Models that sport bare metal skins attract attention because they look very authentic. At the same time some modellers may prefer the simple presentation of an aircraft undisturbed by complex camouflage patterns. It seems that most bare metal modellers are fans of USAF fighters and bombers that appeared between the later years of WWII and well into the Korean War period.
For most modellers naturally, the most-wanted secret of bare metal replication is how to depict the right shine and depth of this finish.
As usual, many factors interplay in the final reflective extent of a bare metal skin. The appearance of bare metal is determined by the type of metal used for manufacturing, weather conditions, duration of service, extent of maintenance and care, type of lacquers applied on the skin (if any), to name a few. Fortunately, two basic principles may help the confused modeller before a final decision is made. First, bare metal has no colour hue. Second, black and white photographs reveal a true reflective nature of bare metal skins.
A casual glance at photographs would show that the variations in structure and depth of bare metal skins are endless and that no particular type of aircraft had a characteristic opaqueness/reflection to its appearance. Moreover, it would also demonstrate that contemporary warbirds flown in air shows or displayed in museums have little to do with operational aircraft. The latter were subjected to exposure to environmental factors and suffered, frankly, from the lack of care.
Seemingly, the task of bare metal application is simple. In fact, there is a wide array of metallic colours featured by a variety of model paint manufacturers. Some brands have become synonyms with the definitive bright metal skin. In truth, most metal paints give satisfactory results as long as the graininess of paint (or, in other words, the size of its pigment particles) is sufficiently fine. Fine pigment not only gives the smooth finish required to emulate metal surface, but also gives the opportunity to manipulate the extent of brightness reflected from the metal skin. Very fine metal paints provide an even layer that reflects light effectively. Buffing the paint layer enhances the evenness of the surface and increases the degree of reflection. Hence, the name of the game is buffing your metal skin to provide the reflection that you desire, because all reflection degrees are acceptable.
However, there is a twist to the tale. The more reflective is the skin the harder it is to handle. Fingerprints and smudges suddenly grow into grieving painting errors. And the bad news is the more you treat these, the more you destroy the delicate paint layer. Using gloves is a necessity. As a matter of principle, I never detail a bare metal skinned model after the paint application.
Although decals will not silver on smooth metallic finish, they will show their transparent edges conspicuously. Decals need to be trimmed.
Should your bare metal aircraft model show one or two blemishes in the end, remember what you wanted to model in the first place – a genuine operational USAF aircraft of an air show warbird?
by Rafi Ben-Shahar