Minicraft 1/144 KC-135R

KIT #: 14708
PRICE: $44.95 SRP
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: 2015 tooling


The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker is a military aerial refueling aircraft. It and the Boeing 707 airliner were developed from the Boeing 367-80 prototype. It is the predominant variant of the C-135 Stratolifter family of transport aircraft. The KC-135 was the US Air Force's first jet-powered refueling tanker and replaced the KC-97 Stratofreighter. The KC-135 was initially tasked with refueling strategic bombers, but was used extensively in the Vietnam War and later conflicts such as Operation Desert Storm to extend the range and endurance of US tactical fighters and bombers.

The KC-135 entered service with the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1957; it is one of six military fixed-wing aircraft with over 50 years of continuous service with its original operator. The KC-135 is supplemented by the larger KC-10. Studies have concluded that many of the aircraft could be flown until 2040, although maintenance costs have greatly increased. The aircraft will eventually be replaced by the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, though that will take a long time as the first production aircraft wasn't delivered to the USAF until January 2019.

The KC-135R is the result of a second engine modification program which retrofitted 500 aircraft with new CFM International CFM56 (military designation: F108) high-bypass turbofan engines produced by General Electric and Snecma. The CFM56 engine produces approximately 22,500 lbf (100 kN) of thrust, nearly a 100% increase compared to the original J-57 engine. The modified tanker, designated KC-135R (modified KC-135A or E) or KC-135T (modified KC-135Q), can offload up to 50% more fuel (on a long-duration sortie), is 25% more fuel-efficient, and costs 25% less to operate than with the previous engines. It is also significantly quieter than the KC-135A, with noise levels at takeoff reduced from 126 to 99 decibels.

I have hesitated at purchasing this and other 135 kits due to the high retail cost of the kit. However, I knew that at one time I'd end up buying one, especially after Caracal Models came out with a super decal sheet just for this kit. One of my infrequent hobby shop trips to one of the few open shops worth visiting in this area saw this one at $9 off retail so I bought it.

The first thing that caught my eye was the big red 'All new tooling!' on the box top. This is followed by 'Plus New "R" Engine Tooling!". Well, if it is ALL new, wouldn't that mean the engines as well? Obviously why I am not in advertising. However, it does bring up a point that there is an earlier boxing of this, which by inference is the old tooling.

Looking over the sprues, I was impressed by the detail work. The engraved lines are crisply done and though perhaps a bit overstated, Minicraft has included the rear fuselage external reinforcement bands. Not surprisingly, there is no cockpit at all. The only thing to put into the fuselage halves before joining them is a half ounce of weight and the nose gear well. It appears that one cannot install the nose gear strut after the fact so that will have to be added prior to closing the halves. At this time, the cockpit transparency is added.

The instructions then would have you attach the upper and lower wing halves, and then put those as well as the tailplanes and the HF antenna on the fin tip onto the fuselage before going any further in the build. Some of us might light to attach the built up engines first, but it seems that either way will work.

Engines are nicely done with eight pieces per engine. The front of the cowling attaches along an extant panel line and something I like is that it includes a sleeve so you won't see a cowling seam between the forward section and the fan. One will need to do some prepainting and masking on each of these, but the instructions provide information on the shades required.

When building the main gear and completing the wells, Minicraft provides three color options for the ballast tank in the main gear well. One will also have to fold the outer main gear doors and a diagram is provided to show how that is done. If one wants to model the plane gear up, there are instructinos for that as well. A neat touch is the inclusion of a tail prop, something that is often seen on fully loaded 135s.

A nice addition to this kit are a pair of wing tip pods. These are not always carried so it is nice to have a choice in this regard. One also ha to do a bit of trimming to attach the APU exhaust port, which fits within the fuselage reinforcement bands.

Instructions are nicely done and offer Model Master paint references for the overall airframe. The two markings options are overall AMC grey with a black radome and nose anti-glare panel. Markings are provided for two planes. The box art plane is from McConnell AFB in Kansas with the 22nd ARW in 2013. This seems to have the current tail band. The other is from the 126 ARW, Illinois ANG from nearby Scott AFB in 2005. It has the older tail band and unfortunately, does not include any of the nose art that was so prominent at the time. Decals are nicely done, but I'm wondering if the fuselage alignment stripe is not too orange. I always thought this was closer to yellow. I've included a photo so you can judge for yourself. As I mentioned earlier, there are aftermarket sheets for this kit and those will offer a bunch of additional options.

I've built a few of Minicraft's airliners and they have been fairly good kits, though ones that required modeling skills to finish. I hoped that this one would be a better fitting kit and for the most part, my experience building this one proved that to be true.

The kit requires 10 grams of weight in the nose to keep from tail sitting as no stand is provided. You also have to put the nose gear into the nose well before attaching it to a fuselage half and closing the fuselage as you can't get it into place later. I closed up the fuselage halves and also attached the upper and lower wings to each other. Fit is fairly good on both. There is no cockpit and you are given a clear section that includes part of the fuselage along with the windows. Since you have a decal for the windows, I wonder why Minicraft even bothered molding this part in clear. Fit on this seems good as well, but it will take a coat of primer to see if the seams need filled.

