For most of my elementary school years, I grew up in a bit of a “Leave It To Beaver” world. My family and I lived in a smaller town in the southern part of Georgia, USA for most of the 70s.. While much of America had been going through culture-changing social, economic, and political upheaval, my little neighborhood seemed to live happily in a vacuum.
The neighborhood we lived in was full of smaller, middle class houses. Yards were neatly kept for the most part, and fresh paint was applied when needed. Everyone knew everyone else, and mom’s had each others phone numbers. The kids I played with in the neighborhood were the kids I went to school with. I’d grown up with them, and everyone got along pretty well. My closest friends and I knew to generally stay away from the older kids, and to be nice to the younger kids.
There were, of course, occassional upheavals. A few friends went through divorces, or a death in the family. On occasion someone would move away, and others would move in to take their place. The whole thing was rather resilient… troubles were faced, dealt with, and we moved on. At least from my view. No matter what happened, there was always someone to ride a bike with, toss the baseball around, or sit in my carport and build models. It was stability defined.
While I had many friends in the neighborhood, I had my “best friend” of course. Most kids did… that companion that you just seemed to click with. Similar hobbies, similar tastes… you could finish each other’s sentences. Sure, sometimes we argued, and even had a few knock down, drag out skirmishes. But we always quickly forgave and forgot, and moved on with the business of having fun.
I don’t know that I ever thought of him as my “best friend” really. It came down to the simple fact that of all the people I could be around in my neighborhood, he was the one I liked to spend my time with. Our parents knew each other, and in those more innocent days of trust, let us have a fair degree of free rein. We’d often spends hours together during the summer, and only when the street lights came on would we finally head home. And “heading home” meant checking at both houses, seeing what was offered for dinner, and choosing the best option.
At the time I probably would not have been able to articulate it, but I was living in about as close to a “perfect” place as a kid could get.
We’re Moving Where?
The summer of 1978 was shaping up to be quite a good one. The school I was in was 1st through 6th grade. As I headed home from school that last day in May of ’78, excitement bubbled. The summer was coming up, which meant time with friends – swimming, biking, climbing trees, and all of those other things. And when the sumer was over, I would be in sixth grade. The top of the pile at school. For years I’d seen the “upperclassmen” rule the roost. Now I’d be in that rare air.
A few weeks into that summer break, I was introduced to a new word – job promotion. My mom explained to me that dad had been promoted from the local manager of the insurance company he worked for to what was called a “regional” manager. She told me he’d be making more money, which of course was a good thing. I immediately began planning all the ways his new found wealth could be spent.
But I also found out “the bad news”… we’d be moving to a town called Tallahassee, FL. It was a bigger town, with lots of great things to do, she said.
All I heard was “moving”.
I Have Some Bad News
I dreaded telling my best friend I’d be moving. Neither of us said much. I was trying not to cry, and he seemed to be fighting the same urge. But that would not have been proper, of course, not in that era. Tough it out, walk it off.
I explained it much like my mom did. We’ll only be an hour away. I can come visit on weekends. We can write. there’s always phone calls. Brief, of course… they cost money you know. So it wasn’t the end of the world, right?
With the few weeks that remained before The Big Move, we resumed our summer routine, almost in defiance of the inevitable.
A few months after we’d moved, my dad had to return to my “old town” for a weekend meeting. He asked if I’d like to go with him… he’d called my best friend’s parents, and they said bring me along – “Jon can stay for the weekend.” I was quite happy about this news. The new school was not going well. They were on a different system, and 6th grade was the lowest part of the social structure in middle school. While my neighborhood was bigger, with more kids, I was the new guy. So going back to familiar territory was a wonderful thought.
I went that following weekend, and stayed over Friday and Saturday night. We did all the things we used to do, and caught up on all the news. We visited other kids, who all wondered what it was like in the “big town”. All too soon it ended though, and my dad and I were driving back to our new home on Sunday night.
As I walked in the house, my mom greeted me with a big hug. “How was your visit?” I tried to be brave, but mama’s arms melted me. I started crying.
She looked at me, quite shocked. “What happened sweetie?”
I wasn’t sure how to explain it.
“It’s just not the same.”
Finishing The Hellcat
Grumman’s Hellcat has always been one of my favorite World War II fighters. It’s not my favorite, mind you… that’s reserved for the Spitfire. Yet when I examine it both visually and historically, it is very much a standout. Tough, brutish, and purposeful in look, it helped carry out the grim task of pushing back the enemy across the reaches of the Pacific. It left a mark on American fighter history, garnering a kill-to-loss ratio of 19:1. It wasn’t the fastest or most maneuverable, or even the best looking in my mind, yet it was remarkably efficient.
Of all the paint schemes to emerge from the war, the mid-war tricolor scheme has always been a favorite. In a way it reminds me of photos of sharks, and how their color transitions around the girth of their bodies from dark to light. As a modeler, it’s a fun scheme to paint.
The base paint I used was all lacquer. I’ve really begun to prefer these paints over acrylics – even more than Tamiya paints, which I’ve used for years. They spray on smoother, adhere better, are far more durable, and clean up much easier. The only downside is the fumes are much worse. While airbrushing any paint requires a proper mask and good ventilation, lacquers don’t play around. Those things are an absolute must to make safe use of the paint’s great properties.
So far I’ve been using AK Interactive’s Real Color paints, and Mr. Hobby’s Mr. Color lines of paint. Both are similar in performance. I enjoy the AK paints because of the nice range they have for WWII and modern military work. Mr. Color also has an excellent line for those purposes, but they seem to really shine for scifi type work. Between the two, I’m quite happy with the switch. (And I’ve yet to try Gaia!)
