Thunderhawk Down, Part Three – The Replacement

Welcome to back to – and I take no small amount of pleasure in saying this – the concluding chapter of my Thunderhawk saga. If you haven’t read the first couple of parts, then check out part one for a detailled breakdown of how I approached building this behemoth and part two for why I had to return the model I’d just built and painted for a replacement.

But we’re not going to linger on disappointment for a second longer. Today1 is a good day, because today is the day that my Thunderhawk is finally finished. If you’ll excuse me a moment of unbridled pride, I think she’s pretty glorious.

I can’t look at the above photograph without beaming with pride; I’m just so blood boilingly excited to be finished working on this miniature. This has been the single biggest miniature that I’ve ever painted – I mean, this thing dwarfs both Smaug and my Warhound Titan – and the process of building and painting the model itself has been… Let’s say, less than smooth. In spite of all of that, it turned out pretty much as I had envisioned it in my head – and considerably better than my first attempt in a lot of ways. In this post, I’m going to go over the various differences and changes I made in the process of building as well as discussing how I painted the exterior of the model. I won’t be reiterating every little detail about the build, just the things I changed and/or wish I changed – so be sure to check out part one for a more comprehensive look at building this enormous super-heavy (and painting the interior detail).

Alright, let’s talk build! This was a brand new kit needing built from scratch, and I had the benefit of experience going into putting this second one together. One might reasonably assume that, with all of this experience to rely on, this second Thunderhawk would come together without a hitch. Well.. You’re half right.

First of all, the positives. There were a few things that I’d learned through trial and error that I managed to correct this second time around – mostly around the attack wings. First of all, I managed to avoid butchering (and needing to fill and resculpt) both the attack wing housing and the wings themselves. This time, I already knew to use a single set of 3x magnets to hold the wings in raised position. This was an improvement over the first go around, where I experimented with 3x in the up position and 3x holding the wing down – a mistake which caused me to damage and have to fill a load of holes in the attack wings afterward.

Another issue I faced with the attack wings was that there was some contact between the top of the housing and the raised segments on the base of the wing that caused paint to get scraped off occasionally when moving the wing up and down. I was eventually able to fix the issue on the original, but not before causing some pretty ugly damage to the tabs on the top of the housing.

After some experimentation, I eventually learned that the contact was occurring on the very bottom of the protruding housing covers, as well as the bottom lip on the recessed areas. By that point, however, I’d already made some pretty ugly cuts to the top of the housing. On the new Thunderhawk, I was able to much more precisely cut away at the harsh corners on the underside of the housing without causing any major damage to the visible areas, allowing the wings to move freely without damaging the paint work.

Similarly, I had some issues on the original model with the wing-mounted lascannons. These are designed to rotate a little bit, allowing them to sit upright whether the attack wings are in up or down position. Unfortunately, while these moved freely on the assembled model, the added friction caused by paint on the model caused it to rub and eventually scrape the paint away. On the previous model, the best I could do was cut away the raised detail on the clamps that hold the lascannons in place in order to reduce the contact area. That was okay as a solution, but it did result in a loss of detail. My simple solution to this problem was to cut away at the inside area on the lascannons themselves before assembly, in order to create a bigger gap. You want to create a big enough gap that the lascannons turn loosely with gravity alone before painting, as this area will close significantly after paint, wash and varnish. If you’re cleverer than I am, you’ll do this with a file instead of an x-acto knife to avoid the ugly uneven edge pictured above. Ah well, maybe my third Thunderhawk will be perfect2.

