Airfix 1/144 Space Shuttle and boosters
You've heard of the Space Shuttle, right? Big white plane, huge brown fuel tank,
two skinny boosters? Hauls big things into space and glides back to earth?
Well, it did that for 30 years, from its first flight in 1981 to its last hurrah in 2011. It flew 135 missions, had two deadly accidents, and cost, well, a tremendous amount of money. Without it, the International Space Station probably would have been impossible to build. Many of the other things the Shuttle did could have been done by other rockets and the whole program had its fair share of critics as well as die-hard supporters. If you're the latter, please don't write in with a long list of stuff we wouldn't have without the shuttle. I like NASA and I like the space program!
And I like the Shuttle. Legitimate cost concerns and scientific criticisms aside, just seen as a machine, the Space Shuttle really was pretty amazing. Jeremy Clarkson, the irreverent BBC Top Gear presenter who likes to shoot his mouth off at most opportunities, had this to say about the Shuttle a few years ago. It nicely sums up my own feeling about this cool craft.
“We look today at the space shuttle and think of it as an ugly and outdated lorry that blows up when it takes off and disintegrates when it comes back again. I don’t. I see a machine that generates 37m horsepower but produces nothing from its exhausts except water. I see a fabulous creation that lights up the night sky with its power and is doing 120mph by the time its tail has cleared the launch tower and 17,500mph by the time it’s cleared the atmosphere. I see a machine that could get from Florida to Spain via space in 20 minutes, and can deal with the furnace of re-entry. A furnace that burns three times hotter than the surface of the sun. And best of all, I see a machine that glides back to Earth with no power, somehow kissing the runway at exactly 211mph.
And I always think to myself: that’s brilliant.”
(The Times, 7 October 2007)
say we're in the Golden Age of scale modelling with all the incredible new stuff
that's pumped out each year. It certainly seems like we are entering a bit of a
Golden Age of real space modeling, with Dragon releasing something new nearly
every week, Aoshima re-releasing a bunch of its old stuff as well as cool kits
of quirky Japanese space probes, and Revell getting in on the act with re-pops
of its 60s era spacecraft too.
The Space Shuttle hasn't emerged yet as a new mould (to my knowledge, at least) but you can readily get them in various scales from Revell, Monogram, Hasegawa and Tamiya. That'll have to do until Dragon comes to the party...if it does.
But wait. There's also Airfix! Yes, Airfix. Yes, you read right. Not Revell, but Airfix. This kit, like many of the shuttle kits, dates back to before the real thing blasted off for the first time with moonwalker John Young and rookie Rob Crippen at the wheel. But if you ferret around on the internet, you'll discover that this one is considered the best one for a straight-from-the-box accurate shuttle in 1/144. Apparently it has the best overall shape. Now, really serious Shuttle builders go to great lengths to kitbash the available options together to get the most accurate model, and they superdetail that resulting Franken-Shuttle to a sometimes remarkable degree. Have a look on the web and you'll blow your mind at what some people can do.
But what if you just want a shuttle on your shelf and you don't have the time, or skill, to do all that?
You get three major white sprues plus some black stuff which is the in-flight stand (not pictured in my sprue shot). Detail is mostly raised, but fairly subtle. It used to be that you could get Cutting Edge decals for the heat shield tiles but so far as I can tell, these are no longer available. Searching on google will bring you plenty of other people's builds where you can see a range of techniques to replicate the Shuttle's underside (and top side) textures, if you want to make it a bit more realistic looking.
A common criticism of this kit is that the payload bay is moulded with the Spacelab so there is no alternative payload without significant scratchbuilding. For the more advanced modeler, this is indeed a disadvantage, but for beginners or the person who just wants a shuttle on their display, I think this is not so bad. It means that with careful painting and maybe a little simple detailing, a good, busy payload bay can be achieved without major effort or advanced skills. Of course, if displayed as a stack, the payload doors ought to be closed (and the undercarriage retracted), but I envisage doing mine with opening doors so I can see inside (or perhaps make the Shuttle easily removable from the stack). The kit doesn't seem to provide for that but hopefully the modification is easy enough. Spacelab was flown 25 times, though only 16 times with this approximate configuration (ie with the habitable pod represented here). But those flights spanned both the "worm" and "meatball" era and all five spaceworthy orbiters. So for the "I'd just like a shuttle" builder, there is still a good range of fairly accurate choices.
Have a look here to get a basic start on the Spacelab missions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Airfix have never been renowned for decent decals. Mine are ok. They include both old style (worm) and new style (meatball) markings and the names of all six shuttles (including the prototype Enterprise which never flew in space).
Every comment online about “which is the best Shuttle kit if I don't want to scratchbuild” starts with “Airfix...but you really want to get new engine bells and new decals”. Real Space Models sell both a resin replacement engine set, and better decals. I bought both and though I have never used resin before, I think installation should be simple. You just cut them off and glue them on. Even in their box, they look a lot, lot better than what comes in the Airfix kit.
The Shuttle. As Clarkson says, you know it's got soul. If you want one in this scale, you could do worse than this great Airfix kit.
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