Trumpeter 1/32 F-100D Super Sabre

KIT #: 2232
PRICE: $159.00 DSRP
DECALS: Three Options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


     A clear spring dawn over the California high desert is always spectacular, as the sun rises out of the Sonoran Desert to the east and the deep clear blue of the sky becomes progressively more visible.  So it must have been on the morning of May 25, 1953, when two pilots approached the aircraft they were to fly that morning, parked on the ramp at the Air Force Flight Test Center, otherwise known as Edwards AFB.

      The smaller of the two airplanes was well-known - a North American F-86D Sabre.  The hulking monster sitting next to it, also a product of North American Aviation, made the Sabre look small when its aluminum skin glittered in the early dawn light.  As they approached their airplanes, North American Chief Test Pilot George Welch turned to his “chase” pilot, AFFTC Commander LCOL Frank K. “Pete” Everest, and bet him two beers that they’d “do it” that morning, on the new airplane’s first flight.

      Everest strapped into his Sabre as he watched Welch - the man who had shot down four Japanese aircraft over Pearl Harbor and was unofficially the first pilot to fly faster than sound when he dove the XP-86 Sabre on its maiden flight on an October morning five years previous - climb into the monster. 

      At the end of the runway, the two jets pulled out onto the long dry lake - the longest, widest runway in North America - and accelerated.  Everest became the first human to see the gout of flame with the diamond shock waves spout from the exhaust of Welch’s airplane as he hit the afterburner and soared into the desert sky, climbing like the proverbial homesick angel and leaving Everest far behind in his Sabre, even using full afterburner.

      Twenty minutes later, Everest had finally caught up with his charge and the two airplanes were high in the sunlit sky over Edwards at 35,000 feet.  Everest was using afterburner in his Dog Sabre just to keep station with the big arrow-shaped fighter at his 10 o’clock low.

      “Hang on, here we go.”  Welch’s voice echoed in Everest’s headset.

      And then the gout of flame with the diamond-shaped shockwaves erupted again from the exhaust as the engine went from 9,870 pounds of thrust to 14,000 pounds in 20 seconds with a “whoomp!” so loud Everest could hear it through his canopy and helmet.  In less than a minute, the big silver airplane was out of sight in the deep blue sky.

      On the ground, the North American project engineers - and everyone else on base - heard the echoing explosion of a sonic boom from 7 miles overhead.

      George Welch didn’t have to dive his jet this time to go supersonic.  He did it in level flight.  The airplane he did it in was the North American YF-100.  That afternoon, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he did it again.  Operational supersonic jet-powered flight had arrived and aviation would never be the same.

      Everyone knew Welch had put the first Sabre through the “sound barrier” two weeks before Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1 into history.  What made Yeager’s flight epochal and Welch’s flight a footnote was that Yeager did it climbing.  The Bell X-1 was truly supersonic; the F-86 was a subsonic airplane that could “go supersonic” for a moment or two. 

      North American had been aware they were on the right path ever since Edgar Schmued had read the Messerschmitt research papers on swept wings in 1945.  No one at the plant down on the south side of Los Angeles Airport (where the LAX cargo port is in 2007) was surprised by Welch’s first flight in the Sabre - they knew what the equations on the blackboard said.

      North American first began thinking about making a supersonic fighter in 1948.  There were two ways to go at the time: a very big fighter powered by a very big engine, or Something Else, something only dimly seen at the time.  Being at that time the premiere fighter designers in the United States, Schmued and Chief Designer Raymond Rice were aesthetically  offended by a big airplane that wouldn’t be able to do what the P-51 and the F-86 were capable of in air combat.

      The engine would be key to whatever finally took to the sky as what everyone confidently knew would be the world’s first supersonic fighter.  By June 1948, the design team had determined that the optimum sweepback was 45 degrees, and the project became known within North American as the “Sabre-45.”  Had the project proceeded then, it would have probably been powered by the General Electric J53, which later provided 23,000 pounds’ thrust with afterburner.  North American at the time thought the best alternative light engine would be the afterburning J-40, a Navy design that ultimately proved to be one of the major disappointments of early jet engine development. 

      And then, in early 1949, Pratt and Whitney told them about the JT3, the engine that would prove to be the most significant gas turbine engine since Whittle’s W1.

