Fujimi 1/72 RF-86F Sabre

KIT #: F-20
PRICE: HK $60.00
DECALS: Two Japanese options


The Sabre is a well-known aircraft but perhaps less well known were the recon variants. In the preview of this kit, right here on Modeling Madness, you can read a little about the development of the US recon Sabre, known as the "Haymaker". The US versions flew some extremely secretive missions, so sensitive that each one was personally approved by President Eisenhower. Some US aircraft that were used in the Korean War ended up flying recon for the ROKAF into the 1980s. One, supposedly, was still in use in the early years of this century, proving that it wasn't just third world air forces that persevered with 50s-era planes into the 90s and beyond.

The recon Sabre started out as a quick fix in the absence of anything suitable to do photography missions. But it turned out so well that later versions were built with an extra degree of refinement. The basic design stayed the same: the machine guns were removed and the space was used to place three downward-facing camera units into the fuselage. There wasn't enough room for the film magazines, so two pods were added just behind the gun outlets. Although there were no guns, the air force didn't want the planes to appear unarmed, or stand out as recon birds. So fake guns were painted on where the gun outlets would have been.

I wanted to use this kit to make one of those USAF aircraft - I even had the backstory written - when I discovered that the Japanese version depicted in this Fujimi kit had the wrong wing. Thanks Boss! Well, that is to say, it has the right wing for a Japanese version, but not for the American one. So instead I looked further into the JASDF's operations with the RF-86.

Japan had 18 of its hundreds of F-86s converted by Mitsubishi to recon birds in around 1961-62. One of them collided with a regular F-86 in 1972, destroying both planes. Most of the RF-86s, including the one I built, were flown by the 501 Hikotai (squadron) out of Iruma and Hyakuri, until somewhere between 1977 and 1979 (sources differ). By then they were pretty long in the tooth. They were replaced by recon Phantoms (RF-4EJ) which are still based at Hyakuri, just north of Tokyo. That base is part of Japan's Central Air Defence Force, which is one of four regional groups within JASDF Air Defence Command, but the recon squadron is separate, forming the Tactical Recon Group. Its Phantoms are now long in the tooth too, and may soon be replaced by pod-carrying F-15Js.

At least one of Hikotai 501's RF-86Fs ended up at China Lake as a candidate for conversion to a drone, in 1977. Presumably some others met the same fate.

If you live in or are visiting California, stop by the Pacific Coast Air Museum at Santa Rosa. There is an RF-86 that started as a US jet (just a straight F-86), then served for Japan as an RF-86, before coming back to the US and being restored into the US colours of a recon Sabre. In the right light, you can apparently see the Japanese markings underneath its new scheme. There is also an original US "Haymaker" at the museum at Dayton, Ohio.


My preview gives a fairly accurate round up of what you get in the box. It's of the quality you'd expect from Fujimi. This kit has finely engraved panel lines and cleanly moulded detail parts like the wheels, airbrake bays and cockpit features. It has a good instrument panel and cockpit side panels, a three-piece ejection seat, a pair of drop tanks and two nicely done Sidewinder missiles (which don't go with the recon version). Particularly nice is the intake, made of two parts and with a separate engine inlet to install deep inside the jet. True, the Heller kit isn't too far behind here, but the Fujimi version looks like (and actually is) an easier build. The clear parts are nice and clear and thin too.

All that would be true of the regular F-86 kit, but this recon version includes a few extra parts. It has some underside camera pods, moulded in clear plastic, and two side pods (which hold the film magazines for the cameras), and two blank panels to put where the machine guns would otherwise be.


Like a true aeroplane modeller, I started work in the cockpit. It's nicely detailed with colour decals for the instrument panel and side consoles, as well as a control column. The ejection seat is reasonably well done. I took a Hasegawa pilot and put him in the cockpit, painting some seatbelts over his shoulders and across the lap to hold him in place. All of this went well. I like models with pilots. There is a clear plastic piece to make the HUD, which seems to be pretty wide for a Sabre. Perhaps that was a Japanese upgrade.

The jet comes with an intake tube and turbine facing which I put together, and then sealed up the fuselage.

The fuselage fits together very nicely - it's a pleasure to build a kit that fits so well after a run of old Airfix and KP kits. I had a little bit of trouble with one of the panels that goes where the machine guns normally go. It didn't fit smoothly and as a result I had to use a little putty and sand it smooth. On the underside, there was (as so often is the case) a bit of a gap between the one-piece wing and the fuselage. More putty and a bit of sanding - but not nearly as much as I am used to.

There were not really any difficulties with the construction phase of this model. As usual I did the painting before I put the undercarriage and canopy on, and I'd elected to put the airbrakes in the closed position because I felt they'd be that way with a pilot in the plane. I added the fuel tanks at the end as well.


I like modern Japanese aircraft. They seem to have a bit of colour to them in their day-to-day schemes, and they certainly have no shortage of great colour splashes for special occasions. Indeed, it's easy to wonder if the JASDF isn't in some kind of special deal with Hasegawa to celebrate every conceivable anniversary of anything, so that Hasegawa can release an expensive re-boxing. "Ah, 23rd anniversary of the birth of former commander Takahasi-san's prize carp? Yes, a special edition is called for!". You can just see them cooking that up over a late night sake.

Still, that didn't stop me buying several such releases over the last few years when I could find them on special at UML in Hong Kong. This plane is just a normal squadron-service jet but it has a nice bright blue and yellow tail flash; the alternative decals are equally attractive. The whole jet is silver, so I used my trusty Tamiya AS-12 spray can to give it a nice overall coat of aluminium. I'm guessing these planes weren't actually bare metal, so I thought AS-12 was about right.

The whole plane came out looking pretty good to me - I hope it is not too immodest to say the finish is probably the best I have ever done.

Markings were easy. Good quality decals with no real problems. Later on, as you might see in the pictures, one of the red markings on the wing disappeared, as did a black line on one of the camera pods, but it's not uncommon for that to happen on my kits because I have not advanced to the stage of using future and similar techniques.

The only tricky bit really is getting the large numbers lined up, and getting the tail code to sit flush and straight inside the tail flash. A bit of care is all you need.

My jet, as noted, is from Hikotai 501 - the 501st squadron. 


This was (a) the easiest, best-fitting kit I have built in a long time and (b) probably the nicest result I have ever achieved. Yes, I am bragging a little, but anyone who's seen my other builds on MM will know that I am possessed of only modest talents and when I get a nice result I am quite happy. There may be a direct correlation between (a) and (b), so I would recommend this kit to any average modeller who wants to know how it feels to do a little better than they normally do; or to someone of any skill level who likes Sabres or JASDF planes.



Pictures of JASDF RF-86:
Number 426, subject of this kit:
Other ones:

Richard F

March 2011

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