The elegant Boeing 727 was introduced into service in February 1964 and became an immediate hit with the world’s airlines. With sophisticated triple-slotted trailing edge flaps and new leading-edge slats, the 727 had unprecedented low-speed takeoff and landing performance for a commercial jet. The improved 727-200 was introduced in December 1967 and incorporated a 20-foot stretch to accommodate up to 189 passengers in an all-tourist configuration. The 727 became the best-selling airliner in history with 1,831 produced, eventually being surpassed by the 737.
Eastern Airlines was the first of the “Big Four” US airlines to begin using the 727, with their first 727-revenue flight taking place on the Philadelphia-Washington-Miami route on February 1, 1964. Eventual managerial and financial problems led to Eastern’s bankruptcy in January 1991. I was fortunate to have flown on several Eastern 727s in the same liverie as this model.
Airfix released the 727-200 in 1982 and it is fairly standard for airliner models from that period-very basic with toy-like landing gear, thick features, and a “drop-in” windscreen that over time and many moldings makes for a windscreen much smaller than the opening in the fuselage. Generally accurate in shape and dimensions, the kit does have noticeable errors, particularly with it’s “Pinocchio” nose, inaccurate #2 engine air intake duct fairing (the kit duct fairs in as a “shelf” running straight aft, not curving gently down the fin), incorrect nose well/door shape (the model’s is square but should be rectangular) and easy-to-fix wing fence which is actually molded on the trailing edge of the wing. The plastic is typical Airfix-silver and hard though somewhat brittle. My desire was to make this old kit into a model that you want to get close to, a model with realistic trailing edges and full of details like real airliners actually are. And I wanted it posed as you normally see it at airports-leading edge Krueger flaps drooped and “D.B. Cooper” airstairs down.
Construction and Modifications
Though many modelers disagree on scribing in such a small scale, I wanted to capture all the detail that exists on airliners (for a short time I worked depot-level airframe maintenance on airliners, including 727s, so I have a pretty good idea how they look up close and personal). Using a needle and pin vice I scribed every little detail, a time-intensive project.
I wanted clear windows but didn’t want an empty see-through model, so I decided to add seatbacks, nothing difficult, just simple little pieces of Evergreen plastic-wrong! Advanced Modeling Syndrome (AMS) took control of me and before I knew it I had the entire cabin installed-full First Class seats and Coach seats complete with armrests, overhead baggage bins, flight attendant stations partitioned off, etc. As my model club buddies joked, since it took so long for me to build, the in-flight magazines are out of date. Of course you can’t see but every fifth seatback and nothing else, but I had fun making the cabin.
Next up was to scratchbuild the cockpit with seats, control column, instrument panel, flight engineers station, etc. For the clear windscreen area I cut away the fuselage around the cockpit and inserted the very nice Minicraft 737 clear cockpit piece. Since I didn’t like the Airfix Pinocchio nose (too rounded and didn’t capture the look of the graceful early Boeing nose), I cut off the kit forward nose and replaced it with a Revell 727-100 nose. To finish the fuselage interior, I added fully detailed nose and main gear wheel wells, the airstair well, and used brass tubing to make a seamless #2 engine air intake. Then I filed down the #2 engine duct on the vertical fin to an accurate shape.
The wings were very thick so I took a large rasp file to it to thin it down drastically, not just the trailing edge, but also the entire upper and lower wing surfaces. I created the main landing gear attachment point out of brass and boxed in the wing’s wheel well structure. All flap track fairings were glued in place before painting. Cutting sections from a clear toothbrush I made wingtip navigation lights and the taxi light housings in the wing roots, with model railroad lenses for the lights. The Krueger flap wells were boxed in and detailed with Evergreen plastic, and the Krueger flaps also made from Evergreen. All the small humps, bumps and dumps on the trailing edge were made with Evergreen and hypodermic needles for the fuel dumps.
The landing gear was turned in brass on a lathe, with axels soldered on for strength (I’m tough on my models). I turned master wheels on my lathe and cast the required duplicates, my first casting project ever. All landing gear doors are made from Evergreen plastic, fully detailed with the proper inner door details.
