Airfix re-released its multi-variant 1:72 scale U-2 kit in 2005. It includes parts for А, С and D versions of the legendary spyplane and Keith Peckover chose the U-2D for his project.
On 1 May 1960 a U-2 was shot down near Sverdlovsk, deep within the Soviet LInion, bringing to an end a series of flights that commenced in 1956. The rest is history, but a history that is still being written because, 51 years after its first flight, the U-2 is still going strong, albeit in the form of a second-generation, re-engined and larger derivative (see SAM Volume 23, Issue 5).
One of the notable things about the U-2, especially in view of the small quantity manufactured, is the number of different configurations that have existed. Ian Allan’s Lockheed Blackbirds has drawings of no fewer than 44 variants of the first-generation aircraft.
The perceived military capabilities of the Soviet Union dominated the thinking and actions of Western military and intelligence services for 45 years. One way of gaining an insight into the country’s capabilities was through aerial reconnaissance, and overflights were undertaken by a variety of types, including the Canberra, RB-45 and RB-47. Generally these aircraft did not penetrate too far into Soviet airspace. To find out what was happening
The Airfix kit has decals and optional parts for three distinct versions: a slipper tank-fitted U-2A of the 11SAF, a NASA U-2C fitted with tanks and a full length dorsal spine and the IISAF LI-2D that I chose to make. II-2D was a designation retrospectively applied to three U-2As modified under Project Smokey Joe. These aircraft carried an infra-red (IR) sensor and conducted research into the detection of bombers and ballistic missiles. Two of the aircraft (56-6721 and 56-6954) were modified to provide accommodation for a sensor operator, the third aircraft, 56-6722, remained a single-seater.
Construction: general comments
Airfix re-released its first-generation U-2 kit during 2005. At first sight it is rather basic, with raised panel lines, limited cockpit detail and even the company’s traditional pilot with his arms by his side; does he ever switch off the autopilot? These matters should not be allowed to put anyone off, however, since it has the makings of a fine replica of the original. Parts are provided for the two-seat U-2D configuration, but the decal sheet covers the single-seater. Unfortunately I did not become aware of this discrepancy until after the fuselage was assembled, but a small change to the fin decals overcame the problem.
As may be expected the kit has few components, is simple to make and, on the whole, its parts fitted reasonably well. Unsurprisingly though, some filler was needed. This was mainly at the intake to fuselage joints and at the inset panel on the port side of the fin. The raised panel lines were removed and replaced with engraved lines.
A decal is provided for the instrument panel and, except for using a single replacement ejection seat, the cockpits were built straight from the box. An Aeroclub seat (FJ031), to which seat belts made from thin sheet metal were added, was fitted in the pilot’s cockpit. The kit seat was used for the rear cockpit without any embellishment. This approach may be questioned, but given the strictly limited view of the interior that exists, I feel it is acceptable. The transparencies, even though nearly 1.5 mm thick, are remarkably clear and distortion free.
The IR sensor turret is moulded integrally with the cover for the second cockpit. A comparison of the turret shown in my references with that on the kit showed that a little scratch building was needed. The replacement turret was made from aluminium tube and rod since I had material of the correct size to hand, but plastic would have been just as good. The fairing aft of the turret was insufficiently high and was built up with Milliput. A before and after comparison is shown in Photos 1 and 2.
The Q-bay lower panel is a separate part that does not fit well and had to be shimmed with plastic card to make it sit flush with the fuselage underside. Gaps also existed between the front and rear bulkheads of the main gear bay and fuselage, that did not lend themselves to treatment with filler. To overcome this 10-thou plastic card was inserted, superglued in place and then cut down (Photo 3). An inlet was formed in the fairing on the lower starboard fuselage side (Photo 4).
The tailpipe is moulded as part of the rear fuselage fairing, giving the appearance that the tailpipe and fuselage are joined. Having yet to see an aircraft where this condition exists, I inserted a short length of aluminium tube into the rear fuselage (Photo 5). Due to the taper in the tailpipe the tube had to be shorter than I would have liked, but this is not too readily apparent post painting.
