1/72 Airmodel/Airfix Northrop F-15 Reporter

Gallery Article by Carmel J.Attard on May 28 2014


Northrop F-15 Reporter


The F-15 Reporter was a descendant of the P-61 ‘Black Widow’. The P-61 was the first US aircraft was specifically designed as a night fighter. It had a brief but successful operational career both in Europe and the Pacific theatre before the termination of World War II.

In July 1944 the Photographic reconnaissance design was commenced, having dual controls under a tandem canopy and an adoptable fuselage to take anything up to 16 cameras. The original Double Wasp R-2800-65 engines were replaced by more powerful R-2800-C engines, which in combination with a more streamlined fuselage pod, gave a 70 mph increase over the Black Widow.

The F-15 was built for a crew of 2, seated in reclinable seats under a large single piece canopy. The rear seat was built with basic flying controls, allowing the occupants to relieve the pilot if needed. The job of the back seater was to control the cameras and navigate the aircraft. Both crew were rated pilots and trained in the reconnaissance task, so they usually alternated their position during each flight.

36 F-15A were produced, nine were allocated to Air Matterial Command in the US, and the other 27 shipped to the 8th PRS in Japan.At least three arrived in such a poor state that they were reduced to spares and two were written off in service.The heavy maintenance and lack of spare parts caused the P-61 very difficult to keep in the air. Some crewmen commented that the aircraft were “held together with baling wire”. Several factors included the advent of the jets such as the RF-80, led to the cancellation of the contract in 1947 hence only 36 airframes were complete along with two prototypes.

Production of the F-15A mostly utilized parts already produced for the P-61C, cancelled in 1946. To go in line with the USAF redisignation of all its aircraft types, the F-15A became the RF-61C since the F-15 was based on the P-61C airframe. The surviving F-15s were flown into storage at Tachikawa and most were scrapped.A small number were returned to the USA.

Following limited use by NACA and in Project Thunderstorm, the Reporter (and the Black Widow) was declared absolete in 1952. One aircraft joined the civil register and survived until 1968, when it was lost in an accident while fire-bombing.

While attached to the 8PRS 71st recon Gp, Itazuke, Japan in 1948 the F-15 Reporter performed several important tasks. This involved the Post Hostilities Mapping Program, together with F-13 (B-29) units. A major task was photo mapping the Korean Peninsula, the result of which proved vital when war broke out there in 1950.A detachment of F-15As including the aircraft 45-59323 was assigned the area of the Phillipines and Celebes under the 5th Reconnaissance Group of the 13th Air Force, and their mission included mapping the route to the Bataan Death March for war crimes prosecutors.

Up to 6 cameras of 17 different types could be fitted in the compact camera nose of the Reporter, which added 9” to its length over that of XP-61E on which it was based.


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The kit
Make: Airmodel kit 333 and Lone Star model P-61/F-15 Reporter LSM 70418 conversion kits, Airfix kits of the Black Widow series 4, and SAC metal undercarriage sets.
Scale: 1/72 
Type: The Airfix kits are injected models, the Airmodel kit is a vac-form conversion kit, and LSM70418 is a resin conversion F-15 kit. SAC legs are in metal.

For a long time the F-15 Reporter has been on the list of kits that I wanted to make. Two P-61 Black Widows were ready to be converted into Reporters, one using the Airmodel set and the other the resin Lone Star conversion set.

The Airmodel conversion set consisted of two fuselage halves; air intakes, exhaust pipes and a large canopy complete with kit instructions and scale plans. Utilising the Airfix cowlings was not going to be the ideal proposition since the Reporter had more cumbersome engine cowlings having more powerful engine types. I have made reference to Aviation News scale plans to decide on the corect shape of the fuselage as well as the engines.

Having bought the Lone Star resin kit I soon concluded that this was nearer to the true shape of the true Reporter and I based both models on the resin fuselage shape. The Lone Star kit being a more recent issue with more detail parts appeared just the right set and any areas on the Airmodel kit that looked out of shape could be remedied and corrected. The Lone Star kit contained the more accurate canopy and having a spare canopy too continued to encourage me to build two and make the necessary corrections to the vac-form kit. Lone Star gently assisted by sending me a spare set of engine cowlings for the second Reporter.

