Saturday, 19 May 2012

AIRFIX 1/72 Harrier GR.9 - Gone, But Not Forgotten...


When the news was leaked that Airfix was to release a new kit of this important aircraft, many wondered how far it would improve on what was already available (both from their own range and those of their competitors) and whether it would further show how far Airfix had come since their takeover by Hornby. Well, right from the off I can reveal that unlike the rather unimpressive Sea Harriers released several years ago, this new Harrier is well detailed, well appointed and accurate in outline and appearance. Set-up options abound with a choice of intakes, LERX, raised or lowered undercarriage, raised or lowered flaps (only appropriate in the main for a ‘flying’ model, though there are a few odd exceptions when these can be seen ‘down’ on the ground…), refuelling probe, weapons and markings, which is not bad for a kit that retails for around £10!

 With the kit in hand, I certainly came to the conclusion that there was little to differentiate an Airfix product from one produced by their competitors. Gone are the raised panel lines, these now being replaced by sharply incised details and though these are a little heavy here and there, they still improve the look of the completed model immeasurably. I was also pleased to see that the designers had not just relied on incisions, but had also chosen raised features where needed, the rivets around the hot rear jet exhaust, being a case in point. It’s a small detail, but one that helps create a further illusion of reality.
Smaller details are no less impressive; the front undercarriage leg is a superbly detailed item, as are the mainwheels, with their prototypical ‘flats’ moulded in-situ. Modellers often complain that these ‘flats’ are overdone, but even the most cursory of glances at a fully loaded Harrier will reveal just how flat the tyres become - especially when the aircraft is fully loaded with weapons and fuel.

 Though the kit is well-designed in the main, there are a number of issues: the wing for instance though nicely shaped, is overly detailed, many of the panels being far more prominent than those found on the full-sized Harrier’s wing; the pitot tubes that flank the nose are moulded onto large tabs that fit holes in the nose, thus creating a scruffy finish and once again, the jet nozzles are moulded in two halves that will be almost impossible to clean up neatly, though in the main, these will be hidden on the completed model. 

 Where the panel lines were a little deep (especially around the nose…), I filled them with Vallejo acrylic putty, which was squeezed into the unwanted panels and then smoothed over with a wet finger, the result being far finer looking features. As well as the nose, I also used this technique on the upper wing – anywhere in fact, that I considered the panels to be too deep.
The intakes provide perhaps the most challenging aspect of the kit’s construction. Because the modeller is given a choice of having the undercarriage up or down, they are also offered a choice of having the doors that circle the intake, open or closed. These are provided as separate parts that slot into the inner face of the intake. This is a not an easy task; repeated dry-runs and attention with a fine file were needed before they looked right and even then I had to apply tiny blobs of filler to deal with some annoying gaps. But that was nothing compared to trying to fix the intakes to the rear fuselage and separate nose! At first I just couldn’t get them to line up, but eventually I had them in place, repeated applications of filler, sanded between each one, being needed to smooth everything out…
Finally, I think that Airfix also need to deal with their sprue gates as those used in this kit are at times huge and thus the chance of damaging the smaller parts during their removal from the sprues, all too possible. There are some interesting omissions too: no gun pods, no vent pipe under the fairing for the front, right-hand jet nozzle and no glass for the HUD – but that’s about it.

 Lack of gun pods aside, the are plenty of stores in the kit including Sidewinders, Paveway IV LGBs, underwing tanks, Sniper, DJRP recce and CRV-7 rocket pods – the latter with separate, frangible heads which adds a further level of choice to how the finished model appears. All of the stores initially appear well detailed, but further research reveals a few issues; the Paveway IVs for example are in fact little more than Paveway II in design, revealing little of the smaller details that differentiate the two designs. As we’ll see later, these really need to be replaced if an accurate Close Air Support (CAS) Harrier is to be built from this kit – which is precisely what was done for the model seen here. The drop tanks could also do with some work (not carried out here) to add the oval panels that are found on their sides and not unfortunately, on the kit parts.

 If the plastic parts are impressive, the decals are I am afraid less so. It’s not that they’re poor, as they are well printed and perfectly in register, it’s just that they are so dull! Despite the fact that the Harrier has been decorated with all manner of nice tail markings, the three chosen in the kit are simple, drab, squadron birds, the only highlight being the retro, grey/green retirement scheme. At first, I thought that Airfix had been rather measly in their choice of markings, but a chat to the designers revealed that they had actually chosen aircraft that allowed the modeller the opportunity to build the kit with a complete weapons load – as most modellers will want to do. Electing to include some special markings would have meant that the weapons would have been rather redundant (other than the tanks), which is why Airfix chose the route they did.
The choices offered by Airfix are as follows:
·      BAe Harrier Gr.9A – ZD433, Harrier Detachment, Operation “Herrick”, Kandahar, Afghanistan, 2009
·      BAe Harrier Gr.9A – ZD433, as seen on December 15th 2010 in No. 1(F) Squadron markings
·      BAe Harrier Gr.9A – ZG506, RAF Cottesmore, December 15th 2010. This aircraft is in the one-off colours of gloss Dark Green, Dark Sea Grey and Light Aircraft Grey
·      BAe Harrier Gr.7A – ZD404, “Lucy”, Harrier Detachment, Harrier Detachment, Operation “Herrick”, Kandahar, Afghanistan, 2006
·      BAe Harrier Gr.7A – ZD404, as seen in October 2009 in Naval Strike Wing (NSW) markings

Airfix – All good model shops
Halfords Primer – All Halford’s Stores nationwide. Website:
Gunze Sangyo - Model Design Construction. Tel: 1246 827755. Email: Website:

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