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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Merlin Models Lockheed Air Express, a Dark and Stormy Night Modeling Horror Story

The Case of the Merlin Kit 

A Dark and Stormy Night Modeling Horror Story

(The completed model is posted here:

From the deepest, murkiest, most haunted black lagoons of modeling history comes this...I hesitate to call it "kit". It is as much as a kit as the Frankenstein Monster is an adorable young human being.
Old are its years, obscure its origins, wrapped in shadows the unspeakable method used to create it.
It wouldn't be out of place in a séance as an ectoplasmic apparition that would certainly make the hairs of your nape raise.
How far should a modeler go to prove that his heart is stout, his hand firm, his will unquenchable?
Oh, the humanity.
It has been said that Merlin models were given that name because you have to be a wizard to be able to build them. I disagree. You have to be a mad wizard to even want to build one.
But suffer one must, it seems, when friends kindly ask you to build their old kits. Sigh...
Contents. For what I can see online the engine was lost in transit:
 "Vintage" decals: 
The "clear" fuselage. Appropriately murky...
A strange composite material, with reinforcement black particles embedded in the plastic (Igor's ashes?): 

 Instructions. The correct interpretation is "Mwahhhhaha....MWAHAHAHA....MWAHAHAHAH!!!"
 One and 4/5ths of a propeller:
 And those seats don't look that comfortable, if you ask me:
 And, just mentioning, there is nowadays the Planet Models Air Express resin kit that is, well, as Lady Galadriel is to an orc.
 The known aerodynamically-disadvantageous fat wing tip:
 Financially profitable for sandpaper makers, though:
 I am convinced this kit was brought to Earth by the Devil Girl From Mars
You think this is flash? Há! You try to remove it:
 They make them sturdy in Mars...
 Masters by Boris Karloff, molds by Bela Lugosi:
 Look, mom, detail!:
 More on the composite materials used for this kit: metal incrustations. Sigh...
 Will Good triumph over Ebil?
 Rotary tool and drum sander are used for hours to thin the walls of that cowl:

Now, how self-defeating is this: the whole purpose of the (ahem..) "clear" fuselage is to do away with the chore of gluing the windows, and just mask the areas to facilitate things.
But when it happens that the worse clarity is obtained exactly at the windows, well, Houston, we got a problem:
 Scrounged a Wasp from the spares bin:
The kit has marked the exhaust exits that have to be drilled:

 May be Merlin kits are magic after all: you work on them for hours and hours, but they look more or less the same:
 The Air Express had one pilot seat and four passenger seats (two of them as one on the back), but my kit has two pilot and three passenger seats:
 The prop is a lost cause. A replacement one will be sought on the spares bin:
 The kit's control column. Not only crumbly, but also incorrect:
This is the strut material provided: puny, flimsy, and not suitable for the landing gear (perhaps intended for the wing multiple struts).
Must be replaced, preferably with brass Strutz for the wing:
 Metal polish cream is used in an effort to obtain some clarity from those "clear" parts:
 Some is achieved:
 If for some inexplicable and unfathomable reason you want to build this kit, notice that you can slide the whole interior from the front opening:

