Italeri 1/48 U-2R
|PRICE:||€15 when new|
|NOTES:||Techmod 4 color lozenge and rib tapes|
With the rise of the
Cold War, the US military recognized that strategic reconnaissance could not be
carried out by the then converted bombers and similar aircraft, as they were
extremely vulnerable to Soviet air defense assets. A dedicated aircraft, capable
of flying at 70,000 feet (a height then considered “safe” in regards to the then
Soviet defense technology…) was visualized and sought after.
Whereas Bell, Fairchild and Martin received relevant USAF contracts, Lockheed, despite not receiving any, decided to nevertheless engage their top engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson in such a project. What his “Skunk Works” unit came up with, was to essentially mount two sailplane wings onto an F-104 fuselage. Named CL-282, the project had a dodgy start, being initially rejected by the USAF. Time proved to be this project’s ally, though: having already changed its name to U-2, it ended up beιng wholeheartedly accepted and funded by the CIA. The rest is history…
"Dragon Lady", production U-2 provided day and night, high-altitude, all-weather
intelligence. Essentially a jet powered glider, it was a very difficult aircraft
to fly and, because of a high stall speed relative to its maximum speed, a
handful to land, requiring a chase car with another U-2 pilot to help talk the
Initially conceived to take off from a dolly and land on a skid, designers came to their senses and a bicycle configuration landing gear was finally adopted, with the wheels located behind the cockpit and engine. To maintain balance during takeoff, auxiliary wheels, known as “pogos”, were installed under each wing, dropping away upon takeoff. The fact that pilots wore space-like suits, in order to maintain proper oxygen and pressure levels at those high altitudes, only contributed to boosting the myth surrounding this exotic aircraft, especially in its early years.
Apart from their active role during the Cold War (the infamous Gary Powers incident included…), U-2s have not only taken part in post-Cold War conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, but have also supported several multinational NATO operations. The type has also been used for electronic sensor research, satellite calibration, scientific research, and communications purposes.
It is an ageless aircraft, proudly serving the USAF for over 50 years, together with B-52, KC-135, and C-130, with its newest models (TR-1, U-2R and U-2S) entering service in the 80s and the latest version undergoing a technical upgrade in 2012. A total of 104 have been built between 1955 and 1989.
This kit was introduced
by Italeri in 1988 as TR-1A/B, which is the later version of the U-2, featuring
greater wing span. Since then, with the occasional addition of new parts, it has
been frequently reboxed by Italeri (and “sister” Testors) as U-2R/Senior Span
and even as U-2S by Academy (in 2014).
My copy was the original 1988 edition, discovered at an Athens Hobby shop in 2000, still sealed and at a price I could not refuse. It came in a flimsy-ish top opening Italeri box, with an ungainly pic of a U-2 flying in a surreal looking sky as a boxart. Upon opening the box I was greeted with a lot of black plastic, 80 parts in total, arranged in three sprues: two of them basically contain the wing parts, intakes, doors and nose halves, whereas the third one contains all the rest, the two fuselage halves included.
Cockpit detail is average. Should you want to pose the canopy open, some beefing up will be absolutely necessary. Landing gear is equally averagely represented, with some detail molded onto the bay walls. All 8 wheels are one piece, a nice touch. Intakes are shallow and bland, the same being true with the exhaust nozzle.
Options include building the operational single seater or the trainer double seater. The air brakes can be optionally posed open. Panel lines are raised all over, and not that many really, but that is the case in the real plane, as well. Molding is quite good, with only a bit of flash noticeable here and there. Some warping can be observed at the wing halves, but this might be understandable for such big parts, let alone that it usually “disappears” upon joining the wing halves most of the times…
Clear parts look well molded and crystal clear. Instructions come as a small pamphlet, containing a small history and a parts list, with the construction spread in 6 very clear steps. Interestingly, the model is so engineered that kit parts are consecutively used in series at each construction step: parts 1 to 18 at step1, parts 19 to 24 at step 2 and so on, a nice touch, especially helpful for less experienced modelers, who will not have to worry about losing track of parts.
Color callouts are clearly provided at all construction steps, however I am a tad sceptical about the zinc chromate recommendation for the intake innards: they should most probably be white (though I have also seen black at some net pics). Three scheme options are provided: the classic operational all-black, a colorful NASA white over gray - or duck egg blue? - and an all-white USAF two seater trainer. Where instructions really come short is at the camo drawings and decal placements: not all views are provided for all schemes, leaving the modeler speculating. This is especially irritating on the NASA version, where only one side view is provided (and, surprisingly, it is the most complex of the three schemes!). Thankfully, the net can once again save the day, enabling the modeler to have access to the newer, very comprehensive Testors equivalent ones…Decals were superbly printed by Zanchetti Buccinasco and, despite being old, their condition looked good.
