Dragon 1/144 Stealth Blackhawk (OOB)

Everybody loves a little mystery. Sometimes, the details you have to fill in yourself make the fragments of story you do know that much more interesting. Because of the natural bent of the human animal towards (a sometimes dangerous) curiosity, people can’t help but want to know it all, and when they don’t, they become even more intrigued. Taken to the extremes, this is where you get conspiracy theories. Let’s face it; there’s no proof Elvis killed JFK to hide the fact he was planning to help the CIA fake the Moon Landings, right? But there’s no proof against it, either…

Given this pull of the unknown, it’s not a surprise that the world of military special operations has always had a certain allure. Everyone knows about the groups that don’t exist, like the Navy SEALS, the Rangers and the SAS. They are the best of the best of the best, and they operate in a realm somewhere between science fiction/action movies and real life, everyday warfare. So much is of interest because so little is known. Even what’s “known” sometimes isn’t really known. That speculation allows a lot of leeway and permits a certain willing suspension of disbelief. This is something video games and movies take great advantage of. Often Special Forces teams are show using weapons or technologies that are just that little bit futuristic. We don’t balk at things like optical cammo suits, guided bullets and the like because maybe it’s possible. I mean, we all know that the Government doesn’t tell us everything they’re working on, right?

As it turns out… that IS right. History has shown that the volume of money, energy and innovation expended on “Black” programmes (super-duper mega-secret stuff) does yield some very interesting results. Aviation has benefitted greatly from “blackness” and some of the most amazing planes we’ve seen (and some we likely will never see) have been the outcome of such work. The F-117 stayed “black” for a very long time, even operating in combat without being recognized.

However, every now and then, something happens to throw a previously closely-guarded secret into the limelight. A U-2 gets shot down. A MiG-25 defects, a “non-existent” plane crashes in the desert (“It was NOT an F-19!”) or is hacked and stolen by Iranians (Dude, where’s my RQ-170???).  When these things occur, the public gets a little bit of a peak behind the curtain of secrecy. What we often see is stuff that’s a lot more advanced than we’ve been led to believe is out there, or possible, even. Some of the time, the newly exposed hardware proves to be as iconic as it was previously unknown.

A perfect example of this is the Stealth Blackhawk. I don’t know that anyone in the public domain knows its MDS number (Is it an MH-60X? XH-60? You tell me!) or even what it’s called. Is it a Stealth Blackhawk (lame, and hard to say)? Is it a Silent Hawk? How about Stealthhawk? Is it a Stealthawk with one “h”, because that’s easier to read? Again, no one knows. In fact, almost no one outside of those directly involved with the aircraft even knew it existed until one of a pair of them came to grief on the wall of the Abbottabad compound of Osama Bin Laden during Operation Neptune’s Spear in May, 2011.

During the raid to capture Osama Bin Laden, Navy SEALS apparently used two specially modified Blackhawk helicopters to evade detection and drop into the compound that was his residence. It would have all gone well except the first chopper (apparently callsign “Prince 51”) ran into trouble with thin, hot, agitated air. The result was similar to trying to swim in methane-infused water; the fluid can’t support the expected weight, and the chopper became impossible to control, at least fully. As a result, the first of the choppers tried to create its own door in the compound wall – with its tail! Despite this inauspicious start, the talented warriors of the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) still managed to complete the mission.

After the smoke cleared, all that was left was the tail rotor section that had broken off and fallen outside the compound. This was beyond the reach of US forces to destroy (unlike the rest of the chopper) and with the first rays of sunlight, pictures of a most unusual tail rotor and stabilizer began circulating on the internet. Like the F-117 before it, it was quite the exciting revelation. The tail was completely unlike anything publicly seen, with a forward-swept tailplane and five thin tail rotor blades behind a clearly stealthy “dome”.  It was clear that this was something special; something new that hadn’t been admitted to until that point. Because all that was left of the machine was this extreme rear end component, people’s imaginations began to run wild.

Now, there’s a history of model companies making kits of “super-secret” aircraft. Perhaps the best examples of these are the Testors and Monogram “F-19” models. These two drastically different models of the supposedly same aircraft bore pretty much NO resemblance to the F-117 they (likely unknowingly) were trying to depict. There are also other examples, such as the Testors/Italeri “MiG-37 Ferret” and the (admittedly large and cool) Revell “ATB” model that “predicted” the shape of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. It seems that these guys took a hint from baseball, and believed that after three strikes they’d be out. Thus, there were no Testorvellogram kits of the StealthHawk days after the infamous tail rotor picture surfaced.

BUT… Chinese model-maker Dragon was quick to pick up where the “once bitten” American companies faltered. As a result, based on early speculative drawings of what a StealthHawk COULD have looked like, Dragon issued a model kit of this now somewhat urbanly-legendary rotorcraft. This should come as no surprise, really, since SOMEBODY had to issue a kit. What is a surprise, though, is, to my knowledge, it’s the only one to date.  Despite the fact that the chopper is of intense and legitimate interest to many, no other company has dared to step up and get it wrong.