      The JT3 was a jet development of what had begun life as the PT4 turboprop for the first design of the B-52, which was to be powered by four of them (like the Soviet “Bear”).  In its developed form as the J57, the engine would power the F-100, the F8U Crusader, and the F4D Skyray, as well as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 jetliners, with more than 21,000 of this magnificent engine produced.  It was light enough - and yet as strong as anything ever made by Pratt and Whitney - and would give a record of reliability second to none.

      With the specifications of the afterburning JT3 in hand, North American engineers looked at figures where the drag rise was well beyond Mach 1 and salivated at the thought.

      North American formally proposed a supersonic fighter in January 1949.  With a quick Air Force go-ahead, the program became official on February 3, 1949, though it was still essentially a company-funded program.  North America kept the name “Sabre” for its emotive value, despite the fact that it was obvious to everyone that the new design would have little to do with the airplane that preceded it.

      The F-100 was the first beneficiary of an industry-government alliance that provided more money for more basic aerodynamic research and advanced machine tool development than had been spent in all the previous years of flight since the Wright Brothers, in the quest to create operational supersonic flight.  Only a country which in 1950 produced 52 percent of the planetary Gross Economic Product could have done it while at the same time taking the German autobahns to their penultimate development in the Interstate Highway System while also creating the modern American middle class through the G.I. Bill.

      In April, 1949, North American built - with company funds - the first supersonic wind tunnel.  A development based on the German Kochel system (Edgar Schmued, who was conversant with all pre-war German aerodynamic research, and who didn’t have to wait for translations of what the company found in Germany in 1945, has to qualify as the single most cost-effective aircraft designer in history), the tunnel had a sphere of dry air exhausting through the working section into a vacuum chamber, with a peak attainable Mach number of 5.25. 

      The result of these wind tunnel tests was a radical redesign, with the very fortunate result that the horizontal stabilizer was pulled off the vertical fin and put where it belongs on a supersonic airplane: low on the fuselage.

      At the same time, Pratt and Whitney developed the variable nozzle for an afterburner.  This resulted in a reliable engine that never failed to ignite.  With this, Chief Designer Raymond Rice knew he could go supersonic.

      The Super Sabre could not have been created without the development of the physical industrial wherewithal to build supersonic airplanes.  The development of what came to be known as “The Century Series” called for advances in structures, materials and techniques, propulsion, systems, and aerodynamics that eclipsed everything that had gone before.  The bill for aerodynamic research alone for these aircraft was $375 million in 1950s dollars, which included the cost of the X-1 series, the X-2, X-3 and Skyrocket.  The cost of engine research and development was $280 million, again in 1950s dollars.  Between 1950-54, the Air Force spent $397 million on a heavy-press program for squeezing large light-alloy forgings that would have been otherwise constructed from many separate parts or sculptured from a solid slab by “hogging.” The result was lightweight single-piece aircraft skins that were popped out in minutes.   The money spent on radical new machine tools included $180 million for machines that could remove vast amounts of metal at high speed with extreme precision.  Automatic precision machinery for drilling, countersinking, dimpling, riveting, reaming, bolting and sealing, often doing five of these operations in sequence, was created - and all before computers.  At the same time, an brand-new industry to create 500-600 tons of wrought titanium a month was created, since supersonic fighters used this metal in considerable amounts.  Beyond that, hundreds of millions were spent on the development of electrical and hydraulic systems that could operate reliably after soaking at up to 300 degrees Celsius, along with a range of reliable miniaturized electronic devices that still used vacuum tubes (this being before the transistor revolution). 

      All in all, between 1950-55, the United States spent $2 billion (in contemporary dollars, remember), just to acquire the capability of producing supersonic fighters. Overall, in contemporary 2007 dollars, the creation of supersonic flight cost approximately $250 billion.  The only other program more expensive was the Manhattan Project.  Other than the Soviet Union - which accomplished the goal at an incalculable cost to the lives of its citizens - no other country could carry out such a program.      While the F-100 did not use all of this infrastructure, it paved the way for all that followed. 