The attack wings were the main area of improvement on assembly, but there were a number of other little areas here and there that I did a slightly better job on. The doors, for example. You might remember from part one where I complained that my Land Raider doors didn’t quite fit the Thunderhawk – well, I’m absolutely flabbergasted to reveal that the problem wasn’t with the Land Raider doors at all. The Thunderhawk just has a slightly too small door frame to fit it’s own doors! I couldn’t believe it when I found myself cutting and filing away at the door frame again to fit the blank resin doors that come stock with the kit. Still, I knew what I was doing a little better and I made much smaller, more incremental cuts to the right areas of the door frame until they were large enough to fit the doors in. Although I was unable to source any Space Wolves Legion Land Raider doors to replace the set that went back to ForgeWorld with the original Thunderhawk (RIP), I kind of liked that the blank ones feature some nice interior detailing on the back of them anyway. Not wanting to be stuck with my decision, I instead just jammed them into the too tight frame without any glue. They fit in nice and snug, especially so after a little smoothing with the hairdryer afterwards, and if I ever manage to source a new set of Space Wolves doors then I can switch them out after the fact if I really want to. I call that a win-win.

Speaking of doors, I had a much easier time magnetising the rear-access hatch to the troop compartment this time around. One magnet in the middle of the top to keep it closed, one magnet in each end of the hinge and a little digging with an x-acto knife to make a groove for corresponding magnets into the bottom left/right of the hatch opening. Super quick and easy, the hatch opens on a hinge and stays put when closed – and best of all, every magnet is fully obscured from both the inside and out with no janky resculpting needed. Good times.

Oh yeah, and I spaced the magnets on the missiles a little better this time around so they’re less likely to fall off when you pick up the model and move it around.

Okay, so that’s some of the improvements I made to the build. What were the drawbacks? What went wrong this time that didn’t on the first go around?

Well, I’m ashamed to say that the first and biggest issue was entirely of my own making. In my hubris, I was a little less zealous about following the instructions to the letter this time around. Where previously I had adhered rigidly to the build order, I went ahead and assembled more of the rear section of the Thunderhawk – including pinning on the wings – before putting the front fuselage together while I was painting the interior detail. This was my attempt to keep busy while coats of primer, paint and varnish dried but ultimately led to some frustrating complications trying to put the thing together. I realised too late that I’d glued certain parts on a little too soon, causing other parts to not quite fit together as they should. Long story short, I ended up having to freeze the model and break it apart again in order to fit the front and rear fuselage together, leading to a number of parts needing repairing and ultimately led to a creating a small gap between the rear and front fuselage. This had knock-on effects to the rest of the model, the most visible of which being that the front of the turbo laser housing doesn’t quite line up with the adjoining panel of the fuselage. It’s not the end of the world, it doesn’t look that bad, but it’s an issue that could have been entirely avoided if I wasn’t in so much of a rush to get through assembly again.

Meanwhile, I had very similar build order issues when I decided to glue the nose cone to the bottom half of the front fuselage before putting on the top. Where previously I’d left the front fuselage in three subassemblies – the nose cone, the bottom and the top – I opted this time to stick the nose cone to the bottom. This was largely due to the parts being ever so slightly warped and not fitting well, so I wanted to attach the pieces together in order to hold each other in place. This wasn’t a terrible idea on it’s own, but I got a little carried away and glued the cockpit ladders in as well after these didn’t fit perfectly either – it’s a little hard to gap fill after putting the top on. Unfortunately, these ladders ended up getting in the way of fitting the cockpit in, and ended up having to be forcibly removed and reglued after fully assembling the front fuselage anyway. In the end, everything went together more or less fine, but, again, I would not have made this mistake had I been treating the assembly with the same reverence as the first go around.

Mercifully, that was the extent of complications I experienced putting together the second Thunderhawk. A little disappointing to have introduced a couple of new issues into the build, but I think that overall the pros outweigh the cons here.

The magnetised rear hatch to the troop compartment and shorter acrylic rod used to support the model on its landing gear.

Alright, the build of the new Thunderhawk was a little up and down, but what about the painting? Well, I’m happy to report that my second go at painting a Thunderhawk was pretty much universally improved.

