Space Shuttle Tile Decal
For modelers building scale models of the Space Shuttle one of the more difficult challenges has been to replicate the thermal shielding on the spacecraft, whether the tiles or the blankets. In the smaller scales, this can be a real challenge and as a result one of the most sought after after-market sets has been thermal tile decals. Meteor Productions, in their Cutting Edge decal line, was the first company to offer tile decals. These deals proved extremely popular. That company has been gone for nearly 5 years and the decals have become very hard to find, usually commanding high prices. Enter Warbird Decals, a new company in the real space market. They have introduced a new line of thermal tile decals in the scales of 1/72, 1/100, and 1/144 to meet the ongoing demand.
The set I received is for the 1/144 Revell Space Shuttle. Printed by Scalemaster the decal set comes on a single 7.5 x 9.5 inch sheet. It includes dark tile decals for the underside and off-white tile and thermal tiles for the upper wings. It also includes tiles dark and white for the fuselage sides, flaperons and vertical stabilizer, and dark tiles for both sides of the beaver tail. The set includes a set window frames. Being that they are printed by Scalemaster, they will be easy to apply.
One challenge that Warbird Decals faced in developing these decals is that no two shuttles are alike and the tile patterns vary by airframe and time frame. When I started my review I compared the decals to a large collection of photos I had downloaded and organized by vehicle. Many were high resolution photos and showed clearly the tile and blanket pattern for each. I could not find a straight match for this set and any of the shuttle vehicles. This set comes closest to matching the shuttles in the 1980s. The wings are a good match for Columbia’s scheme in the later 1990s up to her loss in 2003; the striping just forward of the flaperons being the distinguishing feature. The fuselage is a bit more generic and again come closest to shuttles in the 1980s including Challenger and Columbia with the tiling along the mission bay doors. The nose pattern matches none of the shuttles. A closer study of the photos reveals some inconsistencies in the set for the following areas:
- The dark tiles at the rear of the fuselage near the beaver tail are missing, they sweep upward toward the main engines
- Light tiles are missing at the leading edge and underside of the OMS pods
- Dark and light tiles are missing around the cabin area. After the dark tile area, the nose should have light tiles back to the bay doors to tie into the tiles under the bay doors.
- The rudder should also be tiles, consistent with the rest of the tail
- Dark tiles are also missing around the main engines
- The tiles on the nosegear doors should be parallel to the long edge and not in the same diagonal pattern as the wing. The main gear doors are correct.
- The decals for the underside of the beaver tail have the tiles arranged in parallel to the long edge. This pattern appears to be incorrect for the underside (according to photos of Discovery) but correct for the upperside (according to pics of Endeavor)
In summary not all of the tiling patterns are correct and there needs to be more tiles. If you are modeling a vehicle different than Columbia or Challenger, or replicating the operational period with more thermal blanketing, than you will need to do some surgery on the decal sheet. Whichever vehicle you model, I recommend purchasing a second set to provide additional coverage and more flexibility in matching the prototype you are modeling. Research is the key and be sure that you pick an airframe and time frame to base you model on so it can be as realistic as possible.
All in all I enthusiastically welcome Warbird Decals entry into the real space market. These sheets are a much needed resource that provide the modeler very realistic options for shuttle modeling. This will not be the only set I pick up.