Heller/Revell AT-6D Biplane (conversion)
KIT #:  079/04639
DECALS: Two/Three options
REVIEWER: Brian Baker
NOTES: Conversion using both kits


 Although the AT-6 “Texan” advanced trainer was widely used during World War II, it is not so well known that they type continued in American and foreign service long after the  end of the war, and then became sought after collectors’ items when they were finally removed from the USAF and USN inventories during the late fifties. In fact, in the late forties, many early model civilian-owned AT-6’s were repurchased by North American and rebuilt to T-6G/SNJ-6 standard for USAF and US Navy use in the fifties.   Many were to be seen on airports during the late fifties and sixties  with military markings painted over and spray can “N” numbers scrawled on the fuselage sides.  Some were used for skywriting,  racing,  and for other specialized purposes, and a few were repainted in military markings and flown as “warbirds”, with most flying examples falling into that category today.  While many surplus types, including Stearmans, Navy N3N’s, and BT-13’s, were used for agricultural flying,  only a few AT-6’s were converted for this purpose, including one  ( T-6G, N9604C) that I recall back in the 1960’s at a local Phoenix  airport, which was modified by the removal of the front cockpit and replacement with a spray tank.  This particular example was never actually used as a sprayer to my knowledge, and I understand that it was later reconverted back to two seat form, in which it is reportedly still flying as N51KT

Another more bizarre AT-6 conversion that I became aware of recently, the biplane conversion, was rebuilt in Selma, Alabama, by R.C. Stroop, for use as a sprayer.  On an agplane website, I recently acquired three photos of the plane, apparently taken just after the conversion was completed, but before any spraying equipment was installed.    This is where having a good library really pays off, as a check of the US Civil Register on-line shows that number currently assigned to a Cessna 172. This is common, as when aircraft are scrapped and registrations are cancelled, the numbers are thrown back into the FAA’s “open file” when they are reassigned to other aircraft.  Years ago, I began collecting paper copies and Microfische disks of the FAA’s US Civil registers, and my 1963 and 1964 issues. Along with the Warbirds Guide,  listed this aircraft, N6435D, as c/n 88-17079, an AT-6D originally ordered by the Army as 42-85295, but later assigned to the Navy as SNJ-5, B/N 84995.  It was probably retired from the Navy in the mid fifties, stored at NAF Litchfield Park, and then sold as surplus in the late fifties.  The conversion probably occurred about 1964, and the airplane is also listed in as being active between 1965 and 1970, when it disappears from sight.  Late in its career, it was sold to a J.F. Carter, of Monroeville, AL, who used it for agricultural operations.  Having a “Restricted” category license, it could be flown for spraying only, a common situation for agplanes. 

The airplane retained the basic configuration of the AT-6D, with only the cockpit and addition of the upper wing changing its appearance.  The additional wing consisted of two outer wing panels from another airplane, and enough struts to stabilize the structure.  The wing produced a negative stagger, much like a Beech D-17S, probably to move the CG back so that the spray tank could be made larger, and a heavier load could be carried.  Cabane struts braced the center section, and large “N” struts were installed outboard.  Ailerons were interconnected by a smaller strut, and some bracing wires were installed between the cabane struts.  There were no landing gear doors, and the cockpit was completely open except for the standard windshield.  Only the front seat remained. The entire airplane looks fairly weatherbeaten, with an OD anti-glare which is badly chipped, and a very faded “N6435D” on the rear fuselage side.  At that time, although not visible in the photos, the plane would have only had a fuselage number, with no other markings on the wings or anywhere else, although there is a hint of a small “Restricted” underneath the cockpit window, which would be regulation for this aircraft. The entire airplane is silver or unpainted.  It truly looks like a working airplane.

My source of information on the airplane comes from a set of three black and white photos of the airplane, showing the plane from the front, side, and rear.  Years ago,  most airplane photographers would shoot three to five views of each airplane, and whoever shot these certainly was helpful in providing the modeler with enough information for a good conversion. 


