Scratchbuilt 1/20 North American X-15

By Jerome Braure

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This is my first scratchbuilt model and as I began, I wasn't sure this method would work. There are many things that I would do differently, if I had to start a new model of this kind. At first I planned to keep it extremely simple, no landing gear (I thought I would display it on a rod in flight configuration), no cockpit details, etc but once you start you can't stop... I also had very few documentation material, no book, no correct plan, the one I used is an inaccurate and magnified plan from the Internet. I omitted many details, it would have taken me ages to do everything.

The Build

The fuselage is made out of hard foam, cut with a hot wire. It's very easy once you have the hardware: a voltage generator to heat the wire, some templates to have the right shape, and a good buddy to drive the other end of the wire through the foam.

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The fuselage section templates

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Pieces of hard foam

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The fuselage after the cut

The wings were cut out of copper-coated fiberglass plates. Once the fuselage sections were cut, I glued them together and started sanding. Next came two layers of fiberglass to get some rigidity.

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A lot of putty was needed for the canopy

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Paint & Markings

The paint is matt black Humbrol, two layers and matt varnish (applied after markings)

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First layer of paint

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The large 'USAF', 'NASA', etc. markings are all sprayed using masks. The smaller ones ('LOX JETT', 'FUEL VENT', etc.) are 'letrasets'. The remaining markings are simply handwritten with a pen, as I could not find anything more suitable.

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Ready for getting some markings

The model shows a lot of rivets (that took me quite some time, although I'm no 'rivet counter'). They were done using silver paint and a pen (the kind that you dip in the ink).

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The Wheels

As said before I planned not to make the wheels but I finally changed my mind. The wheels were lathe turned, out of thick aluminum rods. That was quite a challenge, aluminum gets soft if you push too hard and the lathe's knife gets stuck in it (I broke some of them...) But the result is worth it - shiny rims. It took me several attempts before I got something looking like a wheel.

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Two good and two messed up wheels...

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The Undercarriage

That was a tricky part, I had just a few pictures of it and had to invent pretty much. It's made of several layers of fiberglass plates. I had to add a little vertical rod at the aft to keep it balanced.

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Getting dry, upside down

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The Ejection Seat

Like the landing gear, it was not supposed to be done as I started the model. Since the Canopy was already done, I had to insert the seat (and the whole cockpit actually) in separated pieces through the windows. I know it's a crooked way to do...I won't do it again.

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Finished Model

I started the model almost a year ago, but had to do some month-long breaks. The model is 80 cm - 31.5 in. long.

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My old 1/32 F-16 looks quite small when placed next to the X-15

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Pretty large bird, no?


© Jerome Braure 2003

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