Trumpeter 1/32 AV-8B Plus

KIT #: 02286
PRICE: $154.00 SRP
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Lee Kolosna
NOTES: Wolfpack Design air scoops and ejection seat. CH Aero decals

The United States Marine Corps recognized the unique capabilities of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier vertical/short take-off and landing (V/STOL) aircraft in service with the RAF and procured 102 from British Aerospace in 1969.  Despite numerous roadblocks from within the military and the US defense industry, the AV-8A Harrier became operational in 1971 and performed its role of close air support quite well, being deployed in locations very close to the front line in areas that could not support traditional attack aircraft.  In mock dogfight exercises with the frontline fighter of the day, the F-4 Phantom, the Harrier proved to be a very formidable opponent in short range engagements due to the high maneuverability enabled by rotating the four jet exhausts into a turn in a tactic called VIFFing.  But the limitations of the Harrier’s design, being short range and limited ordnance load, were always an impediment to combat effectiveness.  This led to a partnership between McDonnell Douglas and BAe to design the Harrier II, which entered service in 1985.  The new larger model brought numerous improvements such as a larger wing with additional hard points, more ordnance capability, greater combat range, a more powerful engine, and an improved cockpit with better pilot visibility.  The Night Attack and Plus variants of the AV-8B added FLIR capability and a more powerful radar.
Marine Corps Harriers have been deployed to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and continue to support combat operations there.  The Harrier is a demanding aircraft to fly and intensive training is required of all its pilots.  The accident rate for the aircraft remains the highest of any US military aircraft, but that is certainly due to the challenges of vertical flight and the transition to and from forward thrust.  All AV-8Bs are slated to be replaced by the F-35B V/STOL variant of the Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter in the coming decade.

