Colonial Viper
Project start: mid 2002

A while back I was talking to a friend of mine, and for some reason the subject turned to Battlestar Galactica. Turns out it made a rather bigger impression on her that its contemporary Star Wars did, and I must say I rather liked the series myself (still do; just got the DVDs). I remembered the old Monogram kit, and figured what the heck, I'll build her one of those to put on a wall mount.
I had intended to simply get the Revell re-release, which I'd seen in shops not too long before, but apparently there are more kit building Galactica fans out there, because they'd all been snatched up by the time I got around to shopping. Whatever, there's always the internet, and as I'd expected, I eventually found a Viper. Took a whole lot longer than expected, but I guess that's part of the game.
While I was hunting a Viper, I also found out about the Millennium Models detail sets. Once I got the Viper kit, I realised the cockpit and pilot sets were going to be a must.

The picture below on the left shows the parts from the basic kit, plus the MM cockpit tub. As can be seen, the phrase "basic kit" has more meaning than one in this case. Dryfitting shows that the parts go together reasonably well, although a more critical look will reveal gaps at the rear of the engine block. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no cockpit, and the canopy is non-transparent, hence the need for aftermarket parts. There is also a totally goofy launch mechanism for a "laser torpedo" that is supposed to fire through the air intake (if that's what its supposed to be) at the very front of the fighter. Needless to say this particular feature will not be fitted.

Picture of the Monogram parts Picture of the aftermarket parts
Picture of fitted cockpit tub

The picture above and right shows the aftermarket parts. Generally, these are very nice sets, and any problems I've experienced with them up until now are a result of my own lack of experience with plastic surgery.
Unfortunately, adapting the Viper to wallmounting and the aftermarket cockpit requires quite a bit of surgery. I have not intention of mounting a kit this size several feet off the ground hanging from only a dubious glue bond between mount and kit, I want a sturdy piece of metal for that connection. I've chosen to install a piece of threaded iron into the engine housing, which will provide the connection to the yet to be built wall mount. Of course, the connection between this threaded iron and the plastic needs to be strong. My solution to that issue is to stick it loosly into the engine housing, and then fill the entire housing with epoxy or PU resin. I'd like to see it try to get away from that bond. However, pouring resin into the engine housing requires that that is water tight, and it isn't. Enter a large amount of rotted wood filler, the yellowish material that can be seen at the bottom. From now on, the engine housing will be used as a disposal point for left over resin and such, until it has become one great big massive block.

The aftermarket cockpit also makes certain demands. In order for it to fit properly, I've had to remove the top deck in the cockpit area (as per instructions included with the cockpit set). The result of this can be seen in the picture on the right.
Unfortunately, this is not the only heavy work required in the fuselage. The two halves do not line up properly in many places, and need extensive filling and sanding, which in turn wipes out the raised panel lines. I've managed to restore most of the detail lost so far, but it is neither perfect nor over.

Construction of the Viper is currently on hold. I found I was dealing with too many new materials and techniques at the same time, and decided to test all of these on Vigilante 3.

Over the past year, the rear fuselage has been filled up with left over resin (and anything else that didn't get out of the way soon enough), entirely as planned. However, events have sort of taken the heart and soul out of the project, and I'm no longer motivated to work on it. I very much doubt this will ever be finished.

Boxart picture of the decals

Fate's whims returned Viper 1 to me. There must have been a Cylon lurking in the attic she hid in these past years, because she was seriously shot up. The port wing is completely gone. This probably saved it's butt though, because it promoted it from 'dumped kit' to 'challenge'.
So, what does a Viper do when it bad trouble? It calls in reinforcements or course. Enter Viper 2, this time in a more modern Revell boxing, although the contents are as clunky as ever. Which is good, because the situation called for an exact duplicate. I'll build up the rear section of Viper 2 to the point where I can devise a mould for a copy of the port wing, and fit that copy to Viper 1. While I'm at it, I will also fit the unaltered forward fuselage of Viper 2 to the rear half of Viper 1, and finish Viper 1 as a wall hanger as originally planned. Viper 2 will be built with the forward fuselage of Viper 1 and the attendent aftermarket details, for mounting on the include display stand. Not much use sticking all that detail in a place where it can't be seen, while on Viper 2 it will actually be visible once finished.

The rear hull and port wing of Viper 2 have been assambled. That was the easy bit. Next were building the casing for the mould, which was trivial, immobilising the built up parts inside the casing, which was easy, and the pouring the rubber into the casing to acually create the mould, which should have been easy but turned out to be the first in a series of media revolts. The rubber was old, and I was stupid enough to add the nominal amount of catalyst to it. As a result the rubber was well on it's way to setting by the time I poured, and refused to flow underneath the rear hull, at the same time piling up in huge blobs sticking out over the casing elsewhere. Such joy.
Once the rubber had set completely, I inspected the result, and found that at least the critical parts of the wing, that is, the parts I couldn't make out of milliput, were covered. In theory at least, the mould should be useable. That left damming off the central part where the rubber had refused to go, which seemed to work well enough with plasticine clay. Ideally, I would have used PU resin to cast this part, but I didn't have any, and not too many opportunities to acquire some in the foreseeable future either. So, I turned to epoxy resin instead. Major miscalculation. Whether because I screwed up mixing the components, or because most resins just plain hate me, the resin refused to harden, but to compensate, it did manage to run everywhere it wasn't wanted. A day and a half later, I had a lump of rubber mostly filled with mutinous resin, which had also crept into every hole it could find a path to in the Lego casing around the mould. The only thing that can get rid of this particular resin is acetone. This is good, in that there is at least something to clean it all off with, and in that I actually have acetone. It's not so good, in that acetone is hardly something you want to spend a day breathing vapours of, soak your fingers with, or clean plastic blocks with. This stuf disolves plastic, remember. After about a day of work that probably violates every possible applicable regulation, I have the mould and about 75% percent of the Lego cleaned or written off as unsalvageable. And still no wing for Viper 1.
The rubber of the mould is apparently impervious to acetone, so at least the mould is still functional. Using metal for the cast was out of the question; even if it were possible, the wing would be prohibitively heavy. So I tried dental plaster. This didn't work all that well, because it likes some air when drying, and because it is really too thick to flow well into such a deep mould. Still, it has given me the basics of a wing, and I might be able to build further on that. I squirted some Vallejo filler into some of the more detailed parts of the wing, and propped the mould open so that the filler could breathe, and am now waiting for it to set. If nothing else, this is going to teach a thing or two about pushing media beyond their specs. I'm also dissolving some scrap sprue in glue, as a backup plan for the Vallejo putty. This is going to be a long fight.
On a brighter note, the forward fuselage and engine bay front are ready for joining to the rear half, so as far as the kit itself is concerned, the port wing is the only part left that will require serious effort. That, and the wall mount of course.

