Forger’s F-106 in 1/72nd scale
Early on in the Eclipse project someone said he wasn’t sure you could aero-tow a delta wing. Mark Stucky (see Forger in Space flight and hang gliding) spoke up. “I know you can because I’ve done it.” He explained that he had aero-towed in hang gliders many times.
Meng 1/72nd scale Convair F-106 Delta Dart built and painted by Everard Cunion in September 2019
In December 2018 Mark Stucky, call sign Forger, was first to fly Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo into space. One step on the road to gaining his astronaut wings was 20 years earlier when, as a NASA test pilot, he flew a modified F-106 Delta Dart interceptor of the early 1960s to test a possible way of launching a space craft. That is, by towing it up behind a large airplane, thus saving the space craft from having to carry a lot of fuel to climb the first few thousand feet of its ascent to space. (SpaceShipTwo is carried up attached to a purpose-built mothership, which achieves a similar result, but presumably at much greater cost.) As project test pilot, Forger became the last qualified pilot instructor in this iconic all-missile (no guns) cold war interceptor.
The Meng 1/72nd scale Convair F-106 Delta Dart is, according to reputation, the best kit of this aircraft you can buy. (Meng? I never heard of ‘em until now.) I certainly rate it as above average. In addition, Hannants offer a decal set for the Project Eclipse aircraft in this scale (in their Xtradecal range). With such a basis to build on, the plastic modeller like me stands on the shoulders of giants.
I have gone over to 1/48th scale for fighters because 1/72nd is just too small, in my opinion. However, at the time of writing, there is no decal sheet for the Project Eclipse QF-106 in 1/48th scale, so 1/72nd scale it is. And the F-106 is a deceptively large airplane; a tad longer than the F-4 Phantom, for example, with more wing area and almost as wide a span, so the finished model is reasonably large.
There are plenty of photos of this aircraft on the web and even some videos of it flying. However, they are scattered across many web sites, so my research was fairly laborious.
No, that’s the tow line, not a laser beam!
To complete the Eclipse modification, you need to scratch build the towing mechanism mounted in front of the cockpit. Alternatively, you can take the easy way out and build the model as it was before that mechanism was added, but in its NASA paint scheme. That is what I did (more or less). Note that the canopy frame was repainted (mostly coal grey) after they added the tow mechanism. (I have seen two close-ups of the tow mech, both showing the earlier canopy frame paint.) The Hannants instructions call for black here, but photos show clearly its lighter shade than the black nose cone. In addition, the red and white canopy release triangle was deleted from the right side of the fuselage.
I am a comparatively rough-and-ready plastic modeller, at least compared to some on the Britmodeller Forum (where I am known as Lootenant Aloominum). I use a brush (several brushes really) not an airbrush. Maybe it is my computer programming background, but I have a heightened sense of doing too much work for too little gain, which is something I try to avoid in plastic modelling. In a nutshell, my models often don’t stand scrutiny with a magnifying glass or even, sometimes, a close examination with the mark one eyeball.
After washing all parts on their runners (sprues) I coated transparent parts in Pledge (sold as Klear in some countries) to protect them against fogging. The main plastic is a fairly dark grey, so I primed all external surfaces in thinned matt white. Then I painted a more dense undercoat of matt white on the fin and wing tips, preparatory to ‘international orange.’
Like most aircraft kits nowadays, the Meng kit does not come with a pilot. And, as with most of my aircraft models in recent years, I built it in flying configuration, so I used a pilot from the Hasegawa air- and ground crew set.
The cockpit is detailed enough, including the F-106’s characteristic two-handle control column, that you can build the proverbial museum piece using this kit if you want to. However, with the canopy closed and a pilot inside, nearly all that detail is hidden. What I tried to get right is Forger’s helmet. None of the Eclipse F-106 photos show much helmet detail. However, a 1996 NASA publicity photo of Forger sitting in a jet cockpit (not an F-106) shows an all-black helmet with NASA logo on a gloss black visor cover, so I copied that. (Bear in mind how tiny such details are in 1/72nd scale!)
Digression: Why a black helmet? Helmet reflection in the canopy is a hazard in that it reduces upward visibility by ‘whiting out’ any enemy aircraft at your twelve o’clock. That does not necessarily imply an enemy aircraft above you. Recall from Top Gun that Maverick and Goose described giving the finger to the pilot of a Soviet fighter while they flew inverted over it. That story is based on Mark Stucky’s intercept of a Soviet aircraft in the late 1970s. (In a Marine Corps F-4 Phantom, I assume.) Forger would never accept unnecessary canopy reflections, certainly not after that. (If you think he is a wild Marine in a fighter cockpit, you should hear about his escapades in hang gliders. Forger is a cat with at least nine lives.)
There are two sets of elevon actuators (on the undersides) but no explanation about which to use for each of the three sub-variants/schemes supplied with the kit. Eventually I figured that one pair, D29 and D30, is for slightly drooped control surfaces, which photos indicate is usual when it is parked on the ground. (Likely a result of the absence of hydraulic pressure.) The other pair, D27 and D28, are for control surfaces flush with the wing, such as when in flight.
The parts fit is generally good (see Parts fit farther down) but I found the combined front wheel well and cockpit base assembly prevented the fuselage sides coming together at the front.
In the photo, the flight suit looks yellow, but it is actually a dull sand colour.
