Kitty Hawk Models 1/32 F-86D Sabre

KIT #: KH 32007
PRICE: $109.99 SRP
DECALS: Six options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: New tool


The North American F-86D Sabre (sometimes called the "Sabre Dog" or "Dog Sabre") was a transonic jet all-weather interceptor of the United States Air Force and others. Based on North American's F-86 Sabre day fighter, the F-86D had only 25 percent commonality with other Sabre variants, with a larger fuselage, larger afterburning engine, and a distinctive nose radome.

The YF-95 was a development of the F-86 Sabre, the first aircraft designed around the new 2.75-inch (70 mm) Mighty Mouse Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket (FFAR), itself based on the German R4M rockets of WWII. Begun in March 1949, the unarmed prototype, 50-577, first flew on 22 December 1949, piloted by North American test pilot George Welch and was the first U.S. Air Force night-fighter design with only a single crewman and a single engine, a J47-GE-17 with afterburner rated at 5,425 lbf (24.1 kN) static thrust. Gun armament was eliminated in favor of a retractable under-fuselage tray carrying 24 unguided Mk. 4 rockets, then considered a more effective weapon against enemy bombers than a barrage of cannon fire. A second prototype, 50-578, was also built, but the YF-95 nomenclature was short-lived as the design was subsequently redesignated YF-86D.

The fuselage was wider and the airframe length increased to 40 ft 4 in (12.29 m), with a clamshell canopy, enlarged tail surfaces and AN/APG-36 all-weather radar fitted in a radome in the nose, above the intake. Later models of the F-86D received an uprated J-47-GE-33 engine rated at 5,550 lbf (24.7 kN) (from the F-86D-45 production blocks onward). A total of 2,504 D-models were built, equipping dozens of Air Defense Command squadrons in the US and many nation's air forces overseas.

On 18 November 1952, F-86D, 51-2945, set a speed record of 698.505 mph (1,124.1 km/h). Captain J. Slade Nash flew over a three km (1.8 mi.) course at the Salton Sea in southern California at a height of only 125 ft (38 m). Another F-86D broke this world record on 16 July 1953, when Lieutenant Colonel William F. Barns, flying F-86D 51-6145, in the same path of the previous flight, achieved 715.697 mph (1,151.8 km/h).


Count me as one of many modelers who have been anxiously awaiting this kit. I've always been a huge Sabre fan ever since my father took me to the end of the runway at Wheelus AFB on weekends in the very early 1950s to watch these aircraft take off and land on their way to and from weapons practice in the desert.

The box is huge as you would expect of a plane of this size. All of the sprues are individually packaged with the clear bits coming in a sturdy little box. The main decal sheet is huge and won't fit on the platen of my scanner. There is minimal photo etch, this material being used for the seat harness and inside the speedbrake.

Since most builds and kit descriptions start in the cockpit, so will I. The seat is made up of ten pieces, not including the p.e. This fits into a very nicely done cockpit tub that has a radio rack fixed to the back of it. The side consoles are separate bits and you can put decals over the detail already there if you so wish. Ruddder pedals are included along with a single piece control stick and throttle.

Moveing to the nose gear well, you have a choice of finned or lobed nose wheels so check your references to see which is appropriate for what you are building. The base of the nose gear well is molded into the bottom of the forward intake section. You then add the fore and side bulkheads to it with the rear bulkhead being part of the seven piece missile tray well. The kit does provide a complete intake that goes all the way to the intake compressor face of the engine.

The engine is quite complete with separate burner cans, braces and a full afterburner section. The engine comprises some forty pieces. Looking at the way the kit is designed, one could easily just build up a bare skeleton engine in order to have something to attach the intake and exhaust section to as it will be pretty well hidden once the fuselage is completed.

The forward fuselage has two halves with a separate lower fuselage piece that will contain each of the five piece main gear wells. The missile tray is six parts and from the look of things is engineered to be displayed in the lowered position. A full radar antenna is provided for the nose section, though the instructions again show this disappearing behind the radome. At this point, I should mention that there is no indication that any nose weight is needed, though there is ample room for it above the intake and in front of the cockpit.

