Model, Text and Photos by: Fernando Rolandelli
Nakajima J1N1 Gekko Type 11 302nd Naval Fighter Group, 7th Flight, Atsugi Base, Summer 1945
During the thirties, air staffs all over the world played with the idea of a big, heavy, multi-seat, turret-armed and generally twin-engined, multirole combat aircraft. The French Multiplace de Combat class, represented by the Bloch 200, the Potez 540 and the Amiot 143 were prime examples of this philosophy. The British tried hard to make the two-place, turreted fighter concept work, be it single-engined (Hawker Demon, Boulton-Paul Defiant and Blackburn Roc), be it twin-engined (several projects, some involving single 40 mm cannons in turrets). Germans also went in for heavy twin-engined fighters, like the Bf 110 (like the Dutch, with their Fokker G.I, a very sound design), which, though requiring rear defence, had its main armament fixed, nose-mounted and firing forward (though Willy Messerschmitt later fell into the trap and tried to defend his Me 210-410 with two hidraulically operated, remotely sighted and utterly unsuccessful side barbettes) It is a sign of the worldwide acceptance of this concept that, on the other side or the world, the Japanese, normally striving for nimble, small and maneuvrable machines, should have embraced it. The Nakajima J1N1 Gekko was designed as a heavy escort fighter, whose main armament would be comprised by two dorsal barbettes facing rearwards, armed with two 7.7 mm machine guns each. The impracticality of this solution kept an otherwise sound aircraft virtually useless until someone (you can read the whole story in the kit's instructions -no, they are also in English!) discarded them for fixed, though hardly conventional, armament.
It is a big kit. If you are used to single-engined fighters you will be impressed by the long and slim fuselage, and gently tappering wings. If you already own some kits of twin engined aircrafts in this scale, let's say thay it is virtually the equal to the Me 410 in size. It is also very well engineered, though it oozes complexity as well. It depicts a "middle production" Gekko, for though it sports the simplified dorsal spine, it lacks radar and its engines have the early simple exhaust collectors. True late machines had a radar (actually a passive radar emissions homing device) and multiple jet-thrusting exhausts. It must be said that the "solid" nose, complete with its Yagi-like antennae, is provided; so, if you get a photo reference of a radar equipped machine with collector exhaust ring engines you may well build it (you may never find a photo of the device itself, however). In fact, it seems to be very difficult to find photos of Gekkos configured exactly like the kit, with the exception of the two presented in it! The combination of lack of radar device, twin up-firing cannon and early exhaust collector does not seem to have been the most usual or seen. At first I had planned to build it as an out-of-the-box kit, but the rules for that category are very strict: you cannot add virtually anything! Having the Robert Mikesh book on Japanese interiors, the temptation of adding some little bits and pieces was too great. Still, I think that it would make a very accurate and complete OOTB model.
Once again, we began with the cockpit. It is a complex affair, having structural detail moulded in the walls, a tub with consoles and sidewall fittings. After a thorough check with Robert Mikesh's book, it must be said that every single instrument, radio or electrical panel is included in the kit. Just some cables need to be added. Instrument faces are provided as individual decals, so the hard way is cutting each one and adding it to the suitably painted panel. Paint the back in White, for they are transparent. The pilot's seat has only indentations where ligthening holes should be, but they are easily made by means of a drill. Seatbelts were added, these coming from the Reheat range. Now I regret not having carved the walls under the consoles, which are not solid in the real aircraft and show a multitude of cables and tubes, but my natural laziness overcame me at the time. Main problem with the sidewalls, and a source of annoyance as well, is that the area is virtually covered with shallow mould ejector marks. What? Yeah, mould ejector marks. You can do it one of two ways: either sand everything smooth (and I mean everything, including the nice sidewall detail); the other is making blind eyes and hope that all those boxes added to sidewalls will hide them out. The latter was my choice, and we shall see its degree of success soon.
Regarding to the cockpit painting, multiple colors must be used. All the reviews of this kit I have seen show the cockpit main components and sidewalls painted in Aotake, instrument panels in Black and sidewall boxes in some kind of Interior Green. Problem is that Mikesh distinguishes two interior greens: one, darker and with a hint of blue, is found on seats and consoles (formerly considered as painted in Aotake); another, much lighter and yellowish, is used on sidewall boxes. This difference can be made out in the photos in the book, though the glossy, bluish sheen in the darker color can make it pass as darker Aotake. Considering mainly its relative tonal values, I choose good old faithful Model Master FS 34096 for the dark green, Aeromaster Acrylic Mitsubishi Interior Green for the light one, and Model Master Interior Black and Aotake and Humbrol Dull Aluminium for the rest of this multicolored cockpit.
