Monogram/Airfix 1/48 Harrier GR.3

KIT #: ?
PRICE: $ Out of Production
DECALS: At least one option per kit
REVIEWER: Paul Mahoney
NOTES: Kit bash of both kits to provide more detailed GR3

HISTORY

 

The Hawker Harrier was the first fully-operational fighter/ground-support aircraft with Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (VSTOL) capabilities.  It’s lineage can be traced back to the Hawker P.1127, designed by Sir Sydney Camm (who also designed the famous Hurricane and Typhoon fighters of WWII, among others).  In the late 1950s/early 1960s many Western companies were experimenting with the development of the VSTOL designs, but only the Hawker examples actually reached the production level.

 

 VSTOL effectively means this aircraft is (in addition to normal flight characteristics) able to take off and land vertically like a helicopter, or in an extremely short distance.  This unique capability is accomplished by rotating the engines exhaust/thrust nozzles.  The Harrier has 4 nozzles (2 per side) that can rotate from 0 degrees (straight back) to 98 degrees (slightly forward of straight down).   During ‘normal’ flight, these nozzles are in the 0 degree position, like any other jet aircraft.  Rotating these nozzles to varying degrees allows the aircraft to ascend and descend vertically as well as allowing it to hover.  First generations (models GR1 and GR3) of this unique aircraft were used by the RAF, the Royal Navy, the US Marine Corps, the Royal Thai Navy, and the Spanish Navy.   They had a top speed of Mach 0.97, a range of 1200 miles, and could be armed with 2 ADEN cannon pods as well as carrying varying stores on 4 under-wing hardpoints and 1 under-fuselage pylon.

 

The GR1 was the first production model of the Harrier, which was then further developed into the GR3 with upgraded avionics, engine, and an extended nose section to house a laser tracker.  GR3s saw combat operations for the first time during the Falklands War, flown by the RAF off of HMS Hermes.  The Royal Navy version of the GR3, Sea Harrier, also saw service in this conflict.

 

Second generation Harriers were actually developed by the McDonnell Douglas company in the U.S. to support the USMC.  These incorporated newly designed composite wings, as well as new engines/intakes/exhaust nozzles and upgraded avionics.  The British re-joined the program in 1979 and the result was the AV-8B (US version) and Harrier II (GR5/7/9).  Sadly, the RAF and Royal Navy have retired all Harriers as of December 2010 due to defence budget cuts.  Although no longer operated by the country that developed this interesting aircraft, the US, Spain and Italy still fly Harrier IIs.

 

A Personal History:

 

I have been building WW2 aircraft models, with the occasional foray into WW1 builds, for about as long as I can remember.  I love aircraft, and love model building.  But I know next to nothing about jets, and even less about jet models. 

 

In December of 2010 (ironically just as the UK was retiring the Harrier II), I met the father of one of my wife’s good friends.  He was quite senior in the RAF before retiring, and naturally our discussion turned to aircraft.  I don’t think you could possibly meet a more gracious and engaging man.  He is definitely one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Before long I had offered to build a model for him of whatever his favorite aircraft might be.  This turned out to be the Harrier GR3.  I build mostly in 1/48, and he already had a series of 1/72 models presented to him upon his retirement, so a 1/48 GR3 was the natural choice.  Little did I know there really was not a decent kit of such a thing!  I just kind of assumed “those jet guys” all had state of the art kits of the things they like to build (grass is always greener, or something like that…).

 

So, after our meeting, I set to work finding out what I would need to build his model.  I quickly came to the conclusion that the Monogram AV-8A (a Harrier I) is the most detailed of the early Harriers in 1/48, and that Airfix made a rather basic GR3 as well.  I found a few online builds where these kits were combined, and decided I would do the same.  In what was to become a series of challenges with this build, I also quickly discovered they are both OOP.  I posted a plea for help on another forum, and one kind gentleman came to my rescue with an Airfix kit, a black box Harrier II cockpit, and the ability to answer many of my dopey questions.  I located a Monogram kit on ebay, and away I went…

 

THE KIT

 

Well, both kits are certainly right in line with their vintage.

