Hobby Boss 1/72 F-86F-30 Sabre
KIT #: 80258
PRICE: $9.99. MSRP
DECALS: Two Options

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            What this world needs is a good 49 cent plastic model; the kind kids could buy by cashing in a few deposit soda bottles.   Oh, I know. Kids don’t scrounge for money any more.  At age 4 they draw a double digit in dollars allowance; and on their 16th birthday get handed the keys to a Beemer SUV.

            Things were different when we were kids.  We were poor.  Really poor.  [CHORUS:  How poor were you?] We were so poor that I got clubbed feet from my mother darning the same pair of socks so many times.  We were so poor that we were the best dressed kids on the block a full half century before Ralph Lauren turned  tattered clothes into the height of fashion.   Our clothes were patched hand-me-downs and we were ashamed to go to school with mis-matched knees and elbows.   How were we to know that fifty years later movie stars would strut about with their tucheses poking out of frayed gashes, and that you would have to be a movie star to afford jeans that came that way off the designer’s rack.

            We were poor, but we were never unkempt, un-kept, un-cared for, or unfed; the last evidenced by a life-long ectomorphism.  Toys , however, were a low priority, and we were on  our own to feed an early interest in styrene.   Deposit pop bottles were the answer.  Small ones were worth 2 cents. A full nickel   for the quart size, but these could rarely be found tossed off into the gutter.

 We would   cash them in at Binder’s candy story. Mr. Binder always had a few Hawk or Comet 29 centers tucked up on a high shelf with school supplies and some hardware bits and pieces. He never charged us the extra penny tax, and if we were short a bottle he’d generally let that slide too. Revell was  out of our league.  They cost 98 cents and you had to go way up on Pitkin Avenue to Red’s Sporting Goods Store. That  meant crossing enemy territory; which you had to be crazy to do with nearly a dollar tucked in your pocket or a new model hidden in your coat, if you had somehow managed to survive the outbound leg.

Bazooka Bubble Gum wrappers were another route to wealth.  You could collect and cash those in for prizes. If I correctly recall, 250 would get you a matched Mustang and Zero, also by Comet.  We never splurged on such trifles, because we were going for the Big Time.  My brother had decided that we would get the 80 power microscope, which required a whopping 475 wrappers.  We spent more than a year with our eyes scouring the sidewalk, collected 325 wrappers, and despaired of ever reaching the magic number. 

Then came one of those chance encounters that forever changes lives.  We learned that the Lichtman Brothers, Alan and Harold, were also saving Bazooka wrappers for an almost-as-expensive basketball, but  had lost all hope. We struck a deal, trading for their 150 wrappers a pile of Superman comic books and Mad Magazines.

The microscope was a tiny thing, less than 6 inches tall.  But hunched over it we peered into an unimagined world inhabited by paramecium, amoebas, and the fearfully multi-headed hydra. Our samples were drawn from a drainage ditch bucolically named Spring Creek.  We kept them in cotton-stoppered test tubes in a closet and apparently never noticed the mounting stench.

 Mom came in one day to investigate, uncorked the tubes, and nearly infected the entire housing project with unknown and un-curable plagues.  These days such a stunt would land a pair Leeuwenhoek   wannabees in a Gitmo cell, branded as bio-terrorists.

But how did this episode change our lives?  It got Big Brudder started on the road to a career as a surgeon. Of course, had we held on to that stack of comic books they would have been worth enough to pay for his med school tuition. Me? I just couldn’t hack all that studying.  And the thought of being around sick people all the time.  Ooh – just so icky!

The tables were eventually turned.  Here am I ten years retired and living the good life, while he still struggles with the pittance he gets from Medicaid and Medical patients. Having a brother in the surgical field is quite an asset.  He gets me scalpel blades  (I’m out of #11’s Bro), hypodermic needles for applying liquid cement, and exceptionally fine stainless suture wire which makes superlative 1/72 scale rigging.  Of course, for the really juicy modeling stuff, he should have become a dentist.

There’s a more important advantage. When national healthcare is eventually rammed through and  access to a doctor becomes a gift of government, I’ll have someone to minister to my more egregious ills; that is, if those nasty old ciggies he’s forever sucking upon don’t do him in.

