1/72 PM Northrop T-38 A

by Jaime "JGV" Vinha



Hi Everybody!


I give you my T-38 A Talon that I used in a group build on a Portuguese modelers forum.


The operational life of the Portuguese Talons began in the mid 70's and matched a serious overhaul in the country's Air Force.


From the mid 30s up until the 70's Portugal was emerged in a political regime not favored by most democracies along the world, and in spite it's condition of NATO member, the US lease of the Lages Air Base in The Azores, and the oldest active military alliance in Europe (with the UK), diplomatic pressure and weapons embargos weighed upon Portuguese armed forces, turning them practically obsolete.


The ongoing war in the African colonies meant that the military was oversized yes, but completely washed out. The front line aircraft were the F-84 Thunderjet (making Portugal the last country in the world to deploy it operationally), the F-86 Sabre (that were redrawn from service in Africa by US government imposition), and the Fiat G91, along with some T-6 G Texan and A-26 Invader.

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Photo 4



After the April 25th 1974 democratic revolution that ended the war leading to the colonies independence, Portugal began a new stage in its armed forces with radical cuts on its contingent and budget 

By this time the Portuguese Air Force lacked modern equipment and didn't even had a supersonic fighter, in opposition to most of European NATO countries who had long ago given up its Sabres in favor of more advanced aircraft such as the F-104 Starfighter or the F-5. The latter was severely considered as an option due to the performance, versatility and low maintenance cost of the airframe. 

In order to prepare the transition to the F-5, the US delivered 6 T-38's for advanced pilot training in 1976. These aircraft retained the white overall with black anti glare panel paint scheme used by the USAF. In 1980, 6 more arrived. 

By this time the F-5 was dumped in favor of Ex-US Navy A-7 Corsair's because of its anti-ship capabilities, but the 12 Talons remained with the PoAF being considered surplus in the US. From then on they were incorporated in training squadron "Esquadra 103" where they lived up the rest of their operational life until 1993 when replaced by the Dornier Alpha Jet. 

In total the T-38 served for about 20 years with the PoAF without losing a single aircraft or pilot and proudly remained the only mach capable aircraft in service until the arrival of the first F-16's.


Being a favorite of mine I always wanted to build a Talon, so when late last year in a local hobby shop I saw a 1/72 scale kit of the F-5B I jumped at the scene. The kit is manufactured by a brand called PM and provided me with a major opportunity:

  • 1)    A good subject to try some conversion / scratch building and expand my modeling skills

  • 2)    If it didn't work out quite well, the loss wouldn't be much of a drama (it cost me about  $4 USD ) 

Inside the box came several plastic parts "almost resembling" an F-5 B fuselage. Close inspection saw several sink holes, ejection pin marks and possibly enough flash to build another kit. The sprue gates were absurdly thick. 

The first step of research was to identify the main differences between the F-5B and the T-38. The wings and jet intake configuration struck me as the most prominent ones, apart from some kind of "housing" on top of the F-5 exhaust pipes absent on the T-38. In photos 2 and 3 you can see these changes taking place, as well as the "magnificent panel detail". Since this was going to be a modeling challenge along bold new paths, I went all the way and started re-scribing panel lines for the first time. I used various references from photos of the real thing to several reviews from fellow modelers, some of them on this site.

 Don't ask me for 100% accuracy on this one as it was difficult enough like this but I think it looks a little better as can bee seen in photo 4. In the same photo you can see the detailing of the wheel wells and the copious amounts of filler already sanded as flush as possible. 

The cockpit had no detail at all but the plastic canopy was so thick that it really wasn't necessary. I just added some things to the seats to make it all busier (head rests, seat belts, etc.).

Back to the canopy, after "chopping" some bits off I used toothpaste and Future to give it the best possible clarity. Still a lot of filler was needed to conform it to the fuselage. 


As said before these aircraft remained in the USAF White overall with black anti glare panel. For decals I had the roundels and fin flashes but the serials and stencils were cannibalized from my "left over's".

For the weathering I applied the usual panel wash followed by yet another experiment: To tone down the white I simply grinded some HB pencil, then picked the grind with a moistened brush and randomly applied it trough the fuselage. With a dampened kitchen towel I rubbed the residues thus creating a more believable smeared and dirty aircraft. Everything was sealed up by a coat of matt varnish. 


I know the model looks far from perfect but in spite all the kits faults that limited the final result (the absolutely terrible canopy being the worst of them all), the purposes I set out to do were accomplished and I feel I really have improved my skills, and most of all, I had a lot of fun doing it! 

So, have fun modeling and see you next time!!

JGV from Portugal

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Photos and text by Jaime "JGV" Vinha