No information provided. Check the Preview Archives on the basic kit. 


Although I became aware of another conversion of an AT-6 kit in 1/72 scale after I started the preparation process, I decided to do my research independently.  It started with constructing a 1/72 scale drawing of the aircraft.  I have a set of 1/72 scale three views of the AT-6, so I cut and pasted to the point that a reasonably accurate drawing was made.  This was helpful mainly in getting the wing in the proper location, as mounting the wing was probably the most difficult part of the conversion.  Mounting positions of the struts were located on the drawings using the photos as a guide.  The photos and three view were used throughout the building process to avoid guesswork.

 I used the Heller kit mainly because I had two of them available, and they are basically accurate although somewhat dated with raised panel lines. The major problems with the kit involve poor fit in the wing-fuselage assembly, with the center section part requiring some extreme trimming to get it to fit.  The cowling requires a lot of work, and the raised panel lines need to be sanded these down somewhat.   The engine is good, but doesn’t seem to fit very well inside the cowling.  The wings do not have enough dihedral, and this is obvious even in the photo on the instruction sheet, although this is easily correctable.  This is an old kit, but with some effort it can be salvaged.

I detailed the cockpit with sidewall details, using the excellent seat, control stick, and instrument panel. The  cowling, however, were hopeless, so I substituted one from an old Hawk kit, which looks very good. The prop is OK, but I substituted a better one from the spares box, although  I’m not sure what kit it came from.  I painted the insides in “interior green”, leaving the rear cockpit section open.  I did use the small bulkhead that the kit provides, although I don’t have photographic proof of its existence either way. However, the wing obscures most of the rear cockpit anyway, so it is not really an issue. I did use the front windshield, cutting it off from the entire canopy unit, and installed it after painting the antiglare olive drab.  Quite a bit of filler was required, and some trimming was needed to remove the mounting lugs for the rocket racks on the undersides of the wings. 

Once the basic airframe was assembled, filled, and painted, it was time to attach the upper wing.  I marked the points where the struts attached, and drilled small holes as anchor points. I had planned to use Tenax, but ended up using small spots of super glue, as this makes, I believe, a stronger structure.

I didn’t have any specialized strut material, so I used plastic rod of the correct size.  Cutting the cabane struts to size, and measuring them with dividers, I attached these to the fuselage in the proper locations, allowing them to set up.  Since the airplane retained its roll bar behind the pilot’s seat, I used that as a sort of measure to help stabilize the whole structure.  I then attached the forward cabane struts, and after letting the whole thing set up overnight, I began on the outboard “N” struts.  These I cut to length and fitted individually, a tedious trial-and-error process. But with the mounting holes drilled, it was really fairly easy.  The aileron rods were also installed, but as the photos show some kind of fixture on both upper and lower ailerons, I added these first and then glued the connecting struts in place.

 Once the upper wing panels were installed, I glued on the engine cowling and exhaust stack from the kit, and then attached the landing gear.  There were a couple of other small parts to attach, including a small part connecting the leading edge of the upper wing to the windshield, and, of course, the pitot tube, which broke off during assembly.


  After a last coat of silver, I removed the masking tape from the landing lights, as they show as being retained, although I can’t imagine that they were actually hooked up. I then made the decal license numbers on my computer, spray coated them after they dried, and  applied them to the fuselage sides. Also, I used decal stock to represent the wing walks, which were black and quite worn.  


Then I attached the bracing wires to the fuselage, and the project was complete.


 If I were to do this over again, I would probably want to use a couple of Academy kits.  For consistency, I wouldn’t mix kits, but that would work.  Using the Hawk cowling solved the main problem of the Heller kit, the marginal cowling.   Some strut material probably would have also helped, but I’m basically satisfied with the results using rod stock for struts.  Using older and available kits makes this kind of conversion project fun, and if you screw it up, it wasn’t very expensive.  Try this sometime—it is a lot of fun, and it is guaranteed to tax your skills.

August 2011

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