Consisting of 521 pieces in styrene, photo-etch, and rubber, the Plus version is one of four Harrier kits that Trumpter offers in this scale (AV-8B Early Version, Night Attack, and a RAF GR Mk 7 being the others in the series).
  As with all Trumpeter kits, one has to expect there will be accuracy issues – some significant and some not worth bothering about.  In this kit, the good outweighs the bad and a pretty nice model can be made with a few aftermarket pieces that I consider necessary, namely obtaining the four air scoops on top of the fuselage spine and a replacement ejection seat.
Overall shape.  Harrier subject matter experts will be able to show you how the nose geometry is not quite right.  When compared to photographs of the real aircraft you can see how the nose cone hinge line is too far rearward (3 scale inches), but you have to look pretty hard to notice it without a reference to compare it to.  This is more noticeable in the first AV-8B kit, but the later Night Attack and Plus kits with their longer noses make it less obvious.  There are a few panel line inaccuracies and vents here and there are wrong too.  Again, if you want to correct these you’ll have to obtain a decent reference to guide you.  But the overall dimensions and shape of the model is fairly good, details described below excepted.  Also good news: the Trumpeter Mad Riveter was on holiday when this kit was designed!  Panel lines are recessed with only a few recessed divots apparent.
Wings.  Harrier wings have a slight reduction in anhedral on the outer wing, which modelers have dubbed “the kink”.  Trumpeter doesn’t do a very good job here, instead molding a slight pinch in the wing leading edge around the stall fence and making no provision for the slight bend upwards of the outer third of the wing.  Modelers have posted various suggested fixes to this issue on several modeling forums which involve scoring the inside of the wing pieces and bending upwards slightly and filling in the pinched leading edge with a sliver of sheet styrene.
Control surfaces.  The flaps, ailerons, rudder, and elevons are all separate pieces.  On the ground, the aircraft’s wing control surfaces and rudder are seen in a neutral position.  The elevons do tilt up a bit with the leading edge higher than the trailing edge.  All of these pieces fit reasonably well into their respective slots, although I did have to remove the attachment pins and do a little sanding and trimming for them to be snug against the wing and vertical stabilizer.
Navigation lights.  These should be flush with the wing tips, rather than raised as depicted in the kit.  There is a raised area around the puffer vent that should be sanded flush as well.
Air scoops.  On top of the fuselage of all Harrier II Plus aircraft are four prominent air scoops that Trumpeter does not provide, instead including scoops of the earlier AV-8B version.  Wolfpack Design offers a set of resin replacements and are highly recommended because this is such an obvious feature of the Plus aircraft.
Leading Edge Extensions.  The 100% LERX pieces in the kit do not have a bottom, which is a pretty inexcusable error.  I filled this in with a piece of sheet styrene, but this is a task that one really shouldn’t have to in a kit at this price level.
Landing gear.  The complex landing gear pieces are reproduced fairly well.  I did notice that the angle of the nose gear strut is raked more forward than it should be, but that could have been an assembly error on my part.  The main wheels are dished inwards, which is incorrect.  All tires are synthetic rubber which some modelers have an objection to, but I didn’t have any major issues with them and they fit on the wheels easily.
Pylons.  The inboard pylons have cutouts on the rear lower section not present on the real aircraft.  I filled these in with sheet styrene.  The outer pylons are a scale foot too short, but that is relatively difficult to correct since the problem can’t be fixed by adding a plug as the error is present throughout the entire length of the piece.  The kit is designed for the anti-sway braces to be mounted in the notches in each pylon, but in reality these should be mounted inside the space between the two notches.
Cockpit.  The cockpit has a reasonable amount of detail and is mostly accurate for a Night Attack or a Plus aircraft. The ejection seat is quite plain and lifeless, with photo-etch harnesses provided.  I elected to use a Wolfpack Design resin seat instead, owing to the very prominent visibility of this area of the model.  The HUD is a combination of photo-etch frames with clear plastic display panels and is finicky to assemble and fit on top of the coaming.  I found the HUD a little too tall and couldn’t be mounted far enough forward because of interference with the windscreen.
Canopy.  This traditional Trumpeter trouble spot is thankfully well done with a justified complaint about the shape of the detonation cord molded into the canopy, which does not faithfully capture the shape of the real thing.  This can be fixed, but it will take quite a bit of work.  The pieces are nicely thin and crystal clear.   A mold seam will have to be sanded off and polished out.  Photo-etch rearview mirrors are included.
25mm Gun Pack.  This Plus kit corrected one big error of the AV-8B Early Version kit, which featured guns in both pods whereas in reality it exists only on the left side, with ammunition stored in the right.  Unfortunately, they didn’t correct the other mistake, which is that the gun itself in a five barrel Gatling type weapon, instead of the single barrel provided in the kit. The belt feed bridge piece between the two pods is just plain wrong and will need to be replaced with a scratch-built piece for accuracy.
Air Intakes.  The intakes are fairly well done, although a lot of work is needed to make them seamless using the kit parts.  Four large ejector pin marks have to be filled on the intake cone.  I found the fit of the little blow-in doors to be poor – they are smaller than the opening -- and required some filler to bridge the gaps.  There is a raised ridge on the fuselage just inside the intakes that is not appropriate and should be sanded flush.
Pegasus Jet engine.  I always marvel at why Trumpeter includes complete engines for assembly and then doesn’t provide any way of seeing it once the model is built.  But they obviously think of this as a feature and I do find myself enjoying gluing these pieces together without any concern for sloppiness or painting.  It’s actually kind of fun.  You will need to assemble and install the engine as the four thrust vector nozzles attach to it.
