Thursday, November 3, 2011

Entex "Air Giants" Tupolev TU-144 SST

Supersonic Transports, or "SSTs" were all the rage in the mid to late sixties due to a vision these things would soon be darting the skies carrying passengers at speeds around Mach 2. Plastic model companies were quick to cash in on public enthusiasm for this new form of transportation, and produced kits of the three main SSTs on the drawing board at the time - the Boeing 2707, Tupolev TU-144, and BAC/Sud Concorde. Most of the kits were based on early concept drawings and public press releases, and were not all that accurate such as Lindberg's Boeing and Russian SST. Airfix came out with an early Concorde decked out in old BOAC markings. Revell had their famous Pan Am Boeing SST kit which included two planes, one with wings folded, the other with wings extended and landing gear down. Monogram had a simpler 2707 with wings back and gear up. Nitto in Japan and Plasticart in East Germany released excellent examples of the prototype TU-144 '68001' in 1/144 and 1/100 scale respectively. MZMPI in the Soviet Union had a rather crude prototype TU-144 somewhere between the two popular airliner kit scales.
By the mid-seventies however, the SST program in the U.S. had been canceled; only Concorde and TU-144 went into production. Both went through some design changes which altered their exterior appearance by the time they were ready for passenger service. TU-144's was the most dramatic; it was nearly a different airplane than the prototype. Due to the falling off of public interest in SSTs, model companies didn't take the extra time and money to upgrade their old versions of Concorde and TU-144. There was one lone exception however.
Fuji models of Japan, produced and small, 1:360 scale kit of the production TU-144 in Aeroflot markings. It also appeared on the Sunny label, as part of their "Sky Giants" series. This is, to my knowledge, the only injection-molded plastic kit of the production TU-144. Only recently has a resin kit appeared from Russia in 1/144 scale, of this historic airplane.
Entex marketed the Fuji/Sunny TU-144 in the U.S. under their "Air Giants" series of 'big planes in small packages.' These kits were sold at my local Gemco department store, were cheap, and I loved them. The TU-144 was one of my favorites because it was a Russian airliner, a subject hardly touched by American model companies. It's very crisp and accurate in scale, but does not include landing gear. The interesting thing is, the markings are for s/n 77102, the first production TU-144 that crashed at the 1973 Paris Airshow. The decals even have the number "451" which was the plane's registration number for the airshow. This is not the first time a model company printed decals for a doomed airplane, either before or after the tragedy. For example, Aurora's C-141 Starlifter "38077" crashed in Spain four years after the kit's release. Perhaps Fuji chose 77102 simply because it was the first ship to roll off the production line, and got the most publicity.

There's nothing to building this kit; it only has ten pieces, plus a three-piece display stand. My original looked pretty good back in '76, and this rebuild looks about the same since the TU-144 is all white. I would have left the plastic parts unpainted, but they yellowed a bit after forty years, so I sprayed it gloss white. I thought this might also help the original decals adhere, but they were mostly unusable except for the Soviet flag insignia. I used a set from the newer Academy version, which is identical to the Entex, except the decals are a little brighter and bulkier than the original. Amazingly, this is another one of those old Fuji/Sunny/Entex kits still in production today by Academy.

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