Building Revell’s 1:32 Harrier as a late US Marine Corps AV-8A

By Gene Nollmann


Being very complex technical systems, there are several levels from which to appreciate an aircraft. And that would also depend on your point of view, be that as pilot, builder, taxpayer, or modeler to name a few. The Harrier is a particularly fascinating subject on many levels. Its technical achievement has somewhat quietly expanded the fighter aircraft’s required envelope with its exploration of thrust vectoring and the emergence of a new performance regime called ‘viffing’, the act of ‘Vectoring In Forward Flight’.

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At first glance the Harrier looks to be conventional with a pilot under a bubble canopy in front, a swept wing mounted high on the fuselage, a single vertical tail and horizontal tails mounted at the vertical’s base. It is jet powered and has pylons under the wings for mounting the ordnance for war and/or extra fuel.

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But on closer inspection it becomes clear this is no ordinary or conventional jet. Although it has huge air intakes through which the first compressor turbine is clearly visible, there is no tailpipe. Instead it has four side mounted thrust-vectoring units hidden under the wing! To see one of these craft rise vertically on its ‘four-poster’ columns of jet gases and transition into horizontal flight is awe-inspiring and just down-right Thirties Flash Gordon science fiction! But it works and works well enough to have captured the imaginations of more than one air tactician around the world.

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The gestation of the design from P.1127 through Kestrel and ultimately into the production Harrier is a long and involved history. Perhaps protected under a NATO realization that long runways would be the first to go in an attack, Harrier development dates from the early 50s and continued under the watch of many diverse political views. Sometimes it was political suicide to mention the P.1127 project; sometimes it was an act of genius to have been involved. With dependence on many contrasting disciplines of life, it is just amazing the Harrier survived long enough to work out its problems and enter service. But it did and actually was able to hold much of its concept intact, so much so one might think parts were interchangeable from one iteration to the next, but in fact they were not.

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The initial production version stemmed from the last six pre-production variants known as P.1127RAF, all flying by August 1967. By 28 Dec 1967 the first production Harrier GR.1 flew with a Pegasus Mk.101 of 19,000 lbs thrust. With an uprated Pegasus Mk.102 and a thrust of 20,500 lbs, the Harrier became the GR.1A and was the engine initially incorporated in the US Marine AV-8A. Ultimately, the AV-8A would be fitted with the Pegasus Mk.103 rated at 21,500 lbs. of thrust. (Just an idle contrast, the J57 which powered the F-100 Super Sabre and F-8 Crusader delivered 18,000 lbs. of thrust with afterburner).

General G McCutcheon, USMC, saw in the Harrier an answer to his search for tactical airpower without an airfield. He sent a team to the 1968 Farnborough airshow to evaluate the Harrier and they concluded it could fly useful combat missions. Funds earmarked for Marine F-4J Phantoms were reassigned to purchase Harriers. Ultimately 90 aircraft were contracted for over Fiscal Years 1970, 71, 72, and 73. An additional 12 AV-8As and 8 TAV-8As were later purchased. (Sixty AV-8A would survive to be converted to AV-8C).

First delivery took place November 1970 and Major Harry W Blot would be the Marine Corps AV-8A Project Officer. Although some of the more adventurous RAF pilots has been exploring what was to become ‘viffing’ techniques, the formal study really got its boost from Major Blot’s accidental discovery of the tremendous braking effect possible by throwing the Harrier into full down thrust while in forward flight. Maj. Blot judged that if vectored thrust could be properly harnessed, dogfighting would be revolutionized.

In addition to the formalization of ‘viffing’, the USMC would influence the Harrier’s development further with the requirement to mount and wire for Sidewinder air-to-air missiles on the outboard pylons. In the Falklands conflict the Royal Navy’s Sea Harriers with Sidewinder’s demonstrated the lethal advantage of viffing in a dogfight.

Utilizing the AV-8A from September 1970, the US Marine Corps ultimately filled out three attack squadrons and one training squadron; the last AV-8A to serve was retired in July 1986.

