Monogram 1/48 Bell AH-1S Cobra

with Isradecals decals and Werner’s Wings resin exhaust

Israeli Air Force, The Southern Squadron, Israel 1998

The AH-1 is the most attractive helicopter ever made, bar none, but not all Cobras are equal. The Beauty Queen is the sleek and unadulterated AH-1G. Sadly no one has seen fit to make a true 1/48 kit of the original dedicated helicopter gunship. Someone has seen fit, however, to make the Ugly Sister: the AH-1S (also known variously as the AH-1F, E, and P). Why this is will always be a mystery to me.

This kit has sat near the bottom of my ‘to-build’ pile for years. The reasons are many. In the box it is clearly not a very good kit. One reason is that the engineering is brutal, with Monogram deciding to (as much as possible) have modelled an entire fuselage and then just cut it down the middle. This means horrible, horrible seams to clean up in places like the exhaust and disco light. Another reason is that the surface detail is all raised, and replacing raised rivets across the many areas where they will be sanded away is not a task that inspires modelling joy. Another reason is that the kit decals are boring and poor. And if I’m honest, another reason is that working with dark green plastic, which the kit is moulded in, is just unpleasant.

So there it sat, neglected at the bottom of the pile. There was always something more appealing to build.

Like Kitty Hawk’s AH-1Z. (More attractive than the S/E/F/P/Q, but still be-warted compared to the purity of the G.) And so it was, that whilst on a speed walk from Lulworth Cove to Kimmeridge last summer, I hammered through in my mind how I would build this Monogram monstrosity and then reward myself by building the Kitty Hawk cutie.

The plan was thus:

  1. Replace the exhaust with a resin version from Werner’s Wings. This would save me from the nightmare of having to eliminate the seam on the join that exists through the kit exhaust.
  2. I figured out I would rescribe the entire kit, eliminate all the rivets, and then replace them with rivet decals by Archer Transfers.
  3. I had some old Isradecals decals lying around that included options for IDF AH-1Ss. These were far more interesting and usable than the decals in the kit.
  4. I would just have to live with the dark green plastic!

I started googling images of IDF AH-1s. What was immediately clear was that I was going to need much better references. The Isradecals option I wanted to use was for an AH-1S from 1998, and this differed significantly from what was in the Monogram box. What also became quickly apparent was that IDF AH-1s evolved during their lifetime.

Unusually for me, I made a decision to buy a book: the ‘AH-1 Tzefa in IAF Service’ by Ra’anan Weiss published by Isradecal. Even though it was quite expensive, I figured I’d be able to sell it afterwards. The photos in the book revealed all kinds of modifications I was going to have to make for a late 1990s Tzefa. The easiest way to deal with these would have been to buy Wingman Models’ update set, but that was a) extremely expensive, and b) unavailable. I was going to have to do some scratchbuilding. Urgh.

The Monogram kit is a mixed bag. Detail in certain areas, like the cockpit, is pretty good. And in others, like the openings in the engine bay that are meant to be mesh covered, the detail is awful.

I was aiming to reproduce AH-1S (F?) 514 as seen on the inner cover of the Isradecal book. The main advantages of this were that the disco ball had been removed, the inner pylons were still present, and the later sensor modifications had not yet been installed. The list of modifications I made was extensive:

  1. Removal of the exhaust and replacement with the Werner’s Wings resin item. In the end I think this was a bit of a waste of money. Examination of photos showed that Israeli AH-1 exhausts had no discernible ribbing, and that on the resin item was far too prominent. I could have saved myself a lot of money and just used the kit part and obliterated the detail to get a more accurate result, or simply replaced the whole thing with a piece of tube. In the end, to try and reduce the ribbing, I wrapped the exhaust in Bare Metal Foil.
  2. Removal of the disco light and replacement of the top using the resin cover that came with the Werner’s Wings set.
  3. Removal of a lump on the top of the engine housing and later replacement with a reshaped piece of plastic.
  4. Reshaping of the sensor or antenna behind the rotor mast, with the red light replaced by a transparent part. This item on IAF Cobras was significantly different to those on US Army Cobras.
  5. Monogram simply have huge gaping holes on the upper fuselage sides that open into the engine bay. These should be covered with mesh and have more framing. I used scrap plastic to recreate the framing and the mesh was the finest I could find made by Eduard.
    Grill

    Starting to add the Eduard PE mesh. Also note the electronic warfare additions on the tail boom and behind the canopy, and the rescribed panel lines.

    It is still far from fine enough, but the effect is adequate. The mesh is supported by thin strips of plastic on the inside. This took ages to get to a satisfactory appearance.

