Italeri AC-130A Gunship in 1/72 Scale

Originally an ESCI kit but later re-boxed under Italeri. This kit builds into an AC-130A Gunship. Building this model was to become one of my longest running project. The kit was flawed from the beginning. There were so many aspect of the model that needed reworking that at some point I was really worn out. I was totally exhausted. I had to work on so many aspects of the kit, particularly the engine extensions, which were extremely troublesome. I used Mr. Color FS36118 gunship grey for the base color. For the weathering, I used thin overlays of different shades of greys from Mr. Color and Tamiya acrylics. I did the weathering using a combination of AMMO Mig pigments, filters, Tamiya panel line accent, and AK weathering pencils. I used EZ Line for the areal antenna. I used ArtoolFX and Uschi airbrush templates to help with randomizing the weathered look.

The C-130 Hercules

A C-130E Hercules from the 43rd Airlift Wing, Pope Air Force Base, N.C., flies over the Atlantic Ocean. The C-130 Hercules primarily performs the intra-theater portion of the airlift mission. The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for -troops and equipment into hostile areas. (Credit and Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Howard Blair https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_C-130_Hercules#/media/File:Lockheed_C-130_Hercules.jpg )

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is one of those legendary aircraft that have gone down immortalized in aviation history. Like it’s namesake, this four-engine turbo prop cargo transport has the strength like the son of Zeus, and can perform almost every tasks given, anywhere, at anytime. There are a ton of articles about the C-130 on the Internet such as these from Wikipedia, Military Factory, or the company’s website that you can read on your leisure time.

The Gunship Variant

An AC-130U Spooky Gunship from the 4th Special Operations Squadron jettisons flares over an area near Hurlburt FieldFlorida, on August 20, 2008. The flares are used as a countermeasure to heat-seeking missiles that can track aircraft during real-world missions. (Credit and Source: Senior Airman Julianne Showalter – http://www.defense.gov/photos/newsphoto.aspx?newsphotoid=10507 )

As a kid, I have always been fascinated by the flying gunship concept. The concept itself started off in World War II by arming B-17s with extra machine guns in a makeshift configuration. Followed by converting B-25 Mitchell with six 0.50 cal. machine gun on its hard-nose front end. In the Vietnam-era, you probably know the twin-boom Fairchild AC-119 Stinger, the Douglas AC-47 Spooky, and the Lockheed AC-130 Spectre that set up a row of impressive weapons on its port side from 7.62 mm minigun to as large as 105mm howitzers.

The Lockheed AC-130 Spectre emboldens the modern gunship concept. Citing Wikipedia, this special Hercules variant “is a heavily armed, long-endurance, ground-attack variant of the C-130 Hercules transport, fixed-wing aircraft. It carries a wide array of ground attack weapons that are integrated with sophisticated sensors, navigation, and fire-control systems.” There are several websites dedicated to the Gunship variant.

The Italeri Kit

From my desk internet research, I could closely guess that Italeri has thrown a bit of everything into this kit. The box art suggest that you will get to build an AC-130H variant. The instruction sheet also gives you that impression as well. However, there are plenty of reasons that if you look deeper, the main parts actually gets you the AC-130A version.

Despite that, I found parts that you normally would see in a AC-130U (rectangle exhaust covers). That’s totally fine. It’s quite normal to find optional parts in a kit. What’s not fine is the instruction sheet said nothing about the variant differences. If you have no clue what you want to build, or have a tendency to bypass accuracy, then the instruction sheet is totally fine too.

Underside of an AC-130U Spooky ( Photo SpecialOpsGuy at English Wikipedia – Own work )

However, the confusion starts when you DO CARE and you clearly know what you want to build. Then the instruction sheet is pretty rubbish. I strongly suggest that you start web browsing and arm yourself with lots and lots of reference photos of the aircraft, like these walk-around gallery from AircraftResourceCenter or Net-Maquettes.

A U.S. Air Force Lockheed AC-130A of the 16th Special Operations Squadron, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in March 1969. Ubon RTAFB was the forward operating location for the 16th SOS home-based at Nha Trang Air Base, South Vietnam. ( photo http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/photos/index.asp)

Now, the AC-130A served since the Vietnam war through Operation Desert Storm (ODS). That’s like 30-years apart and many wars in between. So the question is what -A variant do we get in the kit?

