The 1950’s probably saw more experimentation in aeronautical design and propulsion than at any time before or since, perhaps with the exception of the very first days of flight when literally “anything goes” was not only accepted, but expected! Given that planes were half a century old by the early ‘50s, though, it would be logical to think that the days of outlandish experimentation was over. It is astounding to consider the impetus that the new materials, configurations and propulsion systems wrought by the Second World War had on aircraft development. All of a sudden, so many new doors were flung open; swept wings and jet engines were only part of the new regime. New metals and plastics allowed for the attainment of unheard of speeds, and the requirements for new aircraft, especially military ones, advanced by leaps and bounds.
Into this arena jumped the fighter designers from all around the world. In the contest to come up with the next superfighter, nothing was off limits. Rockets, ramjets, tailless aircraft and even annular wing aircraft all competed for research funding, acceptance and sales. Some were purely for research, others combined research with the goal of producing a viable fighter at the end of the tests. Sometimes, this trend ended up reversing itself. One example of that was the North American F-107 Ultra Sabre. Designed by North American as the natural follow on to the F-100, the F-107 was designed to be a high-speed tactical nuclear fighter-bomber.
The Ultra Sabre had a semi-recessed centreline store (usually a nuke) and could also carry weapons on wing pylons. It was a fast and powerful airplane, using the J-75 more normally associated with the F-105 Thunderchief for power. Additional armament included four 20mm M39 cannons, similar to the armament of the early F-101 family. On the surface, then the F-107 doesn’t sound that radical, right? That changed when it came to letting the engine breathe; the intake of the F-107 sits ON TOP of the fuselage, which seems odd today, but was downright bizarre in the mid-1950s!
The intake was a bifurcated and sharply swept affair with what was called a Variable Area Inlet Duct. This is similar to the variable intake ramps used on planes much later on, but not quite as complicated. The intake kept the threat of FOD ingestion to a minimum, it’s true, but the F-107 wasn’t ever designed to operate from forward strips. The intake on top of the fuselage was apparently put there to maximize the efficiency and power delivery of the J-75. In any event, the USAF was not sold on the idea (ejecting from the plane might have been a bit hairy – ask He-162 pilots!) and after a competition against the Thunderchief, the few existing airframes were relegated to testing.
Because of its short career and failure to enter service, the F-107 is a pretty obscure airplane. One is at the Dayton USAF Museum, but that doesn’t make it a household name. Because of this, the F-107 is NOT a craft that gets kitted often. Well, in the mainstream, in fact, in NEVER gets kitted. That was until Trumpeter surprised everyone in the early 2000’s (2002 according to Scalemates) by issuing a fully mainstream, injection-moulded kit of the F-107A for mass consumption. It was very well received and folks with an interest in early jets, prototypes, esoterica and of course, What-Iffery, jumped at the chance to get a nice new model of this odd bird.
It took me a while to get my hands on one of these. I finally found one at Hobby Lobby (an arts and crafts store in the US) on clearance, and was immediately gripped by What-Iffy visions. For what I paid, it seemed a steal; this kit was always expensive in shops near me, but I got this one for something near $10. It seemed too good to be true!
So, how is this model? At the time, I remember a lot of people being excited by it, but I haven’t really seen any built in person, and there aren’t as many online as I’d have thought. Thus, rather than rely on others, I thought it was best to dive into the kit and see what it was like for myself!
The F-107’s box is a typical Trumpeter top-opening affair. It has the blue pinstriped box familiar to any Trumpeter fan, and the bottom of it is a very solid box indeed. The lid is less so, but it’s a strong box and will survive being stacked upon for quite some time.
The box art is interesting, although not super exciting. It shows an F-107A coming in for a landing at a desert airstrip with mountains in the background and a surprisingly foreboding looking sky overhead. Unlike older Matchbox (and other) kits, the art is pretty tame, with little sense of action or drama. The plane is seconds from touchdown and that’s about it. Now, given it’s a test aircraft, maybe making it back is exciting enough, but given the raw power installed in the Ultra Sabre, a nice image of it blasting through the clouds, turning and burning would have helped to sell this kit, I think.
