Welsh Models 1/144 Canadair Regional Jet

KIT: Welsh Models 1/144 Canadair Regional Jet
KIT #: SL 101
PRICE:  £17.23
DECALS: Three liveries
REVIEWER: Ben Brown
NOTES:

 Livery decals printed by Vincent Kermorgant, Detail decals by Nazca

HISTORY

The Canadair Regional Jet was developed from Canadair’s successful Challenger corporate jet.  Changes included a fuselage stretch, a new wing, stronger landing gear, and more fuel capacity.  The CRJ’s first flight took place on May 10, 1991, and the first aircraft was delivered to Lufthansa in December, 1992.  While the concept of a regional jet airliner wasn’t new, Canadair’s CRJ changed the face of the airline industry when it went into service.  With it’s quiet, efficient engines and comfortable cabin, the CRJ was an instant hit with passengers who were hesitant to board the turboprops operated by most commuter airlines at the time.  To the general public, propellers on an airplane means it is an “old, unsafe puddle jumper.”  Slap jet engines on it, and all of a sudden a plane is much safer.  Go figure. 

 Midway Airlines, based at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina, began purchasing CRJs in 1997 to supplement their fleet of Fokker 100s and Airbus A320s.  By the time managerial incompetence ran the company into bankruptcy in 2001, Midway had a total of 24 CRJs.  After a brief attempt to come back as an all-737-700 airline in 2002, Midway’s management tried a second makeover as a USAirways Express carrier, flying an all-CRJ fleet, in early 2003.  A bankruptcy judge finally shut the company down for good in October of that year.

 From a pilot’s perspective, the CRJ was a pretty good place to eak out a living from a stingy employer.  It’s cockpit was quiet and roomy, and the seats were almost comfortable.  It had a good autopilot, but our jets were not fitted with the optional auto-throttles or head’s up display.  The cabin heating/cooling system was supposed to be fully automatic, but we found the system worked best in the “Semi-Automatic” mode, where you put it in “Manual” and told the First Officer to “keep the duct temps right there.”  If you look in the cockpit of a CRJ, the pilots will most likely have the right-center display set to the air conditioning system diagnostics page so they can keep an eye on the duct temperatures while the system is in “Manual.”  The heat could get the cockpit hot enough to cook a pizza, and on humid summer days, the air conditioning would pelt you with little ice pellets from the eyeball vents on the sides of the instrument panel.  Somehow, the Canadians never quite got the hang of cabin air conditioning, which had a hard time dealing with North Carolina summers.  Bombardier put the cold-air vents on the floor, so on a hot day, we ran the risk of having passengers with a combination of heat stroke and frost-bitten ankles.  One theory was that Canadians are not familiar with the concept of Warm Air Rises/Cold Air Settles because in Canada they only have Cold Air and Colder Air.

 The GPS-based navigation system was great.  It had a neat vertical navigation function that would spoil you to the point where you would forget how to calculate crossing restriction descent rates in your head, then it would fail.  “Midway 1, cross IRONS at 10,000ft, 250 knots.”  “Er… ah… let’s see, was it three times the… uh…... aw hell, just start down now!” 

 There was an aural warning system that could yell things at you, like “FIRE!!”, “WIND SHEAR!!”, “BLEED… AIR… DUCT!!” (it would sometimes pause between words), or in my case “SINK RATE!!” when it thought my landing was going to be worse than usual.  It would also count down every 100 feet of your altitude for the last 500 feet of your approach, then from 50ft down, it would call out every ten feet.  A software update changed the voice for many of the warnings, including the altitude countdown, from rough, tough John Wayne to the effeminate Johnny from the movie “Airplane!”  When we’d taxi off the runway, I half-expected it to critique our landing with, “Oooooh, that landing was faaaaabulousss!” or “Eeeeew, that landing was abstholutely hooorrible! I think I broke a ssstatic wiiiick!”  The Bombardier folks were very proud of their airplane, and I think their engineers reprogrammed the voice that way to get back at some of us for calling the CRJ the “Sky-Doo” when we’d go up to Montreal for training (Bombardier also makes Sea-Doo watercraft and Ski-Doo snowmobiles.). 

 The CRJ’s flying qualities were pretty good, but it tended to oscillate in pitch, so hand-flying it for long distances could be a chore.  Maneuvering for a landing was easy, because of the fighter-like handling, and the River Visual down the Potomac to Washington DC’s Runway 19 was always a lot of fun.  My only real complaint about the jet was it’s lack of power.  The engines are closely related to those found on the A-10, with a huge fan and a tiny core to drive it, so they worked great at low altitude but they quickly ran out of steam at high altitude.  There was a noticeable drop in performance when passing through 18,000 feet.  Above that altitude, the CRJ was a Lead Sled.  A few more feet of wing and a few thousand pounds more thrust would have made this airplane a real champ.