The answer? It’s complicated. But in essence you get a bit of both the Vietnam-era gunship and the ODS -A variant. When put together, the major parts can represent an -A model for both era. However, the smaller bits of external accessories are only for the variant that served in the SEA conflict, such as: four AN/ALQ-87 ECM pods, a pair of SUU-43 chaff and flare dispensers, and an AN/AVQ-8 illuminator.

What was super troubling were the Allison T56 engine nacelles provided in the kit. They were way too short for ANY version of the Hercules. These engine nacelle parts are too short by 15mm. That is pretty significant. The only relief is the four-blade propellers that looks good.

U.S. Air Force members of the 746th Aircraft Maintenance Unit (317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Dyess AFB) guide an Allison T56 turboprop engine into place as they remount it onto a Lockheed C-130H Hercules aircraft on 13 July 2007, in Southwest Asia. ( U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ken Stephens – U.S. DefenseImagery photo VIRIN: 070713-F-6094S-077 )

This is my second C-130 Hercules in 1/72. What I could say about both? They are very old kits. They had poor joint connections, simple interior details, almost no external details, the SAME short engine nacelles. But there were differences. They include:

Italeri C-130H

  • Cockpit windows are separate pieces.
  • Raised panel lines.
  • The vertical stabilizer is one with the fuselage
  • No locking mechanism for wing.
  • Include opened flap details for engine nacelles
  • Simple raised detail for cargo platform and ramp

Italeri AC-130H (reboxed from ESCI AC-130A)

  • Cockpit windows is part of a large (clear plastic) section of the front fuselage
  • Recessed panel lines.
  • The vertical stabilizer is separate with the fuselage
  • A locking mechanism for the wing
  • No flap details for the engine nacelles
  • Nice recessed details for cargo platform and ramp.
I made this 1/72 scale Italeri C-130H Hercules in Indonesian TNI-AU colors in 2012.

Let us get back to this kit.

The quality of the surface detail is below today’s standard. Recessed panel lines are shallow and too narrow. Despite the large box, the part counts are low. Aside from the main parts (i.e. wings, fuselage, stabilizers) there aren’t many others included in the box. The plastic is rather soft. So watch out for the smaller bits as you might break them by accident. Like I mentioned earlier, I would keep my expectation low. If you are looking for a Tamiya kit, then this is the wrong kit for you.

the AC-130A comes in a huge box, but the content is spare. The whole space was occupied mostly by the fuselage halves.

A Summary

To summarize, these are the only kits on this subject at this scale. It is an old and ugly kit. You need time and space to build it. You must have basic skills if you want to make it decent. Advance skills is a must if you want to make it look nice. Some aftermarket would definitely help. If you do not have any time, space, or skills then you could either sell it, give it away, or keep it in the box. Another alternative is pay someone to build this kit for you.

Construction

Construction was a nightmarish ordeal. A complete torture. I have learned a few things over the years since I made the Italeri C-130H and pretty much understand the pitfalls of this kit. Obviously, the fitting was rather poor and the plastic was soft with few surface details. There was a constant need to cut, glue, fill, sand, and repeat. It was almost 24/7. I wanted to avoid doing the same mistakes as I did with the C-130H or worse make new ones. The only good thing is the panel lines were recessed, which greatly helped the appearance.

Best way to attack this kit is to work on the sub-assemblies. I used Tamiya lemonium cement (orange cap). it bonds slower than the regular green cap, but it smells good and I don’t feel any nausea.

I approached this kit by building sub-assemblies. I knew that the interior really didn’t matter. The cockpit and cargo bay had almost no detail and only a small fraction of it could be seen from the outside. That was why I wouldn’t bother much about super-detailing this area. It will not be part of the build.

The plastic parts had poor alignment and glue joints. This means that 99 per cent of all the glued area will need filling and sanding. With poor alignments, this means that you should:

  • Always have to test fit or dry fit the parts;
  • Avoid using CA glue as this will bond the plastic instantly. What you need is a slow drying cement, like Tamiya Cement, as this will give you time to adjust while the bond sets; and
  • Vice, clips, rubber bands, and clothe pins that can help you secure the parts together.

The massive gaps on each side of the wheel sponsons were sure indicators of what lies ahead for me. I had to use epoxy putty to add some ‘meat’ and reshape the whole area. Then followed up with many hours of re-scribing. Other areas were treated this way due to the poor quality of the molds.

The cockpit was sparse with the only real detail were the cockpit console. Again nothing here will be seen much from the outside. Unless you plan to surgically cut the cockpit open. To save time, the only detail I added was just some seat belts made of masking tape.

I couldn’t care less about the color of the interior. Some Hercúles had different interior color depending on the time of the production and variant I guess. I don’t remember what I used for this one but I could have been Tamiya XF-19 Sky Grey.

Outsiders would look at us aircraft modelers in a strange way for having this ‘fetish’ with fuselages. but jokes aside, the fuselage is the anchor. The fuselage work must be solid. Without a solid fuselage, we cannot attach anything to it. If we don’t finish the construction work on the fuselage, nothing gets attached.

The inside of the fuselage was strengthen by adding a strip of cardboard glued with CA. In normal circumstances, fuselage work should be a “run-of-the-mill”. This kit is anything but normal. The whole construction affair was far from normal, frankly speaking. There was a never-ending routine of filling and sanding during the fuselage construction. It was hard to see the light at the end of of the tunnel.

I used a multiple approach to the materials I use to conquer the gaps. First was styrene strips when it was necessary. Second was epoxy putty, third was Tamiya grey putty. And last was CA glue. When I felt that the gaps was not smooth enough, I went back to any of the sequence that I mentioned just then.

Construction Focuses

This writing includes and extended construction feature that illustrates the two most challenging aspect of the kit. Not to mention a major mojo-breaker. These two areas were given special attention because they were bad enough that they required extensive work.

  • The construction of cockpit area or front fuselage; and
  • The extension to the engine nacelles.

Construction Focus: Cockpit and Front Fuselage

It took a lot of work to smoothen out the joint between the fuselage and the one-piece clear canopy

The kit’s upper front fuselage consist of one large piece of clear plastic. I think this is ESCI’s solution to address the cockpit’s multiple windows. I compared this with Italeri’s version that provides separate window panels. In ESCI’s example, the window panels are imprinted on that one-piece clear plastic part. The imprints are raised. This adds another layer of problems. While I like the whole idea of the one-piece clear plastic, I did’t particularly like how the part fits onto the fuselage. Like the rest of the kit, the fit was terrible.

As if the fixing the fuselage was bad, fixing the canopy to fit into the fuselage was even worse. Whatever attempt you’re trying to do to work on getting one side to align with the fuselage, you will end up getting the other parts short of alignment. It is like trying to align the three sides of a pyramid with a cube, if you know what I mean! I filled the gaping holes and steps with thin 0.2mm and 0.5mm styrene sheets.

Then I started to shape the contours using Tamiya two-part epoxy putty. I had to do this in thin layers. I wanted to make sure that the putty dries out before I added another layer. I didn’t remember how many layers of putty I added but it was A LOT! When I got to a point where it looks sufficient, I started slowly sanding the hardened epoxy putty.

A crucial step I had to do before any further sanding was re-scribing the cockpit’s window frames. The frames were raised. I knew from the outset that I would loose all the frames’ details once I started the sanding process. I was basically going to be sanding a large part of the cockpit area. Re-scribing will help preserve what were left of the raised details of the window frames.

The images above show massive epoxy putty to the port-side of the fuselage, just behind the clear plastic cockpit. When I traced my fingers on that area, the area was not as curvy as the starboard side. I double-checked it using a cardboard template and I found the two areas were not even. I felt a slight flatness to the curve. The images also show the extensive sanding to the area and how it was very important to re-scribe the window frames in advance.

At this stage, the epoxy putty treatment is working, The curves on both sides have blended well with the clear plastic canopy. Now it was all about filling the small potholes and smoothing out the edges by using Tamiya basic grey putty. Notable at this stage was protecting the window frames. It was meant to protect the rescribed panel lines.

