The Schneider Entry That Almost WAS

By Stephen Tontoni


I won't need to get into what the Schneider trophy category at the IPMS Seattle Spring show was all about; that's all over this and previous issues. I would like to share a tale of woe with my first entrant for it.

My initial thoughts about what would be a highly competitive airframe for this race went all over, from the Grumman Bearcat (which I eventually did) to the Hawker Sea Fury on floats. Finally, though, I decided that the De Havilland Hornet would be an exceptional racer, given a few modifications. Since I already had a Special Hobby DH Hornet on my shelf, I just went ahead and began with that. I have since lamented about using an expensive kit to this sort of surgery rather than using the ancient Frog release.

Anyway, the modifications that I had in mind for this aircraft weren't terribly difficult, but each seemed to pose its own set of challenges. And oh yes; I set up my own personal goal of finishing it in time to take with me to the IPMS UK nationals at Telford.

First modification was that I wanted the pilot in a semi-reclined position, looking through a glazed nose. I started working with my razor saw; I chopped off a good portion of the nose, and enclosed the area where the canopy would have fit on the real thing. I used arms, legs and heads of several figures to put one in a pose that would seem to fit inside that hole, and fabricated a seat for him. I glued together the nose halves and had a friend vacuform them into a glazed nose for me.

Things seemed to be going well until I actually glued the fuselage halves together and slid the pilot into the hole; there wasn't adequate headroom at all! I had miscalculated badly. The next step was to take three more pilot figures and do more surgery to put my pilot in a prone position on the cockpit floor. I had pieces of music wire in his hands that disappeared into the darkness of the cockpit to represent the side controls. Having glued the vac glazing in place, I began filling and sanding to fair it in.

Unfortunately, I somehow sanded right through the glazing, just as it was looking like it was a good fit. I decided just another swipe or two would do it!. Well, that did it! I did have a spare vac piece, so I ripped off the first and attached the second.. CAREFULLY!. Having done this, I glued the wings together, the engine nacelles, all that good stuff. I faired in the wings and then began what became a very annoying process of filling in the recessed panel lines (why does the Special Hobby DH Hornet have recessed panel lines on the wings? Aren't they already as smooth as a baby's butt?) on the wings and fuselage. I had heard that White-Out makes a good filler for that sort of thing, so I decided to give it a try. It took many many iterations of filling/sanding/filling/sanding ad nauseum for it to fill to my satisfaction. I'd just as soon have used a conventional filling compound of some sort.

My next modification had to do with the engines; my Hornet would have Griffon engines, so would need the characteristic rocker arms covers. I had the Academy or Fujimi (don't recall which) Spitfire MkXIV that has separately molded rocker arm covers, so I cast them along with the propellor blades and spinners in RTV and resin. I attached the resin rocker arm covers to the engine nacelles and the shape was very convincing. Work was progressing!

I got a resin float from Mike Millette that was for a DH Twin Otter, I believe, but it was clearly not large enough for this bird. I planned on a large central float with retractable outriggers, rather than using twin floats (which would have been simpler). I chopped that float in three pieces, then glued in several thin pieces of sheet styrene to elongate it. Getting it to look straight was another challenge; apparently my cuts weren't quite as plum as I'd have liked them to be. Eventually I also decided the float also didn't have enough girth, so I added Milliput to enlarge it all around. For some reason, the Milliput never did harden quite all the way. That is going to be an important factoid later on.

I got the float to the shape and size I wanted, then built a pylon to attach it to the plane, then attached the big float. I finally got things to the point where I could shoot the plane with primer and I found all sorts of things to fill/sand/fill/sand/filllllll!.. then, I started painting it. I decided my plane would be a British entry, so I wanted a design that emulated the Union Jack. You can see the design that I fell upon in the accompanying photos. I shot white, masked, red, masked, then shot the blue. I brought it to an IPMS Seattle meeting at which several people told me the red that I chose was too dark; racers would have a much brighter red.

I did something stupid, then something smart at that point! first, the stupid part; I decided to repaint my airplane. The smart part was that I KNEW I wouldn't be able to mask exactly to the lines where the original mask was, so I left a very thin cheater line of the original dark red in place as can be seen in the photos. That went as well as could be expected.

Now the show was really coming up and I was putting in more time to really complete the model. I had decalled it, clear coated it, polished, pretty much everything. I'd fly to the UK the next day! and began attaching the exhaust stacks. Well, somehow among all the resin bits added, the coats of paint, the multiple clearcoats, etc, the exhuaust stacks wouldn't fit into their spots. I got in there with a scalpel to enlarge the holes, but found that the rocker arm covers went right up to the holes!.I started to carve very gently and slowly at the resin. And PINGÖ a chunk of resin disappeared! I had been 99% done, but now it was obvious I'd have filling/sanding/filling/sanding/painting to do! I put things away to get ready for my flight the next day.

The UK trip was great; Will Perry and I went to the nationals, then to RAF Duxford/Cambridge, then London. Very fun; even climbed on a pink T34!

I left the Hornet to itself for some time after I got back, but finally went down and took a look at it. I think it was Jim Schubert who said why not have all the exhaust go out the back of the nacelle? You just have to fill in where the stacks are now; should be easy. I had to agree; that was an excellent idea. I used Tamiya putty to fill in the exhaust stack holes and then drilled into the back of the engine nacelles so there would be holes to fit in tube later on. Sanding that stuff was easy and it looked like everything would be going very smoothly from here out. Dangerous thought to have! I'd estimate the model maybe 85% done at that point, considering the filling/sanding/filling/sanding/painting I'd still have to do.

I masked over the nacelles so that I could repaint only the affected area and not the whole model. I used a low tack tape and was pretty confident that this would come out looking pretty good. The next mistake I made was not painting and removing the mask immediately; I didn't paint for another week, but left the model in the mask. I didnít realize that the tape would stick as hard as it did: it tore off decals, ruining what I had done so far. I used a high tack tape to remove the last vestiges of decals, and seeing as I hadn't shot the paint yet, I figured I might as well repaint the whole thing. At this point, I may have been 50% done!

I had always heard about what a great primer that Tamiya makes and I thought I might just try a rattle can of that and see how it goes! So I fired up the spray booth and shot the primer onto my model; it went on like pancake batter! I had no idea how thick this stuff actually was, and I was holding the model too close. I had to get rid of the primer as quickly as possible, so I started to wipe it off; it didn't want to come off! Finally I decided to use a more radical option; I immersed the model in Castrol super degreaser. This is a marvelous paint stripper and I'd used that before to take paint off, leaving a pretty much pristine gray styrene at the end of it. 35% done?

Little did I expect when I went down to check it out the next day that the degreaser had not only eaten the paint away, but had chewed into the Tamiya putty, the Milliput, the CA glue/baking soda, the White-Out, evertything. My little prone pilot was in over his head as the degreaser ate its way past any filler and got into the fuselage. It was at this point that I finallly surrendered to the inevitable and threw away the pieces. It was just so much junk at that point anyway

The good part: having rid myself of this annoying project, I then proceeded to built five models in the next couple of months! I built the Eduard P39 Aircobra (1/48), the Hobbycraft Bearcat (1/48), the Academy F4U-1D Corsair (1/72), Monogram Bearcat (1/72), and PM Ta154 Moskito (1/72)! Sometimes, killing the gremlin-ridden project will free you up to do things that are not only doable, but are FUN. And if this hobby isn't fun, why bother?

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