Nakajima A6M2-N 'Rufe' Fighter
You have to hand it to the Japanese, they planned ahead, and recognized that the coming conflict with America and Great Britain would involve long distances over water and lots of places that weren't suitable for building airfields. So they developed a wide a range of seaplanes, and the ships to service them.
The Nakajima A6M2-N fighter, code-named 'Rufe' by the Allies, was one such seaplane. Most WW II airplane buffs are quick to recognize it as nothing more than the famous Mitsubishi 'Zero' fighter with floats stuck onto the bottom. And it was almost as mean and wickedly maneuverable as the Zero.
This was my first experience with a Hasegawa kit, and on opening up the box I was impressed with the crispness of the moldings and the attention to detail. It looks like they took their Zero kit and added a couple of new sprues, for the lower wings (don't need landing gear!) and floats, as well as the slightly different fuselage - the Rufe had a beefier rudder and an extra strake under the fuselage to help offset the pull from the large center and two outrigger floats. Oddly, the kit included some of the parts you would need to build a Zero, including the landing gear and a drop tank, so into the spares box they went.
As part of my quest to build every major type of aircraft that flew in the Aleutian Theater during WW II, my Rufe would be painted to represent one of those operating out of the Japanese bases on Attu and Kiska during their brief occupation of those islands. Taking a page from my IJN Kimikawa Maru seaplane tender build, I decided to represent one of the Rufes ferried to Kiska in mid-August 1942 by her and serving with the 5th Kokutai (Fighter Group).
Reference photos of any Japanese aircraft in the Aleutians are hard to come by, so a certain amount of guesswork and interpolation was involved. Although the tail code for aircraft based off the Kimikawa Maru was X-xx, her seaplane contingent consisted primarily of Aichi E13A1 'Jake' reconnaissance seaplanes. The tail code for the Fifth Kokutai's Rufes was R-xx through 1942, so I decided to go with that, based on the scanty photo evidence. The mid-August 1942 timeframe also obviated the need to add the bright yellow wing leading edge identification stripes. Model Art modeling magazine No. 27 (spring 2008), which is mainly devoted to the Aleutian Theater, had an illustration of a Rufe numbered R-102, which seemed to jibe with a photo I found on the web of that same aircraft getting smashed by the surf on Kiska's beach, so that became my subject.
Little Details First
The cockpit of the Hasegawa kit is well detailed for a 1/72 kit, and a some careful painting and drybrushing would have yielded quite acceptable results - but where's the fun in that? So it was time to hit the Internet for research photos.
Thankfully there were a number of detailed build articles about larger-scale Zeroes and Rufes that included cockpit shots. There are a few differences, notably in things having to do with landing gear and the lack of a headrest support, but otherwise the cockpits are basically identical. So out came bits of styrene strip, rod and sheet; some stretched sprue; a few bits of wire and solder for conduit runs; and viola! - a suitably cluttered cockpit (actually, it took a succession of late nights, and fussing and fuming over various little bits of plastic). Stretched sprue with superglue blobs on the ends made fine throttle quadrant levers, along with flap and seat adjustment levers.
Speaking of the seat, the Rufe's seat had a number of holes in it to save weight and for ventilation (I assume), so out came the pin vice and a small drill bit to replicate that, and some stretched sprue to better replicate the way the seat is mounted in the cockpit (the kit mounting is just a peg on the cockpit floor). Seatbelts were made from cigarette paper, painted and then formed to fit, held down with white glue and embellished with some photoetched bits of 1/700 ship railing for buckles and hardware.
I debated what to do about the instrument panel, which is just a decal. Using it as is would leave it kind of one-dimensional, but several attempts to make an overlay with holes punched out with my Waldron sub-miniature punch-and-die set got too frustrating, so I settled for putting a tiny dot of gloss paint on the face of each instrument dial to simulate glass. You really can't see much of it anyway because the butts of the two machine guns stick into the cockpit and hang over it (added the charging handles for those, by the way). The only other prominent thing that was missing was the reflector gunsight, which was cobbled together from a few pieces of square styrene and a tiny square of clear plastic for the reflector sight. It all looked pretty convincing when the fuselage was closed up. And for you purists, yeah, I cheated on the interior color, which is RAF Interior Green, Model Master No. 2062, lightened with white to better resemble IJN Interior Green.
The finely-molded engine got a little TLC also: A black acrylic wash to bring out the details, fine copper wire for the ignition wires (14) and stretched black sprue for the pushrods (14, just did the two per cylinder for the front bank of cylinders).
Most color pictures of Japanese aircraft models and model kit box art show them in an all-over light gray, a dark green over gray, dark green and brown camouflage over gray, or a squiggly-green airbrushed over the natural metal finish. See a pattern with the gray developing? Ongoing research by a dedicated group of detail-oriented enthusiasts, utilizing surviving bits of actual Japanese aircraft and historical records that bothered to describe colors, is forcing us to rethink that. The excellent j-aircraft.com website has an entire section devoted to nothing but what colors the various Japanese aircraft were painted.
So, for the exterior ... no green over gray Rufe here, folks. Boxtop art notwithstanding. And since I suck at mixing colors, I went with Model Masters Imperial Japanese Navy Green, No. 2116, even though some on the j-aircraft forums argued it was too dark or not blue enough or whatever, for the upper surfaces. After some research on other modeling sites, Model Masters SAC Bomber Tan, No. 1792, was chosen for the Nakajima Amber Gray (Ame-iro) undersides.
A little of the interior - behind the pilot's seat bulkhead and in front of the rudder pedals - was painted 'aotake,' the anti-corrosion treatment that gave the metal a greenish or bluish tint. I simulated it with Testor's Aluminum, No. 1181,overcoated with Tamiya Clear Green, No. X25 applied very thinly. The inside of the cowling got the same treatment since it would be faintly visible around the lip. It was a nice effect even though it wasn't very visible (isn't that the way it usually works?) on the finished model. The cowl was painted the mix of blue/black as specified in the instructions.
This was also my first experiment with tape 'paint chipping,' and it turned out OK ... not great, but OK. A base coat of Testor's Aluminum, No. 1181 from the little bottle, was applied to selected areas on the fuselage sides, wing roots and floats, allowed to dry thoroughly and overcoated with Future, which was also allowed to dry thoroughly.
Then the IJN green was applied and allowed to dry. Then 3M blue painter's tape was pressed firmly onto small areas and pulled off sharply at an angle, peeling off bits of the green paint to expose the aluminum underneath. What I didn't like was the unpredictability, you didn't know where or how much was going to 'chip' off with each pull of the tape, and there was also the matter of, ummm ... forgetting exactly where you painted the aluminum on the model. Old age, you know?
Additional weathering was accomplished mainly with a silver Prismacolor metallic silver colored pencil around selected panel lines and along the leading edges of the wings and other horizontal and vertical surfaces, and some subtle exhaust smudging from the engine exhaust and the cowl vent areas with powdered pastels. VERY subtle smudging was streaked back from the wing cannons and cowl guns (because I think a lot of modelers overdo this effect); and, since it was a seaplane, I tried to get the into- and out-of saltwater film effect around the floats effect by using Polyscale Dust, No. 414305, along the bottoms of all them.
Finally, the basic aircraft itself was done:
|Right side view of the finished Rufe shows the famous Zero heritage to advantage. The large red square 'Don't Step Here' decals on the wings were put in in four pieces although they came as single decals. I cut out the centers to reduce the possibility of silvering.||Right front view of the Rufe shows the extensive weathering along the wing leading edges, and to a lesser degree on the floats. I wanted to give the idea of a well-worn but still relatively new-to-Kiska fighter.|
|Left front three-quarters view shows some of the paint chipping along the fuselage, done with painter's tape, as was some of the wing chipping. The beaching trolly came with the kit and was 'rusted' with the Rustall system.||Here you can kind of see into the cramped cockpit. The sliding portion of the canopy was a vacuform replacement from Squadron, because the kit piece had a blemish I couldn't sand out. The canopy frames are hand-painted, not masked.|
|A head-on view again emphasizes the weathering on the leading edges of the wings and floats, and to a lesser degree on other areas. The propeller hub was painted Testor's Aluminum and the blades were painted Testor's Steel on the front and Model Master Leather on the back surfaces, to mimic standard practice at that time.||This side view attempts to show the 'salt water' film left along the wingtip and center floats. Also note the oil cooler line added under the cowl and the mooring ring under the rear rudder strake, both made with wire.|
|The pilot figure is from Hasegawa's WWII Pilot Figure Set, No. X72-8. and was really designed to be entering an aircraft from the left front. The boarding ladder, unique to Rufes, was scratchbuilt from plastic rod and weathered with the silver pencil.||Two bits of super-detailing: A 20-mm cannon barrel peeks out of its wing mounting, built with a cut down piece of hypodermic syringe; and a scratchbuilt bomb rack under each wing, made with bits of plastic strip and square stock.|
Then it was time to do the base! Which ... further slowed things down.
