Monogram 1/48 F-80C Shooting Star

KIT #

?

PRICE:

$Currently OOP

DECALS:

One option

REVIEWER:

Lee Kolosna

NOTES:

True Details seat used.

HISTORY


         The Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star was the United States Air Force’s first combat-capable jet fighter, scoring the world’s first jet-against-jet aerial victory at the beginning of the Korean War.  A product of Kelly Johnson’s fertile design team (in what would later become the Lockheed Skunk Works), the F-80 spawned a long lineage with the T-33 advanced trainer and the F-94 Starfighter all-weather interceptor.

        The team designed an aircraft around the plans for a license-built version of one of the new British turbojet engines, the Halford H.1B Goblin.  A contract was issued in June 1943 for the creation, within 180 days, of a new fighter.  Despite delays in the delivery of a working version of the Goblin engine, the XP-80 prototype flew for the first time in January 1944.  A bigger and more powerful engine, the General Electric J33 – an improvement in the design of the Whittle centrifugal flow turbojet – was installed in the next development aircraft, the XP-80A.  As ever with emerging technology, engine failures were quite common and several famous test and fighter pilots were killed in the testing of the F-80, including Milo Burcham and top American World War II ace Richard Bong.

        Two YP-80As were shipped to England in December 1944 for testing. Two more were shipped to the Mediterranean and actually flew a few missions before the end of the war in May, although they did not encounter any enemy aircraft.  Thirty P-80As were shipped to the Philippines to participate in the planned invasion of the home islands of Japan, but they too did not see any combat because of the end of the war.

        The F-80C was the most numerous variant of the series, with even more powerful and reliable versions of the J33 engine.  When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, F-80s were called to duty and operated from bases in Japan.  The jets had a bit of trouble with the piston-engined Russian fighters, who could easily turn and evade the Shooting Stars.  But a rude awakening came on November 1,1950 when the MiG 15 appeared on the scene.  The world’s first jet-to-jet aerial victory was scored by an F-80 on November 7 against one of the new MiGs.  It was soon apparent though that the MiG was superior to F-80 is just about every way, being nearly 100 MPH faster and with a better ability to maneuver.  The F-86 Sabre quickly took over as the primary air superiority aircraft, relegating the F-80 to the ground support and reconnaissance role.  Over one out of every three Shooting Stars were lost while conducting these dangerous missions.  As newer F-84 Thunderjets came on line to replace the F-80, surviving aircraft were relegated to the National Guard, where they served into the late 1950s before being permanently retired.

THE KIT

            Released in 1977 by Monogram, this relatively simple kit includes a number of interior details.  The fuselage is engineered to split into two, exposing the rear portion of the J33 jet engine, with a stand provided to hold the back half of the fuselage.  The port gun bay hatch can be positioned open to expose simplistic detail of the six .50 caliber machine guns.  The speed brakes can be posed open.  The flaps are separate pieces as well, although detail is provided only on the opposite side of the flaps themselves and not in the top of the wings or the exposed areas of the fuselage.  The kit is molded in silver styrene with fairly prominent raised panel lines.  Three different sets of wingtip fuel tanks are included, and two 500-pound bombs can be mounted on pylons underneath the wings.  Detail in the cockpit is merely adequate.  Black Box makes a resin replacement set, although the cockpit is such a snug affair that most of the detail will be nearly impossible to see when the model is assembled.

            The clear pieces are nicely transparent, if a little thick.  The modeler will need to attach the bubble canopy to a frame.  Decals are typical for Monogram for the time period: poorly printed, super glossy, and impossibly thick.  There are a few Super Scale F-80 sheets available in the secondary market and the modeler is advised to find a sheet if building this kit.
 
