Monogram 1/72 NB-52B with X-15
KIT #: 85-5716
PRICE: $69.95 SRP
DECALS: Two X-15 options
REVIEWER: Lee Kolosna

            The X-15 research program was a parallel part of the American space program in the 1950s and 60s, producing valuable scientific data that was later used in the design of the Space Shuttle.  The rocket-powered aircraft was carried to altitude by a modified B-52 and released just the rocket engines were ignited in order to execute a parabolic climb to the outer reaches of earth’s atmosphere.  The X-15 returned to earth in an unpowered glide and landed on the extended runway of Edwards AFB in California.  Several of the missions exceeded an altitude of 100 km (62 miles), earning the pilots astronaut status. 
            The mothership NB-52B “Balls Eight” (named for its serial number 52-0008) was one of two B-52 bombers assigned to the program beginning in 1959.  It shared duty with NB-52A “Balls Three” in executing 159 captive carry missions for the X-15 program.  Balls Eight remained in service with NASA for 46 years dropping all kinds of experimental aircraft and is now on permanent display as a gate guard at Edwards.  Its contribution to aeronautical research cannot be understated – this is one of the most historically significant airplanes ever to fly.
            The Monogram 1/72 scale B-52D kit was originally released in 1968, with the X-15A-2 kit coming out in 1987.  To backdate the B-52D to NB-52B configuration, Revell modified the molds to add a cut-out of the starboard wing with a filler plate to cover the space between the wing top and bottom and added a cradle in which to mount the X-15 between the starboard inner nacelle and the fuselage.  The rear gun turret is faired over, although the turret pieces themselves are still on the sprues.  Camera fairings and an observation blister are provided.  Some of the parts that were in the original B-52D bomber version are no longer on the sprues, mostly the dozens of Mk 82 bombs and a blanking plate for the bomb bay.  This means that the bomb bay doors will need to be glued in the closed position unless one want to tackle fabricating an interior completely from scratch.  Unfortunately, one no longer gets the little electric motor seen in the original 1968 issue of this kit that provided a “realistic jet engine sound!”.
            This is an old kit and it shows.  All the panel lines are raised.  Fit can be euphemistically called “challenging”, which is a nice way to say that it’s dreadful.  There is almost no detail in the main wheel wells.  The landing gear struts are simplistic, as are the attachment pegs for the landing gear doors.  Windows above the cockpit are only represented by panel lines.  One nacelle has an option to display a very simplistic J57 engine.  The air brakes are separate pieces that can be posed in the open position, but these are almost never deployed when the aircraft is on the ground.  The cockpit is minimally detailed, with a decal instrument panel and a couple of seat backs (no bottoms, just pegs to mount the two pilot figures) and control columns.
            The X-15A-2 is nicely rendered, albeit with raised panel lines and landing skids only depicted in the retracted position.  A ground trolley is provided for displaying the rocket airplane off the mothership.  The cockpit details are sparse but adequate because nothing can be seen inside if the cockpit hatch is closed.  Two large external fuel tanks allow the modeler to configure the X-15 for extended range missions, and there is a dummy ramjet that can be attached to the underside of the lower tail piece for those missions that occurred in 1967.  The eyelid cover on the port cockpit window is molded in place, so modelers depicting earlier configurations of the X-15A-2 will need to modify the hatch to restore the oval window beneath.
            With a model kit that is nearly half a century old in design, one has to go into this project with eyes wide open.  Expect poor fit, warped parts, and massive amounts of seams to be filled.  One also will need a large open space on the workbench to allow this model to be worked on.  Having built all of Monogram’s big models in the past, I knew exactly what was going to be encountered with this kit as I started on it, and I was not disappointed.  This is one of the most challenging models I have ever built.
            I painted the cockpit Dark Gull Gray FS36231 and added bottom cushions to the ejection seats with sheet styrene.  I fabricated some harnesses from paper and glued them to the seat backs.  More attention isn’t really needed as almost nothing can be seen once the fuselage is assembled.
            I painted the interior of the wheel wells Zinc Chromate Yellow, and the landing struts were painted with Floquil Old Silver and glued into each fuselage half.  I glued the bomb bay doors in the closed position and reinforced the joint with strips of sheet styrene.  The two halves were glued together and large major seams had to be filled down the entire length of the model. The bomb bay door seams were particularly bad.  The vertical stabilizer was not adequately aligned so I repeatedly dipped that part into a huge pot of near-boiling hot water and gently bent it back to the proper upright position.
            I assembled all four engine nacelles and filled those seams with CA glue.  The wings were next and the fit of the flaps can best be described as awful, with ¼ inch gaps evident.  I bridged these with sheet styrene and CA glue.  The notched section of the starboard wing was even worse, requiring significant sanding, filling, and additional plastic added to make the area solid and seamless.  I then glued on each nacelle and filled those seams.  The wings were glued onto the fuselage but the dihedral was so off that I had to add shims under the port wing to bring it into proper alignment.  The starboard wing was badly warped and twisted, so another round of dunking in a pot of very hot water was required to make it passably straight.  While not perfect, I was at least hopeful that I could get the outrigger gear to touch the ground during final assembly.  As it turns out I came pretty close.  I added clear green and red resin pieces to cutouts I made at the front of each wingtip to depict the position lights, sanding them smooth to the contour of the wing.
            All the seams were checked with an application of Mr. Surfacer 1000 and sanded smooth.  I glued on the tail gunner’s canopy as well as the cockpit canopy and confronted large, ugly gaps that had to be addressed with more filler, endless sanding, and the added step of polishing the clear portions back to clarity using a tri-grit file and Novus Plastic Polish #3 and #2.