 

 The Monogram kit is a classic example of their early ‘80s work:  very accurate outline, very nice details in the cockpit and gear wells, and overall a nice, accurate kit.  Monogram kits of this era also had raised panel lines and a less-than-perfect fit.  Lots of elbow grease and putty will be needed here.  I believe this one only came in one boxing, and it features a few different bits and markings to allow building of a USMC AV-8A or an RAF Harrier GR1.  It has the ADEN cannon I will need, but the stores are fuel tanks and Sidewinders which I do not need.  The decals are not really too useable, although I think that is just due to their age.

 

The Airfix kit, unfortunately, is also a classic example of their early ‘80s work:  decent outline, little-to-no detail in the cockpit and gear bays, poorly-defined raised panel lines, lots of flash, and a bit of a general ‘clunky’ feel to it.  BUT, it is a GR3, and it has the 4 SNEB rocket launchers I will need (or so I thought they were what I will need).   I think Airfix made several boxings of this, including a GR1 and possibly a Sea Harrier.  The kit I was fortunate enough to get did not have any decals.  Airfix decals of this vintage would probably be close to unusable, but I did need one in particular which I will discuss a bit later.

 

So, my plan was to use the Monogram kit as the base, and take the necessary GR3 bits from the Airfix.  Initial test fitting shows that the fuselages of the 2 kits are almost identical (save the extended GR3 nose and the RWR fairing on the tail fin), so grafting the appropriate pieces should be straight-forward.  (Should being the operative term here!).  I intended to build this more or less out of the box, after allowing for the conversions.

 

CONSTRUCTION

 

As I mentioned, upon matching up the fuselage halves of the two kits I had discovered they were a very, very close match.  I initially had thought I could chop the nose off of the Monogram at a panel line forward of the cockpit, and do the same with the Airfix.  Then a simple graft would provide the solution.  Unfortunately (I feel like I am using that word a lot in this article), the underside (starting under the cockpit) of the Monogram kit tapers up toward the nose much more sharply than the Airfix.  Chopping at the panel lines would result in a step between the nose of the Airfix and the body of the Monogram.   In other words, the circumference of the nose at that panel line is greater on the Airfix than on the Monogram.  Filling and sanding wouldn’t fix that, and if I reduce the underside of the Airfix nose it would have the wrong profile.  So, my solution was to cut the Airfix nose vertically, starting at the top of that panel line, down about 85% of the way, and then turn my cut line 90 degrees and cut backward until I was under the windshield area, then turn the cut back down and cut through to the bottom.  The final downward cut would come at an area where the undersides of the two kits were identical.  So the piece I cut out would look like a nose cone with an extension to the rear on the underside.  The photos describe this a little better than words.

 

In order to achieve some sort of uniformity, I held the Airfix fuselage halves together and used liquid glue to join just the nose section and the tail (more on the tail shortly).  Once dry, I made the cuts as described above using a UMM tool (basically a very fine razor saw).  I cut the corresponding area out of the Monogram kit as well, but only taped the halves together prior to cutting.  A rough test fit revealed there would be a fair amount of filling to do, but the overall shape looked correct, and the lower surfaces had no step.

 

Next up was the tail – the GR3 carried a fairing on the forward edge of the tail fin that housed RWR equipment.  Again, the Airfix kit had what I needed, while the Monogram kit did not.  I followed a similar procedure to the nose operation here as well.  A couple of horizontal slices were made in the Airfix tail, following the line of the fairing from front to back, cutting about 1/3 of the way into the tail itself.  The tail was already glued together, so there was mind I had sliced into the fin itself), and then held the cutout up to each side of the unassembled Monogram tail halves.  I drew around the outline of the cutout onto the Monogram tail, then cut out the appropriate slice.  The idea here was, once the halves were assembled, I could just insert the fairing into the tail fin.  The Airfix tail’s cross section is a little thinner than Monograms, so the small concave area would have to be built up with putty.

