1/72 Airfix Ford 5-AT Trimotor

It’s done! This is the Airfix Trimotor kit painted up as the RAF’s only Trimotor of WWII, serial number X5000. Building this kit was a long and painful journey.

It’s done! This is the Airfix Trimotor kit painted up as the RAF’s only Trimotor of WWII, serial number X5000. Building this kit was a long and painful journey.

The Ford Trimotor is one of the many designs that were put forth in the early period of airline expansion. While only 199 were built, this corrugated flier, widely known as the ‘Tin Goose’, has become legendary in the annals of aviation. It was tough, durable and simple; its abilities as a workhorse was second to none. Unfortunately, it was also a transitional airplane, which means that its design was not able to take advantage of the improved aerodynamic knowledge that became available during the 1930’s. There has been a lot written about the Ford Trimotor, so I will skip the rest of the history lesson. Readers are free to do their own investigations into the story of the Tin Goose.

It’s no surprise that a number of different models of the Trimotor have been made. However, it seems as though the Airfix kit is the only one in 1/72. There’s an old Revell/Monogram kit, which is now reissued, that is available in 1/77. (Can YOU say “box scale? I KNEW you could!) Unfortunately, from what I can see, the R/M kit is not very accurate, at least in profile shape. I also think in might be the older 4-AT model. Thus, if you want a ‘normal’ scale kit of the Goose’s most numerous model, the 5-AT, the Airfix kit is the only injection moulded game in town.

The Kit:

There’s not a lot I can say about the Airfix Trimotor kit; well, not much positive anyway. In the name of fairness, I’ll stick to the facts, first. The kit is moulded in silver plastic, with the body built like a box, with a floor, ceiling and two sides. The wings are large and come in five pieces, with the opening cargo hatches as separate components. The engine nacelles are several pieces, as are the landing gear. The engine struts come either in pairs or triples, and the landing gear struts are actually moulded as a single piece. The engines are one piece each, and the detail is minimal, but good. The tailplane is a single piece, and the fin/rudder is too. Clear parts are provided for the cockpit windows, side windows, landing lights and the window to what I believe is the washroom. Cockpit and interior detail is minimal. My example is one I picked up second-hand, so there were no decals, although a very limited sheet with American Airways markings is supposed to be included.

This view of the starboard engine and landing gear shows the myriad of struts that came mostly in pairs. The finished product exudes a false aura of strength and rigidity.

This view of the starboard engine and landing gear shows the myriad of struts that came mostly in pairs. The finished product exudes a false aura of strength and rigidity.

Okay, that’s all the nice stuff I can say.

Upon opening the box, I encountered the typical “Airfix jumble” of loose parts, thick trees and a general sense of disregard for good model packing. The real problems start when you try to actually build this thing… Test fitting the parts is nearly impossible because there are very few locator pins, and they’re all tiny and ineffective. In addition, the plastic is quite soft, and bends easily. However, it’s also very weak, which leads to a lot of problems handling the smaller bits of the plane. I found that most thin parts, like struts, landing gear legs and the exhausts would break if handled for more than a few seconds. The plastic has the consistency and durability of warm cheddar: bend it, and you get a chalky mess that doesn’t fit back together right.

The fit of all the parts is terrible, and the internal guides for the cockpit and load floor are awful. There’s a slot for a stand, but one isn’t included in this version. I can only imagine the chaos if it were made of the same material as the rest of the plane. The Goose is heavy, and would fold a stand made from the same material in seconds. The clear parts are actually quite good, but exceptionally thick and brittle, and my ‘canopy’ piece broke FOUR FRIGGIN’ TIMES! More on that later…

Here’s a good view of the crack in the window glass. You can see that it is a major problem. This is the third failure that plagued this piece.

Here’s a good view of the crack in the window glass. You can see that it is a major problem. This is the third failure that plagued this piece.

Building the Tin Goose:

I like to build kits no one else wants to or would dare to. I’ve built lots of FROGs and even Starfix kits. Thus, I consider myself to be something of a hardened veteran when it comes to crappy kits. Well, just when I didn’t think I could  get worse than the Revell Germany reissue of the FROG Gannet, the Trimotor comes along.

