Building Mach II's
By Ken Durling
The French-designed Sud-Aviation SE-210 Caravelle was one of the most significant and pioneering of the early jetliners. It was the progenitor of many design features incorporated on later jets, most notably the rear-mounted engines. 282 were built from the first flight of the prototype in 1956 until production lines closed down in 1973. A graceful design incorporating the nose section of the earlier De Havilland Comet jetliner, the Caravelle was easily the most successful European-built airliner of its time. Although it was built mostly by French companies now integrated into Airbus Industrie, some 10% of the airplane was built by Fiat. Rolls-Royce Avon engines powered early versions of the plane, and later versions were sped along by Pratt & Whitney JT8Ds - the same turbofan that powers the Caravelle-inspired Boeing 727. Over its production run ten variants were produced, the last three of which incorporated stretched fuselages (Super Caravelles.) The early variant changes - two of which, the Caravelle III and VIR, are offered in this kit - had mostly to do with variants of the Avon engines, flying weights, and windshield configuration.
The jetís first service was with Air France, flown on May 6, 1959, and the first US service was with United Air Lines on July 14, 1961. The United order was large: 20 aircraft! This demonstrated a lot of faith in the design, but was to prove the only incursion into the coveted American market. Both of these airlines are represented in the Mach II kit. In the course of its service life, 33 airlines placed orders for the jet, and another 50 have operated it after purchasing them second-hand. As of 1997 22 were still in service, mostly in France, Zaire, and Colombia. With no hush kit available, most will be grounded by the end of the century.
The Kit (click on thumbnails for full size image)
With a wingspan of 112 feet - only 9 feet longer than a B-17 - and a length of 108 feet, the SE-210 is among the smaller airliners, making it an ideal subject for a 1/72-scale model. Nonetheless, it comes in a BIG colorful box, and the entire model is on two very large (11 x 22) sprues, with one smaller sprue for the odd-shaped ("inflated triangle") cabin windows. Parts are provided for two variants, a Caravelle III and a VIR - differences being in thrust reverser and windshield configuration, and the two windshield pieces are separate. These are treated as "Heller-style" quarter sections. If you choose to build the United Air Lines plane you must remove the long dorsal fin extension - the fuselage is scored internally to guide this operation. One of the Mk.IIIs is a Swedish military surveillance plane, and there are parts for a modified nose radome and a ventral radar pod.
There is a large, colorful, well-printed decal sheet providing markings for five different aircraft, three Mk.IIIs and two VIRs. The three Mk. IIIs are for an Air France, an Air Inter (an internal commuter branch of Air France), and a Swedish military plane, while the Mk VIRs are for a United Air Lines and a French military plane. No full cheat lines are provided, although trim striping is present, and tail flashes are provided only for the Air Inter wedges. A masking/cutting pattern is provided on the instruction sheet for the Air France tail flash, as well as detailed instructions on painting and decal-striping the complex Air France cheat line - no small task. The French and English instructions take up both sides of an 11 x 17 sheet, and assume a builder of some experience. They emphatically point out that the lower wing halves must be attached to the fuselage and positioned properly before attaching the upper halves.
Despite my prior peeks at Mach 2 kits - and their general reputation as regards production quality - first impressions of the molding were really quite positive. A lot of nice surface detail is evident, particularly on the wings and engine nacelles, although the plastic is the soft grainy variety typical of Mach 2 kits. This did not present any major finishing problems, but watch out during trimming and shaping, as itís easy to take too big a bite with a knife blade. Some flash is present, but nothing that isnít easily manageable. Mold ejection pins are numerous, particularly on the insides of large surfaces such as wings and fuselage, but again, snipping and sanding is no big deal. A bit more troublesome were a few sink marks, mostly on the landing gear, and short-shot parts, but filling and reshaping proved to be routine.
The instructions provide no assembly sequence, so a careful perusal of subassemblies was in order. There are three obvious subassemblies in the fuselage: cabin interior, cockpit, and rear entry. In addition, the nose gear well must be installed under the cockpit and cabin front. A choice must be made at the outset based on variant whether to retain or remove the long dorsal spine. The wings have main gear wells that must be attached to the bottom wing half before closing the wing. The engines are separated into nacelles halves, compressor faces, front intake ring, pylon, and a choice of thrust reverser/hot section depending which variant you build. Examine your version carefully, as the constituent parts for the two versions possible are not grouped together on the sprue.
I removed the fuselage spine by scoring along the line provided on the inside of the fin, and along the outside of the fuselage/spine joint, at a 90-degree angle to the vertical fin. I left the cut portion of the fin unfinished until later. The cabin interior is remarkably detailed - right down to the magazine pouches in the seat backs, and the seatbelts! After attaching the seat backs to the seats I painted the whole thing two shades of blue and made headrest covers from white decal film, which made them easy to mass-produce. The cockpit assembly was straightforward. The rear entryway requires a bit of work. It consists of two bulkheads, two walls and a ceiling, and the two walls were different shapes. Youíll need to dry-fit and adjust one of the walls to fit correctly and then trim the other wall to match. The walls should be flush to the sides of the fuselage opening.
