Monogram 1/48 B-17G

KIT #: 5600
PRICE: $25.00 (cheap)
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Dave Cummings
NOTES: Superscale 48-017 (not cheap), Verlinden B-17G Update set, Squadron B-17 Vac canopy sets #1 and #2, Scale Aircraft Conversions metal landing gear set.  Squadron B-17G Canopy Mask set.

HISTORY

The Collings Foundation (www.collingsfoundation.org):  Dedicated to the preservation of historical aircraft.  Each year the Wings of Freedom tour brings historical aircraft (including the only B-24 still flying) to communities across the U.S. as a living museum and an opportunity to actually fly in them.  I had the opportunity to fly in their B-17 (birthday present) when WOF visited our town a couple years ago.  Between take-off and landing you are allowed to wander about the aircraft (except for the cockpit of course).  The Collings B-17G is painted as Nine-O-Nine of the 91st Bomb Group.  This B-17 was notable for completing 140 combat missions over Europe with three different crews.  Throughout she never had an abort and never lost a crewman, an 8th Air Force record.

THE KIT

That B-17 flight was a memorable moment.  Armed with that motivation and a wealth of photos and film footage I set out to create a fitting tribute to the occasion.  I would create the ultimate B-17 Nine-O-Nine replica.  It had to be 1/48 scale to provide the space for all the detailing I envisioned and the old Revell-Monogram kit is still the only game in town in that scale.  Despite its age it still offers good accuracy and ďbuild-ability.Ē  I also purchased all the aforementioned detail accessory sets.  Finding decals for Nine-O-Nine proved to be quite an endeavor, nearly ending the project before it got started.  The only decal sheet I could find reference to at the time was an old Superscale sheet out of print for nearly 30 years (There is now a new set out I hear).  Amazingly, I found a set on E-Bay still sealed in original envelope.  The bidding was intense.  Desperate with no alternative in sight I put in a hefty bid to secure the deal.  The guy that had held on to that decal sheet made a handsome return on his investment.

So, I had the kit, the bits, and great references.  This would be the best B-17 replica ever built.  I had pics of every nook and cranny of that bird.  No excuses for it not being perfect in every detailÖÖ  Then suddenly I felt intimidated.   It all seemed like such a chore.  Did I have the skills needed for this?  Lot of cutting and fitting photo-etch bits and such. What if I screw it up? Sure be a lot of work. And so it set there for over a year.

One day recently while at my bench I looked over at the now dusty box.  Just on impulse I grabbed the box and a razor saw and started hacking away plastic.  Heck with it, it either turns out good or it donít.

CONSTRUCTION

First order of business was to cut away the cockpit area from the fuselage halves for the Squadron vac canopy.  It is not just replacement windows but the whole cabin area forward of the top turret.  Advantage here is the windows look part of the airframe and not just stuck on as an afterthought.  An interesting aspect of this old Monogram kit is that you get a detailed bomb-bay that can only be seen in the kit version with the clear fuselage half because the bay doors are molded shut.  Those doors had to go along with the crew entry hatch under the nose and the rear crew entry door.  I also cut out the doors from the interior bulk heads to adjoining compartments.  Why?  Because that was the way it was during my flight. 

So, there I was; knee deep in plastic!

As airplane kits are built from the inside out, construction began with the interior.  The left fuselage half, which is the clear one in that kit with the visible interior, lacks the interior ribbing in the bomb-bay present in the other half.  Using plastic strip material I built up the missing rib detail.  Verlinden provides photo-etch replacement bomb-bay doors.  The individual ribbing detail of these doors are individual photo-etch pieces super-glued to the doors (labor of love, labor of loveÖ.).

The kit interior is built per instructions augmented with various details from the upgrade set.  Starting at the tail, the gunner position is pretty stock as you canít see much in there through the tiny windows.  The gunnerís bicycle seat and handle-bars that control the MGs are in there but you canít really see them.  This was OK, there were two places you could not go in the Collings B-17.  The tail gun compartment (they didnít want Homer kicking a hydraulic line loose from the tail wheel while on the ground, (and canít get there easily with tail wheel retracted while in flight) and the ball-turret.

The waist compartment is likewise hard to view on the model except for the immediate gunner locations and rear of the compartment through the opened rear crew door.  I liked the kit guns better than the Verlinden resin .50 MGs here.  The kit guns are slightly larger than the more scale resin pieces but have better detail.  Opposite the crew entry door on the Collings bird was the APU generator which is a small gas engine mounted against the wall.  I assembled a plausible APU from bits in the spare parts box.  I drilled a small hole through the fuselage for the APU exhaust vent.  Absent from the kit is the plywood flooring running the length of the fuselage which I made from some card stock painted in wood color.  The ball turret mechanism was detailed with oxygen bottle and bits.  The halves that make up the 37mm magazine for a Pro-Modeler P-39 worked well for the metal ammo bins attached to the ball turret mechanism.  I built the ball turret itself pretty well stock with the kit clear parts instead of the vacform replacements.    The instructions have you attach the turret at this point but I left it off until after assembly and painting. You can pry the mounting arms apart enough to snap it in there later but I felt the vacform ball might be too delicate to perform this maneuver.  I added a couple resin parts like control handles but didnít bother with the rest, you canít see it.    

