Trumpeter 1/72 North American F107A Ultra  Saber
KIT #: 01605
PRICE: $16.95 MSRP
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Joel Hamm
NOTES:  

            This is off the World Wide Wacky Web, so differences of opinion should be brought to the attention of Monsieur Wiki.

            The F107 was North American’s entry into an early 1950’s competition for a nuclear capable tactical fighter-bomber, a contest lost to Republic’s F105 “Thud”. Three prototypes were built and, following the fly-off, relegated to test roles. Despite the loss, they pioneered technical innovations that became standard on high performance aircraft. Most notable was the variable geometry engine intake. This was moved to the unusual dorsal position when its original chin location was found to cause shock wave interference with release of the nuclear weapons pod. In addition to restricting rearward visibility the hunchback scoop caused concerns over the fate of a pilot forced to eject. Wikipedia claims this earned it the name “Man Eater”, but Wikipedia says a lot of stupid things.  The occasion never arose to either validate or dismiss these worries. One airplane was damaged in an aborted takeoff and subsequently scrapped. One survivor went to the Pima Air Museum north of Tucson AZ; the other is embalmed and enshrined in the Air Force Museum in Dayton OH.

THE KIT

            The Chinese Trumpeter Company offers a wide and growing range of military subjects.  Their aircraft tend toward the larger scales.  The box of this one sported an aftermarket sticker proclaiming “A cooperative project with Monochrome Model”.  GOOGLE provided no  help in determining just who they might be.

            Inside were three sprues of perfectly molded gray plastic, plus one of thin, clear, distortion-free transparencies. Instructions were adequate with color call-outs that did not always jive with available photos.

            Decals are provided for all prototypes, but instructions do not address the several marking differences between the three. Transfers are provided for a “NASA” logo on the vertical fin, but this scheme is not diagrammed, neither could any photos be found of the aircraft in NASA livery.

            The decal sheet in my kit, which was scarfed up as soon as it was announced,  lacked  the large red areas, but a WEB photo indicated these markings were added in a later release. I e-mailed the company asking if the new sheet could be procured, but received no reply to several sends. Painting them on, though not as difficult as imagined, nevertheless  consumed a major portion of time spent on the build.

CONSTRUCTION

            Assembly starts with surgical removal of the “blank-out” portion of the cockpit area behind the ejection seat bulkhead. This area is covered by a large etched-for-painting transparency with two clear, small, unequal sized windows through which the void can then be seen.  After joining the fuselage halves, this area should be “busied up” with whatever parts can be found suggestive of the mechanical mish-mosh that may in real life have filled the space. A few kilos of lead or depleted uranium should be inserted into the nose to insure against tail-sitting, though the plane’s geometry  hints that this might in fact be unnecessary. Nothing needs at this point to be added to the cockpit tub, as everything, including the instrument panel can be added post-painting through the opening.

            Painting the complex red-slash scheme on the aft fuselage  can be simplified by omitting the vertical fin until final assembly; also by removing the molded-in wing-tip probes.  Separate flap surfaces can be affixed in the extended position, but no photos could be found of this configuration.  Neither did any pictures show the plane with speed brakes extended, nor with open forward doors on the main or nose landing gear,so everything was sealed up sleek and tight.

            Fit of most parts is filler-free; but the join of the under-belly section to the fuselage leaves a problematic lateral wrap-around mismatch in front of and behind the wing. The forward fix is particularly touchy where the compound curves around the gun bays must be faired together.

COLORS & MARKINGS

            Box art and painting diagrams can never be relied upon. Thanks to the WWW we have instant access to hundreds of photos; but since these can span several service years, they often raise more questions than they answer.  Few shots are available of the scrapped plane, tail code #55120, but numerous pics can be had of museum residents #’s 118 and 119.  Variations exists not only in placement of certain markings, notably the “F107 North American” logo, but in the precise placement of the red streaks, particularly along the dorsal intake.

            The main uncertainty to be resolved is the base fuselage color.  In-service mostly  B&W photos clearly show semi-shiny silver.  Museum snapshots say metallic gray.  An MM poster with ties to Dayton offered the reasonable explanation that the curators fudged the restoration with aluminum lacquer to minimize anti- corrosion maintenance.

            Metalized enamel would therefore have been legal and facilitated masking (actually, those glittering flakes on the bottom of the Testors bottle are pulverized fish scales);  but bare aluminum was more authentic and evocative of the plane’s Eisenhower era heritage. Which caused another conundrum.  Throughout the galaxy there exists but one substance known to resist the ravages of masking tape – Alclad II. I had once before experimented with the stuff and found the chrome color produced an excellent sheen, but fell short in the durability department when unmasking time arrived.  Further reading  revealed that “chrome” and “polished aluminum” were not formulated for masking , but that all other colors were certified duct-tape-proof. For two reasons I chose white aluminum: it offered the best contrast for “panelizing” with other shades;  and it was the only product available in any  walk-in or on-line hobby shop within the same afore-mentioned galaxy.

            Alclad’s instructions call for priming with a lacquer  or acrylic undercoat.  I sprung for a schpritz can of Tamiya fine white primer, at $10 for 4 ounces.  I’m definitely getting daft in my declining years. That took a light buffing with dry 200 grit paper.  WEB based model mavens recommend a protracted processing down to 10,000 grit  and buffing with special cloths, but let’s not get totally mischugeh. 

