Value is subjective, and it’s not always something that you can predict. Throughout history, there have been some aircraft that just seem to be endowed with an intrinsic value that is almost “designed into” the airframe. A good example of this is the TF-9J Cougar trainer, also known as the “Twogar”.
While the Grumman Panther was a capable jet and served faithfully in Korea, it was never going to last long in the ever-changing world of ‘50s jet aircraft development. With straight wings and staunchly subsonic performance, it was firmly outclassed even by the time it went to war. However, its development, the swept-wing, transonic Cougar, fared little better. Unlike in Europe, where transonics had a long life (see the Hunter for details), the Cougar was a transitional airframe, and really didn’t do anything much of note in its short life with the US Navy.
However, the two-seater of the Cougar, the TF-9J, was another story altogether. If the Cougar was a record, then the single-seater would be the “B-Side”, a forgettable inclusion at best. But the Twogar, well… that’s the hit single right there! The Twogar served the US Navy for a very long time as an advanced training aircraft, putting in over two decades of demanding carrier training for new Navy pilots. Beyond that, though, the Twogar also served its tour of duty in Vietnam, acting as a FAC(A) (forward air controller, airborne) for two years in the mid-to-late 1960s. Thus, while the Cougar might be considered a throwaway, the Twogar represented real value, and possessed a longevity and utility far beyond its brothers.
On top of that, the Twogar, to me, is just sexy as all heck. I don’t like the single-seaters, but the two-holer Cougars are just beautiful. The nose contours are cleaned up, and the longer greenhouse makes the plane look more aerodynamic. That’s why, when I found out that Sword had brought out a Twogar, I was very excited! I was even more excited since one of the versions was the ‘Nam one, with appropriate weapons and decals!
For a rundown of the Sword Twogar, check out the Out of Box Review. That will tell you what I started with.
The Quality of Value Is Not Strained:
Or, maybe it is.
When I looked at the Twogar as a kit, out of the box, I thought it looked pretty good. Sure, it’s a short-run kit with all the problems that can entail. Lack of locating pins, a bit soft on the details here and there, but overall, I got the feeling that I got about what I paid for. I figured a bit of work never hurt anyone and this shouldn’t be too bad.
Well, now that I’ve launched into it, I can safely say that it’s a bit more of a challenge than its low piece count and apparent simplicity would otherwise let on.
I started, as tradition would dictate, with the cockpit. To be fair, for a 1/72 plane without an opening canopy, the detail is sufficient. There was a major issue with the back wall, however, as it had a GIANT injection stub sticking out of it, as well as one on the avionics box! Cleaning these up wasn’t a major deal, but those are not places one would expect a model maker to put such a thing. On the backside, sure, but right out in the visible area of the cockpit? It boded ill…
I painted the cockpit light grey, the consoles black and then used a silver Prismacolour pencil to pick out the details. I did the same for the instrument panels, but I decided to leave the seats and control columns out until after everything else was done. I gave the cockpit a wash made from Gunship Grey (for subtle shadows) and it all came together fairly well. The gear bays were done in white with a Light Ghost Grey wash. This gives some shadow without being as stark as black or dark grey, and it doesn’t really affect the white parts where it isn’t puddling.
Assembling the wings wasn’t hard, and the gear bays fit in very well indeed. Before shutting up the fuselage, I added a goodly amount of lead to the nose, since the Twogar has a very tail-heavy lean in real life. Preventing a tail sit would likely require a significant weight, so I just guessed and crammed the nose full of bird shot. It’s nice because it’s fairly compact and thus dense.
Gluing the fuselage together required, as expected, some new locating tabs to be fabricated. These were made from an orange (!?) printer cartridge case I had lying around. I added some to the spine and the underside of the nose, as well as at the top wing root intake flares. Now, to their credit, Sword did include some glue on tabs to help locate the wings/lower fuselage pan to the rest of the airframe. However, I doubted their sufficiency for the task, and opted to add my own as well.
The fit was… dodgy. However, the fuselage did go together okay, by and large. To help hold he spine together, I melted some sprue in ProWeld cement and applied it liberally along the inside of the fuselage joint, top and bottom. I know SprueGoo (TM?) is oft looked-down upon these days as something from a dark past, but I like it, and I think this is the perfect place for it. A strong, true bond is required here, and it did the job perfectly. The wings fit well at the top surfaces, but the under-pan mating was not great.
The intakes though, are pretty bad. These consist of two pieces, an inside wall which is flat, and includes the splitter plate, and the outer duct, which is a “V” and is supposed to just “fit” into the openings at the front of the wing roots.
The first problem is that the two splitter plates don’t seem to fit. No matter which side I chose to put them on, they looked wrong. They don’t fit well with the intake lips. The intake lips, though, don’t fit AT ALL WELL into those holes in the wing roots! They’re a sloppy fit with lots of gaps, so a tonne of putty and sanding are needed. To make matters worse, this plane has an old-school trait: “hollow plane syndrome”. The intakes are open at the back, so you can see right into the airframe. And you thought we’d moved beyond that!