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All of that relates to the performance and technical point of view, but, as a modeler, what captivates me is more of an aesthetic nature. As I was going through my process of test fitting and temp assembly, some vague association kept gnawing at me that I couldn’t pinpoint. Suddenly I realized it was the Boeing B-52 bomber with its high wing and eight jet engines hanging below that somehow communicates to me a menacing purpose to the plane – it’s like arms spread from the shoulders of a charging wrestler before a tackle, very emotive of a ‘bird of prey’ posture. The Harrier is very similar with ordnance hanging from the high wing. The whole Harrier composition looks ‘muscled-up’ and ready for a fight with its organic forms rolling together like the muscles of a charging bull. It does not surprise me in the least for the US Marine Corps to take a special interest in this craft. The AVG Flying Tiger with its ‘psycho-graphics’ was only a precursor to the ‘psycho-sculpture’ of the Harrier!

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All things considered, it is a fascinating aircraft and quite possibly as significant in the history of vector-capable fighter aircraft as the Wright Flyer was to flight.

The Kit

This kit, Revell no. 4718, is marked ©1982 and has come onto the market under several different boxarts and with different markings dating back to 1972. This issue was molded in dark olive drab and came with markings for an RAF Harrier GR.1 of No. 3 Squadron and an AV-8A from the US Marines VMA-231 in the ‘subdued’ all black markings.

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From the modeling section by Phil Friddell in Aerophile’s AV-8 Harrier, “’s essentially a good kit and is worth the effort you’ll need to put into it in order to get an acceptable model. It’s biggest failing is Revell’s typical “unfinished” molding. All of the shapes are there, as is most of the detailing you’ll want, but a lot of things are oversimplified and will need some help if you want them to look right. The interior, gear doors, pylons, weapons (British again), landing gear, all will need work. There’s an engine included, which isn’t really very good and should probably be removed and . . ).” Okay, that was said in 1982 and reflects the prevailing spirit of the true modeler of the time when the gap from vac kit to injected kit was but a few steps and not the giant leap it is today, but I decided to give it a go anyway, especially when I realized the long promised Trumpeter kit will be the AV-8B Harrier II, which looks similar, but is altogether a different bird.

All panel lines are raised and there is no rivet detail; sink marks abound. The cockpit is basic to the extreme. The instrument panel is flat and a white-line decal is provided to indicate instruments (and it is lacking any fineline drawing finesse).

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Side consoles have a minimum of detail indication and then each side in marred by huge ejector pin marks (in scale they measure 3” in diameter and at a point where the console measures 4” wide). Oddly, the cockpit floor, which is eventually 70% covered by the seat etc., actually shows the most detail! Yes, oddly, unless you would like to model one with the seat ejected (?).

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The seat has everything captured in one piece (even the cockpit back wall). In the end the seat will be the most visible cockpit element. The RAF’s GR.1 apparently had a Martin-Baker Mk .9A seat and the USMC’s AV-8A would be fitted with the Stencel SEU-3/A (SIIIS-3). The kit piece resembles neither (IMHO).

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In the search for “what is this and that supposed to look like” some uncomfortable discoveries were made. It seems the actual AV-8A (and GR.1) have the intake jowls enlarged or modified by expanding the lower surfaces (perhaps this has to do with the uprated engine). The Revell kit looks to have taken its inspiration from the early US test examples designated XV-6A a.k.a. Kestrel, but the Revell kit is hit and miss on several points resulting in not being totally one or the other. Most models in other scales depict this intake jowls area more correctly. Further, the Revell wing is more similar to the AV-8A; the XV-6A had no hard points for wing stores and span stopped at the outrigger housing. The XV-6A tail projection contained a parachute pack, the AV-8A has some vectoring outlets. Detail differences abound all around, especially in the area of the exhaust nozzles and their fairings. The problems and corrections could completely stall progress on this kit, but I’ll have to learn to live with some compromise to keep it moving.


There was not much to work with to bring the cockpit up to contemporary OOB standards, so it was decided to scratchbuild it anew. First the cockpit floor and side consoles were scratched from Evergreen flat styrene to form a ‘cockpit tub’ that could be removed for easier detailing of both the tub and the sidewalls.

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The seat was done without scale drawings, but to get the proportions close, some more contemporary kit seats and aftermarket seats were studied. For the specifics, published photos and perspective line drawings were studied, but it was difficult to find very much one to one correspondence in the photos or drawings when I got down to the smaller details (the guys in the field must have had a devil of a time maintaining a comprehensive manual). In the end, my seat is just an educated guess and an amalgam of details as near as I could get.