This is the WORST kit, I have EVER built. PERIOD!!! Honestly, I thought of abandoning this project more than I did of finishing it. Congratulations Airfix! You made me hate airplane kits, if even for a short while. This is a remarkable achievement. The only thing that hurts more is that I brought it on myself. I paid nothing for the kit, and got nothing but problems in return from it. If this kit was a horse, it would be glue by now. If it were a car, it would be beer cans by now. If it were a person, it would be a politician. Yeah, it’s that bad…

Due to the corrugations in the Goose’s skin, filling and sanding the joints between major subassemblies is impossible. Also, despite the cheddarness of the plastic, NOTHING will glue it well! I tried Ambroid Proweld, Testors liquid and tube cement, CA and white glue. It doesn’t seem to matter what’s used, the plane will still fall apart. The Testors liquid cement worked the best, but not by much.

To get my Goose finished, I more or less followed the instructions, although I did have to modify things a bit. I glued all the struts to the engine nacelles before installing them in the wing. I also had to modify the tail wheel, since it’s supposed to be held on by what appears to be a triangular A-frame at the center, and a shock-damped strut out the top. Well, the strut is there, but the triangular part that’s supposed to represent the A-frame is too small! You can’t actually attach the tail wheel to the body at more than one point without modifying it! Given the stress-handling properties of the Airfix plastic, this is not advisable. I just used some spare, non-Airfix sprue to extend the A-frame’s base. This gave me the results I needed.

This side view shows the addition I made to the tailwheel A-frame. The new piece is the thicker cross section piece between the wheel and the end of the plane.

This side view shows the addition I made to the tailwheel A-frame. The new piece is the thicker cross section piece between the wheel and the end of the plane.

I also glued the cargo panniers in the wings shut, since I couldn’t see them standing up to repeated openings, and I didn’t want them open anyways. There’s no detail in the wings, and having them open is pointless. Unfortunately, there’s supposed to be a strake near the opening end of the doors that’s neither moulded on nor included in, the kit.

This view of the wing underside shows the roundel, landing light and edge of the wing cargo door. There should be a strake there, but alas, Airfix forgot that detail. It probably would have broken off anyway…

This view of the wing underside shows the roundel, landing light and edge of the wing cargo door. There should be a strake there, but alas, Airfix forgot that detail. It probably would have broken off anyway…

I attached the tailplane after I painted it and the fin/rudder after they were painted. The tail struts are only partially correct: there should be the two included plus another four thinner ones. I’m actually glad they weren’t included. They’d never have survived being cut off the sprue.

This view of the empennage shows the two struts that Airfix provided. Three times that many are really supposed to be there. You can also see why I needed the extra support for the tailwheel.

This view of the empennage shows the two struts that Airfix provided. Three times that many are really supposed to be there. You can also see why I needed the extra support for the tailwheel.

Why my Tin Goose is Different:

The problem with the Trimotor is that it is a very pedestrian subject as far as I’m concerned: most of them were silver! What I really wanted was a very obscure paint scheme. I thought I had found it when I saw some decals that were for sale depicting a Bolivian machine from the Gran Chaco war of the mid 1930’s. Unfortunately, the picture on the decal sheet was only black and white, and I don’t know what colours the plane should have been in. Thus, I was stuck. However, I really wanted a military Trimotor in some sort of camouflage.

It turns out that those are pretty rare. However, thanks to SteveN and RCAFfan at the Modeling Madness (www.modelingmadness.com) forums, I became aware that a single Trimotor had been used by the RAF during the middle of 1940. Thanks to their research, I found out that Trimotor G-ACAE, originally registered to A.E. Guiness of Dublin, was impressed into service in June 1940, and flown to both Norway and into Dunkerque during the retreat. It served with 271 Troop Transport Squadron with the number X5000 and was based at Doncaster Civil Airport. Unfortunately, the plane didn’t last long, and Mr. Guiness’ plane was written off at Limavady Airport after it was run into a ditch during a take off.

This shows serial number X5000 in a paint scheme similar to what the real plane most likely wore during its brief RAF service.

This shows serial number X5000 in a paint scheme similar to what the real plane most likely wore during its brief RAF service.

