Airfix 1/72 AD-4W Skyraider

KIT #: ?
REVIEWER: Carmel J. Attard
NOTES: Conversion



When the Douglas Skyraider AD-4W entered service, the United States Navy possessed an aircraft equipped with powerful radar equipment that extended the task force fleet coverage beyond the horizon and provided protection from low-level attack intruders and at the same time acted as an airborne ‘operations’ room. The radome provided 360 degrees coverage. Because of its appearance the AD-4W was nicknamed,’ Guppy’. To solve stall problems the aircraft was fitted with a fixed leading edge slat on the outer wing section. This also improved handling at low speeds during approach and landing on carrier decks. The 3-seat early warning aircraft were also supplied to the Royal Navy under the Mutual Defence Assistance Programme. There were 50 of the type that were transferred to the RN under the designation Skyraider AEW Mk1. 118 aircraft of the type remaining in the USN service were fitted for the ‘E’ search part of the anti-submarine mission. A total of 168 were built. In due course 14 AEW Mk1s went to Sweden for modification as target towing aircraft.

The Skyraider AD-4W also had connections with Malta where going back to 1956, the time of the Suez Campaign it was a common sight for anyone driving past Hal-Far airfield one could spot the AEW version of the Avenger wearing the pale yellow and black Suez invasion stripes and alongside was the Skyraider AEW Mk1 which was already in service. Over the years that followed it was common to spot a flight of three or four Skyraiders AEW Mk1 parked at the aft flight deck of HMS Ark Royal, Hermes, Victorious and Centaur whenever any of these carriers entered the Grand Harbour at Valletta or when berthed at St Paul’s Bay. These AEW aircraft entered service with 778 Squadron at Culdrose, UK going back to 1952 and in 1953 the single squadron that was to operate the Navy AEW for the 25 years that followed was to become No 849. 

In US Navy service the type operated at any one time alongside earlier types as the Avenger and the Guardian all of which were equipped with APS-20 search radar using same antenna that was carried in a large ventral radome. The Skyraider gave stalwart service with both the USN and the Fleet Air Arm until replaced by a more sophisticated type as the Tracer and the AEW3 Gannet respectively. Today there is a Skyraider AEW Mk1 that is preserved at the FAA museum at Yeovilton in the UK. 


There was no known 1/72 scale Skyraider AEW kit at the time it was built.  Making an AD-4W involved modifying the Airfix A-1J Skyraider kit using a good set of 1/72-scale drawings. This was something of a challenge as there was no known conversion kit available like there is for the Avenger AEW. Later I learned that a conversion kit by ‘C’ scale, VJ Henley of Worchester, UK was available which would have made the conversion much easier. For my conversion kit I had available a block of balsa wood in form of a cube of 3” sides.


The Airfix A-1J fuselage were separated from the sprues and each half had a 1/8” hole drilled on each side just above the forward upper corner of the dive brakes. The holes are then filed to an oval shape measuring approximately 1/8” x 3/16” diagonally. These form the windows of the radar operator accommodation. Pair of bulged windows was molded using clear acetate and were put aside until later. For this mold process a piece of plastic sprue had an end shaped by filing to that of the required windows. A slightly larger similar hole is drilled and shaped in a sheet of plywood. A square piece of acetate sheet was heated and as soon as the edges start to curl this was then soft enough so the male mold is pushed through to form each astrodome shaped window. These were then push fitted from inside the fuselage halves. I did not bother to detail the interior apart from adding a seat and floor from spares as little could be seen of the interior from the bulging windows.

The cockpit canopy also differed from that on the A1J and a male mold was prepared and a new canopy molded in same manner as applied to produce the side bulged windows. The cabin roof extension was made from a block of balsa approximately 1.75” long’ which was glued with addition to top of fuselage behind pilot’s seat. This was shaped by sanding followed by a coat of Humbrol sanding sealer. The large fuselage air brakes were glued in place and covered with filler. Instead there was a door on each side forming access to the radar operator. The air intake forward of cowling was cut back in line to rest of engine cowling gills. The radome was made from a yellow pine pattern carved with forming chisels and sanding. Two radomes were cast in aluminium, one being spare. Leading edge slots to either side of wing sections were shaped from a strip of thin plastic card 2mm X 51mm long. These were fixed to the leading edge angled at 45 degrees. Actuating jacks to the leading edge slats were made from small pieces of stretch sprue. The under-wing locating slots for the pylons were filled with filler and sanded smooth.

The wheel wells on the AD4W which retract backwards were made by cutting a piece of plastic card to fit new shape of opening on the underside of the wings and a circular section proud of wheels diameter is cut out in this position where the legs lays when retracted. Undercarriage assembly was fixed in the locating slots and an under wing pylons added and a pair of fuel tanks prepared. A set of auxiliary fins are cut from thin plastic card and cemented to tail planes. A blade aerial was added aft of cockpit, also cut from plastic card. Cabin ventilation louver was shaped from a piece of plastic and glued over cabin. The pitot tube on top of fin was made from hollow tube and a string of steel wire passing through.


The AD4W model was washed, dried and airbrushed in Compucolor Sea Blue. This gave a realistic eggshell semi gloss finish. Interior and wheel wells were darkish zinc chromate finish. The white lettering and star and bars came from an assortment of Micro Scale decal sheets.


As one would expect, converting a model into a different known version will leave a feeling of satisfaction. One thing leads into another and although these days many different types of kits are being released there are still several types out there that can be made from kit conversions.

Carmel J. Attard

May 2011

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