High Planes 1/72 Mirage IIIE
Model, Text and Photos by: Mike O'Hare
There's a first time for everything...
Hello. My name is Mike, and I am an assembler. While I'm an accuracy and detail nut, I strive for the path of least resistance. I tend to stick to the better kits from the big manufacturers, and go with "easy" detail sets that go in without too much hassle. I don't do conversions (at least, not ones that require the cutting of plastic). I don't build vac forms. I don't scratchbuild. I don't superdetail.
So why is it so important to note this? Well, one's initial reaction upon opening a High Planes kit is usually "is there a kit under all that flash?" Okay, that's not quite true. The FIRST reaction is usually "it's so very blue!", followed by the realisation that this ain't your typical mainstream kit. There IS flash. There's some pretty sizeable sprue gates. The parts (at first glance) appear crude, and ill defined. It's okay. It's normal to feel apprehension - I know I certainly did. Take a deep breath, break out your file, your sanding block and your X-Acto knife. It's not as bad as it seems.
Examine the parts CAREFULLY. You'll notice that while they've got a fair bit of flash around their edges, the actual PARTS themselves are pretty darn good. Fine, recessed panel lines that are nice and sharp and crisp. Decent detail overall. A nice resin bang seat, and a pretty good cockpit, too. Some white metal for the landing gear and pitot, plus quite a few optional parts - drop tanks, pylons, noses, nose extensions... Once you get beyond the initial shock of this not being a Hasegawa kit, it's really not that bad.
File, sand, repeat:
So we've established that this isn't your typical, mainstream kit. On to the build. The first thing to do is grab as many implements of reduction as possible - files, knives, blades in an assortment of shapes, coarse sandpaper, motor tools and grinding bits whatever floats your boat. I pretty much kept to a straight, flat jeweller's file, an X-Acto with a standard #11 blade (though I wish I had used a rounded one; more later), nippers and sandpaper ranging in grit from 100 to 350.
All the parts have honkin' big sprue attachments, but these are all on the joining surfaces and don't really take away from any of the detail. Just nip the parts off and obliterate the stubs with a file. Easy-peasy. Many/most of the parts seem to have a thin layer of excess plastic around the joining surface too - it's like a panel line running their circumference, a few thousandths of an inch (or less) thick. Judging by the fact that the radomes don't meet in a nice point, I figured this was excess. I sanded up to what seemed the actual start of the part on all my components.
Everything went fairly well, until I hacked off the wings and tried sticking 'em together. Oh no. Witness very large, seemingly insurmountable gaps between halves. Witness very thick parts. Witness difficult curves that are going to be impossible to sand properly. Witness modeller looking forlornly at the kit, wondering just how deep he can bury it in the "to build" pile, hopefully forgetting all about it, leaving it to slowly decompose over the next 1000 years. Well, suck it up. Be brave. It's really not as bad as it looks. Plunk down in front of the TV for an hour or two, with the wings and some sand paper.
If you're anything like me, the first question that will leap to mind when you look at the wings is "how?!? HOW am I going to make those fit?" Well, here's my technique. Stick a piece of very coarse paper (50-D, for me) on a flat surface, along with some "marginally coarse" paper (200 - 250ish, I guess). As mentioned in the instructions, the main landing gear bays will need thinning on top. Start out by knocking down the upper sides of the wheel wells with the coarse stuff - sand until you can see through the plastic of the wheel hub nut recess in the middle, then sand down bays for the struts until they are translucent too. Once that's done, sand down the flaps until they're getting close to razor sharp - the process is much like removing the pour stub from a resin part. Smooth out the trenches gouged by the coarse paper with the finer stuff. Do the same with the leading edges. These are canted down, so I started by sanding the "horizontal" part down, then working on the "angled" bit. Finally, thin the flap tips, though you'll probably want to hand sand these. as they're delicate and contoured. The wing uppers are tougher. Sand down the flaps (avoiding sanding the tips), and smooth out. You'll then want to carve out just inside of the leading edge, to make it easier to fit the lower wings. The more you can gouge out, the less likely your are of having problems, just make sure you maintain the leading edge. Round it out, thin it back. I just used a bit of the coarse stuff wrapped around a finger, though it's here I wish I had used a rounded X-Acto blade, but I guess I was just too intent on getting the wings together to rummage around for a spare. You can also thin inside the flap tips now too - this is the single trickiest area to do, I found. Once you've got most of the grunt work done, it's time to test fit. You'll have to tweak the upper leading edge, and the tips of the flaps, but they should be fairly close. You will also probably want to thin inside the upper wings, above the gear wells - it's a bit tight once done. It's all pretty easy, really, and I managed to get it done over the span of about an hour.