The two final steps included fine sanding and polishing the murky plastic with wet sanding using 1000, 1500 grit sand papers. This is followed by polishing the surface with tamiya polishing compounds (coarse, fine, finish). See how the clear plastic changed its reflective properties and clarity compared to images before this?

The last step of this long process was masking the window frames. My prefered approach is to place the masking tape onto the clear parts and directly slice them with a fresh No.11 blade.

Construction Focus: Engine Nacelles

The long and slim shape of the Hercules’ engine nacelles are very distinctive. However, ESCI and Italeri failed miserably in this part. Instead what you find in their kits are short and stubby nacelles.

This is my second attempt at extending the nacelles. The idea was to add spacers within the original parts (35 mm) so that it would lengthen the nacelles to 50 mm. My first attempt in 2012 involved the use of styrene stripes. It was laborious and time consuming as the styrene was hard to cut, and shaping them took a lot of effort. This time around, I decided to used balsa wood.

In retrospect, it took so much time, and maybe even more than the styrene approach. The balsa wood was easy to cut but hard to shape. Structural strength was a huge issue, and that was the Achilles heel. Overall it was torturous. Nevertheless, here were the steps I took:

Using a modeling saw, I cut off the nacelles about 5 mm off the rear end. Then I followed it by gluing 2 mm strips of balsa wood using CA glue. After bonding, I pressed each set using a clamp and watered down more CA glue over the balsa wood. Balsa wood are very porous. They absorb a considerable amount of liquid. I found this out when I gave them small droplets of CA glue, it had little effect on the bonding. Only after I poured a copious amount of CA glue did the wood and plastic bonded.

Next step included carving out the balsa wood so that it would blend into the contours. I scrapped off the excess using a scalper and then sand it with a wet and dry sandpaper foam #300 from 3M. At this stage the balsa wood spacers were still in the rough. I smothered Tamiya regular grey putty and sand it smooth.

As it turned out, Tamiya regular putty could not hold the shape. They were merely fillers to the porous balsa wood. So I turned to Tamiya two-part epoxy putty as I know it could hold volume on its own.

The second half of the process includes adding another spacer 5 mm from the front tip using a single 2 mm balsa wood sheet. I treated the front spacer identical to how I treated the rear spacer. Once I was satisfied with the shape, I attached the nacelles onto the wings. This was a struggle on its own.

The biggest challenge to attaching the nacelles was that they have shrunk. Yes, all four engine nacelles shrank. Why? because of the intense and repeated sanding made their overall dimension smaller by at least 0,2 mm on all sides, which I think was very alarming.

Eventually, I ended up adding more CA glue, adding more epoxy putty, and more sanding. At this point, I felt that scribing was no longer providing me with any additional value. All the original raised lines were gone. And tracking all of them back again would be just insane. Instead, later when all engine nacelles were painted, I drew the panel lines using a pencil that was sharpened to a needle point.

I can not mention how critical to get the engine nacelles properly attached and smoothly blended with the rest of the wing BEFORE infusing them to the fuselage. The AC-130 in 1/72 holds up to be a relatively large model when all the large components are put together. If you need to fix the joints, surface, details etc of the engine nacelles, do it before you infuse the wings onto the fuselage. If you do it afterwards, then you are increasing the risk of damaging the model. That’s because like it or not, you will have to rotate the whole model at some point, potentially breaking or damaging other parts.

Construction Focus: Putting it all Together

The last segment of the construction focuses on infusing the wings onto the fuselage and rescribing lost panel lines. Italeri (ESCI) has provide you with a model that has recessed panel lines. However as I found out later, the quality was uneven. Some were too shallow and faint. They would cause problems when applying washes.

I really commend the way the wings held their place. Italeri (ESCI) designed a simple “L” shape lock mechanism and that worked pretty well. The whole fit was pretty good too. The wings stayed straight, the upper surface leveled ( no drooping) and the wing edges matched the fuselage. All I need to do now was to blend everything seamlessly.

Blending the wing roots was the easier part of building this kit. Not much of a gap. I combined epoxy putty and cover any remaining imperfection with Tamiya regular grey putty. To get a good bond, I used Tamiya cement. They are slow but I could assure you they would bond plastic better than CA glue, considering the weight of each of the wings.

