T-33A Shooting Star

Published on
Review Author(s)
Scale
1/72
MSRP
$39.50
Product / Stock #
AC-6
Company: Platz - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Dragon Models USA - Website: Visit Site
Box Art

History

The Lockheed T-33A has been around for over 60 years and was a development of the USAAF’s first operational jet fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Some P-80s were built and delivered before the end of World War II but none was used in combat. Although preceded by the Bell P-59A Aircomet, the P-80 was really the first useful jet fighter we had. Redesignation in 1947 turned it into the F-80, and that is how it is known today. The first two-seater, called TF-80C, was a conversion of a P-80B, 48-356, which, incidentally, was rebuilt later on to become the prototype for the two seat all-weather F-94A fighter. But that is another story. By the way, although the box art calls the T-33A a “Shooting Star,” I’ve never heard anyone refer to the T-33A by that name. It was always the “T-Bird” or just “T-33.” The fighter was the “Shooting Star.”

In 1948, the Air Force decided to order the airplane into production as the TF-80C. Later, the designation was changed to T-33A and this was the airplane that was built in large quantities, including 5,871 for the USAF, Navy, and foreign governments. A total of 649 were built for the Navy as TV-2, (later T-33B), and over 1,000 for foreign air forces. The Navy acquired 50 F-80C’s, which they designated TV-1. The T-33 was also built in Canada and Japan. Production continued until 1959. Nearly every USAF operational unit had at least one T-33 at one time or another, and the type soldiered on until the early eighties in various roles. Quite a few are flying now in civilian hands. In the fifties and sixties, most Air National Guard units had a few and they were to be seen in a large array of USAF, ANG, and USN color schemes, including the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels. The Navy ordered an improved variant, the T2V-1, which was really almost an entirely new airplane, as it was intended for carrier training. Nearly all USAF pilots flew the T-33A at one time or another. According to one pilot I know, the most embarrassing thing that could happen on a T-33 was to get your nosewheel 90 degrees to the side. No amount of power could straighten it out, so you had to get someone to go out and turn the wheel around. You only did that once and, for atonement, you probably had to buy a couple of rounds at the O-Club.

The Kit

The first T-33 models were individual conversions of the venerable Airfix F-80C kits which appeared many years ago. Sometime in the eighties, Hasegawa issued the first T-33A kit and, in its day, it was an excellent kit, although it was rather lacking in detail and featured raised panel lines. This was followed by a Heller offering which was an improvement, still with raised panel lines, but the current issue by Platz renders both of these earlier kits obsolete. Sword also produced a T-33A kit a few years back and, from reviews I’ve read (I’ve never seen this kit), it is closer to the Platz kit than the Heller or Hasegawa and has some resin parts and a two-piece canopy.

Molded in light grey styrene and consisting of about 60 parts, the Platz kit appears to be accurately molded with fine recessed panel lines and some, but very little, flash. The instructions are primarily in Japanese, but the six page sheet contains 11 assembly stage diagrams, a sprue plan, two pages of color schemes for Japanese variants, one history page in Japanese and English, and a decal placement drawing which shows where all of the maintenance stencils were located. Some of these are in Japanese so, if you want to build an American or Canadian version, you have to look at them carefully through a magnifying glass to make sure that they are in English. There is no color guide in English, so you have to remember that the interiors of these aircraft were, according to my USAF friends, interior green with some medium grey, while the exteriors were almost, but not quite, universally Alclad or silver.

Included in this kit was the painted photo etch sheet giving most of the cockpit details and panels. Strangely omitted were the seatbelts, which can easily be made from masking tape, although it is odd that they would be left out of the PE sheet or the decal sheet, which has most of the markings duplicated. The PE sheet is an extra, and somewhat expensive, but has some excellent detail for the cockpit interior, which, however, is only somewhat visible through the one-piece canopy. A two-piece unit would have helped.

References

You will need reference material for this kit, as much is left out of the instructions. I used the Squadron “In-Action” issue on the Lockheed F-80, which has some coverage on the T-33. Also, Peter Bowers’ book United States Military Aircraft also has some useful data. There is a lot of material out there on the internet, and I suspect that there are some after-market decal sheets also available, although I haven’t seen any, since this is not my normal modeling subject area.

