Box art picture of the sprues picture of the decals

Airfix Starfighter

Project start 2023-03-17

While working on my Blitzbau 32 Heller Starfighter I picked up a bad case of Starfighter nostalgia. The only possible cure is to do another Starfighter, right now.
This particular boxing of the Airfix Starfighter holds a special place in my memories. Built at my grandparents' place, like so many others, it was probably the first model of a German subject not from the World War II timeframe, and as such I was both puzzled and pleased with the 'strange' crosses used as national insignia. As a result, this kit stuck to my brain like glue.

This kit will be build OOB and "by the box", that is, I'll be using a best guess approximation on the colours of the artwork rather than the proper colours for a German F-104, that is to say very light grey, light grey, and grey-ish green. I'll be using the decals from the Heller kit rather than the Airfix ones; I might want to use the latter for more serious projects at some later time.

I attempted to start with the obvious pieces, cleaning up the fuselage halves, But even minimal dry fitting showed these were going to be problematic to align properly; the rear end has nothing to line it up with, and if said rear end is not aligned properly, it will push the wings out of alignment with it. I've left the main fuselage for now in favour of the tail section; hopefully this will, once assembled, help keeping the rest lined up. Given the amount of filler that's already gone into those three parts and the tip tanks, I predict lots of sanding and filling, and no surviving panel lines for this build.

I've been hearing some real horror stories about this kit, and given the observed quility of the parts, there's probably a lot of truth to those. I'm particularly worried about the undercarriage; I had to fudge my way out of trouble with the much better Heller kit, so I'm going to get some insurance by preparing this one to stand on 'crutches'.

I've grabbed some clear sprue and stretched it out over a flame to a thickness of about 0.75mm. This should be enough to serve as a 'posts' sticking out of the wheel wells next to the actual undercarriage, and keep the plane off the surface. There's not a lot of stregnth there, obviously, but the posts need to be only about 15mm from the bottom of the bay, according to measurements from the Heller model.
I've also filled in the area immediately above and between the wheel wells from the inside. If, as I suspect, the undercarriage will come out out of alignment, I'll drill holes into the bottom of the wheel wells and insert the clear posts. I'm guessing it will be easier to get those symmetrical than trying to doctor the very fragile looking kit parts. The idea is that the post will extend just a little beyond the wheels, taking the weight of the plane while it still looks like it's standing on it's real legs.

The fuselage halves were not interested in responding to persuasion, so I resorted to brute force. This had the fortunate side effect of properly aligning the wings, which had seemed out of sync while dry fitting.

The green goo along the joins is sprue soup. The wall thickness of the main parts is fairly small, so I was worried there might be some movement during sanding and questionable grip for the filler to begin with, leading to crumbling filler. Sprue soup, while slow and a bit inaccurate to work with, literally fuses with the surrounding plastic, so it should be fine. The huge gaps between the wings and the lower fuselage have also had a doze, once again to reinforce the shaky join.

That brought me to smaller, but no less technically interesting parts.
The air brakes don't fit, period. The best that can be said for them is that they'll provade a good base for the pile of filler that will take their place.

The air intakes don't appear to belong to the same model. After much fiddling, they're still wider than the fuselage by roughly a wall thickness. I put yet more sprue soup into the join, but even so, filling and sanding here is going to move into the domain of re-sculpting. It didn't really help that the instructions have the intakes swapped; going by the book would have been completely impossible. Saved by my anarchist tendencies..

The hole in the nose cone, where the plug at the front of the fuselage is supposed to go, is off centre. I didn't even try to fix the cone, but filed off a sizeable part of the plug instead until thing sort of lined up. The good news is that normal filler will do there.

I must admit to being a bit conflicted about my "straight OOB" plan.
On the one hand, the idea was not to mess with the kit, and accept any inaccuracies as part of the charm. It's also clearly a path to bitter disappointment to go all out with detailing.
But on the other hand, the abrupt change in taper where the nose cone meets up with the fuselage looks wrong. I don't just mean wrong in the sense that it isn't an accurate representation of an F-104, it looks wrong in the way of something broken and very badly repaired, and that doesn't really sit well with me. I'm very tempted to make a cast of the nose of the Heller single seat parts; a quick dry fitting shows the nose should line up at least as nicely as the kit parts.

I got in some serious work with a coarse file today, and cleaned up the seams that were horrible enough that they'd been covered in sprue soup. I'm rather pleased how they turned out. There will have to be some additional filling and sanding there, but by and large, the general shape is getting there.
The one area I keep fretting about is the nose though. The Airfix profile is just too horrible. The picture shows the current state of the Airfix kit, the front fuselage left over from the Heller build, and the cast replacement nose made from the Heller. It's becoming more and more likely that I'll actually go ahead and saw off the Airfix nose, and put the cast in it's place.
The multi-coloured appearance of the cast nose is due to the fact that the mould was just a blob of clay, and the cast consequently needing quite a bit of post-processing. There's resin, paint, and three different fillers in there..

