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Jet Planes from
1950s to 2000s

One of those amazing, indispensible cutaway drawings, this one of the Vought F7U-3 Cutlass

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 Academy, Tamiya, Fujimi, Italeri, ESCI and Hobbyboss

USAF Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird (1960s - 1999)

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird (Google)

The Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird was an extraordinary aircraft and an astounding accomplishment in aviation technology. Design began on the Blackbird's ancestor, the YF-12A, in 1958, to replace the Lockheed U-2. The first SR-71A's became operational in 1965. Fabricated largely out of titanium, and powered by two Pratt & Whitney J-58 turbo-jets, the SR-71A could fly at faster than three times the speed of sound (approximately 2,300 miles per hour) at 85,000 feet altitude for multiple hours as required by the particular reconnaissance mission.

Multiple, interchangeable sensor modules in bays in the lower fuselage enabled the SR-71A to collect images and intelligence by camera, radar, infra-red, radio and digital means. Missions were extremely carefully planned and carried out by on-board computer programming to assist the Pilot and the RSO (Reconnaissance Systems Operator) in the intelligence gathering. Extensive ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) equipment supplemented the SR-71A's primary defense of flying too fast and too high to be shot down, although many (unsuccessful) attempts were made.

The SR-71A was 101 feet 8 inches long (not including nose probe), 18 feet 4 inches tall, had a wingspan of 55 feet 8 inches, weighed 60,000 pounds empty, and 170,000 pounds at maximum load. (Squadron In Action, Wikipedia)

Academy SR-71A Blackbird

This is the Academy SR-71A kit, which was produced in 1986 as an almost exact copy of the 1981 Hasegawa SR-71A kit, right down to the arrangement of the kit parts on the mold runners. The only improvement Academy achieved over the Hasegawa kit was engraved panel lines, instead of Hasegawa's raised panel lines, which is why I decided to build the Academy kit. As it turned out, this Academy kit's parts did not fit together as well as I now think the Hasegawa parts would have. If I ever build this subject again, I will definitely build the Hasegawa kit.

As I started working on the model, I did a quick check of the fit of the front canopy and windscreen transparencies to the fuselage, and they seemed acceptable, but as I finished building the kit, installing the clear parts just before painting, I realized that the fit of these parts wasn't very good after all, especially the rear canopy. I debated setting this kit aside, and starting over with the Hasegawa kit, but I decided to apply the paint to the Academy kit and see how it looked painted. Coated in paint, the canopy fit wasn't great, but I deemed it good enough to finish the model.

To improve the detail of the engines, I installed a pair of Wolfpack resin engine exhaust assemblies. To improve the detail of the front and main wheel wells, I studied images of Metallic Details resin landing gear details, and scratch-built a simplified version of those parts. You can see this work at the page called "Sausage Making" under the "Building Models" tab on this website.

Black can be a challenging color to apply successfully to a 1/72 scale model: truly black paint can appear too dark and out of scale. I experimented with both acrylic and enamel flat black paints, plus a couple of very dark grey paints, airbrushed on to the parts from the Academy kit making up the D-21 recconaissance drone. In the end, I mixed a VERY dark grey from Model Master Panzer Grey and Model Master Flat Black.   

The decals were Caracal Models for the SR-71; these decals were beautifully printed, but very unforgiving in application, with a very short working life before they became difficult to persuade into position, particularly the long, slender NO STEP walkway stripes. I think while wrestling with these stripes I managed to wash away too much of the decal glue, resulting in a lot of silvering. That required a long process of puncturing and wetting the air bubbles under the stripes with Micro-Sol decal setting solution.

All airbrushed paints were Testors Model Master, except for the interiors of the engine exhausts and the landing gear bays and doors, which were AlClad II metallic lacquers. All hand-brushed paints (ejection seats and cockpit details) were Humbrol. Final overcoat finish was Testors Clear Semi-Gloss Lacquer

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images:


Such a cool airplane. (Google)

USAF Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter (1960s - 2000) Build 3.0

ESCI F-5A Freedom Fighter Build 3.0 on the stand, behind Build 2.0

Apparently I got over the funk of the dubious success of F-5A Freedom Fighter 2.0, because I started building 3.0 pretty soon after. I focused first on painting the pilot figure, splendidly molded by Fujimi for their F-14A Tomcat model. It took two tries to get Roger Ramjet done satisfactorily.