 

After the minor surgery, attention was turned to the cockpit.  The kind gentleman that provided the Airfix kit to me also included a Black Box cockpit designed for the Monogram Harrier II kit.  This was a very nicely detailed addition, much better than the already decent Monogram interior.  One minor problem was that this was designed for the Harrier II, not the Harrier I.  Besides the difference in the actual aircraft’s cockpit, the kits are different so this would in no way be a drop fit.  Still, that detail was so nice I really wanted to use it.  I ended up using a combination of the kit interior and the Black Box.  The back side of the rear wall of the cockpit tub on the kit provides the front wall for the nose gear – the back side of the Black Box cockpit has virtually no detail.  Since the floor and sides of the Black Box set looked very nice, I decided to slice off the kit’s rear cockpit wall and mate that to the Black Box resin.  The Harrier II instrument panel is decidedly different than the GR3’s (which in turn is different than the GR1’s !), so I used the kit instrument panel.  From photos located on the web, I had a rough idea of the look of GR3’s instrument panel, so I modified the kit’s panel to represent this.  I also used the kit’s control stick as it looked closer to the original.  Finally, the ejection seat in the Black Box set was much nicer than the kit’s (and looked accurate to me), so that was used.

 

I painted up the cobbled together cockpit using web photos as a reference.  I tried to stay more or less OOB in terms of any additional items other than the mix-and-match resin and kit cockpit.  The Monogram kit has a very nice intake fan, as well as very decent nose gear well details.  All the interior pieces were added in, and the fuselage halves were assembled.  As much care as possible was taken while applying the liquid glue, so as not to disturb the raised panel lines.

 

Having been spoiled over the years by engraved panel lines which can be easily replaced with a few swipes of a scriber, the raised lines presented a small extra challenge.  As I was attempting to be more or less OOB, I didn’t want to go through the efforts of rescribing all the panel lines.  This would have been a first for me, and I didn’t want to attempt it for the first go on a model I was presenting to someone.  In the end, the amount of effort involved in attempting to retain the raised lines, and replacing those damaged during assembly, probably took more time than just rescribing it.  I did scribe in the lines representing the closed doors for the rear landing gear, as they most definitely needed it.  Some of the raised panel lines matched up beautifully between the halves, and no work was needed.  In other cases the seam between the halves needed work, which resulted in obliterating some of the raised lines.  I decided to scribe in the lost portion of the line, and carry this scribe on until the first perpendicular panel line it would hit.  This, in theory, would keep the scribing neat and to a minimum.  One huge life-saver courtesy of Monogram is a one-piece top half of the wings, extending over the bulk of the top of the fuselage.  No major seam line on top to worry about.

 

After cleaning up the fuselage joins and doing what rescribing I felt was needed, I added in the Airfix sections.  The tail RWR slotted right in, and with some super glue, putty and a little sanding looked pretty good.  One panel line on each side was also scribed back in. 

 

The nose was placed on, and I promptly discovered that my cuts were not so straight.  In order to properly align things along all axes, large gaps were left between the pieces.  I did my best to sand and reshape the nose cone attachment points, studying drawings to make sure the length remained accurate.  In the end, the nose cone only touched the Monogram fuselage in about 40% of the area.  I used super glue to tack it in place, made some final alignments, then applied liquid glue.  Once dry, more super glue was flowed into the join.  I inserted bits of scrap plastic and resin to fill the holes, then used more super glue to seal everything up.  A few coats of putty and Mr Surfacer finished the job.  The details on the Airfix surface were poor to non-existent, so there wasn’t much to worry about obliterating.  I put some definition back in the camera port on the left side, and then drilled and carved out the actual camera opening with an Xacto knife.  I also scribed in some panel lines that had been lost or weren’t there to start with.

 

The mounting for the pitot tube extending directly out of the top of the nose was added from the Airfix box.  I would add the pitot tube itself towards the end of the build to prevent breaking it off.  In honesty, the Airfix pitot tube/mounting comes as one piece.  I attached the entire piece and ended up breaking off the pitot within an hour.  It was too short anyway.  In the end I removed the front piece from the Monogram pitot (which has a different mounting location entirely), drilled a hole in the back of this and inserted a small piece of steel wire.  I then drilled a hole in the mounting and was able to insert the wire into this, making a strong joint on a very exposed item.

