If you really want to make your scale airplane come to life, and make it look as though it’s been flying around for a while, you need to do some weathering, especially on the underside. As with all things in life, when they get used, airplanes get dirty!
How much weathering should you do? Consult your reference photos. Without these, you are just guessing. Take some creative license here, but following a good photograph will definitely make your model look more realistic. After you paint on the base coat (this SNJ is painted with latex), it’s time to dirty things up a bit. Remember-”easy does it”-try not to have a heavy hand with your airbrush. When you start to see a difference appear, beware! You are probably doing too much. Here’s how I start my weathering process.
Step 1: I begin weathering the bottom with some pencil shading. Next, I hit this with an ever-so-slightly darker color of gray. I mixed Model Master’s acrylic hobby paint right in with a little of the base coat of light gray. Model Master’s acrylic paints are very compatible with latex paints. The colors I used were Raw Sienna and a little Rust. This sealed the graphite a bit and sets up as a guide to darken things a little more with the next color.
Step 2: After adding some black and Burnt Umber to the mix, the next application goes a little darker. Pay close attention to your reference and check how the exhaust and grime reacts to the propwash as it goes back and across the airframe. I corkscrew airflow, which is why the left wing is a little darker than the right. The underside is now looking like it has been in action-I love this part of painting!
Step 3: For the topside, I first darkened the base color of Medium Blue with Model Masters acrylic Raw Umber and a couple of drops of black. Once again, subtlety is key so avoid any big honkin’ color change. You’re aiming for just a little more than what registers with the eye. A slight gradient really looks good. Anywhere there is potential for shadow, spray with darker paint. Put an initial coat in and under panel seams, and anywhere else sunlight doesn’t hit very often. Remember, grime and dirt are affected by airflow and gravity, i.e. apply down and back.
Step 4: My documentation shows a lot of color fade on the full scale. Sunlight comes from the top down, so faded blue paint should as well. I mixed some white with the Medium Blue and added a touch of Model Masters Burnt Umber just to discolor the blue a bit. This model has a lot of rivets as well as rib stitching for the fabric-covered control surfaces. This really pays off as the darks and lights of the paint really make this rich detail pop.
Washes are exactly what the name implies, a thin wash of grimy paint, usually diluted with 50% water. This mixture is “washed” over the aircraft and works beautifully in replicating how the elements streak grime over an aircraft. It adds believability to your model. It also provides plenty of opportunity for happy accidents-things you didn’t plan, but end up looking great.
I start with the underside of the aircraft. All airplanes, even civilian ones, get dirty from exhaust and mud from the runway. Since my model was an aircraft based in Florida, I figured the runways in 1942 would have been wet a lot of the time and a lot of muddy water would have splashed on the underside of the wings and fuselage.
Step 5: A critical part of the technique involves first wetting down the area to be “washed” with clean water from a spray bottle. I rub the water in to the surface to break the water tension. This allows the paint to “bleed” and creep freely along the surface.
Step 6: I dried the areas that I didn’t want the paint to go with a paper towel. I want the dirty paint to collect after the raised area behind the gear door. The paint will bleed into the wet area and not the dry area.
Step 7: This looks like way too much paint, but not to worry. When dry, it will be much lighter. And also, if you don’t like the way it is going, you can always wipe it up before it dries. For a muddy mixture I used Model Masters acrylic Burnt Sienna, a little black, and a little white to “gray” the color down a bit. Again, thinned 50% with water.
Step 8: I tilted the tail of the model towards the ground so the paint would flow in a way to mimic the natural airflow of the aircraft. Keeping in mind that the prop blows air in a corkscrew pattern around the aircraft, I let the paint drift sideways to replicate this effect.
Step 9: On the wing panel, I splattered the paint about to simulate mud/water splatter that would happen from the landing gear. Hey, this is fun! Airflow goes to the left somewhat due to propwash, but splatter from the wheels would splash outward.
Step 10: With acrylic, you can speed up the drying process with a heat gun or hair dryer. You can also guide the paint with the hair dryer as well!
Step 11: Here I applied a muddy wash to the flaps that is noticeably more pronounced than on the wing. Why? Because the flaps are down a lot of the time when the plane is on the landing roll out and would capture a more direct flow of dirt from the wheels and prop.
Step 13: The accepted weathering practice is that fuselage wash runs vertically as opposed to the wings, which receive the wash horizontally with the airflow. It seems that aircraft would probably be on the ground more than in the air. If left outdoors in the elements, it would have vertical streaking of grime from rain and the like that’s more pronounced on the fuselage.
Step 14: First. I mist water on the area that will be accepting the wash, rubbed into the finish to break the surface tension. I then applied the wash and let gravity do its thing. To speed up drying and to “lock-in” the paint, a heat gun works wonders. On the fuselage, note that the grimy wash is not flowing with the vertical panel lines. Since the weathering effect is with the plane on the ground, I set the fuselage at an appropriate angle as if it were sitting on its landing gear. Note how soft the edges of the grimy wash are due to wetting the surface first. This also prevents the wash from running right down the surface in rivulets.
Step 15: To help things along and direct the wash the way I want it, I used a damp paper towel and pulled the water wherever I wanted it. Recessed areas kept the wash and raised areas were wiped clean-just as in reality! This technique does all the work for you.
Step 16: Here are some shots of the results. Notice how subtle this effect is but yet it is so powerful. If it were darker, it wouldn’t look natural.
Step 17: Since they retain some streaking of the wash directly under them, the rivets really pay off with this technique, which leads to a very realistic effect. When washing this area of the wing, I dripped some of the grime wash heavily around the gas cap to simulate leaks and venting of the gas down the wing. Note the “rubbed off” paint near and around the wing walk. I also used a little Flat Tan acrylic to simulate dirt left from the shoes of mechanics and pilots in the appropriate areas.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This technique uses latex paint for the base ingredient. It should be noted that latex is not glow-fuel proof. If you use a glow engine, a protective clearcoat is required.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY LYLE VASSAR