The rudder trim tab incorrectly extends to the bottom of the fin and was trimmed.
On the wingtip skids there are several raised areas that do not equate to anything visible in my reference photographs. All, except for one that I took to represent a navigation light, were therefore sanded off (Photo 6). On the port wing, a gap wider than that on the starboard wing existed between the flap and the inset undersurface panel. It was filled with a length of 10-thou plastic strip (Photo 7), this being attached by running thin superglue along the joint between the strip and the fixed wing section.
There are cut-outs on the leading edge for the slipper tanks used on the A and С models. Inserts are provided to fill these for the D version, but on the starboard wing a large gap was left. This was filled with a 40-thou plastic card insert (Photo 8). On the port wing, plastic card was glued in place between the upper and lower wing panels in order to prevent flexing when the filler used in the joints was sanded. The outboard end of the ailerons has a radius instead of being square and does not quite extend to the wingtips. This was corrected by attaching pieces of plastic card (Photo 9).
Although the U-2 has little in the way of undercarriage, some work was needed. The tail wheel and pogos each have twin wheels, but the kit parts have an unrealistic single, wide wheel (Photo 10). A little work with needle files corrected this (Photo 11).
The main gear doors, which are moulded integrally with the gear bay, are much too thick and were thinned down until a more realistic appearance was achieved. In addition, when a IJ-2 is viewed from the side, links can be seen between the apex of the anti-torque link and the doors; these are part of the door operating mechanism. I replaced the existing anti-torque link with thin sheet metal and fashioned a representation of the linkage from wire and stretched sprue (Photo 12). Photographs in my references were of little help here and detailed walka-round photos of the LI-2 on the Internet could not be found, so the result is probably inaccurate. However, when the model is viewed from the side a link may be seen and to me that is what matters.
Painting and decaling
Apart from its unusual appearance given by the IR turret and fairing, the other thing that led me to making a U-2D was its combination of matt black and natural metal finish. There were no photographs of 56-6721 in my references, so I assumed that it was painted in the same way as its sister aircraft. A couple of coats of Alclad primer were applied and the natural metal areas then sprayed in Alclad Aluminium. On the underside, some panels were painted in Alclad White Aluminium, and some in Humbrol Metalcote polished or matt Aluminium, to add a little variation. The black areas were sprayed with Humbrol gloss black. Sprayed blank decal film was used for the brown panels on the nose and fuselage underside.
I am always cautious about kit decals and especially so in this case, given my limited experience of Airfix kits. The US national markings were unusable owing to their red bars being way off centre. They were replaced with Superscale items, as were the underwing ‘USAF’ titles and rear fuselage lettering. There was no choice but to use the kit upperwing white ‘USAF’. I expected to have to overlay this with white decal stripe in order to prevent the underlying black showing through, however, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed at how opaque it was. The decal film did show, however, but this was not due to trapped air and it became invisible when sprayed with Humbrol gloss varnish. This was an unexpected bonus because the reason for applying varnish was to protect the decal before applying two small white patches where its edges were slightly ragged. Each wing’s walkway markings are provided on a single large decal, but they were not used owing to their vast area of film. Xtradecal white stripes were used instead.
The fin markings looked fine until they were taken off the backing paper, when white strips became visible along the edges of the blue flash. This meant that some emergency trimming of the wet decal with a broad chisel blade was necessary. Now aware of the problem, 1 trimmed the second one before immersing it in water. The offending strips within the area of the serial number were covered with small pieces of silver stripe decal.
To correct the single-seat/two-seat anomaly, all that was needed was to change the final digit of the serial number on the fin from ‘2’ to ‘1’. This was simple on the starboard side, where the character stood alone, but slightly less straightforward on the port side, because the ‘2’ partially overlaid the blue flash. To cover the top left corner of the ‘2’ that remained, a small piece was cut from the blue circle section of one of the kit national markings and applied, fortunately the shades of blue are similar.
