Improving the Monogram AV-8B
by Lance Braman
The Monogram 1/48 scale kit of the AV-8B was first released in 1987. At the time, I was a Harrier mechanic with VMA-331, and I remember the excitement that greeted the release of the kit. Not only was it the first B Harrier kit in 1/48, but it was near dead-accurate AND we could see the real aircraft 05 through our window every day.
Nevertheless, the kit, like most kits, has a few minor flaws and "areas of concern". The purpose of what follows is to help you build a better Harrier out of an already excellent kit, and still do it OOB.
The kit cockpit is quite good as is for a straight B Harrier. If you are going to build a night attack or radar Harrier, or one of the RAF Harriers, you will need a new instrument panel. If you are going to use the Black Box set, then you probably don't need to worry about this section. But if you are using the kit cockpit, here's what needs doing:
The one major crime in the cockpit is the seat. The headrest is split right down the middle, leaving a noticeable seam. Filling it and keeping the cloth pattern at the same time may seem like impossibilities, but here's what you can do. Before gluing the two halves together, coat one side of the headrest in PAM cooking spray or some other plastic-friendly grease/release agent. Take a blob of two-part epoxy putty (or chewed chewing gum, but the hardening time is longer) and press it onto the headrest. After it hardens and you pull it off, you will have a negative stamp of the cloth pattern. Clean up the headrest and glue together. When dry, apply the putty of your choice to the seam, and let it set until almost dry. Press the epoxy stamp into the putty, and voila! you should have a cloth-patterned fill job.
Also, there should be a seat safetying handle sticking out of part 6. This is easy to add. As you look at the outside of the seat, notice the horizontal rib about halfway up the seat back (between where the harness drapes over the sides at the top and the three small holes at the bottom). Drill a small hole into the front edge of the seat in line with this rib and insert a piece of wire/ stretched sprue approx. 0.3 mm in diameter projecting about 3 mm out from the seat. If you have Monogram's F-20, take a look at the seat. Both aircraft use the same seat. Paint this rod, as well as the seat pan release handle located just to the right of the seat cushion on part 7 and the ejection handle yellow with black stripes. Which brings us to....
As in most modern US Aircraft, the primary colors are FS 36231 and black. The tub, sidewalls, rear bulkhead, instrument panel, control stick and seat rails are all 36231. The seat itself, side consoles, instruments in the panel, stick and throttle grips are black. There are two buttons on the front of the throttle grip. These are light gray. There is also a large slew switch for the Angle Rate Bombing System on top of the throttle. This is not molded on, but a drop of light gray paint right about where the pilot's thumb would naturally rest will represent this just fine. On the control stick, you will see three buttons facing the pilot on the top. The one on the right is a bright red, the others black. The trigger is a dull, dark red. Most all the switches on the side consoles are dull silver. Please check your references here because, IIRC, one or two had yellow and black stripes. It's been ten years since I sat in a Harrier, and my memory is getting a bit rusty.
The seat cushions should be a khaki-olive color. If you look at pictures you'll see what I mean. Seat belts are dark green, with silver buckles EXCEPT for the harness straps coming out of the headrest. These straps were fitted with SEAWARS devices, which would automatically disconnect on contact with water, thus keeping a pilot from being drowned by his chute. SEAWARS are black, so just paint the ends of the straps black to simulate them. Also, there is a junction box on top of the seat rail on part 6. The box should be black.
One area that needs a little attention with the paintbrush is the forward ends of the side consoles where they rise up to meet the instrument panel. They are molded smooth, but in reality the caution/warning lights were located on the pilot's right, and the master jettison button and landing gear controls on his left. On the right, use the L-shaped notch at the top as your guide, and paint everything below the notch except for a thin strip at the outside edge glossy black to simulate the warning lights. For the purists, this assembly is the same as in an F-18.
