Aircraft In Progress

AMTech 1/48 P-40E: Sticking With A Build

It must have been in the early 80s… maybe ’80 or ’81. We lived in a house that was at the bottom of a fairly steep hill. I was about 13, and my little brother was 6. I’d ride my el-cheapo 10 speed bike up to the top of the hill, with my little brother in tow on his Big Wheel. Once at the top, we’d race down the hill at breakneck speeds. I’d always win, of course… because that’s what big brothers do. 🙂

One day, I had a cool idea™. “Hey bro’, how about I ride along behind you and push your Big Wheel down the hill? That way you can see how fast I go!” Of course he thought it was an excellent idea. Who wouldn’t want to go ultra fast down the hill on a Big Wheel being pushed by a 10 speed bike?

I gave him some detailed safety instructions (“Keep your feet off the pedals…”), had him line up in front of me, and away we went.

I pedaled furiously, accelerating like crazy. He was yelling “woooooohoooo” as we gathered speed. My front tire was staying right up against the plastic back of the Big Wheel, pushing it faster than I imagine those Marx toy company engineers ever expected. He had his feet kicked out to the sides, as the pedals attached to the wheels spun into nothing but a blur.

I was grinning from ear to ear like a kid on a summer day at an ice cream shop with a fresh $20 bill. We were flying, my friends… flat out moving. 

It turns out there was one thing I had not taken into account during my copious planning stage. At the bottom of the hill was a pretty sharp turn to the left, far too sharp to make at that speed while pushing your kid brother on a Big Wheel. And along the edge of the road was quite a bit of gravel.

Normally, I’d get to the bottom of the hill, lean to the left, and rocket around the turn, perfectly lined up to make a spectacular skidding stop in my front yard. (I did that for the ladies… yeah…. 😉 )

What I did not realize is that when I instinctively leaned to make my left turn, my brother would not get the memo on what control inputs he needed to account for to fully coordinate the maneuver. As I looked down, I watched in slow motion horror as my front tire slid along the back of his Big Wheel, until it made contact with his left rear wheel.

And while I am no scientist, I think the proper phrase to use at this point was “physics took over.”

The process of my front wheel hitting his back wheel propelled me up and over his Big Wheel. I might have continued on over in a spectacular leap worthy of the Wide World of Sports, except that the front end of my bike became inconveniently fouled up in my little brother. All of this resulted in both of us being ejected from our respective speeding vehicles, and we were hurled through the air like rag dolls. To this day, I can recall somehow floating above my brother, him looking up at me, blue eyes wide in terror. And a thought crossed my mind.

“What made me think this was a cool idea?”

This AMTech 1/48 P-40E has left me feeling the same way.

I’ve built quite a few of them. Every single one has been challenging. Poor wing fit, warped parts, mediocre joins. Each time I swear I won’t do it again. And yet after a bit of time goes by, I look at the case full of AMTech P-40E and F/L kits I purchased on Ebay for a very low price (and FREE shipping!), and think “Well, as long as I have them, I may as well build another.”

You’d think I’d learn.

Getting the fuselage together is not a real problem . While some light sanding needs to be done to the mating surfaces, things line up reasonably well. And the engineers thoughtfully designed it so that the cockpit “tub” can slide in after the fuselage is assembled. I glued the halves together, sanded things out smooth, rescribed the panel lines, and all was good. I slide the cockpit in from below, and glued it into place.

The wings went together equally well. A single lower piece, topped off with a left and right upper wing piece. One side did seem a bit odd looking, but it fit OK, so I wasn’t too worried about it.

Test fitting went as expected… there was a big wing root gap on either side, going from almost a perfect fit aft, to about 1/16th of an inch wide near the forward wing root. In the past, I’d tried fuselage spreaders to try and close the gap, but that had not always been the best solution. In one case it had split the fuselage open. In another, it widened things enough to cause the cockpit to pop loose. 

Glueing the upper wing on to the fuselage halves first also was not optimal. While it worked on some examples I’d built, others had been left with horribly uneven dihedral.

I decided a different approach was in order. The right gap was far less of a problem than the left gap. I realized if I used a piece of tape running from the right wing tip to the fuselage, I could set the wing dihedral nicely, which would then close most of the gap. I could glue that, and let it sit overnight. Then I could use some more tape to draw up the other wing, setting it to the same dihedral as the other. Though there would still be a gap, I could then fill it with stretched sprue, glue it in place, and after sanding, I’d have two nicely set wings.

In theory. 

After setting and gluing the right wing, and letting it dry, I began to adjust the left wing. At this point, I begin to discover a few things.

First, when I lined up the aircraft with the grids on my cutting map from a head on view, to see where the left wing needed to be set, I noticed a funny thing. Not funny as in “hey, that’s a great joke”, but more like “hey, I locked my keys in the car.” It turns out that there was the slightest warp to the fuselage, making the vertical stabilizer just the slightest bit off kilter. It’s not really noticeable until you line it up with a grid, really. But when I tried to line the two wings up to have the same dihedral, and set the vertical stabilizer to be perpendicular to the line between the wing tips, I realized it just wasn’t happening.

