Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Hatching Hasegawa’s Harrier By Frank C.

They don’t carry much or fly very fast, and they crash an awful lot, but Harriers take off and land without long runways, so the Marines still love ‘em. The Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) fighter-bomber is a complicated, interesting shape, and the Hasegawa 48th scale kit seems to have all the subtle curves and bumps of the real thing. Hasegawa’s first 48th scale jump-jet (Kit PT28) was the long-nosed USMC AV-8B Harrier II Plus with radar, night vision pilotage sensor, and a night targeting pod. The model has since been reissued as the plain AV-8B from Desert Storm, the Night Attack version with the nose-top sensor alone, and the British Harrier GR7 with yet another nose. It’s a state-of-the-art kit with engraved lines, fine details, and good decals, but not a project for impatient beginners. That said, the end result is handsome as a Harrier can be.

You'll see Frank’s Harrier in the forefront. Pic is from the 01/2005 BPMS Meeting

Construction starts in the cockpit with a six-piece ejection seat and nicely detailed instrument panel. Resin freaks are free to double the price of their kits with aftermarket cockpits, but I thought the out-of-the-box detail was fine. If you don’t like to drybrush tiny switches, the kit contains an instrument panel decal. Even though Hasegawa did not include seat harness decals on the sheet, I was too lazy to make straps out of paper. The instructions say the headrest should be black, but a color picture showed both headrest and seat cushion as light olive drab. A decal that represents the explosive cord buried in real Harrier canopies should be applied inside the kit canopy between Q-Tipped layers of Future before you attach the clear canopy to its separate rail. Once dry, the effect is really pretty nice.

The main fuselage of the Hasegawa Harrier is made up of two sides and a belly panel that require careful alignment. Set properly, the belly panel sits just right without filler putty. Just be careful before assembly to drill out the correct holes for the big belly strakes, gun pack, and centerline pylon, and the holes on top for the spine flare dispensers. I chose the aerodynamic belly strakes for my night laser bomber. I suspect the 25 mm gun is now out of favor because it takes the expensive, vulnerable Harrier into the lethal envelope of shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles.

Two-piece dumbbells connect left and right jet nozzles and contain black plastic bearings. The nozzles themselves are nicely molded two-piece assemblies that squeeze into the bearings without glue so they can rotate without falling out. The front nozzles are for cold air exhaust, so they can be painted gray like the rest of the airplane. The rear exhausts are hot, so they and their protective fuselage plates are steel-shaded.

A crisply molded turbofan face and inlet shroud sit at the front of the fuselage cage. You should spray the inlet interiors white before assembly, but that calls for delicate masking throughout assembly and finishing. I hand-painted the inlet walls white and the fan face silver after assembly and overall painting.

The Hasegawa Harrier front fuselage and radar are separate left and right pieces. Rather than build a nosecone and just stick it on the fuselage, I glued each half-side in line carefully to eliminate the steps that usually require filling and sanding. The whole assembly with sandwiched cockpit cantilevers on the front of the fan face and intake shroud. For the first time in a Harrier kit, the intake cheeks have individual blow-in doors. You have to be careful to put the doors in just right with tube glue or some other slow-setting adhesive to get the top doors to open all the way and the rest to deflect progressively less until the doors close on the bottom half. The intakes, nose, and cockpit deck all fit the fuselage somehow. With a little sanding, the seams disappear with almost no putty.

The wing fit is another story. Top and bottom halves sandwich fine and snap into the fuselage with a little push and shove. The aggravation comes with the Leading Edge Root Extensions (LERX) behind the cockpit and in front of the wing. To make different versions of the Harrier, the LERX plate is a separate piece that mates at the front with the cockpit deck and at the rear with the wing. To make all edges meet, the plate has to float up and down, left and right, so it never sits right. A nasty seam is inevitable right on top of the airplane in the middle of some subtle fuselage/wing curves. Filling, sanding, refilling, and re-sanding got me swearing, but under a coat of paint, the mess finally disappears. Some lightly engraved panel lines are lost, but you can restore them with a dark pencil after painting.

The tailplanes set themselves at the correct dihedral, and the wing pylons need little filling. However, the Harrier is covered with little intakes, antennas, and lights. The kit apparently has ‘em all, so take your time to locate them properly. Every Harrier kit is tough to set on its landing gear. I suggest you attach the front leg first, then the wing pogos. The main gear should then be attached with white glue or slow-setting tube glue to slide in as the model sits on a flat surface. The idea is to finish with all the wheels on the ground. The small pogo doors are another complication, so make sure you’ve got the correct door facing the correct way under each wing.

With typical generosity, Hasegawa gives the Harrier builder only two fuel tanks, two Sidewinders, and the Lightning night targeting/laser designator pod for underwing ordnance. I found a photo of an AV-8B Plus on deck with the targeting pod and one 500 lb laser-guided bomb (LGB) on the inboard stations, tanks at the intermediate stations and ‘Winders outboard. A GBU-12 LGB came from the most recent Hasegawa weapons set. (“One Shot, One Kill,” like Marine Tom Berrenger in those Sniper movies.) The fuel tank holes had to be enlarged to move the tanks to the middle pylons, but the end result is a nice, cluttered warplane with modest firepower.

I painted my Harrier with Tamiya acrylics. Follow the kit instructions and most pictures, and the low-viz decals in the kit will disappear into the medium blue-gray recommended for the top of the wing. Instead, I used German Gray as a Gunship Gray facsimile for the top, Sky Gray for the middle, and a pale gray-polluted white for the belly. Silly Putty masking lets you feather the pattern edges if you spray at an angle. The effect has enough subtle gradation to look like the current Harrier Tactical Paint Scheme.

With a pair of Laser Maverick missiles in the foreground, an AV-8B Harrier with Marine Attack Squadron 542 taxis for take off at Al Asad, Iraq, 11/11/04

Decals are provided for a fin-flash VMA-231commemorative scheme and my plain, operational VMA-223 bird. Neither aircraft uses the big MARINES included for the upper wing surface. The decals are thin, and their film disappears totally between sprayed-on layers of Future. A final coat of Testors acrylic flat finish blends colors nicely.

Like the real Harrier, the Hasegawa AV-8B Plus is a complicated airplane, but the finished replica has the right look of a Marine machine ready for war. The kit is more complete and more refined than the older, cheaper Monogram AV-8B which also required plenty of filling and sanding. Take your time and check your directions and you’ll have a convincing Jump Jet.

No comments: