The Portuguese Jaguars, No. 301 Squadron Portuguese Air Force ”Jaguares” is one of the many seasoned units who adopted the spirit of the great ”Tiger squadron” community. Special Tiger paint schemes are always prevalent at Tiger Meets. This colour scheme, fittingly representing a jaguar rather than tiger, was applied to one of 301’s Alpha Jets for the NATO Tiger Meet 2001. However, it also symbolizes the 50th anniversary of Força Aérea Portuguesa as the independent air force.
An extra peculiarity of this scheme was that the design extended (presumably as a see-through decal) over the rear cockpit hood, creating an illusion of a single-seat aircraft.
The Esci’s Alpha Jet
As it happened many times previously, the attractive paint scheme of this aircraft was enough to make me decide to model it in scale. Only then, when looking for a suitable kit, did I realize that kits of an Alpha Jet are not so easy to come by…. Where do you pick a suitable kit of an Alpha Jet? Back in the 1970s, this Dornier/Dassault trainer was quite popular with the kit manufacturers, but this interest now seems to be extinct. I managed to acquire an old second hand 1/48 Esci kit through a friend. Knowing Esci kits I expected nice quality compared to 1970s standards, requiring some additional work to bring it in par with present expectations.
When I opened the box for the first time I had to sit down… this was really the most basic offering. After comparing its major components with pictures and diagrams, my scepticism turned into desperation. The box was put aside for two months, while I kept analysing my options and gathering the courage to build it.
In the end, practically all of the kit’s parts were modified or replaced, so if the resulting models looks reasonably similar to the original aircraft, it’s not Esci’s merit!
I began with general thinning of parts. The wings in particular were extremely thick and with panel lines in wrong places.
As the kit lacked any interior detail, I created the new engine air intake duct from epoxy putty.
I opted to leave the landing gear covers closed, partially because this is the way they used to be on the ground, partially because the graceful lines of the aircraft are more emphasized this way. As an added bonus, I avoided having to detail the wheel wells.
More complexity was added instead in the form of opened airbrakes, detailed with aluminium foil and plasticard. I also substituted the engine exhaust nozzles with new ones of own construction, include their respective internal ducts.
The kit canopy was all wrong; I eliminated about 5 mm in its lower part and also corrected the windscreen, which was supposed to be flat and not curved as appears in the kit. To compensate the 5mm of space between the transparency and the fuselage, I filled this space with epoxy resin, trying to get the correct curvature. When ready, I traced all the panels and rivets on the new surface.
I turned a new wheel masters on my Unimat 1 lathe. Two copies of each were made in resin. The nose strut was built from scratch and the main struts were improved with some new pieces and some plumbing for the hydraulic systems.
I also rescribed all exterior surfaces using plastic templates.
The paint job
The model was primed with light gray paint to be able to detect possible surface blemishes and to correct them.
The first paint layer was Tamiya acrylic white X-2 applied to the entire model. While would serve as a base for application of other colours and decals.
Guided by the pictures of the real airplane and with the help of CorelDraw 10 software, I created graphics for the head and the claws of the Jaguar. It was important to get these images right, since their fidelity would affect the viewer’s perception of the entire model. The computer graphics was printed on decal paper and applied to the model as ordinary decals.
Now was the time to airbrush Tamiya acrylic gloss black X-1 on all the black areas of the airframe.
On the real aircraft the black spots were brush-painted, and this is also the way I applied them on the model.
At this point an alert reader might think ”wait a minute, what about the yellow?”. Don’t worry, it has not been forgotten, but yes, it will be applied only after all the other colours. Carefully considering the order of colour application, I came to the conclusion that the best option was to use acrylic Tamiya translucent orange X-26. This allowed for the yellow parts of the scheme to be applied freely on top of the black-and-white artwork, not affecting the black elements regardless of the if overspray. Moreover, the translucent paint allowed for easy application of subtle colour gradients of the yellow surface.
The panel lines and other surface detail was emphasized with a thin wash of dark brown tempera, applied liberally with a brush and then gently wiped off with a soft cloth moisted with water.
The model was now ready for the application of gloss varnish. Applying the successive coats of varnish, I sanded the model to blend together the decals, the airbrushed surfaces and paintbrushed details. It took seven clear coats to achieve a perfectly uniform finish.
I detailed the cockpit at this late stage of the project. The ejection seat was scratchbuilt with diverse materials and then reproduced in resin to preserve the original piece for future reuse.
The cockpit interior was completely reworked. The good thing with this particular aircraft was that I only had to produce the front cockpit since the rear one would be hidden by the paint scheme.
At this stage I fixed the elevons and the wings to the fuselage aligning them with the help of a cardboard template with the exact angle.
It took some research to sort out the armament stores appropriate for this machine. Some pictures of the 301 Sqn aircraft show four bombs Mk.82 HD and two launch rockets LAU 3 B/A 2.75.” and I found this configuration more visually appealing than the usual one with the external fuel tanks that can be seen on the majority of pictures.
The Mk. 82 HD bombs were modified bombs of a Hobbycraft Douglas A-4 Skyhawk kit. I installed the pylons with bombs and the LAU 3 B/A launch rocket, caring for their correct alignment with regard to the wing.
A this stage the airbrakes, navigation lights and all the various antennae and sensors were attached, an the project was finished.
A final word
This model in particular is an excellent example of how a modelling hobby can combine the handicraft and artistic work.
by Ricardo Dacoba