No one else seems to know much about this plane, and it seems that only a single black and white photo of the bird, from just behind the body roundel forward on the starboard side, exists. Needless to say, this isn’t much to go on, but I was really fired up by the chance to do an RAF Trimotor! I’d never heard of it, and searches on the internet turned up no other models of this plane. Unfortunately, there are some things about X5000 that differ significantly from the Airfix kit.

Building the X5000:

The two most distressing differences were the shape of the rear door and the presence of wheel pants on the X5000. Clearly, the markings were also a problem: I don’t have spares British markings in my decal box.

All I can say is: Huge props to SteveN!! This man (who worked on Kalamazoo’s Trimotor, just so you know), was kind enough to send me the pants from his Italeri Ju-52, as well as a full set of decals, including custom made, laser printed, X5000 codes! It is no exaggeration that without this help, I would never have bothered to actually try and make a model of the X5000 a reality.

The door, however, was something I had to deal with on my own. Cutting the right shape of hole into the body was easy. The hard part was making a new door. Just so everyone out there understands, you should all know that I don’t have any sheet styrene lying around. It’s never been a problem before, but it sure was for this. Thankfully, I had the innards from a printer cartridge box, which was a very thin plastic. However, I only had enough contiguously flat material to make 3 attempts at a door.

 This is my first attempt at making the door. Unfortunately, the styrofoam had too much give in it, and the door just bent. I needed something a bit more solid; balsa wood was the answer!

This is my first attempt at making the door. Unfortunately, the styrofoam had too much give in it, and the door just bent. I needed something a bit more solid; balsa wood was the answer!

First, I cut the sheet to the right size and test fitted it. Once I had it right, I had to figure out how to get the corrugations in it. This was achieved by first drawing in lines that matched the spacing of the tops of the ridges (local maxima, for all the mathematicians and engineers out there). Then, I used the back of my Xacto knife to ‘draw’ in the ridges. I did this over some spare balsa wood, so that the wood would deform under pressure, and create a ridge in the door. My first attempt failed, but the second worked perfectly! I then mounted the new door to the old one, and cut the hole for the window. I was overjoyed with this success, but then again, I hadn’t built much else of the kit at that point.

This shows the final door in the Goose’s fuselage. It fit very well, actually.

This shows the final door in the Goose’s fuselage. It fit very well, actually.

In the one picture of the X5000, there appear to be curtains in the windows. This was a godsend, since it meant I could cover the windows and not have to build any of the interior. I used some white material that my grandmother found in her sewing supplies for this purpose. I glued in the windows (once the body’s sides and floor were together) and then white glued the material behind the windows, applying glue on the over hang above and below the glass area. Again, this was very successful. So far, so good…

Once I put the wings on, though, things went wrong. The cockpit glass was cracked when I got the kit, and promptly broke during test fitting. I’m sure you can imagine the thrill I felt at that. Unfortunately, the crack runs right through one of the overhead windows, which looked terrible. I therefore decided just to ‘blank out’ the two inner overhead windows. After gluing, sanding, filling and polishing the glass, I white glued it in place and custom cut Tamiya tape to mask the remaining glass areas. There were no bars left to indicate what was frame.

Upon installing the wing, the glass cracked, AGAIN. It would do this TWO MORE TIMES during construction. Eventually, I got so pissed off that I just filled and sanded the glass, and decided to delete all but the triangular forward overhead windows. It’s not authentic, I admit. However, it was a choice made easier in the face of consistently eroding sanity. Likewise, the two rounded windows behind the flight deck (which are curtained on my plane) don’t exist on the 5-AT-D model of the Trimotor. However, to just paint them over would have looked worse than leaving them as glass (there’d be no corrugations on them), so I opted to do just that.

You can see the ‘curtains’ very clearly in this shot. Also, you can see the windows behind the cockpit that shouldn’t be there on this model Trimotor. Regardless, I put curtains in them anyway.

You can see the ‘curtains’ very clearly in this shot. Also, you can see the windows behind the cockpit that shouldn’t be there on this model Trimotor. Regardless, I put curtains in them anyway.

