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Building a Boeing T-43A Navigation Trainer from the Monogram 1/72 Kit

Introduction

In the early 1970s the USAF decided to replace the venerable Convair T-29 trainers with an off-the-shelf commercial product with a minimal number of changes. Boeing won the contract with their well established 737-200 model. The USAF alterations limited themselves to reducing the number of windows and installing navigation consoles for the trainees.

The T-43A was probably not the most glamourous aircraft, but has now fulfilled a vital task in the Air Training Command for well into a generation, with no end in sight. At first the Aircraft served in an attractive grey and white scheme, but has now been redecorated in a stylish all white scheme. Several aircraft have been modified into personnel transports. One particular aircraft flew the Las Vegas-Groom lake route in bogus civilian markings for years while an other went into a mountain just outside Sarejevo with a team of US Government and industry officials  in the mid 90s following the demise of Yugoslavia.

With numerous other Boeing products available as 1/72nd scale kits from diverse model manufacturers, it seemed sensible to attempt the construction of a T-43A, especially as there was an archaic Monogram kit available, at least from collectable kit traders. The Monogram kit appears to date from around the mid 60’s, just around the time the original 737 went into production. It is important to note that the 737 came into this world first as the short fuselage 737-100, as first ordered by Lufthansa. The airliner only later evolved into the longer and more capable 737-200 required to produce a T-43A. Monogram jumped the gun and probably worked from early drawings and or mockups before the 737 ever reached hardware stage. This means that most parts are wrong. The fuselage is too long for a –100 and too short for a –200, the tip of the stabiliser needs to be reshaped, the wings are too short and the nacelles are completely wrong. At least the parts are somewhat more usable than the Aircraft in Miniature 737-300 which would require even more work, being a turbofan powered next generation 737-300. At least fuselage diameter, general wing arrangement, landing gear and canopy are good.

 

Fuselage

Before lengthening the fuselage, I decided to build a cockpit, nose gear bay and main gear bays, largely with plasticard. First I cut out the the nose gear doors and the main gear doors. I then constructed a forward bulkhead and cockpit floor, leaving enough room for pilot, copilot and flight engineer. An instrument panel was constructed out of plasticard and attached just behind the canopy opening and fared in. The interior was spray painted with Halfords grey primer and instrument panels were painted black. A left over B-52 instrument panel decal was fitted at the front. Close enough, considering it’s invisible from the outside. Airline type seat were created using redundant ejection seats, suitably reshaped with appropriate arm rests and head rests. These were painted and attached to the cockpit floor. A nose gear bay was fashioned with plasticard side panels. This then received a 5 mm wide plastic block, on which the original nose landing gear could then be attached to later. This bay was not detailed further. Now, the main gear bay was boxed using plasticard, with a bulkhead separating the two. They just needed to be deep enough to take a wheel and nothing further was done with them.

At this stage the fillet behind the wing root received a little internal stiffener from left over sprue, as this area would later need to be sanded off. With this done, the fuselage halves could be glued together and set aside to dry for a bit. That done, the fuselage could now be cut into three parts, just behind and in front of the wing roots. According to my calculations, the front fuselage needed to be lengthened by 25mm and the rear fuselage by 10 mm. I collected a batch of clean 80 mm long pieces of sprue. These were attached sticking out at intervals from the fuselage center section, to act as a sort of scaffolding. Little pieced of plasticard were attached to the side of the sprue inside the fuselage to help structural integrity.  When this was dry, the front fuselage was slid over the sprue trusses until it was only 25 mm from the center fuselage. The front fuselage was then glued to the trussed and secured with little strips of plasticard on the inside to properly set. Care must be take to make sure the front fuselage is properly aligned with the center section in order to not reinvent the banana. The same procedure was then used for the rear fuselage using about 50 mm long sprue sticks. Alignment at the rear is even more critical due t the fin, but no problem was encountered. The trussed up fuselage was set to dry for a while.

As is well documented in the modeling community, it generally a good idea never to throw anything away that could ever have any use. It just so happened a kitchen mixer I received a year earlier came packaged in nice clean white curved polystyrene plastic. This was ideal for stretching over the trusses without wasting good flat plasticard. The gaps in the fuselage were thus plated over and covered with filler and sanded repeatedly until perfect.

Fuselage 1

In this process, the unnecessary rear wing root fillet was sanded down to a less prominent size, though it could not be eliminated entirely. The canopy was glued into place and masked before the fuselage was primed and sanded a few more times. The original downward curving tip of the tail fin was cut down and replaced with an upward sloping block of plasticard laminate. This was sanded into shape. Panel lines were then carved into the structure and tail fin. A line was then drawn from a position just under the canopy frame to just under the tail wing. Along this line, window positions were marked at appropriate positions and drilled out. The door received a smaller porthole further up.