By now I was an expert at building ESCI F-5As, so this third build went smoothly. Building the model with the landing gear retracted speeded the process considerably, and I had already assembled the area-rule wing tip fuel tanks for the failed F-5A 1.0, so they were waiting for installation on 3.0. I had bought a bunch of Airfix model stands on eBay, so I selected a particularly clear and unmarred stand and installed brass tubes on the tip of the upright, to fit into aluminum tubes in the belly of the jet. This plane looks so good, clean.

I bought more of the same MicroScale F-5A decals to acquire the same serial number as build 2.0, and also another MicroScale OV-10A decal set with the same USAF Unit emblem on the vertical fin as 2.0, but the rest of the decals were scrounged from other MicroScale decal sets, so many small differences abound.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images of the model. Note the stunning portrait of our intrepid pilot, Roger Ramjet, at the controls of F-5A 3.0, in the last picture:

USAF Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter (1960s - 2000) Build 2.0

Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter (Google)

The Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter was a short range, supersonic, daylight interceptor and fighter-bomber, designed to be relatively cheap, simple, easy to maintain and effective, to be either sold or given to US allies in the Cold War, during the 1950s and 1960s. Being designed around two turbojet missile engines, the F-5A was small, light, manueverable, and faster than the previous, outdated USAF aircraft (F-80, F-84, F-86) that had been made available to friendly air forces in Europe and Asia not in a position to buy the more current (more expensive) USAF fighters of that time.

Other than a brief evaluation in 1965 during the Vietnam war, the USAF did not operate the F-5A for itself, except in USAF training/orientation squadrons used stateside by foreign Air Force personnel learning to fly and maintain the aircraft. Some twenty or so nations operated F-5As over three decades. The F-5A was 47 feet 2 inches long, 13 feet 2 inches tall, spanned 25 feet 3 inches wing tip to wing tip, weighed 8,085 pounds empty, 20,677 pounds at maximum load, flew Mach 1.4 (925 miles per hour) at 36,000 feet altitude, and was armed with two 20mm cannons and up to 3,000 pounds of bombs and/or missiles. (Squadron/Signal, WarBird Tech)

Italeri (Ex-ESCI) F-5A Freedom Fighter

Around the time when I was in junior high school, I think, my father must have bought an Aurora 1/48 scale plastic kit of the F-5A Freedom Fighter. I remember overhearing him telling someone that the techs who worked on F-5s claimed that it was such a tough little jet that "if you threw gravel in the engine air intakes, you'd get sand out the exhaust cones." That summer vacation, I purloined his kit, built it myself and hand-painted it an approximation of the Vietnam war era SEA camouflage, probably with Pactra model paints. I don't recall his reaction to my hijacking, so it mustn't have been too severe, and I've liked the plane ever since. I've probably owned a half-dozen 1/72 scale kits of the F-5A (Airfix, Lindberg, Hasegawa, MatchboxESCI/Italeri, PM) but never built one until now.

Although I very much wanted to complete this model, it was a tough process. The first build (1.0) went well, but the first attempt to metallize the model ended up with it being re-kitted (i.e., broken into more pieces than the kit box originally contained) and archived in the trash can (conveniently located at the left side of my model building table). The model you see here (2.0) was more successful, but a still challenge. Let me explain... no, that would take too long; let me summarize*: I still have a lot to learn about AlClad II metallic lacquers. From the 1.0 build I salvaged an after-market resin ejection seat and the kit's nose, weapons pylons, landing gear struts, doors and wheels, and fuel tanks.