 

Moving on to the wings, the situation was now becoming familiar.  Per the pilot, I was planning to load this out with 4 SNEB rocket launchers.  The Monogram kit has nicely detailed pylons, but not the right armament.  The Airfix kit has crudely molded pylons and weapons, but has the RIGHT weapons (or so I thought).  So, it is to be Monogram pylons and Airfix weapons.  Now came the next glitch… my Monogram kit only had ONE of the two outboard pylons included.  I was able to pick up another of the Monogram kits very cheaply at a local contest, so that became the donor kit for the required pylon.  The inner pylons had two pins on them that matched perfectly with the mounting holes on the Airfix SNEB – nice to have a piece of random luck go my way! 

 

The lower wing halves had the holes drilled out for the pylons and were then added to the one-piece top half.  This fit relatively well onto the fuselage, but there were large gaps on the underside between the wings and the fuselage.  After attaching the wing, I filled these gaps with Mr Surfacer 500.  Once dry, a heavy wipe down with a rag soaked in fingernail polish remover will remove all the putty on the surface, and leave the seam nicely filled in.  This method works great in these situations.  The seam is not eradicated, but it is filled in smoothly and easily.  I also used this method to blend in the pylons, as their fit was also not quite exact.

 

The intakes were another matter that needed addressing.  The intakes have a series of inlet doors molded around just aft of the lip.  Monogram molded the top doors open (represented as cut outs) and the lower ones shut (but done with raised lines, which I rescribed).  This lip with the doors is molded as a separate piece that attaches to the fuselage.  This piece is of a smaller circumference than the part of the fuselage it attaches to, resulting in a pronounced step between the pieces.  At first I thought it was not too noticeable, but on further reflection I realized it had to be fixed.  I glued a small strip of styrene stock into the ‘step’ area that matched the height of the higher step, then feathered it by sanding the edge facing away from the step.  Putty and some superglue finished the blending job, then I rescribed the closed doors.  The hardest part in this was protecting the surrounding raised details as I sanded everything flush.

 

The horizontal tailplanes (elevons, stabilators, what do you jet guys call these?) were left off until after painting.

 

Monogram’s canopy is very clear and molded quite well.  Unfortunately (there’s that word again!) the edge that mates to the canopy frame has no framing on it, and it is tough to create a perfect seam between a clear part and regular kit plastic.  On top of this, the fit between the two pieces was less than perfect as well.  My solution here was to attach it using a few drops of liquid glue, then flood it with Future to solidify the join.  Then I would mask it just slightly above the seam so the paint would mask being able to see the join itself.  I know the proper way to do this would have been to superglue the two parts together, then sand and polish forever until the seam is gone.  Then polish even more to restore the clarity.  I have done this before, and know my limitations.  If I messed it up, it would be difficult to fix, so I opted for the easier way out.

 

COLORS AND MARKINGS

 

The recipient of this model was interested in a particular serial-numbered aircraft, flying out of Gutersloh Germany with 3(F) Squadron.  As none of either kit’s decals were usable (or present!), I obtained the Aztek Harrier decal sheet which had all the stencils and national markings I needed.  It also had enough letters and numbers on it to allow me to piece together the proper airframe number.  All that was left was the squadron badge and the individual pilot’s name under the cockpit.  I was planning on making both on my computer.  The name was easy enough, but the squadron logo was a little bit more of a challenge.  There are decals of this available for Harrier II’s, but they are of a different style than the ones used on the GR3.  It is possible the decals included in the Airfix kit are correct, but since I didn’t have those, this was not an option.  A good friend of mine in Arizona offered to help me alter some images I had of the later-style logo and make it match the photos I had of the GR3s at Gutersloh.  Just as I was ready to go down this path, once again the man who provided the Airfix kit, came through and found exactly the proper decals!  A nice big sigh of relief as I wouldn’t have to tackle making that decal!

 

After a lot of checking and re-checking of seams and panel lines and such, and more than a few coats of primer to check still further, it was time to apply the camouflage.  The one good thing (to me) about Harriers of this era is that they were painted in more or less flat colors, and they showed a small amount of wear and tear.  This is right in line with the way I paint WW2 aircraft, so at least I am back in familiar territory.