Polyscale varnish mixed in a 75:25 matt:satin ratio was sprayed over the black areas and gloss I lumbrol varnish over the natural metal areas. This was done both to seal the decals and to protect the 1 lumbrol Metalcote areas, which experience has shown to be susceptible to becoming dull over time unless protected. The underside of the fairing above the tailpipe and adjacent rear fuselage area was given a light coating of Tamiya Smoke.
Although this kit is not to the standard we have come to expect in recent years, any additional detail in the cockpit, or recessed panel lines, would have added little to the finished result. A check of span and length show them to be spot on and the wings have a realistic droop. This Airfix product may be made into a realistic representation of this most interesting and significant aircraft.
Kit: de Havilland Sea Vampire T. Mk 22 Scale: 1:72 Kit type: Resin Decal options: (five) XC760/981-LM, Station Flight, Lossiemouth, 1962; ‘599-HF’, No. 750 NAS, FAA, Hal Far, Malta, 1965; XA126/557-BY, No. 727 NAS, FAA, Brawdy, 1963; XA160, Admiral’s Barge, Lee-on-Solent, 10 August 1963; XG775/VL Admiral’s Barge, Station Flight, Yeovilton, 9 September 1967 UK price: £24.70
OMR’s Sea Vampire is cast in the company’s usual cream-coloured resin, and features finely recessed surface detail. In fact, the quality is fantastic, and has to be seen to be fully appreciated. The whole wing is cast along with the lower half of the full length of the fuselage. The joint line between the upper and lower portions of the fuselage follows the line of the upper wing surface at the rear of the aircraft, and at the forward end follows the line formed by the lower edge of the nose cone. The intakes on each side of the fuselage are cast as separate items, and require scratch-built splitter plates to detail their openings. Scale drawings and dimensions are provided.
The interior of the nose is fully detailed, and can be displayed by separating the cover from the remainder of the upper fuselage casting. Details are provided in order to display the open nose cone at the correct angle. The details inside the nose will certainly repay the effort spent in careful painting, applying of washes, etc. There’s a separate instrument panel, with raised detail, as well as separate rudder pedals, control columns, throttles and gun-sights, and a pair of seats with integrally cast harnesses. The cockpit area is complemented by sidewall detail. There’s a lot, actually, to fit into such a small space. The exhaust outlet is trapped in place when the upper and lower fuselage halves are brought together.
On the review model, the upper fuselage decking was very reluctant to sit in its proper place towards its forward end, showing a distinct tendency to mimic the appearance of an opened jawed creature. However, it was persuaded to comply with what modelling had intended it for by the application of heat and gentle coaxing, until superglue could be used to hold everything together. On reflection, perhaps it would have been easier, and more effective, had I displayed the nose cone open! This, though, would have left me with a tail-sitting model. As it was, I crammed as much weight as I could into what little space can be found within the nose. Sadly, I had to sacrifice some of that lovely detail in order to fit sufficient ballast. A touch of filler was needed to hide the fuselage joint, with the surface detail which it obliterated being re-scribed after sanding.
The twin booms and horizontal tail surfaces are cast independently of each other. A jig of some sort is essential in order that the booms are correctly aligned in relation to the fuselage while the glue sets.
There are separate flaps and airbrakes, both of which can be positioned either deployed or retracted. The undercarriage is great, with lovely detail on the wheel hubs, inside the undercarriage doors, and on the wheel wells too. A pair of underwing pylons and tanks is also included. The canopy is vac-formed, and as now appears to be the norm, two copies are provided.
Five aircraft are shown on the painting guide. Of these, three are aluminium overall, with various areas of fluorescent red-orange. The fourth sports an attractive finish of white undersurfaces and glossy Sea Blue uppers, and is in fact XG775 from Yeovilton in 1967. The finish that caught my eye, however, was that of XA160, from Lee-On-Solent in August 1963, which had white undersurfaces and Emerald Green uppers. Sufficient stencils are provided for one complete aircraft, while the roundels, etc, are beautifully printed with excellent colour density. No problems were encountered during decal application.
Previous experience is a must for anyone who intends to have a go at this kit, but the end result will repay the work that’s put into it.
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