The kit tailplanes were so thick they would look good on a Ford Tri-Motor (they actually scaled out to over two-feet thick in chord). Again, the Revell 727-100 kit came to the rescue, giving up its tailplanes, which were half as thick as the Airfix parts.
As with the #2 center air intake, I used brass tubing to create seamless air intakes and exhaust sections for the engine nacelles. Engine turbine faces were scratchbuilt and glued to the end of the brass tube intake sections. The rear turbine sections were made from the original kit engine face with internal sound reduction baffles cut from plastic.
All major parts were glued together with cyanoacrylic (CA) superglue to prevent long-term solvent evaporation that could produce minute but visible “seam” lines well after the natural metal painting was completed.
Painting and Decaling
First I masked all cabin windows with Microscale Crystal Clear. The entire aircraft was airbrushed with Model Master gloss Voodoo Gray (equivalent to Boeing Gray). I let dry for two weeks and polished it to a high gloss, starting with 2,000 grit sand paper and finishing with Novus plastic polish. As this was to be a natural metal finish (NMF) a perfect surface was required. Unfortunately, while inspecting the finish, I discovered the upper fuselage seam had split-I repaired this by stop-drilling the three-inch long crack and “scribing” the crack into a v-shape so I could fill it with super glue. More sanding, repainting, polishing, etc. Eventually I was happy with it and masked off all panels that were to remain Boeing Gray and shot the wing Corogard sections with a mixture of Model Master Metalizer (MMM) non-buffing Aluminum mixed with 10% Model Master Light Ghost Gray. This was followed up with a light coat of MMM Sealer with 10% MMM Aluminum dusted on to give a flat finish-I was real happy with the final Corogard-effect, a difficult to capture look as the real paint has aluminum particles that tend to drastically change the color and reflectance of the paint depending on where the sun is and what altitude you are at. Using MicroMask (a water soluble, non-latex liquid masking material)
I masked off the Corogard wing panels. Now I was ready for the NMF.
Though ALCLAD II is a wonderful NMF paint, and the most durable, I still prefer the slightly more realistic aluminum effect of the Model Master Metalizer paints buffed out with SNJ aluminum powder. However, I first painted the control surfaces with ALCLAD II Chrome, which gives you the highly polished look required for Boeing control surfaces. I then masked the ALCLAD control surfaces with hand-painted MicroMask. Next up was to shoot my first coat of MMM buffing Aluminum, followed by a good polishing with SNJ Aluminum Powder. I wanted slightly dissimilar panels, so I masked off various panels by hand-painting them with MicroMask. I added 20% MMM buffing Titanium to the MMM buffing Aluminum and shot the surrounding panels, then for a third color added 10% more MMM buffing Titanium to this mixture. These panels were then masked off with more MicroMask and I shot the hot engine sections with MMM buffing Titanium, then Steel. My metal painting is now complete and it’s time for the magic as I take the model to the tub-running warm water over the model dissolves the MicroMask underneath the Metalizer buffing paints and all the wonderful dissimilar panels quickly appear (please note, this ONLY works with MicroMask over-painted with BUFFING Metalizer paints-do not try this with any non-buffing Metalizer or any other paint, or you will be screwed, mark my words). A final buffing with SNJ Aluminum powder brings down the tonal differences to almost negligible, which is what I wanted for the fuselage (the different tones are not readily visible in the model photographs). Using tweezers I removed all the window masks and washed the model in the tub to remove all traces of aluminum powder from the interior (SNJ Aluminum powder is so fine it will get everywhere-make sure you wear a mask when handling the powder to avoid inhaling it.)
