Disappointment happens. Not everything always works according to plan. When this happens in life it can be bad, for sure. However, when it happens in wartime, it is usually a lot worse. When a weapon disappoints, it’s usually the poor people using it who pay the price. Thus it was for the aircrews of the E15K1 Siun (“Norm” to the Allies); promised a plane that was fast enough to evade Allied fighters, all they got was a slow, easy target to ride in.
The Siun was a Japanese Navy reconnaissance aircraft, designed to operate on floats. This makes sense in the vast Pacific theatre; it literally meant that almost anywhere was a runway or a basing point. There were plenty of Japanese floatplanes serving in the recon role, but the problem was the floatplanes were generally slow and easily destroyed by the heavy and fast Allied fighters. To cure the problem, an ingenious solution was found.
Kawanishi designed the Siun around the same “Central Float + Wing Float” arrangement of the A6M2N “Rufe”, the floatplane version of the zero. In fact, this same arrangement was also used for the N1K1 “Rex” that matured into the very capable land-based Shiden (“George”) fighter. Thus, the general idea seems to have been a good one. To increase the speed of the Siun, Kawanishi made the wing floats retractable (and inflatable to save weight and space) and the central float could be ejected should the plane come under attack. This sounds weird, but it’s better to get home and ditch than be shot down, right? Punching the float was good for some 90 km/h, so it wasn’t just a fun party trick; it was a real advantage in combat.
Well, it should have been. Thing is, none of this stuff worked. The float retraction system and inflation systems failed a lot, so eventually fixed floats were installed. The central float ejection system never worked in combat, and the whole aircraft eventually ended up as no better than those it was supposed to replace. To witness this, the first six Siuns sent to Palau were all shot down, and production ended after the 15th was built.
So, not really a success, then.
Given that it really isn’t one of the war’s more successful types, it’s not a surprise that there aren’t a lot of kits of the Norm. There is a nice looking newly tooled kit from RS Models, but it can be hard to find, and quite expensive (at least where I’ve seen it). Of course, it’s also a nice kit, and if you’ve read anything here on the Lagoon, you know that if there’s an older, crappier version of a kit, then I’ll usually seek that out instead. So it is with the Siun.
Waaaay back in the early 60’s, the Japanese company Aoshima brought out a pretty rough little Siun kit. It was exported to North America under the less-than-inspiring, but surprisingly appropriate company label “Farpro Japan”. Yes, the kit is ‘FAR FROM PRO’, that is true. Needless to say, when I had a chance to get a plane as esoteric as the Norm in the form of an ancient (and cheap!) kit, I jumped at it!
If you want to see what the kit is like, then check out the Out of Box review, and get ready for a sink-marky, rivety, raised panel-liney good time!
Everybody’s Scribing for the Weekend:
Now, if you’re a modeller, you know that there is a serious debate/discussion/generational-feud-creating-difference-of-opinion regarding what to do with raised panel lines. Some people like to leave them because they can’t be bothered to rescribe them. Okay, that’s fine by me, but it’s not my preferred method in most cases. I honestly feel that if you take the time to rescribe the panel lines, you can make even an old dog like the Siun here look like a much newer and better kit. I personally like my panel lines recessed, so on a kit like this, it means that before any assembly work can begin, it’s time to bust out the scribing tools!
Thankfully, the lines on the Farpro kits are quite straight and clear. This means they are easy to trace with a scriber. However, it’s still best to use Dymo Tape as a self-adhesive “ruler” when drawing long lines and the Siun is no exception. Unlike Fujimi’s WWII IJN aircraft, the Farpros aren’t covered in a billion lines; it’s only a few of the major panel lines that are there. This means that the rescribing task is not as arduous as it could be. It only took me about 2 or 3 hours to rescribe everything and get the parts ready for assembly.