If your arms aren't too sore from all that sanding, there're still two areas to prepare: the nose and the tail. The cockpit tub and nose gear well is too wide for the fuselage as-is. Or rather, the plastic around the cockpit tub and nose gear well is too thick (due to the low pressure moulding - same reason for the thick wings and flash). Thin down the resin, and thin down the fuselage, especially around the bottom. Ditto with the engine. This is all pretty easy, and hard to muck up. Once again, the more plastic you sand away now, the easier your life will be later on, though the key here is using very coarse sandpaper - you want to remove as much plastic as possible, as quickly as possible, with as little effort as possible. A plastic chisel wouldn't go amiss, if you have one.
Now it's time to breathe deeply and test fit all the major parts. Surprise and alarm it's not actually all that bad! My kit had a fairly large gap underneath, at the wing/fuse join, which was entirely my fault for not sanding carefully, but nothing that a bit of CA couldn't fix. Heck, I sanded those wings! You can relax, pick out your camo scheme, paint the cockpit and gear wells whatever. The hardest part is over. All told, I probably spent about three hours getting the parts ready for assembly, most of which was dedicated to the wings. It was a bit tedious, but it's also easy - easy enough to do while watching a movie.
On to construction:
The fuselage fits together quite well, only requiring a bit of Mr. Surfacer in a few spots along the spine. All the prep work on the cockpit tub and gear well will pay off with a fairly painless build up. Incidentally, my Mirage was built almost exclusively with lacquer thinner. It works pretty much the same as your average liquid solvent, with the added bonus of being a fraction of the cost. Even though it's pretty strongly coloured, the plastic reacted very well to it.
There were only three real problem areas building the rest of the kit: the fin, the wings (again) and the canopy. For the versions included in this particular boxing, the fin has a fairly prominent RWR antenna in the leading edge, giving it a double delta appearance. Unfortunately, the kit only includes the straight fin. The instructions do mention that the modification needs to be done, but don't do much of a job indicating what size and shape the extension should be. Looking through some reference shots (thanks Drewe), I decided to chop the fin off from the vertical panel line at the front, and add an extension running from there, forward to the first panel lines running across the spine of the jet. Hopefully the picture will do a better job at indicating the precise locations. I didn't really fancy the idea of shaping my own extension out of sheet styrene and putty, so I chopped one out of a spare Viggen fin. It would definitely have been nice for High Planes to include either a scab-on replacement (at best) or a printed template (at least), but the crisis was still solved pretty easily, and quickly.
The wing/fuselage join also required a bit of work. There was a gap toward the trailing edge of the wing - it seems the upper wing halves can fit flush to the fuselage, or the lower wing half, but not both. It's not a big gap, only a millimetre or so at the widest and in all fairness, I suspect that some of this may have been to do with my sanding, but it did require several applications of Mr. Surfacer. Seam clean up in this delicate area was done using nail polish remover on a Q-Tip - it's potent enough to soften the putty so you can wipe away the excess, but won't craze the plastic. In small quantities. Just don't use too much nail polish remover or let excess sit on the model, as it can soften the very fine panel lines. I learned this the hard way, as I forgot to brace the wing/fuselage join on the inside. Whenever I'd sand or squeeze either, the thin film of Mr. Surfacer would pop, and I'd have to re-do the seam. Next time I'll reinforce the joint with styrene sheet and CA, and go over the panel lines with a straight pin to deepen them a bit, just to be on the safe side.