Dragon also clearly decided to hedge their bets a bit. The decided not to invest TOO much in the tooling of a kit that could very well have been totally wrong, and would have to be pulled from circulation at any time to avoid Testors-level embarrassment. Thus, the only kit of the StealthHawk to date is in the very diminutive scale of 1/144. Even more strangely, Dragon released this as one of its “two packs”, or more correctly “1+1” packs. Normally, these give you two of the same kit, but with very different markings and/or armament options. However, there’s no armament on a StealthHawk, and since there were only two used, they were likely painted the same! So, this one, like the bird it’s based on, is a bit of a weird duck.

Given my personal love of “What-If” and sci-fi subjects, I was very excited to get my hands on one of these StealthHawks during a hobby shop run a few years ago. So, let’s take a look at how Dragon interpreted the internet’s interpretation of someone’s interpretation of a busted tail rotor just chillin’ outside an Abbottabad compound wall, shall we?

The Box:

The box is typical of the Dragon “1+1” kits in that it’s fairly small and has that odd light green-grey-beige colour on it. Atypically, though, there’s only one aircraft depicted on the box art. Normally, you get both liveries and loadouts shown on the box, flying in a fanciful “what if” formation. Not here. Part of the reason is that both kits are identical, so it would be pointless. The other reason is that in this case, the background is just as important as the foreground, given that it’s Osama’s compound in Pakistan!

I have to say, the box art on this one is AWESOME. It’s just as exciting and dynamic as any older Matchbox or Japanese art, but in a different way. This art is more tense. You can feel and see that something is impending. I’m sure that’s partially because we already know the ending to the story; this thing’s going to crash and break its tail, and Osama’s going to be killed in a shootout. However, we’re intrigued by what we DON’T know, and this box art shows us that. This shows us the last few seconds BEFORE it all hits the fan.

This is the very stark and surprisingly powerful box art. You can almost feel the tension coming to a head!

The StealthHawk is seen from rear three-quarters swooping in on the apparently unaware compound. The chopper is dark, a real creature of the night, backlit by what appears to be a full moon, given the sharpness of the contrast between light and shadow. It’s gently banking, so it gives the impression that it’s about to turn in on its landing run. There’s a faint, but malevolently hellish, glow from inside the starboard exhaust and dim cabin light in the same orange part of the spectrum is just visible through the cabin windows. It actually gives the impression that the entire chopper is filled with fire; like a volcano getting ready to erupt. It’s actually a powerful and intimidating technique, and it wouldn’t work on too many other aircraft!

The contrast of the dark compound with only a few lights on, and no visible people around, gives the art a final touch of the surreal. The unpreparedness of those on the ground for this fire-snorting predator is highlighted by the general blackness of the surroundings. A few neighbours have a few lights burning, unaware of what’s just about to unfold. The effect is very much like the anticipation you feel in a picture of Santa coming in to land on a snowy and silent Christmas Eve, or perhaps more accurately, the Angels making their Passover rounds in ancient Egypt.

A few other things stand out. For one thing, Dragon is smart enough to simply call the machine “Stealth Helicopter”. They don’t know the name, or the MDS designation, so they don’t lie. They don’t make stuff up. This is a stealthy helicopter, and that’ll have to do. They also say that it’s for “Operation Geronimo”, not “Operation Neptune’s Spear”. In the immediate aftermath of the raid “Geronimo” is what people believed the operation was called. Later, it became known by its “true (?)” name of “Neptune’s Spear”. Well, Dragon tried to play it safe, at least. Can’t win them all…

On the one side of the box are pictures (rather small, sadly) of the kit itself. Actually, they’re not quite pictures, but that typical Dragon 3D modelling imagery that they love so much. Some of the features highlighted include the slide-moulded body, crystal-clear canopies, options for “flight” or “landing” position of the gear and the fact that the rotor and tail rotor can be rotated. Uh, that’s not a feature, Dragon. That’s what you normally get on a model helicopter, I think. They also show that there’s photoetch (PE) for the ventilators (i.e. intakes) that is “accurately reproduced” (How do they know?) and they let you know that the “authentic stealth helicopter newly produced”. Uh, what? How do you know? You don’t, they didn’t, and that’s what makes this fun!

This is what you can see of the kit on the side of the box. You can tell from this that the kit is quite simple and short on surface detail, if nothing else.

The back of the box contains the instructions, similar to other 1/144 Dragon kits. Whereas the other 1+1 kits usually have an instruction sheet, this model is so simple that it doesn’t need one. With no weapons and only one marking scheme, the paint plan is on the other side of the box, and shows a single shade of grey with a few national markings.

There’s not a lot to the painting and decal plan for the StealthHawk. There’s also only one variant, it seems.