Now, as an aside, hardcore people interested in entering competitions with their Farpros should be aware that if you do rescribe the kit, it can’t be considered “out of box” any more. This rather stupid IPMS rule (which needs to be changed, but that’s a separate rant) means that once you go down the road I have, you may as well go ahead and change up anything else you want. Of course, I’m not sure there are ANY hardcore, competition-minded folks who would bother torturing themselves with a Farpro Siun anyway, so this could be a moot point…
Building the Siun:
With the panel lines rescribed, some of the assemblies can be glued together, namely the floats and the wing halves. Like the Farpro Saiun I built before, the Norm has a fairly good fit on the wings. Even the floats aren’t too bad, but there is that very pronounced rise at the joining seam, and that means a lot of sanding. The plastic isn’t too hard, though, so if you use some wet/dry sandpaper, you can be through most of the hard work fairly quickly!
The hardest part about the Siun was getting the scribing mistakes and seams to disappear. For whatever reason, the seams kept sinking. There are a lot of places that require filler on the Siun, and to get Tamiya putty into very tight spaces I mixed it with Acetone and made it into a liquid. This was then run into, or painted on (depending on the circumstances) the areas needing attention. The issue was that no matter how may coats I applied, some of the main body seams and the top float seam continued to show. Learning from Gold Rush, I then used some Testors Model Master Acrylic (MMA) White paint as filler. This dries hard, but doesn’t shrink, so it makes a perfect “top coat” of filler.
Also like its brother the Saiun, the Norm is in desperate need of some kind of interior detail. Since the concept of a “tinplate”-type falsely-shallow interior worked so well before, I decided to try it again. I cut out the top row of seating pegs, and sanded down the inside of the cockpit walls. Then I cut a piece of sheet styrene to act as the floor. Once trimmed to fit into place, this was glued onto the lower set of pegs to give it some support and alignment. At this point, I was able to seal up the fuselage and finish the rescribing that goes around the fuselage.
I was then going to make some generic headrest shapes out of thinner styrene. However, a review of the RS Models Siun showed that the seats never came above the walls of the fuselage. It also showed a large flat plate separating the front and rear cockpit. Thus, I cut a piece of sheet styrene and glued it between the front and back “holes”, roughly where the RS showed it. I didn’t even bother with the seats. With such heavy framing, the Siun isn’t going to be easy to look in on, and it wasn’t worth the effort.
I used MMA grey primer to handbrush the cockpit for painting; it’s faster and easier than using a rattlecan and waiting for it to dry. I then painted the interior in RAF Interior Green, because it’s an interior and that’s bloody-well close enough for me! The entire interior was then washed with Citadel Nuln Oil to darken it, with more put on the floor to add some false depth. With that, the fuselage was together. It also required an immense amount of filling and sanding, but following the same methods as I used elsewhere, I managed to get the bulk of the seams under control.
The tailplane of the Siun was supposed to be glued into place before the fuselage halves were joined. It is a single piece and is designed such that the fuselage builds around it. This is nice because it keeps the two tailplanes at the right angle. However, there’s so much work needed on the fuselage that it would be impractical to do this. Thus, I decided to put the tailplane in once the fuselage was done. I rescribed (of course!) the unit and sanded it aggressively so that it would fit easily into place. The idea was good, but it didn’t quite work out. The tailplane was still a touch big, and the tail area doesn’t have much plastic on it. Since I’d been sanding and scribing on the tail, it was weak back there, and the entire tail fin just blew off when I put in the tailplane.
Oops. Well, no worries. A bit of sanding and the vertical tail was back in place. The breaks were clean, and the whole thing only needed a bit of filler to make it look like it never happened. Once this was done, the wings were put on. Of course, when I put them on, they broke right down the middle! The scribing I’d done had weakened the lower wing pan, so when I applied pressure during a test fit, the seam gave out. I used some sheet styrene from a printer cartridge box (hence it’s orange) to fix it, and once it was dry; the wings went on more smoothly. There were the expected fit issues, and again, lots of putty and white paint were needed to set things right.
I’m beginning to see a pattern, here. It seems that rescribing just results in stress risers. that makes sense, as does not bending the wings too far!
Despite all of the hardships that I’d encountered in getting this little bugger assembled, the hardest job was yet to come. That job, of course, was rescribing the cockpit window panel lines. “If you don’t rescribe the lines, you’re going to lose the completely…” I thought to myself. But, then I decided to use an idea I’d tried once before with success. I used an LED light as a mini light table. This allowed me to put Tamiya tape on the outside of the canopy and “see” the shadow from the frame lines as the light came through from underneath. Using a swivel cutter, I was able to cut some masks for the panel lines in-situ, and this saved me from some rescribing horror. I still had to do a bit, but overall, it wasn’t so terrible.