Moving forward the radio room was spruced up some.  A radio set was mounted to the operatorís table, replacement resin seats, some wiring, portable oxygen bottle, fire extinguisher, and stuff.  A small hole was drilled in the right fuselage where the antenna wire enters.  During my flight on the Collings B-17 they flew with the radio compartment canopy slid forward and stowed.  This allowed us to actually stand up, head in the slipstream, and gaze about the outside of the aircraft, IN FLIGHT, awesome.  In memory of that and to gain more visibility to the innards I cut and attached the vacform canopy in the stowed position also.  Looking through the opening one can glimpse just enough of the ball turret mechanism through the opened bulkhead door to make all that worthwhile.  Nine-O-Nine did not have a MG in the radio Compartment.  Later in the war they quit using these as there was more risk from the radio operator shooting the tail off than German fighters.  The one item I regret now is the radio operatorís table.  It is molded as a solid block.  I believed that painting the sides of that block flat black would make it disappear as you are looking down on the compartment from above anyway.  If I had a do over I would cut this out and scratch build the table.

 I elected to not have any bombs blocking the view of the bomb-bay innards.  Besides there is a nice bomb cart included in the kit for displaying those.  I used some black string for the hand-lines girding the bomb-bay catwalk.  Was great fun crossing the catwalk as I moved about the Collings aircraft during my flight.  I added some bay door operating mechanism gadgets, a fire extinguisher, switch boxes, and stuff. 

The Flight Engineer / top turret station received some Verlinden fire extinguishers, portable oxygen bottles, parachute packs, and extra ammo cans.  The resin replacement .50 MGs do not look any better than the kit guns so I stuck with those.  The top turret mechanism was built but would be dropped in after painting during final assembly.  The Verlinden set, which includes a reflector gun sight, added to the turret detail as did the Squadron vac turret dome.

In the cockpit I spruced up the instrument panel with instrument decals, added some little photo-etch throttle levers, and seat harness.  Verlinden supplies auxiliary consoles for overhead and on the sides.  To move forward you go through a small hatch between the pilots and crawl hand-and-knees under the cockpit into the nose.  I opened up these passageways so I could make the virtual trip through my model to ward off any future nostalgia attacks for B-17 flight.  By the way, the interior of these aircraft are not nearly as roomy as depicted in the movies.  Itís tight in there.   

Most of the Verlinden resin bits are for the nose compartment which makes sense at it is the most visible interior area.  More portable oxygen and fire bottles, extra ammo cans, wood ammo bins for the cheek guns, Norden sight, switch consoles, parachute packs, a bunch of stuff.  Key pieces are the Bombardier station and chin turret controls.  Verlinden provides the circular plywood chin turret access cover under the Bombardierís seat.  That seat (more like a stool) is mounted on four metal legs that bolt to the floor outside the coverís circumference.  The kit layout takes liberties with this to provide a mount for the chin turret to attach and rotate.  Itís totally wrong and this piece has to be cut from the flooring.  A seat is provided in resin with PE legs along with the turret controls and sight.  Missing from both kit and update accessories are the ammo belt flex feed chutes running from the ammo bins to the cheek guns.  I created a facsimile from a photo-etch .50 ammo belt from a 1/35 armor vehicle upgrade set.  Basically I folded the bullets back along the belts, coated with super glue, painted steel color, then cut and bent into shape.  I ran these from the ammo bins to the two cheek guns which I had installed in their windows with barrels cut off until after painting so I could mask the windows.   

The tail wheel strut is attached at this point.  The kit part has the tail wheel and strut molded as one solid mass and needs replacing.  The metal landing gear set does this nicely. (Verlinden also has resin replacement parts that are spliced to the kit strut).  Of the two the metal is the way to go as it is more sturdy.

So now I had enough detail inside to render some justice to my ambition for an accurate replica.  Super detailed?  Not really.  I worked to my patience limits and moved on.  Iím happy with it and you canít see most of it anyway.  I closed up the fuselage halves with plenty of testers tube cement and used lots of rubber bands to hold it together.  These are big pieces supporting a lot of stuff inside and I wanted a strong join.

The Squadron vac canopy section was attached with superglue for strength.  Fit is excellent if you follow directions for your cuts and test fit frequently as you sand to fit.  Fortunately I did and only needed a small amount of clear parts cement applied with a toothpick to fill minor gaps.      