  6. There should be a mesh-covered intake in the front of the fuselage above and behind the canopy. This again is just a gaping hole as provided by Monogram, and more etched mesh was used.
  7. An antenna that looks like a towel rail was not present on IAF machines behind the canopy. I removed the rail section from the kit part and used the two bases as mounts for stretched sprue aerials.
  8. The upper wire cutter had bracing struts added from stretched sprue.
  9. There are electronic sensors fitted behind the upper rear canopy on both fuselage sides. These were carved from parts from the spares box.
  10. A mount for the GPS antenna was also carved from plastic and added to the nose in front of the canopy.
  11. The wire cutter in front of the gun was removed and a new circular base made from very thin plastic card. The wire cutter was then reattached.
  12. The Monogram moulding for the gun was all over the place. The barrels were far from straight. I made a new gun from three lengths of Albion Alloys brass tube and with plastic card spacers. Not perfect, but better than what comes in the kit.

    Gun 1

    The kit gun barrels. This is not good.

  13. The wire cutter under the fuselage had bracing wires added from stretched sprue.
  14. There is a retractable lamp that is moulded closed in the kit. Photos showed that this was usually deployed. I drilled the moulded lamp out and fashioned a new one from a spare transparent part.
  15. Two more lights under the fuselage were made from other parts from the spares box. One of these had its own housing, which I made from a lump of scrap plastic and drilled the lamp housing out.
  16. A small blade aerial and a wire antenna were attached behind the lower wire cutter from spare parts.
  17. A large bladed antenna was also present on the lower fuselage in between the skids. This was sourced from a MiG-21 part.
  18. Another large bladed antenna was present on the fuselage underside further aft. This came from the spares box. Later IAF AH-1s had a swept antenna, but 514 in the 1990s had the style shown.
  19. The TOWs came moulded to make a set of four, but the IAF usually used only pairs on each side. The kit mouldings were cut and modified and strips of plastic used to recreate the brackets underneath. I had hoped to avoid using the TOWs altogether, and indeed did find a single photo of an IAF AH-1S in flight without them, but only one. They were a ubiquitous feature.
  20. The stubs at the end of the wings have some kind of sensor on the top. This was fashioned from some scrap parts from Hasegawa’s A-4 series.
  21. The sides of the front of the tail boom have more electronic boxes. These are asymmetrically fitted on either side. One of them comes from a Revell 1/48 MH-60 and the other from a lump of scrap plastic.
  22. There is a small blade aerial on the underside of the tail boom. The kit item was removed, a new base made from thin plastic card, and a substitute antenna found from the spares box.
  23. The port side of the tailboom has some prominent raised panels that I mistakenly scribed. I replaced the detail with thin plastic card, and then fashioned two chaff dispensers using images in the reference book. The basic dispensers are from a Hasegawa 1/48 F-4E kit, extensively modified with sheet and strip plastic. The brackets are significantly different between the front and rear dispensers. The dispenser in the Werner’s Wings set was not suitable because I needed a matching pair.

    IMG_0030

    Chaff dispensers made from Hasegawa plastic parts, some Eduard etch from a Buccaneer, and plastic strip and sheet.

  24. Two more ‘towel rail’ aerials on the sides of the rear tail boom need to be omitted and the holes filled.
  25. The underside of the rear tail boom has two holes in it. I added some further raised detail using thin plastic card and added PE mesh to the holes. Again, the mesh is far too coarse, but the best I had to hand.
  26. The base of the tail, behind the skid, had a piece of scrap plastic faired in with Milliput and a little bracket added from scrap photo-etched metal.
  27. The top of the tail has a little blade aerial that I replaced with another item from the spares box.
  28. IAF Cobras have IPS filters, which sit inside the engine intakes covering the hole that Monogram have into the engine. Werner’s Wings makes these in resin, and in the photos on their website they look very nice, but it cost $30 to purchase them from the UK, which is way beyond what I was prepared to pay. In the end I blanked the intakes off with plastic card and created some artwork for decals to represent the filter mesh. In principle this was a good idea, but I’ve bought a cheap new printer, and even after 2 months the ink never completely dried on the clear decal film. This meant the decal was extremely fragile. The final result does not stand up to close scrutiny, but I am quite pleased with the effect.

That’s more modifications I’ve made to this kit than any other I’ve ever built! In many places my modifications are crude, but they do make a big difference to the overall look of the helicopter.

AH1S_01_label

AH1S_02_label

IMG_0029

Various additions made.

The whole kit was of course rescribed and nearly all the rivet detail removed. The scribing was done using HiQ Carving Tape and a variety of scribers. I mainly use a Trumpeter scriber and a compass point in a pin vise for the harder to reach areas.

