1/48 Tamiya Grumman F4F Wildcat

By Joe McFeely

Tamiya Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat with the markings of Marine Ace Joe Foss (VMF-121)
Currently, I am going through this "WWII fighter Ace" phase in my modeling.  Aces are men who had destroyed at least five enemy aircraft in combat.  On obtaining the Tamiya Wildcat, and seeing a recent documentary (Discovery Wings) on Marina ace Joe Foss, I naturally chose his plane.  Fortunately, I was able to obtain a decal sheet from Cutting edge (CED48120) depicting his mount in Guadalcanal October of 1942.  The following passage is from the "Ace Pilot" website depicting the first two of his total 26 kills:
"On October 13, 1942, VMF-121 scored its first victories when Lts. Freeman and Narr each got a Japanese plane. Later that same day, Joe led a dozen Wildcats to intercept 32 enemy bombers and fighters. In his first combat, a Zero bounced Joe, but overshot, and Joe was able to fire a good burst and claim one destroyed aircraft. Instantly, three more Zeros set upon him, and he barely made it back to 'Fighter One', his Wildcat dripping oil. Chastened by the experience, he declared "You can call me 'Swivel-Neck Joe' from now on." From the first day, Joe followed the tactics of Joe Bauer: getting in close, so close that another pilot joked that the 'exec' left powder burns on his targets. The next day while intercepting a flight of enemy bombers, Joe's engine acted up and he took cover in the clouds. But suddenly a Wildcat whizzed past him, tailed by a Zero. Joe cut loose and shot the Zero's wing off. It was his second victory in two days."
I opted to build "Swivel Neck Joe's" 'Cat straight from the box since this kit is reportedly awesome in construction and detail.  A look in the box confirmed this.  The only additions were scratch built seat belts from masking tape and True Detail wheels.  I started with spraying the cockpit in Enamel Model Masters (MM) interior green mixed with a little yellow for scale.  Various boxes and the instrument panel were sprayed with MM flat black and Tamiya Acrylic NATO black.  The instrument panel dials and gauges were drybrushed with MM flat white to bring out the detail followed by a drop or two of Future on the dials to simulate glass. Neat trick.  The kit cockpit floor is reportedly inaccurate since there are windows below the pilot on the belly.  To correct this, I cut away the floor in line with the windows allowing one to see all the way through as in the real Wildcat F4.  Once the cockpit was painted and washed, it was drybrushed with steel for weathering.  I was pleased with the results. 
The fuselage halves were joined without trouble and the cockpit was installed from underneath.  It fit perfectly.  The wing assembly also when together without a hitch and attached to the fuselage nicely.  The only putty needed was to to fix some sprue attachment holes on the wing leading edges which I created. 
I then focused on painting the engine and landing gear mechanism.  The engine was first sprayed with Aluminum Metalizer then given a "sludge wash" (custom mixture of gray pastel chalk, water and dishwashing detergent) to bring out the detail of the cooling fins on the cylinders. The reduction case (front) and magnetos were sprayed with a custom mixture of MM Engine Gray and Neutral Gray then the bolts were drybrushed  with MM Steel.  After the whole engine was completed and assembled, it was lightly sprayed with Tamiya Smoke for a weathered,dirty effect.  The landing gear and gear bay were sprayed MM Flat White (per reference), then coated with a Future barrier.  After it cured for a few days, it was washed with the aforementioned sludge wash. The black landing gear braces were sprayed, assembled, then drybrushed with MM Steel. Said was then set aside with the engine to be added later. 
Foss's plane was Blue Gray upper over Light Gray per my reference. This plane was void the newer three tone scheme....thank heavens for I'm not ready to try that one yet!  I'll save that for a future Hellcat.  After priming to check the seams, I first preshaded all panel lines with MM flat black.  In hindsight, I probably should have used a dark gray since I was going for a more subtle effect. Oh well, you be the judge.  The underside was sprayed MM Light Gray (FS 36495) lightened for scale.  Said was applied panel by panel until the desired effect was achieved per a technique I learned in Fine Scale Modeler Magazine.  The upper was then sprayed in the same manner with MM Blue Gray freehand.  I then lightened the painted even more and shaded some panels to indicate sun fade, especially the fabric covered surfaces. Once complete, the plane was coated with Future to await decals.
There really is nothing to the decals for Foss's plane.  The insignias and numbers...thats about it.  It should have been a quick job.....Wrong!  I was somewhat disappointed with Cutting Edge Decals for they were thick and unforgiving.  All required lots of Micro Sol to get them to snuggle down around the numerous rivets common to the Wildcat.  Some were brittle and tore on me.  Maybe I got a bad sheet.  According to the decal placement sheet, Foss's Cat did not display Jap Flags to tally kills.  At least not in October.  I decided to evoke artistic licensing and add two under the port side windscreen to represent Foss's first two kills in October of 42.  Besides, they look cool and add character. 
Panel lines were then washed with a mix of Windsor-Newton Gray and Raw Umber water colors.  I could have used a little more Raw Umber I guess, but since it was relatively early in Foss's arrival to Guadalcanal, the plane would not be totally trashed yet, save some scratches and minor dirt.  Once complete and allowed to dry for a few days, I sprayed a coat of Tamiya Flat to dull it down.  It seemed I may have use to much where the plane began taking on a "milky" hue.  I went back with straight Future until it looked right again.  After the dull coat dried, I took a silver pencil to some access panels (ie. gun bay doors...) to simulate chipping and tool marks.  I tried not to over do it which is easy to do (seen some of those green zeros out there??).  I then airbrushed some Raw Umber followed by Neutral Gray around the cowl to simulated engine heat escaping.  Some black pastel chalk was added for Machine gun streaks and I was finally done. 
This was a very pleasing and painless build which I highly recommend.  IMHO, Tamiya has the best kits out there and are worth the price.  This is my third one and will be followed by the Tamiya ME 109E-3 next. 
Happy Modeling,
Joe McFeely