Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird
The SR-71 was a flying legend. Anyone who wasn’t directly involved with the aircraft knew little about it, and those who were involved weren’t talking. The aircraft’s existence was declassified in 1964, but not much else was said. The problem the SR-71 was created to solve was that the U-2 was too slow, and thus Soviet SAMs could reach it and shoot it down. The SR-71 was supposed to be so fast that SAMs couldn’t catch it.
During this project, I had the help and advice of Ray Knight who lives on the next street over, on the same block as I do. Ray was a fuels man on SR-71s at Beale AFB back in the 80s.
So how fast was the SR-71? Well, it set a world speed record for an air-breathing, piloted aircraft of 2194 mph (3530 km/h) in 1976. Rumor has it that this was NOT the SR-71s maximum speed. Ray was at Beale when an SR-71 took off and immediately had a problem. The aircraft was landed at the nearest Air Force Base, which happened to be Mountain Home, Idaho. The approximately 600-mile flight from Beale took about 15 to 18 minutes.
Building the Kit
Dragon's 1/144 scale SR-71A kit is pretty simple. There is a fuselage top, a fuselage bottom, the vertical stabilizers, the intake cones, the burner cans, and the exhaust pipes. That’s most of the construction. The cockpit is a single piece which fits between the upper and lower fuselage halves. The main gear wells also have to be added before assembling the fuselage. I also added the nose gear well before painting as I got the nicest news from Ray about wheel well colors. Everything on the SR-71s he worked on was black, except for the silver tires.
Painting was pretty easy, flat black overall. Everything, including the wheel wells, the underside, and the exhausts, all of it, was flat black. I did add a slight tint of burnt metal to the exhausts, but they’re still pretty black. I masked the cockpits with little bits of makeup sponge. This is a really neat trick I picked up somewhere. The sponges are soft enough to not disturb the detail, but they expand to neatly block paint from coming into the cockpit or whatever you need to mask. Once painted, I added a coat of Future for the decals.
The decals were the toughest part of the whole project. The decals are of high quality—they’re from Cartograf. The stars-and-bars and the “USAF” went on nicely. I had a tiny bit of trouble with the “U” in “USAF,” as the decal film didn’t fill the “U,” and the top of the left vertical wanted to wander off. When I looked at those no-step lines running down the back of the fuselage, I knew I was in trouble. But my friend Mike Hinderliter provided me with some knowledge and a couple of tricks, and I got those decals on OK too.
Mike’s first trick is the Microscale system: applying Micro Set under the decal and then Micro Sol after placement to soften the decal. He also showed me how to use a micro-brush to move the decals into place. His final trick was to cut those long lines into about four pieces near, but not at, the corners. This allowed me to work with smaller pieces of decal and to get a two-inch line straight before moving on to another part of the line.
All of the fiddling with the decals did have a down side. When I sprayed the model with Future, a couple of the lines lifted and moved. I fixed these with an application of diluted white glue. Then, I reapplied Future on these fixed lines with a brush, instead of spraying them. Finally, I put a coat of Testors Acrylic Flat on to flatten everything.
Painting complete, I added the cockpit canopies, the main and nose landing gear, and the main gear doors. The last item was the pitot tube. In spite of what Ray says, the pitot is silver.
This SR-71 is highly recommended. The kit goes together SO well, the color schemes are ultra-simple, and everything fits. I’m a sucker for reconnaissance aircraft, and this one is a winner. I had an adventure with the decals, but I learned a lot on this project.
Thanks to Dragon Models USA for the review kit and to Dave and the IPMS/USA for the chance to build it.