The first kit to build was the F-15 with Airmodel vac fuselage. The fuselage halves were first prepared and the nose wheel well cut and scratch built with all the details copies of the LSM resin kit. Wheel well detail and cockpit detail all added so that I finish with two Reporter fuselage sets. I had spare set of crew seats, instruments and all other detail made from plastic card and stretch sprue. Fortunitely I had a metal SAC set for one of the models. The other set I used the Airfix u/c legs, but replaced the nose wheel as the kit one was too small. It is here that I realized what huge advantage the SAC set offered over the plastic one. I broke the flimsy plastic wheel legs several times during the process of building, converting and paintwork and had the tedious job of fine drilling and implanting metal wire to save the plastic set.

The wing wheel wells were also further detailed, as those on the Airfix kit were bare. One has to mention here that the Airmodel fuselage had to be extended 3/8” to the forward nose area just ahead of the wind screen so that it was now of same length as the resn one which seem to conform with the side views shown in Aviation News V16, No6. Issue. The Airmodel fuselage was also corrected by building up with putty to the rear fuselage by 3/16”. Two camera fairings were also built up to the upper sides of nose area. The nose antenna differed from that of the Black Widow and was kinked to conform to side view. In the Airmodel kit, slots were cut in wing root to match the Airfix kit wing. With resin fuselage kit I drilled two dowel holes and added dowels to the Airfix wings instead of using the wing prints to take slots. The canopy was in each case cut with scissors then gently trimmed to correct sit on the cockpit by trimming little at a time with a sharp exacto blade. The canopy was fixed with Klear liquid once the interior was painted.

The LSM resin kit fuselage and parts practically all that was required was little cleaning and drill a hole to take the nose wheel which came from the Airfix kit but which needed a mud guard in same design as the SAC nose leg. The cowling exhaust port outlet was drilled a little deeper. In one kit I had to scratch build the wider chord propeller tips to same size as the resin offering. The Airfix propeller hub was also increased in length by ading a 1/16” thick ring at the base.

One should mention here that the LSM kit comes with a complet set of superb decal sheet to make any two of the Reporters built. Decal sheet is packed with registration numbers, of different size, star and bars with separate bars in the event the prototype is selected, walk way black lines, different nose and tail art etc. My fancy for the Airmodel converted F-15 fell on 559300 which carried bright red Arctic markings to the tail unit, wing tips and engine cowl front. This conformed to T.O.1-1-4 and it stands to reason that it also had black de-icing boots to wings and tail fins leading edges.

Color and Markings.
The resin converted kit was completed as 559323 of the 8th Photo Recon which carried the bird morif on a white background positioned on the tail fin, and a black ball with No 8 inscribed in a smaller circle motif to the nose area. The aircraft was slver overall with wing walkways painted in a mix of grey and silver forming a dull silvery area. The nose cameras were impressed in the resin set so that after the camera areas are painted black then Kristal Kleer fills the countersunk space. The two page color instruction sheet contained no less than two plan views and seven side views so that any of the 6 aircraft suggested could be built out of the decal sheet.

Cockpit interior was finished in dark green with matt black instrument panels and consoles. Side instruments were mainly black. The cuffed Curtiss Electric propellers were matt black finish with yellow tips. All wheel wells and inside of engine cowlings were zinc chromate. Engines silver with dark staining. Undercarriage legs were silver and dull silver.

Both the LSM resin kit and SAC metal legs were not intended to go on the Airfix kit but for the DML. In both cases these went equally well with the Airfix kit of the Black Widow. I should say that the LSM kit was the better conversion set out of the two. Anyone who enjoys conversion kits will find great satisfaction in making a Reporter. It was not a type with an eventful service history but the graceful design of the Reporter should appeal too many.

Wings of Fame Vol. No. 15.

Carmel J.Attard

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Photos and text © by Carmel J.Attard