Monogram 1/48 B-58 Hustler

KIT #: 04337
PRICE: $40.00
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Lee Kolosna
NOTES: Revell of Germany boxing. Mike Grant decals.


The Convair B-58 Hustler was a major technological leap for manned strategic bombers, possessing supersonic speed and very sophisticated flight control, electronic countermeasures, and navigation systems.
  Unusual for aircraft development, the US Air Force ordered the bomber into production with a rapid process that bypassed the traditional competition (Boeing was the only manufacturer that fielded a viable proposal) and prototype development in favor of producing aircraft directly for operational use after a short testing period.  It was intended to be a replacement for the B-47, which at the time was just coming into service.
The radical bomber possessed a delta wing configuration, a 20mm remotely operated gun turret in the tail for defense against enemy fighters, a unique external weapons pod that contained both fuel and a nuclear bomb, and four afterburning J79 jet engines that provided top-end speeds in excess of Mach 2.  The first B-58 flew in November 1956.  As expected for such an advanced weapons system, testing was a long and troublesome process that lasted much longer than planned.  The bomber was finally declared combat-ready in August 1962.  Two wings were deployed, one at Bunker Hill (later Grissom) Air Force Base in Indiana, and one at Carswell Air Force Base in Texas.
But the world was rapidly changing as Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) were becoming more and more viable as offensive weapons, throwing doubt on the entire manned bomber leg of the nuclear triad.  Soviet anti-aircraft systems were also evolving, with less emphasis on interceptors and instead on guided missiles that could match the speed of attacking B-58s.  Despite having most of the bugs worked out by 1965, it was decided to begin to retire the 112 aircraft due to their questionable survivability in a shooting war and their significantly greater operating expense compared to the B-52. The North American B-70 program was also affected by this change in thinking.  By 1970 all of the bombers were gone, having served in Strategic Air Command for only a few years and never dropping a bomb in combat operations.
The airplane was not very well liked by its pilots or the Air Force leadership in general.  The complex electronic systems were a maintenance headache in the vacuum tube era, the range was short, the payload was small, it was expensive (costing three times what a B-52 cost), and it was challenging to fly.  Any deviation from the flight envelope parameters resulted in unrecoverable conditions that led to the loss of the airplane.  Nearly a quarter of all B-58s were destroyed in testing and operational accidents.  The FB-111 succeeded the B-58 and while it too had a long and controversial development period, it went on to serve with distinction for over two decades.
            Molded in silver polystyrene with 121 parts, this Monogram kit was originally released in 1985 and continued the ambitious run of bomber kits in 1/48 scale.  It is now periodically reissued under the Revell brand logo.  The kit provides two different under-fuselage pods, the larger TCP (Two-Component Pod) and a smaller upper weapons portion of the same pod, the BLU-2/B-1.  It is pretty hard to find a photo of a B-58 fitted just with the smaller pod, with the earlier BM-1C pod (it has four fins but is the same size as the TCP that replaced it) being much more commonly seen in photos of B-58s during the testing phase in the early 1960s.  It would have better to have had Monogram provide the BM-1C pod instead of the small BLU-2/B-1 pod, but that is what was included for whatever their reasons.
The pilot’s cockpit is moderately detailed with instrument panels and control stick, as well as the unique ejection seat capsule developed for the aircraft to allow pilots a better chance of surviving an ejection at supersonic speeds.  The pilot’s access hatch can be posed in the open position, but there are no hatches or interior detail provided for the Bomber/Navigator or Defensive Systems Operator positions behind the pilot.  The very small windows for the bomber/navigator and DSO are incorrectly recessed whereas they should fit flush with the surrounding fuselage.
The engines are rather simple pieces that have blank plates behind the intake shock cones and the detail of the exhausts is just barely adequate.  External bomb racks are included, a feature added to B-58s towards the end of their service lives.  These long pieces had numerous sink marks that had to be filled.  Four Mk. 43 nuclear bombs are provided to add to the external racks if desired.
The complicated landing gear arrangement with eighteen wheels was covered with some amount of flash and prominent sink holes on the struts in my kit, which required a bit of cleanup.  Detail in the wheel wells is passably busy, but modelers may want to add more.  Weight is needed in the nose to allow the model to sit properly on the tricycle landing gear.  The Revell Germany issue includes decals in their usual matt finish and instructions printed on newsprint paper in booklet form with color call-outs linked to Revell paints.  The box is the infuriating flimsy clamshell type that I quickly ditched and transferred the contents to a sturdy Trumpeter kit box I had left over from another project.
As far as dimensional accuracy goes, this kit is pretty good other than the aforementioned recessed windows and is much better than the 1/72 scale Italeri kit or the ancient box-scale Revell offering.  The only glaring error that I can see is the molding of a seventh canopy window pane on the rearmost starboard side of the pilot’s cockpit.  I don’t know if this was a special one-off feature of a museum B-58 used by Monogram to design the kit, but I couldn’t find a single picture of such a configuration in operational Hustlers.
Decals provided in the kit are for three aircraft, two in natural metal and one aircraft supposedly painted in the Southeast Asia scheme for use in special operations in Vietnam but never photographed.  The debate over the reality of this super-secret camouflaged B-58 continues to rage, but it did manage to get a painting schematic guide in the T.O. 1-1-4 order of the day.  The decals are typical of Revell Germany, being thick with a matt finish.