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Next focus was to indicate various knobs and dials on the side consoles and instrument panel. One reference has been especially useful in this effort (in fact I doubt I would have attempted detailing the cockpit without it); it is the Aerophile Extra Number 1 (©1982) by James Wogstad & Jay Miller devoted to the AV-8 Harrier and its early variants. Within this fine volume is a flat layout of the instrument panel and the side consoles. The layout is without scale bar, so I’ve taken considerable liberty in adjusting things to fit the Revell kit cockpit space (even with a scale bar, compromise would still be necessary).

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With a digital camera, I took pics of the layouts and reduced them to fit the spaces. Then they were glued to 10 thou plastic card, punched for instrument holes or drilled for stubs of styrene rod to represent knobs and switches.

For the instruments, I coated the surface of some thick aluminum foil with a black marker ink (very similar to laundry marker ink). That was laid under the styrene panel with punched out dials and the dial edges were scratched into the surface of the aluminum. Removing the aluminum, I was now free to scratch in the dial scales and numerals – not – but some marks were scratched in to resemble the dial graphics.

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Basic interior paint was Model Masters 1741 Dark Ghost Grey (FS 36320) enamel, which seemed to resemble the few cockpit photos I’ve seen. A light aging was accomplished with some pastels.

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The kit canopy mics’ at 0.05” average or in 1:32 scale, 1.6 inches. It also has some distortion and the frames are molded in, but subtle. Also molded in and maybe a bit too subtle is the windshield wiper. It is tempting to use the kit canopy, but since I want to display the canopy closed, the interior detail will be difficult to view with out doing some canopy rework.

With the intention of using Squadron’s Clear Thermoform 9003, a Plaster-of-Paris cast was taken of the interior of the kit canopy. After drying, shaping and sealing the plaster cast with Future, I ‘smashed’ the first canopy over the plaster plug, trimmed it and white glued it to the plug. This was done to compensate for some of the ‘trimmed’ thickness resulting from using the interior surface to create the pattern.

Anticipating the next pull (okay, smash, I don’t have a vac) would bring the canopy surface up to norm. (Pulling down over an exterior mold impression would leave me with a oversize canopy that would be very difficult to trim to fit). After 5 attempts (that is, destroying 5 sheets), I finally got one that was acceptable, not perfect, but acceptable enough to continue – also I had used up all the sheets in the package!

The new canopy appears to have an average thickness of 0.015” or 0.48” in 1:32. Half-inch thick Plexi might be closer to appropriate and on the model it certainly lets in more light and makes it easier to see into the cockpit.

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Then just to muddle things that are going smoothly, I decided to add the ‘explosive chord’ to the canopy one sees in later AV-8A Harriers.

Using the old plaster pattern with its first layer of clear canopy could be used to put some real pressure onto forming the wire to the canopy’s contours. It worked well enough to get pretty good surface contact all around the wire and for the Future to wick and join wire to canopy. The wire gauge was a bit too thick and should be flat, but that’s going to have to be another time and another project!

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Landing Gear

The kit outrigger gear and housing are basic, but useful for further detailing. The housing was fully gutted and some ribs added. The front gear cover was redone in aluminum sheet and the lower boot was gutted. The extension/retraction ram was redone and set into the gutted yoke and a few hydraulic lines were added. A tie-down ring was devised out of some flattened wire (a point I missed, the rings should appear on both sides of the strut).

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It is no surprise, the kit’s main wheels could use some embellishment. Unlike the other wheels in the kit, the division from wheel rim to tire is without definition and for me is an essential guide when painting. My photo ref also shows more definition, so my first thought was to see if a ‘rim’ could be cut from a brass tube and applied to the surface.

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The brass ring was rough-cut from the tube using an X-acto medium size razor saw. The trick to not collapsing the ring was once I broke through the tube with the saw was to continue the sawing on just one side so the saw was almost at a right angle to the tube wall (as opposed to sawing all the way across against two walls). With the rough-cut ring, files and then sanding sticks (supported flat) were used to thin the ring. Bad news, the ring proved to be a bit too large in diameter. But all was not lost!

