Back on the Sprue: An O-2 Skymaster Story (Part 1)
Updated: Sep 1, 2020
The idea to start a blog is not something that I had in mind when I began work on my first model in over a decade: a Testors 1/48 scale O-2 Skymaster. And while what follows reads more like a comedy of errors than a proper build article put forth by a seasoned modeler, I felt it important to share with you. It is important because it highlights that the majority of us modelers are just amateurs (despite the internet overflowing with fantastically detailed creations); that choosing you first kit is important (cheapest isn't always best!); that some things will go wrong during our early builds (but we can and will learn); and that in the end sticking with something can certainly qualify as success (we are our only judges). With that out of the way, let's head down to the tarmac and prep for takeoff!
So, what is an 0-2 Skymaster?
Well, it is a unique looking plane that’s for sure. It has a high-wing mount (standard stuff), twin booms (interesting), and both a pusher and a puller propeller mounted at opposite ends of the fuselage (huh?). Confused? I am. Let's take a look at its mission to see what necessitated this unique design.
The Skymaster is the US military version of the civilian Cessna 337 Super Skymaster and was used in the forward air controller (FAC) role and for psychological operations (PSYOPs).
FAC refers to the coordinator between friendly troops on the ground who are in need of close air support from other aircraft overhead. To do this mission effectively, the FAC will need to have great situational awareness, and that brings us to the high-wing mount. By mounting a wing high on the fuselage the pilot in the Skymaster will have great visibility forward, below, and behind the aircraft.
Additionally, mounting the engines on the centerline allows for excellent side to side visibility with the added benefit of simplifying the flying procedures if one engine goes down (all the thrust is still supplied from the center of the aircraft). Lastly, that twin boom is the result of the centerline engines negating a traditional tail placement.
And what are PSYOPs? In short imagine having a powerful loudspeaker (or radios) mounted on the plane telling the enemy to surrender all the time. Think I’m joking? Well, one was included in the kit!
The Skymaster served with active duty units from its introduction in 1967 until the late 1980s, after which limited numbers were assigned to training and evaluation ranges until ultimately being retired from US service in 2010.
Every time a modeler opens an airplane kit, he or she will inspect the parts, mutter their names with affirming head nods as if they too are an aeronautical engineer, and visualize their placement on the model-to-be. Most of us will also try to “dry fit” (without glue) the parts together to see what challenges may await. While I don’t have the pictures to show you the kit, or my face at the time, just imagine me muttering again, this time head kinked to the side, something like “is that how they always looked?” and “hmm, that doesn’t fit well”. This early photo provides some proof that "you get what you pay for" and that I should have put a bit more thought into picking my "first" model than "it was cheap":
Nearly every part had flash and seam lines that had to be cleaned
Rubber bands were used to secure the top and bottom wing halves while glue dried
Binder clips were used to force warped tail booms into proper position
Undeterred by the flash, seam lines, and kit fit and I kept modeling until I had a semblance of an airplane put together!
Clean up in aisle 2!
Before you ask about those stains, let me get it over with and tell you about them: they are the result of frantically trying to fix kit fit with more glue and a poorly chosen build sequence. Instead of assembly followed by priming, I decided to prime and then assemble. My liberal application of glue to correct for kit fit dissolved part of the dark grey interior paint and then ran out the other side! Not only did I succeed in ruining the primer coat, but I now needed to correct the gaps and seams in the model with filler, which will yes, ruin the primer coat even more! What. A. Mess.
With my errors regarding gaps and seams literally cemented in place, let me show you the painful task of trying to fix them at the direct expense of the priming coat and yet another error in the order of painting and assembly.
Looking back at this photo, I’m not sure what I was thinking. Still searching for what I’m
referring to (hint: it’s not the generous application of modelers putty)? If you look carefully at the wing you can see faint darkened lines that correspond to where the rivet lines are. This is a pre-shading technique that will give tonal variation to the finished model. It is accomplished by airbrushing a dark color where rivet and panel lines are, followed by light layers of the base coat. The idea is that the light layers of the base coat will allow part of the dark lines to show through. Why I went through the effort of applying the pre-shading and base coat while there were still gaps and seams to fix can only be explained by lunacy (I told you this reads like a comedy).
Now about that putty and filing. I applied the putty (Testors Contour Putty) directly to the areas that were responsible for the glue stains (remember those?). The idea is to fill the seam or gap and then file away the excess. I overdid it a bit with the putty and needed to use a coarse cosmetics sanding stick (thanks girlfriend!) to clear away the excess before turning to finer grades of sandpaper. One thing to be mindful of when sanding is to avoid removing any of the molded-on details!
Next came an application of Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black to represent the anti-glare finish found on many Skymasters; and what I can only assume was more of the base coat (mixture of Tamiya XF-2 Flat White and Tamiya XF-19 Sky Gray) to correct the damage done by putty and sanding.
Finally, after fixes on top of fixes, she is looking like a plane!
At this point in the build, I am happy with how the plane looks, but it simply took far too long to get here due to my compounding build order mistakes (I can no longer hide behind kit fit issues). In the future I will be sure to consider assembly, body work, and then priming and painting.
In addition to the outright mistakes to correct, there are many important techniques that require honing: gap filling and seam treatment, dealing with warped parts, and priming. All of this, and much more, will be covered in future installments of igluemodels.com.
Yet, for all of my mistakes and areas in need of improvement, there are some things I did get right. For starters, this is the first model airplane that I have been able to add proper counter weights inside the nose. An assortment of fishing line weights are a must for any aircraft modeler seeking to add a bit of ballast to their build. After all, these are models, and they do not share the same center of gravity as a real plane. A completed aircraft just won't look right if it is "sitting on its tail".
Also, I do need to give myself a pat on the back for attempting the panel line pre-shading technique. While the results could be a bit better (the base coat ended up being too thick), I am happy for challenging myself with something I have never attempted before.
And finally, the biggest thing that I got right is simply getting back on the sprue! In this hobby, sometimes we need to declare success from what has been attempted rather than what has been achieved.
For now, it’s time to “let the paint dry”, so stay tuned for part 2 of Back on the Sprue: An O-2 Skymaster Story where I will cover the finishing, decaling, and weathering process.
Thanks for reading,
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