Scribing

The two fuselage halves fitted together rather well. Nothing else in the kit did. Nose weight is essential and I used some small balls of lead used to weight model rolling stock that costs half as much as Liquid Gravity. The lower fuselage insert was a nightmare with enormous gaps around the skid mounts into the fuselage. These were filled with Milliput that was wetted and smoothed to minimise sanding.

The canopy was similarly a horrible fit. A lot of scrap card and filler was used to close the gaps, although it is still quite untidy around the back of the rear canopy.

Eventually, the whole thing was together. There was one more mega-job to be done before painting could commence: riveting.

I decided to buy Archer Transfers resin rivets, using their variety sheet for their smallest rivet size. At £15, this wasn’t cheap, and it would turn out I would use nearly the entire sheet. Since the rivets were black and the plastic a very dark green, I decided to prime the model in Mr Surfacer 1000 and apply the rivets on top.

For those who have never used them before, Archer rivets are resin rivets on clear decal film. You apply them like decals. Nearly of the rivets you can see on the finished model are these Archer Transfer rivets. I think they look fantastic!

The rivets were applied using Mr Mark Setter. The film is very thin and it can be easy to apply them upside down. There is a run of rivets on the port side of the tailboom where I realised too late they were indeed upside down, and they look rather scrappy. I used images in the Isradecal book to try and get an idea of where the main rivet lines were. I certainly don’t claim any great accuracy or completeness.

Once the rivets were applied (which did take absolutely ages), painting could start in earnest. The only paint manufacturer for the yellow shade used in the ‘V’ markings that I could find was Hataka, in their water-based acrylic range. I ordered a bottle (from Poland!) and used water to thin the paint down. It did not spray well, but enough for the ‘V’s to be masked using templates provided with the Isradecals set.

Sadly, during the painting process, the model started to rattle. It turns out the TOW sight attachment in the cockpit is very poor. It had already come adrift several times during construction and I thought I had finally cemented it in solidly, but unfortunately not. The TOW sight is currently lodged behind the pilot’s seat.

The main paint is Tamiya XF-59 Desert Yellow, which seemed a good match for Israeli AH-1s. I sprayed it on using my Iwata RG-3. The black areas on the wings, rotors, and rear fuselage panel are Mr Color 137. Because some of the rivets were fragile, I did not dare mask over them, and so used paper masks to delineate the black areas. The whole lot was then sprayed with a generous coat of Tamiya X-22 Gloss Clear.

I used Ammo Neutral Brown for the panel lines. Again, the rivets are a little fragile and so I had to go carefully with removing the wash. For this reason, it’s not as neat as I would like.

The decals were old and took forever to come off the backing paper. I started with the snake markings as I was worried the contrast with the XF-59 would be insufficient. I do think they are not light enough, but they are distinct. The decals wrinkled alarmingly over Mr Mark Setter and under Mr Mark Softer, but conformed to the surface detail nicely over several hours.

A matt coat using Mr Color GX113 was next. The photo I was using as my primary reference showed some significant, high contrast staining along the rivet rows on the middle and rear of the tail boom, and lots of streaking on the tail. The main fuselage, in contrast, was relatively clean. I attempted to replicate some of this by using Ammo Neutral Brown and Streaking Grime over the matt coat and then blended in with a brush dampened with white spirit. The skids were dabbed with some of this as well and dry brushed a little with Lifecolor Tire Black.

I removed the masking from the canopy which, as usual, was a bit of a disappointment. There is some sort of residue on the inside of the canopy. This must be related to something I am doing during the painting process, as the canopy was attached to the fuselage a long time before it was masked, and showed no signs of this prior to masking. The clear parts on the airframe (the red light on the rotor housing and the spotlights underneath) were coated with Ammo Crystal Clear, which restored the glassy look.

The final steps were to attach the wings, TOW pods, wire aerials, gun and rotors. The TOWs do not sit right. They should be more parallel to the ground, whereas they angle upwards in the kit. I know that I have not finished the TOW tubes particularly well; I’m never very motivated to spend much time on weaponry. The main rotor doesn’t fit particularly well to the mast, but it will do. The gun slots in quite nicely, and after removing the masking for the nose sensor (the one on the port side was painted over, as per the original), it was done.

I’ve not built a helicopter for 13 years, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It was a lot of work, especially the rescribing, riveting and adding all the IAF-specific bits and bobs, but it was also satisfying. It would never win any awards, and a rattling model is never a good thing, but the final finish is neat and the surface detail is far better than I could have hoped for when I first started. It’s another old kit removed from the loft, and I am thoroughly looking forward to tackling Kitty Hawk’s AH-1Z next. Now, if only someone would make a decent AH-1G…

Year bought: 2002 (R&D Models, Cambridge)

Year built: 2018 (New Addington, Croydon)

© Copyright 2018. All Rights Reserved. Jonathan Bryon.
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