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Jet Planes from
1940s to 1990s

Trumpeter North American RA-5C Vigilante

My interest in model aircraft extends from the wood, canvas and wire biplanes of World War One, through the aluminum alloy fighters and bombers of World War Two, to the state-of-the-art Air Domination jets of the present. Below, you can see models of some of the jet-engined aircraft I've built, by manufacturers such as AcademyAirfix, FujimiHasegawa, Heller, Hobby BossHobbycraft, Italeri, Monogram, and Trumpeter

USAF WB-66D Destroyer (1950s to 1970s)

Douglas WB-66D museum display (Google)

In 1950, at the beginning of the Korean War, the only attack/light bomber available to the newly minted (1947) USAF was the World War II-era B-26 Invader. As a stop gap, the USAF ordered 250 Martin B-57 bombers (a license-built English Electric Canberra light bomber), to be used until a new Reconnaissance Bomber/Light Tactical Bomber could be developed, through a competition between proposed new aircraft designs from the Martin and the Douglas aircraft corporations, and a consideration of four existing USAF aircraft and one British bomber, the Vickers Valiant.

The aeronautical engineers at the Douglas Aircraft Company believed they could make minor alterations to the A3D-1 Skywarrior (a US Navy aircraft-carrier-based heavy attack jet bomber) to meet the USAF specifications. In the end, the USAF requirements led to a completely new (although superficially similar looking) aircraft, designated the B-66 Destroyer. While the 294 B-66s and RB-66s were being manufactured, the USAF directed Douglas to modify 36 airframes to become the WB-66D, to be used as a weather reconnaissance aircraft. In addition to the standard crew of three (pilot, navigator and gunner) in the cockpit, the WB-66D carried two meteorology crewmen in what had been the bomb bay.

The WB-66D had a wingspan of 72 feet 6 inches, a length of 75 feet 2 inches, a height of 23 feet 6 inches, an empty weight of 43,106 pounds, a maximum take off weight of 83,000 pounds, a top speed of 643 miles per hour at sea level, a service ceiling of 36,400 feet, and a combat radius of 845 miles. The only armament for the WB-66D was a pair of radar-aimed 20mm cannons in the turret in the tail. (Aerofax Minigraph No. 19, a most excellent and helpful publication)

Italeri B-66B finished as WB-66D weather reconnaissance plane

When I was very young (second or third grade, maybe), I had the Monogram Air Power kit, which had 18 or so little models of USAF aircraft at a constant 1" equals 20' scale. One of the jets in this kit was the B-66 bomber, which I then thought was particularly cool looking. Later, I had the much bigger Monogram 1/83 scale kit of the B-66, which had a working bomb bay that dropped a little bomb through the bomb bay doors, when you pushed a totally bogus button on the top of the fuselage. Still a very cool airplane.

Many, many years later, I bought an Italeri kit of the RB-66B electronic countermeasures version of the plane. If you want to read everything possible about the crews who flew, fought and died in the B-66, get a copy of Col. Wolfgang W.E. Samuel's book, Glory Days. It was the inspiration for me to finally build a kit of the B-66.

I wanted to find a version of the real B-66 that wasn't either natural metal or camouflaged. I've avoided an overall natural metal finish (NMF) on my models because I don't think I can do one that will look convincing to me (the models builders who succeed at NMF obviously have sold their souls to the devil, to acquire the dark arts necessary), and I didn't want to break up the elegant lines of the airplane with Vietnam-era camouflage.

Careful reading of the Aerofax Minigraph No. 19 and a search for images of the B-66 on the internet, plus notes in Dave Klaus' splendid reference on authentic colors for painting models revealed the existence of the WB-66D, the weather reconnaissance version of the B-66. USAF weather planes were often painted with Air Defence Command Grey, color FS 16473. I finally had my clean, uniform, overall paint scheme; not NMF, not camo.

Building the kit was problematic in interesting ways; the Italeri kit of the RB-66B I had bought long ago didn't have the tail turret, and I wanted 55-415 to have one, so I bought an Italeri B-66B (with turret) in the long ago Testor's packaging on eBay. Starting this kit (molded in "silver" plastic) revealed a flaw in the plastic: a weird outer skin of plastic over the plastic underneath that peeled or flaked off, leaving scars that were going to be impossible to fix. I bought another, original Italeri B-66B, in the initial Italeri packaging. While it had the "silver" plastic, too, this copy didn't have the heartbreak of psoriasis, so I was set. Then, as I began to research decals for a WB-66D, I realized the most recent Italeri reissue of the RB-66B kit had the style of USAF decals I needed, particularly the wing walkways, so I bought my fourth Italeri B-66 model, just for the decals. Don't give me that look. As John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) says in the movie Jurassic Park, "We spared no expense."