            Those readers with good memories will recall a Modeler’s Musings column in 2002 where I cried about failing miserably to build one of these F-80 kits.  Just about everything that could go wrong did.  My airbrush broke in the middle of the project, so I had to use a backup single-action airbrush and ended up applying the SnJ Spray Metal paint too thickly.  While polishing the windscreen, I accidentally snapped it in two.  I tried to make a new one with Thermaform, which resulted in a misshapen blob that barely resembled a windscreen.  Trying to attach it to the newly painted model, I got glue on the thick layer of SnJ and messed that up.  I tried to sand out the blemish and repaint, but the repaired sections looked awful and I ended up just stripping all the paint off the model to start over again.  The Polly Scale Easy Lift-off I used to do this attacked all the joints and the model fell apart.  I glued everything back together again, redid all the seams, and primed the model for Alclad II lacquer, which I wanted to try for the first time.  The Alclad went on beautifully over the Krylon sandable primer I used, showing every single imperfection in the primer coat.  I realized that I hadn’t sanded and polished the primer as well as I should have.  At that point, I gave up and threw the model in the trash can.  It wasn't a vicious departure (I don't hurl things in anger very often), but more of a dejected resignation.  The kit defeated me and I had lost the will to continue.

            But stubborn I am.  Over the next two years I searched for another kit, and finally got one in a trade for a Monogram AT-6.  The timing was right for me to start working on it right away, and this time I was determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

CONSTRUCTION

        The first thing I did was glue the gun panel on the port side shut and filled the trenches on the starboard side of the nose.  I cut off the pitot tube and put it in a safe place to be cleaned up and returned to its position later in the assembly process.  The cockpit was painted overall Interior Green with flat black instrument panel and consoles.  I used a True Details resin injection seat instead of the kit seat because of the better representation of seat belts.  As stated above, it is very hard to see much of anything in the cockpit when the model is built, so I didn’t spend a huge amount of time detailing it.  A wash in the recesses and a drybrush of the instruments was good enough.  The gunsight is really crude, so I cut it off the coaming, reshaped it to a more accurate representation, and added a clear piece of acetate for the glass.  I glued several fishing sinkers inside the nose to insure the model would sit on its landing gear properly.  I added the cockpit tub and nose wheel well to one fuselage side and glued the forward fuselage quarters together.  The resultant seams were pretty significant, especially along the spine of the aircraft.  

        I’m not a fan of peek-a-boo elements in my models, so that meant that the exposed engine would have to go.  I glued the engine to the forward fuselage assembly, painted the tailpipe with Metalizer Burnt Metal, and glued the back half of the fuselage over the engine exhaust.  The fit between the forward and rear fuselage pieces is less than ideal, so lots of filling was necessary there.  My buddy Stan Pearce noticed that the fuselage has a definite banana curve to it when viewed from above.  I’m not sure how that occurred, as none of the parts exhibited any visible warping, but sure enough it is there, implying that one fuselage quarter is slightly longer than the other.  Oh well.

        The wings were next.  Most photographs of F-80s at rest show the flaps closed but the speed brakes were often open.  Closed flaps eliminate the problem of the lack of detail in the flap wells but introduce one of its own: there is a wide gap between the flap and the bottom of the fuselage.  I grafted on thin slivers of sheet styrene to the fuselage to fill the space and sanded them flush.  The flaps were glued to the wings and the entire assembly glued to the fuselage.  What did I see?  You guessed it: more large seams to fill in the wing root and belly areas.  This model is definitely a putty queen.  I was careful to set the dihedral correctly before fixing it permanently with CA glue.  The horizontal stabilizers actually fit pretty well, a change from all the other pieces in the kit that didn't.

        The bubble canopy was glued to its frame and the resulting seam was filled with CA glue and sanded smooth.  I also faired the windscreen into the fuselage and both transparencies were polished back to clarity with a tri-grit file and Novus plastic polish #2.  I was relieved that I had passed the part of the project that caused me so much trouble previously.  I rescribed the panel lines that had been obliterated by the seam-filling process, polished the styrene to a mirror-like shine in preparation for the natural metal finish, and washed the model with warm water and dish-washing liquid to remove all the sanding dust and fingerprints before heading out to the paint shop.