The Flying Colors Eastern Airlines decal sheet was the exact version of the beautiful Eastern “Hockystick” that I wanted. To me the colors appear perfect. Applying long airline decals isn’t easy but the Flying Colors went on very well. The decals go on a little thick, but considering the length of the decals I’m glad they were, as I think very thin decals would tend to rip. I did have a few rips occur, but the decal sheet thoughtfully comes with extra patches of each blue to fix mistakes. One problem with the model popped up at this stage-the cabin windows are slightly too low, as they should be centered in the middle of the light blue strip, rather than near the bottom edge. I don’t think this is a problem with the decals, as the decals match in every dimension, but at this stage I was stuck with the low windows. One thing I learned here is, besides matching up your decals looking down the length of the model, don’t forget to look down from straight above to ensure the rear of the hockysticks where it curves upwards lines up evenly fore-to-aft-I was a tad bit off. To create clear cabin windows I used Aviagraphics 727 Detail decal window decals, as they have the silver window frame decal with clear windows rather than gray or black windows. I had to cut each section into lengths three-windows long, carefully applying them to make sure the frames lined up when viewed down its length. To make the clear window decal film more durable and invisible, I hand painted several coats of Future acrylic down the hockystick (I do not overcoat my NMF, I like the aluminum sheen you get from true aluminum powder polished into the finish). A gray pastel wash was applied in all panel lines and then I lightly sprayed old original Metalizer Titanium (the predecessor to Model Master Metalizer) to simulate dirt and fluid leaks along the belly and near the thrust reverser cascades. Various other subtle weathering affects were applied elsewhere to simulate normal airline use versus a just-rolled-out-of-the-paint-shop look.
The engine nacelles were glued in place over the blue hockystick, and landing gear, gear doors, airstairs and Kruger flaps were epoxied in place. I used the wonderful Skyline 1/144 737 photoetched detail set for all antennas and pitot tubes. Finally complete!
Due to the excessive handling required to finish this model I inadvertently polished the metal finish more than I desired, what with my “Michael Jackson” white glove on my left hand (my wife got tired of my Michael Jackson impersonations, and no, I did not do the Moonwalk).
Despite some of the shortcomings I mentioned, the Airfix kit is okay, definitely not bad considering its age. I did not measure it, I don’t do that, so don’t ask me if it is accurate in dimension. The nose and #2 duct are not right and don’t require measurements to tell you so. Fellow airliner enthusiasts should catch the rounded wing tips on my model-this was my fault, I incorrectly rounded them off and to me they look like VC-10 wing tips, my bad.
I began this model in 1997 and worked on it off and on through a move overseas and back to the states, finishing it up the morning I flew to the 2003 US IPMS Nationals, talk about close. I don’t add up the hours I spend modeling, after all it is a hobby, not work, but I do know it took me a very long time, too long. Though I like the clear cockpit and cabin windows, I won’t do this again as from any distance the windows look black, so next time I’ll use dark window decals. But I had fun and I really enjoy the finished product, it is my favorite model in my display case. Good news for me, I actually finished the model prior to Minicraft’s 727 upcoming release, and good news for fellow 727 enthusiasts is that we should soon have a very nice three-holer out of the box, and believe me, if it is the same quality as the soon-to-be-released Minicraft C-54/DC-4 test shot displayed at the Nationals, we are in for a treat.
Humor and Lessons Learned
Okay, so I’ll call this section “Humor”, but at the time it didn’t seem very humorous to me, though it is now. As with any model project I had my share of problems. But how many of you can “beat” me on these???
- Our local hobby shop closed for good and I couldn’t get any MicroMask, so I went to Hobby Lobby and bought some Boyd’s Liquid Masking agent-should be the same, both are water-based hobby liquid masks, just the Boyds is more green, right? Wrong! I found out the hard way that there are TWO types of liquid masks-MicroMask is like Elmer’s Glue, always water soluble even after it dries, but Boyd’s dries like latex and is NOT water soluble when dried. How do I know this? Well, the wings were already painted with Boeing Gray and ALCLAC II sections and next up was painting the metal leading edge. I hand painted the Boyds liquid mask over the fully dried Corogard and ALCLAD sections, as I did not want to tempt masking with tape as I had some very fragile fairings on the trailing edge. I then shot my leading edges with a Metalizer mixture. No problems here, life is good, everything looks great. I take the model to the tub to wash away the Boyd’s and no joy, arrrgggghhh! The latex-like material would not wash off, and worse, it ate into the dried MMM Sealer covering the Corogard-how on earth does a water-based product eat into a lacquer? I literally had to peel and scrape off the Boyds mask from the Corogard and finally resorted to sanding most of the Corogard off as the Boyds had “etched” into the surface. I managed to repaint the wings successfully, but some of the scribed access panels on the bottom were almost filled in at this point. Lesson learned-Boyds is great for canopies but it can eat into some paints and does not wash off like MicroMask does. Test any new product for compatibility before putting it on your model!
