by: Tim Hatton [ ]
I have to admit from the start that the SR-71 Blackbird has to be one of my all-time favourite aircraft. The ‘HABU’, so called after the venomous snake that inhabits the area around Okinawa, is built for speed and to fly high, very high, which is just as well as this particular aircraft is only armed with cameras and sensor for its role as an information gatherer. As a reconnaissance aircraft the HABU has great flexibility in the type of sensors it can carry, thanks to the interchangeable nose. Three different suites of sensors can be carried:
-Optical Bar Cameras [OBC]: high resolution cameras.
-Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar [ASAR]: high resolution radar imagery.
-Capability Reconnaissance Radar [CAPRE]: which was a precursor to ASAR.
It’s worth noting that for its missions during ‘Operation El Dorado Canyon’ , 980 was tasked with providing bomb damage assessment following joint USAF and USN strikes against Libya during April 1986. The Pentagon required intelligence images that could be declassified for use by the media. 980 and another HABU were fitted OCB sensors as the ASAR system was a system that the Pentagon did not want anyone to know about. As a result the HABU’s had to fly several missions to acquire sufficient imagery for assessment. The biggest problem using this sort of sensor was the weather conditions over the target areas.
The Testor’s kit depicts the SR-71 with the OBC sensor suite, which is fine for 980 during ‘Operation El Dorado Canyon’ but the rest of the aircraft covered in this release use ASAR or CAPRE sensors. Thankfully the good folk at Afterburner describe how to convert the nose of the kit.
Inside the resealable transparent bag is:
-4 x A4 pages of colour guides including the front cover.
-2 x A4 pages of stencil guides.
-1 x A4 sheet of decals.
-1 x small sheet of decals.
Markings include :
SR-71A 61-7980: April 1986 & 1990. During the spring of 1986 980 took part in ‘Operation El Dorado Canyon’. This operation saw 980 fly a number of reconnaissance missions over Libya. Each mission is recorded as a camel painted on the port nose gear door. The scheme from 1990 features a badge on both sides of the outside fin depicting a SR-71 in front of a dart board. This aircraft was the last Blackbird built in 05/16/67.
SR-71A 61-7962: early 1990 & 1990. Currently on display at the Imperial war Museum, Duxford. early 1990. The outer surfaces of the tails of the earlier scheme have a white skull and crossbones painted on them. The latter  scheme has a snake wrapped around the number one in red on the tail.
SR-71A 61-7968 ‘DBX’: 1989. ‘DBX’ set the endurance record for a SR-71 on 4/26/71, flying 15,000 miles in a flight time of 10.5 hours. 968 is currently on display at Virginia Aviation Museum, Richmond, VA.
SR-71A 61-7979 ‘Night Hawk ’: 1990. The tails are adorned with illustrations of a white winged female figure. 7979 is currently on display at Lackland AFB, Texas.
SR-71A 61-7958: 1990. Features an illustration of a white coiled Cobra on both the outer surfaces of the tails. This HABU set the world absolute speed record in July, 1978 of 2,193 mph as well as the 1,000 km closed course speed record of 2,092 mph.
SR-71A 61-7972: 1990. A skunk on a white background adorns the outer surfaces of the tails. 972 set a record time of 1 hour 7 minutes for flying between Los Angeles to Washington DC. This particular Blackbird featured as the character ‘Jetfire’ in the second Transformer film. 972 is currently on display at the National Air & Space Museum’s UDVAR-HAZY centre, Dulles, Virginia.
SR-71A 61-7967: 1997.
SR-71A 61-7971: 1993. Tails have NASA painted in red on a white strip.
SR-71A 61-7973: 1985. 973 was one of the first Blackbirds to receive the red low observable markings. The national insignia and USAF titling were later deemed unnecessary and not used on the rest of the fleet. As such this is the only Blackbird with national insignia.
All aircraft are finished in the distinctive flat black [FS37038] painted overall. In reality because of the rigours of flying in excess of Mach 3, the black paint faded to a very dark grey.
Stencil guide: provides upper and lower plan views with three separate diagrams illustrating the stencil placement around on the both sides of the crew area and the port engine air intake. There are red coloured frame outlines for the canopy and windscreen. There are enough stencils to complete two aircraft.
Instructions: there are full colour views of the portside of each aircraft to aid the placement of markings. There are upper and lower plan views providing the guidance for applying the walkways. There are very useful smaller illustrations for the placement of decals around the outside of the crew’s cabin and around the port air intakes. Also included with the instructions are suggestions for update sets from Fisher Models & Pattern including replacement exhausts, wheels and FOD covers.
Decals: the quality of the print by Cartograf is simply stunning. Decals are glossy with a minimum amount of carrier film and excellent colour depth. All the written stencils are sharp and legible, even the tiniest of stencils, that you have to view with a strong magnifying glass. There are enough stencils and wing walk ways for two aircraft, but there is nothing to stop the modeller from using the kits stencils to be able to utilise even more of the above markings, although I think most modellers will be struggling find in space for three 1/48 scale Habu’s.
Application: Decals respond very well to Microsol, you will see the decals crinkle slightly, but don’t be tempted to brush out the creases. I found that the decals conform very well to low relief detail. Afterburner has reduced the amount of carrier film to a minimum so do not attempt to cut to close to the decal in order to reduce the amount of carrier film. It’s not necessary. In fact it is well worth your while taking a close look at some of the markings to determine the extent of the carrier film. You will notice that the carrier film will follow the shape of the letters or stencils very closely rather than surrounding them with excessive carrier film. This does have an effect when moving decals from the sheet to the model and you need to move them with a little caution. As there is little carrier film the decals look almost painted on after a coat or two of Kleer.
This is another superb release from the team at Afterburner Decals. They just keep delivering these subjects with all the enthusiasm and dedication too accuracy and quality we have now come to expect from this company. I for one am very pleased and surprised to see decal releases for the Blackbird. Surprised, well the Blackbird is not exactly well known for displaying colourful markings. Outstanding Afterburner, outstanding.