There is a separate tail section, though I'm not sure why, though it may have to do with mold size limitations or the fact that if Kitty Hawk wants to do an F-86K, they would only have to mold new forward fuselage sections. All the flight surfaces have separate control surfaces and it appears that the flaps are molded in the down position. I should mention that Kitty Hawk has already opened the holes for the pylons and this includes the Sidewinder pylons. I'm not sure how many F-86Ds were actually outfitted with these. I'm pretty sure no US planes were other than tests, though the later F-86L may have been. There are no images in my references that show this being fitted to any radar nose F-86. You will probably want to fill those inner holes. I should add that Kitty Hawk has properly molded all the little vortex generators on the kit so you don't have to try to duplicate these with teensy bits of p.e.

The kit provides plates for engine cooling scoops on the upper fuselage that are the ones that stand proud of the surrounding airframe rather than the NACA scoops on most the production run. These were introduced in the 53-xxxx serial range near the end of Dog Sabre production and while retrofit to earlier airframes, may not have been on the plane you wish to model. For instance, the Sabre Knights option had NACA ducts and not scoops. Check references to be sure. I'd bet that some aftermarket company has plans to provide the earlier scoops in the near future. Another note is that the box art plane is shown with the NACA scoops.

The speed brakes are designed to be posed open and the canopy is designed to be posed closed. However, I'm sure you could easily pose them the other way. Especially the canopy as it would be a shame to hide that nice interior.

Instructions are nicely done and in booklet form. It provides FS 595 and generic color information. There are full color painting and markings diagrams on the cover of the instructions that include some fold out pages. Six options are provided. All except one are in unpainted metal. First up is the box art plane from the 82nd FIS. Moving down the diagram is a South Korean plane, then a Japanese version, followed by a Taiwanese version. This aircraft is listed as being in over light gull grey, but I'm betting it is probably ADC grey since it came from the USAF. Choice is yours. Next with large fluorescent areas is a plane from the 181st FIS, Texas ANG, and finally is a 325 FIS plane from the 'Sabre Dancers' display team. All the large bands and fin stripes need to be painted on, which is probably for the best. The white outlines for the box art nose band is on the sheet. The main sheet is huge and would not fit on my scanner. The markings are superbly done and should provide no issues at all.


As soon as this one arrived, I knew I had to start on it at the earliest opportunity. After clearing a few other projects off the bench, I started on this one. I'll say from the beginning that one has to treat Kitty Hawk kits as if they are short run. This means that parts cleanup may be a bit more and that fit will require a lot of testing before applying cement to be sure things will properly fit. If one takes it slow and easy, then there should be few issues.

I discovered during construction that the parts listed for the G sprue were actually on the E sprue and vice versa so you may want to take this into consideration on your build.

What I did was to start with the first sprue in the box. I know this is not exactly according to the instructions, but looking them over, I saw that I could get a bunch of subassemblies done before going back and following the direction. The initial sprue has the intake trunking and the vertical/horizontal stabs that can be done. The first thing I did was to remove all the ejector towers from the first section of the intake. These will be quite visible and so it is important that they are removed and the many indentations filled. I used sprue cutters to get rid of most of the towers and 220 grit sandpaper to smooth them down, after which, all the indented areas got filler. The aft intake sections only had indented ejector marks and was not filled. Once those were treated, they were painted aluminum and assembled.

Wings and control surfaces. I am also not a fan of the current trend to have sprue gates flush with gluing surfaces. Not only do I tend to oversand when removing them, but if not careful cutting them free, I'll take chunks out of the plastic. I had this happen on the trailing edges of two of the horizontal stabilizer halves and all eight of the aileron and flap halves. I also found two of them with large, rather thick flash so care had to be taken when removing these items. As I said, treat it like a short run kit. Eventually I got the divots repaired and assembled the wing halves after filling in the inner pylon holes. These items were all set aside while I attended to other subassemblies.

The rocket well. This assembly consists of six parts. There are two small items, C 8 and C 9 which fit into holes near the back of the well. The holes for these needed to be opened up on my kit as they were flashed over. I also snapped C 8 in half when sanding off the sprue attachment point. If I were you, I'd also sand down the mating surface as the one that didn't break was bowed when the assembly was done. The back wall piece, C 23 will not fit flush in the center, but don't force it as when you attach the side walls, everything will fit properly. This assembly was painted aluminum and set aside.

