1/72 LF Models Lockheed Altair

Gallery Article by Gabriel Stern on Feb 22 2011


   The Lockheed family (Altair, Orion, Vega, Sirius) and the Northrop family (Alfa, Beta, Gamma, Delta) share an appeal that it is easy to appreciate. Because of their exquisitely flowing lines and their aura of glamour they often become a reference paradigm of the Golden Era.

   Of its multiple feats and certain prowess much is already written to repeat it here, so go and look around if you are not familiar with the types and their achievements, you won’t regret it.

   The Lockheed Altair that is the subject of this build gained its place in history -as it seems to be the case for almost every member of this remarkable breed- attempting a record flight.

   I’ll refer you to Wikipedia where you will find enough to have a general idea of the facts involved with this particular subject:

   Surprisingly enough, and in spite of the fame and appeal of the types cited above, there is not really much about those magnificent planes regarding kits. The reason is clear, the industry is too busy producing the umpteenth kit of a really, really, really beaten to death and arch-known war plane. I bet you heard that before. So here again the minor players and the cottage industry –bless them- come to the rescue, this time in the form of the 1/72 LF models Lockheed Altair resin kit. As far as I can tell they released two schemes: J-BAUC (a Japanese civil machine) and a US “yellow wings” military version. But the fellow enthusiast that commissioned this model wanted Lady Southern Cross, a choice that I supported heartily. This friend sourced some decals –apparently sold at some point by the same LF- and we were all set. Or so we believed.

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   Upon arrival -after a couple of hand changes- the very small and thin gauge-lidded box revealed what seemed –more later- to be a decently molded resin kit, with good decals, TWO vacuformed canopies (thanks LF, modelers really do appreciate that) a photoetched set to cater for the cockpits’ details, a length of wire to reinforce the landing gear, a piece of clear styrene for the landing light and a fuselage window (more on that later) and the traditional resin parts attached to their casting blocks. The fuselage floor and the two joysticks were missing, because the pouch containing the resin parts had a slit (through which they possible escaped and are now lying on a Brazilian beach drinking piña colada). Manufacturer’s fault? vendor’s fault? laws of physics’ fault? We may never know.

   The wing, as I discovered, was a very, very close match to that of Special Hobby’s Lockheed Orion’s. They were so close, that you could replace one for the other and nobody will notice, if you know what I mean. Since pinholes were present on the LF kit wing leading edges and wheel wells, I used for this build Special Hobby’s injected wing (which was discarded when I scratched the wing for Wiley Post’s Explorer-Orion hybrid). The kit’s wing is of course perfectly usable just filling and sanding the pinholes as in many other resin kits.

   Since this kit uses a “generic” wing, you should take note that the machine depicted here had two oval landing lights on the wing leading edges (instead of the only square one). For what I can tell from photos,  J-BAUC (the manufacturer’s decal subject) did not have any lights at all on the leading edge, but who knows, may be at some point in its life?. Lady Southern Cross had a larger air intake on the engine clearly visible in contemporary photos. The fuselage window (present on other machines) was covered/painted-over here. Almost all the photos I have seen show the tail wheel semi-covered by a streamlined pant, so you have to manufacture a fairing for it or resort to the spare’s bin (that’s only if you are going for Lady Southern Cross). The instrument panels come printed in heavy stock glossy paper instead of being part of the decals, for some obscure reason.

   The instruction sheet shows on one side the intended model (the Japanese machine J-BAUC in this case) in colors and on the other side a part’s map and an exploded view which is so-so, perhaps a result of the just-mentioned explosion. The English text translation (this is a Czech manufacturer) can be understood, but it is a bit puzzling. What would it take for this manufacturer to ask one of his English-speaking costumers, better yet: one of its vendors!- to review a translation? three emails and an hour? I think it is not an exorbitant prize to pay.

   Fuselage sides proved to be lacking in width (they didn’t have a circular cross-section where applicable, but more of an ogival shape. The fuselage Karmans therefore won’t meet the upper wing halves’ edges, leaving a gap, whatever you tried the original resin wing or the left-over Orion’s wing. I had to add a strip of styrene to build-up some width to one fuselage side. That proved right because now the provided canopy would meet the fuselage as it should. I wonder if the LF guys ever built this kit. I clarify here that I only removed the casting blocks from the fuselage sides, and did not sand the parts flat which would have caused the lack in width; the shortcoming is the kit’s.

   The interior was assembled with the photoetched and resin parts provided adding only a few stringers for theatrical effect.

   Usually as I wait for parts to set I take care of the smaller items like engine and props. Once the prop was painted and decaled –my own decals- I noticed something strange –see image- the two blades were inclined to the same side, instead of making an “X” when viewed from the side. Either LF just re-invented the prop, or some crude mistake was made here. Again, coincidentally, Special Hobby’s Orion comes with a prop with separate blades that somebody may have assembled incorrectly before making a mold for the resin part. The solution was simple in this case as I had only to cut one blade and re-glue it at the right angle. Now, one could assume that not only LF didn’t assemble this model to check it, but also may perhaps have little knowledge on how a prop works.

   Metal pins were inserted on the tail surfaces and corresponding holes drilled on the fuselage. The wing internal side of the trailing edge had to be packed-up with a styrene strip to make the Karmans match more or less the wing profile as a compromise solution, since when you aligned the fore part of the area the back won’t align, and vice-versa.

   I noticed in photos a metal strip running along the middle of the canopy which is absent on the framing molded on the provided transparency, no big deal since a decal strip can be added there. Two “U” shaped parts for the landing gear legs were replaced, since the resin counterparts, although OK, looked a tad fragile. MV lenses were used to depict the lights, fine springy steel wire for the Pitot and so forth. There is a part provided as an interface between the engine and the fuselage which I discarded since it neither fit well nor was it realistic. I just made a disc of adequate thickness and glue it to the fuselage nose, then glued the cowl+engine to it. The fuel caps were fabricated from punched-out thin aluminum discs and glued.

   After painting it was decal time. This is the type of decal sheet that has an all-encompassing carrier, so you have to cut each item loose, trimming around it carefully. It caters for the four decorations that Lady Southern Cross wore (more follows Re that). We wanted to go for the G-ADUS registration that Lady Southern Cross was wearing when it went missing, flying into eternity, but the purchased after-market decal sheet has a couple of mistakes on that one. To start with, it didn’t have the upper wing registration, visible on photos. Then the fuselage registration was outlined which seems to be wrong (not for VH-USB, though, which was indeed outlined). So VH-USB it was. Knowing by experience what decals can be some times, I started applying some small items first. So far so good. But then I applied the black regs under the wing and the carrier film was showing so badly that I had to take them off. Since this lettering was in black I made my own decals and all went ok. The rest of the decals did work, but the way the cowl wrap-around white ribbon is provided (in four parts) made the alignment tricky, and when you had an overlap it will show.

   In spite of the already mentioned shortcomings (some minor, some not) LF put out there an Altair kit, and that’s a merit on itself. I can’t believe that the other related models on the market, Special Hobby’s Lockheed Orion and Williams Bros Northrop Gamma are the only similarly-oriented kits out there. Sad, isn’t it?

   For what I could see on their website, LF Models (to whom I am not related or affiliated in any way) has many interesting kits: a Monocoupe, some racers, some autogyros. I can not –since I have never seen or built one- comment on their quality or accuracy though, but I am glad they present a plethora of nice options to the modeler. Their price is similar to some other brands of resin kits of quality, so it is a matter for you to compare and choose.

   Lady Southern Cross was a great adventure for the historic characters; and no doubt a little bit for this modeler too.

Gabriel Stern

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Photos and text © by Gabriel Stern