I made myself do a better job of building F-5A 2.0, to avoid rushing through the assembly to get to the painting stage again. I applied the AlClad II with great care, and it turned out OK, with no crazing, but rather grainy (air brush pressure set too high, I think). The Sidewinder air-to-air and Bullpup air-to-ground missiles came from the Hasegawa Weapons Set I. The decals were from several sources (three different MicroScale sets and Italeri kit decals from an F-5B), and decals really do go down very well over Pledge Acrylic Floor Finish-on-AlClad II. The turned brass pitot tube and cannon barrels are Master from Poland, the resin ejection seat is Squadron Tru-Details, all airbrushed color paints are Testors Model Master, and all hand brushed paints are Humbrol. The final overall clear finish is a custom mix of Testors Flat and Semi-gloss lacquers.

Unfortunately, I managed to completely install the main wheels, landing gear struts and wheel doors into the wheel wells, before  I spotted that the wheels/tires were facing inward toward each other, rather than outward, as per the real thing. In too big a hurry/overconfident I knew what-was-what, I imagine. I had to oh-so-carefully micro-saw each strut and wheel off just below the oleo, and fashion new pieces from Evergreen styrene strip to make up the difference. I strengthened these joints with .015" brass wire rods set in holes drilled in the tires and strut stumps (I managed to superglue one wheel to my finger, and all of the paint on one side of that tire came off on my fingertip).

In the end, it all worked out well enough, although my original ambition to immediately build an identical-but-sleeker F-5A on an in-flight stand, with a pilot in the cockpit, area-rule wing tip fuel tanks, no ordinance hanging down, and the landing gear tucked up, has quickly subsided. Maybe someday, but for now, the next subject will not be natural metal finish. Maybe a model of a carrot, say, or of a ball point pen. Something not metallic. (As you can see from the posting above, I finished F-5A Freedom Fighter version 3.0 two months later.)

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images:

* As Inigo Montoya says to Wesley in "The Princess Bride"

USN Vought F7U-3M Cutlass (1954 - 1957)

USN Vought F7U-3M Cutlass (Google)

The Vought F7U-3M Cutlass was a US Navy carrier-based day fighter of radical design but poor performance. This elegant, futuristic-looking jet first flew in 1948, but served the US Navy only from 1954 to 1959, primarily because of being chronically underpowered by the jet engines available at that time. Vought built 320 Cutlasses, including a dozen photo-reconnaissance aircraft, and although the pilots who flew the Cutlass considered it stable, nimble, maneuverable and sturdy, 78 Cutlasses (25%) were lost to accidents, driving its short service life. 

The Cutlass was 41 feet 4" long, 14 feet tall, had a wingspan of 39 feet 8 inches, weighed 18,210 pounds empty and 26,840 pounds fully loaded. Maximum speed was 697 miles per hour, combat range was 800 miles, and service ceiling was 40, 600 feet. Armament for the Cutlass was four 20mm cannons and four Sparrow I radar-beam riding missiles. (Wikipedia, Bill Walton)

Fujimi Vought F7U-3M Cutlass

After struggling with the fit problems and poor engineering of the Italeri B-58A model, I wanted to enjoy building a high-quality, well-fitting, well designed kit, from the short list of subjects I plan to build sooner, rather than later. (One thousand kits in the stash, and maybe 25 years to build some of them; you have to prioritize...)

From that list I chose this Fujimi kit of the Vought F7U-3M Cutlass to build next. While it was high-quality and generally well-fitting, it still had some challenges, mostly in the minimal engineering provided to attach the landing gear bay doors to the aircraft, and in the joints between the front fuselage, the engine intakes and the main fuselage/wings. Still, I did appreciate that Fujimi included intake trunking from the engine inlets back to a pair of engine fans, even though these are impossible to see in the finished model.

A Squadron Tru-Details resin ejection seat was added to the cockpit, along with film instrument panels, and a clear acetate reflector gun sight. The snazzy needle-nosed early version Sparrow air-to-air missiles were included in the kit. 

Having finally figured out which paints to use to achieve the 1960s USN Gull Grey-on-White camouflage, I had no trouble with the painting of the model, but I tried something a little different: I completely masked the unpainted top surfaces of the model with Tamiya Kabuki tape, before I applied the Tamiya acrylic Flat White to the underside of the model. This masking blocked the usually grainy overspray on the plastic surfaces past the edges of the white paint, those areas of the model that will receive the next color. Once the Flat White was applied and had dried, I removed the upper masking, and then applied new masking to the white undersurfaces. This was tedious, but I had the hard edge of the white paint to guide where the new masking tape went.