The second thing I noticed was why the left wing had bothered me earlier. It had a slight bulge in it. While it glued on to the lower wing part fine, the middle section over the wheel well was slightly bulged up. This made the dihedral between the two wings look even worse.

It was at this point I thought “What made me think this was a cool idea?”

I set the model aside for a few minutes. No need for it to make a sudden, crunching impact against the wall.

Persevering Through A Build

Because I build with a focus on fun above all, anything that interrupts that process is not welcome in my little world. So a way that I’ve found to get around those obstacles is to evaluate what it will take to go around, through, or over the “un-fun-ness” as quickly and simply as possible. While I could get caught up in varying degrees of overthinking, and trying to work through some complicated engineering solution, such a process would just not be me. In the end, it’s a plastic toy.

And I’m not a big fan of setting it aside and moving on. While I have done that a few times, generally I like to push on through, somehow.

The trick for me then is to find a solution I can live with, accept the warts, call it a “hobby lesson”, and move on.

I sat back down at my model desk, picked up the P-40, and gave it a look over. I pulled the left wing up, set it with tape, and looked at it head on. Making a few adjustments, I found a point that worked, given all the issues, and after adjusting my tape a bit, decided I could live with it.

The wing gap was still fairly wide, I used stretch sprue to fill the void. Putty would not have worked, as the wing needed something solid to glue itself to in order to hold what dihedral I could get in. With the sprue in place, and gobs of Tamiya Extra Thin Cement applied, I let it dry for a few days.

A few days later, holding my breath, I pulled the tape loose. And the wing held. I filled in a few more smaller gaps with sprue, and then added a layer of Tamiya Basic Putty over it. When that dried, I sanded it down and rescribed the panel lines.

The rest of the assembly was uneventful. I do recommend gluing the various gear door pieces and drop tank sway braces in place before painting. This allows for a good, strong bond. While you will need to take care during the paint process, adding them later seems to be a far more fiddly proposition.

With the airframe assembled, I gave the whole thing a coat of Badger Stynylrez Gray Primer. The model now sits on a shelf for a few days, waiting its time in the paint shop.

It doesn’t look great, but it does look like a P-40. (Maybe one that was used in a downhill race?)

Lessons Learned

Getting back to my adventure with my brother…

After sailing over him, I continued on a bit further before proving gravity works. What goes up must come down. Remember the gravel I mentioned? I landed in that, skidding through it. Luckily, I did not hit my head. Instead, my elbows and knees took the brunt of it. (Luckily.) You’ve heard the song “I left my heart in San Francisco”? Well, my tune that day was “I left my flesh in Tallahassee”, because I certainly tore enough off.

My little brother didn’t fare much better, skinning his elbows and knees in fairly righteous manner too, and I seem to recall he got the end of his nose rubbed raw also. 

The bike and the Big Wheel fared OK in the ordeal. So they had that going for them, which was nice.

Of course, I then had to go home and explain to my mama why large amounts of blood was pouring from my brother and I, and why said wounds were full of gravel and dirt. My attempts to blame him failed, and for some reason only made matters worse for me. Life can be so unfair.

We did survive, however. He’s now a PhD and in a highly respectable teaching position, and I’m… well, I’m building plastic toys and writing about Big Wheel crashes. (So you decide on the “brain damage” part…)

And I’d like to say I learned my lesson. However, the story comes to mind of driving my ultra cool 1982 Firebird a few years later, little brother with me again. Speed was involved, as well as a dirt road, and a half mile skid into a ditch. All as we drove home from church on Easter Sunday, only a few minutes ahead of my dad. {sigh}

But I’ll reserve that story for another blog entry.

So it’s safe to assume that one day you’ll see me building another AMTech P-40. And blogging about having the very same problems.

Because learning lessons seems to be a hard lesson to learn.

I blame the Big Wheel. 😉

4 comments

  1. Funny thing about these kits as no two builds alike. I just wonder if the (soft) plastic material that they used was that particular about heat and reacting to being pressed and pulled during the casting action.

    1. That could be, Lee. Each one has been a bit different. Some seem to be much worse than others. This particular example is one of the stinkers, I think.

  2. Best narrative EVER!! Ahhh….the School of Hard Knocks; every lesson more painful than the last (like my Since of Philosophy class in university). They say a smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from those of others. I wish I was a wise man (or even a smart man, for that matter). The bane of my modeling existence seems to be landing gear; I don’t know how many planes I’ve built (that were intended to be gear-down) are in flying trim due to the migraine-inducing frustration that landing gear has caused me. You think I would have learned by now…..

    1. Thank you so much Rick! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      I struggle with landing gear also from time to time. I’ve actually gotten to the point that if a model does not have very positive attachment points, I’ll glue them in prior to painting, and then use extra case during the finishing process, just to make sure I get a good, solid join.

      Yet sometimes I still manage to knock them off… 😉

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