Italeri 1/72 RQ-1/MQ-1 Predator
KIT #: 1279/1289
DECALS: 2/3 options
REVIEWER: Nicolai Plesberg
NOTES: Both kits reviewed.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon began experimenting with reconnaissance drones in the early eighties. The CIA preferred small, lightweight and unobtrusive drones, in contrast to the United States Air Force (USAF). In the early nineties the CIA became interested in the “Amber”, a drone developed by Leading Systems Inc. The company’s owner, Abraham Karem, was the former chief designer for the Israeli Air Force, and had immigrated to the US in the late seventies. Karem’s company had since gone bankrupt and been bought up by a US defense contractor, from whom the CIA secretly bought five drones (now called the “Gnat”). Karem agreed to produce a quiet engine for the vehicle, which had until then sounded like “a lawnmower in the sky”. This new development became known as the “Predator”.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA) was awarded a contract to develop the Predator in January 1994, and the initial Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) phase lasted until June 1996. The aircraft itself was a derivative of the GA Gnat 750. During the ACTD phase, three systems were purchased from GA, comprising twelve aircraft and three ground control stations (as one complete system consist of four vehicles (Predators), one ground control station together with a primary satellite link communication suite).

From April through May 1995, the Predator ACTD aircraft were flown as a part of the Roving Sands1995 exercises in the US.These exercise operations were successful and this led to a decision to deploy the system to the Balkans later that summer.

By the beginning of the US Afghan campaign in 2001the USAF had acquired 60 Predators of which 20 had been lost in action. Few if any of the losses were from enemy action, the most likely reason for these losses being foul weather, particularly icy conditions. Some critics within the Pentagon saw the high loss rate as a sign of poor operational procedures. In response to the critics, the Predators were equipped with de-icing systems together with improved avionics as well as an uprated engine. This improved “Block 1” version was referred to as the “RQ-1B”, or the “MQ-1B” if it carried munitions; the corresponding air vehicle designation was “RQ-1L” respectively “MQ-1L”.

The Predator system was initially designated the RQ-1 Predator. The “R” is the US Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance and the “Q” refers to an unmanned aircraft system. The “1” describes it as being the first of a series of aircraft systems built for unmanned reconnaissance. Preproduction systems were designated as RQ-1A, while the RQ-1B (not to be confused with the RQ-1 Predator B, which became the MQ-9 Reaper) denotes the baseline production configuration.

These are designations of the system as a unit. The actual aircraft themselves were designated RQ-1K for pre-production models and RQ-1L for production models. In 2002 the USAF officially changed the designation to MQ-1 (“M” for multi-role) to reflect its growing use as an armed aircraft.

The USAF handed the Predator over to the service’s Big Safari office after the Kosovo campaign in order to accelerate the vehicles testing into a strike role, fitted with reinforced (and longer) wings and stores pylons to carry precision guided munitions as well as a laser designator. This effort led to a series of tests in February 2001 in which a Predator fired three Hellfire anti-armor missiles scoring three direct hits on a stationary target. The scheme was put into service with the armed Predators given the new designation MQ-1A. Given that a Predator is very unobtrusive and the Hellfire missile is supersonic; that combination gives little warning of attack to any unsuspecting targets.

Further weapons test occurred between May and June 2001 with mixed results. However, the armed version of the Predator, did not go in to action before the 9/11 attacks.

After 9/11 however, the MQ-1 has been used extensively, first and foremost in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in the tribal areas of Pakistan, in Yemen and some areas in Africa. 

Thanks to its engine’s low noise and low fuel consumption gives the Predator the ability to sneak into hot zones several hundred kilometres away, observe (in real time that is!), take pictures or deliver a precision guided blow to any unsuspecting targets virtually unobstructed.

The Predator is powered by a turbo charged Rotax 914F four cylinder horizontally opposed piston engine, driving a two bladed propeller. The engine yields nominally 100hp (73kW), but can sustain 115hp (84kW) for five minutes. The maximum take-off weight is just above one metric ton (1,020 kg to be exact) and normal cruise speed is between 130 to 165 km/h, but can be squeezed up to 217 km/h should the need arise.


 Until a few years ago I wasn’t aware of UAVs as such, but it’s fair to say that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq changed all that. I thought it would be cool with a model of such a drone because then my collection would be completely up to date and also to make a change of all the WW2 and Cold War subjects I normally stick to. A few years ago a local hobby shop celebrated its 25th anniversary by giving a 25% discount on all products. Among the kits I picked up was the RQ-1 Predator from Italeri. It was of course the unarmed version, but I thought to myself that to scratch build a couple of pylons and missiles would be easy. When I came home and examined it, I found 23 parts on two grey colored sprues were crisply recessed panel lines and subtle rivet detail was the name of the game. Two decal options were offered; an Italian Air Force version from the 32o Stormo in Iraq, 2006 and an US Air Force version from the 11th Reconnaissance Sqn, Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field (later to become known as Creech Air Force Base), Nevada spring 2004. The only thing about this kit was that the price tag to be somewhat heavy: 159,50 Danish kroner. WHAT???!!  For 23 plastic parts and some decals? The price of an old Airfix series one kit with a similar parts count is about one quarter of that! Oooops! Well, as it clearly states on the box and in the instructions the plastic parts are made in Japan and imported and packed in Europe by Italeri. I tried to track down the Japanese manufacturer via the web, but I had no luck with that! Well with 25% (actually it was closer to 44% due to a typing error on the cash register, but that’s another story which I won’t bother you with here) discount the price still seems heavy!

