Hobbycraft 1/144 Convair GRB-36 "Ficon"
reviewed by Steve Jantscher
I've been a B-36 "Big Stick" fan for a long time. I can remember building the little box scale Aurora and Revell kits as a kid. Of course I have a 1/72nd scale Monogram kit sitting on the shelf too, partly built before I realized I didn't really have the display space. This kit seems to answer both the lack of detail from the early "box-scale" offerings and the very nice but very large Monogram offering. Even at 1/144 scale, this is no small kit with a wingspan of almost 19 inches. So clear out your shelf, or plan on hanging it from the ceiling.
Hobby Craft has presented a total of three kit offerings of the B-36 in 1/144 scale. The early, non jet assisted B-36B, the B-36D model with both props and jet engines, and the subject of this review, the "GRB-36 FICON" model. By the way, FICON stands for fighter conveyor, one of the continuing methods explored in the forties and fifties to extend fighter escort coverage to the strategic bomber force. The B-36 was the first bomber large enough to consider an internally mounted fighter aircraft (as opposed to the research into wing tip attachment between fighter and bomber). Two XF-35 Goblin parasite fighters were designed and built by the McDonnell Aircraft Cooperation but proved too difficult to mate successfully in flight, and the program was dropped after a handful of test flights, the last which was in April of 1949. These tests were made on a B-29, so the B-36 was never modified to carry the "Goblin". The FICON concept was a follow on fighter carrier design after the XF-85 program failed. Initially designed to utilize the F-84E Thunderjet, the parasite fighter concept eventually changed to meet a requirement to carry a small recognizance aircraft up to the Soviet border. That aircraft turned out to be the RF-84F Thunderflash reconnaissance platform. The air force modified ten B-36 aircraft into GRB-36D FICONs, and twenty five RF-84Fs to parasite configuration. Little has been released about the missions flown by GRB-36s in the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, but the mid to late '50s were a busy time for western over flights of the Soviet Union, so it may be assumed that the FICON aircraft were used in active cold war operations.
This kit has very nicely recessed panel lines, which add just enough detail at this scale to give the impression of accuracy. All the necessary parts are included to make both types of parasite aircraft and the proper bomber doors for the RF-84F are included as well. You have the option of displaying the fighter retracted or extended. I really like how the wing to fuselage attachment is presented, with the wing top being one big piece from tip to tip. I've read elsewhere that some have criticized the shape of the wing top/fuselage join seam area represented on the wing top piece. Hey, it looks OK to me. The plastic is (again as others have commented on too) a bit grainy to support a partial bare metal finish, and will require a fair bit of polishing to get smooth.
In checking my references I found that Hobby Craft got the provided aircraft serial number wrong. I'm fairly certain that the serial number for the RF-84F carrier provided (492077) is incorrect, and ought to be 492707, which was the FICON test aircraft. Operational serial numbers for the ten converted GRB-36s were 492090, 492092, 492094, 492687, 492692, 492694-6, 492701-2. Other than that mistake, the decals look to be nice and thin. Only experience will tell if they go down well.
I was less than pleased with the instructions. While they should not present too much trouble to an experienced modeler, they are somewhat confusing at first glance.
B-36 kits don't come along all the time, and I'm happy that this one turned out as nicely as it has. This kit can be made into a very nice looking model to go along with the other Hobby Craft SAC bombers (the B-47 and B-58).
There are really only three easily available references for the B-36 aircraft, all currently available. The Squadron B-36 in action is a good basic starter book, while the definitive and complementary hard cover volumes that belong in every "Big Stick" aficionado's library are Magnesium Overcast by Dennis R. Jenkins (my favorite, published by Specialty Press) and Convair B-36 by Meyers K. Jacobsen (published by Schiffer), both available from Roll Models.
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