Sword 1/48 T-38 Talon

KIT #: 48004
DECALS: 2 options
REVIEWER: Paul Cheung
NOTES: 30 pieces injection parts, 3 pieces clear injection parts, 19 pieces resin parts


Aesthetics is one of the most important yet complex inborn capabilities of our minds - somehow we feel comfortable and safe when we encountered something we think it looks nice and reflects humanity - that is why someone says mother's breasts are one of the world's most beautiful container designs. There are a lot of military machines that can be classified as good looking and powerful; such as the Spitfire and the Fw-190 respectively but not many that can be judged as sexy or beautiful  Personally, the T-38 Talon belongs to the later group of machines - especially when you look at it from behind at eye level, those complex curves formed by the canopies merged perfectly with the rudder while at the same time it interacts with the air intake ducts that make a perfect ending at the engine coverings.  All these curves and bendings echo inside my head of a female figure - waist and legs - so rare that a machine with such enormous power (don't forget it is a supersonic jet trainer) could make people's mind comes into connection and even goes in parallel with the aesthetic of human body.


The previously available kit of T-38 is the Fujimi release almost of a vintage history.  It is of 1/50th in scale not to mention the intakes and canopy are of incorrect shape and curvature plus the almost empty cockpit. In spite of all these short comings, the T-38 is too much a beauty to miss that there were a lot of modelers (including myself) tried all sorts of method to turn the Fujimi kit into an acceptable model - replaced the cockpit with a modified one from the Monogram's F-5F, borrowed the main landing gears from Italeri's F-5E,  added a piece of plastic sheet to mimic the metal baffle plate over the exhaust nozzles and reshaped the intakes as well the nose contour by putty. Still you can only have a T-38 with a canopy of wrong outline.

No wonder the Sword T-38 Talon is a welcome release to the modeling community for we finally have an injection model of correct outline in 1/48th scale. There have been a few kit preview of this product in various websites (including
this one) so we shall go straight to the building process of the model. Overall, the resin parts presented themselves with no major problem, the details and fittings are okay provided the cleaning process is properly executed.  While the fuselage length and the wing span dimensions are well within the acceptable tolerance of 1/48th scale the major discrepancy comes from the nose just in front of the windscreen. There is a very obvious hump in this area with the even obvious consequence that the very front part of the windscreen is chopped rather than a perfect curve as per the kit part (fig. 2). Then the front and rear canopies are presented in two pieces of which the modeler is instructed to build the airplane in an open-cockpit configuration.  As long as the modeler is willing to conform to the instruction sheet no major problem will be encountered but if anyone tries to make it in a closed-cockpit version, one is warned to prepare  oneself for some surgery work.


The problem comes from the under size of the canopy frame between the front and rear canopies. While the width of the base of this frame is equal to the width of the cockpit the height of this frame is short of about 1.5 mm which means  the modeler has to compensate the height without alternating the width . It is not only difficult but extremely delicate, thus very time consuming - patience, the ultimate skill, comes to rescue again. The first step is to glue this middle frame onto the cockpit and everyone understands that the bonding can never be too strong for the frame is only about 2 mm thick. Then a layer of thin plastic strips (of 0.5 mm thick) was added to the frame and sanded off the two sides to make sure only the height is being enhanced. Repeat this process two more times to accumulated the overall increment reached 1.5 mm. Needless to say one has to very careful during the sanding process in not breaking the bonding between the frame and the fuselage. Inevitably one was keep asking why Sword doesn't provide a one-piece canopy as an option for the modeler or should we wait for Squadron to come up with a clear vac-form canopy?

Comparatively, the adding of nose hump is an easier task.  Just locate a fuel tank in the spare box of appropriate diameter and cut the required size from it then glued onto the nose and blended in by putty.  After the grafting is settled, use it as the guidance to trim the front windscreen to match with the new nose contour.  Took each step slowly but carefully (it took me 2 months to finish the above modifications).  The main landing gears are more straight forward, just sand down the thickness of the two halves wheel to half of the original but always referred to photographs of real aircraft for guidance.