I glued the floats on the wings and under the fuselage before primering. It would be easier to leave them off and then attach them at the end, but I figured there would be fit issues, and a plastic-on-plastic weld would help with rigidity. I was right on both counts. The wing floats were okay, but the main float needed some work to fair it in correctly. Despite being a bit difficult to work around, the advantages of the plastic-plastic weld were apparent in that, regardless of the amount of handling the plane received, none of the floats ever broke off during construction.
Painting, Decalling and Finishing:
The instructions on the Siun aren’t all that helpful, by modern standards, for what to paint the model. Thankfully, RS Models saved me again with several different full colour profiles. I liked the one in the jade-like IJN Green with grey undersides, so I decided to go with that. I primered the entire airframe with Walmart “Paint It!” grey primer. I then used Testors Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Blue Angels Yellow for the stripe on the front of the wing. I must have used about 10 light coats to build up what I needed! I then masked this with Tamiya tape and painted the cowl black. I then masked it and re-primered the entire plane, hiding the black and yellow disaster.
I painted the underside in MMA Neutral Grey, which looked pretty close to IJN Grey. However, one thing I’ve never found is an MMA of IJN Green. There are plenty of RAF and Luftwaffe colours in the MMA range, but Japanese colours aren’t even on the radar. However, I had some C’n’C Green train colour, which is just an MMA by a different name, and used that as a base. I added some yellow, white, MMA Gloss Green and even a bit of Medium Green, and I got a colour that is very close to what I was looking for. Incidentally, I also had enough paint on the first trial run to make a colour that’s perfect for my Gundam Leopard DaVinci, but that’s another story…
I masked the grey and then airbrushed the MMA at about 18 psi. I thinned it with my custom thinner, which is 1/3 Future and 2/3 Isopropyl alcohol (99%). This gave the paint a bit of shine, good self-levelling and made it very durable for sanding. I unmasked everything, touched up a few paint runs and then sealed all the paintwork with two thin coats of Future. Once dry, I sanded off the high spots, re-Futured twice more, and then sanded that. This left a nice surface for the decals.
Even though they were over 50 years old, the decals actually worked! There weren’t many of them, mind you. Just six Hinomarus for the entire kit. If you want unit markings, stencils or other luxuries like that, I’ll have to recommend either the spares box, or the RS kit. However, that didn’t bother me. I wanted to build this kit to the best of my abilities with what came to hand easily and readily. I used Future to hold the decals in place, and to soften them. As it turns out, these decals are completely immune to MicroSol and MicroSet, but Future will allow them to become soft enough that you can somewhat get the decals to sink into the nicely scribed panel lines. Once the decals were done, I over-Futured them, and gave the plane another sanding to take off high-spots.
I wanted to highlight the panel lines and add slight colour variation. However, I wanted it subtle, and I don’t pre-shade by and large. I used a grey chalk pastel powder that was only slightly darker than the Neutral Grey, and applied it, with Varsol, to the Futured underside. Once dry, I used a wide brush and a DRY paper towel to brush off the excess, in the direction of airflow. I then Futured it down to make sure that handling the plane wouldn’t ruin the effect. Overall it turned out well, and I did the same thing on the upper surfaces using a slightly darker shade of grey. Again, the effect is subtle, but that’s what I wanted. Doing this on the Futured surface allows the Varsol/chalk wash to easily get into corners and lines, as well as making the powder easily removed from the surfaces to which it is applied. Only a small amount “sticks”, since the Varsol does attack the Future a bit. In this way, you can repeat the process until you get the results you want.
At this point, I applied a matte coat made from Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Matte Urethane Varnish thinned with water and alcohol, and a tiny bit of Future. This dries DEAD FLAT and is super tough. On this surface, I applied some of the grey chalk pastel (lighter for the underside, darker for the topside) to the panel lines, to give a slight shading effect. This was then nailed down with more flat coat. The effect is less pronounced than if I had used a darkened green pastel, since I’m just tinting the paint, in effect. I used a whitish grey (with a bit of blue and purple to make it “pop”) for the engine cowl. I was pleased with how it turned out, and gave the entire plane a final coat of semigloss varnish. This is also based on the Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Matte Urethane Varnish, but with more Future added.