On the left, again using the L-shaped notch as a guide, paint the small square area inboard of the notch (by the pilot's knee) yellow with black stripes. This is the master jettison button. Paint the rest black to represent the LG indicators, LG lever area, etc. If you want to go an extra step, put a flattened blob of epoxy on a piece of wire and attach it about halfway up under the bottom of the L and paint it dark red. There's your LG lever.
On the instrument panel, pick out details in white for guages and silver for
switches. Note the buttons around the Multi-Function Display are gray, while those on the front of the HUD are black.
Paint the decking above and behind the seat the fuselage color. The air exhausts in the deck should be white inside. The wires and the large, half round bump on the canopy frame inside (part 70) should be silver. The detonating cord molded into the top of the canopy should be a very light gray. There is also cord around the perimeter of the canopy on the inside, you could paint this on too, using the frame marks as a guide. While mirrors are included in the kit, there are two large 'elephant ear' handles for the pilot to close the canopy that are not. Using the kit pilot's hands as a guide, bend some thin wire into a question mark shape a bit bigger than would be needed for his hands to fit. Paint black and attach to the lower front edge of the canopy.
If you want to get finicky, add the IFR lamps to the windscreen. Cut a 1.5 X 1 mm rectangle out of 0.5 mm sheet, paint it black and attach it at about the 1 o'clock position to the inside of the windscreen frame. Also, if you look at photos, you will notice a small instrument on top of the coaming jammed down in the bottom left corner of the windscreen. This is, IIRC, a clock. Harriers were not equipped with clocks, and the pilots complained because they were having to go 'heads down' to check their watches, so McDonnell-Douglas gave them a clock (but without a snooze alarm).
Most of the problems are niggly, so let's start with these. If you use the gun packs (and since the LIDS fence is molded for them, I recommend it) you just need to trim the lip around the front hole (parts 29 and 30) a bit. The real thing has a pronounced lip extension only on the inboard side. It tapered back at an angle to meet the housing on the outboard side. But don't just slice off the lip at an angle and leave a sharp corner there. Round the corners so it's smooth.
If you fit strakes (parts 76 & 77), and again if you do so you will need to modify the LIDS fence(part 45) and the belly of the fuselage, so DON'T DO IT!, remove that funky bulge from the inside leading edge. Just sand the whole thing smooth.
OK, so you're going to hang the strakes. Do you really want to do this? You're sure? (Sigh) OK, here's what you need to do. You need to cut extensions from sheet to enlarge the LIDS fence so it fits snug between the strakes and looks like a rectangle/trapezoid with the corners nipped off. Notice on part 45 that there is a recessed area along each outside edge. This is where the extensions bolt to. In other words, with extensions fitted the inside is smooth. Make sure that left and right extensions match, too.
Now you will need to remove areas from each side of the LIDS fence well on the belly to match the extensions. You will not have to modify part 8, just place sheet inside the belly on either side of the well to give a roof to the hole. Too much work? Yeah, I thought so, and let's face it, health and environmental concerns aside, wouldn't you rather have the gun?
The sharkfin fuel vent (part 56) under the stbd cold nozzle also needs the aft bottom corner to be filed flat. It should look like this: I I I I I / Not This: I / I / I / I_/ I / I/
Don't file much, just about 1 mm.
Also, watch the other blade vent (part 55) by the same nozzle. It should NOT lean to the rear, but it does come down at a slight angle to the fuse. Also, the kit part is way too fat. I recommend replacing the whole thing with a piece of 0.5 mm sheet sanded down to a knife edge front and back. Just remember not to bevel, keep a 'crushed oval' shape to it.
Add AOA sensor to stbd. side of nose. There is a circle marking it's location on the kit.
Carefully file down the fourth air intake door from the top on the intakes so it looks slightly canted in. This door never fit flush closed on the ground.
If you open the canopy, you must add the step that comes down from under the LE root of the starboard intake. I always used a 'daisy cutter' fuse from a Mk 82 bomb. Looks fine (trim off half the prop, though). Check photos. Also note that if you are using the kit decals, you need to sand off the step just inside the intake and remove the black stripe that leads to it. The first Harriers didn't have this step. IIRC, it was added after Bureau Number 162081.