I sprayed Mr. Surfacer grey primer 500 to check my work. If you haven’t tried Mr Surfacer, you are missing a really good modeling material. Automotive or commercial primer in rattle cans are still way too rough. Mr. Surfacer will give you a really smooth and opaque surface finish and provides a very good platform for your paint.

I have also primed the cockpit area using the same batch of Mr. Surfacer. Results so far looks good. The patch work seemed to blend very well with the rest of the kit. Now came rescribing. Rescribing was a continuous effort throughout making the model.

Painting The Gunship

The choice of paint scheme for any model usually is dependent on the marking options we choose. I decided to make my AC-130 as a former ODS gunship. Italeri provided this kit with a decal sheet that represented three aircraft that served during Operation Desert Storm. (based on my findings online, however all three did not serve in that specific conflict). Therefore, regardless of markings, the model was painted FS 36118 Gunship Grey.

As for the details within the decals, it was hard to corroborate the particulars accurately. Not all Gunships were made equal. There were some discrepancies over the variety of markings between one aircraft to another. Some had celebrity status and received overwhelming coverage, while other were not. This made it difficult to find even a single image of a particular aircraft at a particular time frame.

The aircraft I planned to showcase as the model was “Proud Warrior”, an AC-130A with S/N 5(5)0046. This showed that Italeri used the old 5-digit serials for its decals. Finding an image of this particular aircraft was almost impossible if not difficult. The Proud Warrior is listed in this personal website that has a list of AC-130s that served throughout Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm. It is unclear if the aircraft took part in the ODS; however, this Spectre association site has an image of the Proud Warrior during her Vietnam days but mentioned nothing of her service during the 1991 Middle-East conflict.

The sheet also included an aircraft with serial number 96573 with no name. Digging through online sources the particular aircraft should have been an AC-130E/H called ‘Heavy Metal’ with the correct SN: 696573 (again, missing the first ‘6’). The aircraft went to support major operations in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Bosnia, Somalia, and Afghanistan, before retiring to The Boneyard in 2015.

Lockheed AC-130H, 69-6573, 16th SOS, Korat Royal Thai AB, 14Jul75, Don Jay via Mutza (Source: SDASM Archives https://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/8655411919/in/photolist-ebRfpZ )

The third aircraft is an aircraft with serial number 33129 (old serial number), which is supposed to be the “First Lady” SN 533129, The first production C-130A. From other sources, I had the sense that she didn’t serve in ODS but she went to Panama to support Operation Uphold Democracy.

AC-130A ‘The First Lady’. Greenham Common, 27 July 1981. (Source: Rob Schleiffert https://www.flickr.com/photos/109661044@N07/35748822722
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The painting instruction actually tells people to paint the Gunship in modern-day AC-130H/U in lighter grey camouflage scheme, not darker gunship grey of the ODS. Always check your references!

Painting Focus: Black Basing

My ritual before any paint was to have the whole model sprayed in Mr. Surafacer Black 1500 primer mixed with Mr. Leveling Thinner. Black primer is not the same as black paint, for those curious. There are many sites at Googlesphere giving all sorts of scientific explanation. I try to keep it simple: paint has pigments while primer has resins. The resin helps cover and smooth out fine scratches.

As I intend to paint my AC-130 in a more dramatic weathered look, the black primer also serves as a perfect base-coat for some really interesting tonal variation. Something that I felt was needed to make the unassuming and rather dull Gunship Grey more interesting.

Painting Focus: Gunship Grey

The whole aircraft was one HUGE model painted in a single color of Gunship Grey.

If your intention was to build the AC-130 into a homogeneous-grey-looking object, then painting should be straight and simple as spraying a rattle can full of FS 36118.

But if you are like me who cherishes a bit of irregularity and values randomness, then working the model up with an airbrush is the only way to go!

One thing to watch out: Don’t bother reading the painting guide on the instruction sheet.

Buying Italeri kits means that you need to spend extra time to go out searching for more accurate information on the Googlesphere. It’s just a commitment that is part of buying their kits (just kidding!). The paint scheme “Flat LIght Ghost Grey” may have come from a museum display piece like the image below. But again, it’s anyone guess.