It’s worth noting that this kit was produced “in co-operation” with Monochrome models. I can’t help but think that this co-operation takes the same form as the Italeri boxing of Bilek kits. However, the box art on the Monochrome is very similar, showing the plane landing, but from the other side. On the Monochrome box, the setting is much brighter, and interestingly the aircraft carries no wing stores. On the Trumpeter box, the F-107 is show with two wing-mounted pods as well as its centreline fuel tank/bomb. This is important later, believe me.
The sides of the box are equally as unexciting. The one side shows two side elevations of the bare metal/red paint scheme worn by the aircraft during their lives, and the other shows a top and bottom view with a small write up. In typical “Chinese kit” fashion, this little information blurb is very entertaining. The writing is stilted and sentence structure is non-existent. It manages to convey the basics in a succinct, albeit error-riddled manner, and that’s all I guess you can hope for.
Inside the box there are three sprues of medium grey plastic, contained in two bags, as well as the clear canopy in its own bag. The canopy is moulded in three sections, and gives the impression that it might be possible to build it open, although no such instruction is provided. There is also a small bag for the decals.
The first thing that hit me was how BIG this plane was. I mean, I’ve seen the real thing twice (albeit long ago) and it was a competitor to the Thud, and we all know how big that thing is. Still, I had to do a double take, because the thickness of the fuselage (even without the forward section of the inlet) seems quite great. The wings also look a bit small in comparison, but this seems to be how the real plane looked, so good job on that one, Trumpeter!
The parts all seem to be well moulded and there’s a lot of fine surface detail. It’s about on par, at first glance, with many modern offerings, including the newer Airfix kits. Sure, it doesn’t have quite the fineness of the newest Airfix (or other) kits, but it’s not like this is a Matchbox or old Monogram in terms of detail. The landing gear look simple, and the wheels are (annoyingly) moulded in halves, but with no weighting. The clear pieces look good, not too thick and without a tonne of distortion at least (they are fairly curvy, though, so some is expected). Overall, the kit doesn’t blow you away with parts, but it’s not like it’s going to be a “glue a few halves and done” model either.
My first impression was that this is a pretty nice kit. However, when you look more closely at it, you begin to see the flaws. Some of the panel lines are very soft. There are also a number of considerable sinks throughout the fuselage halves. They aren’t huge, and once painted they may not show at all, or they may just look like “weary airframe” stress. However, they are there and at least some will need filling. The undercarriage is basic, which is fine, but there’s literally no detail in the wheel bays, and that’s surprising for a kit of this age. In fact, the gear bays are really no better than those on a Matchbox when you get right down to it. A scan of the instructions shows that there aren’t even front “walls” to the main gear bays!
Combining a look at the kit with a peruse of the instructions is when things really start to take a turn for the worrisome. For one thing, while the exhaust nozzle looks very nice and is made up of an actual nozzle and a separate “can” with rudimentary flame holder, there’s no compressor face. This is not surprising on a kit with such a long intake. However, the intake is another problem. In the great tradition of Heller and Matchbox kits everywhere, the intake is hollow, with no pipe at all. Thus, you can look right down into the plane through it. This is pretty sad in a modern kit, I have to say. There’s neither intake trunk nor “back wall”, and it’s a major omission.
There’s also precious little detail in the cockpit. There’s a rudimentary seat with odd-looking seatbelts, and a very basic instrument panel, but there’s nothing on the side consoles or cockpit sides, and only a very basic control stick. Another odd (lack of) feature is that there are no underwing stores or pylons. On the box art, they show the plane with two underwing pods, and for What Iffing having pylons would be nice. However, there’s no such luck here. While the flaps can be dropped and the airbrakes can be opened, the detail inside the wing and airbrakes is such that keeping things closed might be preferable.