Instead of the "first the fittings" approach, I preferred to first paint the cockpit's components and sidewalls, specially since I had chosen a particularly complex way of mimicking the Aotake finish. In fact, you cannot expect to make a realistic Aotake by just pouring this color from the bottle and airbrushing it. I found a method which, though complex, can produce a much better look. First, paint the surfaces a medium gray. I used MM FS 36270, but it may be better if something a little darker is used. Then, I gave a heavy drybrush in Dull Aluminium. This was followed by several very light coats of airbrushed standard Aotake (I used Model Master's). Finally, another, light dry-brushing in Aluminium, followed by a dark wash. Results were more than satisfying, the finish having a very realistic subtle unevenness.
Looking at Mikesh's book, I found that the wells themselves seem to be NMF, the doors only being Aotake. The wells, though deep and mostly enclosed (more on this following) and having fairly well detailed walls and roof, must be furnished with some piping. While doing this, I discovered a huge rectangular gap at the front, through which the back of the engine assembly could be seen. There must be a lot of piping there, but, lacking any reference (and any Sakae engine with detailed back accessories) I opted for cowardly blanking it off. A plastic plank with some structural detail was more than enough for this, completed with some piping hiding the gaps. I painted the wells in a Neutral Grey undercoat, followed by a silver drybrushing and a light spraying in the same color. Piping was mostly painted Interior Black with Aluminium tie-downs.
Whenever possible, I prefer to paint transparent parts before attaching it to the fuselage. In this case, the canopy's fit was perfect, easily one of the best I have ever seen, so I temporarily attached the closed example provided with white glue to act as an instant mask for the cockpit, and paper-masked the nose and ventral window. Anyway, I completely cover the canopy in Maskol, it was a shame to lose it. First of all, the model was primed and then preshaded, airbrushing it Light Gray (I use FS 36495) with a heavy dark preshade along panel lines; I doubted if this would be worth the trouble given the dark final colours, but I did it anyway, even on the cowlings.
These were finished in MM Interior Black (I know, there is no hint of Blue in it, but the exact hue of that Blue Black colour is controversial), heavy along panel lines but lighter and irregular on the panel themselves; thus, a transparent, worn out effect can be attained. Dark heavy dots were airbrushed carefully over the sunk rivet heads. Main fuselage was painted in a similar fashion, using Aeromaster Acrylic Nakajima Navy Green. It is too dark a colour, so preshade tricks did not show well. Here, after stressing the panel lines, the interior of them were painted in an irregular circular motion (vertical in the fuselage sides), to attain a transparent, irregular finish. You can control the process to a certain degree, and, should the effect be too harsh, you can always airbrush plain full colour coats to soften it. Each panel ends up having an unique character, which can be stressed, if desired, by masking individual panels and airbrushing coats with a slightly different hue; I mixed in some Mitsubishi Interior Green, to make profit of its yellowish olive hue, as well as Nakajima Gray Green to lighten the colour. Finally, the forward edges and outer corners of some panels, mainly in the upper wing surfaces, were masked and airbrushed lightly in a lighter shade, following the direction of the airstream. Control surfaces, being metal, did not receive any special treatment. All in all, a tiresome affair which however paid well.
After glossing the model thoroughly, I started applying decals. In hindsight, I think that the plain Hinomarus could have been safely painted, and treated the same way as the airframe paint, but, at the time, it seemed perfectly sensible to use the new AML decal sheet. On the other side, paint should not seem that worn out, and Hinomarus are almost always in better shape than camouflage. Problem is that no machine in AML sheet corresponds exactly to the Tamiya model, provided their research is sound and the only one J1N1-S without radar device shown, tail code Yo D- 187, really had the multiple ejector exhausts. It is a seemingly well-known machine, with prominent victory markings, so it must be assumed correct. I cannot find a reason why a decal manufacturer would issue a sheet full of very interesting machines which however cannot be built using any kit!. You can either make use of the thick Tamiya numbers, building Yo D-176, or make blind eyes. Alternatively, you can invert the AML code and make an anonymous "Yo D-178", which, being in sequence only two examples above the documented Tamiya one (the examples provided in the box decals are reputed as almost the only ones configured as the kit and documented in photos!) can be assumed to have had the twin exhausts of the kit (note that Tamiya provides enough numbers to make any example in the sequence). I personally liked the idea of an true "Ashigaru" Gekko, an anonymous, presumably unsuccessful one, so I took this way, which involved some extensive decal cutting and trimming. The large tail codes did not pose any problem, but the smaller ones placed on the nose and on the lower lip of the cowling were something of a mess. I lightly sanded all of them with a good worn out 2400-grit wet-n-dry, to even out the film's edges, and wherever necessary retouched the numbers in FS 36495. In hindsight again, I would recommend trimming as much carrier film as possible, or even dropping the plan completely! By the way, when not abused by cutting and trimming, decals went down perfectly, provided that they were pushed into the panel lines by means of a fingernail (a procedure which is imposing itself as standard practice!). The very few cases of silvering were solved by a little painting in the base color with a fine brush and a steady hand; once dry, this "afterthougt" acrylics application blends wonderfully, so I use this rather "dirty" technique with complete confidence. It has been said that the Red in AML hinomarus is rather pale, and it is probably right, but their look in place seems quite convincing.
