In the 1950’s, everyone thought that aircraft performance would increase by “a Mach a year”, and that included EVERY kind of aircraft, from fighters to airliners. Thus, it was no surprised that all the major air forces of the world lusted after supersonic bombers. Supersonic speed combined with nuclear armament would, it was felt, make the bomber the supreme weapon, rendering enemies defenceless against any onslaught.
The reality of it, though, was that making a fighter-sized aircraft go Mach 1+ is a lot easier than doing the same thing for a bomber. The race for supersonic bombers might have been hotly contested but, in the end, only America and the USSR could really claim victory. The Tu-22 family of bombers from Russia and the US’ B-58 Hustler stood as the pinnacles of high-speed bombing power. Or did they?
Often forgotten is the only Western European supersonic bomber, the Mirage IV. Sure, it could only carry a single bomb (same as a Hustler) and it only had two engines (Same as a Tu-22). Its unrefuelled range was poor and its mission was basically one step from suicide. However, it WAS designed to deliver nuclear payloads to Eastern Bloc enemies at supersonic speeds. While it might be more akin to a nuclear armed F-111 or FB-111 in terms of overall performance, the fact remains that the Mirage IV was Western Europe’s only success in supersonic bomber construction.
As a result of this, it’s a surprise that so few kits of this fairly important aircraft have been made. Of course, the US and Russian kit makers don’t want to publicize someone else’s success, and most European model makers don’t want to admit their countries lost the race. That means, then, that only French model companies are really likely to make a kit of the delta-winged dark horse of the supersonic bomber race, right? Indeed! If you want a mainstream Mirage IV, Heller is the only company that made one!
The Heller Mirage IV is old. I believe it has been out of production for quite a while, and can be quite hard to get. There are both 1/72 and 1/48 versions, but as is my wont I built the smaller of the two. I know that this particular boxing is from 1976 or early 1977, as it still had the Heller catalogue for 1977 inside when I got it!
Like all old Hellers (see the Lansen, for details!), the Mirage IV is actually a very well-detailed and fairly well-proportioned kit. There is a lot if fine surface detail on this model, and there are lots of hatches and panel lines to be found on all surfaces. The only downside is that they are all raised! This is okay if you don’t mind raised detail, but a lot of it is going to get scrubbed off when you sand the body and the wings once they’re glued together. It’s actually quite a shame, because the amount of detail on the kit is right up there with today’s offerings.
However, I chose to re-etch the major panel lines, so that I’d have a model with some recessed detail. You can try to preserve it all if you want, but I wasn’t about to go that hardcore on it! This kit represents a great place to use Dymo tape for etching straight lines; most of the surfaces of the Mirage are pretty flat, save the fuselage sides, and the long, flat-self-adhesive straightedge that Dymo provides is very much in demand on a job like this. I redid all the main wing lines plus about 70% of the body lines; I only didn’t do minor panels; most of the majors were re-etched.
Given the age of the kit, the fit isn’t bad either. It’s actually better than the new Airfix Spitfire F.22 in some spots, and is generally better than a Frog or Monogram form the same era. The only problem is that there isn’t much in the way of locating help. There really aren’t many locating pins on the fuselage, and those few that are there are much too small to be anything more than marginally effective. Thus, to ensure a good alignment, plus to give the glue some meat to bite into, I glued small pieces of Styrene to the inside of one half of the fuselage. I left these protruding as guides for the other half. It worked very well, and makes the fuselage very, very sturdy.
The transparencies on the kit are fairly good, especially for their age, although the optical windows for the search and landing lights and lower periscope aren’t as good as the canopy windows. The landing gear is nice, if not a bit basic. The gear bays and doors themselves aren’t detailed inside at all. Of course, a lot of the doors are closed on the ground, so that works out fine. Sort of.
The doors don’t actually fit in the wheel bay openings well at all, and good luck to the brave soul who tries to glue them there. To ease this part of assembly, I mixed up some Apoxie-Sculp and made locating “cushions” for the doors to be closed. This allowed me to have a surface to which to attach the doors come final assembly.
Building the kit, other than locating the fuselage halves, was very straightforward, except for the nose. It doesn’t really seem to be made right on this particular kit. The centerline was off, which made one half look conical and the other almost flat-sided. This took a lot of sanding and tweaking, but eventually it turned out alright. Thankfully, the Mirage IV is made from pretty thick plastic, so it was possible to sand a lot away and still have some airframe left! It might have helped that I had the nose chock full of lead shot, too. This thing will be a tail sitter, I fear, if you don’t give it some weight.
The wings fit together quite well, and the integration of the “wing pan” into the body wasn’t too terrible. Some CA was needed at the joints to fill things in and smooth them out, but this wasn’t as big a “putty monster” as my FROG Ta-152! The AN-22 nuclear bomb also went together nicely, and fit surprisingly well into the ventral recess.
