Ace 1/72 AF-2S/SW Guardian

KIT #: 72305
PRICE: $
DECALS: See review
REVIEWER: Joel Hamm
NOTES: Short run kit with photo etch parts

HISTORY

Mark Twain said of Richard Wagner’s music:  “It’s not really as bad as it sounds.”  That sentiment summarizes kits from the Russian Ace company. They are daunting, but can be worked up into an acceptable specimen. This model  came into the stash several eons ago in fulfillment of the  irrationality of attempting to collect in 1/72 one of every operational US aircraft. Its lack of historical significance, unattractive endomorphism, and even less appealing rendering in rough waxy plastic earned it a priority approaching Absolute Zero on the Get-to-it-One-Day list. 

Those same un-endearing qualities, however,  exhumed and promoted  it to top billing at the start of last year's belated modeling season. Interest in the hobby had waned and skills had atrophied.  Tears would not flow if this  premier project became the focal point of a Mexican hat dance. 

The Guardian was whelped late in WWII, too late to see action therein,  as an anti-sub replacement for the TBF Avenger. A two-variant flight would form a hunter-killer team. The hunter version (also kitted by Ace) found its prey with a tumorous radar bulging from its belly – hence the laterally stabilizing vertical finlets. The killer would finish the job with  two tons of bombs, depth charges, a homing torpedo, rockets, drop tanks, and a search-light pod; hence its general heft. Detailed technical histories can be Googled from assorted sources, some asserting  fascinating claims, notably  that a turbojet was mounted in the tail. That’s WWW, Folks; for Wild Wacky Web.

THE KIT

Ace kits are limited edition injected technology, reminiscent of  Merlin and Mach 2; but not up to those predecessors’ quality standards. Get the picture? Actually, that is a bit melodramatic. Gross deformities, the type that would make the kit unbuildable, are absent; but poor fit, soft plastic, and a surface texture  suggestive of  sand casting lend credence to the fine-print caveat: “For Experienced Modelers”.  Surprisingly, the injected canopy is thin, clear, and sharply framed.  An extensive PEB fret is included, but except for cockpit details, which will be visible through the expansive greenhouse, the kit is not worth the effort of cutting, bending, and gluing the brass bits. Most, particularly the wheel well interiors, are best saved for a more worthy substrate. Resin castings for engine, gear, and interior  would have been a better investment; because the styrene renderings of these parts will inspire  dumpster diving  into the spare parts bin, likely also  forays into the liquor cabinet.

CONSTRUCTION

Most modelers will deviate from the eight-page instruction pamphlet to work out the bugs on the main assemblies before tackling the hang-ons. The Grand Canyon cockpit opening allows for furnishing the front office as a finishing step; but the enclosure floor  must be inserted as Step 1. This part is too shallow and can be deepened by cutting away the bottom  and adding a sub-floor made from a spare cockpit tub. While in the spare parts department, I also hunted up a close-enough resin seat from an early jet, some instrument side consoles, and a rear bulkhead with molded-in structure and radio box details, all for insertion post-painting of the airframe.

A separate rear entry door is provided for those nutty enough to detail and paint the anal end of the fuselage interior; but as with the photo-etched wheel wells, nothing in there is worth seeing. The door doesn’t fit the opening, but this minor batch of filing and filling is one of the easier re-fits.

Two small window opening must be dealt with before closing the fuselage halves. Rather than use the dimpled transparencies, I chose to blank off the openings with  clear plastic then later fill the depressions with epoxy. Before clamshell closure, two banks of exhaust stacks are scheduled for insertion into their fuselage openings; but these parts are best omitted and replaced later by metal tubing fitted from outside. Likewise can be advised for the MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detection) boom in the tail of the appropriate variant. A blank-out plate should also be cut and glued into the forward section to prevent seeing past the cylinders of any replacement radial engine that may be fitted.

The large underbelly opening left by the bomb bay doors allows most of the fuselage seam to be glued from the inside; but afterward fitting of these doors causes – well – fits. Lots of filler and sandpaper here, Folks.

The engine must be inserted and the cowl glued on before the airframe can be readied for the paint shop. The kit engine is amorphous, and the firewall that is supposed to support it doesn’t fit the fuselage. I scrounged a slightly better replacement radial, continuing to hoard an excellent Aeroclub resin and white metal R2800 for an application in which it can actually be seen and appreciated.

The wing panels are the true disappointment of this kit. As with all short run injections, the trailing edges demand drastic thinning and sharpening from inside. Flaps are molded separately, also in uppers and lowers that need ablation of at least half their thicknesses. Then there’s the leading edge slots. 

What can be said about the way these slots are molded?  AAARRGGGHHH!!!! Just doesn’t seem sufficient. On the upper wing surfaces they are represented by indistinct trenches. On the lower they are represented by – nothing. These parts simply have cut in the leading edge  an elongated rectangular notch that will send builders scurrying among the sprues for the assigned section  to insert. They will find none.

The technically appropriate fix for this omission is to cut away the matching segment  of the uppers, block off and round  over the resultant gap, then use a properly shaped length  of half-round to create in miniature this  high-lift device. The economically appropriate fix, the one adopted  in this build, is to fill the cavity in the lower wing with Bondo, sand and Mr. Surfacer it smooth, throw on a heavy coat of paint, and display the model on a lower shelf where the underside of the wing will not be easily glimpsed.

One result of short run molding, serendipitous to those of us who eschew under-wing stores, is the lack of drilled-through holes; but locating dimples are provided for those who model with a full load.

