Thursday, January 15, 2015

Al Letcher's Mojave Meteor and Vampire in 1/48 Scale

The memory of those Saturdays spent at Mojave airport in the 70s are very special to me, and I'm happy to have finally built proper models of the two airplanes I loved to watch fly back then: Al Letcher's Armstrong Whitworth Meteor NF.11 and Dehavilland Vampire F3. Classic Airframe's 1/48 scale Meteor and Hobbycraft's Vampire in the same scale were perfect for this project. As I mentioned earlier on this blog, at the time I used to see these planes fly out at Mojave, there were no model kits of the night fighter version of the Meteor, or the early Vampire.

Classic Airframe's Meteor NF is a short-run injection kit from the Czech Republic which came out around ten years ago. It's moulded in a dark gray, brittle styrene plastic. The canopy is a horrible one-piece translucent thing, and mine had cracks in it from the factory. The pieces fit together poorly, and needed much filling and sanding, especially around the wing roots and engine pods. This didn't bother me though because I knew the whole thing was going to be sanded smooth and painted overall gloss white.
Al's Meteor was delivered to him straight from the U.K. bearing faded Royal Navy markings from it's last days in service as an aerial target tow plane. Al had the towing gear removed in England before the ferry flight across the pond. Not long after it arrived at Mojave, he had it completely covered with gloss polyurethane white to keep the aircraft cool while parked in the hot desert sun. Even though he wasn't concerned about historical accuracy with the paint job, he did have the correct size and style RAF roundels applied. He did not apply any squadron lettering or numbers. The only additional markings other than the roundels were very small registration numbers under the horizontal stabilizer, and "experimental" below the canopy opening. For my model, I chose not to duplicate the registration numbers or the "experimental" but I did apply the correct size and style roundels. I had to do some small modifications such as remove the guns from the wing leading edges, and scratch build a small antenna of some kind just aft of the front wheel well, and another antenna or vane underneath the left engine pod. I have no idea what these were on Al's Meteor; I wasn't able to find any reference to these on the internet either in pictures or schematics. They could have been something associated with the target towing role.
As for the Vampire, Al bought his F3 from a guy named Pete Regina in Van Nuys Ca. Pete had purchased the Vampire from another owner either in the late 60s or early 70s, and had it in restoration for a few years. Pete had a zero-time surplus Goblin engine installed, and painted the airplane to look like an RAF Vampire, even though this particular F3 flew operationally with the Canadian Air Force. When Al bought it from Pete, it apparently didn't need any work on the outside, so it stayed in its ersatz RAF scheme during it's tenure at Mojave. I chose to replicate this on my model, using Testors Model Master RAF Medium Green and Sea Gray. The underside is gloss silver with no roundels or squadron lettering, as per the actual airplane back then. I have no idea if Pete Regina's RAF squadron markings and lettering were correct, or if it was something he made up just to look like an RAF Vampire. At any rate, I applied "YG" and "VN68" using spare USAF lettering decals, with some correct Vampire roundels.
I love having these two models together on my office bookshelf. They were two very special airplanes in those days. At the time
the Vampire was the oldest jet airplane flying in the U.S. It flew pretty much continuously under different owners until just a few years ago when it crash landed and was totaled in Wisconsin. The Meteor was retired to static display sometime in the early 1980s and I think is still somewhere around Mojave or Edwards AFB.


  1. Looks great. Did you airbrush or hand paint the camo using masking tape?

    1. I masked using tape, then airbrushed. Thanks for writing in!