The canopy is designed to blend into the fuselage, but it needs a bit of help to do so. Framing and canopy outlines are a bit on the faint side, which makes it tricky to cut out and mask, and the extra flanges seem to be too thick for the recesses around the cockpit. I used a few drops of super thin CA to secure my windscreen, then filed down the protrusions. A little bit of Mr. Surfacer to fill in a couple of small gaps and you've got a perfect assembly. Again, it's not terribly difficult, though sanding around the windscreen isn't my idea of fun.
All that remained was to add the last few bits to get ready for painting. I was quite impressed with the near flawless fit of the intakes, undernose doppler housing and under tail fuel tank fairing. They matched the curvatures of the fuselage as well as any mainstream kit. Once on, I primed the model and checked for seams. Pretty good. Incidentally, I also test fitted the extra canards - included for those building the Venezuelan aircraft, though they're also used on several other Mirage types. With a bit of clean up, these too fit very snugly - no mean feat around the complex compound curves on the intake.
A lick of paint and a lot of pastel:
I originally planned to finish the kit in the super cool Peruvian jungle green scheme, but instead opted to go out of the box, with Egyptian markings to display next to my Kfir. I envisioned an aircraft long neglected in the desert, completely sun bleached and heavily weathered. Looking through High Planes' FS suggestions, I discovered that none of the shades were readily available from any of the major manufacturers, so I custom mixed my own. The sand is heavily lightened Hu 54, while the dark green is based on Model Master's FS34096 and the lighter green is their FS 34227. For the underside grey, I mixed a slew of colours until I found something approximating what I wanted, sort of a bluer version of Dark Sea Grey. The orange is Testors Orange - the bright (not fluorescent) orange in their small bottle range, which was sprayed over a base coat of white to achieve both the opacity and the fading effect. Once the paint had cured, I attacked the model with various shades of pastels. Darker versions of the base colours were rubbed into the panel liness, to simulate the grime and less fading there, while lighter versions got rubbed into the middles of all the panels. The two were then heavily blended together. I gloss coated the model with Metalizer Sealer (absolutely wonderful stuff), and applied the decals. There really aren't many to go on, so it only took an evening. They are nice and thin, and settled down well with a light application of Mr. Mark Softer, but the white of the roundels is slightly translucent - even more noticeable because of the black stripe underneath. Were I to do it again, I'd add a circle of white decal film underneath. Once the decals had set, I sprayed a coat of Humbrol clear Matte over the whole model, added some more pastels (the clear coat tends to dull them a bit) and began the final assembly.
The drop tanks and missile rails fit quite well, once you figure out where they go. A diagram in the instructions would have been nice, but I wound up using a Kfir model as a reference - the missile rails go outboard, over the flap actuator fairings, while the drop tanks mount just inboard of the wing leading edge notches. The main landing gear is similarly vague - I'd initially mounted them backwards. The wheels point outwards on the real thing, while the doors mount so that the top is basically flush with the top of the white metal strut and both parts then mount in the gear bay. The pitot tube is way too long, and should be cut down to about the same length as the radome. All that's left is to add some spares box missiles (in this case Hasegawa AIM-9B's), and it's done, ready for the display case.
I know it sounds like I've ragged on the kit, but to be perfectly honest, I thoroughly enjoyed building it. As I said, I consider myself an assembler, and this was my first limited run kit. It took some time, some thinking, and it took a bit of work, but there weren't any problems that a little care couldn't overcome. If I can do it, anyone can. It definitely isn't a kit for people whose raison d'être is to paint models, or decal them, though. If you hurry through the building phase so you can apply the paint, or markings, this kit may not be for you. It doesn't give you the sort of instant gratification that a Hasegawa kit will. But if you love the process of putting a kit together, then you should have fun with the High Planes Mirages. You really do get a sense of accomplishment looking at it, built and painted, sitting on the shelf. And I definitely intend to build several more; I've still got that Peruvian scheme to do. And a nifty Pakistani Mirage with replacement wings. Then there's the Swiss single seater with the canards, and the Cheetah, and
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