Building the 1/48th scale A-10 Frankenhog

The A-10 is my favorite aircraft. It is the one I identify with the most, I think...it is not pretty or fast, but it is very good at what it does and astonishingly useful, even if the powers-that-be don't value what it does very much. It is, in short, a nerd among airplanes. If it were a person, it would be a disgruntled IT employee with all your passwords and a ten foot shotgun. Somebody you want on your side.

An illustration of an A-10 adorns my business card, and I wanted to duplicate that image in a diorama. The artwork depicts a Desert Storm hog blowing up an Iraqi tank. It is somewhat fanciful, and I plan to use the diorama as reference for a new, updated illustration. This scene will depict two of the famous top-scoring tank killers of the war on February 25th, 1991...76th Vanguard pilots Solomonson and Marks, who destroyed 23 tanks that day.

I was torn between the Revell and Hobbyboss kits. The Revell kit has great proportions and is closest to a Gulf War era hog, but has some annoying shortcomings (like raised panel lines and the optionless speedbrakes). The Hobbyboss kit has better detail and armament, but represents a more recent airframe, so it has some mods that need to be removed. I compromised and combined both kits into a single Frankenhog. I used the Hobbyboss kit as my jumping off point.

The cockpit was embellished with aftermarket pre-printed etched panel detail. The pilot was swiped from the Revell kit, and strapped in with some tape. I expended great effort duplicating the quilted fabric on the sides of the cockpit that no one will ever see. (You can't see it in this photo, either, but I thought I'd mention it so, in the event of my death, someone will know)

There is a wonderful aftermarket brass gun and pitot tube aftermarket set that I used to replace those parts. Since the hog will be seen head-on, it seemed worth the investment to make sure they looked good. (The Hobbyboss gun is not bad, though, and they give you the WHOLE thing)

One annoying oversight of both kits is the absence of the window defrosting vents forward of the HUD, a rather notable detail when the plane is viewed head on, so I rectified that with some vinyl.

I also lopped off the forward antenna and placed it in its proper location.

Neither kit has proper engine detail...the Hobbyboss spinner is a tiny button and the Revell spinner is too angular, and neither of them is recessed far enough. Fortunately, I was able to obtain one of Sierra Hotels's resin replacement kits, which is perfect, and easier to paint. I used the Revell exhausts, and slipped them over the Hobbyboss ones, which are undersized.

I managed to lose the original HUD, so I took the oportunity to make a new one from some acetate and 1/64 inch striping tape. That was as tedious as it sounds. When I went to glue it down, it slipped and smeared glue on the acetate, ruining the part. I made another one, and the same thing happened. I made a third one, but it was sized wrong and unusable. Finally, the fourth one stayed in place. The next morning, I found that the "low vapor" CA glue I used had crazed it. The fifth time was the charm, and this one I afixed using canopy glue. I'm really good at making HUD's now.

I also shaved off the upper gridwork, which does not exist in the real plane, and added a projector lens.

The canopy on the Hobbyboss kit has some nice detail (the Revell kit lacks the rivets, which are very prominent on the real aircraft), but the outer edge of the forward rails should be straight, not curved. I masked them off and resculpted them with some plastic putty. I also used some black striping tape to create the interior of the rails, so the putty work would not show from the inside.

The Hobbyboss kit doesn't include the sway braces, but the revell kit does. So I had some filing to do. I also cut off the Hobbyboss wing fences and installed the Revell slats and fences. I'm not sure that was worth the effort, but it looks nice. I also needed to cut out and putty over the GPS dome on the dorsal, which is a post-war mod.

I was afraid of pulling up my putty work with masking tape, so instead of my usual bare metal foil method of masking, I used some newly discovered .4mm masking tape. Great stuff!

I primed it in black, for depth. If I had to do it again, I would have just used Tamiya's grey primer. The grey camo color looked too dark over the black.

I normally use Tamiya paints, but their lack of color guidance can be maddening sometimes. Before beginning this project, I bought a lot of green paint searching for the closest matches for the Hog's Euro colors. Once I found them, I stashed them away in my studio. And then forgot all about them. When paint time came, I ended up ordering some Gunze colors, which have the precise FS colors conveniently lined up in their paint catalog. But I was not familiar with working with Gunze, so I used their regular thinner instead of the leveling thinner, which resulted in a very matte finish. It looked great, but was as rough as sandpaper, and so decals were destined to be a problem. (I don't use clear coats. I've read too many horror stories. Don't sieze on this statement to lecture me about the virtues of Future. I know it is distilled from Chuck Norris' blood and can cure the common cold, but it also figures prominently in every account I have read online of models whose paint finishes suddenly and without warning crack like a Mojave river bed a month later. I didn't craft five bloody HUD's for this to happen.) By carefully sanding the spots where the decals were to be applied, and using liberal amounts of microsol, the larger decals went on OK. But the smaller ones predictably silvered badly. I decided to strip them off and order some custom dry rub tranfers to replace them. An expensive solution, but one I have used to good effect before (on a Space 1999 Eagle). But it means waiting for a good while on them to be printed and shipped.

The fuel door was some bare metal foil that I painted up.

The ordnance was painted and detailed.I used some chrome stiping tape painted over with matte clear varnish for the aluminum bits.

While waiting on the dry rub transfers, I busied myself building Son of Frankenhog. It, too, was cobbled together from two kits: the 1/144 scale Dragon and Heller kits. Neither were easy to find. The Dragon kit has the best proportions and detail, and was used for the bulk of the model, but I scavenged the pilot, fan blades and Mavericks from the Heller kit. I added a pitot tube, which was a single bristle snipped from a kitchen scrub brush. I also had to fashion one wing fence, which was inexplicably omitted from the Dragon model. And I made a little teeny HUD, because I'm so good at it now. Baby Frankenhog's camo scheme, like its big brother, was airbrushed freehand, and this time I remembered to use the good thinner. Unfortunately, I also managed to spill a cup of it in my lap and, in my surprise, dropped my Iwata on the floor, bending it. That makes it officially the most expensive 1/144th scle model I have ever built. In fact, the cost overruns on this whole project would embarrass even Lockheed.