The AC-130A Spectre Full serial 55-0014. c/n 3041. On display at the Warner Robins Museum of Aviation. Georgia, USA. 18-4-2013 (image Alan Wilson  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 )

Painting Focus: Detailing

The kit provided decal walkaways. But I could predict the mess I was going to go through if I used them. I prefer to mask and paint the lines on the fuselage, stabilizers, and wings as I have more control over how they would look like.

I used regular Tamiya masking tape, which I reused over and over again, and sprayed regular XF-1 flat black acrylic paint. For masking the curvier lines, I used a French curve ruler to help make the template.

French curves are great to have. If you don’t have them as part of your tool collection, then you are missing some really cool things that they can do to help you on your modeling projects.

Masking being one of them, particularly symmetrical curvy shapes that would be hard if you had to have done it free-hand. I have used it to create masks for a shark month on a 1/48 scale T-33. Definitely beats any decals!

A few more minor masking for the propellers and door lines and I should be done. Again, the kit provides decals but masking makes them look more natural.

Here is the model viewed from the top showing the freshly masked walkaway boundaries. Masking these lines was not as bad as you might think if you had to choose to use the decals. Consider the time you have to prep the decals, apply, and treat for any mistakes or silvering.

The only thing I had to consider was how to maximize the use of the Tamiya masking tape. They are not cheap. It would have been a waste if I had thrown out the masking tapes used for this segment of work. Knowing how to use them after being used would be very beneficial.

Painting Focus: Applying Decals

The decals Italeri provided were kinda under par. They covered the basics. Stecils being stencils, the monochrome black ones looked the like. The problem started on the colored ones. They were rather off-registered. That means the alignment among the layered colors were not synced. The other thing I noticed was the overall size of all the decals were a tad to big. They could have been 5%-10% smaller.

The serial numbers were all missing a digit. Whoever they are in Italeri didn’t do their research or wasn’t paid enough to do that.

Somehow they printed the old five-digit serials instead of the later era 6-digits. Read this blog to enlighten you. The remedy was either I cannibalized the extra digit from the same decal sheet or find elsewhere from my stash or print one over clear decal paper.

My go-to decal solvent has always been Mr. Mark Setter and Mr. Mark Softer.

In my part of the world, I considered this set does the job very well compared to other brands that I’ve tried in the past: Revell Decal Soft, Tamiya Decal Fix, Humbrol Decal, and MicroScale Set and Sol. I have heard really great stuff about Solvaset but I can’t say anything as I’ve never tried it.

The construction of the propellers themselves were dicey.

The blades were given as one piece and had a flimsy connector. The cone hub consisted of two parts (front and back) that you sand-witched the propellers. These were poorly molded. I had to shape them with Tamiya epoxy putty and carved them into shape.

Decals surprisingly included those for the propellers. They were a great addition to the lack of detail this kit had. Though I had to slice and dice some of them so they would fit into the frame.

Detail Bits

At the time of ODS, the dorsal blade antennas were twice as many as supplied in the kit. Missing details that needed to be addressed are the extra top-mount blade antennas, antenna masts, nose sensors, and low-light TV cameras with some scratch built from styrene.

The bade antennas were made using 0.5mm and 0.2mm styrene sheets and photos as reference. Cut into shape. I drilled a 0.2mm copper wire into each of the antennas for extra strength and permanently secured them using CA glue.

Some other stuff were these pair of wing drop-tanks that I used. The others like the SUU-42 chaff and flare dispensers and tandem ALQ-87 ECM pods could be useful for earlier Gunships prior to Desert Storm (See the image of AC-130H, 69-6573 at the beginning of the article).

The other modification that I did was on the tires, which I sanded flat 0.05 mm off each pieces. There were 3 pairs of tires. I did not recreate the tire threads but I wished I had. I used a vernier caliper to help improve accuracy for all the tires.

I painted the tires with Mr. Gunze Tire Black No.137. Most of the tire rims that I saw were black too. even so, I sprayed XF-1 Tamiya Flat black. How the tires would look like when installed. Here, temporarily placed on the landing gear bay just for the photo ops.