Predictably, the Vallejo putty did not produce a workable wingtip, so the dissolved sprue backup had to be called into action. This worked as expected, that is, it produced a detailed, but hollow and therefore extremely fragile cast. This was incrementally filled with Vallejo putty (thanks for the needle like applicator guys), while in parallel, the main chunk of the wing was whipped into shape. As expected, this took quite the bit of whipping. In the end, the wing consisted of dental plaster, brass tubing, Vallejo putty, Milliput, plastic tube, general purpose filler, PU glue, dissolved sprue, and CA glue. In other words, bit of just about everything on the workbench, plus a healthy dose of blood, sweat and tears. But, this did get me a reasonable wing.

View of the original right wing View of the replacement left wing
Rear view showing angle of wings Close-up view of the restored wing on the completed kit

A restored wing does not a Viper make. It needs to be matched to the rest of the ship before it get any relevance. I spent quite a bit of time getting the aligment right as seen from the front of the ship, as the replacement wing is primarily mounted on a single brass rod, and the wingtip had to line up with that of the original wing. I even got it right. Too bad I forgot to check the alignment of the angle at which the wing sticks out of the main hull. Luck not being my strongest characteristic, it didn't work out well. When viewed from either side, or even the front, the wings look good, but viewed from the rear... Oh well, see for yourself.

Next up: paint. Several references make a big deal about how severely weathered the Vipers on the show were, but I'm not buying that. I re-ran the entire series, and except when taking a hit or after having done so very recently, the ships are shown very clean. In fact, I had to look hard to find any variation in colour on them. The closest I could come was overall very light grey (Humbroll 147) with the bays behind the cannon, and the more detailed parts of the main hull a somewhat browner shade, for which I used Light Gull Grey. Everyting else was supplied as decals.

Oh dear, decals.. The decals that came with the Monogram boxing are incomplete; there are no markings for the bottom of the ship. The Revell decals are much better, although hardly perfect. They are complete, and behave very well, but the block bars for the sides of the main hull are too long for the kit. They also suffer from the peculiar little detail that I have only one set of them, and two Vipers in need of markings. I dcided to use the orange parts from the Revell sheet (after scanning for future copying for the second ship) while using the grey engine bands from the Monogram sheet, as this colour would be hard to reproduce on my printer. Just to be stupid, I also used the Monogram canopy decals. While the Revell decals performed neatly, the Monogram sheet suffered from yellowing which I only noticed when they were on the kit, and just wouldn't lie down regardless of what solvent I hit them with. I did, of course, hit them with every solvent in my arsenal, and aside from some permanent, but hard to spot at normal viewing ranges, wrinkling they are now where they belong.

I took a chance with the final finishing coat, and fortunately, this calculated risc paid off. Model paints are all good and well, but this ship was going to be sitting in a very exposed spot, so I wanted something designed for a little more toughness. So, I coated the finished ship with the same acrylic semi-gloss varnish I used for most of the furniture in my home. This was inspired by the fact that the varnish sold under the XtraCrylics brand looked and even smelled the same as this furniture varnish. So, I decided "Looks like a duck, smells like a duck, probably tastes like one too", and it actually worked.

That left the wall mount to deal with. A couple of hours tinkering with CorelDraw gave me an acceptable design, and I just about set to laminate up some wood paneling to achieve the needed thickness for the mount, when the intended owner haded me a stack of cut-off pieces from the new floorboards in her house. That was just a bit too good to ignore, so a piece of oak floor got volunteerd for the job. Worked well enough too, until I got stupid and lost control of the drill, resulting in a large hole all the way through rather than just deep enough to hide a screw, and a sizeable chunk torn out of the wood. All of this something like 24 hours before I planned to deliver the kit, of course. Miliput to the rescue, and after quite a bit of work and unpublishable language I got a simplified wall mount ready in time.

Completed kit
With Viper 1 now complete, attention shifts to Viper 2. I found a site offering decal sheets for these kits, but it appeared to be defunct. I sent an email to the owner, but things stayed silent for a month, then all of a sudden, I got a response. I'm still trying to make up my mind whether or not I'm going to trust this, or get to work with the ALPS to make my own.
Regardless of how this turns out, I'll have a bit of work getting Viper 2 presentable. My early attempts at rescribing panel lines of the forward fuselage are going to need corrective action, and the aftermarket cockpit and canopy are a long way from installed.

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