To add further unpleasantness to the build of the X5000, the landing gear V struts showed a marked tendency to BREAK. All four attachment points to the body broke at some time, and I am living in fear of the day that they give out again, sending my finished kit once and for all to the same fate that befell the real X5000. Is it a curse?

Painting the X5000:

Here again, SteveN came to my rescue. Completely out of the goodness of his heart, he drew and coloured a cammo plan for the X5000 and posted it on Modeling Madness. I assume it is based on the British standard scheme (at the time) for multi-engined aircraft. This plan showed the top, bottom and starboard side. I had to make up the port side cammo myself.

The most shocking part of the paint scheme to me was the yellow underside! I always thought it was only for trainers, but SteveN, RCAFfan and my own research showed that impressed civil aircraft also received this treatment. For all undersides, I used Tamiya X-8 Lemon Yellow. The brown was done next using Gunze H37 Wood Brown. The green was Tamiya XF-13 (lucky!) J.A. Green. I know purists will rag on me for not using standard RAF colours. Well, those colours are the closest I had in my paint locker, and I certainly wasn’t going to go splurging for new paints just for this beast… Besides, the end result is pretty nice, if I do say so myself.

Unfortunately, the decals Steve sent me did not do the job. They were far too thick to adhere to the corrugations. I don’t have any decal set, and have never needed it before now. However, I really could have used some on this kit. Despite this, Steve’s decals were handy: I used the dimensions to draw and print my own decals using Testors decal kit. These still didn’t conform perfectly, but given that two or three layers of decal were needed to get the colour right, they did a remarkable job.

The engine cylinders were brushed black, then drybrushed silver. The exhaust pipes were done in Testors 7ml Aluminum, then black washed, then painted with a Testors Model Master acrylic red-brown to simulate rusting. Then, one final black wash was applied. I was appalled to find that the front engine exhaust pipes didn’t fit at all well into the cylinders like they’re supposed to. The only recourse I had was to fit the pipes into the spaces between the cylinders. Again, this was for sanity’s sake, primarily.

This “worm’s eye view” shows all the colours on the X5000 to good effect, as well as the aging on the exhaust pipes and dry brushing on the cylinders.

This “worm’s eye view” shows all the colours on the X5000 to good effect, as well as the aging on the exhaust pipes and dry brushing on the cylinders.

Conclusion:

This kit represents the very extremes of modeling, for me. On one hand, I have never been so frustrated, infuriated and physically sickened by the crappiness of a kit. I have also never been so sick of a kit when I was finished, nor have I been so unhappy with the finished product for quite some time. On the other hand, this kit showed me that the modeling community is a very close-nit, friendly and helpful one. For that, I am grateful.

I wanted to give up on this project a lot. However, I felt that if I did, I would be slapping everyone who helped me in my quest to build this plane in the face. I was not willing to so cavalierly disregard the help of so many and the kindness of SteveN in particular. For their help, discussion and insight on this project, I am truly blessed.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel that the end product is as good as the sum of its intentions. The decals aren’t that great, even now, and some fit issues were insurmountable.  Taking this into consdideration, I am generally pleased with the result, and I am glad to see such a rarely discussed bird gracing my shelves,

It seems that the Airfix Trimotor is not a kit you see built that often these days. I can certainly see why. It is a horrible kit, with no redeeming features whatsoever. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend it to anyone, except those who have a soft spot for Ford’s wavy-skinned workhorse. I always try to find a silver lining when I build a crappy kit. Unfortunately, all I can put as an epitaph for the Trimotor is this: “It’s finally done. Maybe I won’t see it in my dreams anymore.”

This view of the Trimotor almost makes it look relaxed. Too bad its impossible to relax while building it!

This view of the Trimotor almost makes it look relaxed. Too bad it’s impossible to relax while building it!

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2 comments

  1. Connell McKenna · · Reply

    non ti lamentare.E’comunque un bel risultato nell’insieme.quasi quasi mi cimento anch’io anche se le uniche immagini che ho ne mostrauno uno della RAAF in versione aeroambulanza!
    vedremo in futuro!
    comunque complimenti!

    1. Thanks, man!

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of an RAAF air ambulance version! Now THAT would be awesome!

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