Part One... the Windscreen

First I'll explain that I already had the one-piece canopy that can be purchased for the Bates SBD, so I decided I'd go ahead and use it instead of trying to mold and lay up one from scratch. Many guys will make their own, but usually it's because one is not available. Some may argue that a canopy built from scratch with a true laminated greenhouse is much better. Maybe better, but I'll leave that adventure for a project that a canopy is not available for.

When you have very geometric/angular construction like that of many of the German aircraft, it's much easier to scratch build than when you have more "rounded" canopies with compound curves. At any rate, I felt that I could take the stock one-piece molded canopy and turn it into something that was very convincing... let's see what you think.

Here's a link to the web site of Evan Quiros, where he domonstrates one technique for scratch building a canopy, panel by panel... "Evo's Hangar."

Materials Used

Of course, I started with the premolded clear canopy, but also I used a lot of ply, balsa and styrene. But, I had a "major breakthrough" with two other materials that I felt I had to bring attention to.

The first is Bob Dively Liquid Masking Film. I used this to mask the canopy when painting my framework. This stuff is absolutely awesome... I'll explain why later.

Next is FliteMetal. Many of you have heard of and seen, or even used it. But, let me tell you this stuff works awesome for doing canopy framework over premolded canopies! Read on and you'll see why!

My first step was to mark up the canopy with a Sharpie pen to designate where I would need to cut it to get my 5 separate pieces. No, I'm not doing a functioning/sliding canopy... not worth the effort to me. I'm going to make my canopy fixed in the open position, as this is how they flew it most of the time (especially in the Pacific), and it's how they always were configured for dive bombing runs. Good canopy scissors are just the trick for this step.

Getting the Framework Built

I wanted to add additional support to the pilot's windscreen, especially since I was going to mount the overhead compass at the top. I didn't want the windscreen to vibrate excessively, eventually causing the compass to break off. To do this, I cut a light ply former, per the Bates plans that followed the shape of the trailing edge of the windscreen. I tack CA'd it in place then hit it with a good dose of canopy glue.

I surfaced the former with styrene to give me a good painting surface... much faster and easier than using resin. Next comes the really cool part... the framework. The canopy already has the framework molded in as 3D relief, but I wanted to get more realistic than just painting this relief. The problem with these molds, is that the relief is somewhat rounded/blended into the glass panels, which doesn't give you a clean, sharp, raised edge. To sharpen the edge of the framework, I used FliteMetal.

If you're not already familiar with FliteMetal, it is an aluminum tape with an acrylic adhesive backing. It' very light and thin, at .0015 inch thick w/self-adhesive aluminum and weighing only .0022222 ounce to the square inch. Many guys, especially jet builders cover entire airframes with it to simulate a natural metal finish. It can be scuff sanded to simulate directional metal grain, which really makes it look realistic.

I applied strips over all the framework, with the strips being about 1/4" to 1/2" wider than the frames. Once applied, I used the FliteMetal burnishing tool, called a "stump", to burnish it down very smooth to the surface of the canopy. This tool is very important to getting the best results with FliteMetal. Once it was burnished down, I used a sharp hobby knife to cut through it along the edges of the molded canopy frames, and peeled off the excess. The FliteMetal adhesive is extremely strong, yet very easy to pull off where needed. I created scale butt joints in the FM tape, that matched the real framework.

At first glance, FliteMetal appears to be the same thing as the aluminum HVAC tape that you can buy at Lowe's or Home Depot... but it's not. I've used that stuff before and FM is much better and easier to apply. FM is quite a bit lighter and thinner than HVAC tape, and it is more "flexible" as well. I believe it can stretch something like 10-12% of it's surface area, while HVAC tape does not stretch at all. This is critical to getting it to conform around curves and details, and also makes it much more forgiving when applying. Lastly, the acrylic adhesive does not "gas off" at 95+ degree temperatures, meaning you won't get bubbles at the field on those 100 degree days! For more information on FliteMetal, and/or to purchase the material, visit the ScaleAero/BuyAero web site.

Fabricating More Details

Next I added more structural details to the TE former of the windscreen, all fabricated from styrene half-round and sheeting. This made the scale corner posts at the bottom and also a simulated "gasket/seal" at the trailing edge where the pilot section slides forward to meet. This whole seal joint is not 100% scale accurate as it is thicker than the fullscale, but this was needed to provide the structural integrity at this small scale. It's still a very convincing effect and will look great once painted.

Next I began fabricating the mounting bracket for the overhead compass fixture. This bracket mounts to the TE frame, and also to the top crossover frame, as did the fullscale. I made it out of two tiny hardwood blocks, some 1/32" aircraft ply and a couple short pieces of 1/16" steel pushrod. Again, this was "beefed up" somewhat from the fullscale, to accommodate strength at reduced scale.

Here's where the FliteMetal became handy again. Rather than surface the wood with coats of poly or epoxy resins, I just surfaced it with FliteMetal and painted it. It works great, is way faster, and it provides a great smooth surface to paint on. A very believable metal effect.

