Airfix 1/72nd scale Red Arrows Gnat June 2014

We last posted on the Airfix Gnat back on the 2nd June so it’s time for an update: yes, we finished it! I must say that I average one model build per year so getting one done in two months is pretty good going. It helps to build something so small, straight from the box, in one colour and without any weapons!

Eagle-eyed readers of our blog might have noticed a problem with the build in one of the photos from our last post. Yes, I added the main undercarriage on backs-to-front! By the time I noticed it was too late. Given I have been building models for 35+ years and have NEVER made a mistake like that I was left pondering how this could happen. It proved enlightening.

I believe a number of factors were at play:

  1. This is not for me – it was for my daughter, so I really wasn’t paying a lot of attention. Having said that I did study the instructions quite thoroughly without noticing the problem. It proves you have to care about your project.
  2. The Airfix Instructions show undercarriage orientation on three steps none of which indicate front or back. Only if you look very closely on some of the minor steps will you notice. But you would have to pay close attention.
  3. I used no references (other than looking at a few cockpit photos online before the cockpit was painted). Usually I pour over references to get a good mental map of the airframe layout. It is surprising how much you take such a mental map for granted. If I had done the research (if I was interested) I would have know every detail of the undercarriage.

As it turns out my daughter is none the wiser. In fact every other detail of the build went fine. However the obvious gaff means I can happily dispose of this unfortunate example onto one of my seven-year-old’s bedroom shelves (next to Moshi Monsters) without a care. It is not part of the Small Wonder canon of work.

Anyway, let’s review the rest of the build:

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So here we were in early June having finished main assembly. The fit of the wings and intakes is poor and you can see a lot of filler in the left-hand photo. By the time the right-hand photo (above) was taken I had sanded down these joints and rescribed the panel lines. Note the cockpit canopy has been added.

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Next we masked the canopy and nose landing light before airbrushing on an undercoat using Alclad II grey primer.

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We used Micromesh to smooth off the primer coat before we were back in the spray booth to add the pre-shade.

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The wheel hubs were painted with Humbrol Silver paint before a light wash of Tamiya Smoke X-19 was used to bring out the details. Then we were back to the airbrush for the first light coat of Humbrol Red paint.

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Then the second coat of Red was applied. I rather rushed this and applied the red too thickly. I should have waited to apply a third coat. OK – now only at THIS point did I notice the undercarriage is on backwards. If you look at the shot on the right I am pointing at Step 21 of the instructions that I has misinterpreted. Airfix give no indication of fore or aft. Remarkably Airfix also allow you to fit the undercarriage backward because the parts fit both ways! Now remember this is a “Starter Kit” for children aged 8 and up. We wonder how many of them made the same mistake?

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Next I masked off the undercarriage surround and hand-brushed Humbrol Silver. Two light coats did the trick before a wash of Tamiya Smoke gave it depth.

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Now we can apply the excellent decals by Cartograf. I was worried that the red would show through the white decal but it does not. Decals were applied with Micro Sol and Set which worked fine. Next I sealed in the decal using Future.

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After the Future dried I applied liberal amounts of a dark grey wash by Flory’s Models. I was not able to get their dark wash to I used a Light Earth wash mixed with a black watercolour tablet. After a few minutes to dry I then carefully removed most of the wash with a damp lint-free cloth and cotton buds. This brought out the panel lines.


I airbrushed on a final coat of Humbrol enamel Satin before removing the masking and polishing the canopy. That’s it! All done.

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…and my client was very happy with her first model aircraft. I found an old broken photo frame (that my wife was going to throw away) and mounted a section of the Airfix box top in it. I thought my daughter could put the model on top so she wouldn’t have to handle it. As it turns out there wasn’t space on her toy shelf for it laying flat. But the tiny Gnat fits fine by itself.

So, what do we think? Is this the kit for a seven year old girl? Airfix recommend it for ages “8 & up” and I have to agree with this. It was way too small and fiddly for a child. When I purchased it for her for (as a Christmas stocking filler from “Santa”!) I had in mind the old mould version which Airfix used to supply in a red sprue. However when I found it was a new mould (in grey) this changed my plans a bit. I tried to get my girl involved in the build but – other than watching me build it – this was hard. There simply weren’t any bits for her to do other than paint a few cockpit parts. I just knew she would get quickly frustrated and the kit would never be finished. This seemed a shame so I pushed the project through under her watchful eye.

Her enthusiasm waned a bit through the project and I don’t think it did much to entertain her even if the educational value is still there. The model is still “hers”. She has had a go and seen what the process is. If I think back to how my Dad started with me he did indeed assemble my first kit with me watching. Mind you I had more enthusiasm but I was Milla’s age.

So, where next? Am I trying to make a model-builder out of her? No, not at all. Having a go at building a few models is simply part of growing up. She should benefit from having a go at this in the same way that she benefits from any other craft activity. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t “catch the bug” – it is the taking part that counts.

Her eight birthday is soon and I have checked out better alternatives for her in the local hobby shop. She wants something BIG, colourful, something that needs no glue or paint. So I have found some large-ish Revel Star Wars snap-together kits that look like fun. There are also some Tamiya Dinosaur kits that do require paint and glue. However, as there is no need for “accuracy” and nothing to screw up she can build that with glue and paint. It should be quick and fun.

So I have learnt that what a Model Company sells you as a “Starter Kit” may be anything but. Kids that age need something simple and quick to build. Maybe something on a stand not on its undercarriage legs. Something not fragile. An Airfix 1/72nd scale Gnat really wasn’t it. It seemed the right idea – on paper, but in reality we need to be slightly smarter if we are to introduce the young to model making. They have a lot of competition for their time. Enthusiasm needs to be carefully nurtured with the right sort of models to build. They will want to play with them afterwards – why not? So snap together & dinosaurs are probably a good route to take.



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