Next the wings were assembled and engines painted and installed.  I used a razor saw on the cowl flaps to heighten that detail and attached the cowls.  There is an inherent problem with the large wing attachment lugs sticking out into the bomb bay.  While touring Nine-O-Nine I studied the bomb-bay compartment for any vestige of that wing attachment tab.  It ainít there and I had a good chuckle at myself as I had half expected to see some kind of wing attachment tabs.  I sawed off as much of the tabs as I could without compromising structural integrity and filled, sanded, and painted.  The result is a couple of small square boxes along the bay walls that are not too obtrusive.  The modelís big heavy wings needs those locking lugs for strength so I left enough to do the job.  With the major sub-assemblies completed I decided to paint and decal at this stage instead of painting this gi-mongous airplane all at once.  This old kit still goes together surprisingly well for its age but needed a good bit of scraping, filling, and sanding of the old fuselage glue seam. The seams of the engine nacelles also require quite a bit of attention.

COLORS & MARKINGS

Painting was pretty simple.  I masked windows and covered openings.  The Squadron masking set is well worth the money here, especially the masks for the turrets.  After pre-shading panel lines flat black I airbrushed Testorís Model Master Enamels. I began with those areas painted Insignia Red.  These were masked with blue painters tape when dry and standard OD uppers, grey lowers were sprayed. Fabric control surfaces were painted a slightly lighter shade.  The fuselage demarcation line was masked by simply holding a cardboard straight edge in place with one hand while airbrushing.  This was easy with the wings off and offers a softer edge, but not too fuzzy.   Being too lazy for more taping and masking I brush painted all the de-icer boots flat black.  When dry I coated with a clear gloss acrylic.

I worried about the age of the Superscale decal sheet even though the packaging appeared unopened.  I tested one of the decals from another of the marking offerings on the sheet and had no problem with it.  I applied the decals using Micro-Set and Micro-Sol where needed and they reacted well to the solutions.  The plentiful mission markings make for a very large and unwieldy decal so I cut this one in to sections to make it more manageable.  I had to be diligent to make sure the large areas of clear decal film went down smoothly with no wrinkles. Next I applied my exhaust and oil staining using pastels and added paint chipping with small brush and aluminum enamel. I sprayed another coat of gloss clear to seal everything then finished with a coat of Testorís Flat.  When dry I removed all the masking.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

The Verlinden set offers replacement resin turbocharger and exhaust parts.  I didnít think the turbochargers looked that much better than the kit part which made their complexity not really worth it to me.  I did use the resin exhaust pipes.  All were painted tan, dirtied up a bit, and installed in the nacelles.  The metal landing gear set presented no issues replacing the kit part perfectly.  Besides looks the strength of the metal gear legs are an asset in holding the weight of this big model. The kit wheels were used.  You have to round out the axle holes so have to be careful the tire flat spots are in the right place.  With the wings completed I glued them to the fuselage along with the horizontal stabilizers.  Fit was excellent with no gaps. With the model up on its wheels the turrets were attached.  The chin turret barrel elevation slots have zippered canvas weather covers that zip and un-zip as the barrels move.  I filled these slots with putty and painted O.D.  With the stock kit chin turret attachment point cut off it wonít be able to rotate and was glued in the position I wanted it.  Next the props were painted, decaled, and attached. 

The PE perforated nose bulkhead makes a very convincing attachment point for the vacform nose canopy.  Another convincing bit of PE is that little triangular piece in the nose.  It is not framing as the nose cap is just one piece of blown Perspex.  It is actually a copper defroster outlet to keep that area clear for the Norden sight.  I ran a monofilament antenna wire from tail to radio compartment.  At this stage I attached all the doors and hatches to their openings.  The PE has to be shaped to conform to fuselage contours.  They are very well done and look great.  Final bits were gun barrels, antennas, PE windshield wipers, and the PE tail gun bead sight.

Working on that tiny tail gun sight had me thinking of an experience I had during my Collings tour.  While walking around the plane on the ground taking pictures I noticed an older gentleman standing there staring into the tail gun station.  I was waiting for him to move so I could get some close up pictures, but he just stood there, staring.  Then I overheard another guy speaking to him and realized he was a veteran WWII B-17 Tail Gunner so I started talking to him also.  He had done two tours with the 91st BG, one in early 43 and another in late 44/45. He remembered Nine-O-Nine.  I expressed my thanks for his service, especially during those tough early days of the 91st when daylight bombing was nearly abandoned due to horrendous losses.  He seemed amazed that I even knew about this.  He thought America had long since forgotten.  I assured him there are many that remember the heroic service and sacrifice of our WWII Airmen.  He was so very humble about it all.

CONCLUSIONS

        Revell/Monogramís old warhorse of a kit still makes up into a decent replica with a little work. My attempt to capture my B-17 experience came off pretty well.  The plane is parked on a mirror base and with flashlight and magnifying glass I can virtually tour a good bit of my replica.  Doing so, I can almost feel the throbbing beat of those four R-1820s.     

REFERENCES

References:  My own video and photos of the Collings B-17G.

Dave Cummings

February 2013

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