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions are very clear and plain, and are able to be easily understood by just about anyone, I’d think. They are not complicated at all.
The instructions demonstrate clearly how basic this kit is once you get right down to it. Now, I’m not a fan of unnecessarily complicating things, so I don’t mind if a kit is fewer of part and lower on fiddliness than some of the more costly examples out there. However, I do expect a modern kit to have at least some detail in the wheel bays and cockpit. The assembly of the lower fuselage “pan” which sandwiches the mid-wing in place is odd. Normally, you’d just stick the wings in the side, and be done with it. On this model, the underside of the wing carry-through is the roof of the rear landing gear bay. The problem with this is that I can foresee some difficult sanding and blending around the joints of this pan unless the fit is very precise.
There are colour call outs on the black and white instructions, but there’s no colour paint plan in here like we’re used to seeing on newer Trumpeter kits. This isn’t a big deal since there’s really only one colour scheme for a real F-107, and that’s bare metal with gaudy orangey-red arrows on it. That, however, leads to another problem with this kit: the decals.
The decals come on a small sheet with national insignia and USAF writing, call numbers and that’s about it. I don’t have a good photo of them, because I’m likely going to Whiff this thing, and not in US paint, so I opted to keep the decals sealed and in good shape (I don’t have many spare USAF markings, and will need some for a future project). However, what’s NOT on the decal sheet is anything resembling the large orangey-red arrows. That means you’re going to have to mask them if you want to have an authentic F-107. For a short-run kit, like a Monochrome, that might be expected. However, for a mainstream kit in this day and age, I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary to expect those red patches as decals. Heck, the ancient Hasegawa T-1 comes with a MASSIVE decal sheet to do all the colourful paint work on the plane and it’s much older and much smaller, with more colour!
I must admit that I’m at a bit of a loss on this one. On the one hand, the fact that we managed to get a mainline release of such an obscure aircraft is awesome. I’m glad Trumpeter teamed up with Monochrome to give us this kit, and the fact that I could buy it in a place like Hobby Lobby says a lot about just how available the model was. On the other, I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of detail on the kit as a whole, and wish some of the more obvious shortcomings had been addressed.
On the surface, this looks like a pretty good kit that almost anyone can build. It’s not too fiddly and the parts are mostly large and will be easy to handle, even for younger or more inexperienced builders. There are no massively complicated subassemblies and if you follow the (admittedly simple) instructions, it shouldn’t be a problem. I can see this being a good “first or second” solo kit for a young builder; certainly easier than my Monogram 1/72 A-10 (my first solo build)! At the same time, due to the level of surface detail, this kit will provide an excellent platform for more experienced modellers. There’s lots of room for improvement, and the spares boxes will likely be ravaged for a better seat and cockpit details, and someone will definitely go to town on the gear bays, I’m sure.
My greatest fear is that the short-run nature of this kit will rear its ugly head during the build. There are certain expectations for a mainline injected kit in the 2000’s; a fit like a Matchbox and sink marks all around are not among them. The presence of said sink marks and the lack of other details gives me pause, and makes me worry that the poor fit and appetite for putty that so often accompany such short run kits are not far in the distance. If you know what you’re doing and what you’re getting into, it’s not going to be a big deal. However, if you think this is going to be a walk in the park, it might just end up as a midnight mugging instead.
For me, the potential need to throw some putty and do some sanding isn’t anything new, and given the uniqueness of the subject I’m pretty excited about this kit. It has a gutload of What If potential and I guarantee that I will be exploiting it to the fullest. If you want a kit that’s a lot different from the other planes on your shelf, or you want a canvas to use a bit of imagination on, then this is definitely going to be a kit you’ll want. It doesn’t seem to be around as much anymore, but I’m sure that swap meets and model shows will still yield a good crop of them if you go looking!