Special Hobby 1/72 U-2S/ER-2 "NASA"
Model, Text and Photos by: Mike Grant
Although not a great admirer of the U-2 I was lured into buying this kit by the box-art, which shows NASA's ER-2 in its sharp white/grey scheme. It's an older MPM/Special Hobby kit, updated with new resin parts including the enormous radome and the elongated U-2S nose. I had no idea the U-2 is such a big aeroplane- in 1/72 the wing-span is over 16" which presented its own problems while I was building it- I was constantly banging the wings on my work-light or on my forehead.
The kit is moulded in grey with the usual thick sprue gates but the surface detail is nicely recessed and it's generally well engineered. The resin cockpit tub/seat fit well inside the forward fuselage, but there was quite a bit of filing needed to ensure the undercarriage bays (parts C7 and C8) fit comfortably inside the fuselage radius. Make sure they're firmly glued in with lots of CA glue, because if they fall inside the fuselage later on in the assembly, they're irretrievable. I know this to be a fact.
Special-Hobby supply resin intakes for these later version U-2s but having dry-fitted them I anticipated a lot of sanding so I used the original plastic kit parts and modified them later. There was still a lot of filling/sanding but the thicker plastic parts withstood it better than the resin would have.
The weakest point of the kit is the wing/fuselage attachment- the huge wings simply butt-join onto the fuselage. On a smaller aircraft you might get away with it but these wings weigh a lot and exert a lot of downward pull, as well as being easily knocked, so some form of spar is essential. I used some lengths of brass rod drilled into the fuselage and again, copious amounts of CA glue. The wing pods are made up of 4 parts each and require a lot of dry-fitting, sanding and filling to fare them in smoothly to the wings. By this time I had done so much sanding on the airframe that most of the finely recessed panel detail had disappeared, so I was faced with re-scribing virtually the entire plane. Also by now the idea of doing an immaculate gloss white/grey finish suddenly seemed less appealing, whilst an overall flat black scheme now seemed extremely attractive, so I opted for a USAF version. However this entailed cutting off the kit's nose and replacing it with the resin part. Although it fit well there was more filling and sanding to be done.
Vac-form canopies are the bane of my modelling life, and this one was no exception. SH kindly supply two, so I was able to ruin two with my wonky cutting. I used the better of the two attempts. The U-2 canopy has the sun-visor painted on the inside of the glass, so this had to be done before I attached the part to the fuselage.
By now the model was ready for paint. Although the real aircraft is flat black I didn't think that would look right on a 1/72 model, and having looked at photos of the real thing my doubts were confirmed. Depending on the lighting in the photos the black U-2s appeared to be various shades of greys, so I used acrylic Gunship gray as a basis and added black until it looked right. I then masked a few panels and sprayed a slightly darker shade of the grey mix, finally highlighting all of the panel lines with black water colour. After a few coats of Future I applied the kit decals, which were beautifully printed and opaque, and went on without a hitch. I made a couple of extra decals myself such as the fasteners below the cockpit, the intake grille details which had been sanded off and the FOD cover stencilling. A final flat coat sealed everything in.
The undercarriage is fairly sturdy and well detailed, I just added a couple of glass MV landing lights. As an example of how well-engineered the kit is, I was amazed to find that the plane balanced perfectly on its undercarriage even before I added the outriggers to the wings. I replaced the outrigger struts (B16) with wire for strength. Final steps included adding the u/c doors and the array of aerials which I'd previously painted, and various landing lights from clear sprue.
Did I mention how large this thing is? A week after finishing the kit I took it along to my local Model Club meeting, and having placed it carefully on its base I miscalculated its wing-span and caught one of the wing-tips with my sleeve. The model spun across the table leaving a trail of aerials and undercarriage parts...
This isn't an easy kit to build, but it is buildable and does look the part. Like most short-run kits it demands a lot of planning and dry-fitting but there's nothing that can't be overcome with CA glue, filler and sanding sticks. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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