Engine and exhaust. I started with the exhaust by first painting the inside of most of the exhaust bits with Alclad II jet exhaust. The final compressor stage was painted steel. This was then assembled. For the front of the engine, the cone was painted dark aluminum as was the first compressor stage.

When I got around to assembling the wheel halves, I found that for both nose wheel options, the area where the axle fit was not open. I used a drill bit to drill this area out. I also decided to use the later finned nose wheel as most photos I found of the F-86D had this wheel, though not all of them so apparently the early wheels were used until they were no longer viable. These also seem to me to be the same nose wheels used on the F-80. I found the nose wheel assembly to seem a bit wide as well. The main wheels are not the finned variety, but the early 'lobed' versions.

Gear wells. Each of the main gear wells is a five piece construct that will then fit into the lower center fuselage section. Once the wheel wells were in place, this assembly was set aside. I also finished building up the nose gear well. I'd determined with some dry fitting that I could install the nose gear after the well assembly had been finished. When that was dry, the completed rocket bay was glued to it. I used the lower fuselage section into which this would eventually fit to be sure that everything was properly attached.

Cockpit. I then moved on to the cockpit components. I know this is jumping around, but that is often how I build models. First thing I noticed is that the rear of my cockpit tub was short shot. Since it was sort of important that this not be like this, I flattened out the area, cut a section of plastic card to fit in place, and then attached it. While it was drying, I flooded the underside of it with super glue as there was a rather large gap that would need to be filled in somewhat. It is nothing fancy, but does provide the additional bit for when the tub is installed in the fuselage.

When it came to installing parts G51/52 I found the slots to be too small. The choice was to thin down the tabs or open the holes. I chose the latter. You can see the original slots in the above image. I then glued the aft bulkhead piece after attaching the canopy rails and aft equipment shelf. Despite the replacement piece, this fit quite well. The seat is very  nicely done, only it is spoiled somewhat by ejector pin marks and some ejector towers that will have to be removed. Those who build for contests will have to fill these, but I just left them as they were. I did not install the head rest or seat pads until after the seat frame had been assembled and painted. Once all the cockpit and seat frame bits had been assembled, they were painted dark gull grey. Then the pads were added after painting them a lighter tan shade. The seat harness was added and the assembly was set aside.

The kit provides decals for the main side consoles and the instrument panels. These actually fit over the raised detail, though it took several applications of a strong setting solution to get them to do so. The end result is quite pleasing. I then attached all the rest of the bits to the cockpit tub and painted them. When it came time to install the seat in the cockpit, I found that when I glued the foot rests in place, it caused the frame to be too narrow for the openings in the floor. I suggest adding the foot rests after the seat is installed and before you glue in the control stick.

Once the cockpit was done, it, along with the rocket bay were installed on the intake section. To this was added the engine (which I did not build up as you won't see it). The actual mating surface of the engine to intake section is quite small so once it is in and glued, I added some reinforcement with super glue to hold it in place. With that done, this large assembly was installed in one of the fuselage halves. There are tabs on the cockpit and engine that will fit into slots in the fuselage half. I did not glue this in as not only was the fit pretty tight, but I felt that perhaps having some wiggle room would come in handy later. The other fuselage half was attached, during which the three piece main instrument panel was also installed. This installation was less than quick as the small vertical panels that one glues on each side of the forward cockpit will make installation difficult. I knocked these off several times before I finally got things in place. This was followed by gluing on the two lower fuselage sections, the aft one containing most of the main gear wells. Fit on these was fairly good though there is a gap between the front and rear lower section that I had to take care of.

During this assembly, I also glued on the aft bulkhead part D6 as well as two other bits, D 18 and D 19. The bulkhead is required to keep the forward fuselage assembly from over-flexing and the two other bits will be needed to provide an area on which the rear fuselage can sit, otherwise you'll have little more than a thin butt join. While filling and sanding all the fuselage seams, I sanded off the TACAN antenna on the nose. These were often fitted to aircraft operated in the Far East, but not always. When it came time to attach the forward intake piece, I thought I would have difficulty with the fit and I was right. Apparently the intake ducting ended up a bit too far forward for a snug fit. Thanks to super glue and pressure and filler, I was able to get this piece to look as it should. The rear fuselage was atrocious. The actual mating surfaces are very thin and if you make any mistakes in fitting the intake sections (which apparently I did), the rear will not fit all the way. Thanks to super glue and accelerator, I was able to squeeze the rear fuselage into some semblance of how it should fit. I found that the roughly C shaped items attached on the rear fuselage frame prior to attaching the tail will have to be sanded down to less than half their thickness to get any resemblance of fit.

