La muerte negra
Kinetic 1/48th scale Sea Harrier built and painted by Everard Cunion
The Argentine pilots christened the Sea Harrier ‘La Muerte Negra’—‘The Black Death.’ 801 [squadron] pilots would tune their radios to the enemy frequencies and chant ‘La Muerte Negra ees-a coming!’
— from Sea Harrier Over the Falklands by Commander ‘Sharkey’ Ward, 1992
This is my build depicting the aircraft that Flight Lieutenant David Morgan flew on May 23rd, 1982, when he and Flight Lieutenant John Leeming flying another Sea Harrier destroyed two Puma transport helicopters and an Agusta A109a gunship helicopter of the Aviacion de Ejercito Argentino during the Falklands War. Morgan is an extraordinary character, as evidenced by his book Hostile Skies, an impression reinforced (to me at least) when I attended his presentation to my hang gliding club in 2016.
While I try to do a respectable job in plastic modelling, I am not patient, and I am easily frustrated. Therefore, like most of my models, this one verges on the rough and ready when you look closely.
The controls had that unique jet-fighter blend of hair-trigger response and juggernaut momentum, not quite as crisp as the Mirage’s but still requiring a very light touch and anticipation.
— from Flying the Sea Harrier by Maxi Gainza in Pilot magazine, February 1990
Incidentally, the Pilot magazine quotes I use here are from Argentinian Maxi Gainza’s description of his day flying the Royal Navy’s two-seat training Harrier with David Morgan as his instructor. (Digression: For an anecdote involving the editor of a monthly aviation magazine, see Only once.)
As described under Paint and decals, this kit can be built into a 1/48th scale replica of any example selected from every Sea Harrier FRS.1 made including those used by the Indian navy. The differences between them are the external armaments and fuel tanks, and the colour schemes and markings.
Inspired by a talk given to my hang gliding club by David Morgan, who (as of this writing) is still the last British pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat, I built my kit as one that he flew in the Falklands War of 1982.
When the Sea Harriers of Royal Navy 800 squadron boarded the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes bound for the Falkland Islands, their upper surfaces and sides were glossy ‘extra dark sea grey’ and under-surfaces were white. The roundels were red, white, and blue, and each aircraft also sported the white-bordered red triangular fin flash of 800 squadron. However, to reduce the aircraft’s visibility at low level, the ship’s crew painted over the white undersides (and the fin flash) in extra dark sea grey using hand-held brushes. They even painted over the whites of the roundels in insignia blue. The result was an imperfect repaint, which I attempted to replicate.
In this photo, a loop of hanging thread is visible round the aft fuselage of the Sea Harrier.
As I do with most of my aircraft models nowadays, I built it in flying mode. That is, with a pilot in the cockpit and wheels retracted. One reason for that is to reduce the time it takes to build the kit. Another reason is that I prefer the look of an aircraft in flight even though it necessitates hanging it up with thread or putting it on a stand of some sort, either of which of course detracts from the realism. (Can’t we devise a magnetic display system to pose models ‘hanging’ in the air with no visible means of support?)
Shortcomings of the kit
No pilot is supplied with the kit. I used a pilot from my Hasegawa air- and ground crew set. I had to cut him off at about hip level to get him low enough to fit in the cockpit. You cannot see that his legs are missing in the finished model.
There is something cocoon-like about jet fighter cockpits, these pressurised life-supporting bubbles of metal and perspex hanging in space by the delicate strands which link the pilot’s mind to the alien intelligence of his instruments.
— from Flying the Sea Harrier by Maxi Gainza in Pilot magazine, February 1990
The fuselage sides would not come together at the front when the cockpit tub and engine intake assembly were in place. I cut and filed down all along the sides of that assembly where it contacts the fuselage sides. The fuselage then came together – by applying a fair amount of pressure. I am not certain exactly what the oversized dimension is (I could not see the exact contact point in that concave hollow). The culprit, as far as I can determine, is the bulkhead that is integral with that assembly. I shaved a fair amount of plastic off it.
I suspect that engineers at Kinetic were trying too hard for accuracy. In the real thing, everything fits together – just. If you scale the parts down exactly, there is no way they will fit. The slightest error in the production of the mould or, I dunno, shrinkage of the plastic when it solidifies from its molten state, will compromise the fit. Internal parts that, in the real thing, fit exactly into a space such as the full width and depth of the fuselage, in a kit just must be a tad smaller than scale.
The fit of the wing to the fuselage needs a bit of filing and filling at front and back.