I realise that I never got around to talking about how I painted the exterior the first time around, so let me catch you up now. In the past, my process for Space Wolves miniatures – including vehicles – has been to spray it Citadel Mechanicus Standard Grey out of a rattle can, pick in the various details using Vallejo Model Color Black, Game Color Heavy Red, Army Painter Gun Metal and Vallejo Game Brassy Brass. Following this step, I wash the whole model with Agrax Earthshade and proceed to highlight the various metallics and armour panels. The blacks are edge highlighted with Mechanicus Standard Grey with a little Heavy Bluegrey in the corners; the Reds are highlighted with a bit of Elfic Flesh mixed into Heavy Red and the greys are highlighted with Heavy Bluegrey, then tidied up with Mechanicus Standard Grey. The all-over wash of Agrax Earthshade tends to tint the base colours, so when I go back and tidy up my highlights with the base colour, it kind of creates a quick and dirty ‘blend’ between the rest of the basecoat and the brightest highlight. It can look a little messy up close, but it’s fast and it pops on the tabletop.

One big downside to this approach is that the wash of Agrax Earthshade tends to leave a bit of a grimy, swirly, streaky texture to the surface. This texture is usually fine – even desirable – on smaller vehicles such as Rhinos or Spartans which don’t have a lot of large, flat expanses. That said, I did start to notice this technique breaking down a little on my Fellblade tank, where the wash begins to look a little less like grime build up and a little more like.. well, a wash applied with a brush. Tide marks and brushstrokes aplenty. Given the massive expanses of flat surface areas on the Thunderhawk, my go-to technique seemed a little less viable here. I needed to try something else.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be an easy technique to replace. The particular tone of grey on a lot of the vehicles in my Space Wolves legion comes directly from the somewhat obtuse combination of Mechanicus Standard Grey out of a rattle can3 and Agrax Earthshade. It’s hard enough to find an alternative to a single colour, never mind the combination of two. This is one of the downsides of collecting the same army for a long time – even as your skills and abilities improve, you’re still kind of tied to older, potentially worse techniques on new minis if you want them to look like the ones you painted years ago.

After mulling this problem over, my solution was to use my airbrush to blast a thin coat of AK Interactive Streaking Grime all over the miniature, then wipe the majority of it off with white spirits – resulting in shading getting left in the recesses and panel lines and a more smoother tint of brown to the surface without leaving tide marks or brush strokes. This seemed like a great idea at first, but I learned from my first attempt that Streaking Grime has a slightly greenish quality that over-accentuates the already greenish hue in the Mechanicus Standard Grey spray paint. This was unfortunate, but I really liked how the enamel effect shaded and panel lined the model and gave the surface a little bit of natural grubbiness without leaving tide marks, so I couldn’t quite dissuade myself from trying it again on the second attempt. On the second time around I had learned that whenever you think you’re finished removing the streaking grime, you should make another two or three passes of wiping away to get as much of it off the flat panels as possible. This more conservative approach resulted in a far cleaner, brighter and less greenish looking surface that I think turned out almost perfect. Still a little more green than I’d like, but a lot closer to my standard Space Wolves storm grey than the Sons of Horus sea foam green of the first attempt. Were I do ever to attempt this a third4 time, I would consider airbrushing a coat of Mechanicus Standard Grey from the pot over the rattle can first – even small amounts of the Streaking Grime will give the surface a greenish hue, so better to start out a little closer to blue/neutral. You live, you learn.

With the Streaking Grime effect demoted to only shading the recesses and panel lines, I wanted to get a little bit of the Agrax Earthshade tone on the surfaces as well. Partially to help tint more of the surface towards that brownish tone, but also to add a little bit of drama and shading to the model at a glance. To that end, I loaded a little bit of the wash into my airbrush and applied it at a fairly low PSI to the larger recessed areas. This includes where the wings and tailfin meet the body, the inside corner of where the top of the fuselage raises up ahead of the turbo laser, beneath and around the attack wing housing and in the recesses on either side of the turbo laser power plants. I didn’t want to be too heavily reliant on the airbrush for this project – mostly because it’s just not the style/aesthetic that’s on the rest of the minis in my VI Legion, but also because the Thunderhawk was just too damn big to fit into my airbrush extractor. Still, these little airbrushed shadows not only restore a little of that brownish hue back to the greys, but they help add a subtle but pleasing sense of light and shadows in a softer way than the edge highlights alone could manage.