 The door is removed, since the interior otherwise would not be what we normally call "visible":
 The wing outer panels are pinned to the center section:
The wing of the Air Express was flat at the top, and the bottom of the outer panels had the dihedral. In this kit this is not well represented, so a minuted amount of dihedral was included, otherwise the wing would look droopy.
  The geometry of the kit's wing is not precisely there, but what is on this kit anyway.
  Nor drawing of the interior, neither parts for floor, bulkheads, firewall, landing gear legs or instrument panel were include:
 A new clear door is fashioned. The window will be masked inside and out before painting.
 Some resemblance of the interior is fashioned. Given the nature of the beast, little compromises have to be made. Still, whatever can be done will help to bring this despicable thing to a level of at least bearability.
An interesting fact is that NR7955, the kit's subject, did not obtain the continental record in the guise depicted in the kit. That scheme is the one applied by Texaco once it purchased the record plane. Corporations, once again, demonstrate their ability to cash in prestige and money at the expense of individuals.
In any case, the kit's decals are not quite there (in case they were usable, which are not). The map of the US is missing for that decoration.
At the moment of the record, the plane had a very different paint scheme.
For those interested in the paint scheme at the moment of the transcontinental record by Frank Hawks and details about that flight, here is an online PDF found in DM Airfield (
Of note is that the NACA cowls were still more or less experimental then: I spotted several important changes during the life of NR/NC7955, so as always, if you are aiming for this particular subject -hopefully using the Planet kit- consult photographs to establish what is correct, and at what moment in life, for your intended model.
Since this is being made for a friend that is fond (for whatever reason I can't understand) of the kit and livery, I will be doing the kit's intended decoration, using commissioned decals, if I ever reach the completion of this build.
The livery is very well document and well covered in photographs, so that helps.
We previously had determined that the prop was of unacceptable and of despicable nature.
But I thought, what if other modelers have to fix one? So I set to fix it, putting some little putty on the pitted areas, and adding a little piece of styrene with superglue to make for the missing blade tip.
All went well, until I noticed that the spinner of the prop had its base slanted.
Really, how bad can this kit be?:
Nope, the image below has no lens distortion, is the darn spinner itself.
I declare this the most disgraceful kit I ever built, surpassing the Zeppelin Staaken E.4 20 that held that place until now.
 New prop and spinner adapted from the spares bin. The spinner was for a three-blade prop, so two notches had to be filled and a one carved:
This book has a good description of the Lockheed types of that era, and useful information and graphics:
Here is another problem with the dismal quality of this "kit": the fuselage walls are so thick that the interior (seats) won't fit as they should, since now in scale the excessive thickness of the fuselage has reduce the interior to a tube.  Far from me to start now removing material from the walls, and have to re-polish the windows area. Instead, a new, slimmer interior is made, since the only real view will be from the opened door:
 The plane in its red scheme had teardrop fairings for the anchoring points of all struts; needless to say absent from the kit, that does not even bother with marking the location of those. So from extruded strut material (the last drops of the Contrail stock), those are fashioned shaping first the tips and then cutting them off:
 Several sizes are made just in case:
The kit is missing the oil radiators, so a few are made to choose the best:
 Other small details, like the rounded bottom of the rudder and the wing landing lights are dealt with:
Many things were omitted on the kit, one detail are the aileron mass balances, that have to be engraved on both sides, top and bottom of the wing:
 Of course the surplus line between tab and aileron will have to be filled later:
Some of the parts are primed:

The wing requires a lot of attention, and it's the worst part of this spawn from modelling hell:
 The interior is secured:
 And the beast clamped securely:
More oil radiators are fabricated to chose the best. These radiators, by the way, are mounted with their longer axis parallel to the flight line, but at a slight angle (askew):
 The fuselage looks like one of those old kits that wanted to show the interior, like "The Human Being" vintage kit:
 A cap is glued to the front:
And if nothing of the above convinced you that this is a shameful pretension of a kit, here is what the plane looked like (pay attention to how the cowl is slightly bigger than fuselage front):
And now look at how the cowl is smaller than the fuselage front it is supposed to overlap:
 A possible remedy will be to use the cowl as a master and vacuform a bigger shell. We'll see.