 In spite of her few flaws, I enjoyed almost every one of my 3000+ hours in the CRJ.  Except for time it took us four-and-a-half-hours to taxi from the gate to the runway at La Guardia.  Or that hot summer day in New Orleans with a busted APU and fifty passengers. Or any time in Newark….

THE KIT

Welsh’s CRJ comes in a zip-lock plastic bag containing six resin and eleven white metal parts.  The wing, engines, and horizontal stabilizers are solid resin, while the radome, landing gear parts and winglets are metal.  Decals have markings for a United Express jet and an Air France/Brit Air jet, as well as window decals and a few stencils.  Welsh has also released this kit with Delta Connection decals, and several decal sheets of CRJ liveries are also available from Nazca and Jbot.

 The white metal radome is provided to offset the weight of the resin engines.  It is slightly smaller than the surface it is supposed to mate to, so some shimming will be required to get a smooth transition.  The fuselage is engraved with fine panel lines, and is within a millimeter or so of the published length.  My copy had a small run in the resin at the windscreen and the wings were a little warped, but the rest of the casting quality was flawless, without a single bubble or pinhole.

 There are no main gear wells, so these will need to be machined out of the wing if the model is to be built gear down.  The scribed outlines of the wells are several millimeters too far apart, and the contours of this area are simplified.

 Welsh’s CRJ has some accuracy issues, but fortunately, Revell/Germany has recently released an update set for it, in the form of their excellent Challenger 604 kit.  The Challenger kit can’t be easily converted to a CRJ because in addition to the increased span, the CRJ’s wing is also greater in chord, and the wing/fuselage fairing is very different.  One would have had to replace or heavily modify everything between the passenger door and the engines.  Going the other direction, the 604’s winglets, nose, tail, and landing gear can be adapted to the CRJ kit.  Both jets shared the CF-34-3B engines, so Revell’s can be used without modification.  The Revell fuselage is slightly smaller in diameter than Welsh’s, but its more accurate nose section makes it just too tempting not to try to graft onto the Welsh kit.

CONSTRUCTION

The Welsh kit’s fuselage turned out to be oval in cross-section, as if it had been made from a vacuformed master that wasn’t sanded down properly after the parts were cut from the sheet, and was 1mm wider than the 604’s.  I used a saw to split the fuselage down the middle then sanded both halves to give it a proper round cross-section.  After some careful measuring, I cut the cockpit areas off of the resin fuselage and the assembled Challenger fuselage.  I test-fitted the resin fuselage halves with the Revell parts, and for the first time in my modeling career, the parts fit on the first try!  I then glued the resin parts together, filled the plastic nose with fishing weights, and super glued it to the Welsh fuselage.  The diameter of the Revell fuselage was still a little smaller than the resin part, but I sanded the resin fuselage down almost all the way back to the wing so there wouldn’t be a noticeable step between the two parts.  The Revell plastic was almost as soft as the resin, and I managed to take a little too much off of one side, which gave the model a slight wasp waist forward of the wings.  Fortunately, I had recently stocked up on Milliput so I was able to build the fuselage back up later while I was filling gaps around the wings.

 At first, the gap in the wing that the fuselage fits into was too narrow, but after correcting the width of the fuselage, it went right together.  The CRJ doesn’t have much to look at inside the main gear wells.  There are not very many exposed hydraulic lines and the wheels nest inside a fibreglass “bucket,” leaving the outsides of the outboard wheels exposed like those on a 737.  A stiff black brush-like material surrounds the wheel wells, providing an aerodynamic seal between the fuselage and the tire when the gear is retracted.  There is a slight bulge in the real jet’s belly around this area that is not present on the kit.  I used a Dremel tool to dig out a section of the wing to match the Revell part with the main gear wells.  The parts of the gear wells covered by the gear doors are oddly-shaped and would be very hard to rout out to the proper shape with the Dremel.  I dug square sections out of the resin and then just cut the gear wells out of the Challenger wings.  I glued the styrene parts into the wings and blended everything in with super glue.  I then faired the Challenger wheel well part into the underside of the resin wing using super glue, styrene and Milliput.  It sounds a lot harder to do than it actually was.

 According to my drawings, Welsh’s wing leading edge is swept back too much, making the it too narrow in chord at the tips, but the wing span itself looks good.  The metal winglets are supposed to butt-join to the wing tips, and don’t really duplicate the smooth transition of the real jet.  The Revell winglets make up a part of the wings themselves, so I cut the wing tips off of the Welsh wing, and glued the Revell winglets in place, making sure the trailing edges of the wings and the winglet parts lined up.  I then glued some styrene strip on the leading edges so I could correct the chord and sweep of the wings. After filling the gaps with super I used a sanding stick to reshape the wing leading edges and blend the winglets into the resin.  This resulted in a strip of styrene on the leading edge that was about 1mm wide at the wing tip and tapered down to nothing where the wing sweep changes.  Again, it sounds a lot harder to do that it actually was, and only took a half-hour or so to do.  The wing had the flap actuators molded into the underside of the wing, but I cut them off and added the more detailed ones from the Challenger. 

