Airfix 1/72 Lockheed U-2




$currently (Sep 2001) OOP


Two aircraft


Scott Van Aken




In the era before spy satellites,  the best way to get pictures of enemy territory was in a high flying reconnaissance aircraft. During WWII and the years that followed, this meant modifying an existing airframe, generally with long wings, pressurized cabin and a special high altitude engine. In the late 1950s, Lockheed's 'Skunk Works' came up with a jet design whose sole purpose was to fly higher than any other plane, above where it could be intercepted by enemy jets. The resulting aircraft was basically a jet powered glider. The long, high aspect ratio wings and ultralight construction, gave the plane the ability to fly in the upper stratosphere where it was hoped that it could take photos with impunity.

It was powered by a very reliable J-57 turbojet. In fact, once the plane reached altitude, the engine was operated at idle, that being sufficient to provide enough power to keep the plane moving. Providing this engine with a light airframe and long wings meant that the U-2 had a pretty incredible initial rate of climb. Though modern jets can surely climb faster due to brute power, with the U-2, it was airframe design that allowed such performance.

U-2s were operated clandestinely by the CIA during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The planes were devoid of any markings except for perhaps a tail number that was often fictitious. For a few years, the planes were able to roam the airspace high above the Soviet Union without fear of being intercepted. There are many tales of Soviet interceptors screaming into the air, only to stall out in the thin air many thousands of feet below the operating altitude of the U-2. Finally, one was brought down in northwestern Soviet Union by a new surface to air missile, the SA-2 'Guideline'. The capture of its pilot, Gary Powers, was a media sensation and pretty well spelt the end of U-2 flights over the Soviet Union. However, the plane was operated by Taiwan and was able to make a number of over-flights of communist China, though several planes were successfully brought down by Chinese air defense.

Even today, some four decades after entering service, variants of the U-2, the TR-1 are still plying their trade, albeit, not quite so boldly as before!



Hard to believe, but the Airfix kit of the U-2 was for years the only injected U-2 kit available in 1/72. Even today, it holds up well against newer kits and still is the only one portraying the early variants. A child of the 70's, the kit has the standard raised detail, mediocre cockpit and wheel well details and some sink marks and ejector pin marks that we usually ignored back then!

There are a number of options as you can do either a U-2B or U-2D with this kit. The large intake U-2C is not doable with this kit, though you could probably do a U-2A without too much trouble. Options are for open or closed speed brakes, as well as the large turreted looking assembly in the Q bay behind the cockpit. You can also have leading edge wing fuel tanks if you desire. Since the U-2 has bicycle landing gear and no retractable outrigger wheels, you are provided with stands as well as the fall-away outriggers.

The instruction sheet is more than adequate to build the kit. Colors are given as generic names as well as Humbrol colors, though I'm not sure if they are current numbers. Humbrol has changed numbering systems several times in the last 40 years. Most confusing at times! The decals are well printed and matte. They also have quite a bit of carrier film that you will want to remove. I have had no troubles with Airfix decals when applying them. You have markings for two planes. One is a U-2B in  overall light aircraft grey (probably ADC Grey) from the 4080 SRW. The other is a U-2D in a combination of black and aluminum as portrayed on the box top. This machine is from the 6512 Test Group at Edwards AFB. For those of you wishing different markings, Superscale made a sheet or two that will work well on this kit. When I built this model about a decade ago, I used this Superscale sheet.

It makes into a very nice model, and one that really looks nice on the shelf.

Review kit courtesy of me and my wallet!

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