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AH-1S(Mod) Cobra

by Joseph Osborn (1:32 Fireball Modelworks)

AH-1S(Mod) Cobra

Here is my Bell AH-1S(Mod) Cobra in scale 1/32. It is the Revell AH-1G Cobra kit together with (my) Fireball Modelworks resin conversion set for the AH-1S(Mod) Cobra. This is the model I built to illustrate the conversion set's instruction book.

This is the Rhode Island National Guard example from the decal options. This helo is preserved in the museum at Ft Rucker and I tried to represent it as it might have looked when it was nearing the end of its service.

The Cobra is loaded with two empty TOW racks and a pair of M-260 7-shot rocket pods.

I took these pics in the morning and the breeze kept windmilling the main rotor! You can see the effect of the wind on the kitchen-foil RBF tags is some of the pics.

Painting a Faded Cobra

The painting process on my 1/32 AH-1S(Mod)'s fuselage was fairly straightforward and can be broken into four phases: Prep and Primer, basic paint, wash and decals, and final weathering.

The primer base was Mr Surfacer 1000 and Duplicolor black sandable primer. The black sandable primer caused a decal problem later because it had a heavy texture that I failed to sufficiently scuff smooth before applying the color coats. Prior to finishing, I taped off the canopy with Tamiya masking tape and cut out the frames with fresh blades. By the way, the Tamiya tape was on the Futured canopy for a few months and left no residue at all when it was removed. Fantastic stuff.

Basic Paint:

For the color coats, I used Testors Model Master Acryls thinned with distilled water. Helo Drab and Olive Drab were the main colors used, with some drops of oddball greens and grays mixed in at times for variation. The broad coverage was accomplished with my old Aztek airbrush and the tighter work was done with an Iwata Eclipse HP-CS. The first base color was an overall coat of Helo Drab. At this point, the model was very, very dark and would have looked great as a depot-fresh paint job. To represent a faded paint job on my late-service Cobra, I needed to lighten up the base color and introduce random fading. I examined photos of the real helicopter very closely and tried to duplicate on the model what I saw on the reference photos. The first round of lighter color was Helo Drab mixed with Olive Drab, about 1:1. I sprayed this lightened shade into the centers of the body panels. I varied this basic mix for some areas, and tried to make the top surfaces the lightest. The lower surfaces on the model mostly remained the dark Helo Drab color in order to provide an artificial sense of scale.

My references showed a fairly dramatic transition between shades on some of the panel lines, so I used some hard masks in combination with freehand lines to attempt to duplicate these transitions. Eventually I added some gray and white to my basic mix to really make things interesting. For the area of the tail boom that gets hit with the hot jet exhaust, I mixed some brown and tan into the basic green and lightened that area to give it a “stained” appearance. You may be asking yourself, “Wait a minute-- this helicopter has an upturned exhaust that directs the hot exhaust plume up into the rotor wash! Why are you showing this exhaust effect on the tail boom?” The answer is, “Because that's what I see in the pictures.” The exhaust cowling and the toilet bowl on this helicopter are a slightly different shade of green, and not quite as weathered as other parts, so one may assume that this helicopter had a standard exhaust at one time that caused the staining, but had the toilet bowl from another helicopter installed later.

After I finished the basic painting, the model looked horrible. I mean, it really looked funky. Greens and browns and grays all splotched together. There is an old saying that goes, “If you think you've gone too far, you probably have." At this point I was thinking I had overdone it, so I sprayed a thin mist of Helo Drab over the whole thing to tone down some of the contrast.

Wash and Decals

The next step was to spray a clear gloss over the whole model to get the surface ready for the wash and decals. I used a clear acrylic gloss made by JW Etc that is sold in the art supply section of Hobby Lobby. I thinned it with distilled water and sprayed about two to three light coats over the whole model and let it day for a day. The wash was made up of oil paints thinned with odorless mineral spirits. I mixed black and burnt umber with lots of thinner and liberally applied the wash on all the panel lines and surface details. The glossy surface allows the wash to pull through the panel lines and around the surface details. The wash was left to dry for a day (the mineral spirits help a lot in this respect-- never use turpentine for a wash because it'll take days to dry!).

After the wash was sufficiently dry-- I couldn't wipe it with my finger-- I proceeded to remove the excess. I used a fairly large square edge brush (about 1/2” wide) and dampened it with mineral spirits. You want to make sure the brush is just barely wet; I pinched the bristles between a cloth to absorb practically all the thinner. I wiped the brush across the surface of the model with mostly vertical strokes, working in small areas at a time. It's important to keep the brush clean and moist because you will rapidly start moving the oil pigments around and you may end up wiping the wash away from the areas you want it to show and building it up in places you don't want it. This is a fairly slow process, but the end result is dramatic. If you've never used an oil wash before, invest a few dollars in a couple of tubes of paint and some mineral spirits and give it a try. When I was satisfied with the appearance of my oil wash, I left the model to sit for a day before applying the decals.

Remember how I said the texture of the black primer caused trouble with decals? I had some slight silvering on three small stencil decals even with multiple coats of Solvaset.After seeing this problem and smacking myself in the head because I didn't smooth down the primer when I had the chance, I used some Future to paint an additional gloss coat for every other decal where I thought I might have trouble. This additional step solved any potential trouble with the rest of the decals. In hindsight, I probably should have applied the decals before the oil wash, because I ended up going back in a few places and added another wash over the decals. No big deal; it just added some extra work.

Final Weathering

At this point I was thinking I would add another level of weathering in the form of a dot filter. After some consideration, I ended up only doing a very limited dot filter with some white and yellow dots over some of the olive drab areas. If I had done a more extensive dot filter, I would have sprayed an overall clear flat coat before applying the paint for the filter.

I drybrushed the skids with Model Master silver enamel to represent the wear on the skid shoes and the hardware. I also used the silver enamel paint to pick out some chipping and wear on the maintenance panels. Again, I used reference photos as a guide to the wear patterns. I prefer the silver enamel paint over silver acrylic paint for this type of work because the enamel paint is much smoother than the acrylic version.

Mud spatters on the skids and the tops of the wings were made with an artist's sponge and Red Earth Acryl paint. I airbrushed some more dirt onto the tops of the wings with a lightened shade of the Red Earth. I hit a few high spots with a bit of drybrushing and then sealed everything with a coat of clear flat acrylic. The flat coat also serves to even out the finish and help with the scale appearance. For this flat coat, I used Testors Acryl, but in the past I have also used the matte version of JW Etc's acrylic varnish with great results. The Testors bottle just happened to be closer at the time.

Finished model

Here are the pictures of this finished model:

AH-1S(Mod) Cobra

AH-1S(Mod) Cobra

AH-1S(Mod) Cobra

AH-1S(Mod) Cobra

AH-1S(Mod) Cobra

AH-1S(Mod) Cobra

Joseph Osborn

Published on 18. November 2009

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