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.


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 paint!
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 - but not really

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.

Air Logistics cart

I thought initially that the model would be displayed 'in flight', but a trailer was the preferred solution. The hydraulic cart shown above was a temporary solution, since it is far too small. In my PlusModel 1/72 BQM-34A review I built the Air Logistics 3000 trailer, and found several problems. I decided to try to build my own, using 3 x 1.5 mm I-profiles from the hobby shop cut to 53.6 mm length, and the chassis frames of the 12 Squared BQM-34E/F kit. The latter were lower than the PlusModel frames, and therefore more correct.

From the review model I had learned that it's a very delicate structure, that was difficult to assemble, so I decided to build a jig. The rail distance was chosen to make the 12 Squared Models chassis frames fit, and also to make the PlusModel Firebee nacelle adapter parts fit. It does not agree with the brochure figure.
  Here's the new trailer chassis, compared to the PlusModel frame.
The tires from the 12 Squared BQM-34E/F kit also looked a lot better than the PlusModel BQM-34A, that looked more like aircraft tires. But the 12 Squared tires looked a tad narrow. I cast copies, and used two of them to build one new tire, increasing the width from 2.0 to 2.5 mm. Next is a mould to make a set of four, and then cast a new mould to be able to cast a complete set in one go. An awful lot of work for a small improvement, I know..

And I'm still not totally happy, since the steel wheel diameter is too large, and the tire too 'flat' - it looks more like a jeep wheel. Later I bought the old Hasegawa sets 5 'U.S. Aircraft Weapons Loading Set' and 6 'U.S. Aerospace Ground Equipment Set', in the hope of finding even better wheels, but they did not contain wheels of the ~8.7 mm variety.
  I cast four resin copies of the wider wheel/tire, and cast another mold so I could cast sets of four wheels. One sets were painted coal black and chrome yellow, using Arctic Decals circular masks.

Despite all the work, these wheels/tires are still not perfect for a 3000 cart: the wheels are too big in diameter. Just maybe I'll drill the center out and replace it with a smaller wheel from the spares box.
The various models of the 3000 trailer have different wheel tracks: 50" and 65" for a 48" rail spacing. So either the tire centerlines are 1" (0.3 mm) outboard of the rail centerlines, or they are 3.5" (1.2 mm) outboard of the rail centerlines. I'm using the relative measurements since my rails are further apart compared to the brochure value. I opted to build the 50" track version. I calculated a 'width over wheels' dimension of 19.9 mm, rounded off to 20 mm, and cut the 0.75 mm spring steel axles to a length to arrive at that size.
  I built a new 'nacelle cradle' from the PlusModel parts (right), but with three changes. The front support was canted, like I saw in photos of the real thing. I used two sizes of plastic rod to connect the two supports: 1.0 mm on the outside and 0.75 mm on the inside, again like I saw in photos. Lastly I sanded away quite a bit of the rear support, to make space for the nacelle, and to drop the nacelle some more at the rear, otherwise the Firebee's tail would be too high with respect to the tail support.
The tail support was designed using photos and a bit of experimenting. I made the first one a tad too short. The second one was 21 mm long and 15 mm wide over the tubes. The connections to the cart rails were also improved, but they are still partly imagineering, because the PlusModel parts are not accurate either. I will make a mold of this part, and probably use a wire-reinforced casting.
  Here's the dry assembly of all of the above. The tail support tubes look massive compared to the rest of the trailer, but the real tail support had massive tubes.

Still missing are the steering mechanism and the tow bar.
The tow bar was made from a piece of 0.8 x 0.8 mm rod, half of which was cladded with 0.1 mm plastic card, to suggest a telescopic tow bar. I imaginered the the steering mechanism a bit, because I saw so many variants, and to match the rest of the trailer's detail parts. It's seen here ready for casting a mold, with 0.1 mm plastic card sheet filling the holes. The tail support master is similarly prepared.
Three sets of resin castings of the two bar and tail support. I used 0.75 mm spring steel wires in the first set, and 0.5 mm in the next two sets.
Here's a mock-up of all the parts, except for the ring on the tow bar, and some details on the tail support.
Last item to add was a screw handle, used to set the tail support. On the top side, I made a 0.6 mm Albion brass micro tubing, 2.4 mm length, with an 0.3 mm steel wire inside, that fits in a hole in the model.

On the lower side, I made a section of 1.4 mm Albion brass micro tubing, 1.5 mm length, with an insert of 1.1 mm Albion brass micro tubing, 0.8 mm lenth. Added to that was a handle. In close-up it looks a bit rough, but it's more than good enough for the naked eye.
Finally, the painting stage. Mr Paint MRP-122 RAF Marking Yellow was used to appoximate FS 13538 / 33538, the standard color for USAF ground equipment. The rails will be painted aluminum later.
The project stalled while I tried to find a way to mask the transverse chassis beams. It's so small that all of my usual methods (narrow tape, Bare Metal Foil, Cheap Chocolate Foil, Maskol) did not work. In the end my modeling friend Eric came to the rescue with the suggestion of trying Microscale Micro Mask, and that worked perfectly. I wonder how I missed this masking material in 40 years of modeling?

The nacelle and tail adapters were glued on using epoxy adhesive.
I decided to widen the wheel track a bit, from 20 to 23 mm 'width over wheels'. The 0.75 mm spring steel axles were bonded with 5-minute epoxy, ensuring a level position of the trailer itself. The towbar was then added, which finished the work on the trailer.
Another view of the finished trailer. The next improvement would be better wheels, with smaller rims.

Finished model - but still not right

Building the Firebee was easy, the Air Logistics trailer took much longer. But I'm happy with the result! It's quite a colorful set now, quite different from all the gray Firebees I built so far.
The left and right views don't differ much..
My last comment, or rather question, is whether putting an AQM-34 on a trailer is a better way of display, compared to for example the desk model type of display. The trailer blocks the view of much of the nacelle, and therefore doesn't show the complete Firebee.

Finished model - third time right

I asked the future owner whether he liked the trailer presentation or the desk model style presentation best, and he agreed with me that the latter was better. Following the example of the first AQM-34 desk model that I built, I made a new base using 1 mm plastic card, dimensions 65 x 43 x 7 mm. The thin plastic card allowed me to put stainless steel sheet metal inside, creating a 74 gram heavy base (the Apoxie-filled Firebee model weighs 12 grams). I bent a 2 mm brass rod into a suitable shape, and drilled a corresponding hole inside the exhaust of the Firebee.
During the drilling operation, I held the front fuselage between my fingers. Afterwards I noted it had two fingerprints in the Klear Kote, grrrr! I already had my doubts about Alclad Klear Kotes, since I noted they become sticky as soon as you touch them. But now I'm sure: I'll stop using Alclad Klear Kotes. Five bottles of 9 euros each - 45 euros down the drain. Lacking an alternative at this moment, I re-applied ALC-312 on the model. And presto: 'Orange Crush' on a pedestal!
I did not glue the model on the wire, so the model can be positioned to one's taste. Like here, banking slightly to the right. I'm happy with the result, I think it looks way more dynamic than on the trailer.

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