After airbrushing the upper surfaces with Testors Model Master FS36440 Flat Gull Grey, I masked and airbrushed the other required colors. Pledge Clear Acrylic Floor Finish was applied to receive the decals, which have their own, sordid little secret: None of the kit decals could be used (too yellowed with age), so I had to cobble together a bogus set of markings from a set of Microscale decals for natural metal F7U Cutlasses. Call it artistic license, but as far as I know, this particular camouflaged F7U-3M Cutlass, from VF124, coded G202 never existed. I used Testors Clear Semi-Gloss Lacquer for the final coat.

Click on the thumbnails below to see the larger images:

USAF Convair B-58A Hustler (1960 - 1970)

Convair B-58A Hustler (USAF via Google)

The Convair B-58A Hustler was the first production bomber in the world capable of Mach 2 flight (twice the speed of sound). Design work began in 1949, and the first flight was in 1956. To minimize the size and weight of the aircraft and thereby maximize its range and speed, the fuel and bomb load was carried in a variety of exterior pods, jettisoned once the mission was completed. 

Convair produced 116 Hustlers, and the B-58 was operational in two wings of the Strategic Air Command from 1960 to 1970. Although the B-58 set many speed and distance records, it was exceptionally expensive to operate, short-ranged (after the plane was retired, B-58 crews quietly acknowledged that their nuclear mission was a one-way trip) and ultimately rendered too vulnerable by advances in USSR anti-aircraft missile technology.

The B-58 was 96 feet 10 inches long, 29 feet 11 inches tall, had a wing-span of 56 feet 9 inches, weighed 55,542 pounds empty and 176,890 at maximum load. Top speed was 1,319 miles per hour at 40,000 feet, combat radius of 1,740 miles, and service ceiling of 63,400 feet. The B-58 was armed with one five-barreled 20mm cannon for self defense and up to four nuclear bombs. (Squadron In Action, Wikipedia) 

Italeri B-58A Hustler 

This Italeri kit of a Convair B-58A Hustler was my second serious attempt at a model with a natural metal finish (NMF). I had a very steep learning curve on this model, and while it turned out okay, I consider it the first "four-footer"* I have built in decades. The Italeri kit was just acceptable (and the only kit in 1/72 scale), with some serious fit challenges at the wing roots, crew hatches and engine pylons. In fact, my first assembly of the wings to the fuselage revealed one wing which curved upward, slightly, and the other wing curved down, slightly. After discarding the curved wings, I did a much more careful job of assembling a second set of wings, which explains the two-tone plastic in the photos, below:

* I met a fellow modeler at an IPMS contest, who was kind enough to say generous things about a model of mine on the display table. After thanking him for his compliments, I asked him what kind of models he built, and he replied "Four-footers." I asked him what was a "four-footer," and he said "It's a model that looks good from four feet away, but doesn't stand up to close inspection."

To achieve the NMF, I tried a product called AlClad, a lacquer paint with finely ground, real aluminum powder that creates the appearance of natural metal. I assumed applying this lacquer successfully would require some practice, and so I did, on some leftover wings from an Italeri B-66. Following the instructions of the AlClad products, I tried both the AlClad black primer and the AlClad gloss black base, but failed miserably with both. So, against the advice on the AlClad bottle labels, I applied three different shades of AlClad aluminum lacquer directly to more spare B-66 wings, and was pleased with how good I thought it looked. I then applied Johnsons Acrylic Floor Finish to the test wings, followed by MicroScale decals, more Johnsons AFF, and finally I tried Testors Clear Semi-Gloss Lacquer as the top coat. (I thought the Semi-Gloss was a perfect compromise between the too-shiny Johnsons AFF and the too matt Testors Clear Flat Lacquer.) With all of this careful experimenting successfully completed, I tackled the B-58.

