1/48 F/A-201E Super Kestrel

Gallery Article by Scott S. aka Desertpilot on Aug 11 2020



This kitbash began with a 1/48 scale AV-8B and a 1/48 Mirage IIIC. Some 1/72 F-15 Eagle parts were used as well. Below is the "backstory" & inspiration for this kit. 
Development and operational history of the Convair model 201

AKA: F/A-201 Kestrel and Super Kestrel
by Scott Smither

In the late 1970's amid a massive legal battle between aircraft manufacturers Northrop and McDonnell Douglas, the US Navy made the difficult and unpopular decision to cancel the F/A-18 strike fighter program. 
With the Department of the Navy involved in the very successful re-manufacturing program for the F-8 Crusader, they instead, chose to reignite the Naval Air Combat Fighter program. In 1978, Naval leadership quickly selected the Convair model 201 as the winner of the NACF, arguing that Convair (under General Dynamics) could successfully leverage advanced technology from the F-16 program, in order to quickly and economically bring the Model 201 into service.

Convair, working quickly out of it's San Diego facility, began development of the flying prototypes. Early in the spring of 1980, the F/A-201 took to the air above sunny Southern California, for the first time. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney F100, featuring a derivative Fly By Wire system of the one flying on the F-16, the F/A-201 was described as a spritely aircraft, with crisp, carefree handling. Featuring one of the first installments of Full Authority Digital Engine Control or FADEC, pilots quickly fell in love with F/A-201's ability to maneuver. 

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Given its small size and nimble handling, the US Navy decided to christen the F/A-201A, as the "Kestrel" and it was a fitting title. Fleet pilots fell in love with the quick turning fighter. It's "glass cockpit" with multi-function displays and wide area Heads Up Display, allowed near-effortless situational awareness, compared to the F-14 it was complimenting. Alongside the rebuilt F-8 Crusader's and the mighty F-14 Tomcat, the US Navy's airborne fighter Trident was complete.

The 1980's saw fleet-wide transitions of the F-4S and some F-8 squadrons, into the F/A-201. The Kestrel was a prominent feature on the evening news during the Desert Storm campaign in the Middle East. Having shot down two F-7 Fishbeds of the Iraqi Air Force, the F/A-201 was deemed a serious dogfighter as well as a talented swing / strike platform.

At the conclusion of the 1990's, it was becoming clear that the Kestrel was in need of an upgrade. Advanced versions of MIG and Sukhoi aircraft were being demonstrated at airshows around the world and showed astounding performance & maneuverability, along with substantial advances in avionics. This prompted Convair (now fully integrated into McDonnell Douglas as of 1994) to begin the "Super-Kestrel" program in early 1999.

Key points of the upgrade were two-fold: aerodynamic, power plant and avionic. First, the Kestrel was to receive a new main wing core, fuselage longerons and empennage. This strengthening allowed the F/A-201 to take full advantage of the upgraded General Electric F110 engine. The derivative F110 featured an integrated 360 degree thrust vector nozzle (as prototyped on the F-16 VISTA) and in addition to the integrated IRST, two additional wing hard points were added to take full advantage of the high-off-boresight missiles in development at NAVAIR. Inclusion of the latest AESA radar, completed the upgrade and when the Kestrel went back into combat above the sky's of Afghanistan and Iraq, pilots were flying one of the most advanced aircraft available to them. Pilots quickly nicknamed the upgraded Kestrel "Special-K" in a nod to the popular 1980's breakfast cereal.

With the outbreak of the Spratley Islands conflict in late 2021, F/A-201E Super Kestrel's of VFA-161, were among the first fighters to see combat against the PLAAF's J-20 & J-10 fighters. Early in the campaign, Super Kestrel's established a stunning kill ratio of 32-1 against PLAAF aircraft. Six squadrons of F/A-201E's squared off against PLAAF and PLAN aircraft during the conflict. Utilizing the Super Kestrels secure data-link, battle in the GPS denied area, was fierce. Within the first 24 hours, Super Kestrels downed 12 J-10's and 2 J-20's of the PLAAF, in roving air patrols covering US Navy assets on the surface.

In addition to aircraft, F/A-201E's claimed victory over a stunning 42 PLAN surface vessels, utilizing the upgraded AGM-84G Harpoon + missiles. 

Of the 14 US Navy Aces minted in the Battle of the Spratley Islands, 8 were flying F/A-201E Super Kestrels. One of those aces, LtCdr Milo Smither, callsign "Pants", assigned to VFA-161, scored a stunning 9 aerial victories during the conflict. Of the Super Kestrel, Pants said this: "the Special-K is a brilliant aircraft. Nimble, powerful and able to take a punch. I can't imagine going into combat flying anything else. During one engagement, I spotted a two-ship of J-20's maneuvering low, trying to get missiles on one of the US rescue ships. I scanned the area for any friends of theirs with my IRST. The sky above them was clear and so I dropped through the clouds low at their 6, radar off, using only my IRST. I locked them up using my Scorpion helmet and decided to go guns first, to preserve the surprise. As I stitched up the J-20 on the left, he exploded almost immediately, I think I hit his rear fuel tank with the first few rounds. As the first one ejected, his wingman pulled hard up to the right and I pursued him into the clouds. The IRST kept him well lit as we went into the soup and at around 14k when we popped out on top, he was in full burner trying to get away. I was far enough back for a missile shot and so I let off an AIM-9X and watched it fly wide to the right of him. As he cut his throttle and rolled hard left, I followed and we got into a rolling scissors maneuver. About 15 seconds into it, he was bleeding energy pretty fast and I had gained ground him quickly. Not wanting to play any more with the capable J-20, I plugged in my burner and pulled post-stall to come over the top for a guns shot on him. As he passed through my HUD, I saw rounds impact across from his left wingtip to the rear of his canopy. At that point I was so close, I had to extend out, to avoid impact with his debris. My last view of him was watching his canopy jettison as his burning aircraft spun through the clouds at around 10,000 ft." 

The aircraft depicted here is a 1/48 model of the F/A-201E Super Kestrel "Special-K" as flown by LtCdr Milo "Pants" Smither, during the Spratly Island conflict. 

Scott S. aka Desertpilot

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Photos and text by Scott S. aka Desertpilot