The Kit:

As I’ve mentioned before, there are two identical kits in the box. That means that inside the box there are two identical sprues of helicopter. Each chopper is more or less complete on one sprue of medium grey plastic, although there is a separate bag for the transparencies and the PE and decals come attached to a large piece of printed cardboard lest they be overlooked.

The kit is quite simple; the body of the chopper comes in halves, each of the six rotor blades are separate from the main hull and the whole “power egg” with engines and gearbox goes on the roof. One thing I like is that the landing gear are very simple – they’re a stick with a wheel on it (tailwheel) or a “V” with a wheel on it for the main struts. The only thing I think that’s going to be a problem is cutting the main gear off – they look EXTREMELY  delicate, so a razor saw vs. clippers might be a good idea.

You’re supposed to be seeing double – don’t freak out! This is what’s inside the box, and if you’ve seen one half, you’ve seen them both!

There is very little detail on the kit, in terms of panel lines, rivets, etc. This is unlike other 1+1 kits, which are usually very heavily detailed. Of course this is a hallmark of Dragon’s approach to modelling something that they have never seen; it’s one thing to make a shape, but to try to detail it based on no info is very dodgy. So, they went the safe way and just didn’t bother. That means that the only real detail on this kit is a small line on the nose, a pair of small rectangles on the tail and the raised cabin doors themselves. At least it won’t be hard to pick out the details on this little guy!

This shot of the fuselage’s left half really drives home the lack of surface detailing on this kit. Even the gear bay is a nice, “Matchbox pocket”-type affair!

I was surprised, but happily so, to see that a.) there is no interior b.) that the windows are very heavily tinted. This again helps Dragon not invest much in something that could be wrong, and it makes it easier to just smack this little model together. I do find it odd they mention “Crystal clear canopies reproduced” on the box, but never mention that they’re tinted. It’s a bit misleading, but like I said, I’d have likely just painted the windows with Tamiya smoke anyway, given the option, so this will save some time.

The PE inlet grates are interesting, and reminiscent of the grating on a Nighthawk’s intakes. It looks simple enough, being a piece you just bend at an angle and glue on. Still, given my hate of PE, I may decide to not use it regardless.  There’s no stand, which is weird for something that can be built ‘wheels up’, but it is what it is.

These ae the photoetch parts for the intakes. They do look very nice, but I do so hate PE that I’ll likely not use them.

Instructions and Decals:

The instructions, like the kit, are pretty simple. They are black and white line drawings that are crisp and clear. There’s no risk of overcomplication at least, since there are so few parts to the model. There’s a very simple colour chart at the top, with Flat Black and Dark Grey being the colours of choice. Not a real surprise there.

These are the simple instructions. They are clear and concise, but they ought to be given the kit’s lack of complexity.

The decals are small and also simple, with blacked-out “stealthy” Stars-and-Bars and light grey “United States Army” writing. Hmm… odd that it’s marked at all, actually. There are a couple of other decals, too, but given the size and simplicity of the kit, a sheet of stencils is not something you should expect to see.

This is the simple decal sheet, with enough markings to do both of the choppers in the box.

Conclusions:

 Whether it’s real, fake, accurate or hellishly wrong, Dragon should be commended for giving the modelling community a first, and so far only, take on this very important and very mysterious aircraft. There are a lot of people out there who would probably rather have this in 1/72 or 1/48, but that’s asking a lot for something about which little to nothing is known. I think Dragon did a good job providing a cheap “first look” kit that can be easily and cheaply superseded should the opportunity ever arise. I am a bit concerned that the only company that is willing/able to model the US’ super-secret stealth chopper is from China, but hey, I felt the same way about the Astute!

As a kit, the StealthHawk is something almost anyone could tackle, even if new to the hobby. The only caveat is that care will be needed with the landing gear, and that the windows could be an issue for those unfamiliar with masking. The parts are few, and although the gear doors and legs are small, there’s not too much fussy stuff to mess with.

Sadly, it’s a bit of a waste of the 1+1 format, since you don’t get any extra weapons sprues, and thus nothing nice for your spares box. I really would have thought this was a better candidate for a “one-in-a-box” release since there’s literally no need for the second one. With no marking or colouring choices, no alternate loadouts and no airframe differences, you’re literally paying double for something you’re likely to only model once. Of course, if you want to do a diorama of the raid, well… you’re ready to go right out of the box! (You will have to break your own tail rotor off, though…)

By and large, I’m glad this kit exists, as I’m always up for some speculative modelling. This looks like a fun and somewhat easy kit, and that’s never a bad thing. If it turns out to be completely inaccurate, then you won’t have wasted too much time on it. Until then, there are very few rivet counters who will be able to tell you you’ve built it or painted it wrong. If they do so with confidence, the CIA/Elvis/Grey Aliens will likely rub them out anyway.

So, if you like choppers, small kits, weird subjects or you want to make your own take on a stealthy transport helo, this is a great model for the stash. I say grab one if you see it; it’s small enough and cheap enough that you won’t really feel the pinch anyway!

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