My first task was to deal with the internal seam inherent in each air intake due to the left/right design of the engine pod.  I cut out the forward air intake of each half just at the location of the shock cone attachment point, glued the pieces together with CA glue and filled them, making sure that they were internally seamless, painted them flat white, and reattached the now whole piece back onto the rest of the glued-together engine pod.  This required more filling with CA glue.  The shock cone was painted Floquil Old Silver and flat black was hand-painted on the blanking plate around the cone to give the illusion of depth.
The wheel wells were assembled and added to the bottom wing section.  Period color photos show Chromate Yellow interiors.  The B-58 in the Air Force Museum has a honey-tinted white color in the wells.  My guess is that the Chromate Yellow was sprayed over with gloss white sometime during IRAN, but that is simply conjecture on my part.  The B-58 at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson has overall silver wheel wells with Chromate Yellow peeking through on the doors.  I went with Testors Acryl Chromate Yellow overall with silver landing struts and wheels.  The tires were painted with my sadly diminishing stock of Polly Scale Scale Black.
The cockpit was painted Dark Gull Gray FS36231 overall with flat black instrument panels.  The ejection seat cushions were painted Insignia Red with light gray harnesses. I decided to build the model in a closed cockpit configuration so I didn’t spend too much time worrying about the detail inside because it is close to invisible on the finished model.
As mentioned above the small rectangular windows for the two other crew members should be flush with the fuselage instead of recessed as provided by the kit.  I cut out small pieces of clear styrene from an old Compact Disc case and glued them into the openings.  I filled the gaps with CA glue and sanded everything smooth, followed by a polish with a tri-grit file and then Novus Plastic Polish #2 to bring the windows back to clarity.
I added some large fishing weights to the nose and then glued the fuselage top and bottom pieces together.  The tail pieces were glued together next, followed by the wing top and bottom pieces.  A significant amount of time was required to fill the large seams in each and every joint.  Since this model will have a natural metal finish, I used thick CA glue to mate the pieces together and to fill the gaps.  The worst fit was encountered when each engine nacelle was glued to the underside of the wing.  This is where things became really discouraging, as the gap between the top of each pylon and the wing surface was quite prominent.  Copious amounts of CA glue was used to filled the gap, but sanding this smooth and straight was really difficult in such a confined space.  My hands were beaten up after hours of sanding and polishing the pylon attachment seams for the four engine pods. 
I blended in the windscreen and the top hatch to the surrounding fuselage as this is flush on the real aircraft by carefully filling the gaps and sanding in such a manner as to not scratch the clear window sections.  I didn’t realize the error about the seventh window pane and dutifully masked it off.  I would later rue that oversight.  The engraved navigation lights were cut out of the wing tips and replaced with small pieces of clear red and clear green resin.  These were filled, sanded, and polished.
The enormous fuel tank was glued on and my heart sank when I saw yet another huge gap between the fuselage surface and the top of the pylon.  This took more hours of work to fill and sand and polish and I have to confess that I seriously considered just abandoning the project as this was absolutely no fun to do.  As a rule I don’t have a Shelf of Doom, but this model was put away for a year before I was motivated to resume the painting of the natural metal finish.  The entire model was rubbed down with Novus Plastic Polish #2 and then washed in the kitchen sink with warm water and a little dish washing liquid soap to remove the copious amount of dust and grime accumulated in the construction and seam filling phase.
            I knew that I needed a really tough base for the natural finish because the B-58 has a number of multi-hued panels that would require a considerable amount of masking to achieve.  For my primer base, I used Tamiya X-18 semi-gloss black Spray Lacquer right out of the can.  There were a few runs that were sanded smooth before spraying Alclad II Lacquer Aluminum over the entire model.  Then I began the lengthy process of masking off various sections of the model and spraying other shades of Alclad to achieve the look I wanted.  The tail stinger was painted with Duraluminum.  The landing gear fairings on each wing were painted with White Aluminum.  The elevons have Dark Aluminum in the rear and Jet Exhaust in the forward section.  The same two shades were used on each engine pod.  The exhausts were painted with Testors Metalizer Burnt Metal.  The radome, anti-glare panel, and the dielectric panels on the wing roots, wing tips, and top of the tail were painted with Polly Scale Steam Power Black.