But how did I lapse into all this reminiscence? I was talking about history. Oh – you want history of the airplane. The Saber Jet?  I’m not going to get into that.  There’s already oodles right here on Modeling Madness.  Then there’s GOOGLE.  And all those “In Action” books.  What could humble moi possibly add?   But I did want to return to the topic of affordable model airplanes.

A few years back the  Chinese Hobby Boss brand took on the task of molding entry-level models.  They have an extensive repertoire in 1/72 scale of the most popular, if jaded, WWII- to-current-day fighters, priced one penny below $10; more than a kid can   earn by cashing in deposit bottles, which generally can no longer be found because plastic has taken over, but about what he could make by bringing a few bags of aluminum cans to the recycler.

Their next-step-up-the-ladder series  is a collection  of helicopters and larger planes that go for $20 - $30.  Once a kid is hooked he can move up to 1/48 scale and into the “Dad, can I have an advance on my allowance?” range. Keeping pace with the current trend in import pricing, their 1/32 creations take the devotee ever higher into the “Honey, can we get a second mortgage on the homestead?” range.

Assuming that they were just toys and on par with Snap-Tites and early Matchboxes; and because they offered  no to-me exciting  subjects, I had turned up my nose at these bottom-liners.   A brood of grand-nephews sprouting into model airplane age gave me cause to take a second look when the need came over me also for instant-gratification respite from the toils and tribulations of Merlin and Mach 2.

I chose the Saber having  of late become infatuated with its svelte  lines.  It has to be one of the prettiest airplanes ever conceived, and differs from  so many classics in retaining  that sex appeal through operational maturity; even unto  its barrel-chested FJ-4 embodiment.

Unlike most subjects, which are of the “One or at most two then through” variety, the F-86 fell into the exclusive category of “Let’s see what each manufacturer has to offer.” One of the very few attractions of entering into a seventh decade of existence is the freedom to indulge such excesses.

Hasegawa put one out in its very first batch of export moldings.  It long ago disappeared from the store shelves and my example similarly disappeared from the  Secret Model Airplane Museum shelves. Not even a trace of it remains  in the salvage bins. I do still have a Matchbox A-model Saber; but its build-up and brush-painting was as childish as was its injection rendering.  Airfix’s Saber-Dog still  occupies prominent shelf space along side Emhar’s Fury-4, and the most recent sibling, an Academy F-86-F. Reviews on this site and others hinted strongly that this last kit is the same one boxed by Fujimi and Hobby Craft, so there was no sense in sampling those re-packagings.

Like Tutenkhamen’s tomb, the Saber seemed to carry with it a curse, jinxing each construct  with a major bung-up. Hobby Boss’s “Easy Assembly Authentic Kit” dangled the tantalizing prospect of the elusive “flawless buid”.  But my, how I do ramble on in my advancing age.  Let us move on finally to a discussion of…


Which was a surprise. The few parts, custom cradled in their  vacu-formed holder, are engineered for quick and easy assembly, but are not at all toy-like.  The level and rendering of detail is at least equal to the Fujimi /Academy  kit. The only exception is the main gear wheels, a tad over-inflated and the prominent brake-hubs of which are disapppointingly fuzzed.

Accuracy may or may not be an issue.  With Saber Jets there is a question of which wing went with which sub-variant. Wings could be wide or narrow chord. Long span or short.  Slatted, slotted, or slutted. Flapped or flopped. Anal compulsivists can determine if the mold makers got this one perfectly correct; but it looks fine to me.

The one-piece transparency is thick but clear. Everything goes together with gigantic tabs and keyed slots, but glue is still necessary. The plastic is a bit finicky; hard, brittle, with thin areas such as tips and trailing edges easily shattered when dropped from bench-height.  Excess  solvent will also cause sinks and holes to open.  These foibles were revealed   in the boogering-up of a prior attempt at the same kit; but at $9.99 the elusive “flawless build” can be pursued without undue guilt.

The instruction diagram is clear enough, whether the parts tags are read in English or the Mandarin provided. A painting and marking guide is full color but leaves unanswered some questions.  (More anon). Decals, sealed in their own bag, appear thick and reminiscent of the ancient Airfix armor plates, but turned out to be exceptionally workable.  More, too, to follow on that.

