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Airfix 1/144 Orion III Build-Up

By Steven S. Pietrobon - images & text © 2003

Scale: 1/144 - about 14" long when built
Parts: 17 injection molded styrene - includes stand
Instructions: 4 pages, bogus painting scheme
Decals: Waterslide, bogus scheme
Molding Quality: 8 - Pretty good
Detail: 7 - Has detail you don't see in movie
Accuracy: 5 - They could have done better
Fit: 5 - They could have done better
Ease: 5 - I didn't find it easy
MSRP: $22.00 USD (~$32.37 CAN/ 19.92 EUR) available from hobby shops and discount retailers
Overall Rating: 7 - Despite flaws, still looks good when finished

[Click to enlarge]

The Orion III shuttle in the book (which I first read in 1977) and film (which I first saw in 1978) always impressed me, so I was excited to get the second edition of the kit three years later on 18 June 1980 (I know this because I wrote the date underneath the lid of the cardboard lid of the kit).
Click on any image to enlarge
[Click to enlarge] [Click to enlarge]
[Click to enlarge] [Front view - Click to enlarge]
[Starboard side - Click to enlarge] [Top view - Click to enlarge]
[Bottom - Click to enlarge] [Rear view-Click to enlarge]
[With shuttle-Click to enlarge] (left) With my 1/144 Space Shuttle, built in 1980

However, I was soon disappointed that the kit did not include the original Pan Am markings (you can see the bogus scheme on the box cover), and I don't remember seeing the panels on the nose of the spacecraft. So I put away the kit hoping to buy the Pan Am decals one day.

Twenty two years later, a return in interest in model making, and 2001 decals from Griffon Games I set about building the kit. I used information from Starship Modeler, Underman's 2001 and a DVD copy of the film. The photos showed in fact that the panels were roughly correct.

It was interesting comparing the accuracy of the Aurora model with the Airfix kit. The Airfix kit has a vertical nose, instead of one slanting down, the front window is too small, the wrong shape and should be sloping at an angle, and the side windows are about 30% too large. The rear engine is also too high. The Aurora kit on the other hand does not have the top scoop and forward facing thrusters (inlets?) that go around the spacecraft just forward of the engines. The indentations on the nose and where the front of the wings meets the body are also missing. Surprisingly, the original Pan Am artwork for the Airfix kit appears more accurate, with correct size windows and engine.

I decided the build the kit as is. Although the kit has few parts (15) I found it difficult to build. The top scoop in the instructions is the wrong way. The larger open end should point to the back of the spacecraft. A lot of putty and sanding is required. One thing I should have done is cut the alignment (or more accurately, misalignment) pins on the fusalage. This would have reduced the amount of putty and sanding required and avoid the visual step on the ribbed area between the top scoop and engines.
Before gluing the wing halves together I painted the insides of the wing exhausts matte black.

I painted the interior matte black (I don't like the idea of painting the insides of the windows). Make sure that the fusalage joint between the two halves is sealed, otherwise the paint may seep through to the other side showing up as a thin black line. I used a liberal amount of glue to do this. Several thin coats of matte white were used for the outside. The windows, wing exhaust ports, and top exhaust port were masked with Tamiya masking tape, an excellent product (much better than any other tape I've used in the past). The engine and thruster exhausts were then painted matte black, with the engine detail on the inside painted gun metal. The Tamiya tape was again used to mask out the engines. I then attached the rear antennas, again with a lot of putty and sanding to smooth out the larges gaps. I left this part till last since I didn't want to damage the antennas while handling the model.

I then atteched the decals. The decals went on OK. I then tried painting the Pan American decal with matt clear. Oh Oh! The decal smudged and was ruined. The other decal also came off and was slightly damaged. I didn't want to pay another US$8.50 for another set of decals. So, I spent a couple of days designing the Pan American logo on my computer and printing on decal paper from Bare-Metal Foil & Hobby with my laser printer. I printed four decals and two Orion III decals for the stand. (You can download them here in PDF format. I then tried air brushing Microscale Liquid Decal Film on the decals, as recommended by the decal paper instructions. No joy, it just clogged my airbrush. Thinning the film with alcohol produced a spray, but produced a milky finish after drying. Rubbing alcohol on the film got rid of the milky finish. I then tried just painting the film with a brush, and this worked just fine!

Before attaching the new decals I painted the side air intakes and the top two foward thrusters, again using Tamiya masking tape to protect the areas I did not want paint. The decals went on fine, but after drying peeled off! I tried vinegar and white spirit to get them to stick, but no joy. I then tried the decal film and this did the trick, but the two decals were very weak and were damaged. Not to worry, I had two spares!

A word of caution, don't rub the decals after applying decal film! The circular Pan Am logo had started to peel a few weeks after the model was finised. I used the decal film to reattach the decal and while rubbing the decal to smooth out the bumps I slightly damaged it. Forunately I was able to repair the damage with some blue paint.

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the reviewer.

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