Now the big problem. The pitot tubes. If you test fit and look straight on from the nose, you will quickly notice that the port pitot is a lot higher than the starboard. Start by filling the hole for the port pitot and make a new one so it lines up with the starboard one. While you're at it, remove the formation light strips because they are misaligned as well, and actually the light assemblies are flush fitting anyway. If you are scribing your model, use the raised detail on the starboard nose, under the tail, and on the rudder as a guide for scribing outlines for these lights, then sand off the raised detail. Also, rescribe the large panel under the coaming on the port side of the nose to match the one on the starboard side. Also rescribe the panel beneath that in a lower position to keep it relative to the now bigger panel above it.
Back to niggles: trim the front edge of the antenna mounted under the nose so it looks more like a shark fin. Remove the blade antenna from just in front of the ventral strake. This is a plate antenna on production aircraft.
Centered in the panel immediately in front of the NLG doors is the radar altimeter. This was not fitted back in the 80's, although it is more common now. If you are going to do a gray/green bird, simply paint an orange circle here to represent the blanking plate covering the hole. If you are building a more recent bird, scribe a circle and put 5 small white rods (actually conical rods) into an X formation inside the circle.
Carefully relocate the anti-collision light atop the wing to port. Check photos for alignment. Also add a large blade antenna forward of the light, offset to starboard. Check your references for the shape, as there are 2 kinds. Most straight Bs had a swept-back, 'sharkfin' like antenna, but these are apparently being replaced during maintenance with an unswept antenna that angles up at both the front and the back.
Rescribe the panels over the engine. There are 4 doors, two on each side of a centerline beam. The lines on the kit do correctly mark the fore and aft edges of the doors, but you need to add the CL beam. The beam should be about 1 mm wide, but to be honest you might want to take liberties with where 'centerline' is. The problem is that the APU exhaust is too close to it. If you marked the CL correctly, the egde of the exhaust is right on it. Drill out the holes in the wing root LE for fire extinguishers.
Drill or grind a hole in the tie-down on the back side of the strut (parts 46 & 47). When painting, note that there is a trapezoidal (triangle with the top cut off) patch under the tie-down to protect the strut. This is a a dark gray, probably 36270 would be close. Also note the black and silver maintenance placard on the front of the strut (check photos).
If you look at parts 21 and 22 from behind, you will see that the door has an 'L' shape. The hinge arms (the part of the 'L' that goes up to the fuselage) are a bit too wide. I would cut them off, and replace with a couple of 0.5 mm strips that overlap the top of the door itself by about 2 mm. These arms lie against the belly when the gear is retracted. They hinge at the aft end of the outlines marked on the belly of the kit. A connecting rod runs from about halfway down the edge of the door, connecting to the strut atop the large cylinder at the aft top of the strut.
Note that if you decide to do an in-flight model, you need to cut a square hole in the belly about 2 X 2 mm just aft of the nose follow-up door. This is for the NLG downlock.
Main Landing Gear:
This is another bit of fun. The easy solution is to NOT glue it in place, but rather leave it loose. If you glue it, you run the risk of the strut being either too long (so your beautiful model leans on one outrigger) or too short (the wheels won't touch). If you leave it loose, you can adjust after assembly. Another problem is the door. It should hang from the belly, but when you get the wheels seated on the ground properly, you'll find it won't. You could ignore this (Harriers sit low, and between the guns and the speed brakes, you really can't see under here anyway) or you can cut the door off and fix it in the correct position. Your choice. You could also rig a new mount out of tube, cut the 'wings' off the strut and insert the strut into the tube mount after painting.
Trash the bombs in the kit. They are Mk. 81 snakes, and no one but Broncos uses them.
Ditto the drop tanks. Only the RAF weld theirs to the pylons (bad habit leftover from GR 3s?). The Marines don't attach them unless they have a good reason (long trip), since the O-rings tend to leak fuel.