     The Air Force was so hot to trot with the F-100 that Air Force pilots at the AFFTC - led by Everest - performed Phase II tests while the North American team was still doing Phase I testing.  The go-ahead for the production of 110 F-100As came 90 days after the first flight, and when the airplane was first publicly revealed in October 1953, the Secretary of the Air Force was proud to announce that the prototype the press was viewing was only the first of many.  On October 29, 1953, Everest held the second YF-100 150 feet off the deck at the Salton Sea to push the Super Sabre to a speed of 753 mph at sea level.  The airplane was seen as a winner by everyone.

      At this point, a major mistake was made.  In an attempt to lessen the wetted surface of the design, North American lowered the height of the vertical fin to a point just above the rudder. It was a momentous decision that would ultimately affect the way every supersonic airplane built since would be designed. 

     The F-100A was produced at a rate so fast that North American was running the production line on Christmas Day 1953. The hot new fighters were assigned to the 479th Day Fighter Wing at nearby George AFB, just southeast of Edwards in the high desert, and began entering service in the spring of 1954.  In the summer of 1954, the first unexplained loss occurred.  Within two months, four F-100s had crashed out of control.  Previously at the end of Phase II testing, Pete Everest and his team had previously identified an area of the flight envelope where dynamic coupling could occur, but it had been dismissed as something the average service pilot would never experience.  Given how new supersonic flight was, Everest had counseled delay in putting the airplane into service until this anomaly had been thoroughly checked out.  Inexplicably - and in contravention to every previous policy for introducing new technological breakthroughs - the Air Force allowed senior service pilots to fly the airplane and wring it out, and they all said the airplane was wonderful and Everest was wrong.  Everest nearly lost his career at this point for sticking to his guns on this no matter how he angered the top brass.

     At mid-day, October 12, 1954, George Welch took off from Edwards in F-100A FW-764, to fly the maximum structural test called for in the F-100 contractual specification, a Phase I test that should have been completed prior to any Phase II testing and long before the airplane was released to squadron service.  “Maximum structural test” means the traditional maximum velocity dive from altitude with a maximum performance pullout.  This flight was a repeat, since he had flown the test previously that morning, which involved a maximum-speed dive with a pullout reaching the limit load factor of 7.5 G., and hadn’t hit the numbers exactly.  At 1100, he called in to NAA Flight Test that he was over Rosamond and commencing the dive.  Two minutes later, radio contact was lost.  Palmdale Tower then informed the team that two parachutes had been spotted.  North American launched two Navions, which found the braking parachute of the F-100 trapped around the remains of the tail just before it struck the ground, with a dying Welch in the other as he hit the desert floor hard.

      The result of Welch’s crash was an investigation only rivaled by that of the Comet 1 crashes.  Fortunately, the airplane had been instrumented, and when the pieces were picked up from the desert floor, it was determined everything had been working perfectly until the airplane had exploded, as witnessed by the crew of a B-47 transiting the area.  The answer came with the discovery of a camera mounted in the fin that had kept running on inertia after it had lost power.  The film showed a sharp shadow of the fin and rudder racing across the right horizontal stabilizer.  Griffith Park Observatory provided the exact bearing and azimuth of the sun, from which it was possible to calculate that the airplane had yawed violently to the right, resulting in a supersonic sideslip that exceeded the design limit of the airframe.  This was confirmed by the discovery of the oscillograph.

      What was ultimately revealed was that, as Welch pulled harder on the stick, the F-100 yawed to the right, giving a vertical acceleration of 8Gs, which suddenly increased from 8 to 15 degrees right yaw, then stabilized, then went off the scale.  The airplane had been designed to survive an 8 degree yaw and 7Gs of side force.

      Essentially, what had happened was the airplane lost its directional control in the yaw.  Chuck Yeager once explained to me what happened to him in the X-1A, which was that the supersonic shock waves had blanked the small tail of the airplane, with the result that it acted like it had “lost its tail.”  In Welch’s attempted pullout, the short vertical fin of the F-100 had been blanked by the supersonic shock waves in the same way, resulting in a catastrophic loss of directional stability.

      And that, boys and girls, is why - ever after - all supersonic airplanes have had big tail surfaces.  Something has to stick out beyond the supersonic shock wave to keep everything going in the same direction.

      The F-100 was the only supersonic airplane that did not conform to the area rule.   The similarly-powered F8U Crusader, which fortuitously did conform to the yet-to-be-discovered area rule, was some 300 mph faster than the F-100 as a result.