Assembly

The kit goes together as well as most modern kits. Obviously, the cockpit interior is the first step. Here, one of the seats is too wide and must be trimmed slightly to fit into the floor assembly. There is some trimming required if you are going to use the PE materials, but instructions are provided for this. Once the cockpit is complete and all of the PE panels are attached, you’re ready to assemble the fuselage, right? Wrong. First, you have to weight down the nose or the plane will sit on its tail when complete, and this is not mentioned in the instructions, or at least the English part of them. I used buckshot from shotgun shells, attached with white glue. Also, the forward wheel well must be installed, along with one bulkhead behind the cockpit. Additionally, the rear fuselage section comes separately, so the long blast tube needs to be glued together and attached inside the fuselage. There is no engine provided; maybe they forgot to include this, as a detailed engine would be really useful if you decided to build your model with the tail moved back for maintenance. Then the fuselage halves can be joined. The wings are a little simpler and, once the fuselage is assembled, they can be joined to the unit. After attaching the tail unit, the elevators can be installed. The instructions say to install them before attaching the rear fuselage to the major airframe, but I waited until the wings were lined up, as nothing looks worse that misaligned control surfaces.

There are a lot of small parts to this kit that must be painted before installation, and remember that if you use the PE material, some of the plastic accessories have to be trimmed off. Some of the PE parts are frankly too fragile and fiddly to be used, so I used some of them, retaining the rest for future use. The PE parts are generally very good, but they do not come with the basic kit.

In the assembly process, there was a little bit of filler required, but it was easy to get everything straight with no gaps. I attached the canopy and then masked it off for painting, along with the wheel wells and other parts I wanted to protect.

Painting and Finishing

The kit provides an excellent decal sheet with all of the maintenance markings. The problem was, of course, that the kit depicts the Japanese service model. Since this is the only T-33 that I will probably ever build, I decided to do something different, especially since I wanted it to be a local airplane that I came in contact with sometime during my dubious career. Back in 1961 when I was in college at ASU, I managed to get access to the flight line of the 197th FIS, Arizona Air National Guard, and photographed five T-33A’s on the line at their Sky Harbor installation. Three were in “ARIZ AIR GUARD” markings, while two had no states listed, having only recently arrived from other units. These were all T-33A-5-LO models, which differed from the T-33A-1-LO in that they had VOR navigation equipment, while the A-1’s were only equipped to use the low frequency A/N radio range for instrument approaches. I decided to do an Arizona bird and, referring to the six or seven black and white photos I had, along with one color slide I shot of #53-5397, I had enough material to build an accurate model.

I painted the entire airframe silver, keeping the wing tanks off as they would be painted dayglo orange on the outsides and flat black on the inside surfaces to serve as anti-glare. The photos show no markings other than the ARIZ AIR GUARD and the tail numbers on the aircraft.
I used the kit decal sheet for the wing walks, fuel tank markings, and all of the little markings they had on these planes. The decal sheet has many more markings than you’ll ever use. The decals themselves are very thin and easy to work with. In addition, they need no trimming.

After painting and spraying with Glosscote, the plane was ready for final details. I had removed the tiny pitot tube from under the nose, as I knew it would break off during the construction process. I reattached it, along with some of the other small parts.

Recommendations

I built this kit alongside an old Hasegawa kit for comparison, and must say that the Platz kit, being at least 30 years newer, wins hands-down. This is not to say that a good model cannot be built from the Hasegawa kit, but the Platz kit seems to be much more detailed. And the Heller kit also looks useable, although I don’t have a complete kit for comparison. I do know that the Heller kit has raised panel lines and has the wing tanks molded into the wingtips, which might make painting them a little dicey. For a modeler who builds in the fifties and sixties era, this kit goes a long way in filling the gap. There are literally hundreds of colorful markings that can be used on this model. If you’ve got the bucks, get several of these. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Platz Models, Dragon Models USA and IPMS/USA for the review kit.

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