1/32 SCALE MIRAGE IIIE BUILT AS A MIRAGE IIIRS
In my article I mention certain aftermarket products which I used in this
build. I have no connection with the makers, other than to have purchased
their product. My remarks reflect my unbiased opinions.
Circle, a small group of Swiss IPMS members, released a beautiful 1/32 scale
aftermarket kit of the exhaust and afterburner of the Atar 9C engine in mid-2006
As soon as I saw reviews of it, I ordered one. It arrived promptly from Europe,
crushed by the mail-gorillas. I took a couple digital snaps of the wreckage
and emailed them back to M-C. Within days a new set arrived intact, along with
a proof set of M-C decals for Swiss Mirage IIIRS aircraft. I mention the incident
only to indicate what a pleasure it is to do business with Matterhorn Circle.
These guys are good.
began building the exhaust right away. If the clear, copiously illustrated directions
are followed an exquisite Atar 9C exhaust results. The only thing is, one needs
an airplane to put it in, and not many of the world's aircraft used the Atar
9C. The only possibility I knew of in injection-molded 1/32 scale is the old
Revell Mirage IIIE kit. High Planes Models of Australia had some "re-released"
Mirages packaged with Australian decals, so I got one of those. When I opened
the box, I learned that Revell had renewed the copyright on the plans. The plastic
in the kit is probably spare sprues from the original mid-'70's production run,
Before I embark on the obligatory whine about the quality of the materials and
the blood, sweat and tears expended on improving the kit, some concessions are
needed. First, the Revell 1/32 kits of this era are pretty good representations
of the general (and I emphasize general) shapes of their subjects.
the market forces of the day did not warrant (or support economically) the intensive
research that goes into today's first-line kits. Third, the mid-'70's injection
molding technology could not reproduce the fine-grain detail we now take for
granted. I had the only 1/32 Mirage kit there is, and I was grateful. At least
it was a place to start. In the months that followed, I improved the representation
of the Mirage offered in this kit, but I made mistakes and reached compromises
of my own. I did the best I could, and I like the result. I also know that it's
still flawed, and that I produced many of those imperfections.
like to ease into a project, so I often start by building a military aircraft's
external stores. The Revell kit includes a pair of large subsonic drop tanks,
a pair of smaller high-speed external tanks, each of which was rigged with provisions
to carry four GP bombs in the 250 Kg range, the bombs themselves, and two old
Sidewinders. The big tanks resembled nothing in my Swiss references. The small
tanks with their crude bomb brackets were way off in shape. So off with the
brackets, out with the file, and hope for enough plastic to create a more acceptable
form. There was. Just barely. The mounting pylons, also incorrect, were molded
onto the tanks. Snip, snip; fill, fill; scratch, scratch. The bombs and Sidewinders
were discarded. I substituted a pair of unused modern 'Winders from the big
Academy Hornet kit and made AIM-9J front fins from .010" styrene. I then
shortened some spare launch rails to the dimensions of the Swiss equipment and
voila! I had appropriate stores.
experience set the tone for the rest of the build. I had to modify everything
in the kit, mostly for shape; sometimes for structural integrity. The wings
offer an example of the latter.. All four panels were warped, making assembly
an adventure. The resulting wings were so flimsy (and wavy) that I inserted
pieces of .040" styrene as cores. The inserts both stiffened the wings
and helped maintain the cross-sectional shape. Leading and trailing edges required
filing to scale thickness.. The gaps for the navigation lights at the wing tips
were too large and the leading-edge dog-teeth were too broad. I used bits of
.010" sheet to resize them. Although the vertical fin was not warped, its
shortcomings were otherwise like those of the wings. I thinned everything out,
reinforced the core, and separated the rudder.
fuselage halves did not fit together cleanly (warps) and the wings did not mate
properly with the halves of the fuselage. I decided things might work out if
I mated the wings to their respective fuselage halves and built the kit as two
After I had filled the chasms between wing-roots and fuselage halves, I removed
the roofs of the too-shallow main wheel wells and installed deeper walls and
roofs to create a more realistic impression. Since I had decided to display
the model as having just taken off, with the gear coming up, I knew these details
would be a focus of attention requiring improved depiction. My decision also
meant that I would have to rebuild the landing gear itself from scratch. More
on that later.
Many fuselage details had to be reworked. The Mirage intakes, for example, are
delicate structures with thin splitter plates and translating shock cones separated
by ramps and support rods from the fuselage's boundary layer. I replaced the
splitter plates with pieces of .005" brass and thinned the intake lips.
I then ground the ramp blobs and rod blobs off the fuselage halves and replaced
them with .010" card and .020" brass rod where appropriate. The parachute
container above the exhaust was misshapen and required replacement. The nose
pieces for the Mirage IIIRS version puzzled me. The camera ports were fictional
and the windows supplied (like all the clear parts) were unusable. I rebuilt
the nose, replacing most of the camera port area with .040" clear styrene
sheet cut from small plastic boxes. I then masked the correct camera ports when
I painted the aircraft.
canopy parts were short-shots. I made resin male molds, using what was in the
kit as a guide, then built the cockpit enclosure. I ended up fitting four separate
thermoformed clear sections into an .040" vacu-formed white styrene frame.
I do not recommend this technique. It was a last resort.