In a stroke of pure, unearned, dumb luck, this Italeri decal set included markings for airframe number 55-415, which is in the middle of the serial numbers 55-390 through 55-425, the serial numbers assigned to the 36 WB-66Ds. I added Evergreen tubes machined somewhat on a lathe to seamlessly connect the front of the engine nacelles to the engine intake fans within. The Italeri kit had provided a pair of specious .50 calibre machine gun barrels for the tail turret, so I assembled telescoping brass tubes to simulate the 20mm cannons, based on the drawings and photos in the Aerofax Minigraph.

All paint was Humbrol, all decals were from the kit, the flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images of the model:

German Me-262 Schwalbe (World War Two)

Messerschmitt Me-262 (Google)

The Messerschmitt Me-262 was a technologically advanced, possibly war-winning design, much faster and better armed than the best Allied fighters, but was prevented from achieving its potential by official disinterest and by the demand by Adolf Hitler that it be used as a bomber, instead of a bomber interceptor. With a top speed of 540 m.p.h. and armed with four 30mm cannon, the Me-262 could best be defeated by USAAC and RAF fighters attacking the Me-262s while taking off or landing at Luftwaffe airfields. The Me-262 also experienced the usual host of teething troubles with its Junkers Jumo turbojet engines, which typically had a operational life span of about eight to ten hours. Wingspan was 41 feet, length 34 feet 9 inches, height 12 feet 7 inches, empty weight 8,820 pounds, loaded weight 15,500 pounds, range 650 miles. (Leisure Books)

Monogram Me-262

Wanting to build a really good model of the Me-262, I collected every kit I could find: Jo-Han, Hasegawa, FROG, Heller, Revell, Airfix and eventually, Monogram. This Monogram "Pro-Modeller" kit turned out to be what I thought was the best. I did a particularly careful job of assembly, rescribing the fuselage panel lines across the sanded seams where the fuselage halves joined. I bought a set of Aeromaster decals for the Me-262 at Lightship Hobbies, my local hobby shop, which I especially liked because it included the markings for VI+AF. I thought the overall RLM 75 Lichtgrau (light grey) finish, uninterrupted by the typical Me-262 camouflage, showed off the elegant, shark-like shape of the 262 very well. After botching the application of one of the big red "1"s, I hand cut a replacement from an un-needed red fuselage band decal. All paint was Humbrol, decals were Aeromaster, flat finish was Poly-Scale.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger views.

USAF Bell X-1 (Post World War Two)

Bell X-1 (cliff1066)
Chuck Yeager. Speed of sound. "The Right Stuff". 'Nuff said?
Chuck Yeager and the Bell X-1 (Google)
Hobbycraft Bell X-1

This is the Hobbycraft kit of the Bell X-1. It was a fun, simple build, that I enjoyed very much. The pitot tube and sensors at the nose and wingtips were ground down from brass wire. The color scheme was painless, and the kit decals (by ScaleMaster, I think) worked great, even the two-part "Glamorous Glennis" nose art. Paint was Humbrol, flat finish was Poly-Scale.

Click on the thumbnails below to see the larger images.

USAF Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star (Korean War)

Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star (Google)

The existence of German jets in World War Two (such as the Me-262, seen above) spurred the development of Allied jet projects, like the Gloster Meteor and the Bell P-59 Airacomet. The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was ordered by the USAAC in 1943, in the hopes that it would perform better than the P-59, the first US jet fighter. Built around the British de Havilland Goblin jet engine, the XP-80 first flew in 1944, achieving 502 miles per hour. A shortage of Goblin engines lead to a redesign around the British Whittle engine, resulting in the larger P-80A, with a top speed of 561 mph.

