12 May 2010

In it for the glue fumes?

As I write these words, I am this close (pinches thumb and forefinger together) to finishing the 1/72 scale B-24H Liberator that has turned this week's free time into an exercise in Murphy's Law.

The Liberator, a World War II heavy bomber, was awkward in real-life, and its scale counterpart is no less homely. This particular kit was made by Mini-Craft, a Japanese brand known for making decent replicas of large aircraft. Unfortunately for me, the kit, as it is Japanese, was not designed for my clumsy American fingers.

I decided early on to have the Lib sit on its own landing gear, which I usually don't do. Unfortunately, the model was notoriously tail-heavy, meaning that I had to add weight to the nose to make it sit on all three landing gears. One "AAA" battery and .45 caliber bullet later, the thing was still sitting on its tail, despite the improvised weights glued into the bomb bay. In a moment of genius, I came up with the idea of adding lead fishing weights behind each of the four engines.

Nothing changed.

I got so frustrated that I ripped out the entire bomb bay and cracked the fuselage in half trying to extract the weights. Most of my model airplanes come close to becoming airborne while I am working on them, but this Liberator had me on the verge of throwing my paints, glues and supplies along with it. Everything that could go wrong WAS going wrong.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, I boxed the broken kit and let it sit for a night. When I came back in the morning, the damage was pretty severe. I'd torn out a very narrow plastic grid that held the bomb bay doors in place, wrenching it into several parts while doing so. It took a lot of Crazy Glue and four-letter words, but eventually, I got it back together, and closed it up with a generous helping of putty.

As of this afternoon, the Liberator is complete, awaiting only the decals that will finish its construction

My wife asks me why I make models when it's obvious that they aren't the least bit relaxing. I think that's a bit of a generalization. I relaxed two kits ago while building a Japanese dive-bomber because it went together so smoothly. But in general, she's right. I've been making these damned things for 23 years now, and I have pretty high expectations of what I'm capable of. The day of slapping something together that's less than museum quality are long gone.

If I thought really hard about it, and were given enough time, I could probably list every single of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of models I've ever built. I'm like "Rain Man" when it comes to this stuff. My brother showed me a random model part he found while cleaning the house, and I was able to name the exact kit (A Revell 1/28 SPAD biplane) what part it was (the left engine exhaust) and when I'd built it (summer 1994). It's one of the few things in life I can claim to know more about than anyone else I've met. It's a bottomless hobby, because there is always something out there I didn't know about, some rare version of some plane no one has ever heard of, and I enjoy the relative obscurity.

It will be interesting to see what happens to models as we go into an increasingly computer-dominated future, when people can play simulators that ape a P-51 Mustang, rather than take an afternoon to build one and use their imagination. As for me, I am perfectly happy sans microchips. Give me an old kit and a tube of glue and I'm a pretty happy camper.

Despite the headaches and complications, it's rewarding to be where I am now with the Liberator – 90 percent done, and on the verge of completing yet another kit that I thought for sure would destroy my interest in the hobby forever.

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