1/48 Hobbycraft F7U-3 Cutlass

by Eric Hargett



One of the most unique designs to fly in the post World War II era, the Chance-Vought F7U Cutlass had a very short but notable career.  Because of its poor performing Westinghouse engines and handling and stability problems, it equipped U.S. Naval fleet squadrons for only three years from 1955-1957.  The F7U-3 was an improved version with an uprated engine and forward fuselage modifications.  The F7U-3M was the Navy's first missile interceptor carrying the first generation AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile.  Several existing F7U-3 airframes were later upgraded to the F7U-3M standard to carry the AIM-7 Sparrow missile.  Unfortunately the upgrades offered little improvements and the aircraft continued to be plagued by the underpowered Westinghouse engines.  Earning its fleet nickname as the 'Gutless Cutlass', the short career of this early U.S. Navy jet ended with the onset of the F8 Crusader.  My kit represents an upgraded F7U-3 of VA-151 aboard the USS Lexington in April 1956. 

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This is Hobbycraft's first release of its 1/48 F7U-3, not the recently re-released version with new decals.  Overall the kit is satisfactory with decent fit and moldings.  The biggest drawback with this kit is the deeply engraved panel lines and the lack of cockpit detail.  An excellent aftermarket resin cockpit made by Lone Star Models in Texas replaced the factory representation.  I used a combination of kit decals and a great aftermarket set purchased from Condor Decals out of Argentina.  To my knowledge, Lone Star Models and Condor Decals are the only companies around that make an aftermarket resin cockpit and decals, respectively, for this kit.  Look for both companies on the web.

Construction was straightforward with minimal filler and sanding.  Most filler was needed along the air intake/fuselage joins.  My construction efforts mainly focused on the installation of the resin cockpit which fit perfectly once the correct cuts and sanding were performed.  Work slowly, dry fit often and the cockpit will fit nicely into the factory kit pieces.  Because of the very long nose landing gear strut for high 'angle of attack' takeoffs, you'll need a lot of weight in the nose to keep its stern off the ground.

A lot of time was invested in painting.  I wanted that faded salt/sea/sun look of U.S. Naval aircraft, but not too weathered since this aircraft never participated in combat and had a very short career.  I began by pre-shading all panel lines and 'shadow' areas with flat black.  Tamiya White Primer was applied to the ventral surfaces and finished with a few light coats of Tamiya Flat White, focusing on the panel centers.  Next, I applied a few light coats of Aeromaster Light Gull Gray to the dorsal surfaces, followed by progressively lighter tints of the color within the panels for that even un-even look.  The outer leading edges and engine were painted with Model Master Aluminum and buffed.  The interior leading edges were painted Pollyscale Signal Red.  After several coats of Future, the decals were applied.  The kit decals needed quite a bit of help with Sovaset and MicroSol/Sealer to get them to conform to the surface.  A lighted Neutral Gray wash was applied to the panel lines.  Another coat of Future followed by Clear Flat was applied to the kit to prepare it for further weathering.  Repeated applications of pastels, minimal oils to simulate grime and oil/hydraulic leaks, and a fine mist of lightened Light Gull Gray helped me get the weathered look I wanted.  A similar process was performed on the ventral surfaces using various tints of white, oils and pastels.  I focused attention around the engine where leaks became apparent after extended use. 

I finished the kit with several light coats of Future followed by a fine mist of Clear Semi-Gloss to 'scale-down' the glossy finish.  I spent roughly 35+ hours on the kit, most of which involved painting and weathering.  Overall, this was a great build of an almost forgotton early U.S. Naval jet.


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Photos and text by Eric Hargett