Tires from a Lockheed AC-130 Spectre. (Photo Clemens Vasters Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/cBYpW7 )

Weathering

This is where the real excitement began. I could have just ended the project when I glued all the small parts in place. BUT, I would have done a disservice to myself as I have considered weathering a model as my operational standard. I love weathering models because it is challenging and it’s fun (I was an art student and I love colors). Weathering gives me a chance to do extra research (I love a bit of research), scourging the Interwebs and try my skills at replicating the effects of nature and human activity on real-life artifacts.

Lockheed AC-130A “Azrael” (Photo: Flickr CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication )
C/n 182-3017 built as C-130A marked USAF 54-1630. In 1968 converted to AC-130A Spectre gunship. In National Museum of USAF, Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, OH, USA 6. October 2017 (Photo: Flickr Johnny Comstedt Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) )

The great thing about the AC-130 Gunships was that I could find plenty of reference photos on Googlesphere. The two images above are just a small fraction of what I got from the Internet. You can check out some cool photos here at the Spectre-Association and Military.com

The first thing I did to get the weathering right was to analyze the color, shape, location of each weathering occurrences. From there I could at least find out what caused it and how it made those effects. Was it because of rain, extreme heat? Was it because of humans, perhaps a new paint job or maintenance work?

For my work on the Desert Storm Gunship, their dark gunship grey paint were faded and pretty worn out in many places, particularly on the upper surfaces. Perhaps as a consequence of being placed constantly outside, the sun bleaching their paint and the rain left marks running down their fuselage. They were also given patches of new coats of paint here and there.

The first thing was to find a color that would represent the fading, bleach, and rain marks. I tried several and placed my bet on XF-19 Sky Grey. My first mistake was using enamels. I knew I was going to use plenty of enamel washes after this so that would just invite trouble. So quickly I switched to the acrylic version.

Using my fine tipped Badger Sotar 2020, I sprayed a very thin coat of XF-19 that was thinned down with plenty of Mr. Leveling Thinner. I combined random sprays and those that resembles the air flow. Using Mr. Leveling Thinner (instead of the regular Tamiya Acrylic Thinner) for my Tamiya acrylics greatly reduced paint coagulation at the tip of the needle, which is a signature trait of this paint.

But the airbrush has their limits as they could only spray patterns with soft edges. To add to the irregularities and avoid a certain distinct pattern to the weathering, this next step is crucial in is where the next step come into play.

Weathering Focus: ArtoolFX

The ArtoolFX template is a superb randomiser tool.

Creating a random weathering effect is my ultimate goal. But that is easier said than done. The problem is that humans tend to do things in a pattern even though they initially wanted to do things randomly. Plus the limits of tools. Be that a paint brush, sponge, or airbrush pen, each one of these tool has a signature. All that combined making randomized effect harder to achieve.

So after using the brush, the sponge, the airbrush at some point there is a limit to how these tools can help me achieve the level of randomness that I wanted to get. This was where the ArtoolFX and later on the Uschi template came to help that randomized weathered appearance

I won’t go into detail on how to use them as I had made a short video about it. Also check out Will Pattison’s video on the same subject . If you are still struggling to find a good way to use it, then you might want to tune in to Gerald Mendez’s channel, or at least check out one of his videos. What I think would be useful is sharing how I used template that worked for me.

  • Thin the paints. I always prepare the paint a lot thinner than my regular mix;
  • Medium-to-low pressure. This will help avoid any splatter or unwanted spider webs effect;
  • 0.2mm needle. I find best control with a fine-tip needle like the Sotar 2020 versus the 105 Patriot;
  • Keep it elevated. I tend to hold the template approximately 5-10 mm above the model;
  • Work in small areas. I usually focus on one area first and then move out.
  • Keep the template in motion. I always move the template around, even when I am spraying.
  • Stop, step back. I usually stop if I felt it’s turning into a pattern. Better to continue later.
  • Use every part of the template. I use the inner holes and outer jagged lines.

How did I know when to stop? I didn’t. I loosely followed several reference photos to guide the weathering. When I felt the model looked like the references that I had, then I stop.

