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1/24 Airfix BAe Sea Harrier FRS-1

by Karl W Branson

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Here is my 1/24 BAe Sea Harrier FRS-1 by Airfix. The Harrier design started life as the P1127, this became the Hawker Siddeley Kestrel FGA Mk1; further development lead to the initial Harrier GR.1. When the Last of the Royal Navy carriers that operated fixed wing aircraft were scrapped and the new generation of smaller ‘Through Deck Cruisers’ were designed, it was clear that they would be operating V/STOL aircraft from their decks – enter the Sea Harrier FRS-1. The Sea Harrier was to be a derivative of the RAF Harrier GR3 – it would have a new raised cockpit and a new design of canopy; also, it would be fitted with the Ferranti ‘Blue Fox’ Radar and was kitted out to carry the Sidewinder AAM. The Sea Harrier first saw action in 1982 during ‘Operation Corporate’ to re-capture the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic .   

This Kit was purchased at the annual Airfix Factory sale in Hull . You get a massive box of parts that covers all of the previous incarnations of the kit, from the original GR.1 to the upgraded GR.3 and yet more sprues for the Sea Harrier conversion. The details on the oldest parts of the original Harrier are a little soft and the fuselage contains hundreds of rivets; the later upgrade parts are much better and have no rivets, there is also a better cockpit tub and seat and a new canopy. The decal sheet is huge; it contains markings for four variants and also lots of the aircrafts standard warning stencils. This kit remained in my stash for over a year until I went to a model show and found Heritage Aviation’s resin cockpit replacement set. This set comprised of a new tub and side walls, Ejection seat and instrument panel – I thought that this upgrade would make a nice addition my model.

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Construction started with the cockpit. As I was going to use the Heritage replacement set I needed to make sure that it would align with the opening in the new front fuselage section. I installed a platform for the new tub to sit on to make the alignment easier, but getting the rear wall and the instrument panel and the combing to align required quite a bit of filing and sanding. The new side panels were then fitted to the fuselage walls. The Heritage instrument panel looked better than the Airfix offering, but the dials were just blank circles. I quite liked the new Airfix dials that came with the kit, so I detached each of the dials from clear kit part; I then drilled out the resin panel so it would accept the Airfix dials, this gave me a Heritage/Airfix hybrid instrument panel. When I was satisfied with the fit of the new tub, I fixed it in place with epoxy, I also installed the instrument panel and some additional scratch built details not supplied with the kit or the upgrade. I then joined the two halves of the front fuselage together. One of the biggest disappointments with the Heritage conversion was the seat. Mine was full of flash – not too much of a problem, but when the flash became indistinguishable from the seats other details I gave up on it and decided that I could make a better job building my own using the new Airfix seat as a starting point. I found that there weren’t too many detailed pictures of the MB Mk10 seat on the net, so I sent an email to Martin-Baker asking for help. They obliged me with a couple of very nice detailed pictures, these were invaluable during construction. I cut off most of the original kit detail and re-constructed it using styrene and brass rod and copper wire. The seat cushion was fashioned using fine Milliput, and the seat belts were made from thin foil. The seat and tub/instruments were then painted and detailed.    

The Airfix Harrier kit comes complete with a superb Pegasus engine that is just crying out to be detailed. When I visited the RAF Museum at Hendon, I found that they had a Pegasus engine on display, so I took the opportunity to take plenty of pictures; I based my engine detailing on these pictures. I made some alterations to the machinery on the top of the engine, and added plenty of pipes and wires to make it look busy. There is also some kind of thermal blanket/mesh surrounding the ‘hot’ rear end of the engine; I recreated this using some aluminium auto body repair mesh. I painted the engine as per the colours I found on the engine in the museum.

