One-Day Wildcat: Building Airfix's 1/72 F4F Wildcat in Only 24 Hours
Faithful followers of Internet Modeler know that my build speed is slightly slower than glacial. There have been a lot of great kits that have come out in the last few years, though, and I felt the need to increase that build rate, and quickly before I could change my mind. So I came up with the crazy idea of starting and finishing a model in just one day. That way I wouldn't be able to squirrel my way out of it and I could finally get a finished kit on the shelves. An interesting plan, let's see how it turned out.
The Kit Choice
Given the short time frame, subject selection is critical. There were lots of kits I could have chosen, but I narrowed it down to a single-engined aircraft, with one or two colors maximum for the exterior color. That eliminated Luftwaffe or RAF WW2 subjects, and a fair bit of post-war jets as well. After looking at the available stash, and more importantly, the available paints, the choice became obvious: the Airfix 1/72 Wildcat. The kit is nicely detailed out of the box, but still a fairly simple build with not too many parts. The kit decals offered up a blue and gray option that should be easy enough to paint, and I had both colors in my Vallejo Model Air stash. So, let's get started!
Day 1, 1200 hours, start time. The first step is part prep. With the short cycle, the top priority is to get all the interior parts ready for paint, so the cockpit pieces, fuselage halves, and forward bulkhead are all removed, cleaned up, and cockpit pieces assembled. This took all of about 15 minutes or so, and then it's off to the airbrush. I fully plan on doing this build with a closed canopy, and the opening is small and framing heavy, so I'm not too concerned about a lot of detail here. I sprayed everything with an interior green color, then set it all aside to dry for a bit. We're now half an hour in.
While those parts were drying, I turned to everything else. All the other plastic parts were cleaned up, including the landing gear, which was probably the most challenging part of this build. Wildcat landing gear is a convoluted display of struts and braces, and the Airfix kit does a fairly good job at capturing the complexity. However, the molds aren't very precise here, and a slight bit of mold misalignment creates massive headaches. This took a fair bit of time to get everything together and secure, but I got there in the end. The Airfix kit comes with the option of folding the wings, and I gave some thought to employing that. However, I was on the clock so I opted for straight wings and glued those together at this time as well.
Day 1, 1400 hours, 22 hours to go. At this point, the fuselage innards had dried enough, so I added the cockpit decals and did some detail painting such as the headrest and control column tip. I also gave everything a wash and a quick drybrush to pick out details. At this point, I also masked off the forward part of the fuselage interior and painted that area, the forward bulkhead, and the landing gear gray. The bulkhead got a wash as well, and then the fuselage was glued together. That whole process took another hour or so, but it's starting to come together.
The next step was to get the engine and cowling done up. The engine piece was quickly painted and given a wash to pick out details, and the interior of the cowl painted at the same time as the landing gear. The canopy was taped up and the framing cut away, then that was glued in place. The lower fuselage windows were also masked off. At this point it was time for all the usual seam cleanup. Luckily, the Airfix kit goes together exceptionally well, so no filler was needed anywhere. I sanded all the seams down, and rescribed the panel lines over the top and bottom of the fuselage. The wings also got seam cleanup, and I smoothed out the edges on the stabilizer and rudder. Having gone non-stop for several hours, I then took a food break.
Day 1, 1800 hours, 18 hours to go. The airbrush is fired up, and I paint everything with a nice even coat of gray. This will operate as both a primer and a bottom camo color. After letting that dry for a half hour or so, I give everything an eyeball inspection and nothing egregious jumps out at me. So, I fill the airbrush up with intermediate blue and freehand the upper camouflage. The fuselage is the most challenging, as it has a pretty sharp curve down on the blue around the wings. To make sure I captured that well, I left the wings off. With the butt joint of the wings, this was an easy decision to make, and the Airfix kit is very clean in this area, with the seams fitting tightly.
After the wings, tailplane, and rudder are painted, all the major assemblies are set aside to dry and I then airbrushed all the smaller details, namely the wheel hubs and the propeller. Looking through everything else, I realized that there is nothing else for me to do, and I wanted the paint to cure thoroughly before decaling, so with the clock ringing at just past 2000 hours, I called it a night and turned off the lights. I have 16 hours to go, and most of those will now be lost with a drink, a movie, and sleep.
The Next Day: Decals
Day 2, 0900 hours, 3 hours to go. Yeah, I know, I should have gotten an earlier start, but it was a nice morning and I was enjoying my coffee. So sue me. On the positive, everything looked excellent in terms of the paint, so I jumped right into the decaling. Astute readers will notice that I did not use a clear coat over the paint. My reasoning was that the acrylic paint is remarkably smooth, the decals had minimal clear film, and I was going nuclear on them anyway with Solvaset. Surprisingly, that plan worked exceptionally well.
The decal options in the kit offer up an early 1942 scheme with colorful red and white rudder stripes and stars with the red dots. While I am a sucker for colorful markings, the red and white rudder stripe decals had me worried with getting them to line up and wrap around the edges, so I opted for the second scheme. This is Captain Marion Carl's VMF-223 F4F-4 from Guadalcanal in 1942, complete with a scoreboard of 19 kills on the fuselage side.
With the wings still off, doing the decals was very manageable. I did the decals on an upper wing half, which consisted of the star, a number, and a walkway, then set that aside after Solvasetting everything and moved to the fuselage. I then did one side of the fuselage (cowling number, fuselage number, fuselage star, and tail serials), then did the second wing. By the time I had finished that round, I was ready to flip the wings and do the underside. A couple sessions of Solvaset on everything, and I then set everything up and walked away. Always walk away when using Solvaset, because it will look really bad before it looks amazing.
Day 2, 1030 hours, 1.5 hours to go. It's the home stretch now. With the decals dry enough, I scraped the edges of the wings and glued those in place. I kept the canopy masked, as I planned my final step to be finishing everything with a flat coat. I busted out some silver paint and did some light chipping around various panels, then grabbed some tan paint and drybrushed over the walkways to simulate dirt. I painted the propeller tips with some yellow, and glued that in place, as well as the lower wing aerial. That whole process took me to about 1130 hours, at which point I let everything cure for 20 minutes or so. I then grabbed a cotton swab and some isopropyl alcohol and gave all the decals a swipe to clear off any remaining residue, headed to the airbrush, and coated everything with a flat coat.
Day 2, 1200 hours, 0 hours to go. With a pair of tweezers, I removed the canopy masks. Done.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it, this was the most fun I had building a model in years. It's not going to win any contests, but I knew that going in and was therefore able to relax and just enjoy the process. I fully plan on doing these kind of speed builds again, perhaps not a 24-hour one again, but a weekender for sure. I highly recommend giving it a try.