            Looking through my references, I realized that the extra cockpit window pane was incorrect.  I fretted about what to do – I had already masked the window off and applied the primer and the Alclad paint.  If I simply removed the masking and painted it over, the outline of the window would be prominent.  So I tried to sand the surrounding area and feather in the transition, but that didn’t work very well and there is a very visible (to me) shadow line in the silver paint finish, a color that unfortunately hides nothing, ever.  Other than strip the entire model and start over again, I elected to press on and to not look at that part of the model too closely.  Grrrrr…
I eschewed the kit decals, which are notoriously prone to silvering according to reviews I have read, in favor of markings provided on decal sheet MG 48-004 issued by Mike Grant Decals.  I selected the markings for a 43rd Bomb Group B-58A from the early 60s with a little bit of nose art, “The Pulaski Hustler”.  The decals went on beautifully although the long black walkway lines were nerve-wracking to lay down straight.  To blend everything in with a consistent finish, I sprayed a thin coat of Testors Metalizer Sealer.  The radome got a semi-gloss clear, and the anti-glare panel got a flat clear finish.
I lost so many raised panel lines during the seam filling process that I decided to replace them with drawn-on pencil lines which I think fools the eye a little better on a natural metal finish model than re-scribing.
            A dark wash was added to the wheel wells to provide some depth to the molded detail.  This was the only weathering I did as these aircraft were kept quite clean with only a trace of exhaust residue seen on the underside of the elevons. The complex landing gear pieces were glued in.  I expected trouble getting all eighteen wheels to touch the ground at the same time – I wasn’t disappointed. Light sanding of the bottom of some of the errant wheels helped. The nose landing gear assembly is particularly fragile and nearly impossible to get aligned properly.  I detailed the three landing lights by drilling out the solid cones and adding some clear circular lens pieces found in my spares box.  A couple of fins were added to the weapons pod and the pitot tube glued on and faired into the nose.  I’m sure that this won’t last long before being broken off.
            As of this writing, Modeling Madness has been on-line almost twenty years, yet there has not been one single Monogram 1/48 scale B-58 kit review article published until now.  In all my years of attending contests and model club meetings, I can only recall seeing one of these built.  I now know why: this is one of the most difficult models I have ever built.  It looks deceptively simple in the box with not very many pieces, but the difficulty of the fit, the challenge of getting the seams perfectly smooth for the natural metal finish, and the complexity of the landing gear certainly make it an ordeal that few modelers evidently follow through with.  I know it really frustrated me much of the time and only by sheer stubbornness did I continue to the end.
            Why did I do it?  Because this completes the Grand Cycle of Revell/Monogram US bombers for me in my modeling career.  I have previously built the B-17G, B-24D, B-25H, B-25J, B-26B, B-29A, RB-36H, B-52D, B-1B, and B-2 kits.  The only thing missing was the B-58 and that is now done.  I admit that it’s a bit silly, but it gives me satisfaction knowing that I have achieved this milestone.
            I don’t recommend this model to anyone unless they are really keen on the subject.  I found it to be very hard to build to the standard I expect of myself and I can’t say I enjoyed the experience overall.  On the positive side, it’s an accurate B-58 Hustler, surely one of the coolest bombers to ever fly and the finished model is quite an impressive piece.  I could see one of the Chinese model companies issuing a new tool kit as they wouldn’t have to try very hard to get something that fits better than this old Monogram nugget.
            As they say – been there, done that, got the t-shirt.  Never again.
McCullough, Anson: “B-58 -- Diehard of the Manned Bombers”, Airpower magazine, November 2000
Peterson, Wayne:  Convair B-58 Hustler”, Wings & Airpower magazine, December 2006
Smith, Dale: “Speed -- How the Fastest Bomber Faded at the Finish”, Air & Space Smithsonian magazine, January 2006

Lee Kolosna

January 2015

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