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Now with a nice brass ring to use as a pattern, it occurred to me to apply strip styrene against the interior. The butt ends were liquid glued to give a continuous styrene ring. With the pattern and part still together, the ring was glued to the wheel surface (again with liquid styrene glue). When dry, the brass ring was lifted off leaving a nice round rim that could be further sanded down thin just proud of the surface giving a nice paint guide and representation of a wheel rim.

Main landing gear info is scant and what lurks beneath the wheels is a mystery to me. One very basic side view drawing I’ve seen seems to indicate the double scissor link in the Revell kit is pure imagination (or perhaps one of those copyright infringement indicators Revell was so famous for). So in the end I'll give it my best ‘wag’ and move on.

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For the front gear, the yoke was given better definition, a lamp with reflector devised and some hydraulic lines run.


Enhancing the exterior can keep a modeler quite busy. First was the basic; all the fuselage raised panel lines were turned into incised lines.

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A nose pitot was made up of telescoping stainless steel tube.

The AV-8A inherited the side-shooting nose camera of the GR.1. It always appeared to me to be an awkward application, but there it is (it was dropped from the AV-8B and from the –8As that were converted to –8Cs). The kit part leaves one wondering what is there, so a clear cover was worked in and a ‘camera’ of aluminum tubes and polished CA were mounted behind.

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At rest a windshield wiper appears along the starboard windshield frame and at its base is an asymmetrical housing. The wiper assembly was made up of Evergreen sprue and wire and the housing at the base was fashioned out of thick gauge aluminum foil and faired in.

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The nose underside, wingtips top and bottom and the tail ‘stinger’ sides and bottom all have Reaction Control Valves or RCVs, to provide attitude adjustments when in the hover mode.

The forward end of the outrigger housing contains the wing’s RCV and they occur on the top and the bottom of the housing. All the views I have of this area are just glancing shots without any real useful detail, so again, they are just my best guess.

The screen just aft of the tail’s RCV is an odd piece of miniature expanded metal screen that I found in my junk pile and have no idea where to get more. It was nice to use in the Waldron punch because the ends did not wiggle loose as a woven wire screen would.

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Also added where some wing root lights. They must have been an AV-8 mod appearing later in its career; it is not difficult to find –8As with and without the light. It was a fun detail to add.

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The kit’s airbrake box was just a box with no detail and the airbrake door. a piece of aluminum was embossed on the reverse side to make the adjusted interior door surface with raised rivets. The hydraulic actuator was made with two aluminum tubes with the actuator rod of thinwall polished stainless steel hypo tube.

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The kit’s intakes have half-hearted dents where the auxiliary intake doors should be. These were cut out and reposed; with engine off, the upper doors hang open and the lower doors will nearly shut. Way too late I discovered the Revell kit has these door indications in the wrong place and with the wrong number. To address the missing intake jowl bulge, some styrene 'plates' were added with CA, blended in and then further feathered in with styrene putty.

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The front nozzle feeds off the Pegasus’ first stages of compression and is relatively lower heat (but is sufficient to boil water) and of coarse the rear nozzle is fed the full-blown hot exhaust gases. The photos seem to show somewhat of a metallic finish but strongly discolored with ‘rust’ and ‘soot’ colors depending on front or rear positions. To simulate that I’ve painted them with a base of Model Master 1785 Rust and then misted some Model Master Metalizer 1405 Gunmetal and 1404 Titanium (both of the ‘buffing’ variety ‘though I won’t be buffing).

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For the wingtip lights a piece of bright aluminum foil was cyanoed to the back of the clear kit light lens and the whole was cyanoed into the wing tip cavity. This was sanded flush, polished, and then over-painted with a thin film of Tamiya Clear Red (port) or Clear Green acrylic (starboard). When dry it was polished nearly flush with the wing. Next, the wingtip will be masked and the wing painted leaving a nice edge surrounding the colored wingtip light.

Most shots I’ve seen of the AV-8A at rest show the horizontal tail at a small angle to the profile datum. Consequently the ‘pivot baffle plate’ (for lack of a true name, which I have no idea of) that was molded into the kit fuselage was sanded off and a closer approximation was added to the stab’. Next, an aluminum tube was inserted to represent the approximate pivot axis. When all assembled, it gives me an opportunity to pose at any legitimate angle.

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There seems to be a large tube between the aileron and flap, so that was accomplished with a piece of thin wall stainless steel tube and then the flaps have been cut to be posed dropped as for take-off.

