Written by 11:17 pm My Builds

Completed : Academy 1/72 North American F-86F Sabre

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

The Subject
The North American F-86 Sabre is a single-seat swept wing transonic jet fighter aircraft. First entering service with the USAF in 1949, the F-86 was one of the best and most important fighter aircraft during the Korean War. Armed with 6 x 0.50 caliber Browning machine guns and rockets, it proved itself against the similar Soviet MiG-15 in high-speed dogfights over the skies of Korea, accumulating a record of approximately 566 Mig-15s shot down for 104 F-86s lost to combat.

The F-86F variant is the most produced type at 2,239 built. It has an uprated engine and a larger wing without leading edge slats compared to previous versions. The Fs had much improved high-speed agility and higher landing speeds. Production of the Sabre would reach 9,860 units and the F-86 and its various variants would go on to serve in 31 different air forces. Although considered outdated by the end of the 1950s, it would continue to serve in various air forces until 1994.

Info adapted from Wikipedia

The Kit
Originally issued by Hobbycraft in 1986, this is a rebox released by Academy in 2000 with different marking options. Panel lines are recessed that are nicely done and consistent although a bit heavy by standards set by Tamigawa. The cockpit details are all of the raised variety with a simplified ejection seat which doesn’t have restraints. The kit also comes with a long intake without a compressor face and a short exhaust with a burner. Landing gear is simplified and the only stores available are 2 underwing mounted fuel tanks. The kit also comes with parts for the F-86E Sabre which aren’t used here. Instructions are of the folding variety and lacks details in some spots (notably the cockpit). 2 markings are provided in the kit and both are for USAF bare metal finished units fighting in the Korean War. The decals look good: glossy and well printed.

So, a decent kit by all accounts but it’s not without its problems as we shall see.

I began with the cockpit and I had to make a few guesses to where everything goes as some parts needed to be attached at angles which neither the molds nor instructions are clear about. Still, the details are quite nice here for 1/72 and it was a simple matter of spraying Black Grey and drybrushing with Dead White to bring them all out. The headrest on the seat was painted Bloody Red and I added 1mm masking tape to simulate restraints.

The cockpit sits above the intake trunking which is made up of an upper and lower half. The instructions called for some weights up front and I had to flatten the fishing weight before it fit into the space. The cockpit, intake and exhaust are all supposed to be fitted between the 2 fuselage halves. I went through some dryfitting and decided to add a sprue washer to angle the front of cockpit+intake assembly downwards so the gearbay will meet the bottom of the fuselage. I also decided to cement all three onto the right fuselage before fitting the left side. Turns out this was a mistake. I should have just trapped the cockpit+intake between the 2 fuselage halves and then adjusted the fit that way. Now there’s a step if you looked into the intake.

I then deviated slightly from the instructions by fitting the bottom wing assembly onto the fuselage first before fitting the top sections of the wings. Even so there are still minor gaps on the joints up top that requires fixing. Gaps in general quite easily fixed. There were however quite a few sink marks that needed to be fixed. It was especially bad on the bottom behind the MLG bay. I just did the best I could and moved on.

To fit the fuel tanks, holes needed to be opened up on the wings. The curve on the pylons looked different from the curve on the wings so obviously the fit aren’t good. I ended up going through a few rounds of scraping, sanding and dry fitting before it was acceptable. The holes were also smaller than the connectors on the pylons so these needed to be enlarged quite a bit. The external tanks themselves are split into top and bottom halves and they don’t fit well so they also went through quite a few rounds of fixing.

I then cut out all the landing gear parts, cleaned them up and set aside for painting. There is an error in the mold with the right landing gear having no attachment point for the tire. I drilled a hole and added a short pin in it with brass rod. The canopy is made of 2 parts and these were cleaned up, dipped in Future, masked off and glued to the kit.

Painting and Markings
First up I painted the gear and speed brake bays with German Cam Bright Green (which is apparently close enough to FS34151). Then I covered these up with blutack to prepare for the Bare Metal Finish (BMF). I also stuffed the intake and exhaust with tissue paper. This being my first ever BMF build and first ever use of Vallejo Metal Colors, I proceeded slowly. I first base coated with Gloss Black and let cure for 24 hours. Then I sprayed Aluminium in multiple coats. The paint is surprisingly easy to use and coverage was excellent. After drying for only an hour, there’s no residue on the finger after rubbing the finish. I then let this dry for 24 hours. After that I masked off the exhaust and gun barrel panels and sprayed Exhaust Manifold. The gun barrel panels are actually a lighter shade than Exhaust Manifold so after this has dried I carefully lightly airbrushed on more Aluminium to tone it down.