I painted the spinners in a custom-mixed brown that I have used for other IJN aircraft, and did the blades in silver. This is unusual, since it seems most IJN planes had brown blades. However, the RS Models box showed bare metal blades, and since it was a nice contrast, I went with that. The finishing touch was to remove the masking from the canopy and give the transparencies a daub of Future, in an attempt to make them slightly clearer and more glass-like. Still, they tend to remind me of those glass ‘bricks’ from the ‘70s; very thick and distorted. Still, given what I was working with, I was pretty pleased. The canopy was glued in place with white Tacky Glue and any extra was wiped off with a wet paper towel.
The Siun, despite its eventual failure in service, was a good idea. Because it was designed to be fast, it is a very attractive aircraft, and the contra-rotating two-bladed prop adds extra visual interest, since this isn’t an arrangement you see every day!
As far as kits go, though, there IS a reason you don’t see kits like this Farpro Siun every day! Some old kits can easily withstand the test of time; old Mania and LS kits can still be found in production for Hasegawa, and these measure up well, even today. However, the Farpro kits are not of the same ilk. The Siun, like all the Farpro kits, is a very rough, simple and unimpressive blob of styrene. It has lots of raised rivets, panel lines and an over-thick canopy; all features that time has (mercifully) left behind.
My gut tells me that most modellers aren’t going to feel too much nostalgia looking at the Siun, or any of the Farpro kits. They’re so basic and so bad that I can’t see too many people wanting to spend the time and trouble on them. Even if you remember building them as a kid, I doubt there’s much more than “Thank goodness we’ve progressed from there!” in your mind when you encounter them now. However, in a way, that’s kind of a shame.
For one thing, these kits are awesome for beginning modellers. It’s important to get the basics of gluing, sanding and filling down pat before you go and tackle a complex and expensive model. I grew up on Hobbycraft and Matchbox kits. Like them, the Farpro is a great ‘instructional’ type of model. There aren’t too many fine pieces to break or get lost, and when all is said and done, it does make a sturdy model airplane. Add to this that most juniors won’t care if it’s super-detailed and will shrug off the raised panel lines. That means that, if you can get one, these Farpros are perfect to work on with a budding modeller. You can brush paint them with 7ml Testors paints and you’re not going to lose detail. You can glue them with the old orange tube glue and do them little harm. They’re so bad, they’re hard to make worse! Sounds perfect for little hands, eh?
If you need a test airframe for trying some new weathering technique, then the Farpros are also great. What have you lost if you strip it and try again? Almost nothing! So, while they seem like junk, they really do have some redeeming values.
Of course, there’s also the “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” tack, and that’s where I’m come in. If you’re like me, and you like a challenge, the Farpros are about as challenging as you’re going to get (short of an old Russian model – those can be horrid too). I have this fetish that I like to see how well I can build something super crappy. I love to practice scribing, sanding and painting so that, on a show table (or here at the Lagoon) people will see this kit and NOT recognise it at first. I enjoy seeing what can be done, within the limits of basic work, to improve something. After all, the basic kit is pretty sound; it just needs some love and attention.
Still, in the end analysis, this kind of kit is one you have to WANT to work on. With the RS Models version out there, you can get a better Siun than this. If you don’t like some frustration in your modelling, then the extra money is going to be well spent. If you aren’t in love with the idea of resurrecting something that everyone else has forgotten about, if you don’t love the thought of turning a turnip into a rose, then don’t bother with this kit. For me, the “Whoa! Someone built a Farpro? Crazy!” factor overrides the work required. If it doesn’t for you, don’t even bother taking this kit for free.
I personally enjoyed this build and am very pleased with the results. I have a number more of these Farpro monsters, and I’m sure that I’ll end up building at least a couple of them! The Siun is a good looking and unfortunate plane, and this kit recreates both the unfortunateness and the slick lines well. What else could I ask for?