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Firebomber Conversion

by Geoff McDonell


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1/72 scale, Airfix kit no.05011

Truly a long lived design from the design tables of the Douglas factory in late World War 2, and still soldiering on today, although in a different role than originally envisioned! The Douglas Invader was a redesign of the earlier Douglas A-20 Havoc light bomber, which saw limited success during the European theatre, and in the Pacific Theatre of the war. The A-26 Invader was designed as a high speed medium bomber and saw much use after WW2 in Korea and Viet Nam as a ground attack aircraft. Civilian conversions of the A-26 were created by the On Mark Corporation for use as executive transports in the 1950s and 60s.

Inspiration for the model struck in the form of an article about Airspray Ltd. in the 1994 Volume 1, Number 2 issue of Aviation Quarterly magazine along with the release of the Leading Edge decal sheet for the Airspray Invaders. Having spent some time in Alberta in the 1970s, the Airspray Invaders were a familiar sight during the summer, stationed at various airfields around the Province for the forest fire season. Id always been fascinated by the "wolves in sheeps clothing" that these aircraft represented. Warplanes in civilian markings were a unique sight at an airport and the sleek lines and graceful appearance of the Invader stood out brightly. My old photo albums have a couple photos of a blue and white Airspray A-26 parked at the Edmonton Municipal Airport which Id entertained as a potential model project "some time". The Aviation Quarterly article and the corresponding Leading Edge decals were the final keys to create that replica of the handsome blue and white bomber.

The Airfix kit was first released in 1970 and reflects the technology of the day. Heavily encrusted with rivets and supplied with separate control surfaces, the general molding was heavy, but generally accurate. It was in serious need of "refining" to achieve the look of modern model kits. The canyon-like hinge lines at the control surfaces needed help and the thick and scratched clear parts needed replacement by vacuformed parts. My collected references were studied so I could have the mental image of the details and "fixes" necessary to improve the Airfix kit as I assembled it.

The first major area to be tackled was the cockpit. "Sparse" would be a kind description of what Airfix had provided in the kit, so out came my photos and the Leading Edge reference sheets that were thoughtfully enclosed with the decal sheets. The sidewalls were built up from Evergreen strip styrene while the kit floor was used as a base upon which a large number of scratchbuilt items were glued. The seats were white metal castings Id had in the "spares" box for years, so their original source is unknown, while generic etched brass cockpit bits and pieces were taken from some Airwaves utility sets.

The biggest challenge was the rear bulkhead behind the pilots seats. It looked like a plumbers nightmare, but it was going to be oh, so visible through the Squadron brand vacuformed canopy Id found at my local Hobby Shop. A week of evenings, some fine wire, a fine drill bit, and some scrap plastic bits brought this area to life. Once the basic cockpit was together I shot some zinc chromate primer onto the sidewalls of the fuselage halves and the cockpit itself. More fiddly bits were added and painted appropriate colours, lead foil belts added to the seats, and some general weathering finished off this area. The rest of the fuselage interior areas did not receive much detailing as they would not be too visible after the final assembly.

Before the fuselage could be glued together, all of those barnacle-like rivets had to come off. The silver plastic, when sanded smooth with a lot of water and 400 grit sandpaper, still showed the "ghosts" of the panel lines, which made rescribing easier as I then had guides to follow. With reference to plans and photographs in the Squadron "In Action" book (Aircraft No. 134) on the A-26 Invader, I rescribed the fuselage halves, wings and stabilizers to bring the kit up to current standards. I managed to luck into a set of Paragon brand cast resin flaps, courtesy of Boyd Waechter and the A-26 Invader SIG, so off came the kit flaps from the wings in order to receive the dropped flaps later on. Other parts were sourced to help improve the kit: Cooper Details P&W R-2800 resin engines, and Aeroclub cast metal props.

The time spent preparing the kit before assembly paid dividends as the basic aircraft was quickly built up and all the seams cleaned up. The engine nacelles needed a lot of refining, as well as accuracy modifications. The intakes on top of the cowlings needed filler to blend in the contours, and the cooling flaps were ground to a thin section with my Dremel tool. The insides of the cowlings also needed to be routed out to accept the resin engines. The main gear wells were treated to some scrap plastic detailing and the locating holes for the main gear legs were modified so I could add them later in the assembly rather than pinched into the nacelle halves as per the kit instructions. I made up the small exhaust pipes from plastic tube that was heated over a candle and stretched to get small diameter tubes of a suitable size.

