Own production 1/72 AQM-34K



I've been working on and off (off mostly!) on my conversion of the Italeri BQM-34A into an AQM-34L/M, with a large AQM-34 web site as a by-product. I had promised to build a model of AQM-34K 'Orange Crush' for its former crew chief, Rich Saulnier. Luckily I still had one (and just one) full set of my own castings and decals for this Firebee.



Test model

A strange start of a project: I had already built a test model of it! It was my first Firebee model in International Orange, and the first painted with MRP (Mr Paint). I also used it to test the size and look of the Alps-printed decals for this specific aircraft, and to conduct further decal experiments, such as the yellow version of the nylon strap that runs in a slot in the spine fairing, and the decals on the radome. I later revised both.

I could have sent off this test model to Rich, but it was too much of an experiment, and I forgot to leave the vertical tail off, which prevented easy shipping in a padded envelope.



Construction

My AQM-34L castings are not finished yet, for example they still lack the camera windows, quite essential for a reconnaisscance drone. But this specific AQM-34 did not have camera windows as far as I can see, therefore I could finally build a 'real' model and not a test model.

I assembled the fuselage from two halves, then filled it with Apoxie Sculpt, and glued the radome on. Tamiya Surface primer was sprayed on to check the build quality. Also I corrected the belly skid, extending it forward a bit, using a strip of plastic.
For the vertical tail, I added the MCGS antenna at the top of the fin, and added a pitot made from 0.5 mm Albion micro tubing, with 0.3 mm spring steel wire inserted. This time I made the pitot length 7 mm, although I'm still not sure what is the correct length. The 'assembly' was superglued in a slot in the vertical tail, then Apoxie was added as a filler (still to be finished). The wings each had one air bubble, that was filled, then Tamiya Surface primer was applied to check the quality. The horizontal tailplanes are still bare resin.
Painting was next. Previously I had made an 15:1 mix of MRP-232 (International Orange BS592) and MRP-299 (Insignia Red FS11136), and it was just sufficient to paint all parts. And again I'm so happy with the results with MRP!
There was only one other color to apply, Revell 9 coal black. As usual it required lots of masking. And right after making the photo, I removed it all. This is to check for masking and/or overspray problems. I had a tiny masking problem near the parachute cone, that I corrected with a toothpick dipped in white spirits.

The black on the horizontal tails were a bit of a guess. It's difficult to see how the original was painted.
I used my trusty old jig to attach the wings and horizontal tailplanes at 45 degree sweep. Even with the jig this job is difficult, let alone without. It requires many small adjustments while looking at the model in front and rear view, and for this reason I used two-part epoxy glue.
These are the decals that were left over from the first test build. Luckily it's a complete set. New is a white version of the nylon strap that runs in a slot in the spine fairing.

The Alps decals are printed on a continuous film, and you need to cut each one individually, close around the printing. This leaves a 'hard' edge all around the decal, and I learned to lightly sand these edges, so the decal will be less visible on the model. With factory-printed decals, the decal film over each individual decal dried to a soft edge, so this is only necessary for decals printed on continuous film.
It took me about an hour to cut out and apply all decals. I used good old Future floor polish under each decal, as an additional decal glue. I removed most of the excess Future, but it does leaves some glossiness stains. See for example the white decals on the black parachute cone. Therefore a gloss coat is required.
I applied Alclad ALC-311 'Klear Kote Light Sheen' thick & wet, and it turned out nice. This coat will also offer protection to the decals, so it's a good idea anyway.

After making this photo, I noted I had made a mistake on the radome: I had made the wrong panel black. I peeled off the decal, made a new and larger one and applied that. After some corrective paint the problem was solved. Although: not 100%, since the decal was blacker than Revell 9 coal black, and it stands out a bit.

Lastly I applied a slighty matter finish, Alclad ALC-312 'Klear Kote Semi-Matte', again thick & wet to achieve the clear coat's true finish. I decided not to weather the model, since the real thing looked very clean in all photos. Also, dark panel lines on an orange paint scheme would look cartoonish I think.



Finished model

For these photos, I placed the finished model on a hydraulic cart from Fujimi's F-14 kit (for its TF-30 engines). This cart is not correct for a Firebee, it's far too small. But until I find a better one, this will have to do. The simpler cart that comes with the PlusModel BQM-34 is a possible alternative.
I think I achieved most of my goals for this model. The paint finish was much improved, the clear coats too. The decals worked reasonably well, no silvering, but I can still see the decal film under certain angles. I guess that comes with custom decal territory. Build time was one week, which is exceptionally quick for me, but then again I had built a lot of test models.




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