Then came the struggle of attaching the wings. The small wheel bay stubs have an end piece that is too wide to fit into the wings. Not only that, but the wings themselves make it nearly impossible to slide in place. I had to open the seams along the flap area in order to spread the wings open enough to get the stubs in place. Be sure to sand the end of the stubs as well or you will not get the wings to fit up anywhere close to snugly enough. I also glued on the fin assembly. All of this took a great deal of super glue to fill in the various gaps and I had  to rescribe the panel lines and rivet detail lost during all the sanding.

I then attached the tailplanes. Be sure to install them so that the vortex generators are facing down. At this time, I also decided to have a go at installing the rocket pod piece. There is a part, C 28, that is shown fitting to the 'underside' of the rocket bay. If you model this item extended, that piece should be fairly flush with the underside of the fuselage. I chose to install that piece before committing the rest of the tray as test fitting showed it would not fit all the way down. It meant that I had to trim the long, and easily broken side pieces on parts C10/14, but was worth doing.

Returning to the wings, I glued on the slats. There are five low ejector towers on the underside of each slat that will be visible when the slat is attached so those were sanded down. Only two positive attachment points per slat are provided, but thanks to the rather soft plastic, getting the slats in place is a relatively easy job. As a note, it would be a wise move to attach the slats as soon as you can once you get the wings in place. The reason for this is that the slat track pieces are very easily damaged during handling and attaching the slat makes things a lot more solid. This was followed by the installation of the ailerons and flaps.

I then masked and glued on the windscreen. The little back piece to the canopy was installed along with the piece that attaches it to the airframe. Note that if you want the canopy closed, you will need to leave this last bit (G50) off as it is too thick, or you can sand it down. Thanks to the backward angle of the ejection rail assembly, you will not be able to have the canopy closed unless you do some major surgery. I then masked the cockpit section with tissue and tape.

Next, I moved to the landing gear. Be careful not to trim off the mounting tab on part #G 24 that fits onto the lower nose gear let. I also assembled the nose gear door. One of my hinges was slightly short shot. When doing the main gear, in step 16 the upper leg pieces are E 64/65, not 64/68. For the other side, the two bits are 68/69.

I had been at this a long time and now seemed to be a good time to start painting. For this, I first sprayed the airframe with Tamiya extra fine grey primer. When that had dried, I started spraying on Alclad II Aluminum. It would not be an overstatement to say that not only did this take a long time, but I went through nearly a full bottle of paint in the process. Many Sabres had inner wing areas that were painted grey and for mine I chose FS 16473, though I have seen them lighter. This required a lot of masking.

Now a solid aluminum airframe is boring so I used other shades for several panels including dark aluminum, airframe aluminum, white aluminum, duralumin and stainless steel. Several of these are rather close to each other, but the end result is convincing enough. I then masked off the fin and painted a red band on it using Gunze red over Tamiya white. The nose anti-glare panel was painted with Tamiya OD. It could be black or medium green or shades in between. This took a few weeks.

I then painted the gear wells with FS 34102 dark green as that shade looked similar to what I'd seen in color photos. Next I glued two 14 oz weights to the area just above the intake to keep the plane from sitting on its tail.

I had previously assembled the nose and main landing gear and it was time to install them. The nose gear was pretty straight forward and while snug, did fit. The main gear, however, needed work. You see, the mounting slots are in line with the forward and trailing edges of the wing. However, the gear stubs are straight fore and aft in relation to the axle. Now either I goofed up when assembling the gear, or there was miscommunication between the team that designed the main gear wells and those who designed the gear. It is no irrepairable, just requires some sanding and cutting to get the gear in place.

Once the gear dried, I attached the small outer gear doors with their equally small struts. The main gear had the retraction strut attached as well and things were pretty sturdy. I left off the main nose gear door and the inner main gear doors as I figured I'd break them during decaling. I also glued on the radome.