Four P-80s were sent to Europe, and although two of them flew combat missions in Italy, they did not meet any German jets, before the war ended in Europe. Not needed in the Pacific war, P-80s continued to develop and improve (the T-33 trainer and the F-94 Starfire, much later), until they were redesignated F-80s and deployed to Korea in 1950. Although the F-80s fought well, winning the first ever jet-to-jet battle, they were outclassed by the much more modern Mig-15s operated by Russian pilots over North Korea. The last F-80s were retired in the mid 1950s.

The wingspan of the P-80 was 38' -9", length was 34'-5", height was 11'-3", empty weight 8,420 pounds, loaded weight 12, 650 pounds. The P-80 had a top speed of 600 miles per hour, a range of 1,200 miles, and a service ceiling of 46,000 feet. Armament included six .50 calibre machine guns and up to 2,000 pounds of bombs or rockets. (Squadron Signal) 

Airfix P-80 Shooting Star

When I was very young, we visited my father's parents, in Atlanta, Georgia. As I was being put down for a nap in my father's room, I spotted a model of what turned out to be a P-80 Shooting Star that he had built when the aircraft was cutting edge/state of the art. He later told me the model was carved out of basswood; it had many coats of paint and lacquer, and had been sanded and polished until the finish was like glass. Wish I had that 70-plus year old model.

This Airfix kit was from the 1980s, I think, and had more than the usual amount of interior detail, in the cockpit and in the wheel wells. Based on the photos and drawings in a copy of the Squadron/Signal publication "P-80 In Action", I added a film instrument panel and side consoles, and Evergreen plastic strip to create the flanged seam around the wingtip fuel tanks. I drilled out the tip of the nose and added a piece of clear plastic sprue, to form the landing light; it has a tiny hole drilled in from the back, filled with silver paint, to represent the light bulb. The machine gun barrels in the nose were tiny brass tubes, blackened with a chemical solution called, oddly enough, "Blacken It". Over time, the blackening has flaked off, leaving a rusty bronze color. Oops.

I am a coward when it comes to natural metal finishes on plastic models; when I attempt them, they always end up looking like silver paint. Fortunately, according to the "P-80 In Action", the earliest P-80s were painted with a light grey lacquer. This was my out on what was almost always a natural aluminum aircraft. All paint was Humbrol, decals were MicroScale ("Maximum Goose" is a crude reference to getting a thumb stuffed where the sun don't shine), and flat finish was Poly-Scale. Note the unfortunate yellowing of the decals on this 25-plus year old model.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images.  


Swedish SAAB J-29 Tunnan (Cold War)

SAAB J-29 Tunnan (Google)

Conceived in 1945, the SAAB J-29 Tunnan was the result in part of translating a large amount of Luftwaffe research, provided courtesy of a Swiss engineer who had access to post-World War Two American intelligence sources. Combined with the purchase of RAF de Havilland Vampire jet aircraft and the manufacture of de Havilland Goblin engines for the SAAB J-21A jet, SAAB was ready to develop the Tunnan as a private venture. When the de Havilland Ghost jet engine became available, the design was complete. The J-29 was the first Western Europe jet aircraft with swept wings, all-moving horizontal tailplane, leading edge slots and full-span aileron/flaps. Test flying began in 1948, and the Swedish Air Force ultimately purchased 632 units in six versions, many of which were upgraded in airframe, engines and avionics over the Tunnan's frontline operational life, from 1953 through 1976. (SAM Publications)

Top speed was 636 m.p.h., range 810 miles, empty weight 9,500 pounds, maximum weight 15,600 pounds, wing-span 36 feet 1 inch, length 33 feet 2 inches, height 12 feet 3 inches. Armament was four 20mm cannons, up to 1,100 pounds of fuel, bombs or rockets, two Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. (Chartwell Books)

Heller J-29 Tunnan

This fairly old Heller kit was the slightly better choice, over the clunky Matchbox Tunnan  kit. In addition to the charmingly ugly physical appearance of the Tunnan, I was drawn to a garish camouflage scheme displayed in a Profile Publication on the Tunnan, for a Swedish unit assigned by the United Nations to intervene in the civil war in what was then the Belgian Congo. Over the usual Swedish Air Force camouflage had been applied a wild pattern of irregular, orange stripes. I have since seen that the artist for the Profile Publication had at that time (1960s, I guess) interpreted the black and white photos in a rather inauthentic way. So it goes.