In a feat of incomprehensible injection molding magic, the fuselage is formed  in nearly a single shot, eliminating  dorsal seam scraping and sanding. The residual strip of belly is integral with the one-piece wings; and conjoined  with the lower half of intake trunking.  Despite the resultant thickness of most parts, they are totally free of shrink dimples and other abominations.

To celebrate the Saber’s sexiness, I chose to assemble it with gear doors and air brakes shuttered tight, and bereft of under-wing tanks. Purists will point out that F-86’s always lugged these around, but let’s pretend that this one has just returned from a Mig tete-a-tete over the Yalu, where encumbrances would have been jettisoned in the opening courtesies.


Starts with correcting the cockpit opening, which resembles a broad cruciform intended to capture oversize tabs on the canopy. Razor-sawing away 4 wedges of sidewall and swiping the cut surface with a sanding stick creates a normal aperture. (Joel sent a number of images of his mods, but most were too out of focus for me to publish. Ed)

The need for another semi-major fix was not evident until cockpit closure.  Either the canopy is slightly small or the mating surface is too large.  When the canopy went on nearly a full millimeter of flat flange extended on all sides.  The fix was accomplished with careful shaving by a curved scalpel blade, but is most easily and invisibly done prior to painting.

The cockpit tub is integral with the upper half of the intake trunk, and mating these sections is all the furnishing of the front office that needs to be done at this point, since other details can be inserted from the top.

To avoid tail sitting, Sabers requite tons of lead weight in the nose and only slightly less of depleted uranium; though the latter is more difficult to procure and demanding in its storage and handling. Little room is available at the extreme forward end of datum, but by smashing flat with a good sized framing hammer, one or two fishing weights can be curled in around the intake tunnel.  The rest can fit under the cockpit floor. Stuff in as many split shot as will fit then cram in  a few more.

Before sealing the fuselage the exhaust piece has to go in; but since I needed to support the airframe  for assembly and painting I left this out until last. A length of 3/8” dowel fit tightly up the jet’s wazoo for clamping in a Panavise.

The fuselage / belly /wing juncture needs just a swipe of 600 grit wet paper to remove all hints of seam line.  The port side wing root did stand slightly proud of the fuselage flank and once again a #15 scalpel blade came to the rescue as a scraper. The only filler needed was to close the mounting holes for the wing tanks. The nose piece is a glue-free press fit. Ditto the tail planes.

To avoid breaking and losing the cranked pitot tube I excised and saved it for future re-anasthemosing in an unused paint vial.  The gremlins, as always,  kept one step ahead by teleporting pitot and vial into a parallel universe. It was easily re-fashioned out of a bent pin, but not until I had taken the accompanying photographs.

Closing all the portals offered the first opportunity to exercise ingenuity.  The nose gear well is half again as wide as the door.  I fixed this by inserting a shim of card stock, then adding the door, mindful of its tendency to dissolve in too much glue. Once dry, Squadron white stuff was spooned in to the bilateral gaps and sanded smooth.

The gear doors and air brakes are meant to be mounted open, so no lip is provided by which they may be glued closed and flush.  To solve this I retrieved from the shop my tube of do-everything J-B Weld epoxy.  I let the mixed stuff set for an hour or so until it became firm, rolled several little balls of it and used these to hold the doors in place, pressing gently until everything was flush. BTW, if you do mount the brakes open, snip the lower hinge arms and adjust the actuators so they droop at the proper angle.


            My intent was to do a base coat of Alclad  Chrome, slightly “panelized” with White Aluminum on the wing center panels and Dark Aluminum on the  gun doors and engine exhaust.   Most photos depict Sabers in very dull aluminum, though some  do show highly polished warbirds  in this pattern.  Not this particular livery, perhaps; but it’s my model and I’ll paint it to suit me. Or try to.

            Everything ever written by, about, or for Alclad calls for a black enamel primer under Chrome, polished to a mirror gloss. I sprayed the airframe with Model Master black, then polished out areas of slight orange-peeling. Since Chrome cannot withstand masking tape, I sprayed and masked the White Aluminum panels. Before proceeding  I did a test tape pull up.  The tape came up fine.  So did large chunks of Alclad. Later, with the help of MM Forum posters, I surmised that the aluminum shades require a lacquer based primer.

