1/72 Airfix Saab Draken

Gallery Article by Orlando Sucre Rosales on May 5 2010


Hello readers and fellow modelers!

Here I am with another article about an old Airfix kit. This time the subject is a 1/72 Saab J-35 Draken from the Swedish air force, in fact the third of the kind Iíve built. The Airfix Draken kit was from their Series 2, with much more external (raised) detail than that of Series 1 kits, but still with a basic ďpilot + seatĒ cockpit and featureless well bays, among other features common to Airfix kits. This third Draken differs from the previous two in that it has the later F-type canopy, while the other two had the B type canopy. Nevertheless, all the Airfix Drakens had the small B type nose cone and cannons in the port and starboard sides. It seems that Airfix updated the canopy for a J- 35F but failed to update the nose cone and the cannons (the J- 35F had just one cannon.)

The build was OOB and almost straightforward. However, the fit of the upper and lower fuselage halves was very poor at the cockpit section, and after so much scraping and sanding the fuselage lost part of its round shape there. Another problem was that the nose cone had a very deep sink that had to be filled and sanded in three sessions to get the original shape. As always, I left the external stores and the undercarriage assemblies for the final stage, but I glued the underwing pylons before painting.

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Painting the Draken was always an elusive task for me. In the two kits I built as a teenager I was satisfied following the kitís instructions (which indicate mixing colors from the Airfix range without giving mixing ratios) because I didnít have photographs of the real thing. However, for the third built I could make a research of the colors at the Internet, so I started looking for color photographs of Swedish Drakens. Some of the photos show a light blue-grey for the undersides plus a brownish green and dark blue-grey for the upper camouflage. 

Before painting I polished the belly section that would be painted in NMF, then I masked that section and the canopy glasses. Later I painted the undersurfaces with a 1:1 mix of FS36375 Light ghost gray and RLM65 Light blue to match the light blue-gray. Then I draw and cut, with the aid of a french curves template, symmetrical masks for the port and starboard upper to lower color separation lines at the front fuselage area, and applied these masks carefully before painting the camouflage. I first tried to get the brownish green by mixing FS34087 Olive Drab with Khaki, but looking other photos I found  that a lightened FS34087 Olive Drab was better and I painted my kit's upper surfaces with this color. Then I made paper "soft masks" for the camouflage and later I painted it using a 3:1 mixture of FS35042 Dark sea blue and FS36118 Gunship gray, but the contrast between the camouflage colors just didnít look right to me.

Further research on the Draken camouflage lead me to a review of a Zotz Decalsí sheet depicting a Swedish Draken with a red fin and a white ghost over it. The painting diagram of these decals indicates FS34086 Dark Olive Green (MM Green Drab) and FS35042 Dark blue for the camouflage, so I masked the previously painted dark blue-gray patches and then painted the green patches again with a 6:1 mix of FS34086 and white. It was hard to follow the original contours, so the resulting color separation line was harder than I wanted in some places.

The Zotz decals painting diagram also indicates FS36173 Blue-gray for the undersurfaces, but I think this color is too dark and doesnít match the color of the photographs, so I didn't paint the undersurfaces again. Incidentally, I later found a newer Draken decals review, this time from a Two-Bobs sheet which indicates FS35237 Medium gray for the underside color, this one is very close to the one that I mixed. The Two-Bobs sheet however indicates FS34064 for the green, which is an almost black green. Another Internet reference even suggests using Hu123 Extra dark sea grey for the dark blue-grey. Itís then hard to decide what to do when one finds contradictory references! 

After the camouflage painting was done, I realised that the nose probe of the kit was too long, but I couldnít take the nose cone of the photographs as a reference for measurements because the kitís cone was too short. As I wanted to paint the nine black and yellow stripes on the nose probe that is shown in the decalsí painting diagrams, I cut the nose probe at 18 mm to make the masking of the stripes easier. After cutting the nose probe, I painted it yellow (Hu 69) and then masked four 2 mm stripes separated by 2 mm spacings. Later I masked around the nose, around the jet intakes and around the leading edge of the upper fuselage blade antenna, then I painted these and the nose probe with my "scale" flat black mixture. When I took out the masks I had 9 equal-width stripes on the nose probe. The probe still is a little longer than it should be, but the stripes look very nice!

When all the basic painting was done, I accented the control surfacesí panel lines with a sepia ink wash, then airbrushed two coats of clear acrylic to the airframe and it was time to struggle with the more-than-30-year-old kit's decals. The decal film was obviously yellow, so I taped the decal sheet inside a window and let the sunlight bleach it for a week or so, but the yellow didn't disappear completely.

I had a previous bad experience with cracking decals after the sunlight treatment, so I applied a generous coat of Micro Liquid Decal solution to prevent it. Yes, it prevented cracking, but the decals became so stiff that they didn't want to conform to the model's surface even after the application of Micro Set and Micro Sol. I even tried Solvaset, but it just turn things worse as it made decals to wrinkle but still they didn't adhere to the surface. I solved the wrinkling problem by literally washing the decals with Micro Set to remove the Solvaset.

I had to apply thinned white glue in order to attach the decals to the model's surface, but when it was dry the decals silvered in many places, and lifted at the edges. I then carefully cut the lifted edges and hid the silvering by painting the background colors with a fine brush over the clear film of the decals. All in all, the decals application was a nightmare, but I could manage it. My old decals almost ruined the kit, now I understand why many modelers buy aftermarket decals.

When decaling was finished I applied a coat of acrylic flat and took out the masks from the belly. Now it was time for painting the NMF there, at the leading edge of the wings and the tail, at the wheel wells and the inner side of the undercarriage doors, and at the under-belly drop tanks and their pylons. I masked carefully to avoid tape touching the decals, the hardest part was masking the wings' undersurfaces due to the presence of three fences under each wing. For NMF variation, I painted the wheel wells and the undercarriage doors' inner side with Hu 56 Aluminum, and the remainder with Humbrol Metal Cote Polished Aluminum. For further NMF variation I used Tamiya Flat Aluminum and MM Chrome Silver on the undercarriage legs and wheel hubs, and Humbrol Metal Cote Gunmetal on the exhaust cylinder.

At a certain point of the build I painted the two AIM-4 Falcon missiles with a mix of Humbrol 2 and 38 gloss greens, and then applied a clear satin coat to them. To finish the kit, I assembled and glued the undercarriage, glued the external stores, painted the navigation lights and the IR sensor, applied some dirt and gun-smoke stains with powdered pastels, removed the canopy masks and polished the canopy glasses with Model Wax. Unfortunately, the cotton swabs I with which I polished the wax scratched some of the paint next to the canopy, so I had to mask and retouch the paint before I could finally said that the model was finished.

Well, after working much more than I had planned in the beginning, I am quite glad with my Draken, it looks nice with its unique and revolutionary double-delta design, and its yellow checker markings, among other jets designed in the 50ís. I learned that searching for references is very important, but in the end the naked eyes and the personal tastes are what count in the final decisions. I hope that you, dear reader, could learn something from my experience and from my mistakes.

Thanks for reading and watching. Greetings from Caracas, Venezuela.

Orlando Sucre Rosales

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Photos and text © by Orlando Sucre Rosales