Making the Compass

Now on to building the compass itself. I started with a small block of balsa, roughly 1/2" cube. I used a compass print from a J-Tec scale instruments sheet, and glued it to a thin piece of styrene. The styrene then glues to the face of the balsa block.

Next I cut a "gauge ring" out of white styrene by drilling a 1/2" hole in styrene sheeting with a Forsner bit, then trimming it out of the sheet to about a 1/16" ring. I then glued a piece of clear styrene to the back of it. Additional scale details were then also fabricated from styrene sheeting and nobs & screw heads were added.

The two brackets on the side were cut from styrene... To get the bent front lip, I heated the sheet with a heat gun, bent it, then cut out the proper shapes. All these components were then assembled, painted and weathered using acrylic hobby paints.

Masking, Painting and Screws

Now for the painting of the windscreen. Again, here's where I found a really helpful material... Bob Dively Liquid Masking Film. This stuff is the bomb! It's a thick water based liquid that can be brushed or sprayed onto about any smooth surface for masking. You can also cut it with a hobby knife like frisket to produce sharp, intricate masks for painting graphics.

You must apply at least 2 coats to build it up to a thickness that keeps it in one piece when pulling it off. I hand brushed mine on with a small hobby brush, painting over all glass panes up to the edges of all the framework. Once dry (about 15-20 minutes), I then painted the framework with a light coat of lacquer Metal Etching Primer. This primer helps the paint to bond to the FM material, adds additional paint buildup for twisting simulated screws into, and also covers the FM material well so that the thinned down latex will cover faster with less coats.

When the primer was dry, I then shot it with a few coats of my Non-Specular Sea Blue thinned latex. Lastly, I used my acrylic hobby paints to add some additional discoloring and weathering.

Now the latex and weathering is dry, and I'm ready for the screw heads. The canopy framework does not use domed or flush rivets. It uses screws through the frame with hex-head nuts on the inside. This was so the glass panels could easily be removed and replaced in the field.

To simulate these screw heads, I used a 1/16" brass tube. I sharpened the tube by lightly sanding the outside of one end, and lightly filing the inside of the same end. This gave me a very sharp circular "die" at the end for embossing screw rings. To apply them, I pushed them hard into the surface of the paint and FliteMetal, rocking the tube back and forth in all directions, and then gave it a quick "twist" of about 90-180 degrees.

When you pull the tube away, you have a nice screw head "ring" embossed through the paint and into the FM material. This even gives you a shiny silver edge to the ring, making the screw look more realistic.

When you pull the tube away, you have a nice screw head "ring" embossed through the paint and into the FM material. This even gives you a shiny silver edge to the ring, making the screw look more realistic. With all the screw heads done, I then completed the distressing by adding the worn and peeled paint effect.

This is much easier with the FliteMetal base, since I didn't have to "paint" the peeled/worn areas on, I just "scraped" them off! By using a hobby knife and a small file, I actually wore the latex paint off in on the edges and around screw heads, right down to the silver FliteMetal surface. This is an extremely realistic effect yet very easy to do. With all the weathering done, I proceeded to paint the inside of the framework with acrylic Zinc Chromate Green, black & silver trim, and finally acrylic weathering.

Final Assembly & Surface Detailing

With everything detailed and painted, I shot some Nelson's Flat Clear on the outside only, the removed the Liquid Mask. This is what will amaze you when you try it. You can go around the edges of the frames with a sharp hobby knife to make sure you don't lift any paint of the frame when you peel the mask off. Then you just grab an edge of the mask with a hobby knife, lift, and peel it back.

It all comes off in one clean piece, easier than pulling masking tape off! It leaves a perfectly clean surface behind, no residue, absolutely NO paint bleed, and you get perfectly sharp masked edges.

Now that all paint is down and masks removed, I glued the compass permanently in place into the mounting bracket. I also applied scale "OPEN" decals on the two bottom corner posts, weathered them and shot a light coat of acrylic flat clear over them to seal them down. Decals were produced by Hans at Heavy Date Hobbies.

Test Fit & Evaluation

Now the entire front section of the canopy, the "pilot windscreen" is done and ready for mounting. However, the SBD isn't ready to be mounted! I still have to finish the instrument panel, dash console top, and the 50 cal gun breeches before gluing the windscreen on. I took a few pics here of it temporarily setting in position to test the fit and color... looks great.

So there you have it, my windscreen canopy section technique, all built up from a stock molded canopy. I think the combination of the sharp edges and metal finish of the FliteMetal, combined onto the additional relief of the molded canopy frames provides just the right amount of relief. Good sharp edges, nice relief, realistic finish, easy screw head application... let's just say I'm really pleased with how this all came together. Special thanks to Ed Clayman at ScaleAero for his help with the FliteMetal!

"Instrument Panel & 50Cals"