 

Wings

As discussed earlier, the wings are pretty good. They only required 15mm lengthened wing tips each, gear bays and recarved panel lines. The gear bay doors (with the “hole” for the landing gear) where sawn out. The bay was then boxed in with plasticard. The stub “hole” was cleaned up and glued to the inside top of the wing inside the gear bay. As shown in the picture below, the existing tip caps were sawn off and set aside. A thin piece of plasticard was inserted into the gap in the main wing to act as a sort of spar. Further plasticard was built up around it. The wing tip cap was reattached and the entire assembly was filled and sanded.

 

The panel lines were recarved using three view plans and then the wings were primed as shown in the next picture. Pylon attachment points were left untouched. The tail wings only required recarving of the panel lines.


Nacelles

The nacelles possibly required the most amount of work as they were probably designed for a generic engine before the definitive engine had been selected. The engines are too short and the pylon too high. At least the front diameter is about right. As shown in the picture below, the engine halves were glued together; the attachment for the pylon was sawn off and cleaned up.

 

The top of the engine was then cut into in order to accept the pylon attachment in a recessed fashion. As per the picture below, the rear of the nacelle was sawn off.

 

50 mm sprue sticks were cemented into the front engine assembly to act as trusses, just as on the fuselage.

 

The jet exhaust was then glued onto the sprue trusses leaving a 17 mm gap.

 

This gap was filled with strips of plasticard and covered with filler.

Nacelle 6

Nacelle 7

Nacelle 8

 

After this, the engines needed to be sanded to a considerable extend until they reached their complex dolphinlike compound shape. A 4 mm long slice was then sawn off from the rear of the jet exhaust and the inside cleaned up to accept the standard kit turbine blades. The front turbine blades were also attached without modifications. As seen in the picture below, the pointy thrust reverser guides were created using plasticard laminate and sanded to shape.

Thrust Reverser Guides

 

Assembly

At this stage the completed engines could be attached to the completed wings, using the standard attachment points.

Wings 3

 

The engines were fared into the wing assembly with a front and rear ramp made of plasticard laminate and filler.

Wings 4

 

The previously created thrust reverser guides were attached, taking care to make sure that they are properly aligned up on the outboard side and down on the inboard side. The left outboard guide is attached at about the 10 O Clock position with it’s oposite at abou 4 O clock. The right outboard guid is at 2 O Clock and inboard at 7 O Clock. Please refer to pictures to get the right proportions. With the wing properly cleaned up, the primed wing center section was airbrushed with a homemade “Coroguard” mix using Allclad with some grey mixed in. Wings and fuselage were mated, with the “Coroguard” section carefully masked.

Fuselage 3

 

The front wing roots are a little undernourished and needed to be beefed up a little with Miliput to achieve the right look.

Wing Roots 1

 

No attempt was made to create a NACA inlet on the wing roots, as I decided to use a homemade black decal later. After letting the wing roots dry during a long business trip, they were sanded and primed again.

Wing Roots 2


Finishing touches

With the aircraft largely completed, the top of the fuselage and fin were painted white and masked. The wing tips and jet exhausts were spray painted Halford’s Nissan Silver and masked. The bottom of the fuselage, and unmasked parts of the wing were airbrushed Extracolour Boeing grey, as on the E-3A Awacs, which seemed like a sensible choice in the absence of better instructions. Space was masked for an Extracolour Insignia Blue cheat line. The canopy masking was removed and the window frame was handpainted in silver while the nose received a black radome and anti glare shield. The leading edge of the fin was handpainted in silver using eyeball Mk I as a guide. Small rectangular black decal strip were used to simulate the landing light in the wing leading edge. Suitable decals were selected from the spares box and applied using reference material for serial numbers and positioning. Microscale had Air Training Command shields on a set of USAF Command shield set, but these were all too small, as they were mostly meant for smaller trainers. I simply used the largest one available until a better one turns up, being unhappy with the performance of my printer and scanner. The entire construction received a couple of light coats of Extracolour gloss and the landing gears were installed, finishing the model.

T-43A_71-1403_Alex_Hunger_01

 

Conclusion

The process required to finish a decent 1/72nd scale T-43A represents more work than most modelers would be willing to commit to, but nevertheless offers the perspective of creating a unique model in the USAF arsenal, even in a less prominent role. Nevertheless, this may inspire one to complete the Boeing Military line up based on civilian airlines which also includes the 727, 737-400, 747, 757 and maybe one day  the KC-767 if Boeing ever gets their act together….

 

Model, article and photographs by Alexander J. Hunger