            Alclad sprays on easily in multiple very light mist coats. It is extremely forgiving and blends into itself even if the airbrush spits out some splatters, which mine decided to do, possibly because the concoction repeatedly clogged the tip. It dries in minutes but is placarded against handling or serious messing with for at least an hour or two.

            I wasn’t exactly  overjoyed with the resemblance to real metal, but a test panel confirmed that it was unaffected by masking tape; so I started laying on the acutely angled red panels, using my favorite Scotch 471 auto pin-striping tape.  These red areas were applied in sections, starting with the wings, then the forward fuselage, then the tail and forward sweeps.  With few scribing landmarks, I despaired of getting an absolutely accurate and symmetrical job; and after the decals went on discrepancies with published pics became evident.  Oh well, it’s just a toy.

            For masking the transparencies I tried a new-to-me technique of using Bare-Metal Foil.  The stuff snuggles down, conforms, and cuts easily along framing borders with a fresh #11 blade. When lifted with a sharpened toothpick it leaves a razor sharp demarcation lines.  It also leaves a sticky, icky, gooey, gummy, gloppy  residue that is impossible to remove without boogering up your fresh razor-sharp demarcation line. I had simultaneously tried it on a parallel build, the canopy of MPM’s A-17  attack plane, which is blessed with 5 miles of framing.  The results on that were disastrous, requiring a complete strip with ELO (Easy Lift Off), which is not supposed to cloud plastic, but did.  I was able to polish it back to clarity, but I’ll not make those mistakes again.

            The decals are excellent quality, but stick tenaciously once they touch plastic.  Even with my usual trick of adding wetting agent to the soak, they were difficult to maneuver unless floated into position on a generous puddle.  They settle down of their own accord, but snuggle even tighter if rolled or patted.  A brush-on of Micro-Sol makes the carrier film completely vanish.

            One problem was evident with the markings.  The wing national insignia were oversize, though the USAF’s were correct. I found a replacement pair but had to graft red stripes into the white bars. The aft fuselage insignia also posed a dilemma.  Using the panel lines as a guide, they appeared to be the correct height, but the bars extended a quarter inch too far to the rear. The next smaller size looked wrong, so I used the kit decals, leading to a slight adjustment in the size and placement of the Bare Metal Foil panels flanking the engine compartment.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

            The under-belly pod needs considerable grinding down to properly fit.  Photos, and the box art but not the diagrams, show that the pointy nose of the pod should be flush with the stomach skin, with the rear point hanging just slightly below.

            The only poor parts of the kit are the 5 pieces that make up the ejection seat.  Actually only 2 of those are unacceptable, the seat cushion and back, which are slabs with strange  molded-in “Y” shapes that must represent the seat belts.  Using the side rails and some scraps I fashioned a more convincing, though inauthentic couch. The belts and side console gauges are decals from a True Details sheet of cockpit furnishings.  Decals are hardly convincing, but they beat tape strips and I was out of PEB belts and buckles. Under all that glass, the front office still looked sparse so I cluttered it up with amorphous pieces suggestive of whatever junk occupies the space behind an ejection seat.

            The canopy fit well, but the windshield refused to snap into place until I shaved down the sides of the glare shield. Perhaps there was just too much paint. I replaced the wing-tip probes with stretched white sprue and freehand painted the red stripes.  The front proboscis didn’t look acceptable that way, despite  2 strippings and re-paintings.  Rummaging through the decal trove I found a set of red stripes on a clear background, apparently from a PM Beech  18 kit. I doubted they could be successfully wrapped around the thin probe, but with a flooding of Micro-Sol they welded themselves together  perfectly, needing only the barest trimming with a fresh Wilkinsons double edge. The width and spacing of the stripes is not accurate, but let’s not get obsessive  about authenticity. Sticking way out in front, the barber pole probe is the sharpest part of the kit and suitably detracts from the slight clouding I caused on the windshield by the inexplicable decision to affix it with CA. I’ll not make that mistake again either.

CONCLUSIONS

            First, if I may, a word or three about Alclad II. As mentioned, prior fiddling with the “Chrome” shade of the stuff had produced a very realistic NMF, but one which is  approached by other media, notably  Floquil “Bright Silver” enamel, Krylon “Chrome” decanted from its aerosol bomb, and even Wal-Mart’s bottom-of-the-line Color Place brand  “Aluminum” spray, also transferred to airbrush.

Where  surface imperfections need to be hidden, the heavy-bodied enamels enjoy an advantage, as they do in requiring no primer coat or fancy preparation; and also most notably in price. Since none of these is absolutely unaffected by masking tape (the lifting up that is, not putting down), if fancy paint schemes are not an issue, the old fashioned stuff will likely suffice, at least on smaller projects on which the lacquer’s slight color superiority  is not overwhelmingly important.

Where sticky stuff of any sort must be laid down, and subsequently lifted from a metallic finish, Alclad’s maskable shades (anything other than “Chrome” and “Polished Aluminum”), despite their $10 price tag, their need for impeccable surface preparation to produce a convincing metal look, and their sometime scarcity on hobby shop shelves, are undisputed winners in the NMF contest.

As for the kit - it’s got some bloopers to it, but at normal viewing distance, I’d say it’s a pretty sharp rendering of a Cold War cutey.

March 2010

Joel Hamm

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