1/24 Airfix AV-8A Harrier
By Scott Murphy
The Airfix 1/24 scale Harrier kit depicts the AV-8A. It is long out of production but there are still a few floating around. Out of the box it produces a good model but requires a substantial amount of work to bring it up to competition standards. The kit comes with high visibility markings for both the USMC and RAF versions. I chose to build the USMC version in subdued markings.
I used numerous reference books and photos I took of the Harrier displayed in the Naval Aviation museum in Pensacola, FL.
The size of the kit cockpit cried out for super-detailing! The basic cockpit was good but was lacking in some important details. The instrument panel layout is for the GR.1. The center section for the USMC version is completely different, however. I ground off all detail with the Dremel and scratch built the instruments and boxes.
I used 1/24 scale Waldron instruments and Evergreen stock to round out the rest of the details. I added details to the side consoles using solder, wire and Evergreen stock.
Certainly the most disappointing feature of the cockpit was the ejection seat. The kit seat was completely devoid of detail. Using reference photos, I added seat cushions, upper and lower ejection handles, an oxygen/communications block, parachute straps and seat belts and various side details. The seat back cushion was covered with OD colored fabric strips to give it texture. I used vinyl cloth with the flocking stripped off to cover the seat pan cushion. Seat belts and parachute straps were made from thermal fax paper. No after-market strap fittings were available so they were scratch built from solder. It was invaluable.
Other cockpit details included adding a pilot's kneeboard and NATOPS pocket checklist to the glare shield. The kneeboard was made from evergreen stock and lead foil, using a real kneeboard for measurements. I made a "chart" by scanning an aviation chart I had laying around, reducing it to the correct size and printing on photo quality paper. I then folded it and attached it to the kneeboard. The pocket checklist was constructed in very much the same way. I scanned the cover, reduced and printed it and attached it to some Evergreen sheet. I used fine wire to simulate the binder rings.
Wire, solder, Waldron instruments and Evergreen stock was used to add details to the sides of the cockpit. Finally, I adding air conditioning piping and the detonation cord (to shatter the canopy upon ejection) to the top of the canopy using solder
I did not use the pilot figure included. It is for the RAF version and would require quite a bit of modification to depict a USMC pilot. Besides it would obscure a lot of the work I did in the cockpit.
Landing Gear Wells
Like the ejection seat, both landing gear wells were cpompletely devoid of detail. I used a combination of wire, solder, Evergreen tube and rod stock and epoxy putty to add details. Waldron instruments from the spares box were used for guages. Good reference material was invaluable here.
The kit landing gear was adequate but I added hydraulic lines, electrical wires and two landing/taxi lights. The kit wheels were solid but reference photos showed lightening holes. I used the Dremel and a 0.039" bit to add them.
Aft Avionics Bay
I opened up a panel on the left side to display avionics "black boxes". Using reference photos, I constructed them from Evergreen stock, wire and solder. The compartment walls and supporting trays were made from Evergreen sheet stock. I added nomenclature placards to the boxes by using decals from the spare parts box, applying them to aluminum foil and cutting them out with a pair of very sharp scissors. I attached them to the boxes with CA. This is a very simple process but it makes for some very nice finishing touches.
ADEN 30mm Gun
I also opened up one of the gun pods and scratch built the ADEN 30mm gun using reference photos and a little imagination. I used aluminum tubing for the barrel and Evergreen stock, solder and wire for the remainder. Once completed, I built an ammo box out of sheet stock and glued the finished assembly into the pod.
The engine included in the kit was excellent, undoubtedly the best part of the kit. I took it a step further by adding hydraulic lines, wiring, springs, screening, etc. The engine was painted with several shades of Testor's metalizer and gray and a black wash applied to "dirty it up". When installed, the engine really becomes a focal point on the model. The exhaust nozzles were assembled and painted with steel metalizer. The forward nozzles are "cool"; the aft ones "hot" so the aft ones got a thin coat of metalizer "burnt iron" to simulate discoloration due to heat. Unfortunately a lot of detail and painting was obscured after the engine was installed.