A couple of years later I almost “stumbled” over the MQ kit, because on July 2nd 2011 the worst cloudburst hit Copenhagen and surrounding areas causing massive floods. Since the city’s sewer system could not handle all that water the skies poured all over the place the consequences were, that streets, basements, parks well anything were flooded. So unfortunately also Stoppel Hobby at Frederiksberg was flooded (it is a basement shop!) and a number of kits were destroyed. Well the plastic of course survived, but the boxes, instructions and the decals… you get the picture! The kit came in a zip lock bag with all the contents plus the backside of the box included (two of the options showed there). From that, I could see the ordinary price at 145 Danish kroner but bought for 50 kroner. A very decent price! The kit contained by the way 30 parts split on three sprues in grey plastic. It was almost the same as the first kit, but of course with the missiles and pylons together with some extra smaller details specific for the MQ version.  There is an error in the instructions though: the sprues are marked as A, B and C but it should have been: A, C and D (the sprues are marked like that)! Three decal options are available; two from the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing (different numbers all right!) , Creech Air Force Base, Indian Springs, Nevada and one from the 57th Wing, Nellis Air Force Base , Nevada.


 The show started with the removal of the larger parts from the sprues and carefully removing the sprue attachment points plus the parts constituting the camera “ball” turret, which were glued together and left to cure. Following that, they were painted Humbrol 127 US Ghost Grey FS26375 together with the camera balls themselves; painting them was a challenge, but I found that a pair of tweezers was indispensable for that action! The camera lenses were painted Flat Black using both ends of a needle, since any brush is really no good here! Meanwhile some sink marks on the wing in the RQ kit needed attention; they were filled and sanded smooth when the filler had cured. The balls were then squeezed into place in the turrets and they can move up and down!

 Before gluing the whole thing together I wanted to see whether nose weight would be necessary so the kit was dry assembled (only one since they were identical!) and I stretched my index finger out from my fist, put it on the table and put the kit on the finger, more specifically were the main gear is supposed to be placed and saw how it behaved. The kit tilted down on the nose, so no weight was required!

 The wings were, as per instructions, glued in the upper halves of the fuselage first, then fuselages glued together with the camera ball turrets inserted of course – and they can revolve perfectly! Spinners were at this stage glued to the propellers (for easier painting).

 Seam filling was next especially at the rear fuselage it is important to hide the seam present there as well as the fuselage / wing seams, but they are really no big deal, so they are quite easy to deal with.

Also the forward fuselage needs a little attention; the pointed shape here, which is very noticeable, must be sanded with a very light hand or else the shape will be destroyed! Especially if the sprue attachment points have not been adequately dealt with, it will show! No less coarse than 1200 grit sand paper is recommend here! Gear was next; it fitted with no problem, but on the main wheels there was a very noticeable cast seam of plastic which required quite a bit of sanding (and filling too!) to look acceptable. The remaining parts, with the exception of the tiniest ones (antennae mostly) were glued in place at this stage before the kits went on to the paintshop!


 As some of the detail paint information in the instructions is sparse, at least regarding the gear and gear bays, I had to rely on what I could find of material. Photos I found on the web, as well as the photos on the box of the RQ kit, indicated it to be very dark so I decided to paint the whole lot Flat Black. As I had chosen to build the US version of the RQ and the MQ with the extra ventral fin between the main gear legs (the version from Nellis) they both were painted Grey FS26375. Two more layers were required before I was satisfied with the coverage. The missiles for the MQ were painted Humbrol 155 Olive Drab FS34087. The tips were painted Silver.

 Decaling came on next and as usual with Italeri decals (at least my experience) they worked fine, on the RQ at least, because as I mentioned earlier, the decals from the MQ kit had been exposed to moisture and I was a little exited about whether they would work or not. In recent years Italeri has finally come up with a replacement part service, the coupon in the instructions indicating that, but at first I thought it would be a waste of time (Italians!) or second the decal sheet itself didn’t look that bad; just some dark spots were present. It turned out that they were a little slower to get loose from the backing paper, but the addition seemed to be acceptable considering the circumstances. Where I encountered those dark spots, I had to peel off the decal from the backing paper very carefully, but I succeeded doing that until I came to the very last decal (one of the stars and bars insignia for the wing). It simply refused to get loose from the paper at one end, so I peeled it off and put it reversed on the saucer edge. I then took my X-Acto knife with a no 10 blade (edge worn slightly) and simply scraped the obstinate backing paper off VERY CAREFULLY!!! I then transferred the “freed” decal to some of the backing paper from the RQ decals to pick up some decal glue (as if it should help), then transferring it to the model, attached it and phew(!) job done!

 I then attached the last details with CA glue (to speed things up), did the last paint / touch up with the grey color I had used and the whole thing sat aside overnight to dry.

 The next day both models were given a coat of Humbrol Satin Cote with the exception of one the wing tips (to have a clear spot to hold on!). The next day those wing tips together with forgotten spots (!) were “Satin Coted” and the last detail painting done (navigational / positional lights) stuff like that, propellers squeezed on the shaft although it needed some thinning to compensate for the springy action of the propeller, which was removed when the spinner was glued onto the prop (my choice!) plus the Hellfire missiles for the MQ glued onto the pylons with CA glue and that’s that.


 These are indeed exceptional fine kits, which really goes together with no real obstacles other than some of the details are TINY, so if you have ten thumbs on each hand, these kits would probably not be something for you. For example I actually broke both kits nose probe when trying to remove the sprue attachment points (the damned things almost breaks just by staring at them!) only because they were a bit too tiny for me to handle them properly! Apart from that I think I was able to get the things out of these birds; enjoyment and having a relaxing time!

 Regarding accuracy the dimensions check out perfectly for all but the span for Block 10/15 aircraft, which requires an additional 2.8 centimetres added to the span of the wing.


 Nicolai Plesberg

November 2012

Thanks to    for the preview kit. You can find this kit at your favorite hobby shop or on-line retailer.

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