The outriggers are configured in the down position. For the retracted position, you need to modify them.
Like many such kits, the fit of the undercarriage doors in wheels-up configuration is not great. I did some cutting/filing and filling there and, unfortunately, it shows.
The instructions for the various weapons and external fuel tank fits are complex. The single sidewinder per wing attachment instructions specify part G5 as the connector between the Sidewinder rail (G4) and the outer pylon (D5 to D8 with sway braces D21) but the part required is G15, not G5. (There are two identical runner/sprue Gs; one for each side.)
The warhead of the AIM-9L is a fearsome piece of engineering. It has a blast fragmentation action which produces a large pattern of high-speed fragments that make mincemeat of airframe and engine components alike. A few nanoseconds later a disc of zirconium is detonated which sends a circular fan of white-hot metal scorching through the debris. This normally results in a catastrophic and instantaneous explosion. Very few fighter aircraft have survived an AIM9-L hit.
— from Hostile Skies by David Morgan, 2006
There are some small parts in this kit, including tiny wing fences of ‘photo etched’ brass. They are fragile and hard to attach. I knocked one off during painting and decaling. In attempting to re-attach it, I bent it and gave up. There are two tiny lights that go on the tail boom, almost too small to see, let alone glue in place, so I omitted them.
The last major struggle was getting the canopy base to fit. It was not wide enough, possibly because my earlier problem fitting the cockpit inside the fuselage caused it to be a tad too wide. Whatever, I knocked off both Sidewinders and some aerials. I only found some of the latter to glue them back. In addition, the front canopy part needed filler where it joins the fuselage.
The attachment of the tailplanes is tenuous. I resorted to using Gorilla Superglue with the one that I broke off during my attempts to attach the canopy.
I could not get the wing-tip lights to fit properly.
This is not a beginner kit.
Paint and decals
Note: While the painting instructions and side-profiles on the box depict specific aircraft, this kit is unusual in that the decal sheet does not provide markings pre-arranged for specific aircraft. Instead, it provides decals for every Sea Harrier FRS1 made, but you must assemble the numbers from the individual digits on the decal sheet. (However, the very small serial numbers on the rear fuselage are provided whole.) You also get 14 pilot’s names to select from to go on the side including that of a US Marine Corps exchange pilot. The decal plans, while detailed, are not sufficient, in my opinion. You need to look up photos on the web or in books to discern which of several variations of a detail marking was used on the aircraft that your model depicts. This is not a beginner kit!
As mentioned, my build is of the aircraft that David Morgan flew on May 23rd, 1982, when he and John Leeming, flying another Sea Harrier, destroyed two Puma transport helicopters and an Agusta A109a gunship helicopter. To replicate the imperfect ship-board repaint (described earlier) I used a lighter shade of dark sea grey where the white is over-painted. The resulting longitudinal division along the lower fuselage sides helps to visually offset the tubbiness of the Sea Harrier (as does its original scheme with a white underside).
I used acrylic paints except for Humbrol enamel ‘polished aluminium’ for the radome tip and Sidewinder seeker heads.
The whites in the roundels were over-painted in insignia blue on-board the carrier. The decals provided in the kit do not embody the two shades of blue that resulted. (A bit of an omission that, because at least one other manufacturer’s decals do.) Instead of using the designated blue and red roundels, I mimicked the process of the real thing by using the blue, white, and red roundels and painting over the white with an appropriate shade of blue. A tricky job by hand, even with the white ring as a painting guide.
There are many tiny detail decals supplied. Some, I feel, are too small to bother with, such as black stenciling that would be no more visible than a smudge on the dark sea grey paint. My finished model has plenty of smudges already, so I omitted those decals.
As is evident in the photos, I did not completely succeed in getting the side roundels to lay flat on the compound curve of the air intakes.
Gulf war section of Other plastic model aircraft. It includes photos of my 1/48th scale AV-8B Harrier 2, the American development of the British Harrier/Sea Harrier. (The AV-8B is said to be a lot less bovver in the hover…)
South Atlantic Star, my review of Hostile Skies, the Battle for the Falklands by David Morgan, 2006
David Morgan describes his shooting down two A-4s in this clip from the Smithsonian Channel series Air Warriors.
WARD, NIGEL DAVID ‘SHARKEY’ (ORAL HISTORY) Imperial War Museum sound recording, in four parts, of interview with Sharkey Ward. (When the recording gets to the end in mid sentence, click the next box of four…)