I used my now-standard Trumpeter square case and moved around the pieces I planned to use - the Rufe, of course, pulled up onto the beach as I'd seen in numerous photos, the kit-supplied beaching cart, and a small pile of equipment, represented by the 1/72 Czech Master's Kits US cargo for GMC truck (fuel drums, wood-textured crates, jerry cans and a tarp, No. 72022). The US-style jerry cans had to go, which necessitated a bit of surgery with my JCS modeling saw and a little sanding to smooth things up, but the rest of the stuff was generic enough. I painted some Japanese-style characters on a few of the crates for atmosphere.
It was going to be a tight fit with a 1/72-scale aircraft, even set at an angle, so I used some modeling material to build up a sloped beach area after walling in the sides and rear with plastic strip. Once that was dry it was coated with a fine grade of Woodland Scenics railroad ballast that approximated the color of a Kiska beach. Several smooth black rocks scrounged from the road out front were added to simulate wave-worn lava rocks from Kiska's volcano.
Then it came to ... the water. Which almost killed the entire thing. For my 1/700 ships, a thin layer of acrylic gel medium has served very well for a water surface, but here I needed not only waves, but breaking waves, frothy surf and water that had at least some depth 'look' to it since it was supposed to be shallow. I tried Woodland Scenics Realistic Water but it was, pardon the pun, a washout. It's probably fine for still water or ponds and such, but it self-levels and it's impossible to sculpt it into anything resembling a wave. I didn't want to use plaster of Paris, as some had suggested, so after further experimenting, it was back to a carefully-applied base coat of paint and then numerous thin layers of clear acrylic gel medium. Built up slowly. Over a period of weeks. Thank God I wasn't modeling a tsunami or I'd still be at it.
Careful drybrushing of white around the floats simulated a little foam, and watered-down Titanium White stippled along the edge of the 'surf zone' ended up looking like passable ocean froth once it dried and was coated with Future floor polish to give it a shine. I was also careful to slightly darken the sand halfway up the beach to simulate a high tide line. This was definitely my most challenging base to date:
|Overhead view of the final project shows Rufe R-102 draw up on the beach at Kiska, Aleutian Islands, with its pilot boarding it prior to another mission in mid-1942.||Left side overall view shows the beach at low tide, the beaching trolley for the Rufe, and the black volcanic rocks embedded in the beach material before the sand was added.|
|Front view shows the color variation in the water, from darker to lighter near the shore, and gives a hint at the gentle wave action that you had in Kiska's harbor - on a calm day.||This view shows the pile of fuel drums, boxes, crates, and lumber, and the pilot using a board to get out to his fighter without getting his feet wet. (Made sense to me!)|
|This view tries to show the water and surf. All photos were shot in diffuse natural sunlight against a light blue background board.||The same basic view taken with a flash, shows the colors of the overall base and aircraft in a different light.|
About the decals: The national markings, warning stripes, etc., are a mix of the kit decals and Techmod, No. 72041S (which had a better painting guide than the kit, I thought). The aircraft numbers are from Xtradecal 1/32 scale Royal Navy letters and numbers, No. X32-022 (hey! I'm on a budget, you know?) and were applied individually.
Addition: This model received a third place trophy in the Propeller
Aircraft category at the 2012 KVSM contest.
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This page was last updated March 31, 2012.