I built the kit without too much extra detailing, other than cutting off the leading edge sawtooth from both wings, to back-date the kit to an appropriate earlier mark of Tunnan. I applied the standard Swedish camouflage freehand with my airbrush without much trouble, but when I tried to freehand the orange stripes, it was completely beyond my skills. Had the model been 1/32 scale, maybe, but 1/72 scale was just too small for the freehand squiggles I could manage. I delicately cleaned my few, bad, fat orange stripes off of the model with thinner. I was nonplussed for a little while, and then I resigned myself to masking THE ENTIRE MODEL, leaving lots of sinuous curves cut through the masking tape, for the orange paint. I attempted to just lightly, thinly, fog on the orange, to get the translucent, field-applied look of the real aircraft, but when I peeled off the masking, I had as usual applied a solid, opaque layer of pigment. Enough.

It took the decals from two Heller Tunnan kits to get one useable, full set of UN markings on to the model (Heller decals are notorious for being badly registered). I tried a new-to-me idea and cut out aluminum-colored decals for the "natural metal" areas on the undersides of the wings and horizontal stabilizers; it worked OK and saved some time. All paint was Humbrol and the flat finish was Poly-Scale. All in all, a fun build.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images.

British Hawker-Siddeley Buccaneer (Cold War)

Hawker-Siddeley Buccaneer (Google)

The Hawker-Siddeley S.Mk2B Buccaneer originally served as a Royal Navy (UK) aircraft-carrier-based, low-level bomber and strike aircraft, but was eventually transferred to and built for the RAF, for overland bomber duties. Ordered by the Admiralty in 1955, the Buccaneer entered fleet service in 1958, serving there until 1979, when they were handed over to the RAF. The high-subsonic Buccaneer excelled at very accurate bomb delivery at high speed and very low altitude, fulfilling this role in place of the cancelled BAC TSR.2 (RAF) and General Dynamics F-111K (USAF). In 1984, the RAF Buccaneers returned to maritime strike duties, replaced in the land bomber role by deployment of the Panavia Tornado swept-wing bomber. The Buccaneer was also operated by the South Afrikan Air Force, starting in 1963. 

The Buccaneer had a top speed of 691 m.p.h. at sea level, range of 2,300 miles with external tanks and full weapons load, wingspan of 44 feet, length of 63 feet 5 inches, height of 16 feet 3 inches, empty weight of 29,980 pounds, loaded weight of 62,000 pounds, and for armament a wide variety of internal and external bombs and/or missiles, up to 20,000 pounds. (Oriole Books)

Airfix Hawker-Siddeley Buccaneer

This Airfix kit was old and sparsely detailed, but a good start on a model of the Buccaneer. I was intrigued by the earliest color scheme for the South Afrikan Buccaneers, so I searched the internet to find a set of SAAF decals that would serve. Initially, on a sheet of RAF Buccaneers by Xtracolor, I found SAAF decals for a later paint scheme of the aircraft, but this set and scheme did not include the original, six large SAAF emblems: a white and blue pentagon, with enlarged arrowheads at the points of the star, and a gold springbok (antelope) at the center of the star. Later, I found an SAAF decal set for a 1/48 scale F-86, with stars the appropriate size for my 1/72 Buccaneer.

The Airfix kit had the typical hollow fuselage that opened up like a vast cavern at the engine intakes, revealing a bulkhead across the entire fuselage interior, upon which two turbine fans were weakly molded. Not very realistic. After considerable thought, I assembled the fuselage, then sawed through the fuselage behind the canopy, but in front of the wings. I then thinned (from the outside) one end of the wall of an Evergreen tube, until the plastic was so thin that it could easily deform to the oval inside of each engine intake. I installed my paper-thin tubes into the fuselage front half with epoxy, so that no plastic cement solvents would melt and ripple the super thin tubing. Now, seen from the outside, a smooth tunnel of plastic tube started out oval at the intake, and morphed into a cylinder at the inside end, for the turbine face. (I plugged the rears of these cylinders, so that after I had finished painting the model, I could drop a silver-painted engine fan into each tunnel.) I glued the fuselage front to the fuselage rear, sanded away the seam at the joint, and proceeded to finish the model.