 I built the Challenger’s engines and worked with the pylons until they fit the Welsh fuselage.  There are two slots in the fuselage to help locate the engines, but one side is lower than the other, so I just filled both with Milliput.  The fan cowlings fit well enough that I could leave them off until final assembly.

 Welsh did a good job on the vertical and horizontal stabilizers, but Revell’s look better.  The Challenger’s horizontal stabilizer has the same span as the CRJ’s, so I just grafted the entire Revell tail to the CRJ fuselage. This saved me from having to align the Welsh kit’s individual horizontal stabilizers.  I was tempted to graft the Challenger’s entire aft fuselage section to the Welsh kit, but at this point I didn’t want to make even more work for myself.

COLORS AND MARKINGS

I primed the model with Tamiya Grey Primer, to give the model a uniform color before applying a couple of coats of Tamiya White Primer.  Both primers go on very smooth, and dry quickly.  I normally just use the white primer, but I didn’t want to take a chance on having dark and light areas around the tan resin and white plastic.  I masked the winglets, engine fan sections and tail, then painted them using Testors Yellow from the little square bottle.  Rather than mask the fuselage stripes, I cut them out of decal film that I had painted yellow and Xtracolor Insignia Blue.  That was semi-successful, but touching up was easy.  If I were to do it again, I’d just go ahead and mask the stripes.  I painted the natural metal leading edges of the wings and tail with Alclad White Aluminum, somehow getting the masks all crooked and generally making a mess of that operation.  I decided to bury the disaster under Bare Metal foil, even though I had sworn off using the stuff at least twice already.  At the time, it seemed easier than repainting everything.  The engine fans were painted various shades of silver, then I put a couple of strips of decal film that I had painted grey inside the intake ducts.  This gives a nice, sharp edge to the colors without having to mask the insides of the tiny engines.

 As is the case with most airliner kits, most of the details and markings are decals.  The windows, access panels and stencils are from Nazca’s Lufthansa CRJ decal sheet.  I left off many of the access panel and pitot probe decals because they were a little too prominent against the white fuselage and gave the model a cluttered appearance.  Vincent Kermorgant came to my rescue on the livery decals by printing the Midway logos for me, and I cut the engine stripes from dark blue decal film.  The decals for the N-number came from a Liveries Unlimited Midway Fokker 100 sheet.  I picked up N586ML new from the factory in Montreal, and over the next couple of years had several interesting mechanically-related adventures with her, so I figured that jet was as good a subject as any.  I always thought 586 should have been named “Christine,” after the bloodthirsty ‘58 Plymouth Fury in the Steven King novel of the same name, since it always seemed like something was never quite right with the jet.  

 By this point I was thinking I would finally get away with building a model without running into any major (usually self-induced) problems.  I sprayed the model with a coat of Polly Scale Clear Gloss to seal the decals and hide the clear carrier film.  The film from Vincent’s decals and the Liveries sheet were invisible on the model’s white surface even without the clear coat, but unfortunately, the clear areas on Nazca’s decals were not quite so clear, so the carrier film is very visible on the model’s white and yellow paint.  I tested a section of the decal sheet on a light grey wing of a scrapped model, and the decal film still showed, as if it was slightly tinted.  I guess the ghost of 586 will live on in this model.

FINAL BITS

Once the clear coat was dry and the echoes of swearing had dissipated, all that was left was to add the landing gear, beacons, and some antennae.  Welsh’s main gear struts are straight, but they should be the trailing link type like an F/A-18’s struts, so I just substituted the Challenger’s landing gear.  The engine fan sections slid into place and I was done.

CONCLUSIONS

Whew! I finally have a CRJ in 1/144 scale to go with the rest of my Midway Airlines fleet.  Welsh makes some of the most accurate airliner kits on the market, but they were slightly off the mark with this one.  The kit’s solid resin fuselage adds to the price, but will make a lot of people who don’t like vacuforms happy.  Stealing parts from the Revell Challenger will help fix just about all of the kit’s accuracy problems, and it was surprisingly easy to bash with the CRJ kit.  I was disappointed with Nazca’s decals.  They are easy to work with, but the nature of the printing process allows underlying dark areas to show through, so you have to apply them to light-colored backgrounds, but then the tinted carrier film remains visible on light-colored backgrounds. 

 Most limited-run kits take some extra work, but be ready to spend more time on this one than you normally would for a Welsh kit if you want a truly accurate 1/144 CRJ.  Or you can just wait a few months and pick up Kurt Lehmann’s resin CRJ-200, which was announced soon after I started this kit.

 Models and decals courtesy of my wallet. 

 Sources:

AHS http://www.airline-hobby.com/

 Nazca http://www.nazca-decals.com/

REFERENCES

 Airliners.net  www.airliners.net

 Personal photos

 CL-65 Flight Manual

Ben Brown

February 2008

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