      Within a year of Welch’s crash, the fully-capable F-100C arrived on the scene, with a tall vertical fin, followed shortly by the even-better F-100D, which became the most widely-produced sub-type.  The F-100 served out its life as a fighter-bomber, and saw more direct combat than any other member of the Century Series, including the F-105.  The airplane was the main jet fighter bomber used in South Vietnam between 1964-71, and served on with the Air National Guard until 1979.  The last F-100 did not leave service with the Turkish Air Force until 1984, 30 years after it had first appeared on the ramp at George AFB.  The 3,850 F-100s flew more combat hours than the 16,000 P-51s that had preceded them out the doors at North American.  In Vietnam, they maintained an 80% serviceability rate over 7 years’ service and flew 1.2 sorties per aircraft per day, a record no other Air Force Fighter of the time came close to. 

Ray Toliver:

      I think it is safe to say that if Raymond F. Toliver and his collaborator Trevor Constable had not published the aviation history books they did, there would be no “Luftwaffe modeling” today.  Through their books “Horrido” and “The Blond Knight of Germany,” Toliver and Constable rehabilitated the Luftwaffe aces in history, and demonstrated that their claims of victories in combat were factual - this in the face of a considerable body of opinion at the time that had gone out of its way to confuse the points system for awarding medals with the scoring system of recording kills.  Toliver’s other books on American aces, and his book “The Interrogator,” along with his biography of Adolph Galland, created a substantial body of work that has done much to clarify aviation history and cut through the mythology and the outright lies associated with too much of it.

      Born in Fort Collins, Colorado, Ray Toliver joined the Air Corps in 1937.  In 1940 he resigned his active commission and took a job with TWA as a pilot on DC-3s.  In early 1941, he went to work delivering aircraft from Canada to England.  He returned to active duty in the summer of 1941 and became a test pilot at Wright-Patterson, where - among others - he helped to develop the Merlin-powered P-51 Mustang.  Over a career that included 9,000 flying hours in 230 different aircraft types, Colonel Toliver also commanded the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing in England from 1956-58, overseeing their transition from the F-84F to the F-100D, where his experience as a test pilot was instrumental in getting through the technological upgrade this re-equipment involved.  It was during his time in Europe in the 1950s, at the time of the reincarnation of the Luftwaffe, that he became friends with the German aces and interested in their stories, which led to his becoming an aviation historian.  I have been privileged to know Ray - who lives about ten miles from Le Chateau du Chat here in the San Fernando Valley - since meeting him at the Eagle Squadrons Reunion in 1984.


     Trumpeter’s 1/32 F-100 appeared this past summer, and is the first injection-molded kit of this airplane in this scale.  I have seen a 1/32 F-100 built from the old ID Models vacuform, which the modeler who built it told me took him several years to virtually scratchbuild.  I believe Combat Models may also have made a vacuform Hun.  This kit makes all those obsolete.

      Trumpeter’s Hun can be made up as either an early-production or late-production airplane through use of the different dive brakes, though it does not include the later F-102-style exhaust used on the F-100 from around 1966 onwards or the larger drop tanks carried through most of the Hun’s career; additionally, it does not have proper ordnance, such as the Bullpup it was among the first to carry and use in combat.  The kit provides full intake trunking, and an engine with full afterburner.  The fuselage is separated in fore and aft sections, so that the model could be displayed open to see the engine.

      Overall, the kit is standard Trumpeter: intelligently designed and crisply molded, with a decal sheet that mostly sucks.  Fortunately, Cutting Edge has produced a series of three decal sheets for Huns that provide some colorful and interesting examples of this airplane. 

      Additionally, Avionix has produced an expensive resin cockpit (with an incorrect seat), while AMS Resin has created a more accurate seat that comes with molded in seatbelt detail or bare as the modeler chooses, as well as a set of 200-gallon drop tanks and a conversion set for the kit tanks to create the big tanks used for most of the Hun’s career.


      Assembly is very straightforward.  There are a lot of parts, but they all come together right if you commit the radical act of following the instructions.  I built the wings and horizontal stabilizers first as subassemblies, then set them aside and went on to the fuselage.

      I opted to only use the intake trunking and the rear section of the afterburner.  I put a plastic sheet bulkhead inside the rear fuselage to glue the afterburner to after gluing the fore and aft sections of each side together before proceeding.

