Friday, April 27, 2012

FROG Gloster Meteor Mk.IV

There's a much bigger story around this FROG 1/72 scale Gloster Meteor Mk. IV than just having built it when I was eleven years old. The bigger story is, I got to spend time with a real Meteor at Mojave Airport. It was owned by Al Letcher, and was actually an Armstrong Whitworth N.F. 11, later converted to a TT-20 target tow vehicle. Al also owned a DeHavilland Vampire Mk. III, and at the time (1976) they were the oldest two jet aircraft flying in the United States. I came to know Al because my Mom got a job as his secretary at The Letcher Mint in Lancaster. Al minted tokens for Las Vegas and Reno casinos, and also commemorative coins for the collector's market. His desire back in those days was to own and operate a Royal Air Force museum there at Mojave. He got off to a pretty good start with the Vampire and Meteor, and later a Hawker Hunter! But by the mid 1980s his interest wandered to helicopters, and all three jets were eventually sold. The Meteor now sits in a museum at Edwards AFB. But for those few glorious years in the late seventies, Al's Meteor graced the skies over the Antelope Valley. It was even used in the WONDER WOMAN T.V. series episode, "The Feminine Mystique" guised as America's new secret weapon, the 'XPJ-1'.

As I mentioned in my post about the Grumman HU-16E Albatross, Mojave Airport was a magical place for a plane-crazy kid like me. Al's own aircraft made the place even more exciting. Al would let me sit in the cockpits of the Meteor and the Vampire, and that was a real privilege. He even let me scrub the underside of the Meteor with kerosene! How many 11-year old kids get to do that? I treasure the memories of Al and his wife Ada; they were like family to me. Al knew I liked to build model airplanes so he gave me a FROG Meteor MK. IV kit along with a FROG Vampire FB.5. I remember him telling me there weren't any models available of the exact variations of his Meteor and Vampire, and that the two FROG kits were about as close as one could get. I didn't care, they were model airplanes and I was thrilled to receive them and put them together. They were prized items in my collection, and I even refurbished the Meteor when I was in High School. I gave it a coat of silver with my airbrush, and put some new decals on it.
My rebuild pictured here was a bagged kit I found at a model swap meet in Missouri, but I later found an empty box for it on EBay. The kit was missing the display stand and the pitot tube, but that was okay. I knew I was going to build it wheels-down and the pitot tube would easily be replaceable with either plastic or brass wire. It was fun to build again, and easy to paint since the whole thing is silver. The original decals were thick, but went on fine. I love having this model back on the shelf. It meant a lot to me to as a kid, and still does today.
I should mention also that Matchbox eventually came out with an A.W. Meteor NF in 1/72 scale as well as Classic Airframes, who released a beautiful but dreadfully expensive Meteor NF in 1/48 scale. In 2006 I built a Matchbox Meteor to look like the XPJ-1 from WONDER WOMAN. I put it up for auction on EBay as a one-of-a-kind collector's item, but it didn't generate many bids. I might do another one later to match Al's white 'Mojave Meteor' from days gone past. Al painted the meteor gloss white, and put RAF roundels on it. He knew this wasn't historically accurate, but was more concerned about keeping the aircraft cool since it was kept outdoors in the hot desert sun.

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