Now at this point I started dry-fitting all the various units that must fit into the fuselage, namely the cabin area, nose gear well, rear entry, cockpit, and wings. I discovered at this point, having already attached the main gear wells to the wing bottom halves according to the guide tabs provided by Mach 2, that there was an interface problem between the gear well and the fuselage side. As located, the gear wells were too far outboard and collided with the inside of the fuselage. After attempting to thin the offending surfaces I ended up removing the gear wells, leveling their locator tabs and repositioning them to achieve the best compromise between matching the outline of the gear openings in the bottom of the wing and allowing the wing to seat properly into its slot in the fuselage.
This led to a somewhat unorthodox assembly sequence. I decided that the lower wing halves needed to be glued to the fuselage halves before either gluing the components in and closing the fuselage or attaching the upper wing halves. A perfect fit was not possible, so I was left having to accept that a good deal of filler would be needed in the lower fuselage/wing joint area.
I then painted the fuselage interior Tamiya Light Blue, and installed all the interior items, having repeatedly dry-fit and adjusted them. Be sure to remove the numerous injector pins from the inside of the fuselage. A fair amount of material must be removed from the circular bulkheads forming the cabin and cockpit walls in order for the fuselage to close properly. I would also recommend reinforcing the long fuselage seam with tabs of styrene to support it during finish sanding.
After the fuselage was closed up and the glue dry, I attached the wing upper halves. Here again considerable adjustment was necessary, mostly in the form of sanding back the aft curve of the wing root. At this point I went to work with the putty. I use Dr. Microtools, now available as Testors Red Putty, and I use alcohol to smooth and feather it. Itís great stuff and makes big puttying jobs like this a lot easier. I also used Gunze Mr. Surfacer 1000 applied with a brush as my main sealer for the puttied areas, augmenting it with CA in a few tough spots that needed to be built up, like the areas that were short-shot on my example: one lower aileron and the tail cone. The area between the main gear wells took anywhere from .5 to 1.5 mm deep putty, applied in 5 or 6 thin layers to achieve a level surface. An occasional shot of silver paint from a spray can help check for flaws.
The cockpit windows were one of the most time-consuming areas of the project. The clear plastic provided in the kit is very thick, wavy and somewhat foggy. I decided Iíd go whole hog and sand it inside and out with grits starting at 320 and winding up at 12000 and a coat of Future to try to achieve the clearest and smoothest glass I could. I actually tried therma-forming a new canopy piece, but due to the method of construction and the need to fair it into the fuselage I decided the thin clear plastic wasnít up to the stresses involved. Secondly, the fit of the windscreen part to the fuselage is poor, requiring a lot of filling (with CA) and fairing. The clear plastic is brittle, too, and I snapped the part - fortunately in an area that would get painted later. After four attempts, I succeeded in getting the clear part attached and faired into the fuselage. I had drilled a hole in the top to inject Future inside the cockpit in case of fogging, but before the final attachment I went back and filled this, having switched to odorless CA and a Future coat on the "glass."
The kitís window outlines were obliterated by all the sanding, so using the spare canopy as a guide, I cut one set of windscreen panel masks from tape, saving the pieces from which they were cut. I applied them using a grid made of two thin strips of masking tape with the vertical one corresponding to the width of the center windscreen pillar. I then took the pieces from which they were cut, put them on some translucent dry-transfer backing paper, put some fresh masking tape on the back of this paper, backed up the whole thing with a piece of glass and marked the reverse shape of the windows on the fresh tape. These were then cut out and applied symmetrically with the first set. I then shot this whole area with Gunze Mr. White Surfacer.
Engine assembly was fairly straightforward, although you can see from the photographs that I left off the attachment of the hot section parts until after painting, since I wanted a lot of differentiation of metal effects here. I would not do this again - rather I would make sure I got good joins and then mask. Deadline pressure makes you forget certain basics!
With the horizontal tail attached - again, be careful here, it may be better to wait until after painting any complex tail flashes - I set about the business of final filling, filleting and rescribing lost panel lines, mostly around the wing roots and over the fuselage and engine seams. A light touch is needed, as the plastic is soft. Again, the combination of Red Putty and Mr. Surfacer worked great. I spent a lot of time here, going over and over all the joints and seams. I also used another one of my favorite filling techniques along the pylon/engine and pylon/fuselage join: casting resin. If applied right at the start of its thickening stage it creates perfect concave little fillets that are easy to sand. Just run it along the join while it still flows. Since it will set in a few minutes (longer when this diffuse) just hold the model and tip it this way and that until itís set where you want it.