The next phase was the construction of the fuselage. The standard construction sequence would have you install the engine as you join the fuselage halves together, but I had a bit of an issue with this as I feared that when I sprayed the fuselage I would get lots of overspray on my engine (despite masking it) so I did a bit of experimenting and found that after joining the fuselage halves it was still possible to install the engine in to the bay, so the engine was bagged up and put away for future use.

The Sea Harrier kit contains the original GR.1 fuselage and an additional new front fuselage section that replaces every thing forward of the air intakes. This requires that the original front section is removed. This is defiantly a case of measure twice and cut once – in fact I think I measured it about ten times. After marking it all out, I used a razor saw to remove the old front section. All of this measurement rewarded me with a perfectly fitting FRS-1 front-end upgrade. The remaining rear sections of the fuselage were joined together, incorporating the rear landing gear bay. The tail section and vertical fin were assembled and attached to the fuselage. The air intakes were another area that required a bit of re-modelling, The Airfix kit has the auxiliary intake doors moulded in the closed position, however I wanted mine open. I marked out the position of the doors and drilled them out with my Dremmel, squaring them off with a knife and a file. I made the intake doors out of styrene sheet, and attached them to the inside of the intake in the open position. The wing was constructed next. The wing section is supposed to be detachable to expose the detailed engine, but I was a bit worried that it would become detached at some inopportune moment; so I made a brass pin and fixed this to the rear fuselage, this interfaces with a hole in the rear of the wing box. At the front of the wing (just inside the engine bay) I aligned the wing to the fuselage and drilled through them both. This enabled me to insert pins that would keep the wing attached even during high G manoeuvres..!!

Next came a major filling job – the new front FRS-1 fuselage is nice and rivet free, the old rear fuselage and wing are covered in the little blighters.!! Almost the entire fuselage and wing were coated in filler, this was then sanded right back to the plastic so as to just fill the rivet holes. The completed front section was then permanently attached to the rear fuselage, and any remaining joints filled. I sprayed the fuselage with Halfords grey primer to show up any surface imperfections and after some remedial work gave fuselage/wing a final coat of primer. Additional parts such as the landing gear and the AIM-9D Sidewinders were assembled and painted ready for installation.

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I chose to paint my Sea Harrier in its initial delivery colour scheme of Extra Dark Sea Grey over White. I sprayed the underside of the fuselage and wing Halfords appliance white; it’s super white, very smooth and won’t yellow. I then masked off the lower white section and airbrushed the upper fuselage with Humbrol #123 Extra Dark Sea Grey. When it was fully dry, I gave the upper surface a coat of Humbrol ‘Clear Cote’ Satin.

The decals were a bit of a disappointment. They were quite badly out of register; the worst were the red decals. Any stencils or lines that were to be placed on the dark upper surface had to be scrapped – solid red lines appear to be a red and white stripe when applied. The most obvious red lines that had to be installed were made from red self-adhesive tape, cut to size. If I find some solid red decal paper I’ll replace them as the tape is a little thick. One good thing is that the roundels and any solid black stencils were not too obviously out of register, so could be used with caution. When the decaling was done, I applied another coat of Satin ‘Clear Cote’ to seal everything in.

Now it was time for the final assembly. I carefully fixed the Pegasus engine in to the bay and installed the nozzles. I attached the wing with its locating pins and then installed the landing gear. The fuel tanks and Sidewinders were then attached to the pylons. The Ejection seat was slid in to place and the canopy attached to complete the model.

I have enjoyed building the Sea Harrier, but it has been a bit of a long haul. To do justice to such a large model it really needs a lot of extra detail adding, the majority of this can only be scratch built. Also, because of the age difference in the old and new parts, it can be quite difficult to get the two to blend neatly together, but it can be done. The addition of the Heritage resin cockpit was not really as much help as I would have hoped for, quite a number of the Heritage parts (including the Ejection seat) were left in the box at the end. However, when complete it looks very impressive on display, even if it does take up a whole shelf..!!!!

Enjoy.

Karl

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Photos and text © by Karl W Branson

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