Eduard 1/72 Aero L-39 Albatros
Model, Text and Photos by: Mike O'Hare
Model, Text and Photos by: Mike O'Hare
Some time ago, I wrote a fairly glowing in-box review of the Eduard L-39 - crisply molded parts, loads of decal options, fantastic packaging. Now that I've built it, I have to say that the kit more than lives up to that initial inspection.
Construction begins, as always, in the cockpit. While the basic colour scheme is grey, the cockpit actually has quite a lot of visual interest due to the wide range of greys used. Careful masking and airbrushing helps to pick out the different shades. The version built here is the Profipack edition, with added etched parts to help dress up the plastic. While the etch does add a nice touch - better HUDs, sidewall detail, finer antennae and so on, the kit's cockpit is certainly detailed enough OOB to opt instead for the regular releases if you plan to keep the canopies closed. A nice benefit of the PE, however, is the instrument panel. As there are so many sub-types of the basic L-39, and each operator has a slightly different configuration, Eduard provide etched instrument panels for each version the kit can build. The differences between these are actually quite substantial, so the optional parts are a welcomed addition. It also means plenty of useful spares for other projects. Because of the complex paint scheme of the L-39's main instrument panels, I opted to use the kit supplied instrument panel decals, partly for the sake of ease, and partly because they're so very well printed, there was no way I could match the detail by hand painting them. I found that, while the decals lined up well for the most part, there were a few buttons that didn't quite match the raised detail on the photo-etch.
Next I built the seats. These parts gain the most in the Profipack edition, with the addition of full harness gear, pull handles and placards. The finished seats are absolute jewels, so careful painting here is a must to show them off to their best. I did find that the seats were a tight squeeze into the cockpit tub, however. This may have been due to modeller error - I built them up with CA, and may have had too thick a layer holding the seat sides on to the seat back, thus widening the completed assembly. Luckily they slid into place easily once the lower seat sides were filed down, and while this is a bit of a hassle to do, all efforts to thin the seat are hidden when all is said and done. The cockpits finished, you can join the fuselage halves.
Eduard include a nicely molded intake compressor piece, however it lacks an intake trunk. While it's not particularly visible when looking down the intakes, I decided to add a semblance of a trunk for the benefit of the penlight police. This was done pretty simply - just cut a rectangle of thin sheet styrene, about 1cm wide, trim it to fit, then repeat for the opposite side. The intake, exhaust and cockpit all tacked in place, the fuselage halves were joined. Fit is very good throughout, and all the panel lines line up perfectly. The fit is less good joining the wings to the fuselage. To be fair, I joined both wing halves together, then added the completed wing to the completed fuselage, and this left an annoying gap between the top of the wing and the fuselage. Not a particularly large gap - a bit of Mr. Surfacer too care of it easily - but one that's a little difficult to fill because of the tight quarters between the wing, the fuselage, and the intake. Next time, I would glue the upper wing to the fuselage first, which should allow more flexibility, eliminating the gap entirely, then add the lower wing. A bit of filler was also needed under the fuselage, blending in the wing to the fuselage, but this too may be eliminated with more careful assembly.
Basically, I got excited about getting the model together, rushed things, and had to do some seam-filling as a result. Even still, everything was cleaned up quickly: a light application of Mr. Surfacer all around, the excess between the wings and fuselage was cleaned up with a Q-Tip soaked in CA de-bonder (much the same as the acetone trick, but works faster), and wet sanded out underneath. Next I attached the intakes, tailplanes and gun, then prepped the model for paint.
Paint and Decals
As I've said before, I have a fondness for obscure subject matter, and this usually means a struggle to find paint matches. That issue reared its ugly head once again with this L-39. Eduard are nicely explicit in their colour callouts, but it does take a bit of thinking to sort out what paints to use. This is further compounded by the fact that reference photos suggest that the Royal Thau Air Force operates L-39s in a range of similar LOOKING schemes, but in different shades - one with greener tones, one in greys, another scheme in blue, as the kit suggests. In the end, I used Model Master II Blue FS 35414 and Blue FS 35109, Model Master 1 Intermediate Blue FS 35164 and Camouflage Grey FS 36622, as well as Xtracolor Barley Grey.
Painting was done with paper masks. I scanned the instruction sheet, enlarged the diagrams to the proper size, then printed them out, masking off each colour in turn. Nothing terribly difficult, apart from the fact that it's a five colour scheme. By about the fourth colour, the overall grey Romanian option was looking SERIOUSLY tempting. Painting done, the model was glossed with Future in preparation for the decals.
Eduards decals are probably the best kit decals out there at the moment. Fantastically thin, they apply easily, snuggle in to surface detail perfectly, and the carrier film absolutely disappears when dry. The only downside is that the printing on some of the stencils is, for my tastes, a little on the heavy side. Certainly not enough to be unusable, but it would be nice to see Eduard make them just a little finer. Decal instructions are broken into two parts, one for the major insignia for each subject (and printed in colour, as mentioned in the in-box review. Man I love that!), and another covering stencil data for all subjects, with colour coded numbers to show which decals are applicable to which sub-type. It's surprisingly easy to follow, making decalling a breeze. With the last stencils applied, I re-glossed the model to level off the surface, then applied a watercolour sludge wash with varying shades of blues and greys along the panel lines; just enough to bring out the detail, as the RTAF aircraft are kept pretty clean. It was then satin coated and final assembly begun.
This was started by attaching the previously painted landing gear struts and wheels. These are somewhat fiddly to attach and rather delicate when on, so I'd suggest pinning them with steel wire, and using a jig to align them. Because the wheel wells are completely covered over on the Albatros, there are no actuator struts visible to lend extra support, so bumps and knocks may knock the model off its gear. The various etched antennae were added, along with the pylons, drop tanks and drop tank lights. Eduard supply a pair of Russian FAB-250 bombs to be used on the outer pylons, but I surmised that as most of Thailand's other military equipment is American, they would probably use Mk.82s instead. Two bombs were taken from Hasegawa's Weapons Set 1, the fuzes lopped off and replaced with some more modern ogival fuzes turned from styrene rod. If nothing else, it adds a little more visual interest. Finally, the wing pitots and canopy actuators were replaced with fine wire, and the canopies tacked on with white glue.
I said in my in-box review that there would be many Albatroses in my future, and after building the kit, I'm even more eager to flesh out my collection. It's a fantastic kit of such a cool little jet with almost limitless markings options. For anyone who thinks that modern jets are all boring and grey, look up "L-39" on Airliners.net. Having built the Profipack edition, and comparing this to the basic kit, it is definitely worth while to splurge on the extra bits. The parts for the seat alone are worth it, the massive decal sheet and various antennae are just gravy. That said, the basic kit will still build into a great replica, and if you only dabble in 1/72, or plan to keep the canopies closed, you won't really notice the lack of etch. In the end, I suppose, it boils down to the type of modeller you are: if you'd go out and by a PE set for the kit, or an aftermarket decal sheet, then get the Profipack edition, which has everything you'd want or need. If you just want a simple OOB build, the basic editions of the kit will still produce excellent results.
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