            Since this model would receive silver paint, it needed to make the surface as close to perfectly smooth as possible.  I sanded every rough area with progressively finer grits of sandpaper, followed by a thorough polishing with Novis Plastic Polish.  The model was washed with warm soapy water in preparation for paint.
            The X-15 went together fairly easily, with seams to fill all along the fuselage and the underside of each wing.  I glued the cockpit hatch shut and glued on the landing skids and the engine bell.
            Balls Eight went through a myriad of paint schemes during its nearly fifty-year career, so a modeler needs to establish at what point in its life they want to portray.  The decals in the kit are of a configuration seen in 1967 during the highest altitude missions.  By that time, the bomber was painted all over with aluminum lacquer.  All the day-glo orange from the original paint scheme was eliminated and only white paint remained on the wing tips and over the cockpit area for heat abatement.  The engine nacelles were painted in a light gray.  Some sources sate they were painted with ADC Gray FS16473, whereas the kit instructions list them as flat white, which is clearly wrong.  I started with the ADC Gray but decided it was too brown in tone and ended using Light Gull Gray instead.  It’s probably not exactly right but it matches the color photos of the aircraft much better, in my opinion.
            I masked the cockpit windows with cut pieces of drafting tape and sprayed the entire model with Alclad Gloss Black Primer.  I meticulously masked off the walkway stripes on the horizontal stabilizers, wings, and fuselage.  Then I sprayed two entire bottles of Alclad Lacquer in the aluminum shade.  Polly Scale Reefer White (my last bottle, sniff) was sprayed on the wingtips and fuselage area over the cockpit.  Testors Sand was used for the two radomes and the dielectric areas on the vertical stabilizer.  The anti-glare panels on the starboard wing leading edges and in front of the windscreen were masked and sprayed with Testors Flat Black.  Finally, I added exhaust staining under each wing, which is seen in some but not all of the period photos.  This aircraft was kept pretty clean between missions so other than a dark wash added to the wheels and outrigger wells, no other weathering was applied.
            The X-15’s fuel tanks were first painted with Floquil Bright Silver (also my last bottle), with a black rear portion, stripe, white half on the port tank, and an International Orange nose on both.  The X-15 itself was painted with Reefer White to replicate the ablative coating that was applied over the Inconel surface to deal with the tremendous temperatures that were encountered at Mach 6.  Flat black was sprayed on the rear portions of the vertical stabilizers.
            The decals are of excellent quality – something I didn’t expect from a Monogram kit.  They laid down on the model beautifully with absolutely no issues whatsoever.  Somebody did their homework and printed the “USAF” and “U.S. Air Force” lettering in Insignia Blue rather than the incorrect black seen in so many other decal sheets.
            The X-15 got a final coat of Testors Flat Clear, while the NB-52B was given a light spray of Future floor polish.   
            I removed the masking from the walkway stripes and had to do some cleanup in places where the Alclad layer chipped away from the separation line.  The window masks were removed and the clear pieces polished to remove residual tape residue.  To replicate the four windows over the heads of the pilot and co-pilot, I cut out appropriately shaped rectangles from a sheet of black decal.
I glued on the wheels and made certain that all of them touched the ground by sanding various tires to make flat spots, some more than others.  The outrigger gear required a bit more work.  In real life, the gear doesn’t necessary touch the ground at all times as it depends on the amount of fuel in the wings at the moment.  As it is, the port wing’s outrigger gear is suspended in the air a few millimeters.  Oh well.
            The X-15’s fuel tanks and the dummy ramjet were glued on and the entire model was attached to the cradle under the right wing using white glue.  I wished that Monogram would have provided a more secure attachment arrangement like some kind of pegs or perhaps a hook, but it is what it is.
            As I wrote in my review a couple of years ago about the Monogram 1/48 scale B-58 Hustler, I continue to marvel that even though Modeling Madness has been on-line for over twenty years, there hasn’t been one single review of the Monogram 1/72 scale B-52.  After spending five straight months and 73 hours of effort on it, I completely understand why: this kit will test the mettle of any modeler foolish enough to tackle it.  It’s not that anything was particularly difficult, but the word that comes to mind is “tedious”.  There are so many seams to deal with, there is so much preparation to get the model ready for an aluminum finish, there is so much masking to do to get the walkway stripes, engine nacelles, and various radome and anti-glare panels painted, that one often wonders if they have the intestinal fortitude to press on.
            I did press on, mostly because I am stubborn when it comes to finishing a kit that I have started but I suspect there is a significant number of these models in various states of partial assembly festering away on Shelves of Doom all over the world.  In my fifty-plus years of building models, I’ve only seen one of these built in person, a B-52D, and it was hanging from the ceiling of hobby shop in Miami Beach that no longer exists.  I’ve never ever seen one at a contest and even gallery photos are rare on the better-known scale modeling websites.
            Still, I brought the project over the goal line and I’m happy that I’ve got that experience behind me.  I think the finished model looks really cool and while it certainly has many flaws that stick out to me like a sore thumb, it impresses all who see it in the way that only a big model can.  Would I recommend it to other modelers considering building one?  Probably not, unless they really understand what they are about to get themselves into.  This model is not for the faint of heart but the reward of having a model of one of aviation’s most historically significant accomplishments is something that will provide a great deal of satisfaction if one gets to the end.
Jenkins, Dennis R. and Landis, Tony R: Hypersonic, The Story of the North American X-15
Jenkins, Dennis R. and Landis, Tony R: X-15 Photo Scrapbook

Lee Kolosna

15 May 2017


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