I had chosen the Korean Air Force version as I liked the scheme and didn't want to do all the additional work to make the others (by that I mean painting big stripes and bands). The Korean insignia is on a separate sheet and are printed off register. The white backing peeks out of the lower part and will need to be trimmed away. Some of the decals conformed beautifully without any need for setting solution. Most of them, however, required something relatively strong as weak solutions had no effect. The single color (as in black) decals are so thin as to be a bit of a headache to apply as they are constantly wanting to fold  and even if creased will cause issues. Most of the markings are matte, as is the carrier film, making it difficult to have them disappear against a bare metal finish.

Putting on the long, skinny markings can be a trial and the large 'ROK AIR FORCE' markings will be enough to try the patience of Job. You see, these markings have a thin clear carrier only at the very top and very bottom of the decal and even then not for the full length of the decal. For instance, the K is attached to the O and the . in front of it, and the A and . behind it. The area between the legs has no carrier. This means that the marking is easily distorted when applying it and requires a lot of fussing to get straight. This same sort of deal applies to the R, A, F and E with the F and E having nothing to keep their center bar from easily folding under. This sort of thing made decal application quite a long and sometimes tedious affair. I should mention that none of the decals are in segments so you'll have to cut those if you want open speed brakes or those that go over the open slats.

Eventually, all the stencils were applied. I found that there were a lot more on the sheet, but there was no indication as to exactly where these were to be applied. The sheet also includes only one serial number data block and that is for aircraft 52-4239 which is none of the markings options. Interestingly, this airframe is still extant. It was upgraded to an F-86L and is at the Museum of Flight in Dallas, Texas. For the final marking, I used a red stripe decal from an old Microscale sheet for the red stripe on the nose. This decal broke apart several times.


With all the markings properly applied, it was time to finish things up. I removed the cockpit masking and scraped away a bit of bleed-under on the inside of the windscreen. The next step was to attach various lights. These are all held on the sprues by overly large sprue gates, making clean-up difficult. There is no indication as to what color the two tail lights or the one behind the cockpit might be. All were attached with clear paint.

I then glued on the gear doors. Attach the actuators first as it will be a lot easier. The attachment holes are too small and need to be drilled out. The nose gear actuator was broken with most of it missing. The attachment points for the gear doors are all butt joins so a bit difficult to keep the doors in place while the cement sets up. The two piece forward nose gear door took a bit of trimming and fiddling to get to fit. If you install the nose gear retraction strut before you attach this door, it will take a bit of ingenuity to get the hinges in place but it can be done.

The boarding step assembly is flimsy to the max so take a lot of care. I apparently glued the fuel tank pylons on a bit crooked as they are both a bit off angle. The external supports need a slight trimming fore and aft where they fit into the slot in the fuel tank as the slot is shorter than the width of the support. I had painted the fuel vent red and this fit with no issues. I painted both the back of the rear view mirror and the landing light silver. Later the back of the mirror was painted dark gull grey. The final bits were the installation of the landing light (in the retracted position, though the instructions have it extended) and the canopy.

This was not a simple build. It provided some difficulties and I made some mistakes along the way. If I were to pick on anything, it would be the large sprue gates and somewhat soft plastic. I also found some of the fit to be less than sterling. It would also be nice if Kitty Hawk had done some research and provided more markings that were germane to the variant kitted. I did treat the kit like one of the short run variety and suggest to you that you do the same. It is not engineered like a Tamiya kit, but then, if Tamiy had produced it, it would have been $225 dollars or more like their Corsairs.

There are those who consider Kitty Hawk kits to be unbuildable and that is clearly not the case. This one took me a bit longer than I had expected, but that was pretty much due to the multiple metallics and the ton of decals that the kit provides. The end result is a quite nice model that I know some of you could build up better than I. I would build another and hope that one of their upcoming F-86Ks reaches me, now that I know some of the tricks to putting one together.


The North American Sabre, by Ray Wagner, MacDonald & Co, 1963 

May 2015

Thanks to Kitty Hawk Models and Glen Coleman for the preview kit.

If you would like your product reviewed fairly and fairly quickly, please contact the editor or see other details in the Note to Contributors.

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