Weathering Focus: Other Details

Head on view of a United States Air Force AC-130H Spectre, flown by the 4th SOS near Hurlburt Field, Florida. (Source: Tech. Sgt. Lee Schading Air Force http://www.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/030128-O-9999J-028.jpg)

The next phase was working on the details. They can be as trivial as a patch of new paint on the windshield or rain marks coming down the side of the fuselage. Always check your reference if you don’t know what to do.

For the new paint patch on the windshield, I simply used the base color and airbrushed it using my Sotar 2020. I filled the cup with a diluted mix of the base color, set the pressure to low-medium, and set the trigger just small enough that only a small amount of paint went through the needle.

For the rain streaks, I made the first set of effect using the airbrush. Then I later reinforced it using AK weathering pencil. Again, you can find plenty of videos online from AK Interactive, and others on YouTube. Here is my personal take compared to regular pack of water-soluble coloured pencils that I buy at school/office supply stores:

  • Pigment color comes out more vibrant;
  • Works best on rough or semi-rough surface;
  • Highly soluble and blends very well with water;
  • Apply it dry (image above), or moisten the tip with water (image below).

Adding The Final Bits

I almost certainly take the final phase pretty seriously. I have gone to complete 95 per cent of the model. Now all I have to do is to finish off that five per cent. Easy, huh? Well, experience taught me that sh1t can happen in that last mile. I have seen it too often: a blob of superglue accidentally fell on the painted surface; finding paint seeped into the canopy windows after removing the masks. Even worse, finding out in the last moment the model is a tail-sitter. You get what I mean.

These images show how I attached the four wheels of the main landing gear. I was still struggling at this final phase. The struts were badly aligned and I could not keep all the tires flat on the surface without a fight. Slow drying Tamiya cement is a must. I eventually won over them but not before I cursed and cursed.

I added some splatters on the inner side of the wheel bay and wheel covers only to discover that 99 per cent of it will be hidden away once I glue the covers in place. Those covers have no means to latch onto the aircraft’s fuselage. So the trick was to add copper wires onto the covers and drill holes on the sponsons so they can be attached.

The air data probe came next. I cleaned the seam lines from the part. Then I installed copper wire at the base and drill a hole on on the fuselage. Without this kind of arrangement, I could not have properly attach the part onto the fuselage.

Installing the ramp was next. I had issued installing the ramp as the attachment holes did not align well with the pins. It was easier to cut off one of the pins and just glue it in place. The struts were cleaned and painted silver. I later secure them in place one at a time. it was just easier that way.

The door cover for the low-level TV camera was installed. I gave the twin mini-guns a barrel extension. If you compared them with the reference photos, the original ones from the kit were just too short. The barrels should be seen significantly protruding out from the wall. I prepared four 10mm length of 0.2mm styrene rods and bundled them together. I later added them to the existing barrels.

I made navigation lights from left-over clear sprues. I alway keep a few around. I then cut, sanded, and polished before I glued them on the tips of the wings and vertical stabilisers. I used MIG Acrylic crystal blue and red.

I returned with the ArtoolFX to do the exhaust effect and sooty underbelly. I used a very diluted version of flat black. To create the panel effect on the dirty belly, I placed masking tape before spraying. To accentuate the streaking effects, I stroke AK weathering pencil black in the direction of the airflow.

The areal antenna would be the second to last item on my to-do list. I have been using E-Z line. They stretch and adhere well with CA glue or white glue. It made my job easier.

The attachment points for the antennas are made of rods and strip styrene. I added copper wire to the base of each one of them.

Last but not least, uncovering the masking job from the windshield. The most satisfying feeling came out of this gesture of peeling the masks.

Postscript

Would I have done things differently? Maybe. If had to redo this project again, I would have:

  • Make the engine nacelles resin copies. Create one master copy then make the cast and mold. I would be a but challenging at the start but down the road I would have saved a lot of trouble.
  • Leave some part of the front fuselage unglued. I could have message this area further so that it fits better with the one-piece canopy. Then I would have saved time and energy trying to fit the two parts together.
  • Detailed the low-light TV cameras and painted them more accurately
  • Added threads on the tires.
  • Cut out the navigation lights at the wingtips and replace it with clear sprue.
  • Modified the serial number from five-digits to six-digits.

Finished Model Gallery

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