 

Photos of operational Harriers showed effects on the camouflage that I thought might be achieved by some preshading, so that is where I started.  Over my final coat of Tamiya Primer, which is light grey in color, I airbrushed lines and control surface lines with a generic black from a craft store.  This comes pre-thinned for an airbrush and is ideal (and cheap!) for this sort of work.  I don’t do preshading often, but this seemed like the perfect scheme on which to use it.  In the end the effect was pretty minimal. (Editor's note: The image that accompanies this paragraph is from my collection and while it is XW917, the same as the presentation model, it was taken later in its career (April 1986) when the tail code was slightly altered. You can see how the fin was repainted. The lighting undoubtedly accounts for the difference in the green from the model. This was one of the last year's of GR.3 operations as the planes were soon replaced by GR.5s.)

 

Next I sprayed the aircraft overall with Gunze Aqueos Ocean Grey.  Gunze acrylic paints spray beautifully, and I happen to have this in my supply.  They are impossible to get at the moment in the US, so I got lucky having this and a few others on hand.  It was thinned in a ratio of 2 parts paint to 1 part Isopropyl Alcohol (91%).  This Harrier was camouflaged in the standard “wrap-around” camouflage of the time.  Every set of camouflage patterns I had (Airfix instructions, Aztek and Sky Decals sheets) all show slight variations in patterns.  After lots of studying of pictures, I concluded the Aztek one was probably the closest.  They are all similar, but not quite identical.

 

I originally envisioned using rolls of Blu-Tak  to create all the curves and bends necessary for the demarcation between the Green and the Grey already on the model.  I was not able to get a consistency in the lines that I was happy with so I ended up with Plan B.  I scanned the Aztek instruction sheet into my computer, and enlarged the camouflage diagrams so that I could print them out in 1/48 scale.  I very gently placed strips of Tamiya masking tape over the printouts and cut out the patterns, which were then applied to the model.  Gently pressing the tape onto the scans allowed it to easily lift off the paper after cutting it.  Naturally, the plans of the top and bottom did not match up with the side patterns, so some artistic license was necessary.  All of the Grey areas on the pattern were masked off using this method.     I was fortunate enough to have a bottle of Gunze Aqueos Dark Green as well, so that was now sprayed on to the masked off areas, using the same thinning ratio as the grey.  I spent about 5 hours measuring, tracing, cutting and applying, and then spent about 20 minutes spraying the paint!

 

After all the paint was nicely dry, a few coats of Future were hand-brushed on in preparation for the decals.  As I mentioned, the Aztek decal sheet was my source for all the stencils, national markings, and individual aircraft code.  These decals performed pretty well, and were printed nicely.   My new jet friend had kindly provided me with the proper squadron markings after much searching on both our parts.  He also provided me with the Sky Models decal sheet for the Harrier which was the source (after some cutting and pasting) of the fuselage serial numbers.

 

I printed out the pilot’s name from my printer onto clear decal stock.  A coat of MicroScale decal coat was then brushed over the decals to seal them.  When this was dry, I cut them as close as possible to the design (one large sheet of carrier film on these), and applied them as normal.  Finally, Gunze clear flat from a rattle can was used to bring everything back to a flat sheen.  Some light weathering was applied using some pastels to dirty up the airframe a little.  Photos show some decent wear and tear on these Harriers.


FINAL BITS

 

The landing gear was attached prior to the Future and decal applications.  Making sure things line up properly on the Harrier’s landing gear took a little planning.  First, the nose gear was glued in place, and the aft gear was slotted in to place (but not glued).  The aft gear attachment was allowed to ‘float’ in it’s locating hole while I aligned the outrigger gear on the wings.  These outrigger gear were then attached using tube glue so I would have some time to adjust them and make sure everything was square and level.  They naturally wanted to go into the slots at an angle, but checking pictures confirmed they should be straight vertically.  After getting these fully-aligned, I applied a bit of superglue and hit it with accelerator.   Finally, with the aft gear resting in the proper place, I applied the superglue and accelerator to that as well.  I added an MV Products lens to the nose gear to spruce it up a little, and then added some final weathering to the landing gear assemblies.  Once again I felt out of my element as I had no worries about rigging or antenna wires on this one!