For example, before I started, I planned to duplicate Marks' first sortie of the day, which meant buying a bunch of tanks in varying scales for a forced perspective scene. None of the accounts of the mission that I have read mention the types of tanks involved, so I had to guess. The T-72 seemed like a safe bet to me, and was easiest to find in multiple scales. After buying almost a company of T-72's, I learned that, in order to get the background drama I really wanted, I would be better off depicting the second sortie of the day, closer to the burning oil fields. This put the hogs squarely in T-62 country, so the T-72's were out and I need to scrounge up some more vintage armor.

When this project started, I thought it would cost me one Revell kit, one secondhand Dragon kit, and a few small scale tanks, plus consumables. To date, I have purchased two 1/48 scale hogs, three 1/144 scale hogs (the secondhand one was missing an entire sprue), and nine tanks which I cannot use. I will also need to buy another airbrush eventually.

Eat your heart out, Lockheed.

The transfers finally arrived, and I was able to replace the silvered decals and knock all the markings back with a mist of the base color. After a month of sitting, the canopies were not the easiest thing to unmask. One down side to using bare metal foil for masking is that it tends to disintegrate during removal, and leaves some sticky residue. A pointed Q-tip dipped in alcohol helped with the clean-up. Once I had that sorted out, I used 1/64th striping tape to imitate the copper strips that line the front windscreen to protect it from lightning strikes.

Finally armed and ready. The A-10 on this sortie carried 4 Mavericks, two Sidewinders and a jamming pod. One of the Mavericks has already been fired, at a cost to the taxpayers of 70,000 dollars (and a cost to the Iraqi army of a million and a half dollar tank) This model is costing me only slight less. Now on to the diorama itself...

I began with the tanks. Ironically, it took more work to take one tank apart than it did to build the rest of them. The only 70's vintage T-62 (the version in service with the Iraqi army) in 1/72nd scale that I could find was a die cast toy, which required some disassembly for me to insert the LED wiring for the explosion effect. This required ordering a specialized screwdriver set to remove the tamper proof screws. God bless Ebay.

Once disassembled, I pasted some cotton to a cage fashioned from sculpting wire and airbrushed it to create the explosion. A 10mm LED was inserted to light it. I drilled a hole in the bottom of the tank to route the wires through a planned corresponding hole drilled in the base.

Researching the markings of the tanks sent be down the rabbit hole of the internet for a while, but eventually I was able to paint them more or less accurately. They were only lightlty weathered. I've never really seen a photo of a dirty Iraqi tank. They all seemed to be brand new or abandoned hulks. It was rough to be a tanker in Saddam's army.

Time to sculpt the terrain. The Kuwaiti desert in the area of the oil fields is flat and populated by light scrub. This was a tiny test tankorama I created to get to know my materials, which were all new to me. I used Durham's Rock Hard Wood Putty, which is a lot like plaster but dries faster and sticks better. I experimented with different sands and paints. That experimenting continued well into the final diorama, which became an ongoing science project for a lot longer than my wife would have liked, since her car was unhappily exiled to the driveway until I could get it sorted out.

The final base was a 4 foot by 2 foot plywood board which was shellaced (to keep it from warping) and covereed with wood putty. It needed to be wide to fill the camera lens, and that size worked against me when it was time to apply the quick-drying putty. My first coats was not very smooth. I learned a little, and applied a second coat, but it was so smooth that I ended up making a door. I applied one more coat, just pouring a watery mix of the putty in random spots, and it began to look more natural. I added some crackle paste to create some dried, cracked earth. (I claim artistic license here...it was actually raining the day of the mission) I sprinkled varying grades of sand over the whole thing, with the more coarse stuff in front, and hardly any near the back, to help force the perspective. I had tried mixing acrylic paint into the putty, but had difficulty controlling the resulting color. I ultimately used some Montana Black spray paint, which is available in a wide assortment of useful colors and with different sized, interchangeable spray nozzles. When I say 'some' paint, I mean all of the beige paint my local art store had, as the high-pressure, high-solid cans empty themselves in seconds, and it took several coats before I had a reasonably uniform color.

I finished if off with some traditional model railroad foilage, scaling the shrubs appropriately with distance. I then took a few test shots so that I could try and color match the background photo of the oil fires to the diorama as closely as possible. I ended up remasking the tanks and decanting some spray paint to tint them a little more towards the desert color. Finally satisfied, I took a photo of the fully assembled and lighted diorama to use as a background plate for the A-10's. I digitally painted some extra smoke into the sky and cropped it to UHD resolution. I made a number of backgrounds for different angles, some cropped low and some high. One advantage of using my TV for a backdrop is how easily I can swap, scale or color adjust a background image.

At last, I was able to take some photos. I shoot one image of the aircraft fully lit, and another of the background with the lights off. That way I can use the unlit background image to mask out the supports and any reflections from the lighting equipment.

I'm very happy with the resulting images. Some creative photoshopping enabled me to convert some of them into faux illustrations.I rather like the look...it resembles vintage model kit box art. I'm not sure the process is any cheaper or easier than making a real painting, but it does show just how far I will go to avoid learning advanced perspective techniques. Now that I am armed with these new images, I can either use them as is, or as reference for some physical art. I'm not sure what I will do with them yet. But it was a heck of a journey getting here, and I learned a lot. Hopefully, you learned a little bit, too. Now go build your own thing. Happy landings!


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