Having decided to build the single seater all-black
operational version, I started by assembling the cockpit: I attached the
instrument panel (with the characteristic viewfinder ducting at its rear), the
2-piece control yoke and 5-piece seat into the cockpit tub. Basic cockpit color
was Hu140 Gull Gray, with black instrument panel, side consoles and yoke. The
instrument panel was dry brushed with silver and had some red knobs painted with
a 10/0 brush. The quite good looking seat was painted black (also dry brushed
with silver), with red cushions, khaki belts and yellow/black ejection handle.
After attaching the two front underside transparencies (of which, I believe, the big rectangular one is for the camera and the small circular one is for the downward vision periscope), I joined the two fuselage halves, with the cockpit tub, the two wheel bays and the exhaust nozzle trapped in between. I then attached the intakes and front nose, all 2-piece affairs. Fit was sufficient allover, with filling and sanding taking place where required.
The main wings are nice subassemblies, comprising of no less than 8 pieces each, the equipment wing conformal pods included. The massive assembled wings were then filled and sanded (an operation much more easily done when not attached to the fuselage), then attached, followed by the single piece tail planes. The main wings were supported with paint jars of suitable height, in order to remain horizontal until glue curing. To my joy, no main wing warping was then evident. After a final filling and sanding session, I masked the underside transparencies, blanked the cockpit with wet tissue and took this big motorized spy-glider to the paint shop!
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
I applied a
coat of Hu33 Matt Black all over, including doors and airbrakes external
surfaces. I did not care about evenness of application: in fact, the more uneven
the result, the more realistic it would look, livening up the monotonous looks
of this big black plane. And yes, the result was not so even!
Though there are pics depicting U-2s with white intake trunking, there are also a hefty amount of pics depicting birds with black ones. Taking into account that the kit intakes’ shallowness/blandness would be more than evident, I was not at all reluctant in painting the intakes black, the same being true for the also shallow exhaust nozzle: it looked deeper in matt black!
Upon decaling, I spot-applied small amounts of Future, only at the areas the decals were to be applied. Speaking of decals, the few applied behaved nicely, no remarks whatsoever. A coat of Future sealed them.
the bicycle landing gear, followed by the wheels and doors, aligned everything
and let the glue cure. The pogo legs had their mini wheels attached, but were
glued into position only after main landing gear glue had cured, and, moreover,
attached in such an angle, as to allow the big wing droop just a tad, as
observed in reality. This was possible by supporting each wing with suitable
means (paint jars...) at the “correct” droop, until pogo glue cured.
The bicycle landing gear legs, all rims, bays and door innards were painted Testors Steel, tires were black and oleos were highlighted with a fine chrome pen. Pogo struts were painted insignia red, as was the usual case in reality (and adding some "color" to this total black/bland bird). For the same reason of adding interest, the air brakes were attached “open”, having their innards painted zinc chromate and their actuators steel. The two front pitots, the distinctive rear view mirror and the top mounted UHF aerial were attached and accordingly painted. Blobs of red and green clear paint were utilized to represent the wingtip and anti-collision lights, before calling this “Spy in the Sky” done!
AFV came with a new tool, early version U-2 in
2019, offering tons of detail and being sensibly priced, truly deserving the
“modern kit’ label. Understandably requiring the modeler to take his time with
it, this kit is the obvious choice for an accurate looking quarter scale U-2. I
would also put a safe bet on seeing late U-2 versions by AFV, sometime in the
The Testors/Italeri is a solid, classic kit of this iconic plane, with good general shape, low parts count, easiness in assembly and good (not perfect) fit. Cockpit, landing gear, intakes and exhaust could be busier, but, back in 1988, when this kit was introduced, this level of detail was acceptable. Panel lines are few and raised (not a problem for me, let alone the fact that U-2 large surfaces look flat and panel-less, so the absence of panel lines might be beneficial…).
This kit can even be recommended for a less experienced modeler, who wants to test his skills in putting together a big plane, he could even practice airbrushing by painting those large black surfaces too! The experienced modeler who wants to tackle it, can take advantage of the low kit price and get aftermarket upgrades that address the kit’s most oversimplifications or deficiencies (seat, cockpit, horizontal stabilizers, corrected seamless intakes, exhaust nozzle, white metal landing gear, vac canopy and the like). All these upgrades look gorgeous and seem easily available.
I had a great time building this kit: construction was simple, fit was good (not perfect), painting could not be easier! The final result sure looks like an operational U-2, ready for its next mission!
This kit is regularly reissued by Italeri at low prices, offering interesting schemes. If you own one (or fancying to buy one), provided that you have some respectable sized space (this is a big model!), I wholeheartedly recommend you to go on and build it. No matter which road you choose (out of the box or “super detail”), you will definitely have a very enjoyable time and come up with a big model of this iconic plane!
19 April 2022
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