The undersides were painted in AK’s Gray White, and the uppers in Mr. Color Medium and Navy Blue paints. The colors were sprayed on freehand, though I did go back and do some cleanup with thinned paint so that the edges would have a nice, scale appropriate transition.
Making It Look Realistic
After a gloss coat and decal application, I moved on to panel lining.
An odd thing I’ve noticed with AK Real Color paints is how difficult it has been to get a gloss coat over them. They are so flat they seem to absorb gloss. To the touch they feel relatively smooth, but no matter whether I apply Future/Pledge, Tamiya Gloss, or AK’s own lacquer gloss coat, acheiving a good, smooth finish appropriate for decals and panel lining has eluded me so far.
To get around this, I started by doing the lining on the underside with a .5mm mechanical pencil. It seems happy to go about its work regardless of the paint finish. It does make for a stark look, but that was what I wanted. Wiping away excess graphite with my finger also does a nice job of making tiny, streaks, giving it a more worn look. A few areas received some additional enamel wash.
On the upper surfaces, I used enamel and oil paint washes. The Mr. Color paints are a bit more “satiny” in their finish out of the bottle, and my normal gloss coats work fine over them. Mig Productions dark wash was used on the medium blue surfaces. I applied it rather liberally, and simply wiped off the excess after a few minutes drying time.
For the dark blue, I mixed in some Payne’s Gray to the dark wash, which made it a bit darker, thus giving some nice contrast on the darker blue surfaces. Thinning oil paints with enamel washes works great, as the enamel wash is mostly thinner anyway.
He Shoots, He Fades!
I wanted to give the model a reasonably worn look, but not beat up. World War II fighter aircraft had relatively short lives, with most being replaced every few months by newer or upgraded models. So though they might be worked very hard, it was often a very brief life.
Lighter shades of the base color were applied to each camo color, the choice here bing Tamiya paint, as it thins so well with alcohol. This allows for very fine mist coats to be built up. The fading process was applied across the model, to break up the monotone appearance of the colors.
In similar fashion, darker shades of Tamiya paints were airbrushed on to provide additional panel line shading. I tried to be a bit lighter in my touch, not wanting to make it appear “overly artsy”.
Streaks And Stuff
To simulate the streaking that comes from being exposed to constant cycles of wind, rain, and harsh sun, I used Vallejo Model Washes. These were streaked onto the fuselage and wings, making use of their Gray and Blue Gray colors. I really like to use these Washes. Though not as flexible as oils are, they dry really fast, so if time is limited for you and waiting for oils to dry isn’t possible, check them out.
Exhaust staining was applied using heavily thinned versions of Tamiya paints. Hellcats often had some crazy exhaust stains, but I tried to keep these fairly restrained, yet still convey the look of a veteran aircraft. Mixes of Deck Tan and Sky Gray, as well as NATO Black and Hull Red, made up the two colors used.
Some final stains and streaks were applied with thinned artist’s oils, and a matte varnish coat sealed it all in and flattened it down.
My mom was sympathetic. Looking back, I guess she realized that this was a major turning point for me. I’d gone back, and seen that things just weren’t as they had been. We were still friends… but the excitement we’d shared about the things in our lives had been diminished. Situations had to be described, and new people needed to be introduced and explained. The commonality of daily life was gone.
I went back a few more times, of course. We wrote a few letters, and made a few calls. Inevitably though, as new friends took precedence in our lives, and new situations were faced, we began to drift. Without realizing it, really, all communication ceased. I don’t think it was a conscious decision on either of our parts, just simply what happened.
A Wonderful Kit
If you’re wanting to build a Hellcat, or just a great model airplane get, take a look at Eduard’s F6F family of Hellcats. While not as popular as the Spitfire-Mustang-109 trio, this kit is as solid and enjoyable as any – in fact it’s probably more fun than most of the 1/48 aircraft kits I’ve built. Which is quite a few.
You can get it in the Weekend Edition boxing, or the Profipack. Either one will give you a great result that is enjoyable all the way through.
In an odd way, I feel like this Hellcat is my “weekend visit” moment. When I’d recently built new-toolings of the Tempest and Spitfire, I thought perhaps it was some engineering choices made in those models that I was not happy with. I’d specifically started this Hellcat because I knew I really liked the plane and the model. Surely this would get my “winged mojo” back?
Yet as the build has drawn to a close, I’ve realized what has really happened.
I am just not into building aircraft anymore.
Like the drift from my childhood friend, it wasn’t a conscious choice. But after “spending every day together”, so to speak, a decade of grinding out 275 airplanes in a row took its toll. It’s not that I won’t build another one – I’ve learned enough over the last few years to realize the fallacy in that statement. Three years ago I would have sworn I’d never build Gunpla, or Ma. K, or Warhammer. So I know at some point, a thing with wings will cross my desk. But I don’t see that as being anytime too soon. (Except for those two commisison builds I’m still grinding through… O_o )
It’s kind of funny where life takes you.
Of course, these are just plastic models. I enjoy them, but there are things far more pressing to deal with. Mortgage payments, taxes, health concerns, and a new grandchild (yay!) all serve to remind me time moves on. Models are simply a diversion that lets my brain unwind.
Still, it feels as though I’ve moved away from an old friend, and gone back for a brief visit. There is a bit of melancholy in looking back at the past, yet as I look towards my “new town”, I also feel a sense of excitement. The old neighborhood was thoroughly explored.
Now there is a new neighborhood. It’s time to move forward there.