You CAN install the centerline pylon with the gun packs. If you look at parts 28 and 30, you will see a small raised area along the centerline on the front part of the crossover fairing. Remove this area, and carefully file open until it fits around part 59. Note that it really helps to cut off the aft end of part 59 too. Take your time and dry-fit constantly. This really pays off if you are doing a Gulf War bird, since this carriage was more or less standard.
USMC Harrier Ordnance Carriage
Station | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 |
NOTES: (1) Sta. 2 and 6 require adapter between rail and pylon. This is the same adapter required for use on AV-8A/GR 1 & 3/ FRS 1/ FA 2 Harriers and A-4s when carrying sidewinders. For details check references or kits of these planes that have 'winders.
(2) Based on what I have read on AV-8B+s. Have never seen pics of them loaded, though.
(3) Carriage of Mk. 82 LD on inboard sta. of TER on sta. 3 and 5 possible, but not generally done to avoid danger of bomb striking strake/gun pack.
(4) USAF style 'ballute bombs' also possible. Have seen photos of USMC Harriers so armed.
(5) Pilot's manual stated no carriage on sta. 5. However, I have seen pictures of Gulf War birds with something white hanging there, and was told that rockeyes were hung there (it was supposedly not an ECM pod). I suppose one could 'lie' to the SDC and tell it there was a 82 snake there...
(6) Not BLU-27, but the Navy type that KMC sold. IIRC, sta. 1 and 7 could carry napalm. I have only seen napalm carried on lower and outboard stations of a TER on sta. 2 and 6, however, for 4 cans per bird.
(7) Never saw this myself, but Pilot's Manual said it could be done.
(8) Manual stated carriage of 3 rocket pods on sta. 3 and 5 possible, but we avoided it due to fear of the rocket exhaust being ingested. 'Normal' carriage was 1 pod each on sta. 2 and 6, but I did see 2 LAU-3s mounted on lower and outer stations of a TER on several occasions.
According to some articles I have read, Spain and Italy have expressed a desire to have their AV-8B+s get an avionics upgrade to enable AGM-84 carriage on sta. 3 and 5. There seems to be no physical reason why this couldn't be done, just as there is no reason why a Harrier couldn't be equipped as a 'dogfighter' with AIM-120 on sta. 2,3,5 and 6 and 'winders on 1 and 7. Perhaps someday, too, the USMC will get over its hangups about RAF style dedicated 'winder pylons on the outrigger fairings. The concern is that the 'winders exhaust will burn the tires. One has to ask why the RAF hasn't found this an issue, and even IF such damage might occur, how often are they planning to live-fire sidewinders anyway?
McDonnell-Douglas built a test plane with wingtip lauch rails, but the Corps decided not to go this way either. As a result, the mission possibilities of the AV-8B+ will be hindered (to some extent) by a lack of available pylons. Of course, for CAS, it's probably not too big a deal, and indeed in the Gulf War USMC Harriers abandoned even AIM-9s as there was no air-to-air threat.
Aside from points above, care needs to be taken when joining the wing halves, joining the wing to the fuselage, and fitting the outriggers to the wing. Test fit, file or shim as needed, and test fit again before committing to anything (this applies to so many things in life...). Areas to really watch are the seam that runs through the flaps on the underside, and wing to fuselage joint across the spine and under the LERX.
Leave the speed brake, LIDS fence, nozzles, heat shields and stabilizers off until after painting. Fitting the cold nozzles last is a little tricky, but it makes painting easier.
Watch the fit of the canopy to the frame. Many times the canopy has warped outwards, meaning you have to dunk it in hot water to bend it back in to get it to fit the frame.
I also recommend test fitting the pylons before painting and installing them after.
First, ignore the instruction sheet. No Harrier was painted in those colors. The correct colors are FS 36081 gray and 34066 green. The light gray was only used on the first few Harriers, and indeed 162072 did have it for a short time, but the decision was quickly made to go to a wraparound gray/green for 'gun' squadrons. VMAT-203 did keep its light gray bellied Harriers for quite a while, though. No squadron other than VMA-331 (briefly) and VMAT-203 ever had light gray bellies.