The inside of the intakes were painted white, and the join of the wall to the “V” wasn’t bad at all to clean up. However, the intake trunks are deep, and they need to be capped, to prevent “see through”. The problem will be that, when you glue on a black-painted piece of plastic to the end of the trunking, there’s a risk of the black bleeding into the white, creating a mess that’s easy to see, but hard to correct. If you glue the “wall” in first, there’s no easy way to get in to paint it. The solution was deceptively simple, though: Black Crayola Model Magic! I use Model Magic for lightweight reinforcement in some models, but mine is just a neutral flesh colour. So, I went out and bought a pack of the black stuff, and stuck a small ball at the end of the trunking. PERFECT! No painting and a non-running black plug was the result.
Fairing in the intakes took a lot of work. I used SprueGoo first, to give a good secure hold, since the mating surface didn’t really fit that well. Then, once that was sanded, I used Tamiya putty, and after that, Model Master Acrylic (MMA) flat white. I love this as a final filler, because it’s shrink resistant, waterproof and flows into all little airholes, filling them perfectly. It took a lot of sanding and repainting to get the contours right, however.
Everybody’s Scribin’ for the Weekend:
Remember when I said some of the panel lines were a bit weak? Well, I wasn’t wrong, but it turns out, once you start playing with the kit, that all the panel lines are too soft. Given the amount of sanding that this kit requires, a lot of it is going to get obliterated if you don’t take the time to rescribe it. So, it was with a resigned shrug that I started my least favourite task on a kit.
I choose, generally, to rescribe freehanded; I use the existing lines (raised or recessed, doesn’t matter) as a template and go from there. It’s only when I have to make entirely new lines that I actually bother to use any kind of guiding device, like Dymo Tape. The upside is I spend a lot less time cutting and fitting Dymo masks, but a lot more time touching up mistakes. It’s tough to turn corners using a scriber, so there are inevitably quite a few “outside the lines”-lines that have to be touched up.
This is exacerbated by the plastic on the kit; it’s fairly hard and not easy to scribe without some force, but this, of course, results in an increased likelihood of “Departure from Controlled Scribe”. Sigh… so, there was a tonne of rescribing, touching up, sanding, and repeating. Given the amount of sanding to fair in the wings and intakes, this entire cycle ended up being cyclic as well.
One casualty of this were the airbrakes. These are a pair of perforated flaps between the front gear bay and the leading edge of the wing, on the underside. On the kit, this is right at the meeting point of the undwerwing pan and the fuselage. On the kit, they were marked in, and soft dimples were moulded in to represent the perforations. It would have been far better to have made the brakes separate pieces, so the perforations could be drilled out and then the brakes installed at the end. This, however, was not the case, and with all the sanding at the wing/fuselage junction, the soft dimples became almost invisible. I decided to cut my losses and just fill them in, losing the brakes in the process.
Note: A better way to do this next time would be to drill out the holes before putting the wing pan in place. Then, put a thick slab (or two glued-together thinner pieces) in behind them. This would give a “back wall” and allow you to have the perforated brakes. Also, if you sanded down too much, and had to redrill, you’d have enough to go into without going through. Damn… wish I’d thought of that earlier. Well, that’s why I do this, so you can reap the rewards!
I generally like to glue pylons onto a plane before primering. Why? Since they’re often easy to knock off, I like to try and get a good “plastic-on-plastic” bond. I did the same thing here. Since the Twogars in ‘Nam are usually seen only with the one pod, I followed the photographic evidence and left one of the pylons off, filling in the holes. I did glue the other set on, though, and they fit perfectly.
As it was, they fit TOO well. In a perfect example of why you double check things before putting glue to styrene, I realized, after the fact, that the “Marines” title on the underside of the wing is one of those kind that are covered (albeit partially) by the pylon! F.M.L. So, I had to rip the pylon off, carefully. That worked as well as expected, and the pylons got trashed. Thankfully, the kit comes with two sets, so I had the backups.
More unfortunate, though, was the damage to the wing surface from the glue-melting. So, more filling, sanding, and scribing cycles later, and things were back to where they were just before I put the pylons on. I know this is entirely my own fault, but it made an already increasingly annoying kit just that extra bit irksome. We’ll think of it as a team effort, I guess.
Also, the tailplanes didn’t fit very well. I had to open the hole in the vertical tail for them, but it didn’t seem to matter, since they still didn’t want to mate up that well. Some coaxing with the glue and constant frittering did eventually get them set, but it was not as simple as it could have been.
What with work and home and family stuff, I don’t always get a lot of modelling time. We have all had that experience, I’m sure. However, for some reason, this kit just seemed to take forever to go from putting on the wings to being ready for primer.
The fit of the major components is not very good, and there are many opportunities to obliterate the often-soft surface detail. This means I had to invest a lot more in constant rescribing than I like to. The result was that the kit ended up making me rather unmotivated to work on it, and it took a real effort to get it to where I could mask the canopies, intakes and back end for painting.
Next time: Only painting and decalling left! What could go wrong? (I’m almost afraid to ask…)