I added homemade film instrument panels and side consoles to the cockpits, along with Squadron "Tru-Details" resin Martin-Baker ejection seats. I added photo-etched framing and details to the the wheel wells, and brake lines made of Detail Master aluminum wire along the landing gear struts to the wheels. The paint I airbrushed for the dull dark blue topsides was pretty acceptable, but the bold photo-recon blue undersides turned out to be a little too bold, once on the model. I didn't want to have to remask the entire airplane again, so I diluted the topsides blue to a very, very thin "stain" and with the airbrush, I gradually toned-down the photo recon blue. Since the stain was the same color as the topside color, it did not alter the topside color at all. All paint was Humbrol, with flat finish by Poly-Scale.

Click on the thumbnails below to see the images larger.

Swedish SAAB J-35 Draken (Cold War)

SAAB J-35 Draken (Google)

Between 1949 and 1951, in a time when many jet aircraft designs still had unswept wings, SAAB designers were investigating the double-delta concept for their proposed supersonic, all-weather interceptor, the J-35 Draken (Dragon). The double-delta shape incorporated the intakes, added to the lifting surface of the wings, improved streamlining, and stored fuel, cannons and equipment. First flight was in 1955, with deployment by the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) in 1960. The Draken was also operated by the air forces of Austria, Denmark and Finland. Improved over time from  the "A" model through the "F" and then jumping to the "J" version, the J-35D achieved first Mach 2 flight in 1960. The last official Flygvapnet Draken flight occurred in January, 1999, almost 40 years after its first appearance. The Draken wing-span was 30 feet 10 inches, length was 50 feet 4 inches, height 12 feet 9 inches, empty weight maximum 18,180 pounds, maximum fully loaded 35,275 pounds. Top speed was 1,320 m.p.h., maximum ceiling of 65,000 feet, and a combat range of 800 miles or 2,020 miles ferrying. Armament consisted of two (or later one) 30 mm cannon and a wide variety of guided air-to-air missiles, or up to 9,000 pounds of ground attack weapons. (Chartwell Books, Squadron Publications)

Hasegawa SAAB J-35 Draken

This Hasegawa kit was fairly new when I bought it on eBay. I was so interested in building it that I set aside whatever I had been building to get started on the Draken. It was a very detailed kit, at least on the exterior, but it was as hollow as a helium balloon, inside. I had a Squadron Publications "In Action" booklet on the Draken, that illustrated how you could see the front fan of the engine, through the air intakes. I found an engine fan in the spares box, and split and sculpted a matching diameter Evergreen tube to blend with the fan on one end, and blend with the intake sides towards the front at the other end. I painted all of the visible interior with Tamiya acrylic flat white, per the Draken photos, which also helped reflect light inside, through the intake openings.

I learned a painful lesson about light bulbs, painting this model. Over time, I was replacing the incandescent light bulbs in my house with the new, compact fluorescent bulbs. I did not notice the CFBs came in "colors", cool blue, neutral, and warm yellow. Apparently, I put warm bulbs in the lamps at my model-building table, and cool bulbs in the lamps at the display cases. I chose and applied the Humbrol paints under the warm CFBs, where the colors looked like the hues I was trying to match from my reference materials. However, when I placed the finished model under the cool CFBs in the display case, the subdued green and blue camouflage became a garish dark lime green and royal blue. For a brief spell, I installed warm bulbs in the display case lights, but these threw off the other model's paint schemes too much. My orange Bell X-1 became red, my khaki PZL 11.C became brown, etc. In the end, I bought and stored a new Hasegawa Draken kit, for the far off "someday", when I'll build it again, selecting my paints under the same cool CFBs at the model-building table as also illuminate the display cases.

The missiles were modified Hasegawa Falcon and Maverick missiles, altered to resemble the license-built Swedish RB air-to-air missiles. All paint was Humbrol and the final flat finish was Model Master Flat Lacquer, after my favorite Poly-Scale Flat let me down for the last time. The decals were a blend of the Hasegawa kit decals and the SAF decals from a Revell of Germany edition of the Hasegawa kit.

Click on the thumbnail images below to see the pictures in detail.