One nice thing about BMF finishes is that almost everything on the aircraft is the same color, so I proceeded to basecoat and color the other parts. One challenging thing about BMF finishes however is that the prep work needs to be neat as any scratch, gaps or mistakes on the surface can be clearly seen once the metallic color is sprayed on. Because of this, I ended up going back to fix visible mistakes, especially on the fuel tanks.

Then it was time to remove the blutack masking from the gear and speed brake bays. Disaster struck when in trying to remove the blutack residue I managed to push the gearbay hard enough for it to break off from the base and fall inside the kit. After about 10 minutes of swearing, I stared at my problem for another 10 minutes and decided that I can live with some extra panel lines on the bottom. So i cut off the middle spar to open up enough space to pull out the part, then carefully cemented the part back by grabbing it with a tweezer and holding it in place. Then I cemented the spar back in place. Now that area has 2 extra ‘panel lines’ but since it’s the bottom, I choose to accept it. I then handpainted German Cam Bright Green to patch any overspray.

Korean War F-86s had very colorful markings, and out of the 2 I decided on ‘Mike’s Bird’ piloted by Capt. Charles McSwain. However it turns out that the nose needed to be painted yellow and it needs to match the other parts in yellow which are provided as decals. I decided to go with Sun Yellow not knowing if it will be a match at all. I first basecoated Dead White then sprayed on the color. Luckily it turned out to be a close enough match.

I wasn’t sure how the metal colors would react to the Metal Gloss Varnish so I did a test first with the MLG doors. There is a tendency for gloss coats to change the tones of the metal colors but this varnish actually glosses up the metal colors more, smoothens the texture and somewhat hides the grain in the paint (which are quite obvious if you looked very closely). Nice.

And then naturally, disaster struck. When I went ahead and sprayed the Metal Varnish on the main kit itself, it started to spatter and to exhibit a pebbly orange peel effect. Then while trying to scrape off some the spatter, the Varnish literally peeled off! I tried sanding away the residue of the peeling but no luck there. So I ended up doing something quite drastic: I decided to strip off a whole section of the varnish. I limited the fix to a section bordered by panel lines. I slowly peeled off the varnish using a chisel. I ended up taking off some the paint and primer so I sanded and buffed off the unevenness and resprayed Aluminium over a black base. The fix is far from perfect but I’ll move on. My streak of disasters at the point of finishing is intact.

Now I had to redo the gloss again. This time I thinned it with Airbrush Thinner at a 3:1 ratio. The gloss went on much smoother with a less pebbly texture this time. Even after an hour the surface felt tacky though.

Decals was next and this is the first time that I’m using Academy’s house printed decals so I wasn’t sure what to expect. They turned out to be quite a bear to use. They take forever to detach from the backing, are quite fragile and don’t react well to Mark Softer at all. This stage ended up taking up a lot of time with most of it just waiting. I also ended up cutting some of them and joining them back on the surface. I also used Future in lieu of Mark Setter to force the more stubborn decals to stick. Quite a few of them also tore which I had to go back with handpaint and fix. I couldn’t really fix the yellow chevrons that were off-register though. Color fidelity is nice and definitely very sharp details and for the most part, look very good once cured. Otherwise, not much fun to use. As per usual, I did not put on all the tiny stencils. In this case, it’s because I really value my sanity.

After an additional gloss coat over the decals has dried, I proceeded to attach all the landing gear and doors with superglue. Hobbycraft originally molded the nosegear door for the wrong side. Academy’s instruction simply says to cut off the mounting points and butt join on the correct side. They didn’t bother to fix the mold. I ended up cutting off the mounting points, adding my own with 0.5mm plastic card and attached the door to the correct side. The Sabre’s speed brakes are supposed to sag when they are open but the ones here don’t. I simply shorten the lower braces to make them sag a bit.

The external fuel tanks were attached with superglue. I used Gator Glue for the braces. I only guessed how the braces attached as the instructions is vague on this. The fuel dump pipe was then attached and quickly handpainted in Bloody Red. The pitot tube/antenna on the starboard wing was also attached at this point. There’s no provision for wingtip lights on the wings and the instructions don’t indicate their existence either.

Another gloss coat was then sprayed over the kit to seal everything in and try to level the paint with the decals. I decided not to do panel lining as I’m not sure how the decals will react to the wash. Then last to come off as usual is the masking on the canopy. The edges were cleaned up with toothpicks and I’m done!

I’m glad that my first BMF kit turned out this well. In fact, the paintjob was the most problem-free aspect of this build. This bodes well to more BMF builds.

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Number 8 of 2016

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