29th January 2015
Well I’ve been having a real blast researching the SR-71 so far… For me the Blackbird has always been an enigma, a mysterious beast that doesn’t really fit in with any other genre of aircraft, at least not any that have ever made it beyond the perimeters of the skunk works. It stood alone with a rigidly defined single purpose, and to say it was a master of its role would be an understatement.
As I intend to build an SR-71 that took part in a middle eastern conflict I obtained a copy of Osprey Combat’s “Lockheed SR-71 Operations in Europe and the Middle East! by Paul F Crickmore.
It’s a good read in paperback format and has a lot of really good pictures throughout. It begins by covering the SR-71’s operations in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, then moves onto operations in the Barents Sea and the then Soviet borders with Europe, and ends up back in the Middle East covering the 1986 US lead bombing of Libya.
The aircraft I’m going to model will be tail number 17979 which took part in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. 17979 flew six out of nine of the missions over the Middle East during the crisis, and because of diplomatic problems with the Arabs (Oil), the UK government refused permission for the SR-71 to deploy from it’s UK base at Mildenhall. This meant that the crews had to base themselves at Griffiss AFB in the States and fly their round trip to the Middle East across the Atlantic, through the Straights of Gibraltar, along the Mediterranean and down into Egyptian airspace. Snap, snap, grin, grin, nudge, nudge, say no more, and it was time to turn around and head back to the USA, a total flying time of over 10 hours, 5 hours of which was achieved above Mach 3.
Right, on with the build…
The biggest part of this build is going to be the lighting. Here’s a picture of what I’d like to achieve…
On full afterburner, the SR-71 engines emit a long diamond shock pattern in its exhaust flumes. They say that a perfectly tuned engine emits 13 diamonds, and your engines are good if they emit 9 diamonds or more.
I don’t know whether the lighting I do for this will look any good as I’ve never attempted the technique I have in mind. But either way I’ll share my experimentation here, and if it turns out how I want I’ll call that a bonus 🙂
My idea is to mount the Blackbird in flight on Acrylic tubes, with LEDs cunningly arranged in and around the tubes to create the jet effect.
Here you can see the tubes I will be using, a large 15mm diameter tube on the outside, with a 10mm diameter tube inside it. I did intend to have a 6mm tube inside the 10mm tube but unfortunately the 6mm tube is actually 6.2mm and won’t fit inside. I could try to sand down the 6mm tube, but I probably won’t need it in the end. We’ll see how it pans out.
I’m waiting on some UV/Purple LEDs to arrive still, when they get here I intend to have them shining down the outer tube.
The inner tube will be masked off from the purple LEDs, and will have yellow LEDs shining down the end of it. I’m going to open up the doors around the rear of the engines and see if I can get a yellow glow going on there.
And for the diamonds I’m going to use these tiny little LEDs, which will be strung on a wire up the middle of the inner tube, one LED per shock diamond.
The tape of LEDs at the top are yellow for the shock diamonds, the lower tape are white LEDs that I will use to create the upper and lower takeoff/landing strobes.
And just to show how tiny and wee these LEDs are, here’s one on my hand next to a millimetre scaled rule. The carpet monster will feast well tonight!
The lighting will all be controlled by an Arduino Nano Microcontroller, and i’ll (probably) program it so that the shock diamonds can be turned on and off individually so that I can make it look like the engines are flaring up and down. I also hope to code it so that the LEDs flicker convincingly, and I reckon it’d also look good to have the engines light up individually so that they look like one is firing and then the other. I’m not sure how many PWM outputs I will have to play with from memory (PWMs allow for dimming the LEDs), so I’ll need to do a bit of research before I get into the lighting for real.
In the meantime, let the cutters see the plastic!
The plastic in this kit is black (what other colour could it be for an SR-71) and is quite soft. However the detail is quite nice and the cockpit should build up to look reasonable.
Not that it matters as none of it will be seen, but none the less, fun will be had painting it up before it is entombed.
The forward canopy is a bit of a nightmare. It looks like a lump of molten plastic blobbed onto the front of the canopy frame during moulding. That’ll need to be fixed.
A bit of sanding sorted out the front canopy frame, here’s the front and rear canopy frames fitted for size. Not too bad, but not that good either. A little bit of filling will be required later.
The glass is a good fit though. The moulding of the canopy frames is a bit vague where the glass sits, but it actually goes in quite nicely. So that’s one less thing to think about.
The tub and canopy interior have had a coat of Tamiya XF-82 (Ocean Gray 2 (RAF)), which is a fairly close match to the original. The original interior colour has a slight blue tone to it, but seeing as this will never be seen I can live with it 😉
By the way, if you want to see what an SR-71 cockpit looks like, check out this link – http://nmusafvirtualtour.com/media/068/SR-71A%20Front%20Cockpit.html This is the National Museum United States Air Force website, and they have a load of amazing cockpit internal 360 degree tours online. In fact you can browse the entire museum in a virtual tour, so it’s well worth a look!
here’s some of the black bits, which have been painted black. Well, Tamiya Nato Black anyway…
Masking up the tub ready to spray the panels black. (Nato black again).
And here’s the tub with the masking removed. The inside edges went a bit soft and fuzzy where the paint vortexed up against the masking tape (I should have had the edge of the masking tape lower to prevent this), but this won’t show once it’s been detailed and dry brushed, even less so when it’s entombed with the canopy lid down 😉
Next up was painting the pilot figures…
The flight suits that SR-71 pilots wore were basically Astronaut suits. From the reference pictures I’ve seen they varied from White in colour (these were probably Nasa pilots at a guess), to pale orange to bright orange. I’m gong to go for a fairly strong orange which will dull down a bit with the weathering wash I’m going to use…
First off a dash of almost 0.5ml of Tamiya X20A thinners, and a brush full of Tamiya flat yellow goes into the colour cup…
To mix the orange I’m going to be adding Tamiya flat red into the yellow (best to start with the lighter colour and add in the darker one).
This is the amount of red I’ll try first. (BTW the brush-full of yellow in the previous picture was using this brush to give an idea of size).
After adding the red and stirring it in the cup with the brush, still looking quite golden there.
The same amount of red again, now we’re getting somewhere…
Third time lucky, that’s the shade I’m after. Nice and orange.
They know when they’ve been tangoed!
Here’s Stan and Ollie after receiving a coat of the orange mix. As you can see the figures are nicely moulded for OOB plastic in 1/72 scale…
with the orange dried, it’s time to add in the base colour details. As usual for me I use Humbrol Enamels for the detail work because it brushes nicely and stays wet on the brush longer than acrylics.
With the details picked out, next up was a wash with Citdel Agrax Earth Shade. Agrax Earth shade is nothing more than a brown wash, but it gives a nice effect and where it’s brown it adds a bit of colour unlike a black wash.
And when the wash had dried, a light dry brush with Citadel Dry Long Beard Grey. This is a jelly like light grey paint that is designed for dry brushing. it is great stuff, as is their silver dry brushing gel “Necron Compound”. That’s the crew done (or Habu’s as the SR-71 crew are known). Again, a real shame they will never be seen, but I had fun painting them!
The seats are pretty basic. But with the canopy closed it doesn’t matter a they literally won’t be seen. I’m not going to waste any time on them, so here they are with a nato Black base coat, Olive Drab cushions and a gloss red headrest.
A quick dry brushing with Citadel Necron Compound (silver to you and me), and a coat of Humbrol Matt Cote, and they’re good to be completely hidden.
Next update – finishing the cockpit and possibly a bit of re-scribing 🙂