Alas, I had a lot more to learn about using AlClad. I had carefully followed the AlClad directions to sand, buff and polish the kit surfaces to a mirror-like finish (see photos above), because even the finest of tiny scratches on the plastic will scream out loudly under the aluminum finish (so true!) The manufacturer was also serious about the need for a primer between the kit plastic and the AlClad lacquer: the lacquer vehicle that carries the aluminum powder to the styrene surfaces is a strong solvent, and will easily craze (finely etch and distort the styrene surface) if applied too wetly. Fortunately, I had started painting the B-58 on the undersurfaces, where I quickly discovered the problem with crazing. I then proceeded to very slowly and patiently apply many very thin coats of AlClad to the upper surfaces, until I eventually achieved an opaque finish. Naturally, I will never show anyone the underside of this particular model.

One tremendous advantage of the AlClad products that I discovered building this model was that this metallic lacquer is very tough, and accepts Tamiya masking tape very easily; removing the masking does not remove any of the AlClad finish. (This has not been true for any of the other metallic finishes I have tried.) Another advantage to the AlClad finishes on the polished plastic surfaces was that once the Johnsons AFF was applied, it formed a glassy surface that readily accepted some ancient MicroScale B-58 decals, with zero silvering. 

Following the B-58 photo references I consulted, I masked and painted different areas of the model with different shades of AlClad. Other colors were Testors Model Master enamels. Largely invisible (but I know it's there) is a very detailed set of three, pre-colored, photo-etched cockpits by Eduard. Masking for the tires and transparencies was also by Eduard, and the brass pitot probe at the nose was by Master aftermarket products. The engine fans at the engine fronts and tailcones at the engine rears were Aires resin and photo etch. The removable, massive, bomb and fuel pod under the fuselage is held in place by magnets imbedded into both the fuselage and the pod, a trick I learned on the internet.

So, in conclusion, a very useful learning experience, resulting in a flawed but passable model. Better results next time, I hope, perhaps on a NMF F-100 Super Saber or an F-105 Thunderchief. Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

Postscript: I reordered the sequence of images to make the with-and-without bomb pod more immediatey visible, and seeing these images on the website, I like how the model looks much better, but in person, it's still a four-footer.


USN Douglas F4D Skyray (1960s)

Douglas F4D Skyray US Navy carrier-based interceptor (Google)

The Douglas F4D Skyray was a supersonic US Navy interceptor-fighter jet whose design was based in part on captured World War II German research and wind tunnel data for tailless aircraft. First flight was in 1951, and the production versions of the F4D served from 1956 to 1964. Its single mission was to quickly intercept enemy bombers attempting to attack aircraft carriers, and the Skyray's phenomenal climb rate made it well suited for this task. 

The F4D was 45 feet 3 inches long, 13 feet tall, had a wing-span of 33 feet 6 inches, an empty weight of 16,024 pounds, a maximum loaded weight of 27,116 pounds, a top speed of 722 miles per hour, a combat range of 610 miles, and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet. Armament consisted at first of four 20mm cannons, lated replaced with four Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. (Ginter, Wikipedia)

Tamiya Douglas F4D Skyray 

This Tamiya kit of the Douglas F4D Skyray was a high-quality, well-detailed, well-engineered and tight fitting model, assembled almost entirely OOB (out-of-the-box). I enjoyed building it, despite having some trouble with my fingers maintaining a grip on the parts during assembly. I think this is due to aging, and is something of a dismaying surprise.

The only modifications I made were to add a Squadron Tru-Details resin ejection seat, with Eduard pre-painted photo-etched ejection handles, and to cover over the 20mm cannon ports on the undersides of the wings, per US Navy practice once the main armament for Skyrays became Sidewinder air-to-air heat-seeking missiles.