Soviet Union Mig-25 Foxbat (Cold War)

Mig-25 Foxbat (Google)

The Mikoyan/Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat was a world beater aircraft, breaking records for speed and altitude in the late 1960s. Thought to have been developed in response to the USAF XB-70 Valkyrie 2,000 mph strategic bomber, it was actually created in response to the Lockheed A-11 (SR-71 Blackbird). The MiG-25 was the front line interceptor for the air defense of the Soviet Union, until superceded by the MiG-31 Foxhound. Reconaissance versions flew with impunity over Western territories. Shrouded in secrecy, and responsible for the counter-development of the USAF McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle and USN Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighters, the arrival of a Foxbat in Japan in 1976, flown by a Russian defector, gave a solid look into this mysterious machine. Even though the Foxbat was built largely out of steel (for heat resistence) and equipped with vacuum-tube electronics (far behind the then-standard solid state electronics of the West), it was still a formidable opponent in its time.

The Foxbat had a length of 73 feet 2 inches, wingspan of 46 feet, height of 18 feet 6 inches, empty weight of 44,000 ponds, fully loaded weight of 77,000 pounds, estimated top speed of 2,100 mph, maximum ceiling of 73,000 feet, and range of 700 miles. Armament was typically two radar-guided and two infra-red guided AA-6 Acrid air-to-air missiles. (Crescent Books, Naval Institute Press)

Hasegawa MiG-25

This Hasegawa kit came out as soon as possible after Viktor Belenko landed his MiG-25 in Japan. Hasegawa did a fine job of developing a kit from the information available to them, but there were some oddities. The main wheel wells on the underside of the fuselage could not contain the wheels/tires, if they were retracted. The interiors of the engine exhausts were just a blank surface, with little attempt at any depth. Similarly, the engine intakes were blank just a short distance past the front of the intake. Many years later, when the Foxbat wasn't so secret, newer kits of the airplane included the large, rectangular air flow diverters on top of the fuselage, behind the intakes.

When the kit was released in 1976 or so, my middle brother became very interested in the Foxbat, and built the model. He hand-painted the insides of the exhaust cones with a really pretty convincing expression of lit afterburners; I still remember it, 40 years later.

I built this model pretty much out of the box, with nothing added except a resin ejection seat and film instruments and side consoles. I also added a little detail to the rather plain, featureless exhaust cones, but I wasn't brave enough to paint lit afterburners. You tha man, Charles. Paint was Humbrol and ModelMaster metallics, decals were Micro-Scale, flat finish was Poly-Scale.

For some (now forgotten) reason, I took a few digital images of this model, while I was building it. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger views.

Swedish SAAB AJ-37 Viggen (Cold War)

SAAB AJ-37 Viggen (Google)

Even as the SAAB J-35 Draken was about to be deployed with the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet), in 1958, SAAB was developing their follow-on aircraft, the J-37 Viggen (Thunderbolt). The J-37 was but one part of a fully-integrated air defense weapons system, the Stril 60, consisting of radars, computers, missiles and aircraft. The Viggen differs from the Draken in many ways, one of the most obvious being that the aircraft has canards; small wings near the nose. Canards can help overcome one of the drawbacks of delta-winged jets: directing the ailerons upward, to lift the nose at takeoff, paradoxically pushes the trailing edge of the wings downward, just when the aircraft is trying to become airborne. The Viggen was designed to be one common airframe built as five different versions: AJ (all-weather ground attack), JA (all-weather interceptor), SF (armed photo-reconnaissance), SH (armed sea surveillance), and SK (dual-seat trainer). Deployed in 1971, the Viggen was retired in 2005. Wingspan (main) was 34 feet 9 inches, length was 53 feet 11 inches, height 18 feet 4 inches, empty weight 21,000 pounds, fully-loaded weight 44,000 pounds, range 620 miles, top speed 1,320 m.p.h. Armament consisted of up to 13,200 pounds on up to nine pylons: air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles and a belly-pack 30 mm cannon. (Chartwell Books)

Heller SAAB AJ-37 Viggen (Anti-ship Strike)

This is the Heller kit of the J-37 Viggen. It contains extra parts to build the fighter, the trainer, and the photo-recon versions. I'm guessing this Heller model dates from the late 1970s, so while it was a pretty basic kit, it was the best choice compared to the as-old-or-older Hasegawa, Airfix, and Matchbox Viggens. I boxed in the main landing gear bays, added a film instrument panel and side consoles, a resin ejection seat, and pitot probes at the nose and fin. I chose to build a maritime patrol version of the ground attack model. The green RB 05A air-to-surface missiles were from the Airfix kit, and the black and light grey RB 04E anti-shipping missiles were from the Hasegawa Viggen. Please ignore the crooked vertical stabilizer; I'm sure gravity caused it to warp, after the model was finished. 

