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1/48 Monogram B-17G

Flying Fortress (Part 1)

by Drew Thompson

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Without a doubt, one of the most famous and successful and well known warplanes in history is the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.  It brought Boeing out of being in verge of bankruptcy in the Depression years and dealt a crippling blow to the German industry in World War II, eventually leading to victory in Europe.  I won't go into details of the history of this famous plane, as multitudes of books and websites have been dedicated to this subject.

Most modelers are familiar with the well known Monogram 1/48 B-17G.  When it was issued in the 1970s, it was hailed for its awesome detail and even now, it's not terribly bad.  Besides, it's the only option if you want a G-model Fortress in 1/48 scale.   Ever since I first bought this kit, it has been my favorite model, probably because of its size and my having fallen in love with the look of the Fort.  I decided that I wanted to build one with as much detail as possible.  When I picked up the 2003 issue of Warbird Modeling by Fine Scale Modeler, the B-17 on the cover caught my eye.  I knew I had to build a B-17 up to those standards, with the Bare Metal Foiled finish and all.

Since I would be building an unpainted B-17, I would be restricted to modeling late model B-17Gs, most of which had staggered waist gun windows and Cheyenne turrets.  After much searching of decals, I decided on the Mike Grant B-17 decals for "Hikin' for Home".  This particular B-17G had staggered waist guns, but a standard tail gun.  This was good because I found that the Cheyenne turrets available for this kit are too great. 

Of course, the first step of the project was setting about to do the interior work.  Parts of Verlinden's detail set and all three B-17 Eduard detail sets were used in the interior.  Since I planned to open the bomb bay, I bought Paragon's B-17 bomb bay set, and added more detail to the set.  The roof and bulkheads of the bomb bay were scratchbuilt from sheet and strip styrene.  Brass strips were glued along the width of the outside of the roof to force the sheet plastic to keep its shape (curvature of the fuselage).  The inside of the fuselage walls between the cockpit and radio room had to be thinned nearly paper thin to make the bomb bay fit.  Even after doing this, the bomb bay fits very tightly fit inside the fuselage.  Finally, wiring and plumbing were added to the bay and the catwalk and bomb racks were spruced up with a bit of styrene.

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Next up was the radio room.  Some modifications were done with styrene, as seen in the photos.  A more accurate seat was fashioned from styrene.  According to the B-17G maintenance manual, two extra seats were added to the radio room for extra crewmembers.  Some B-17s also had a bench instead of extra seats, or had no extra seating at all.  Since I had no idea whether the particular B-17 I was modeling had extra seating or not, I decided to save time by not bothering with extra seats.  All bulkhead doors were cut out and replaced with sheet styrene replacements attached in the open position.  Since Monogram's design caused the wing root joint to affect the lower portions of the sidewalls of the radio room and cockpit, I made my own sidewalls by grinding away kit sidewall detail with a Dremel tool and building new walls with strip and sheet styrene.

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The cockpit required a fair bit of work.  Since I planned to open the cockpit windows and not permanently attach the top turret, I wanted this area well-detailed.  The seats and their complicated support structure were scratchbuilt from sheet and strip styrene.  The oxygen tanks behind the pilot and co-pilot were fashioned from 1/4 inch diameter styrene rod.  The rear bulkhead was scrapped, and a new one was built from scratch.  The hydraulic equipment and fuse box were also scratchbuilt.   The sidewall detail in the cockpit area was redone.  As far as I could tell, all B-17s had insulation over the fuselage walls in the cockpit, which was replicated from sheet styrene.  The top turret was detailed with ammo boxes and a more accurate computing gunsight made from styrene.

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The bombardier's and navigator's compartment was the next area to tackle.  The back bulkhead, just in front of the instrument panel was redone.  The hatch at this bulkhead was cut open.  The area under the bombardier's seat, in which parts of the chin turret could be seen, was replicated by cutting a hole in the area under the seat.  This hole was filled with bits of styrene, simulating the mechanisms of the chin turret.   Since I wanted to open the front entry hatch of the plane, I added detail to this area.  The hatch itself is provided in both the Verlinden and Eduard detail sets, but neither was satisfactory.  Instead, I built my own from sheet styrene.