Building the airframe as two halves allowed me to create a sturdy internal support
for the hefty Atar 9C aftermarket unit. The rudimentary Atar 9C engine that
Revell provides has an afterburner segment exactly the length of the M-C resin/brass
replacement. I mounted the engine sans afterburner securely in one half of the
fuselage using additional internal bracing and checking alignment with the already-completed
M-C replacement. I could then install the afterburner after painting by simply
plugging it into its socket.
two-half approach also helped when I reworked the intake areas. I've already
discussed the intakes themselves. In addition I had to open the auxiliary blow-in
doors on the sides of the intakes, to refine the openings for the muzzles of
the two 30mm cannons in the Mirage III, and to make and mount the canard surfaces.
The doors were simple cutting jobs. The other two operations were trickier.
I fastened each half of the aircraft in turn to an X-Y table I have installed
on my Dremel drill press accessory. For the cannon ports, I drilled out the
correct holes. I then lined each one with thin-wall brass tubing and smoothed
it with Milliput before filing it to final shape. Using 1/16" brass tube,
a small vise, a razor saw and a file, I shaped a couple fairly decent blast-deflectors
which I installed with other small details at the end of the build. I also used
the drill press with the X-Y table as a milling machine to cut the mounting
slots for the canards. The canards themselves are shaped from .080" styrene
Finally, the two-half approach permitted me to work from both inside and outside
in deepening the aforementioned main landing gear wells. I did not detail the
wells themselves fully. Yet since the landing gear was bound to be a focus of
attention in the display I felt I had to produce a version of the machinery
which looked at least plausible. Hence the additional effort.
I had mated the fuselage halves, I sliced the nose of the model off along the
vertical panel line near the mid-cockpit point. I could now work on the recce
nose without jeopardizing the aft portions of the model (and vice versa), could
test-fit and remove the cockpit and pilot, and could box in the nose wheel well.
Since I wanted to show the aircraft on takeoff, obviously I'd need a pilot.
I didn't detail the cockpit, but I did spruce up the gunsight and add some paraphernalia
to the canopy bow.. My pilot is the head, torso and legs of an Academy Hornet-driver
with arms from a Trumpeter figure. I know of no 1/32 scale Martin-Baker Mk 6
aftermarket seats and I didn't want to scratch build one. So I used a spare
Mk 7 seat from Black Box. No, it doesn't look like a MK 6. It does look like
an ejection seat, however, and it does fit. I was willing to settle for that
compromise. When I was finished with my little guy and his escape equipment,
I was content. His oxygen tube is .015" solder wrapped around a piece of
.015" copper wire.
Mirage is famous for the profusion of doo-dads that stick out from the fuselage.
These details have to be rendered delicately, lest they appear ridiculous. All
blade antennas are filed out of .016" aluminum and include tangs that fit
into holes drilled in the surface of the aircraft. Fifteen vents and air scoops
dot the fuselage. I replaced the kit items with scoops made from .002"
aluminum salvaged from soft-drink containers. The three pitots in the cockpit
and camera area are aluminum, hypodermic tubing and steel wire. I also needed
to make the modern Swiss ECM suite for the IIIRS-the tail antenna, the two wingtip
antennas, and the chaff-flare dispenser beneath the trailing edge of the starboard
wing root-from styrene rod and sheet.
undercarriage and its retraction mechanism are scratchbuilt from brass, aluminum
and steel tubing, styrene stock and solder (hydraulic lines). I had to find
photos of the unloaded gear, since it would be bearing no weight after takeoff.
The Harnisch gallery www.harnisch-gallery.ch was a big help here. Since the
Revell main wheels look nothing like those on the Mirage, I had to scratchbuild
them, too. Rather than cast resin for the purpose, I made two separate wheels
and let it go at that. Finally I remade all the landing gear doors.
After the demanding construction phase, painting and decal application were
uneventful. I primed with thinned Mr. Surfacer 1000 and used Model Master enamels.
The afterburner is done in Alclad II stainless steel, tempered with a little
Tamiya Smoke and Clear Blue. The base and the sealer for the decals is Future
(Klear), cut 50% with 91% isopropyl alcohol The matte coat is Krylon clear matte
spray paint decanted from a rattle can and airbrushed. The decals themselves
are a mélange of Matterhorn Circle ALPS decals and homemade items. M-C's
decals worked nicely, though the yellow does not look correct (too greenish).
I "grayed out" the white areas on the Swiss roundels by overspraying
a thin grey enamel wash but otherwise left weathering alone because (a) the
aircraft themselves were quite clean and (b) I am not that proud of the rescribing
job I did.
To make the base graphics, I drew a plan-view of a typical runway end on plain
paper, placed the result on my dining room table, and shot digital pictures
from various oblique angles. I enlarged the one I liked best with Photoshop
and used the result as a pattern. All this to avoid constructing a two-point
perspective! I painted the runway graphics on lightweight matte-black cardboard,
fastened it to a blank of 5/8" exterior plywood and bound the edges with
red oak.. The plaque for the brass plate is also red oak; the plate itself having
been photoetched in .010" brass and clearcoated. To mount the airplane,
I bored a 9/32" hole in the back of the bulbous ventral strake, which I
had previously filled with Milliput. I lined the hole with brass tube with a
1/4" inner diameter. This socket accepts the brass tube from the base.
The aircraft, the base, and the support tube come apart for shipping.
Along the way Ms. Hari has been dropped three times, rescued from corrosive
fluids, and patched up frequently enough that she looks just a little shopworn.
She has stretched my ingenuity and tested my patience and taught me a good deal.
She was a unique adventure. Hope you like her.
Text, photographs and model copyright 2007 by Ralph B. Thompson