The real challenge was the camouflage paint scheme. This very distinctive SAF camouflage was standard on Viggens for the first two thirds of their deployment, more or less. I saw a couple of really well done, non-Viggen SAF models at IPMS contests, which inspired me, and I read an article in FineScale Modeler magazine about masking and painting an ESCI 1/48 scale Viggen, but I didn't start my Viggen until I got the idea to use artists' Friskit masking film in a Xerox machine, to create masks for this scheme.

While at an IPMS contest, I bought a set of FlyingColors decals, made in Sweden, for the Viggen. The decals included four-view drawings of the camouflage scheme, at 1/72 scale. I photocopied the four-views on to the Friskit self-adhesive masking film. By cutting on the Xerox lines on the Friskit film, I had my masks. The masks corresponding to the flatter portions of the camouflage, like the wings, canards and vertical tail, could be used pretty much verbatim. The curved areas on the fuselage required a little more custom work to make the masks, but it was a huge timesaver over trying to make masks from scratch. I only got completely lost in one small area of the right side of the fuselage.

When I had the opportunity, I put in for a week of vacation from work, and used several hours each day to forge ahead with the painting. I airbrushed and masked the undersurface blue camouflage, first. I don't remember which upper color I airbrushed first, but it was probably the medium olive green. I quickly learned that the fresh Humbrol paint was too fragile to receive the Friskit masking film directly, so I had to spray a protective coat of Johnson's "Future" clear acrylic floor wax, after applying each color. Once the "Future" was dry (overnight), I applied the Friskit to mask the medium olive green. I probably airbrushed the dark green next, then more "Future", and then masked the dark green. Next should have been the black camouflage paint, plus "Future", and after masking the black areas, all that remained unmasked were the small areas to be airbrushed brown.

Once all the upper camouflage was painted, I removed all of the Friskit film. I immediately noticed two problems: one was that, to ensure the colors were opaque, I had airbrushed too much paint. This resulted in ridges of paint built-up against the edges of the masks, particularly the first, medium olive paint on the bottom. I had to take several, brand new X-Acto knife blades and painstakingly shave the paint ridges down as carefully as I could, without nicking the paint too badly. 

The second problem was that the Friskit was designed to be used flat, on art board, and didn't conform to complex curves very well. Some paint blew under the lifted Friskit, and required re-masking with bits of 3M Drafting Tape, a low-tack but very flexible, crepe-style masking tape. After a lot of tedious masking and touching up, I had the scheme done well enough to suit. I applied a final, heavy coat of "Future", to prepare for the decals, which also served to conceal some of my paint ridges and nicks.

After decaling, I airbrushed more "Future" over the decals, to seal them and to provide a uniform surface of "Future", to receive the final coat of Poly-Scale flat. This application of Poly-Scale was one of the first times that I noticed that the usually reliable flat effect of the Poly-Scale was marred by looking chalky, or  frost-like, particularly on the black areas. This frost effect was so noticeable on one area on the left side of the rear of the model, that I re-masked everything else and re-airbrushed the flat black. What's one more layer of paint on this model, anyway?

One interesting bit of trivia about this very distinctive camouflage scheme: soon after it was first fielded, its effectiveness over the Swedish countryside was observed and undeniable, but when the Viggens were parked on the concrete taxiways, they stood out like sore thumbs. Consequently, the taxiways were painted to match the Viggen's camouflage.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger views. 


U.S. Navy North American RA-5C Vigilante (Cold War)

North American RA-5C Vigilante (Paskowski via Goggle)

The North American RA-5C Vigilante photo-reconnaissance jet began life as a nuclear bomber, as the US Navy sought to fill a strategic role in the nuclear arena of the 1950s. Just as the US Army had its Atomic Cannon, and the US Air Force had its B-47 and B-52 jet bombers, the Navy maintained that its aircraft carriers could also provide a nuclear strike capability. The supersonic A-5A Vigilante was designed in 1954-1955 to replace the subsonic AJ Savage, P-2 Neptune and A-3 Skywarrior. First flown in 1958, the A-5A incorporated many aviation firsts: first airborne digital computer for bomb aiming and navigation, first heads-up display, first terrain-avoidance radar, first variable engine intake geometry, and first fly-by-wire control system. Initial flight testing revealed record-breaking excellence in all areas except bomb release: the revolutionary rear-dispensing bomb tunnel between the engines could not be made to work. Instead of the bomb smoothly leaving the rear of the aircraft upon release, unexpected aerodynamic effects caused the bomb to coast behind the aircraft for unpredictable distances, preventing the required degree of accuracy, even for city-busting atomic weapons.