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The Arden gun pods were embellished with some muzzles, a few vent holes and a scoop carved into the stock plastic.

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The inboard pylons and fuel drop tanks were modified to resemble the ones frequently found in USMC photo refs.

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Later USMC AV-8As were fitted with inflight formation lights on both sides of the nose, atop the wing outrigger housing, and on the vertical tail. Small pieces of aluminum sheet were fashioned to size and glued to the plane. After overall painting, Tamiya tape was glued to represent the light surface and then given a light weathering.

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Although rarely pictured this way, I really wanted to show this AV-8A with Sidewinders since it was a requirement originally unique to the US Marine Harriers. The Sidewinders on the AV-8A live on the outboard underwing pylon, but the kit pylon has a rocket pod molded with the pylon.

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Since the pylon seems to have a pretty good profile, it was cut off and detailed a bit with some sway braces left over from a Trump A-7. The two-layered ‘Winder launch assembly was scratchbuilt as were the Sidewinders.

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Painting and Markings

According to the production lists, the serial number used on the decal sheet (159253) started life as an AV-8A, but was later converted to a ‘C’ and then later retired in the early 80s at MCAS Cherry Point with VMA-513. Quite an accomplishment considering the high attrition rate of the Harrier!

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The ‘A’ and ‘C’, for exterior purposes, are identical except for the inclusion of the ‘LID’ (Lift Improvement Devices) that appeared on the ‘C’. And they are quite easy to represent with a hinged air damn that drops down just aft of the front landing gear and some strakes that are attached to the bottom of the gun pods (or substantially deeper strakes if no gun pods are fitted). The hinged air damn can be closed and just represented with score lines. And the kit has some shallow strakes that can be added to the gun pods.

This build is to represent a late ‘A’ variant with the subdued markings serving with VMA-231 the ‘Ace of Spades’.

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The camo color called out in the AV-8 Harrier (Aerophile Extra Number 1) by James Wogstad & Jay Miller for the bottom was FS 36440 Light Grey, and for the top surface camo pattern of FS 36118 Dark Sea Grey and FS 34079 Dark Green.

First painted was the underside camo color using Model Master 1730 FS 36440 Light Gull Grey. Next the topside was started with a base of Model Master 1741 FS 36320 Dark Ghost Grey and then oversprayed in a semi-blotchy fashion the camo grey of Model Master 1723 FS 36118 Gunship Grey (out of the bottle, the FS 36118 was just too dark). Paint names change, but the FS references matched-up.

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A thin card pattern was used for the camo transition. It was held roughly an eighth of an inch off the surface to help in establishing a ‘fuzzy’ transition. The final color being Model Master 1710 FS 34079 Dark Green.

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The camo was sealed with Future and after dry, the decals were applied and then sealed with Model Master Dullcote. Some general weathering was done with some pastels and then sealed again.

Then the struggle began to attach the final fiddly bits and pieces, trying very hard to add more pieces than I broke off!

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The Harrier seems to be a bit overlooked as a fighter aircraft configuration. The significance of being able to take off and land on a tennis court and then go nearly sonic with a payload and then evade attack with ‘viffing’ techniques seems to have escaped inclusion in modern jet fighter design (and the follow-on design was to be Mach 2 capable). There is some Vertical Landing being incorporated, but they don’t appear to have the Harrier’s viffing capability. Imagine those capabilities in an UCAV where human G-loading is of no matter – they would ‘fly like a butterfly and sting like a mad hornet’ to paraphrase a famous boxer! In short, yes, I feel the Harrier is nearly as significant to combat aircraft capabilities as the Wright Flyer was to flight!

It has been a revelation to me to see how this kit responds to a few tweaks here and there; as Phil Friddell said, the basic forms are there. And with a bit of modeling it seems to come alive like a seed sprouting.

It was a fun build; didn't get too exotic with the detailing, but just enough to let it sit alongside some Tamiya type OOB jets. There is so much more one can do - and so little time! And then there is that AV-8B that Trumpeter has been teasing us with for so many years.

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Web References

A special thanks to Peter Hamann for the use of his great photos of an AV-8C.

© Gene Nollmann

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This article was published on Wednesday, July 20 2011; Last modified on Saturday, May 14 2016