- I already mentioned the split seam on the fuselage top, but realize at this point the wings were completely painted and the model ready for applying the NMF, or so I thought. Seeing the split seam in my polished finish was a tremendous blow. Handling the model at this stage was difficult as I couldn’t damage the painted wings, nor scratch the rest of the model. Lesson learned-apply reinforcement strips inside the fuselage on the top seam or wherever stress may be concentrated.
- After applying my first coat of Metalizer I found a noticeable seam where I glued the canopy to the fuselage. First I must backup-I originally vacuformed a canopy/cockpit section to cover the cockpit and cut away the corresponding fuselage cockpit section to accommodate it. Well, Minicraft released their 737 and I liked their clear cockpit section better than my vacuformed one, but the Minicraft section is smaller than the cutout I had created. I shimmed the difference with ? inch Evergreen plastic, gluing it in place with superglue. Well, shooting the first coat of Aluminum highlighted the subtle difference from the ultra-hard clear cockpit section to the soft Evergreen section followed by the hard Airfix plastic, even though they were all primed and polished with the same paint. I had to strip off the paint and refill the “seam”. I must have tried this ten times with no luck, I could not get rid of the difference and could not figure out why. I was ready to pull my hair out! Finally, I got serious and used a file to literally file down a “trench” across all the Evergreen and backfilled it with superglue. Much sanding, priming and polishing and it was okay. Lesson learned-for large areas on NMF do not shim with a soft plastic, try to use a material the same consistency as the kit plastic, best yet, use the kit plastic itself by cutting what you need from the sprue.
- Flash back: I originally dipped the Minicraft 737 clear cockpit in Future acrylic and it sure looked pretty. I glue it to the fuselage with superglue, really nice. Problem is, my scratchbuilt instrument panel coaming/sun shield, though pretty darn realistic, comes very close to the forward edge of the windscreen, just like in real life. Only in real life, water drops aren’t a scale foot in diameter and don’t suck into this area and stay there. When I washed off the MicroMask and rinsed the interior to remove aluminum particles, the water remained trapped against the inside windscreen and hazed the Future. There was literally no way for me to get to it and fix it, what to do? I could shoot more Future in there, that would eliminate the hazed area but make everything glossy, so this won’t work. So, I take a syringe with some thin medical tubing and snake the tubing into the cockpit and inject pure Ammonia to strip the Future off. Worked great, but handling the completely painted model at this stage was no fun and I was sure I’d damage it. Plus I had to make sure I didn’t get the Ammonia on the NMF, as it can damage it if left long enough.
- Okay, I’m almost finished with the model, it’s all painted and some decals are applied. But it is late at night and I’m tired, so, holding my model in my Michael Jackson-gloved left hand I lean back in my old wood kitchen chair, and CRACK! The chair breaks and I fall backwards to the floor, desperately holding my model high in the air-phew, good news, no damage, except one broken chair and ego.
- Can we say “stupid?” There I was again, leaning back in a second kitchen chair, holding my nearly finished 727 in my Michael Jackson-gloved left hand, when CRACK! The second chair breaks and I go over backwards again, holding my model desperately high in the air (MUST SAVE MODEL?), except this time I crack my head on my model display case behind me and smack the you-know-what out of my upper left foot against my model desk and cut my right hand. Score: Chairs 2, Stupid Human 0, 727 safe. Hmmm, didn’t Mom tell us not to lean back in our chairs? Lesson learned: don’t lean back in your chair, especially a second time! And get rid of those old kitchen chairs!
- I could regale you with even more 727 modeling tales of woe, if you are still reading this, but shouldn’t you get off the Internet and go do some modeling? 😉
- Over 300 detail photos I took of two 727-100s (I couldn’t get access to any -200s)
- Various 727 airliner books and help from the Internet, especially the Airline Model Digest.