markings used by the Jolly Rogers and Grey Ghosts.

With the cockpit and decals done I turned my attention to the underside of the Core Fighter. I took one look at lame blocky plastic wheels and decided resin replacements were in order so I went to Brookhurst Hobbies and dug through their resin wheels until I found four that more-or-less matched the size of the originals. I ended up getting 2 sets of F-4 Phantom wheels. The small nose wheels from the 1/32 scale set are about the right size for the Core Fighter’s main wheels and the larger main wheels from the smaller 1/72 scale set match up with the Core Fighter’s smaller nose wheels.

So for the first time ever I ventured into the world of resin casting. I cast the wheels as well as some other resin aircraft detailing parts I had as a trial run for when I’ll cast the flying surfaces of the G-Fighter. The molds are done but I have yet to pour the resin and see how it comes out.

While waiting for the molds to cure I added some detailing to the wheel wells and landing gear. I added wire to simulate brake lines and electrical wiring as well as some plastic bits from my spares box to represent gear door actuators and other details.


That’s where I’m at now. Once I cast those wheels I can wash the Core Fighter parts and start painting it. Even with VallyCon gone I’m still going to finish it first so I can say I’ve finished something in 2014, even if it’s only part of a larger project.

05-13-2014

Once I successfully cast the wheels I started to prime and paint. Like most aircraft builds I stared with the cockpit and other interiors. I chose to paint the interiors in a green reminiscent of WWII US aircraft interiors. It’s a kind of ugly but it will add some much needed color to this black, white, gray, gray and more gray aircraft.

Cockpit painting followed my usual cockpit process:

– Airbrush the main color
– If sensible, mask and airbrush other large blocks of color

– Hand-paint details with Vallejo acrylic paints

– Seal with gloss clear lacquer
– Apply decals if necessary (none in this cockpit)
– Seal decals with more gloss lacquer
– Wash parts with Testors enamel paint (Rubber is my go-to color) thinned with lighter fluid to simulate grime and shadows
– Seal with flat clear lacquer
– Dry brush with artist oil paints
– Seal with flat clear lacquer (not entirely necessary, but you can rub off your drybrushing if you handle your parts a lot)
– Chip paint or add other details with colored pencils

With the cockpit done and other internal parts painted (inside of air intakes, inside of split rudder), I started to glue the Core fighter together as much as possible. It all looked pretty good until I primed the model and realized that most of the joint seams between the top and bottom of the wings were on the tops of the wings and NOT on natural panel lines. It wasn’t so noticeable when the plastic was a darkish red but once it was light gray the dark line that demarked the joint between the top and bottom wing pieces looked like the Grand Canyon. Horrible!

So I went to work on multiple rounds of putty/sand/prime. The two pieces of plastic along the joint weren’t exactly level with each other in some places so it took a bit of work to get it looking acceptable. Once that was done I re-scribed the panel lines I had covered over with my .2 mm BMC scriber. I also used the scriber to cut out the flaps and ailerons on the wings so I could deflect them downwards. Lots of real planes have droopy control surfaces once they are powered down and the hydraulic pressure runs out.

While assembling parts I also noticed that there was a huge hole in the model under the rudder. This hole is necessary to allow the rudder to fold into the Core Block configuration but in fighter mode it’s just a hole with no detail behind it. So I made a blanking plate and even scribed a panel line in it to make it look like something that could open and close to allow the rudder through.

With pre-assembly done I got down to painting. I started with a very dark gray preshade along panel lines and in deep recesses. Then I misted on a light coat of light gray. To make the model look as real as possible, the two grays I used are the same colors used on F-14s.

With the main gray in place and the shading looking good I started masking and spraying sections of darker gray with sticky-tack masks.

This came out pretty good with only a few touch-ups needed but unfortunately the shading did not show through the second coat of darker gray so I had to mix some very thin white and post-highlight the dark panels. Since this is meant to simulate paint fading I let it go outside the lines of the dark gray and fade the light gray as well.

With all the painting done I applied a few coats of Mr. Color gloss clear. During the April build gathering I put together a 1/32 scale auxiliary power unit vehicle which I plan to use with the Core Fighter in a diorama.

Later that week I spent a few nights applying the Robinson’s Raiders decals I designed as well as the several dozen data stencils from the low-visibility marking from the kit.

With the decals in place and protected with a gloss coat, it was time to really get into weathering. The first thing I did was select a lighter gray and carefully airbrush some “corrosion control” touch ups. Real planes operating in salty sea air start to rust wherever the paint chips so ground crew are always sanding and touching up the paint. From pictures I see the touch up paint never quite matches the original and it usually looks lighter. I allowed my touch ups to go slightly over the edges decals in places because that’s what happens on the real thing.

After that I applied a heavy panel line wash of Testors Rubber. I worked when wiping it off to run the paper towel in the direction of airflow or gravity so that a little of the excess paint would remain on the model as fine streaks.

With that done I applied a flat coat to the model.

I then went to work with Tamiya weathering pastels on the main intakes and exhausts (rocket nozzles). I used the soot, rust and even snow colors to give them a varied streakiness.

I decided at this point to assemble all the main parts of the model. The landing gear were a bit of a pain since the main gear legs have these struts on them that have a tab but there’s no corresponding slot in t the wheel wells. I did some careful trimming and sanding until the struts laid flush against the side wall of the well. Then there was a problem of my own making when I realized after gluing everything in that I had not used Bare Metal Foil to cover the shiny metal pistons on the struts. So I had to sneak it in with tweezers and toothpicks. Not impossible but not fun. The landing gear doors had some fit issues as well. I had to trim part off of the small doors on the main wells to get them to sit at an acceptable angle. I was pretty glad when all that was done.

With almost everything put together I went to work again with Tamiya weathering pastels to make varied streaks and stains around anything that looked like it might vent dirty air. I sealed that with another flat coat.

Next up was oil paints. I used a mixture of Burnt Umber and Paynes Gray (almost black) to make some streaks on control surfaces (to simulate leaky hydraulics) and to dirty up the plane anywhere I thought crewmembers were likely to walk on the upper surfaces or where leaked fluid was likely to leak out of the lower surfaces. I made the dirty areas by dabbing little tiny specks on with a toothpick and then spreading it around and buffing it in with a Q-Tip. It looks good to me and get the effect I see in photos of real Navy aircraft.

After that I painted the navigation lights (clear red and clear blue over silver) and slime lights (a mix of white, yellow and flesh Vallejo). Once that was done the model was about finished. I touched up some of the pastel and oil paint staining and then sprayed some flat clear coat over any fresh pastel weathering and on places where glue left a glossy mark. I didn’t generally flat coat the oil stains because it has a slightly glossy finish that I felt was realistic.

And with that, this Core Fighter is done.

Update 05-17-2014

Actually, I forgot I needed to wire up my LED again. It was not going well until I remembered a tip from my friend Mike. He said I could take an old 9V battery apart and get the metal strips out up it that are used to connect the 6 small batteries inside. Once I soldered those to the leads coming out of the resistor and reed switch it worked like a charm. Thanks, Mike!