|Gilding Tamiyas Lily
A VF-161 Skyray with Meteor's Cockpit And Decals
By Tom Cleaver
The Skyray was the first and only delta-winged interceptor to fly from a carrier deck. Based on information from Dr. Alexander Lippisch about tail-less design, it was thoroughly radical when Douglas first proposed it to the Navy in the late 1940s. The airplane took wing in the early 1950s, powered by one of the most unfortunate jet engines to ever be ordered into production, and its performance was not what had been expected. Redesigned around the J-57 that powered the F-100, the Skyray became the Navy's first supersonic fighter, but just barely. The airplane climbed like the proverbial homesick angel, and was supremely maneuverable. I've never met a pilot who flew it who complained about anything other than he wished it were a bit faster.
I first met the airplane in person as an aircrew trainee at North Island NAS, in the last year that VF(AW)-3 flew from there as the only Navy squadron assigned to NORAD. When they went howling down the runway and disappeared going practically straight up, they definitely got the attention of anyone in the vicinity! Under the command of Gene Valencia, the last Navy World War II ace to command an active fighter squadron, VF(AW)-3 was the premiere Navy fighter squadron in the Pacific Fleet.
I have been a fan of the Douglas F4D Skyray ever since I found it in an advertisement in an old "Flying" magazine when I was a kid; my dad and I made a solid wood model from the drawing. To my mind, it has the most beautiful shape - all those compound curves - of any early jet. When Hawk brought out their sort-of 1/72 model of the record-setting prototype, I built several. I made that awful Lindberg kit when it came out; twenty years later I remade it with a lot of resin parts from Missing Link, and for many years it was the definitive Skyray in my collection.
When I heard Tamiya was going to do a 'Ray, I was really happy - that beautiful airplane and their fantastic engineering and mold quality. I got one early at this year's TamiyaCon, and wasn't disappointed when I did it out of the box as a VF(AW)-3 bird. It was everything I had hoped it would be and then some.
At this year's IPMS National Convention, Dave Klaus laid all the sets of the Cutting Edge decals for the Skyray on me, as well as the brand-new Scott Battistoni-designed cockpit and seat. To me, that had been the one area of the out-of-the-box kit that needed help, to make it worth opening the canopy.
The cockpit is crisply molded in good-quality resin. The seat has the harness molded in and looks very realistic. Everything fits together easily, and there is room in the nose to put weight so the airplane isn't the tail-sitter it is otherwise. One thing I did was use wire for the overhead ejection handles, painted yellow and black, since I think the ones provided in the kit are too thick.
Past this, the kit was assembled out of the box with no difficulty. I decided to fold the wings just because doing so would add a different look to my collection of 'Rays.
When it came to the markings, it took me awhile to decide what one to do. I seriously thought about doing the drone controller, but then heard from Drewe Manton that he was doing it (see October Internet Modeler for the review). I looked at the other alternatives, thought about doing an orange-and-white test bird, and finally settled on the really pretty markings for VF-161 aboard U.S.S. "Intrepid" in 1961.
Past painting the airplane grey and white, everything else the modeler needs for markings are provided by the Cutting Edge sheet. The black ailerons and rudder have well-done gold stars sprinkled on them. For the drop tanks, there are separate stars and the instruction that on the real aircraft these were put on in no particular pattern, that all tanks were different. The candy cane stripes for the aerial refueling probe was a nice touch. I also used the stenciling sheet and got everything on the model the airplane ever carried; stencil decals are the ones most likely to silver up, but these were nice and thin and gave no trouble. Everything went down nicely with Micro-Sol, and the next day I washed the model to remove setting solution and applied the final finish.
This cockpit set from Meteor takes care of the only complaint anyone has had about the kit. Unfortunately, the Navy painted the entire thing dark grey, which gives it a very boring look even with a bit of dry brushing to bring out detail, but the end result is far more accurate. The decals are among the best I have ever used, and the three sheets give modelers a lot of possibilities. I am sure that drone controller will still end up in my collection at some point.
This set and these decals are highly recommended.