Other than having to re-re-re-etch every panel line like a billion times, the Mirage actually was pretty standard when it came to going together. The low piece count and relative accuracy of fit were definitely contributing factors. Well, there IS one thing that didn’t quite go as planned: the nose probe! The Mirage IV has a refuelling probe in the nose (unlike most other probe-equipped planes) and this, of course, is thin plastic. I glued it on, and the fit was nice. I found the glue melted the plastic very well and made good weld.
Of course, during working on the kit, I broke the probe off. I got all the way to primer before it happened, but it was bound to break at some point; the locating pin that fit into the nose was WAAAAY too small. To fix this, I drilled out the nose and I drilled out the probe, and fit a piece of wire in as an intermediate support. This worked very well, and the probe gave me no further problems.
Painting and Finishing:
The detail in the cockpit is surprisingly good, given the age of the kit. Unlike some more modern kits, there are actual dials and details on the side consoles and dashboards, and these were picked out using silver Testors oil paint drybrushed over the black. The main tub of the cockpit was done in light ghost grey, washed with a darkened version of itself and some Devlan Mud to give a used look. In reality, none of this matters if you position the canopies down; there’s not a lot you can see in there, because the windows are pretty small.
I chose to glue the airbrakes in place before painting to make life easier. They don’t fit all that well, so it’s better to get them in place before you have a paint job to ruin. I painted them with Testors Model Master Acrylic Guards red, and then masked them.
It’s true that you can have a Mirage IVA in any colour you like, so long as it is dark grey and dark green. There is a standard paint scheme for all Mirage IVA’s with the AN-22, and in fact, I believe it stayed the same all its life! This also means that there is only one cammo pattern for Mirage IVAs, so getting the paint right is very important. Only the French used this aircraft, so unless you’re “what-iffing” it, the wrong pattern will definitely show up to anyone who knows the aircraft, including show judges!
I primered the Mirage with the same Colourplace Primer from Walmart that I use on everything. As usual, it did a great job, but because it can be a bit thick, and I needed it that way to fill in minor scratches, I did have to re-etch the surface detail when I was done. I then sprayed the entire airplane in Testors Model Master Acrylic “F-15 Dark Grey”, the same as my Matchbox Mirage IIIB.
To mask the paint, I used very wide Tamiya-like tape and laid out a big “plate” of tape on some waxed paper. I then drew the pattern I needed onto the tape, cut it out, and peeled it off the waxed paper “backing”. In this way, I had a coherent “blob” of cammo ready to go in one shot. It is interesting to note, too, that the ENTIRE upper wing on a Mirage IV is green; there’s no grey on it anywhere.
Once the masking was done, I painted the green with Testors MMA Dark Green. There were very few touch ups needed upon unmasking, but because I used Testors it was easy to touch up by hand. Testors paints don’t change colour when airbrushed unlike Tamiyas; one of the biggest reasons I love them! As is my custom, I outlined the panel lines using a mechanical pencil and then gloss coated the entire thing in Future.
The Kit decals were surprisingly good, given their age! They went on with very little in the way of fuss, and no decal setting solution was needed for them. I used a bit of future to soften them up, because they were quite brittle, and on the flat surfaces, that was enough. However, there is a decal that wraps around the vertical stabilizer, and it refused to bend, no matter what I did to it. Eventually, it just shattered, so I cut my losses and continued on.
I accentuated the panel lines with ground up chalk pastels, adjusted to match the “background” colour over which it was applied. This gives the impression of there being some depth, and is my cheater way of not having to do pre-shading, which I hate. As usual, I think the effect as pretty nice. This time, I used Tamiya fine-tipped swabs to do the job, and they are great! They are much easier to control than a paintbrush, and also waste less pastel. You can almost draw with them, because they are much stiffer than just a cut down set of #0 bristles!
After everything was re-glossed I flatted the kit using Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Urethane varnish. This stuff continues to be the best deal in flat coat going, and gave a nice, just off-flat finish. I did have some problems with smoothness on parts of the plane, but I figured it out, and will post that as a separate article.
The Heller Mirage IVA is an old, but generally nice, kit of a fairly important, yet ultimately obscure aircraft. It’s one of the only models that actually comes armed with a nuclear weapon, so that alone bumps up the cool factor.
It’s not too difficult a kit for even moderately experienced modellers to build passably, but the lack of locating pins and raised detail can make for some hard times if you’re not used to dealing with that kind of thing. The rarity of this kit notwithstanding, I’d say that it is suitable for a teenager with a few years’ experience.
It’s a shame there’s not a newer kit of the Mirage IV around, but this old Heller does an admirable job, and really should be in the collection of anyone interested in the quest for speed, the Cold War or the French Air Force. I’d recommend it for sure, but only to those willing to do some work on it!