COLORS & MARKINGS

Several “disclosure coats” of silver enamel, followed by buffings with numerically increasing abrasive grades, revealed only the impossibility of polishing out the waxy plastic to a paintable smoothness. One alternative for leveling all the surface flaws is a coat of “scratch-filling” automotive primer, but this obscures the already scarce surface features and gives the model a “puffy” appearance, as if needing a dose of diuretics.

The “Hail Mary” approach is to pass up on the primers and cover everything with a heavy coat of gloss enamel. Laying down a uniform wet-look  takes some experimentation to get the proper combination of viscosity,   pressure, spraying distance, speed, and timing between passes. Runs, drips, graininess, orange peel, and other errors are the penalty for impatience.

Dark Sea Blue is the proper color, but the versions sold by Model Master et al, though they be faithful to the FS Number, look entirely too black in 1/72 on a dark shelf. Blue hues seem to be the most susceptible to scale effect.  Adding 1/3 Testors Dark Blue brought the shade back to something matching the box art and other color photos of both models and the real thing. Before all the JMN’s start snickering and send the Accuracy GESTAPO to my house at 2AM to teach me about FSN’s, let me assure everyone that the bright baby-blue in some of the accompanying photos is a photographic anomaly caused by the close-up flash. This Guardian is not done up in Blue Angels livery. Yes, I can fix it in Photoshop, but these shots demonstrate how drastically can vary the  color of paint under various light  sources, and lays waste to the insistence by some modelers of chaining themselves to original pigment formulas.

The kit decals are perfectly adequate. Their carrier film appears at first overly prominent, but fades after an application of Solvaset, then obligingly disappears under ensuing coats of Future.  They will rebel by  tearing  if slid from their backing or  moved around excessively, so are best soaked in warm-to-hot water until they float free of the paper and eased into position on a pool of Micro-Set.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

First step toward completion was filling the two small fuselage windows with epoxy. The stringiness of this stuff can threaten a new paint job so I mask the adjacent area with a  Post-a-Note. Epoxy’s strong surface tension won’t allow for a flat window pane, so unless you’re willing to sand, polish, and touch-up paint, settle for a slight convexity.

Starting from the tail underside, a wealth of little things await affixing. Most are more easily scratch built than cleaned of mold seam and flash. The main gear struts are particularly in need of de-seaming. The molded-in torque links can be cut away in favor of scissors from the PE fret, but the expected improvement is not worth the effort. One useful brass part, a pair of pairs actually, is the set of inner and outer wheel hubs, which  minimize the need for surgerizing the indistinctly molded wheels, and facilitate painting.

Purely as an experiment in lilly-guilding, I routed out the molded hubs and painted the entire wheel black before adding the metal. HINT: use slow set CA or centering errors will become irreparable. Though this build did not deserve it, the results were excellent, producing a detailed 3-dimentional wheel with real pass-through spokes. Hopefully, this option of super-detailing landing gear will shortly be more widely adopted by other kit manufacturers. BTW - Google reference photos suggest the hubs were white, the struts white, but the wells chromate green.

Photos also suggest that the box art lied by showing the banks of quadruple exhaust stubs protruding  from the cowl vents, so these were omitted, with considerable work saving, as the plan was to cut and form them from hollow solder wire. On the subject of protuberances that aren’t, photos fail to show part F27, a pitot mast, so don’t fret over not finding a mounting hole in the lower left wing. You can also fill the holes in the mid fuselage spine, as no photographic record can be found of the V-shaped mast shown in the instructions and box art. References vary on the existence of several small VHF antenna fins also supposedly sprouting from the spine. When researching subjects, erring is preferable on the “omit” side. I recall viewing a model, an SOC-3 I believe it was, with a “tree trunk” mast sprouting just aft of the canopy. I queried the builder and received indignant assurance that the model had been faithfully copied from a photo, which was promptly produced. Not-so-close examination revealed that the “mast” was actually the smokestack of a building some distance behind the parked plane. Fearing for my safety, I congratulated the modeler on his reproduction skills and hastily retreated. 

Salvation from the general mediocrity of this model can be found in detailing the cavernous cockpit. As mentioned, I scrounged a replacement seat and aft bulkhead. Builders may choose from an amoebic injected instrument  panel, or make a sandwich of the acetate photo-inlay, the  brass overlay, and a sheet styrene backing plate. Under high magnification, the precise rendering can then be seen of all the instrument faces; a feature of great import if your models are viewed that way. Otherwise – well, perhaps some personal comfort is found in the assurance of their presence.

The instrument panel cowl is rendered in etched brass. A bit of a bother to form and fit; but its thinness allows for an accurate panel width. As I said, the canopy is adequately transparent, but anal perfectionists who enjoy tempting disaster can improve it by smoothing and polishing inner and outer surfaces.

The injected propeller supplied on the sprues isn’t bad; but neither is it good. The spares bin yielded up  an unused four blader, likely off a Monogram Bearcat, or possibly an “Alpha Dog”.  First impulse  was to taper it to match the kit prop, but checks with Google’s pic library showed the paddle shape was more correct; with maybe a bare smidge of slimming down at the root ends,  transplantation of a governor dome, and squaring off the tips. That shrunk the diameter, but nothing else on this build meets Smithsonian standards for accuracy. Besides, the spare  prop was already painted, meaning I could get this millstone off my neck that much sooner.

The project was brought to a semi-successful conclusion by affixing two stub antenna masts to the vertical fin, though no evidence could be found of a wire that was supposed to span from either of them.

CONCLUSIONS

The Ace Guardian started life on a note of apathy, if not antipathy; but eventually the big blue brute grabbed on to some affection; though the overall disappointing results did nothing to reignite a passion for playing with plastic. Speaking of passion, this build is best summarized by comparison to  some women I’ve known – best viewed from a distance under dim light. But they’d be correct in saying worse about me.

Joel Hamm

January 2009

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