 

The very last thing to go on were the 4 SNEB/Matra Rocket pods.  Once again another “challenge” presented itself.  I was questioning the blank back on the pods in the Airfix kit (surely there has to be some sort of opening for the rockets’ exhaust?), so I started prowling the web for some photos.  I realized there was a plate of some kind with appropriate holes in it.  But I also thought if I were to simulate the rocket bodies in there, that would look nice enough.  I counted about 48 openings in the front of the pods, so set about making 48 small rocket bodies out of sprue and mechanical pencil lead.  My idea was to bundle these together and insert them into the opening of the Airfix rocket pod.  Well, a little further research (that I wish I had done earlier) led me to realize the Airfix pods were completely wrong.  They should be carrying 18 rockets, NOT 48.  Back to the drawing board again.  My limited research showed me that the kit’s pods possibly are some RNAF weapon, but even that I am not sure about.  What I was sure about was that these were wrong, and I needed some correct ones.  Can’t be easy of course…  I struggled for a while to locate after-market pods, and was very close to buying an Eduard Mirage III in order to have the correct ones (in fact, I would have needed two since each kit only has two rocket pods).  Finally someone on a model board was able to point me to a resin company in the UK that makes these, and 2 sets were promptly ordered. 

 

These very nice resin pods are made by Flightpath from the UK , and are crisply molded.  All I needed to do was trim a little flash and drill mounting holes.  From photos I noticed the bodies and tail pieces of these pods came in several different colors, but the nose (actually the nose cover) was black.  I decided to go with a metal-colored tail cone and dark green body.  Photos clearly show a translucent, gold-ish color to the opening for the rockets.  This appears to be part of the nose cover and is meant to break when the rockets are fired.  I simulated this by painting the openings with Tamiya Gold Leaf, then going back and dry-brushing black over the area to touch up where I got paint out of the opening.  Then a drop of Kristal Kleer was put into each opening.  Finally I brushed some black pastels over the nose cones to tone down the Kristal Kleer a bit and blend everything in.

 

The final item on this build was a custom-made base from 3 Wire Design.  They were good enough to be able to put a 3 Squadron crest on one of their tarmacs designed for jets.  They make a series of nice bases printed on foam board.  This could easily be mounted on a wooden plaque, but I decided not to do that for weight reasons (since this was getting shipped to the UK).

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

This was a fun build and a labor of love for me.  Little did I know the challenges that lay ahead when I volunteered for this build.  While nothing earth-shattering, I did enjoy the many hurdles that presented themselves to me during this build.  I will never again think “those jet builders” have it easy, and that they all have state-of-the-art kits.  I did achieve a couple of firsts with this build, the most important being my first official ‘kit bash’.  My efforts almost guarantee we will see a state of the art GR3 in the near future!  At the end, I must say it was rewarding knowing this was going to someone who flew many different types of aircraft, but favored this one over all others.

 

The Monogram kit and Aztek decals purchased courtesy of my wallet.  The Airfix kit, Black Box cockpit, Sky Decals, and the all-important Griffon squadron emblem were kindly donated by a fellow modeler (thanks Bob!).

 

REFERENCES

 

Photos and recollections of the recipient of the model (can’t beat going directly to the source!).

 

Herbote, Marcus.  AirDoc ADP14 British Harriers – Part 1 The Gr.1/Gr.3/T.2 and T.4 of the Royal Air Force in Germany, published by AirDoc  2008.

 

Various Harrier websites:

http://www.primeportal.net/hangar/luc_colin/harrier_gr3_walk.htm

http://s10.photobucket.com/albums/a103/F18/Harrier%20GR3%20Walkaround/

http://www.tantopergioco.it/nggallery/page-820/album-2/gallery-51/

 

The base came from: http://www.3wiredesign.com/

The SNEB pods came from: http://www.djparkins.com/acatalog/1_48th_Post_War_RAF_RN.html

 

Moral support and offers of image drawing assistance came from my good friend Mike in Arizona.

 

Paul Mahoney

September 2011

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