The landing gear doors were the subject of another "mini-project" as they received carved sheet plastic interior structure with hinge arms and set aside for painting. The model was now nearing the final phase prior to painting. The large gaps at the movable control surfaces were closed up with strips of Evergreen styrene super glued and blended in with 600 grit sandpaper. The rudder, elevators and ailerons were then glued into place with very slight offsets for a more casual appearance. The vacuformed canopy and rear glazing were carefully cut away from their backing sheets and test fitted to get a snug fit onto the kit. The rear unit was sprayed with Tamiyas Clear Green on the inner surface to simulate the green tinted perspex on the actual aircraft. The cockpit canopy was dipped in Future floor finish and allowed to dry for a week before I was ready to glue it onto the model. The clear parts were taped in place with thin strips of masking tape and super glue was applied along the edges to get a secure, sealed fit. The flaps were also glued into the wings at this stage as well.

The clear areas were masked off with Bare Metal Foil and masking tape, the small window on the rear fuselage was filled with white glue as a temporary "filler", and the wingtip clear navigation lights were also taped off with small disks of masking tape. I used a very light grey primer (XtraColour X-150 Voodoo Grey) to blend in the white Evergreen strip pieces, the beige resin flaps and grey plastic. Gloss white enamel was sprayed on to the model with my trusty Badger 200 airbrush, using multiple "dust" coats to build up a thin, but solid layer of paint on the light grey primer. After allowing a week for the white paint to dry hard, the light blue areas were masked off and sprayed. I mixed a blend of about 1 part Testors No. 1108 Blue with 4 parts white to get what I felt was the closest match to the colour photos of Tanker 98. Another couple of weeks passed before I could get a chance to apply the dark blue colour. Testors No. 1111 Blue enamel was sprayed on and the masking was removed before the paint was totally "set" (dry to the touch, but not yet hardened). Before removing the canopy masking I ran the point of a fresh #11 X-Acto blade along the edges to insure a clean break line. The last colour to be applied was the black anti-glare panel ahead of the windshield.

I laid the model aside under a dust cover for the next two weeks as I cleaned up and detailed the landing gear, wheels and gear doors. I searched in vain for some aftermarket wheels for the A-26, no joy, so I was forced to use the kit supplied items. Some careful scribing and scraping with some added hub detail brought these parts to life. The disc brakes and calipers were added to the inner faces of the main wheels with an application of Bare Metal Foil to simulate the shiny brake rotor.

Time for decals! Having used the excellent Leading Edge products in previous projects, I began cutting and wetting decals with confidence. At least there werent a few hundred tiny stencils to apply to this model! The decals went on to the gloss paint surface without requiring any decal softening agents and no silvering resulted. I highlited the panels lines and did some minor weathering and staining prior to the application of Testors Dullcote as the overcoat. The clear parts were masked off again with Bare Metal Foil and strips of masking tape to protect them from the dulling agent. Id also mounted and lined up all of the props, gear doors, landing gear legs and wheels to shoot them with the Dullcote at the same time. The props were prepared by polishing the white metal Aeroclub parts to a high gloss, then painting the red tips and applying the small white stripes provided on the decal sheet. The actual aircrafts props were a dull metal colour and the Dullcote on the polished metal was just the right effect, as well as serving to blend in the decals and gloss red tips.

Final assembly brought together the landing gear, gear doors, props, and the "fiddly bits" the various external antennae, anti-static trailing wires, and pitot head. I also got out my box of chalk pastels and proceeded to add the bulk of the exhaust stains to the engine nacelles. Based on photos of the real aircraft, they appeared to stain up pretty heavily when in use, so I kept streaking on the dark grey pastels until I thought "just one more pass" and then I stopped myself. When weathering models I find that the best way to know when you are done is when you think "just one more pass". Stop then! Its too easy to overdo the weathering effects and keeping it subtle is the key. The final bit to be added was the clear red beacon on top of the tail, which was a polished bit of stretched clear red sprue from a car model kit.

Another project done! This was a very satisfying project - bringing an old kit up to date usually calls for a certain amount of scratch-building and re-engineering, and as a result, the time taken for one of these types of projects can be extensive. I only tend to do one or two of these a year and in between Ill grab some "shake and bake" projects for some relatively instant gratification.


(click on the thumbnails below to view the full size images)

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Photos and text by Geoff McDonell

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