Not only did the cockpit base assembly prevent the fuselage halves from joining at the front, the cockpit tub, which is supposed to sit on it, was too high. (Test fitting the canopy with a ‘dry’ temporary assembly is essential in kits of this scale.) The solution I found is simply to omit the cockpit base assembly, as in my photo. The cockpit tub fits without sitting on anything (glue it to the insides of the fuselage) and, with the wheels up, you don’t see the wheel well anyway. If you build it wheels down, unless I am mistaken, you should be able to get away with omitting the upper part, A5, and just use the wheel well.
The gubbins that sits on top of the instrument panel in its interceptor role seems to be present before they fitted the tow release (and repainted the canopy frame) but not afterwards. In any case, it looks wrong for this version as I see it in photos, so I scratch built the details inside the windshield. That is not saying much; just a few tiny bits of scrap plastic painted black. I did not attempt the mirrors on the inside of the canopy bow though.
I found necessary a tiny bit of filler along the join at the top of the front fuselage and nose, the gap being evident in the preceding photo. When I fitted the wing assembly to the fuselage, it clicked into place with barely any visible gaps.
Fitting closed undercarriage doors on most kits is a nightmare. Not in this kit. It comes with closed moulded weapons bay doors (two different ones actually) as well as the complex open doors. The nose gear door is prevented from falling inwards by a slight rim. What a refreshing change!
When I dry-fitted the closed weapons bay, part A9, it left large gaps at front and back. Then I noticed that parts B1 and B2, which I first assumed were internal detail only, have to go in first. They close those gaps. However, I found it more convenient to omit the forward one, part B2 (step 8) and close the gap with filler.
I had a problem fitting the tail and its integrated fuselage spine into its slot in the fuselage. It required much test fitting and filing. I also needed the file down the base of the air brake, which fits between the underside of the fin and the tail pipe, to enable the tail to go on.
I also found that the nose cone was a tad small in diameter where it meets the fuselage. Maybe this is related to the slight gap where the front fuselage halves met earlier. A little filing of the forward fuselage reduced that discrepancy.
I mentioned earlier the cockpit tub being too high, which I thought I had fixed. However, despite having previously test-fitted the canopy, I subsequently found the headrest impinging on it when I again test fitted the canopy. I used my hand-held mini hack saw blade to cut it off, file it down, and re-glue it. It does not look as good as it used to, but at least the canopy goes on.
Paint and decals
Rivet counters will cringe, but to obtain the subtle stripy look on the wings (I have no idea as to its cause) I used dark sea grey painted through a comb onto the thinned white undercoat wash. I then hand-painted white between the grey stripes. All in the hope that it would show through the final coat of ‘ADC Gray.’ I did the same underneath.
‘ADC gray’ is said to be a slightly bluish grey, an opinion that photos seem to corroborate. I used Hannants’ ADC Gray in their Xtracrylix range. (It looks to me hardly distinguishable from Humbrol 127 satin US Ghost Gray, but the ADC Gray dries to a beautiful satin sheen, subsequently to be covered over my matt varnish!) I mixed it with silver to help with the somewhat weathered and chipped exterior of this aircraft; as if the wind and sand (and stars) have abraded the paint.
Hannants also offer international orange, but in enamel only, as far as I can determine. I mixed my own international orange using acrylic paint.
Watch out: The white (or light grey) lettering that goes behind the canopy – actually it is part of the canopy, but black – is supplied with the Hannants decal sheet. However, the transfers are invisible on the sheet. All are accompanied by black part numbers though, so you can identify them.
I pencilled some of the joint lines engraved into the fuselage and wings, trying (not completely successfully) to prevent the pencil wandering. Lastly, a coat of Humbrol acrylic matt varnish left a slightly chalky appearance, which is exactly what was needed for this weathered aircraft.
I will maybe have my artistic licence revoked for this, but I prefer the look of the black painted canopy frame, which – as far as I can determine – was preceded by the tow mechanism being fitted. I went with the black-edged canopy, but the towing mechanism absent, despite the historical inaccuracy of that combination.
The tiny and thin KST markings on the fin are not supplied as decals, so I attempted to create them using a fine marker pen. The results are not great. I did manage a reasonable (I think) facsimile of the staining on the rudder and the chips out of the orange on the fin.
I used plain masking tape for painting the canopy frames. This is where the quick-drying acrylic paints really score. A few minutes after painting, you can peel away the tape and start on the next bit, putting new tape over the recently painted area without fear of the tape pulling off the paint. With enamels, you would have to wait a day rather than mere minutes!
As always when I build such a model in ‘flying’ mode, I had a large number of detailed parts left over: Undercarriage, weapons, and – in this finely detailed model – some thin metal details mainly to do with the weapons bays, but also cockpit instrument panels. It is not all wasted though. I constructed the metal boarding ladder for general use with my wheels-down jets in this scale.
I still feel that 1/72nd scale is just too small for the amateur modeller like me to cope with in aircraft of this size, so I will continue to stick to 1/48th scale where possible. Nevertheless, as kits go, this is well above average in terms of parts fit, options, and details. Lastly, the availability of decals to build the aircraft that my fellow hang glider pilot flew in his progression that led to space make this distinctive and iconic jet fighter a ‘must have’ in my model collection.
Eclipse QF-106 Tethered Flight #4 video taken January 28, 1998, on YouTube