Ordnance.  Another traditional Trumpeter weak spot, this kit is no exception.  Using sprues recycled from other kits, there are a number of items that simply aren’t used on Harriers.  Trying to be a simple as possible, here is a guide.  Never used on a Harrier: the MERs, the BLU-49 bombs, the M-117 bombs, and the AIM-120 missiles.  Shouldn’t be used because of shape issues: the Mk 82 “slick” bombs and perhaps the TERs (they are much too skinny).  Passable: GBU-12 laser guided bombs, AIM-9L Sidewinders, AGM-65 Mavericks, Mk 82 Snakeye bombs, and the AN/AAQ-25 FLIR pod.  Unlike the first Trumpeter AV-8B kit, the Plus and Night Attack kits have the launchers for the Mavericks and Sidewinders included.  I have read that the large fuel tanks have some shape issues, being a bit too pointy and the fin shape is a bit off as well.
Decals.  Markings for two US Marine Corps and a Spanish Navy aircraft are included.  I’ve found that recent Trumpeter decals are pretty good overall in quality, with suspect artwork.  I don’t see any glaring issues with the kit markings.  The colors chosen for the formation “slime” lights are a little too stark so I elected to paint mine instead.
I started by assembling the engine as it is required in order to properly mount the vectoring nozzles.  Since I didn’t have to worry about seams or sprue attachment marks, this was a fun little task that went quickly.  The nozzles themselves have seams inside and out that have to be filled and sanded smooth.  The front nozzles are camouflage color (Gunship Gray) while the rear nozzles were painted Testors Metalizer Burnt Metal.  After filling four nasty ejector pin marks I painted the inside of the air intake cone white with dark metallic fan blades.  The main wheel well assembly was painted white and received a wash of dark gray and inserted in the fuselage halves along with the engine.  There are some holes that need to be drilled to accept the topside flare dispensers before gluing the two halves together.  I now use thick CA glue for mating all my major pieces together in order to avoid ghost seams that inevitable form weeks later.  Fit was reasonably good.
My attention was then focused on the wings.  I scored the inside of each wing upper and lower piece where the reduction in anhedral begins and bent the outer wing panel accordingly.  The wings were glued together as were the flaps, ailerons, and rudder pieces.  The leading edge extension (LERX) pieces are open underneath, so I cut out a piece of sheet styrene to fit and filled the surrounding seams.  I sanded the raised navigation light flush with the wing tip contour and cut out a notch for inserting a piece of clear green resin on the starboard wing and clear red resin on the port wing.  Both were blended in and polished back to clarity.  The inaccurately raised area around the puffer vent was sanded flush.
The cockpit was up next.  Dark Gull Gray FS26231 was used as the overall color, with a dark gray wash and dry-brushing with a light gray to highlight the details.  I put together the kit supplied ejection seat with the photo-etch seat belts, but it was simply too plain for such a visible part of the model.  I decided to ditch the seat and use a resin replacement from Wolfpack Design.  Before I get angry e-mails from Harrier fans about using the British Martin-Baker seats instead of the proper Stencel SJU-4 seat – I know.  The correct seat was out of stock and I didn’t know if one would ever become available, so I went with the British Harrier seat instead.  While it is technically wrong, it still looks significantly better than the kit seat. The seat was painted black and the cushions a medium brown.  The harnesses were painted dark green and a dark gray wash and dry-brushing of light gray gave some depth to the nicely sculpted details on the Wolfpack Design seat.
After inserting the cockpit and nose wheel well assembly into the front fuselage halves, they were glued together and the raised panel on either side of the nose as well as the ridge inside both air intakes was sanded flush.  The front of the air intakes were attached and I spent a lot of time filling and sanding the resultant seams to make the intakes as smooth as possible because this, like the cockpit, is the first place an observer is immediately drawn to.  Each blow-in door was individually glued to its respective opening.  After studying many photos of Harriers at rest, I decided to progressively close the upper four doors with the lower three doors completely shut.  I glued the front fuselage to the rear fuselage assembly.  I found the blow-in doors to be slightly smaller than the opening, so filler was required to make them flush with the surrounding fuselage, which was later re-scribed to insure that the outline of the door was properly delineated.
The windscreen was glued on and I carefully filled the seam and sanded it smooth with the surrounding fuselage.  The main canopy was glued to its frame and this seam was also filled.  It took about six attempts to get both of the seams filled to my satisfaction.  The clear parts were polished with Novus Plastic Polish #2 and masked for painting.
The wings were were glued on and more seam filling was required at the root, which is par for a Trumpeter kit.  The control surfaces were glued in after some sanding and removal of the attachment points, which made them easier to slide into place.  Because I had altered the outer wing panels, the ailerons required a bit of sanding to get to fit.
The pylons have issues as described above, so I filled the incorrect notches on the innermost set with scrap plastic.  Cleaning up the tiny sway braces and painting them was a tedious affair.  Since the gun pods have a couple of issues, I elected to just use the strakes and glued them on the belly instead.
Whenever making a model of a modern attack jet, the question of what ordnance to equip it with always becomes a major decision involving a bit of research.  Harriers can carry a variety of combinations, but I looked for typical patterns in photographs of operational AV-8B Plus aircraft.  I determined that this meant that air-to-air missiles weren’t really carried much after 2006, but the launcher is frequently seen attached to the outer pylons.  The middle pylons often have the huge external fuel tanks hung underneath, so I assembled those pieces.  In the end, I decided not to use these as I wasn’t too happy with how Trumpeter engineered the attachment points and also how they obscured the sleek lines of the jet.  On the inner starboard pylon one often sees the FLIR targeting pod attached, with a laser guided 500 pound bomb under the port wing.  So I assembled both of those but later elected to leave the bomb off and just use the FLIR pod.
The landing gear pieces are complicated and require parts cleanup before assembly.  There a bunch of doors, actuators, scissor links, and wheels to attend to.  All were painted flat white and given a dark gray wash to highlight the details and introduce a grungy appearance seen in photographs.  I noticed that the nose wheel strut is not perpendicular to the fuselage, which makes the landing gear light paint slightly upward, which is obviously incorrect.  It could have been an error that I made in assembly, so I encourage others building this kit to watch this area and see if it can be avoided.
Lots of little things went on the model before painting commenced.  There are flare ejector racks, blade antennae, air scoops, refueling probe, and various other doo-dads that I guarantee that you will break off several times before the model is finished.  As I stated above, the four unique air scoops on an AV-8B Plus on top of the spine are not included in the kit.  I used the Wolfpack Design replacements and they fit in well with a little Mr. Surfacer required in the surrounding seams to blend in.  A photo-etch panel immediately aft of the cockpit opening was glued down securely with CA glue.
The elevons were glued on at the tilted angle as seen in photos of Harriers at rest.  The rudder was glued on after snipping off the attachment pegs which are a little too visible.
I re-scribed the seams that were lost in the seam filling process and the entire model was washed in warm soapy water to remove any sanding dust and fingerprints before proceeding to apply the exterior paint.
            USMC Harriers recently underwent a paint scheme change, with FS 35237 Intermediate Blue undersides and FS 36118 Gunship Gray on top.  CH Aero issued an excellent decal sheet featuring two VMA-211 Harriers in the new scheme, and I selected the less colorful line jet option because that is what I usually prefer to have in my collection.  Slight editorial: decal makers make way too many CAG aircraft for their sheets in my opinion, but I do understand why they do this because modelers like them so.  I carefully masked off the interior of the air intakes and the wheel wells and sprayed the underside and then topside camouflage colors, using Testors Acryl paints.  There was the inevitable bleeding of paint under the intake masking, so several corrections were necessary before I was happy with a sharp transition between the Gunship Gray and the stark white interior.
            I wasn’t happy with the decals Trumpeter provides for the slime lights, so I painted them instead with British Interior Green for the lower half and scale black for the upper portion.  The tires were sprayed with a light brownish gray filter to knock off the shininess of the rubber and give some variation. The radar warning receiver bumps were painted medium gray, and the nose cone got a slightly darkened version of Gunship Gray.
            A coat of Future Floor polish was applied in preparation for decals.  The CH Aero decals went on just fine, with some silvering under clear areas.  The silvering was dealt with by repeated pricking the clear layer with a knife blade tip followed by a healthy application of Mirco Sol.  In a few stubborn areas I masked and sprayed the camouflage color over the decal.
            I applied a dark gray wash of Payne’s Gray oil paint thinned with Turpenoid to highlight all the panel lines.  Every Harrier I’ve ever been able to inspect in person has been filthy on the rear fuselage from the exhaust, so I sprayed a thinned black/brown mixture all along that section to match photographs.  These jets are still relatively clean owing to their new paint scheme so I used a light hand weathering, doing a little diffusion of the topside camouflage by lightly spraying a lighter gray in random areas and adding some grunge in places that the ground crew would touch the airplane using dark gray chalk pastels.
            I sprayed a medium gray on a clear sheet of decal paper and cut very thin strips to apply to the outlines of the canopy and windscreen to simulate the fiberglass reinforcing tape used to seal the joint. Everything was sealed with a coat of Testors Acryl Flat Clear.
            The rubber tires fit on the wheels easily and were glued to the struts.  The outriggers as designed incorrectly attach perpendicular to the wing, whereas they should be raked backwards instead so that the angle with the ground is close to 90 degrees.  Getting the nose wheel, the two outrigger wheels and the two main wheels to contact the ground all uniformly took a little bit of adjustment to the outrigger oleo struts, which I shortened and cut a slightly longer notch in the rear to fit further upwards into the main strut.  All the landing gear doors were glued on with their corresponding retraction struts.
            The shape and size of the photo-etched rearview mirrors was off, so I made some new ones out of thin plastic sheet and carefully attached them inside the canopy frame using clear watch crystal cement.  The wind indicator went on the nose, the pitot tubes were glued on, and I attached the fuel tanks, Sidewinder launcher rails, and FLIR pod under the pylons.  As mentioned previously, I didn’t care for how the large fuel tanks overwhelmed the model and decided to remove them.  The last step was to glue the canopy on in the open position and I was done with a project that I spent 85 hours working on over ten months.
            This is a challenging kit to build and paint, particularly with the huge canopy and windscreen, very open and visible cockpit, and gaping air intakes.  Accuracy issues continue to be something to watch for in all Trumpeter kits, with this particular kit’s main problems being the lack of the four dorsal air scoops, incorrect gun pods, misshapen pylons, lack of a wing outer panel kink, and ordnance selections that have to be carefully chosen.  I recommend that the ejection seat be replaced with an aftermarket item in addition to the Wolfpack Design resin air scoops, which are a must-have.  The gun pods, pylons, and wing kink issues are all correctable.
            For me, this project was for the most part an enjoyable build.  I spent an awful lot of time on the air intakes, from filling mold ejector marks and seams inside to attaching each individual door one-by-one.  Then the masking and painting of the intake required even more time and attention before I was satisfied with the result.  On the positive side, the kit builds up to an impressive model and only Harrier aficionados will notice the minor issues.  These are the only Harrier kits available in 1/32 scale and that will likely be the case for a very long time.  If you like the lines of this unique and interesting aircraft, then the Trumpeter kits are definitely worth considering purchasing and building.  One doesn’t see too many of these made, either in person or on any of the modeling websites or forums, so you could very well be the only person on your block to own one.
            The question of course is whether the relatively high cost of the kit and the two recommended aftermarket items are worth it.  I was able to take advantage of a Squadron Black Friday sale when I bought my kit, so I don’t feel that my total outlay of funds was disproportionate to the amount of time I spent building it or the enjoyment I received from the experience.  

Jenkins, Dennis R.:  U.S. Naval Aviation -- A Military Photo Logbook, Volume 1

Lee Kolosna

August 2013

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