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I then began work in the waist gun area.  I moved the right waist gun window up a couple of inches, since Hikin' for Home had staggered waist guns.  The old waist gun position was closed up with sheet styrene and faired in with Mr. Surfacer.  Since the waist guns would have frameless widows, unlike earlier B-17s, I added more detail to the interior of the waist gun positions.  I also added a basic representation of the structure supporting the ball turret made from styrene.  Although there was supposedly a chemical toilet and auxiliary power unit located in the rear fuselage just at the rear entry hatch, I've read from an account of one crewmember that they could not recall a toilet.   I have also read that the power unit was placed in different areas of the plane, such as the radio room, and that some B-17s did not have one.  To save myself time in a project that has already taken ALOT of time, I left both items out.  The rear crew door was opened and replaced with the one from the Eduard set.  The tail wheel landing gear and wheel from the kit was completely replaced.  The rear landing gear was scratchbuilt from styrene and the canvas boot over the gear was replicated with wet tissue.  I decided to not detail the interior of the tail gun position, as it's really not visible, at least with the old-style tail gun.

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I bought the Aires' Browning .50 caliber waist gun set, but upon opening the package, I realized that the photoetched gun cradle was of the style used on early model B-17s.  Instead of trying to use any part of this set, I used the kit provided machine guns.  Gunsights were added from a CMK gunsight set and charging handles were added from thin styrene rod.

The main landing gear wells of the Monogram B-17 are virtually nonexistent.  Since this area would be rather visible when the model is turned over, I decided to scratchbuild the gear wells.  Basically the entire structure of the well was made from styrene, with the plumbing and wiring in the well made from wire.  This was a particularly difficult area to detail, especially when trying to make the bulkheads of the well fit inside of the engine nacelle.

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Painting the interior took much longer than I'm used to.  First, everything was primed with auto primer.  Then, all parts that were to be in unpainted aluminum were painted with Tamiya gloss aluminum acrylic lacquer.  This paint is only available in a spray can, but I decanted it and airbrushed it.  Notice that much of the interior is unpainted aluminum, not interior green. I've done alot of research of the interiors of B-17s and have come to the conclusion that most of the G models did not have the interior insulation that most F models had (except for the flight deck compartment).  Even the interior nose section was left in natural metal, as I have seen photos showing the silver skin in the bombardier's nose compartment. If you're interested in good wartime interior pictures of B-17s, check out the January 2000 issue of Airpower Magazine.  Since there are differences between the interiors of wartime and restored B-17s, this type of B-17 reference is quite valuable.  For some of the areas of the interior, I had to guess what color to paint it, but from what I read, there really is no hard and fast methodology of what colors were used.  I figured that as the war went on, less and less of the interior was sprayed with primer. I have read that interior green was used on many Douglas-built G models. Since I'm modeling Hikin' for Home, which was Douglas built, I stuck with interior green for most primed interior metal surfaces. The wood appearance on doors and floors were made by first painting them light brown, then applying a wood grain decal made for car models over the paint.  After painting, everything was given a coat of future floor polish, then a acrylic wash, then a coat of Polly Scale clear flat.  Finally, I finished the interior off with a drybrushing of light gray. 

By the way, I apologize for the rather low-quality pictures of the model taken before the painting of the interior.  A couple of weeks ago I finally replaced my old 1 megapixel camera for a 5 megapixel one with a macro function.  That's why the pictures taken after painting are of a much better quality.

I realize that much of this detail will be invisible or nearly so after construction.  However, I was determined to do this kit justice and I did not want to take the chance of areas of the interior to be visible and without correct detail when the project is finished.  I plan to use the two vacuum-formed sets Squadron makes for this model, which are much clearer than the kit provided transparencies.  Other windows not included in this set, such as the side windows along the nose compartments, I plan to make from thin acetate, which will allow the maximum detail to be seen.

Right now, I'm working on exterior construction.  I'm in the middle of adding rivets to the whole exterior of the model.  I'll go into more details on this in part 2, which will cover exterior construction.  Just up to this point in the build, I've increased my scratchbuilding skills tenfold.  Before tackling this project, I had never really scratchbuilt much of anything, so I was a bit hesitant to begin this build.  However, I dived in and had a ball.  Before beginning this model, I have always relied on detail sets to give my models extra detail.  Now, I feel much more confident about adding whatever detail I want by scratchbuilding it.  I'll still use detail sets when I can, since they speed up a project, but I won't let the lack of one stop me from getting the detail I want.  Hope you all have enjoyed seeing my progress and please let me know what you think!

Drew

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Photos and text by Drew Thompson

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