Attaching the wings and tailplanes was quite straight-forward. Ensure that mold pips and seams are removed and you'll get a fairly tight fit. I chose to have what little gap there is to be on the bottom. I then moved to the engine pods. These are designed to fit on a specific location. When you get them built, you will see that they don't fit well where they aren't supposed to go. Each pod has a three piece 'engine' that juts out the back. These are, so far, the worst fitting part of the kit. The engine halves are butt joined and there is no positive locator for the conical exhaust piece which is also a butt join. The attachment point for the exhaust bits is very thin and it is difficult to get them lined up properly. The attachment point for this three piece assembly is quite small. You are supposed to attach this before closing the cowling/pylon halves, but doing that not only complicates painting but makes it impossible to get all of the pylon seam taken care of. Fortunately, though it is a tight fit, you can install the engine subassembly after all is assembled and painted.

Moving to the front of the pods, there is a nice front stage piece that includes a full intake so no seams. This fits onto the front of the cowling and this in turn fits on the rest of the cowling assembly. Fit is actually quite good and looks nice when done. These were then glued onto the appropriate areas of the wing. There is a fair gap between the pylons and the leading edge of the wing. On the real deal this is not apparent at all so I put a bit of super glue in the join to help smooth the transition. The boom piece was attached, the wheel wells filled with silly putty and the nose gear covered over. It was then time for some painting.
The KC-135 fleet has been painted overall AMC Grey for the last 20-25 years. At one time, Model Master did this shade but when they drastically reduced their enamel paint line a few years back, this shade went away. Fortunately their Neutral Grey is actually fairly light so that is what I used. I painted the entire airframe with this color as well as the outside of the gear doors. The radome, area around the windows and the 'wings' on the flying boom were painted matte black. Note that the aft windows on the cockpit are the wrong shape and angle up instead of being straight. Next kit I'll fill these in. The airframe was then given a coat of clear gloss.

Before applying decals, I decided to put the airframe on its gear. Since the nose gear was already in place, this meant the main gear. Here I ran into difficulty. This is because the instructions has you put the landing gear on the the wrong sides. To have them correctly installed, the oleo scissors has to point to the front along with the smaller gear strut. This allows the retraction strut to be properly aligned. It is also a real bitch getting the gear into place. I had to bend up the small tabs and even then, getting them properly in place in terms of being vertical and with the bogies aligned fore and aft was quite difficult. Next 135 I build, I will use the SAC metal gear as they can be gently tweaked into proper alignment.

With those in place, I started applying decals. I used all of the common markings from the kit decals except for the stripe decals for the underside which are the wrong color for the centerline stripe (it should be yellow and not orange), and the smaller forward side stripes are not stripes at all but alignment features in black and white. I used those latter items from Caracal 144001 for the KC-135R. I wanted to do a 126 ARW plane from the Illinois ANG as the unit is based about 6 miles away, and those markings are included in the kit. However, the font for the tail band is block letters and should be serif. The band provided in the Caracal sheet is the current one, but the unit markings on the nose are for the 906 ARS, a reserve unit that uses these planes as well, and not for the 108th ARS. However, it is close enough so I gleaned the tail band and serials from the Caracal sheet for this build.

With all the decals in place, I gave the airframe a coat of clear matte, hoping I'd not have issues with silvering. I did and it was the kit markings that were the main offenders. I can only assume that either the underlying surface wasn't gloss enough or I needed to apply stronger setting solution.

After that, there wasn't much more to add. I installed the APU exhaust area, the nose gear door, and the main gear doors. The main gear doors have to be bent in place. I also found out they should be installed before the gear. Even cutting off the mounting pieces left the doors too tall to fit as they should. I simply glued them at an angle and chalked that up to another learning experience. Either the doors are too tall, or the gear legs too short or they really do have to be installed before the gear legs and the wheels. I'll find out the next 135 I build. I then attached the engine pieces and repainted those as required. Last piece was reattaching the fin tip probe. This piece broke off the first time I handled the model after the fin cap piece was dry.


My experiences with this kit were generally positive. First off, for the most part it fits well. The main gear doors and struts being the exceptions. I found the attachment of the aft engine pieces to be poor and a more positive attachment would make these easier to assemble. Actually, no reasons why the engineering of these is so bad. The shape of the farthest aft window on the cockpit clear bits is so wrong it is amazing no one caught it. Next kit, this will all be puttied over. The decals did not perform as I'd hoped. Again, next time I'll ensure they fit on a more glossy surface. Those wanting greater accuracy will also need to add all the radio/nav antennas as they are not provided in the kit. In passing, it may have been better to duplicate the rear fuselage reinforcements as engravings as they are not as pronounced on the real deal and nearly impossible to connect seamlessly from one fuselage half to another. 

So there you have it. Worth the effort? I'd say yes. Easy for a beginner? Probably not. The rest of us will be able to handle things OK.


16 August 2019

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