Speaking of highlights, can we talk about just how many edges this thing has?! Seriously, I just about lost my mind edge highlighting this thing – saying nothing of the fact that I had to do it all twice. I admit, it’s hard not to get excited as it all slowly comes together, but.. yeah, wow. There’s more edge highlighting on this model than there is on my entire Iron Warriors army. Still, as much as I was dreading going through highlighting all of the grey on this model a second time, the only part of the process which really sucks is painting the under side – this model is heavy, and having to physically hold it for hours in order to highlight underneath the wings is strenuous.

This does bring me to the other big positive change I made from the first attempt – the metallics. On the previous Thunderhawk, I spent a bunch of time trying to edge highlight all of the brass and silver in the same manner as I did the greys, blacks and reds – this took a while, but ultimately, it just didn’t look all that good. Metallics can be a tricky type of paint to highlight with and highlights that seem a little too subtle at the time of painting can end up looking like big thick scrawls in a different light. This time around, I opted instead to take a more considered and deliberate drybrushing approach – drybrushing Tinny Tin shadows towards the recesses and building up Bronze and Brass towards more Gold and Silver in the areas that would catch the most light. The end result was cleaner, more natural looking metallics on the weapons, vents and engines. Sometimes, less really is more.

In case I haven’t made this clear yet, painting this model was a total slog for the most part. The experience of the first attempt was really carried by the thrill of working on such a dream project. Each time I found myself starting to feel the fatigue of the nth hour spent highlighting panels with Heavy Bluegrey, I simply had to step back and marvel at the fact I was painting a 28mm scale Thunderhawk Gunship. This novelty was not present on the MK2 for the most part – instead, I found myself mostly driven by sheer hate. I really can’t express just how demoralising it is to have to send back a model you’ve already poured three digits worth of hours into building and painting. Still, a part of me knew that until I finished a new and improved second version of the Thunderhawk that I wouldn’t really be able to properly enjoy the hobby again – and this was the main motivation I had to push through the frustrating build and repetitive early stages of painting again.

With the grey, black, red and metallics finished up however. The end was once again in sight. Already the model was starting to look a lot like the end product – and it already looked better than the first attempt. Mercifully, this allowed me to actually enjoy working through the final stages of this model. Who doesn’t like putting on the finishing touches, after all?

The first of these were copious amounts of muzzle burn on the engine exhausts and the turbo laser. To achieve this effect, I applied 2 layers each of Seraphim Sepia, Carroburg Crimson, Druchii Violet, Drakenhof Nightshade and finally a little Guilliman Blue to the engine with each layer receding a little closer to the edge. This created a nice, reasonably smooth transition through the rainbow of the burn while still allowing the metallics to shine through.

While each of these layers were drying, I also went through the repetitive but bizarrely soothing process of picking out all of the rivets. Each of these were picked out with a dot of Army Painter Plate Mail, washed with a drop of Agrax Earthshade and finally picked out once again in Army Painter Shining Silver. This gives them a nice bold outline with an opaque metallic pop to the surface and even a little natural staining/dribbling from the wash in places that lends a little realistic grubbiness to them. As simple as this step was, it makes such a difference to the overall finish of the miniature.