After a further gloss coat, to even out shines, panel lines and stains were weathered via a variety of Black and Ochre oils. Fuel and oil stains were also made this way. This aircrafts flew by night, slept inside shelters during daytime and seemed to be quite thoroughly painted, so go easy with weathering. Photos confirm the general good condition of the airframes, so forget the extensive paint-flaking and chipping so cherished by the average modeller of Japanese aircraft. A dull coat followed and, on that, some panel masking and weathering was lightly done on the Hinomarus, to keep in touch with the rest of the airframe. Exhaust fumes stains where then airbrushed, first in Light Grey (to simulate the dark camo paint decoloring) and then in a Black - Rust mix. The same mix was airbrushed freehand on the hinges of the moving surfaces, to accentuate them (this is probably a personal taste, some modellers mask the hinge, some drop this practice completely). A very restrained paint chipping was done with Silver paint on a fine brush, and that's it. Ah!, some chalk pastels were added to the exhaust tubes and to the wingwalk area, together with some oil-dirt. My references are conflictive regarding this area: both the Tamiya and the AML instructions show no proper wingwalk painted , while the NASM machine has it clearly painted. I chose the easiest way, of course, and did not paint it, just made it dirty.
Having the whole airframe painted, decaled and weathered, final parts and pieces were added. The engine/cowling combo posed no special problems, only the flimsiness of the cowling attachment caused me some unfounded concern. The back of the engines, which utterly lacks any form of detail, is completely hidden, even though I used the "opened" cooling flaps. Engines seem to be very far back into the cowlings, but the propellers' place seems correct. Exhaust were another story: you have to take a lot of care not to reverse right and left outers and inners; even so, fit is not too good. On the contrary, the fit of the transparencies is perfect, as is that of the undercarriage: no alignment problems of any kind arouse, and even the u/c doors, usually a fiddly business, have a very firm fit. Of course, there is nothing to observe about the sit and stance of the model: it squares off admirably without any previous measurement or adjustment and it is completely realistic. Wheel's tyres are not "weighted", and I am happy that way: this machines operated from concrete runaways, so tyres must have been of the high pressure kind, little prone to flattening. I fitted the searchlight, though its presence (and usefulness!) is debated: it is present on the NASM machine. On the contrary, I left over the main, downward looking reflector sight: there are no weapons firing downward. The NASM machine does not have it fitted. I plugged the hole for it with a small piece of plastic. I added the drop tanks and bombs (to which I added tail fuses, see the late "Pearl Harbour" movie!), to give the undersurfaces some variety; I painted the former Nakajima Navy Gray, and the latter a dirty mixture of Neutral Gray and RLM 74. Even after some washes and dry-brushing they seem too pristine, however. A surprising omission is the lack of transparent parts for the very noticeable position lights. There are four of them in each wing surface, being represented by well done teardrop shaped engravings, and they are properly indicated in the instructions. After all work was finished, I painted the recesses in Silver, then coated them in Kristal Klear (well, white glue) and painted them in the corresponding Tamiya Clear color. The White lights were coated in a mix of Clear Gloss and a touch of Tamiya Clear Yellow. The overall result seemed realistic enough.
An awesome kit of a very elegant and nice-looking aircraft. It is very hard to find a real fault in it. If I were pressed to do so, I would mention the engines: they fit too deep inside the cowlings. Of course, the guys at Tamiya do their maths well, so the propellers have the proper stance, by means of what I think are too long engine crankases. There are no specific photos in the Mikesh book, but a general frontal view of the NASM machine seems to support the idea of the engines being much closer to the cowling lips than those of the kit. To correct it, I would suggest cutting at least half of the crankases and placing the engine proper halfway forward inside the cowlings, but this would be for the fastidious kind of modeller. Maybe it is my growing up with Airfix and Frog kits (some of which had the frontal cylinder row moulded solid to the lip of the cowl) that makes me think this way. For those of you used to Hinomaru-painting, no aftermarket decals are necessary, specially in view of the differences between the subjects and the kit itself! The canopy interior shows wonderfully, specially the back of the instrument panel, so take your time to wire and paint it (I painted it "varnished wood"). The work done to hide the ejector marks seems successful, though the wiring is probably apocryphal. I would be advisable to add some wiring to the cannon themselves; I did not. There are some aftermarket details kits now, but either OOTB or with some scratchbuilt detail, this kit can be made into a very accurate replica of this handsome aircraft.
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