Completed : Skunkmodels 1/72 General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Build Report

Kit Info
Brand: Skunkmodels
Scale: 1/72
Media: Injection Plastic

The Subject
The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of both remote and autonomous flight operations. It was developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the USAF and is a larger, heavier and more capable UAV than the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator. It has a carrying capacity of 3,000 pounds and is capable of fielding the AGM-114 Hellfire, GBU-12 LGBs, the JDAM family of GPS-guided munitions and even AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.

The MQ-9 is the first hunter-killer UAV designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance. Missions include close air support, air interdiction, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) and border monitoring. Operations began in 2007 with combat missions starting in Iraq and Afghanistan in the summer of the same year. The first ‘kill’ was achieved in October 2007.

Production has totaled 163 as of 2014. Operators include the USAF, US Customs and Border Protection, most NATO countries and even NASA.

Info from Wikipedia

The Kit
Skunkmodels released this kit in 2011 and a pleasant surprise is they include 2 units in the box. I think this is the first 1/72 scaled Reaper in plastic form and would be reboxed by Italeri (though you can only build 1 MQ-9 from that boxing). Parts are molded quite well although the panel lines look somewhat soft and deep for the scale. Details however are quite nice with sunken rivets around the fuselage although the ball turret’s details are on the softer side. Underwing pylon holes come opened but I guess everyone will want to arm this thing. Weapons include 2 GBU-12s and 4 AGM-114 Hellfires.

Another pleasant surprise is the inclusion of 2 of the same set of decals and is designed by Crossdelta. Colors look good, crisp and are on register.

Construction
First up, I did a thorough washing of the sprues as they have an oily residue out of the box. Since it doesn’t have a cockpit and canopy, construction is quite straighforward and fitting was generally good. The plastic feels similar to Kinetic Models’ but seems to be less brittle. The biggest challenge is the tail section but some dryfitting should eliminate serious seamlines. There is however a tiny groove in the housing on the tail which can’t be reached and there is an obvious gap in there. I put in fishing weights in the nose as specified in the instructions. I tested the weights by friction fitting the landing gear.

The main wing is molded as one piece with the main fuselage fitting top to bottom. This eliminates any alignment issues which is nice. Unfortunately though, the main wings are long and thin and the port wing on my set came warped. It went through a few sessions of heat treatment with hot water and hair dryer and was bent to straighten them. I did the best I can but it’s still slightly warped.

The antenna were all left out till the end.

Colors and Markings
The instructions lists the MQ-9 to be an overall FS36375 but some research on the Internet (I referred to this Britmodeller MQ-9 walkaround a lot) shows that it’s actually 2 tones with the top being FS36375 and bottom FS36176. The painting guide is also not clear like Hasegawa’s. It’s grayscale and looks to be a photocopy. For example the colors of the nosewheel and the ordnance look similar in the instructions. A lot of callouts were also missing (see below). I used the following colors for this build:

  • Mig AMMO Light Compass Ghost Gray
  • Lifecolor Olive Drab 41
  • Vallejo Model Air Black Grey
  • Vallejo Model Air Light Grey
  • Vallejo Model Air Metal Steel
  • Vallejo Model Color Dark Sea Green
  • Vallejo Model Color Deep Yellow
  • Vallejo Model Color Foundation White
  • Vallejo Model Color Gunmetal Grey

I first primed the kit with AK Interactive Black Primer and the landing gear and weapons with Vallejo Grey Primer. I used Light Compass Ghost Grey on top. My table says that Vallejo Model Air Dark Sea Gray is similar to FS36176. It’s not. It dried into a very dark grey that’s almost black. So I ended up mixing my own FS36176 by adding some Foundation White to Dark Sea Green (about 1:5 ratio). I think it’s still too dark but I’ll live with it (at least it doesn’t look black).

By a happy accident, I completely forgot I used the Ammo paint and I touched up the lighter grey sections with Model Air Light Grey instead. So now there is a bit of subtle patchy variation in the colors. Looks quite good actually.

The gearbays were sprayed Black Grey although that’s not mentioned in the instructions (thanks Internet). Most of the other components were handpainted. The nosegear was Gunmetal Grey, MLG was Light Grey and the prop housing Steel. The prop blades were Black Grey with the tips being Deep Yellow over a base color of Foundation White (color callouts also missing in the instructions for these).

The ball turret is actually a housing for various cameras and sensors. According to photos, there should be 4 small windows and 1 big main one. However, Skunkmodels doesn’t indicate what needs to be done here. No decals are included as well. The detail on the ball turret itself is also not very sharp so I decided to just paint Black Grey on the main big one. I’ll Future over this to simulate a glass panel at the end.

To save time, I gloss coated the kit with Krylon Gloss Preserve it but due to the humidity at the time, it went on uneven and splotchy. It also frosted when wet which luckily cleared up when dry. Still splotchy though.

I decided to model MQ-9 05-4016 from the 432rd Air Expeditionary Wing which has some ‘kill’ marks’ on the port fuselage. The decals went on very easily and was pretty much trouble free. Strong enough to be moved about and yet snuggled down to the kit with a spot of Mark Softer. I was glad that the decals were strong enough that I could cut the band on the tailfin without any problems even before it has cured. After half a day of curing I wiped all the decals down with a wet cloth to remove any residues. I then brushed Future over the decals to seal them.

Finishing
I did an overall panel wash with Vallejo Dark Grey Wash. These were wiped with Windex soaked tissues. Some of the wash were harder to clean due to the splotchiness of the gloss coat so some elbow grease was required. Yet some others couldn’t be cleaned up completely.

I then attached the landing gear with super glue. These actually fit well enough without any glue but I did so anyway just in case.

For the Hellfires, I first drilled holes at the back to simulate the exhaust ports. I then painted yellow over a base of white to prepare for the bands. Turns out though, they were too tiny for my 1mm masking tape to grip onto so I couldn’t do a mask and spray. I ended up hand painting everything with Future on the missile tips. The Future frosted after I brushpainted on so they look really ‘used’. After some touch-ups and a wash they look OK from 2 feet away but yikes, they are very roughly done. They also took a bit of finessing to fit onto the small bomb racks due to their size. A thing to note is that based on photos, the racks should mount at a downward angle but the kit’s racks point straight forward. The GBU-12s faired better. I masked off the initial yellow color with 1mm masking tape and I then airbrushed Olive Drab 41, Futured and then given a wash. Of course, the tip on one of them broke off but I managed to superglue it back on.

Along with the weapons, the prop and the antennas which were painted separately were then attached and an overall satin coat was sprayed. The nose probe should be pointing straight forward but mine sits at an angle. It’s quite fragile so I decided to live with it. Lucky for me the splotchiness of the gloss coat was fixed by this final satin one. Then lastly I removed the masking tape from the cano… wait… nevermind. 😀

Definitely not my best work. The finishing took a while with a ton of minor disasters but in the end, I’m done!

Number 4 of 2016

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