Seeing as I no longer had the Space Wolves Legion Doors that I was saving for this miniature, I had to make do without them. Still, the miniature really benefits from a flash of red on the doors, so I whipped out my venerable Space Wolves Legion Transfer sheet and found a pair of classic red Space Wolves legion icons for the doors. I gently brushed a little gloss varnish over the doors first, followed by applying the transfer and sealing it down with a bit of matt varnish to remove the sheen. Once this was dry, I then took out my Heavy Red again and proceeded to ‘fill in’ the transfer with a layer of paint. Not only does this ensure that the colour of the icon matches the red of the scheme, it also serves to make the icon itself look a little more like freehand painting and a little less like a transfer. Better yet, as the transfer itself is slightly darker than the red used elsewhere, it serves as a makeshift ‘outline’ to the paint and gives the icon a little more depth.

The last step was to pick out all the little lights, buttons and assorted greeblies on the surface of the Thunderhawk. Most of the lights were painted using Heavy Red, Orange Fire, Filthy Brown and Elfic Flesh to create an orange light effect while a bunch of the buttons were picked out with Mutation Green and highlighted with Lime Green and Elfic Flesh. I got lazy towards the tail end and painted the metallic grille lamps on the landing gear and interior front ramp with a metallic base coat then picked out the glassy lamp sections with Waywatcher Green gemstone paint. Easy peasy. The missiles were the very last detail I painted, and these were pretty much drybrushed with Mechanicus Standard Grey and washed in Nuln Oil before I wet blended with a little gradient on the nose cones between Filthy Brown and Elfic Flesh.

And that’s two Thunderhawks in as many months5 – nothing to it, eh?

The Thunderhawk in landed position with both attack wings down and troop compartment ramps deployed.

I think I need a lie down after all that.

Yet, for all the heartache and trauma, the hundreds of hours of work, the stress and the many lost hours of sleep, it has all been worth it. No matter what a pain in the arse it’s been, it’s a hell of a miniature. It’s an iconic piece of Warhammer 40,000 history and an incredible set piece for my Space Wolves legion. More than that, it’s an artifact that I’ve been lusting after since I first deployed Terminators from one in Chaos Gate for PC all those decades ago. Now it’s mine to command on the tabletop and marvel at from my painting desk. There’s definitely a few things I’d do differently if I was to do it a third time6, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, eh?

I love this miniature. I love how it turned out. I love how the photographs turned out, even. I’m really glad it’s done and I can’t wait to give her a spin in the new edition of the Horus Heresy.

Until then, thanks for reading and happy wargaming!

1 Today, in this case, being the day that I begin to write this article. Hopefully today – as in the day that you are reading this – is also a good day!

2 I jest, but let me assure you – there will be no third Thunderhawk.

3 This part is important because, despite Games Workshop’s very confusing naming structure, the paints in their rattle cans is not quite the same as the paint out the pot. Mechanicus Standard Grey is fairly neutral, tinting a little towards blue out of the pot. Out of their rattle cans, it comes out a little more turquoise.

4 One more time to be clear – there will be no third Thunderhawk.

5 Technically speaking, the first arrived on the 1st of March while the second was finished on the 11th of May. However, if you factor in that I lost over 2 weeks in waiting around to get the first one replaced and that I not only painted 4x 54mm scale Inquisitor models and completed Elden Ring in the time between the two.. Come on, man, just let me have this.

6 Again I jest, but there will be no third Thunderhawk.

2 thoughts on “Thunderhawk Down, Part Three – The Replacement

  1. Nice to see you finally got the replacement Michael and it looks glorious. The pain was well worth the effort.

    Do you intend to revisit your wolves and upgrade/expand them for Horus Heresy 2.0? I would love to see where you take them next.

    1. Thank you!

      I’ve definitely got some big plans for the Wolves in Heresy 2.0. Some of it is just reconfiguring models and their loadouts to work with the new rules (grumblegrumble Grey Slayers), but there’s going to be plenty new additions. I’ve got some older resin Beakies and MKV ‘Heresy’ pattern armour to add, along with some missing characters like Iron Priests.

      I’m also planning to expand the Cult of Morkai aspect of the army with more Deathsworn, Destroyers, Priests of Fenris and a Cult of Morkai themed Jarl to lead them. Should be fun!

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