I used this model as an opportunity to test a product new to me: Gunze Mr. White Surfacer. I had tested it on some derelicts around my shop first, and was impressed with its fast drying, fine texture and hard surface. It struck me as a fine solution to the pebbly surface of the Mach 2 plastic, as well as to unifying the many areas of different types of filler and putty. Consequently, after final surface work, I gave the entire model a coat of it. I left the fuselage pretty much as is, but polished the wings with sandpaper down to about 8000 grit in order to prepare them for metalizer. Mr. White Surfacer will take on quite a good gleam!
The first thing to get painted was all the white areas. There is some tricky masking involved in the nose and tail area, as the white section plunges down around the fuselage in a sweeping curve. I did the initial delineation with thin strips of masking tape. I used Testors Flat White right out of a rattle can that had been placed in hot water - two coats. It dries fast, and you can get your gloss later with steel wool and Future.
It was during the masking of the United blue cheatline that I discovered one of the main errors in the kit design. A line drawn - or a piece of tape stretched - tangent to the tops of all the cabin windows should also be tangent to the tops of the cockpit windows, quite perfectly on the Series III Caravelle, and nearly so on the Series 6R, which had enlarged cockpit windows. (The kit provides two canopies supposed to cover this option, they are both wrong.) Well, my 1/16" strip of masking tape needed to be "swoopedí up considerably to clear the tops of the cockpit windows, which are positioned about 1/8" too high. I probably should have caught the error earlier, but even if I had, I donít think there is enough clear plastic below the indicated window locations to position them lower. Additionally, Mach 2 provides as the 6R option a canopy with the rear quarter window notched to differentiate it from the earlier Series III windows. In reality, the 6R cockpit had not only enlarged windows, but they were of a radically different shape, with the rear quarter windows angling down, and the whole vertical dimension being taller. However, I was too far into the painting routine, and too close to deadline to change anything. I went ahead and shot the cheatline with Model Master French Blue.
Last to get painted were all the metal areas. Since the Caravelle has a relatively uniform polished aluminum skin, I used straight SnJ Spray Metal on this project - 2 or 3 misted coats. When the final coat had been dry no more than 45 minutes I rubbed in the aluminum powder to get a shine characteristic of the Caravelle metal work. I had intentionally left off the wing fences, as there is a walkway line that needs to be applied first that does not get painted over them.
After a couple of days drying, I applied Future to the white and blue areas using a 1" sponge rubber trim-painting brush, and moved on to decaling. This is another problem area in the kit. While of excellent quality, most of the decals for the UAL scheme are inaccurate. The fuselage and tail titles are too tall and the letters are too thin, the wing titles are too large to fit between the walkway stripes, and only two "Caravelle Jet Mainliner" decals are supplied whereas the aircraft portrayed had 4 (two at the tail and two behind the cockpit). While Mach 2 provides extensive pinstriping for the other marking options in the kit, there is no gold pinstriping for the line between the white and the bare metal along the fuselage as there should be.
Additionally, and this is not a criticism, it should be pointed out that neither the cheatline nor the tail flash is provided for with a decal. I shot some of the French Blue I used for the cheatline on some clear decal paper to make the lower part of the United tail flash, and used a surplus TWA decal to cut out the red upper portion. Nor are the black wingwalk stripes provided; I pirated some out of a 1/72 KC-135 kit.
I created the cabin windows by applying long strips of heavy clear decal film over the cheatline, and reinforcing it with 3-4 coats of Future. This makes for an easy-to-do and attractive but very delicate solution to the window problem in a "large-scale" airliner. A pleasant surprise was how well the kit-supplied cabin window surrounds fit - a good thing as that look is essential to the United scheme.
This consisted of attaching the landing gear, the wing fences, and the rear ventral entry stair. (The kit also provides a separate rolling air-stair and some figures) The latter conveniently provided support for the tail, as I had forgotten to add weight to the nose! You would be well advised to re-engineer the landing gear attachment. As provided for in the kit, it is tenuous at best. It would also enhance the look of model considerably to remake the landing gear doors out of much thinner sheet plastic. Surprisingly, given the many fit problems in the kit, the wing fences, once refined and smoothed, fit very well onto the wing. Lightly scribed guidelines are provided as positioning aids.
This is not a kit for beginners, and in fact to come up with a contest-quality model from this kit would take an expert. Nonetheless, for the builder willing to spend the time, it will build into a very respectable model of a lovely airplane. Depending on the particularity of the builder, some external resources will be needed to correct the errors in the decals and in the cockpit window placement. It also came to my attention after completion of this project that there is an error in the placement of the upper wing spoilers. For total accuracy they need to be moved inboard on the wing a few millimeters. (See Replic No.93)
I am sure that for builders accustomed to precision-engineered kits that this one will be a bit of a shock, but I like the aircraft and the kitís execution enough that I am going to go back and re-do mine in Swissair markings. Itís my favorite livery for the bird, and the project will give me a chance to see if I can fix some of the inaccuracies and strengthen some of the structures. Hey, I may even build another and do a stretched Caravelle 10 or 12! It will also make a lovely shelf-mate for the upcoming KMC 1/72 Boeing 727. I will report back, remain this frequency!