This model was released in mid-2004 while the real aircraft has received a new color scheme as well - should we say, the Panda scheme, because it really looks like the black and white demarcation of a panda. It is quite a cool design although we are still not clear about the actual philosophy behind this color scheme. Then the after market decal suppliers started to offer markings related to this color scheme but not by Sword. This is hardy a complaint rather a puzzle of why the latest marking scheme is being omitted from the most recently released model? All that Sword needs to do is to add the tail markings, quite a minimal effort by any standards.

Regarding the painting of the model I have firstly searched the internet for relevant panda color scheme in various websites and traced the demarcation from the downloaded photos. It is basically a very simple pattern of two grey tones only: a sky grey and a warm dark grey. However, grey colors are always, in most modelers minds, the most controversy ones because their hues and tones could change dramatically according to the on-site lighting/weather condition. It is only better than nothing to quote the FS number purely as a guideline. My personal approach in dealing with grey tones is to collect as many photos as possible and use the Mark-One-Eye-Ball judgment to mix the paints and test sprayed on plastic strips. When dried, one will realize how much the differences are between wet and dry status of the paints. And it is always a matter of personal preference to prepare a second set of grey paints in a darker tone to stimulate the shadowing areas of the model. 

 There was an article in Scale  Aircraft Modelling (from UK) about 15 years ago that deals with the color tones effects on scaled down objects. For an aircraft model of 1/48th scale, it is like looking at the real one from a distance of 48 feet which results the color tones to be lightened by about 10-15%  (I have retraced the chart to attach here as a reference of Model Scale Color*). Whether or not a third set of paints is required in order to depict the hi-lighted areas is up to the individual modelers as well as the selected color scheme.  In this T-38 only a slightly darkened sky grey was applied to the lower fuselage as the dark grey is already very dark by itself it is no point to use a darker grey to stimulate an already very dark grey.  No hi-lighted grey was used either as the T-38 is formed purely by complex curves from head to tail (except the wing areas whereas in this case the wing area is occupied mainly by the sky grey which is by itself matched the off-white closely) which reflects enough hi-lights from any angles. 

In summary, if we employed all the above tactics we usually termed it as the oil-painting approach - to stimulate a certain kind of 3-D effects on a 2-D media (as the canvas in oil paintings), only this time we borrow the method and applied it on a 3-D object.  And if one did try to paint one model with a touch of hi-lightening and shadowing tones the final effect is a model featuring its color scheme with a depth-of-field?- the model looks more solid, hence presents itself against the background more prominently.  The application of paints was achieved by free hand spraying started with the sky grey.  With the after market decals had been applied and the canopies being masked the whole model was sealed with a coat of semi-glossy clear (again, the gloss of an object also obeys the distance rule that the farther the distance from the object the shine reduces accordingly, plus the friction generated between the airflow and the fuselage a new paint job will turn semi-glossy after a few flights).       


As a whole, this is not an easy build.  The breakdown of parts between injection ones and the resin ones needs the modelers to do a lot of filling and sanding.  The exact positioning of canopy opening mechanisms are not clearly illustrated even the modeler chooses to build the aircraft in open cockpit version.  The main landing gears need careful cleaning and enhancement.  Then the air intake cross section is not oval enough that one has to sand it to a more rounded cross section. Having said all these it is still a quantum leap of improvement from the Fujimi kit and worth the labor and time of the modeler to make the Sword kit into an acceptable representation of the T-38.  This is far from a perfect kit but what's the point of building a perfect kit if one aims to learn from overcoming difficulties.

*To quote from Scale Aircraft Modelling, vol.12, no.11, Aug 1990, the meaning of model Scale Color is as follows:
If the size and color of the full size object varies with distance (or scale), then at some point along the line of reduction a model must equal that same size and color. Since a small scale (1/48) model viewed at the ideal 10 to 12 inches from the eyes is almost exactly the same size as the full size object at a distance of 48 feet. Under these circumstances the model represents the identical size, shape and coloring of the full size object at that range and under the same lighting condition. The colors involved are therefore reduced Value Hues and this is termed as the model Scale Color.

February 2005

Paul Cheung

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