Model Jet Makeover — A face-lift for an old Favorite

Jan 16, 2014 1 Comment by

In this current age of modern ARFs and painted-in-the-mold airframes, it’s common to see shiny new models at the field every weekend.  In most cases however, in the process this leads us to neglect tried-and-true airframes in the corner of our workshop.  What happens to these models that were once the star of our fleet?  Often they get pushed aside and sadly forgotten.


This was exactly the case for Author Sean McHale’s once proud vintage Bob Violet Models (BVM) Viper.  He had acquired it in a state that already had shown evidence of significant age and wear and he added to this wear with my own use of it as an EDF jet. Below is Sean’s comments on how he gave it a first class makeover.

The model just flew too well to simply neglect it, so I felt it deserved some TLC.  The ultimate motivation for the overhaul came from another model in my collection, a BVM Bandit, which I flew a lot this past season.  Not only does it fly very well, but the color scheme looks sharp and stands out well in any cloud conditions. So with this motivation, it was time to give the Viper some much needed repairs and a new color scheme in the process.


(Above) Here’s the original BVM Viper with old paint scheme.

Where to start?

The first decision: do I just sand the finish, fill, and paint, or take the finish back to the base fiberglass and start over?  Since it is EDF powered, I didn’t want to increase the weight more than necessary so I decided to strip the existing finish. This was my first attempt at such a process so there may be easier and quicker methods.  Reading the labels on various strippers most had warnings in fine print that they may be harmful for fiberglass surfaces. I ended up using a product called Citristrip found at my local hardware store.  While not as aggressive as other strippers, it doesn’t hurt fiberglass surfaces.


After protecting the work area, the first step is to lather on the Citristrip (gel) and leave it to ‘work’.  The label says to leave it on for 30 minutes to 24 hours.  As long as it is applied in a thick coating it doesn’t dry out and stop working. Leaving it on longer improved the results. As the stripper does its job, a fair amount of the paint starts to separate from the surface.  I’m not sure what sort of paint was originally used on the model, perhaps an automotive 2-part paint or considering its age, perhaps old K&B Hobbypoxy paints, but either way it was tough and persistent. After multiple applications of the stripper the paint gave in and started to come free.


After each application of the stripper I used a plastic squeegee and an old credit card to scrape off as much paint as possible. I then applied more stripper to trouble areas. The process was repeated over a couple weeks.


It was rewarding to finally start to seeing the base fiberglass and balsa sheeting show through.  How nostalgic!  I was heading in the right direction, although there was still a long way to go.


Sand, Prime—Repeat

After I removed as much paint as I could with the stripper, the next step was to sand off the remaining paint where possible. One of the weak links on this particular model was the landing gear, so I also upgraded the retractable landing gear and struts as well as making a couple of new hatch covers on the bottom.




Also, the leading edges of the wings and the stabilizer had numerous dings and dents from years of wear and handling so striping off the paint provided a good opportunity to fix these areas as well.


Next came a lot of sanding and filling. My filler of choice is USC Icing, which is a two part filler that you mix 50:1 (doesn’t have to be exact) with a cream hardener.  You have about a 5 min working time so if you do small sections at a time you can make pretty good progress.  After curing it sands easily to a nice feather edge.



For smaller blemishes I use Squadron green putty, popular with plastic model builders. It dries in about 30 min and leaving it longer makes it easier to sand. After all the filling and sanding I applied the first shot of primer.  For this I like to use SEM “High Build” primer which comes in easy to use rattle cans.


In the photos you’ll notice that the previous builder had added a spike to the top of the fin and a tear shaped bullet below it.  I imagine it was to add that “Russian MiG” look.  Personally I felt it detracted from the original lines so familiar in the BVM family of sport jets.


Realizing it was crooked and off center, the decision to remove it was even easier!  This was followed by even more sanding, filling and priming. Nothing glamorous at this stage but the effort is well worth it when the color goes on.


Adding Color


While it seems like the prep work never ends, it eventually does. Using my Bandit as a guide, along with 3-view images from the BVM website, I enlisted the help of to generate the required paint masks.


The folks at Getstencils are great to work with because they email you dimensioned proofs to check until you are 100% sure they will work. I request that only cut the masks and save the ‘weeding’ for me, so I can decide when I’m ready to paint, if it will be a positive or negative mask.



Yellow and red are notoriously tough paints to cover because they aren’t totally opaque (without multiple coats.)  Silver is one of the best base colors because it really makes the top color pop, but I’ve found masking over silver to be a real challenge. The paint doesn’t “key” to it very well.  As an alternative I use a base coat of flat white first, and that’s where the color on the Viper starts.



The paint I used is Testors Model Master Enamels, sprayed on with my trusty airbrush.  After the white was dry, the deep yellow was added to almost the entire airframe. I masked off the rudder to avoid any yellow getting on it.  If I had some 5/8-inch-wide masking tape the process for producing nine equal stripes on the rudder would have taken only minutes.


Unfortunately I was not so lucky.  I wound up using a combination of 1/4- and 1/8-inch tape to get the required spacing for the red stripes. I won’t admit to how long it actually took for this detail. After the red stripes were sprayed, the bottom of the model was masked off and I applied the blue.


Using the masks from Getstencils the markings were easily painted on.  The intricate detail that can be painted via computer cut masks is really quite surprising.


Multi-color masks

I’m not a big fan of vinyl markings or stickers just being slapped onto a model.  With some care and patience, it’s quite easy to create great results using multiple, overlapping paint masks.


An example is the Viper’s “stars and bars” insignia. After the first mask has been applied and the area around it masked off, the base white is sprayed on.  The mask then remains in place until all the paint has been applied.  Note in the photos the two little crosses on the masks above the painted area.  These are in identical locations on each mask layer to aid lining them up.  DON’T FORGET TO MASK OVER THESE AREAS BEFORE SPRAYING!


Then the blue paint mask is applied and the paint sprayed on.  The blue mask is then removed and the red paint mask is applied and red enamel is sprayed on.


A nice feature of enamel paint is that it dries quite quickly.  This allows the job to progress quite quickly, taking about 90 minutes to do the entire marking job.




The finish is clearly in sight

Before the clear coat is applied, the small areas of black, grey and silver are sprayed on to wrap up the Viper’s color scheme. Instead of using PPG clear that I normally apply with a larger spray gun, I decided to try Spraymax 2-part clear in a rattle can.  I’ve used it before for small jobs but never on a whole airframe.



The rattle can is unique in that it’s a 2-part paint that isn’t mixed together until you are ready to apply it.  Along with the activation and a few minutes of vigorous shaking, I also like to set the can in a bowl of warm water.  This helps the paint flow a little nicer when sprayed.  After activation the clear is misted on in multiple thin coats applied about five to ten minutes apart and then left to cure at room temperature for 24 hours.  I used two cans to cover the viper and I’m pleased with the results. The final steps are to reinstall the new landing gear along with the radio equipment.


There are close to 20 years between the BVM Viper and the current Bandit sport jets, and having them side-by-side, you can see the lineage and similarities in the design.  By adding a new finish to the Viper I look forward to extending its life into the future.


Whether you have an old jet, or a well-used prop plane, I hope that this article serves as some inspiration on what you can do to bring it back to life and make it feel right at home with the other shiny new models at your flying field.



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One Response to “Model Jet Makeover — A face-lift for an old Favorite”

  1. Charlie Hynes says:

    That was brave to cover the plane with paint stripper! Great job on the paint job.
    It looks just like my CARF Ultra Flash paint job they painted on in the mold.

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