I'm rather happy with how the nose turned out.

The Starfighter has received the dreaded first coat of primer, designed to show of all those annoying flaws. There is clearly some work to be done yet, especially on the nose cone, which turns out to have a sightly porous surface. I think this is where I dig out the slightly thicker beige primer, which is formulated for just this kind of fudging. And of course, some conventional filler for some other spots, and yet more sandpaper..

So much for theory; the primer's response to the nose was, roughly, "no way am I flowing into those holes".
More deviousness required.

I tried the acrylic filler, and altough it got some of the holes, it didn't get them all. However, in this case I did the light sanding after the filler had dried, on purpose. After all, dust gets into everything. Without further cleaning, I then put on a coat of (relatively) thick varnish (Gunze, almost identical to Tamiya). Fine powder plus resin equals filler...
I have yet to re-prime and probably sand, but I have considerable hope this will have fixed it.

I've constructed a pitot tube from network cable, and fitted it to the nose. Painting has begun with the nose cone, which now sports a fetching Humbrol 28 camouflage grey coat. I've also figured out which colours to use; the upper surface camo will be Firescale RAL7001 Silbergrau (which actually belongs on the lower surfaces) with Humbrol 31 Slate Grey. The lower surfaces will be Tamiya XF80 Royal Light Grey. Some of the smaller parts and spot colours are Humbrol and Hataka water based acrylics. Paint wise then, this will be a proper multi media product..
Short of cellulose laquers, I've got all bases covered.

I've just masked and airbrushed the top side grey. It's unbelievable how little structural strength this model has. Even the main wing feel wobbly, never mind smaller bits like tip tanks and tails, and they all seem one blink away from breaking off. In fact, the horizontal tail did just that. Since that means touch-up work after re-fitting it anyway, I'll leave it off until painting is otherwise complete.

The beasty has left the paint shop, and the masking take is off. Aside from the horizontal tail coming off, I haven't spotted any mishaps during this stage (yet..)
The colours aren't completely matched to the box, the grey is too blue, but I think they get the point accross. I might actually end up with a halfway pleasant result.

With enthousiastic support from the Heller decals, I managed to shoot myself in the foot
The decals came off the backing paper like they were new, but adhesion seemed to be a bit iffy, so I ran some Clear under them. An hour or so later, things seemed to have set, but with slight curling at some of the edges. Well, that wasn't new, the ModelDecals used on the previous project did the same, and a spot of Microsol straightened them out nicely. Not these guys. The solvent didn't seem to affect the decals in the least, but it did weaken the adhesion further, allowing the decals to curl up completely. I ended up picking the decals off the model with tweezers. Mind you, that's decals soaked in solvent still strong enough to be peeled off without the slightest hint of deforming of tearing.
The kicker? Not only were the decals now gone, where the edge of the decals had been there was a visible, slightly raised ridge of some residue. This of course would not come off with hot soapy water and a bit of rubbing. More rubust measures involving fingernails worked, but also damaged the paintwork. A new visit to the paint shop for damage control will sadly be required.
I can't blame the Airfix kit for this in any way, since no kit components were involved in any of this mess.
The only good news is that this is a splinter camo pattern, that is to say, nothing but straight lines. At least there shouldn't be an issue masking the pattern a second time.

Once things had dried completely, the mess was even greater than was already visible while still wet. I sanded the affected areas lightly to get rid of the ridges that had formed, and today was 'remedial airbrush day' for several models. The F-104, as expected, was easy enough to fix.
Prior to re-painting, I did a test with the Airfix decals (on the lower wings, so invisible). Despite their age, these performed perfectly. At least they got something right with this kit..

The plane is sitting on it's own three legs now. Not surprisingly, it's listing slightly to port, but little enough that a casual observer would probably miss it. This did not come for free; I had to take about 1mm off the starboard wheel to get to this point. That too is all but undetectable unless you know to look for it. Fortunately, this means I shouldn't have to bother with the "crutches" I'd panned earlier.
All that is left now is some minor touch up, fitting the undercarriage doors and horizontal tail, and decals. Shouldn't be long now..

The beasty has been tamed

I like how the rather what-iffy colours turned out. While not absolutely identical to the box art, I think I got close enough.

It's clearly not a top of the line F-104 kit, in fact, without the nose job, it would have been ghastly. The general fragility is an issue, but with some care, this can be dealt with. Other than that, it roughly looks like a Starfighter, and considering the tooling turns 60 this year, I don't think you ask much more of it.

Finishing materials:

MrColor 20 Light Blue base coat
Hu28 camouflage grey nose cone
Tamiya XF80 Royal Light Grey lower surfaces
Firescale RAL7001 Silbergrau top surface
Hu31 Slate Grey camo pattern

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