Tutorial: Navy Jets, Part 1

Let’s face it, Navy jets get dirty.

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Really Dirty

And it’s understandable.  They’re out on a carrier, flying a few times a week, in an environment that isn’t conducive to keeping things clean. Not only is the environment dirty, the guys that work on the jets get dirty, and they share their dirt with the planes.  But their jobs are to keep the planes flying, not clean.

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Dirty Jazz Hands

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert, but these techniques have given me some pretty good results.  Are they perfect?  No.  But do they give you a finish that looks like modern Navy jets?  I think so.

The first step is simple – black basing.  If you’re not familiar with black basing, it’s as simple as working from a base layer of black.  Matt at Doogs’ Models goes over black basing very well here.  Until my most recent build, I primed with Vallejo Black Primer.  It worked okay for me so far, though I had a few experiences with the primer peeling from the plastic.  Recently I’ve switched to Gunze Mr. Surfacer Black 1500. Use what works for you, just make sure it’s black.

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Should have something that looks like this

Once your black base is down, start adding mottled areas of color. Keep the areas random in shape and size.  We’re not going for anything specific here, just adding some variation to a bland gray scheme.  But try to keep the dots close together.  If you space them too much, you’ll end up with areas that look plain.

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(L) Primed, (C) Mottled, (R) Covered

After adding the mottling, you should have something that looks like the middle stabilizer in the photo above.  From this point, we want to start giving color to the whole surface.  Thin your paint a bit and give a nice even coat of gray over the whole surface.  Your paint should be thin enough that some shadow still shows through from the primed surface.  DON’T OVER DO IT.  We have a few more layers of paint to go on and if you paint too heavy now, the effects won’t show.  Your build should start looking like a Navy jet at this point, but we’re going to go further.

As I said earlier, Navy jets get dirty and the effects of salt water on the surface of planes cause some interesting fading effects.  So, we’re going to do some salt weathering.  Salt weathering may be familiar to most of you as a technique used to show chipped paint or rust spots, but we’re going to use it to fade the upper surfaces.

Decals need to go down before salt weathering, otherwise we’ll have bright markings on a faded plane.  I like to give myself a clear coat to protect what I’ve already painted and to give decals a good surface to go down on.  I’m currently using Future though I’ll be using Tamiya X-22 on my next build. (I’ve heard some people have had difficulty with Future and salt, but I haven’t had any problems yet. I just clean the surfaces well after removing the salt.)  Once your decals are down, give your model another light clear coat to protect the decals.

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Decals and clear coat on

Here comes the fun part.  Time to fade.  It can be done on both the upper and lower surfaces, but I generally only work on the top side.

Mist water on the upper surface.  I use a drop of dish soap in the water to break the surface tension.  While still wet, sprinkle coarse sea salt on the water.  Regular salt can be used, but there is more variation with the coarse salt.  Let the salt and water dry.  The salt should be set on the surface now.  Be careful though as the salt can brush off easily.

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A nice, salty mess

Now we need to mix some white paint with the base color you used on the upper surfaces.  It should be kept pretty thin.  Spray it over the salt.  Once this layer of paint is dry, brush off the salt with a brush and some warm water.

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Random patterns over the upper surfaces.  It will even out under a clear coat.

At this point, we can go straight into weathering or adding another clear coat, depending on what types of paint you use.  I weather with enamels, so a clear coat isn’t necessary over acrylics or lacquer paints, but I still like to have the protection of a clear coat.  After letting the Future (or your clear coat of choice) cure, we can begin to wash and add variations with enamels and oils.  I like to use weathering products from AMMO of Mig and AK Interactive.  Get creative here and add streaking and oil marks where you feel they are necessary.  Most jets leak in similar areas, so take a look at reference photos and see what you think looks right.

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Oil streaks and panel line wash, followed with Testors Dullcoat

So here we have it.  We have a jet that’s built, painted, decaled, and weathered.  All that’s left is to seal it up and get rid of the shine.  For this, I like using Testors Dullcoat Lacquer, but if you have a preference for a different flat coat, use it.  And that’s all there is to it.  It can be a bit tedious with all the layers, but the results speak for themselves.

I hope this has given you some tips and some insight into my process for modeling modern gray jets.  If anyone has something that they’ve done a little differently, I’d love to hear it.  I’m always up for new ways of achieving different results.

There will be a part 2 post shortly on using panel line wash to achieve dirt effects on modern aircraft.

Products used: AK Interactive ‘US Modern Aircraft 1’ paint, AMMO of Mig ‘Streaking Grime’ and ‘US Navy Grey Jets’ panel line wash set, Future floor polish, Testors Dullcoat Lacquer

Reference photos courtesy of the US Navy.


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