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1/48 Meng F/A-18E (eventually with Maverick's color scheme from Top Gun: Maverick)

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Last time I made an aircraft was almost 30 years ago, so I'm trying the preshading technique for the first time. This kit had some fit issues (or I get the sense that they didn't engineer it to be fool-proof), but overall is a nice kit.


3D-printed color cockpit details (Quinta) are a new thing for me too, and it's amazing how much more detail we can put in there with hardly any effort. I used a KASL resin ejection seat this time, but it seems like the best 3D-printed ones are now beating resin-cast ones in terms of quality consistency (my KASL piece had a lot of detail destroyed or unrecoverably warped in the casting process) so I'm looking forward to using them in my next projects. I'm also using Vallejo Model Air paints for the first time, and struggling to keep the airbrush tip from drying (and thus clogging) when doing fine work.


In any case, while these iPhone photos aren't great, here are some in-progress shots. The studio-photography treatment will have to wait until it's done.



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So far, so good. I checked out some YouTube videos of other people's experiences, and they seemed to have fitting issues. My experience was different, but I did have some fitting issues of my own.


My feeling in hindsight is that Meng made this kit with such tight tolerances that sometimes just painting primer on a piece before putting it together can really mess up the fit. What also might be causing people to have different experiences could be due to simply squeezing some pieces too much (and slightly warping them) or melting too much plastic during gluing, changing the tolerances is subtle ways. I noticed that you could "induce" fit problems sometimes, but not see it on a second try. On the other hand, I was often surprised that the fit engineering worked out so well. I'm thinking in particular the fuselage, as well as how the intakes and wheel wells fit all together. My suggestion is that you do plenty of test fits so you truly understand how things are going to fit in the end, so you can best decide where you need to use glue (and not).


That said, I'm impressed by this kit. The details might not be all accurate, but it's mostly very cleanly made. The decals could be crisper, but I'll be using 3rd party stuff for some of that.


The last aircraft I made was a Tamiya 1/32 F-15E (long ago), so I'm really enjoying the fewer number of parts needed for 1/48 kits. I'm also looking forward to doing a modern Tamiya kit as one of my next projects, because I hear they put lots of effort into making construction and painting easier for the modeler.

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I use a 0.2mm needle at 10-15 PSI, and thin the Model Air/Model Color paints using Vallejo's thinner and Flow Improver (inside the airbrush with a paintbrush) at about 1:1 paint to thinner and anywhere from 8% to 100% for the percentage of the flow improver for the thinning side. Even at those settings, it's hard to get a really smooth flow (one that isn't speckled when it comes out) and without dry tipping. I like the final results, the fact that it's less toxic, and that colors are more military-modeling friendly...but coming from using Gunze and Gaia lacquers, I'm finding this medium very difficult.


Switching to a 0.4mm needle and trying not to do such fine spraying helped, but it's still dry tipping.

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I've finished panel lining and applying most of the body's decals, so was able to start working on the glossy-black spine area. I peeled back the canopy masks and discovered some paint that sprayed underneath them as their edges had lifted over time (had to sand off and repolish), but then realized that patterned dust appeared inside the canopy. It's not CA glue craze because that's not what I used. Maybe paint fumes that got in from small holes that lead to the cockpit or the Extra Thin Cement. Anyway, given that the cockpit is sealed and the  cement is supposed to fuse plastic together, I thought I was doomed because such surgery would have the risk of ruining the entire project. Turns out, the clear plastic is so dense, the solvent didn't penetrate it enough (that was my hope, which made me take the risk), so I drilled small holes behind the canopy where it's relatively easy to fix, and pried apart the area...and it worked with minimal damage. I cleaned out the insides, sanded/repolished the parts, and it looks better than ever now. Crisis averted...


This time, I used tiny amounts of wood glue so it's not so permanently attached. The damaged areas have been filled and sanded, so I can get back to painting the black and applying the signature blue decals of Maverick's aircraft...





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Prepare a thinner pre-mix to keep on hand for future airbrushing sessions:


80% Vallejo Airbrush Thinner

10% Liquitex Flow Aid Additive (Purple Label)

10% Liquitex Slow-Dri Fluid Additive (Purple Label - not Green Label) 


If you’re in an arid climate and/or are still experiencing tip dry then that mix can be adjusted as far as 60/20/20 for fine line work at low pressures (less than 12psi) but you may run into adhesion and drying issues. 


Dilute “airbrush ready” water based acrylic paints such as Vallejo Model Air and Game Air to 30% with your thinner mix: 70% paint : 30% thinner.


Dilute regular water based acrylic paints such as Vallejo Model Color and Game Color to 70% with your thinner mix: 30% paint : 70% thinner.

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Thanks, CFster. It sounds like the process I'm using is very similar to your suggestions, except for the Liquitex stuff. Is their stuff really that different from Vallejo's?


My experience is that while the thinned mixture doesn't come out totally smoothly (the pattern it makes out of the airbrush is speckled, unlike with GSI or Gaia lacquer paints), it's still thin enough that the final result is smooth after the layers build up. But it's so strange that I can't get very smooth flow out of the airbrush directly. I'm also thinning the Model Air and Model Color paints in similar ways...the guideline being that it has to be runny enough like skim milk to flow, but not so diluted that it'll affect drying or adhesion.

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Decaling is almost complete (even for the 6 caps (?) on the vertical fins), I've painted all the navigation lights, and attached the anti-collision lights.


I've been experimenting with ways to better "fuse" the decals to the model so they don't come off easily. What's been working is using Tamiya Mark Fit underneath the decal and letting it dissolve a bit before pressing it onto the model. I then do another pass from above to help conform and aid a bit more in the contact. It's been working well enough that masking tape doesn't take off the decals, but I'm still careful with large decals in case they didn't attach well enough, as they're hard to replace.


I messed up a few decals early on when I waited too long with the Mark Fit or used Super Strong Mark Fit by mistake. So I had to order another set of decals from MENG (in China)... I'll just have to wait a while for those to arrive. I also found a place in Japan that sells the training bombs and sensor for Maverick's test run (thanks to people in this forum for helping me identify those from movie shots). While I wait for those things, I can continue weathering, working on the landing gear areas and engine nozzles. There's also a tiny 1/48 3D-printed Tom Cruise on his motorcycle, which will be interesting putting together and painting, given how small the pieces are. Last night I started polishing the motorcycle's windshield to give it some transparency, as opposed to the near opaqueness due to the 3D-printing lines.


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I'm almost finished with the aircraft itself. Some panel lining and weathering remain. Painting the 1/48 Tom Cruise figure with his motorcycle will be a project in itself. Still waiting for decals from China and the training ordnances from Japan.


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Thanks, Andy and Thadeus!


I just got word that the decals and training ordnances were shipped from China and Japan, so I'll work on the various touchups until those arrive. I'm already thinking about my next project. While I sort of want to do another aircraft using the learnings from this project, I'm considering remaking a model I scratch built long ago, but with much improved detail and at a different scale (1/144) using 3D modeling and 3D printing (both would be new skills I'll have to pick up).

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