            I feathered in the boogers, fixed the  Aluminum panels, then sprayed  the Chrome.  Where the enamel surface was virgin, the Alclad laid down an eye-piercing metallic gleam.  Wherever the primer had been polished, however, the lacquer conformed to the most sub-microscopic imperfections and dried dull.

            This situation normally called for CFIT – Controlled Flight Into Terrain; but since I had already discarded one of these kits I resolved to fight the jinx, and to find some other use for my $10 a-piece bottles of Alclad; such as getting the fireplace going when the firewood is wet.

            Using abrasive toothpaste and Mrs. Wright’s Silver Polish, I scrubbed away the metalics down to the black gloss;  then whomped the whole with a liberal coat of  Railroad Bright Silver.  The result was smooth, shiny, and convincing. I’d previously found Floquil to resist marring from tape, but recalling modeling’s Golden Rule  - The Enemy of Good is Better - abandoned the panelized wing thing. There would be  sufficient decals to break up the monochrome.  I did mask and spray the gun bay doors and exhaust section with Alclad Dark Aluminum.

            The decals, as mentioned, looked like they might pose a thickness problem; but they turned out to be exceptionally well behaved. When first applied, they look like they will not conform, but as they dry they suck down into every crook and nanny.  They can be helped along by dousing with either Solvaset or Microset, then rolling with a Q-tip.

Fuselage insignia and tail codes are provided pre-cut to fit around the open air brakes. I had the spare decal sheet from the wrecked kit so avoided the need to re-match the pieces.  The “Fighting Cock” and some other markings are given in duplicate but are shown on the marking guide as only on the port side.

The only other fault of the decals is a slight graininess when set.  Since they adhered so well, I opted to change from my standard procedure in the past and skip the Future.


            The nosegear strut displays an odd, apocryphal feature copied from  many kits; a hefty and complex diagonal retraction brace.   This cannot be seen on any photo with either the nosegear door open or closed.  It is not evident on the Saber parked in the Udvar Hazy Annex of the NASM, nor the one guarding the entrance to the Front Royal VA airport.  If it did exist it would make impossible the closing of the door with the gear extended.  With all that logical and philosophical support, I felt safe in the decision to snip it and flip it.   Since the struts are all molded with the oleos for some reason extended, the legs are all a bit long; but I was too lazy to shorten them.

            The flight deck had yet to be completed. Saber insides  generally were painted  pitch-black, but in the interests of visibility I left the dark grey plastic un-colored. No details or decals are provided to dress up the blank instrument panel and consoles, so I added some pieces from a True Details instrument sheet.  The kit seat looks like a crate in which a refrigerator or washing machine might have been delivered, so I replaced it with a more-convincing-but-far-from-authentic bucket and scratch-built headrest.  I ran out of PEB belts so strips of tape had to do. The control column scales out to the size of a 6X6 post but looked OK after a bit of scraping and sanding.

            The canopy’s humongous mounting tabs had to be removed, and with the styrene’s brittleness in mind I sawed then sanded them off. A fuel dump pipe had to be fashioned from a snippet of strut and set just below the left stabilator.  The final step; final that is until post-photography realization that the pitot tube was still missing, was removal of the rectal dowel and insertion of the engine exhaust piece; which also required removal of the mounting tabs and sanding down the circumference.


            I do believe this kit has beaten the Saber Jet Jinx.  Despite some assembly difficulties it displays no noticeable (to me) botch-ups. Hobby  Boss has come to the rescue of model airplaning; providing a line of inexpensive, attractive, entry-level  subjects  that can be as-is built by a young neophyte, or with a bit of experience, tweaked into a fine display piece.  I’ll have to try some of their others.

            Meanwhile, I’m on the prowl for a Heller F-86; which is OOP but rumored to be a top-notch rendering.  Also awaiting the release of Airfix’s “new tooling” F-86; rumored  to not be a re-box of the Heller; and an FJ-2/3 promised by one of the Czech firms.  At my age these are the only types of sexy models I’ll ever handle.

Joel Hamm

March 2010

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