There was no standard pattern, that I am aware of, for the belly camoflage. It was just painted to match the places where the green came over the wings or down the sides. The Monogram pattern for the top is accurate, so use it as a guide and wrap the green around the belly so it meets up on the other side. Don't worry about matching the pattern exactly. These planes were painted on the hangar deck by Bubba's Paint Service, and Bubba don't use stencils.
Also note that on the gray/green Harriers it was common to attach self-sticking clear acetate on the wing and stabilizer LEs to protect the paint. This means that the LEs should be glossy, not flat.
If you are building a Gulf War bird, everyone except VMA-231 used light ghost gray (36375) or medium ghost gray (36320) over the green. VMA-231 replaced the dark gray with 35237 blue-gray, and 36320 medium ghost gray over the green.
VMA-331 had the first all-gray Harriers. The first was aircraft 000, 'triple nuts' (Bu.No. 162069?). Triple Nuts turned into an oddity. It was sent to the Naval Rework Facility (NARF, now Naval Aviation Depot - NAD) at Cherry Point to be painted in a three-tone 36375/36320/36118 camoflage. Weeks went by. Our CO demanded to know what happened to his plane. Turns out NARF couldn't find any 36320 paint! So the plane was finally returned in all-over 36375 with 36118 on the spine, wing top, and LERX fairings. All markings were 36118 against the 36375, and 36375 on top of the wing.
Later, NARF found the 36320, and a/c 06 (162072, I believe) was painted correctly. The effects of the paint were striking. 06 would take off with a regular Harrier, and within minutes would literally disappear into the haze, while his wingman stood out like a crow.
The current scheme uses 36320/36231/36118. If you have the Superscale sheet for gray Harriers (and a 231 Gulf bird) they tell you to use B.S. colors on some of the planes. I find this VERY unlikely. I don't know the exact story of those birds, but I cannot figure out why -211 and -214 were using B.S. paints. I've been to Yuma, and there's nothing there, so I highly doubt they had stocks of B.S. paints lying around the hangars.
Aft (Hot) nozzles are a dark, somewhat brownish colored metal. The insides of the front (Cold) nozzles are the same color. Heat shields were titanium, a light grayish/ silver metal, very flat. No shine at all, even when new. Pitot tubes, AOA probe, and Air Data Sensor on the tail are dark steel. APU intake and exhaust, SAAHS nozzles (wingtips, tail and under the nose), and the visible areas inside the gun pod as well as the tube out the front were steel.
On the kit, you will notice lines at the LE of the ailerons and flap covers. This area was painted with a protective anti-chafe coating. The flap itself also had a visible line aft of the cover. On the ailerons the line is divided into three segments. Only the outer two get the coating. The root of the flap and the flap cover had the coating full span. This coating looked to be close to 36270. It is not noticeable in my photos of the newer gray scheme, but gray/green and -331's gray Harriers all had it.
RWR antennas on the wingtips and tail were light gray. The blade antenna under the nose was often white. The plate antenna in front of the ventral strake was black. There is a black rubber bumper on the bottom of the strake.
Speed brake and LIDS fence interiors and wells are the belly color.
The ARBS camera in the nose can be represented by placing a small drop of medium blue into the clear lens, and then silver on top of the blue.
The wind sensor on the nose has a phosphorescent strip along the top so it is visible at night. White paint will do fine here.
Pick out the nuts and bolts on the main wheels (parts 19) and the nose (parts 23) in gunmetal.
Paint the chaff/flare dispensers (part 17) black, drybrush silver to pick out the tubes, then represent chaff by placing a small drop of light blue into each tube.
Hopefully at the end of all this, you will have a great Harrier. And maybe then HyperScale will have more examples of the world's greatest airplane to compete with all the Messerschmitts!
Model, Text and Images Copyright © 2000 by Lance