However, the Navy recognized the reconnaissance potential of the long-ranged, all weather, Mach 2 Vigilante. North American developed a sensor pod that fit on the underside of the fuselage. This pod contained radar, multiple cameras, and radio frequency receivers to collect ELINT (electronic intelligence). The designation for these sensor-equipped aircraft was the RA-5C Vigilante, and RA-5Cs served the Navy with distinction from 1963 through 1979, including many harrowing missions during the Viet Nam war.

The Vigilante was 76 feet 6 inches long, 19 feet 4 inches tall, had a wingspan of 53 feet 2 inches, an empty weight of 37, 500 pounds, a maximum weight of 79,600 ponds, a top speed of 1,320 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 52,100 feet, and a range of 2,050 miles. (Squadron/Signal)


Trumpeter RA-5C Vigilante

This model was my first experience with a kit manufactured by Trumpeter, a Chinese plastic kit maker. Trumpeter has been remarkably prolific over the last dozen years or so, and have dramatically improved the quality of their models. This kit consists of styrene parts created by slide mold technology, wherein the metal mold has sliding parts that retract out of the way to allow removal of the finished parts from the mold. Slide molds allow the model parts to have detailing on all surfaces of the part; for example, on this model of the Vigilante, each fuselage half had intricate detail molded not just on the side of the fuselage, but on the bottom and top of the fuselage, as well. This approach does require a parting line on the surface of the fuselage, where the moving mold parts meet together, so some very carefull filing and sanding are required. But the outcome is worth it.

I built this model straight "out-of-the box", meaning that I did not add anything major, or alter or customize anything much on the model. This can be fun, to just build a kit as it comes out of the box. This is particularly possible with the most recent model kits, because the technology and quality of the most recent kits is so high.

This was the first U.S. Navy aircraft I had built for some years, because the last USN jet I built suffered a disasterous reaction between the Humbrol flat white paint and the Johnson's "Future" clear acrylic floor wax I applied over the white paint to facilitate good decal adhesion. The once white Humbrol paint immediately became very badly yellowed, from the "Future." Until I solved the white paint conundrum, I was blocked from building white-painted subjects. In the end, I did a complex experiment with 7 different white model paints, to find the best choice.  

White paint experiment

I prepped seven strips of Evergreen styrene plastic, and then applied seven different white model paints, both flat and glossy, starting with Humbrol and including paints by ModelMaster, Tamiya and Boyd. Once all the whites were applied, I attached the strips to a 12" x 12" sheet of Evergreen plastic and then I divided the sample sheet into six vertical zones. I masked zone A (raw paint) and then then airbrushed the remaining five vertical zones with "Future" clear acrylic. I masked zone B (paint plus "Future") and then applied decals (a variety of low-viz USAF markings) to the remaining four zones. I masked zone C (paint plus "Future" plus decals) and then airbrushed the remaining three zones with more "Future" to seal the decals. I masked zone D and zone E and then separately airbrushed two different clear flat finishes (Floquil flat lacquer and Testor's ModelMaster flat lacquer). This process simulated all of the steps I would take during the construction of a model. When all the masking was removed, I could see how all the different white paints had faired, during the experiment.

I thought the Tamiya Acrylic Flat White (002) gave the best overall results, a good, pure white that airbrushed smoothly, so when I started painting the Vigilante, I used Tamiya for the white areas. Humbrol paint was used for every other color, however, including a custom mix of two parts Humbrol No. 147 Matt Light Grey to one part Humbrol No. 34 Flat White, to achieve what I thought was a good scale representation of U.S. Navy FS 36440, Light Gull Grey.

Instead of using the kit decals, I applied RA-5C Vigilante decals by Zotz. Flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer. Click on the thumbnails below to see the larger images. 

Hasegawa MiG-25 Foxbat

Scale 1/72

Email: AtomicCannon(at)embarqmail(dot)com