      I used the kit cockpit, which seemed fine to me, with Harold Offield’s excellent ejection seat with molded detail.  I’m a big believer that a good seat is 98% of what any cockpit needs, so that one can avoid the expense of a cockpit that can’t be seen all that well otherwise, unless one really wants to have that on display.

      I particularly liked that the kit comes with a substantial weight to place in the nose, which insures nose-sitting.

      Much has been made of the fact that the wheels do not fit the hubs.  I did not experience any problems here. Personally, I would use resin wheels were they available, but I have now had the Trumpeter rubber wheels on models going back to the F4F Wildcat I built four years ago, and there has been no problem of adverse chemical reaction between the rubber wheels and the plastic hubs, as has happened with other kits from other manufacturers.

      I opted to use Harold Offield’s 200-gallon auxiliary tanks for underwing load, with the smaller kit tanks, since I was doing an early F-100.  I have kept back the larger tanks for another project since I recently came into possession of a second of these kits.

     Once assembly was complete, it was time to paint the model, which was the big effort in the entire exercise.



      A model this big, all in natural metal, is a daunting prospect to any modeler.  Having had success with the new Talon water-based paints on the Kinetic F-86, I decided to put that experience to work here.  I was not disappointed.  I spent hours painting the model in a closed space with one open window and didn’t kill myself inhaling the fumes, or get killed by SWMBO for stinking up the house.

      The effect I was going for was that of an operational airplane, which means that the natural metal is not highly polished, since aluminum doesn’t hold a polish in normal sunlight without being covered with a protective coating of something like clear polyurethane, which is how modern warbirds hold a polished metal finish.

      The Talon paint needs a base coat to “grab hold” of.  I gave the model an overall finish of Tamiya acrylic Flat Aluminum, which was masked off to represent the panels on the wings and tail surfaces that I have found were a flat aluminum metal finish on the real airplane.  I then misted on an overall coat of Talon “Platinum.”  I then masked off various panels on the fuselage and wings and painted them with “Aluminum” and “Dark Aluminum.” 

      With that, it was time to proceed to the rear fuselage and create a believable “hot section.”  I started with a coat of “Pewter,” then blotched it with “Blued Steel,” then blotched that with “Bronzed Aluminum,” then blotched that with “Red Anodized Aluminum,” which I also applied with heavier emphasis along panel lines.  I finished off by “highlighting” areas with SNJ powder lightly applied with a Q-tip.  The afterburner exhaust was painted with “Steel” and again lightly highlighted with SNJ powder, which I also used on some different panels on the forward fuselage and the wings.

      The wheel wells were painted with Xtracrylix “Interior Green,” with the interiors of the gear doors painted with Tamiya Flat Aluminum, which looks like the gear door interiors I found some color photos of.


      I used the Cutting Edge decals to do Ray Toliver’s famous FW-000 “Triple Zilch” when he was Wing King of the 20th TFW in 1957. The decals went on without problem. I was going to use the kit decals for the stenciling, but they fell apart when I tried to move them around on the surface, so I ended up using stencils from a 1/32 F-86 sheet from Cutting Edge.  The lettering is small enough no one is going to notice whether the stencils are really right or not, they are just placed where the instructions showed stencils should be.


      I assembled the complex landing gear, which was when I discovered that the reported problems with the wheels was not as big a problem as stated.  I used the kit main drop tanks and the 200-gallon resin tanks from AMS Resin for an underwing load.

      I finished off by placing the seat in the cockpit and attaching the canopy in the open position. 


      I think Trumpeter’s F-100 makes up into a striking model.  I am not so upset with the riveted surface detail, which looks good under the proverbial “two coats of paint,” and which is quite realistic in effect after close examination of the two F-100s out at Chino (one in NMF at Yanks, one in camouflage at Planes of Fame).  I like the kit well enough that I was quite happy to obtain a second one, which I intend to build as a later version in camouflage.  Overall, the kit is complex - but not complicated - to assemble. Any modeler who feels comfortable with detail work should have no problem. The big thing is to make certain that the seams are invisible so that the natural metal finish will look right.  I think the Talon paints are the answer for those who want to try a NMF finish but are afraid to risk learning to use Alclad on a $100+ model.  The end result looks very realistic when compared to color photos of the real thing. 

Tom Cleaver

December 2007

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