The vacuformed shell meets the fuselage front, so the latter will be slightly sanded (we know there is plenty of surplus wall there) to make for a pleasant overlap:
If you would like to have in one kit all the problems you can encounter as a modeler in a lifetime of modeling, this is it.
In fact, this is the kit they give you to build as the Last Trial in the Shaolin Modeling Monastery. If you can build it, you graduate as Modeling Monk.
"-Little Grasshopper" -used to say Master Sprue- "When the cranes fly towards Middle Earth, it will be time for you to look at the mirrored image of the Styrene Moon on the Liquid Cement lake"

The tail feathers, of course, have the wrong angles where they meet the fuselage, so they needed adjustment:

The fuselage is primed, revealing many areas that need attention, as it was expected:
Landing gear legs and tailwheel fabricated:
And now a bit of a proper look at the details associated with the airframe throughout its life:


With arrow on fuselage associated with individual exhaust stacks
Without arrow on fuselage associated with the more conventional two exhaust pipes underneath the cowl
The landing gear legs and associated struts do not have the teardrop fairings where they attach to the fuselage, seen on the plane later in life.

As owned by Texaco (bought post-record)
Also different types of exhaust stacks, direct individual pipes or two bigger ones coming off the cowl underneath
Wheel pants (or not)
Small Texaco logo on cowl (or not)
Diamond on cowl (or not)
No image on cowl (just white stripes)
NR7955 registration
7955 registration
Mast on fin (or not)
Oil cooler under the fuselage
Oil cooler on top of fuselage
Wind-driven generator (or not)
Small mast for induction compass with "merry go around" small device on top (or not)
Small teardrop fairings where the landing gear struts attach to the fuselage

So watch out if you model this despicable attempt at a kit (or the Planet kit) with this registration, and be sure you got the right features or on (or off) for the given time you are representing the plane.

The list above may not exhaust all details, so check photos.

I don't see any of the bumps commonly associated with the top of the wing on this or the Vega types, but who knows, could be the photos' quality.

Tail feathers and nose extension to support the engine and cowl>
The little bumpies that go on the fuselage where the struts attach are marked and glued on.
If you do not like to make the main legs with two Contrail strut sections as was described somewhere above, here is another way: wrap aluminium sheet around an airfoiled section of strut to resemble the slightly wider area that slides on seen in photos:
The bumpies on the wing are installed, and the home made landing lights are dry-fitted:
Landing gear in place:

Fabricating the wind-driven generator:
Get a piece of styrene rod. Make a tail at one end and head at the other:
 Cut them off:
 Cut and twist a very small strip of soft metal, glue it to the cone, and then glue the head on:
 To twist the prop properly, hold the center section with a pair of tweezers for it to remain flat, and twist one side one way and the other side the other way (just like a prop):
 Attach the mounting stem:
 The model as it stands today:
Windshield fabricated:
And some photos show an earth inductor compass, that looks like that (National Air and Space Museum):

So it is fabricated with three disks and a stem:

Last coat of primer before painting:
I had a very old wing form a Lockheed Sirius from a resin kit that left much to be desired, to for that model I used another one. The issue was that the leading edge was riddled with bubbles.
In case I use it with this model to replace the kit's, I lowered the dihedral, filled the cavities, and overall refined the surfaces. Just in case. I should probably have taken this path from the very beginning, but I enjoyed defeating the distorted and malformed kit's wing into shape anyway.

White applied in preparation for the red (the primer grey color is not a good base for the red):
And the red color goes on:
 The backup wing I prepared is primed, just in case:
All is ready now for the final assembly:
All parts ready now. I have been attempting for one hour now to add the wing to the fuselage.
There are no words to describe how much I hate this kit:
Wing on.
Easier written than done:

The exhausts are made of solder wire and glued on the cowl. The remaining six cabanne struts are added, as well as the windshield:
Landing lights in place:
Nose, prop, wheels, oil radiator, nav. lights on:
 Thin decal strips are placed to resemble structure on the windshield:
The wind-driven generator I had made looked a tad big, so another, smaller one, was made:

 This particular plane had three devices in front of the windshield: the inductor compass "windmill", a wind-driven generator and the Venturi:
 All three are added. Not sure this plastic blob deserves them:
A very comprehensive set arrived from Arctic Decals, so now the model can be copmpleted:

 To be continued.....