COLORS AND MARKINGS

        The model was primed with Floquil Old Silver.  I studied many photographs of F-80s and did not see a huge amount of variation between alternating panels, so I limited my counter-shading to Alclad colors (Duraluminum and White Aluminum) very close in tone to the Old Silver base.  I chose to do an aircraft from the famous 334th Fighter Squadron, 4thFighter Group, as seen in a picture in the Squadron P-80 Shooting Star In Action book.  This aircraft had a semi-gloss black nose, black and red tip tanks, an Olive Drab anti-glare panel, and a red stripe on the tail.  I masked all the accent colors and sprayed them using Polly Scale and Testor Acryl paints.

        Decals represented somewhat of a challenge, as no aftermarket items are available for this particular aircraft.  I made the buzz number and serial number with a computer using USAF Amarillo font and printed it on clear decal paper with my laser printer.  The US national insignia came from an AeroMaster sheet.  The stencils, wing walk, and turbine warning stripe came from an old Micro Scale F-80 sheet I got from Squadron on close-out special a couple of years ago.  The famous fighting cock of the 334th FS was fashioned from the Tamiya kit markings for the Don Gentile P-51B “Shangra-La”.  I cut the rooster from the kit sheet and positioned it on top of a disk I fashioned from a sheet of solid yellow decal stock.  It doesn't exactly match the rendition of the squadron symbol of the F-80 in the photograph, but looks close enough to fool most people.

        I sealed the decals with a few very light coats of Future.  I've been around the block with what to use to seal a natural metal finish aircraft, and Future seems to work the best for me.  Sealing is necessary because the stencils and other markings with clear carrier backgrounds have an inherent shininess that is apparent when you view the model from different angles.  The Future works to blend them all together.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

            The landing gear wheels and speed brake wells, painted Interior Green, received a wash made from Burnt Umber oil paint and Turpenoid to dirty them up.  Attaching the undercarriage was uneventful until I tried to put on the nose gear doors.  Talk about an exercise in frustration!  A person will need four hands to get those suckers glued onto the model right.  I finally glued the two doors together to the retraction strut that spans between them, then carefully placed the subassembly together onto the model and tried to get them all lined up as best I could.  It’s much sloppier than I would have preferred.

            I drilled out the front of the gun barrels and glued them into their slots on the nose.  The pitot tube was glued on.  How long it will last there in its precarious position is anyone’s guess.  The wingtip tanks took a bit of fiddling to get properly aligned as the attachment point allows for some play.  The final task was to attach the canopy bubble, which I bedded on the top of the fuselage spine with a tiny blob of Blu-Tak.  With that last step, I was thrilled to be done and have the curse of the Monogram F-80 lifted from my shoulders!

CONCLUSIONS

            I love the classic Monogram kits, and have built most of them during my modeling career.  I sadly have to say that the F-80 kit is the most disappointing one of this long and proud line that I've built.  The fit is poor, the interior detail is sub-par compared to other Monogram kits of the same vintage, and the panel lines are heavy-handed.  With no small amount of effort it still builds up into an accurate rendition of a very important aircraft.  I believe that this subject would make an excellent project for a new-tool design.  An enterprising manufacturer could get a lot of variations on the molds for the F-80, including the T-33 series and even the early F-94 fighters.  Modelers would find lots of colorful markings from many different countries to apply to these kits.  Hey Classic Airframes, Accurate Miniatures -- any of you guys listening out there?  The modeling world could use a new F-80, dudes!
 
            Thanks to Stan Pearce, Steve “Snake” Mesner, and Tom Curda for their assistance on this project.

REFERENCES

Davis, Larry: P-80 Shooting Star in Action
Menard, David W.: USAF Plus Fifteen           

Lee Kolosna

April 2004

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