Military aircraft have always been popular subjects for RC modelers. Many builders prefer to craft their “warbirds” from the ground up, perhaps even using their own plans. The more popular option is to purchase a factory-built model that requires only a few hours (or less) to complete. Some of these Almost-Ready-to-Fly (ARF) models use traditional balsa construction, while others are made of molded foam.
The main drawback to buying a warbird ARF model is that it is going to look, well, just like every other one that flew off the assembly line. It is not uncommon to see multiple examples of a popular model at the same flying field on a Saturday afternoon--all identical except for the inevitable dings and repairs. On the flip side, there is often ample room to personalize these airplanes with the addition of a few simple scale-enhancing details. Applying some of these techniques will help your model to look more accurate, while also separating it from the mass-produced herd.
Modifying a Foam Warbird
I chose a popular foam warbird ARF model to illustrate some of these detailing techniques, the Flyzone Focke-Wulf FW-190. You may recall that this is the same model that I used in my review of the Mr. RC Sound system. I picked this model for several reasons. Primarily, it is a good flying model. What’s the point of personalizing an airplane that is no fun to fly? Furthermore, the Flyzone model has an accurate scale profile and several details that are difficult to replicate (scale retractable landing gear, wing flaps, scale propeller, etc) are box-stock features. This allowed me to focus on easily-implemented details.
Tackle the Low-Hanging Fruit
With few exceptions, military airplanes are not shiny and they are flown by a pilot. The somewhat shiny and pilotless FW-190 is thus ripe for quick and easy upgrades. To get started, I carefully removed the glued-on cockpit canopy. After breaking one corner free, I pried the entire border loose with a gently-wielded Popsicle stick. I also removed the propeller and nose spinner, which left the brushless motor exposed. I covered the motor and foam-rubber tires with masking tape to protect them from overspray. “Overspray of what?” you ask. Let’s call it an abundance of drab.
A flat-finish clear coat is an effective way to take the shine off of a factory paint job. Specifically, I used Rust-Oleum American Accents Matte Clear in a spray can. I’m sure that similar products will work equally well. I’ve used the Rust-Oleum on numerous foam airplanes as well the iron-on polyester coverings of balsa models. It will attack some foams, so always test it before possibly eroding your airplane into a Dali-esque melted blob.