As with the Mosquito 3.0, I used the Tamiya kit decals, with pretty good success, although getting the y-shaped engine intake warning decals to wrap around the compound curves of the intakes was a challenge. Otherwise, the kit decals went on the clear and very glossy Pledge Acylic Floor Finish quite well, with minimal silvering. The paint was my now standard Testors Model Master enamels, including the white undersides, but I think on my next US Navy jet, I will go back to Tamiya flat white acylic. Flat overcoat was Testors Clear Flat Lacquer, which I finally seem to be able to apply with just enough lacquer thinner in the airbrush mix to avoid the chalky finish I had been getting in the past.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images:

USAF Fairchild N/AW A-10 Thunderbolt II (1979)

Fairchild Republic designed and manufactured the A-10A Thunderbolt II (better known as the Warthog) in the 1970s. One A-10A was converted by Fairchild into a prototype two-seat N/AW A-10A (Night/Adverse Weather), in an attempt to interest the USAF in an all-weather/night capable version of the otherwise daytime-only A-10A. The USAF decided to go with the two-seat F-15E Strike Eagle instead, and eventually A-10As were equipped with GPS and inertial navigation aids, FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) targeting pods and night vision goggles for the pilots, to achieve night/adverse weather capabilities. The sole N/AW A-10A was used for testing until it was eventually put on display at Edwards Air Force Base. (Squadron/Signal; DeMaio)

Fairchild Republic N/AW A-10A prototype (Google)

Trumpeter N/AW A-10A modified to represent projected A-10B if it had been ordered

This Trumpeter kit depicted the sole N/AW A-10A aircraft as it appeared during its flight testing in 1979. In the early 1980s, I started a feeble conversion of a Monogram A-10A into an N/AW A-10A, but was limited by my novice scratchbuilding skills and the challenge of the required two-seat canopy. In about 2016 or so, this Trumpeter kit became available and I started it with great enthusiasm. However, dissatisfaction with the sparsity of both surface detail and cockpit detail, along with a sense that something was off about the scribing of the canopy framing, caused the model to languish on the Shelf of Forgotten Models.

However, eventually several factors combined to resurrect interest in the project. First, I bought a set of Wolfpak decals for modern TAC aircraft that included an A-10A in FS 36118 Gunship Grey, the color the N/AW A10-A was painted. Second, Hasegawa released several accessory sets of USAF state-of-the-art precision-guided bombs. Third, I bought a book called Modern Air-Launched Weapons, which contained illustrations of said high tech bombs arrayed on A-10s. And last, I remembered an old reference booklet I had owned for about forty years on the A-10, by Robert DeMaio, that mentioned and illustrated the proposed alterations to the two-seat N/AW A-10A prototype, had the A-10B been ordered by the USAF, including a clam-shell canopy over the two crewmen; see below:


Illustration from Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II by Robert DeMaio, 1981

Armed with all this input, I decided to build the Trumpeter kit as if the USAF had ordered the A-10B: I sanded off the too-massive canopy scribing and polished the canopy in preparation of masking for the clamshell canopy. I hijacked the Wolfpak decals for the Gunship Grey A-10A, imagining this USAF unit could have operated the A-10B just as easily. I selected from the Hasegawa bombs and missiles kits the mix of weapons designated for an "infrastructure strike", according to the Modern Air-Launched Weapons book. And I added the extensions to the landing gear/wheel sponsons, per the DeMaio book, for the terrain-following radar in the left sponson, and the FLIR/laser targeting designator on the right sponson.

The Trumpeter kit was very easy to build, since it was designed to be assembled and painted in a Trumpeter factory, to be sold as a ready-built model. Shortcuts in the kit's design for the ready-built market made for incomplete or inaccurate details; I added or changed what I could and lived with what I couldn't or wouldn't fix. I added resin ejection seats by Tru-Details, a turned brass GAU-8 Avenger cannon muzzle by Master Model and resin engine intakes by QuickBoost. Some other details were borrowed from a spare Hasegawa kit of an A-10A. Most of the paint was Testors Model Master, lightened with flat white for scale effect, with Humbrol paint for some of the details. The decals were the afore-mentioned Wolfpak decals, which gave me a lot of trouble with silvering, despite the use of a heavy gloss coat of Future Acrylic Floor Finish, plus various decal preps, solvents and mediums. Flat finish was Testors Clear Flat Lacquer.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images.  

Scale 1/72

Email: AtomicCannon(at)embarqmail(dot)com