The kit came with a wide variety of underwing stores, however most were applicable only to the RAF version. The reference photos for the particular marine squadron depicted showed a typical load out of napalm canisters and 2.75" rockets pods. Neither were included in the kit so they had to be scratch built.
To build the napalm canister, I took one of the kit-supplied drop tanks and, using a razor saw, removed both ends. I used Evergreen sheet to make the ends caps. The finished assembly was then painted Metalizer aluminum and buffed. Two filling caps and some decals from the spares box rounded out the canister. The rocket pods started out as ½" Evergreen tube. Using the Waldron punch set, I made six holes in both end caps. The rocket noses were made from Evergreen rod turned in the Dremel and shaped with a file and various grades of sandpaper. The exhaust ends of the rockets were made from discs punched from sheet stock. I added some bar stock to the rear to simulate the igniter rods. The pods themselves were painted flat white and the end caps a combination of Metalizer brass and aluminum. Again, decals from the spares box were used for finishing touches. No sway braces for the underwing racks were provided so I made them from wire and Evergreen sheet.
Assembly of this kit was the most challenging part. Nearly all of the major pieces exhibited moderate to severe warpage, the fuselage halves especially. The pieces were held tightly together with masking tape and extremely thin CA applied about 1" at a time. Amazingly, when the two halves were joined, the fuselage "trued" up. The wings were likewise warped but not to the extent of the fuselage. When assembled, only a small amount of warpage remained, which was corrected by immersing the assembly in hot water and bending it. Apart from having to correct the warps, the rest of the kit went together relatively well. A moderate amount of filling was required on the underside of the wing/fuselage joint. The extensive rivet detail is recessed so it was a challenge to replace it where it was lost due to sanding. I took a piece of hypodermic needle, beveled the edge and used it like a drill bit in the Dremel to replace the rivets.
The exterior was finished with Testors enamels. The reference photos showed a sharp line between upper and lower camouflage but a feathered edge between upper colors. The kit came with colored decals. Age had rendered them useless; they fell apart as soon as they hit water. I wanted to show the aircraft with the subdued markings anyway so I scanned the decals in black & white and printed them on decal film. I added "REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT" flags to the stores, landing gear and ejection seat. None were available in 1/24th scale so I made them using MS PowerPoint.
A last few details included adding the large formation light strips and using pieces of shaped and polished clear sprue to form the wingtip navigation lights. I also used a piece of clear sprue to simulate the lens of the combat camera on the left side of the nose. I chose to display the aircraft in its natural shore based habitat.
As the saying goes, "nothing beats the real thing" so the "tarmac" is made of real concrete. I used an orange juice strainer to remove all but the finest particles of the concrete mix. I covered the base with diluted carpenter's glue and using the strainer sprinkled the base with the concrete. I immediately shook off any excess and let it dry overnight. When thoroughly dry, I removed any remaining excess with a soft brush. I added the "tar" strips using black acrylic paint and a syringe.
Tie-down holes were drilled out and solder used to make the tie down loops. No fire extinguisher was available in 1/24th scale so I scratch built one using Hasegawa's 1/48th one as a template. A pair of miniature pilot wings and a USMC globe and anchor rounded out the details.
Modern shore based aircraft (especially USMC) do not show the signs of weathering like their predecessors. I used pastels to add the occasional small leak and black streaks associated with dissimilar metal corrosion around rivet heads.
This project required approximately 250 hours to complete, including the base. The complexity of the kit (over 250 pieces) as well as the problems with warpage and fit would definitely put it into the experienced modeler's category. The finished model, however, is very large and impressive and has done well in competitions.
Scott Murphy has graciously given his permission for us to use this article from his site. Check out Scott's site for some really great models.
© Scott Murphy
This article was published on Wednesday, July 20 2011; Last modified on Wednesday, May 15 2013