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KC-97L Stratotanker

Academy 1/72 KC-97L Stratotanker Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review April 2006 Manufacturer Academy
Subject KC-97L Stratotanker Scale 1/72
Kit Number 1606 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Nice Details Cons Lack of Engine & Supercharger Details
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $55.00

First Look

KC-97L Parts
KC-97L Parts
KC-97L Parts
KC-97L Parts
KC-97L Parts
KC-97L Parts
KC-97L Decals

Necessity is the mother of invention. When Ira Eaker and his team wanted to set an aircraft endurance record in 1929, they would become the first pioneers of aerial refueling. The goal was to keep their Fokker monoplane, nicknamed the "Question Mark", aloft for a new world's record. They did so by sending up a second aircraft to pass fuel down to the Question Mark so the crew could keep their aircraft aloft. They set an endurance record of 150 hours (over six days) without landing. The concept of aerial refueling was born.

Through the ensuing years, and especially during World War II, the concept of air refueling was toyed with, but never employed operationally. It wasn't until the US Air Force had entered the 'jet age' after World War II before the necessity would re-appear.

It was becoming obvious that the fuel-hungry turbine engines would not allow this new generation of fighters and bombers to venture far from home base without a means to refuel them. In order for the new Strategic Air Command to get its jet fighters and jet bombers to support its global reach strategy, they turned to aerial refueling.

Using modified B-29 Stratofortresses as tanker platforms, the USAF looked at a number of different approaches to aerial refueling. One involved wing-tip to wing-tip linkage to pass fuel. The US did not adopt this technique operationally, but the Soviet Union used it for some of their bombers.

Another technique, the 'probe and drogue,' involves reeling out a hose from the tanker and having the receiving aircraft 'plug' into a coupler at the end of the hose with a refueling probe mounted on the receiver. This technique was adopted initially by the USAF, universally by the USN and USMC, and is the most common type of air refueling around the world today.

The technique adopted by the USAF reversed the probe and drogue process. Instead of the probe being mounted on the receiving aircraft, it is mounted on the tanker. The receiver has a receptacle installed on the airframe that opens to allow the boom operator on the tanker to 'fly' the probe (or boom) to the receptacle and 'plug in'.

While many early USAF jet fighters were capable of boom or probe and drogue refueling, the bombers were dedicated to the boom. Supplementing the early KB-29 tankers, the Boeing KC-97 became the mainstay tanker for the Strategic Air Command.

After the Korean War, the Tactical Air Command was also seeing the advantages of aerial refueling for long-haul ferry fights and extending combat reach. In addition, the number of tankers available to the USAF were increasing to the point where TAC could use them as well. Unlike the bombers, however, TAC's family of century series fighters were not designed to fly near stall speed behind a propeller-driven tanker while they became heavier as fuel was pumped aboard.

A few visionaries came up with the idea of replacing the outboard wing tanks of the KC-97G with single engine turbine pods, like the outboard engine pods of the B-47. The additional thrust of the two turbines would give the KC-97 enough additional forward airspeed to allow the century series fighters to refuel more safely. This variant would become the KC-97L.

This was the version from Academy's Boeing 377/C-97 series that I had been waiting for. This was the version of the tanker that I had seen in my early Air Force career that was the workhorse of the Air National Guard units around the country. It was too bad that the USAF never re-engined the KC-97 with the same power packs as the C-130 (much as Aerospace Lines did to convert the Boeing 377 to the Super Guppy). The KC-97 would have been an ideal platform to air refuel the special mission C-130s, but by the time the KC-97 was finally phasing out, the air-refuelable C-130 was just entering the fleet - the joys of refueling a C-130 with a KC-135 had yet to be appreciated.

As with the previous releases of the kit, the plastic is molded in light grey plastic, features scribed detailing throughout, and is free of flash. As to be expected with a kit this size and complexity, there are a few ejector pin marks in some visible spots. The only difficult ones to deal with are in the nose gear bay (though it will be hard to see them when the kit is assembled). The nose gear doors and the main gear doors all have ejector pin marks on the inside, and though they are accessible, it will involve removing rivet detailing to remove them. There is one ejector-pin mark in each main gear bay, but these are easily accessible and can be dealt with easily. Those are the only pin problems I could find, and those are quite minor.

The wing flaps are molded separately, but will still require some sheet plastic on the flap and some rib-work inside the flap well if you chose to drop the flaps. The other flight control surfaces are all molded in-place, but this is not a big issue as it was unusual to see flight controls displaced (unlocked) on the ramp.

The cockpit in this kit, as with the earlier releases, is very nicely done and only requires seatbelts/Harnesses in the crew seats to round out the basic appearance. Because the cockpit sits inside a greenhouse, it offers some additional opportunities for detailing, should you be so inclined. Also, unless you have an abundance of shelf space to park this bird after it is completed, you might consider installing crew figures in the seats so it won't look so unusual hanging over your desk. While there are no crew figures included with this kit, and if you don't have several dozen in your parts box leftover from other projects, a number of companies (like Hasegawa) offer 1/72 crew figure sets.

One minor criticism of the kit is the lack of detail in the engines. The KC-97 was powered by four 3,500 horsepower R-4360 Wasp Major engines, but the engine faces and the area around the turbo-superchargers are a bit plain on the kit. However, Cobra Company came to the rescue. For more information, see the release notes at the end of this article.

The decal sheet in this kit is large and quite impressive. Markings are provided for six different KC-97Ls:

  1. Ohio ANG 22630 'Zeppelinheim'
  2. Illinois ANG 20884
  3. Wisconsin ANG 20905
  4. Arizona ANG 30208
  5. Texas ANG 30243
  6. 123 Sqn, Spanish AF

The decals provide an extensive array of maintenance stencils in addition to the national and unit markings. You'll definitely want to save any left-over markings for future bomber or transport projects.

Another resource available to finish your KC-97 has been released from Airway Graphics International, sheet number AGM7-002. See the release notes below. The information contained in this set will be invaluable for your Academy C-97 project.

A note on aircraft finishes. These birds may have started life in bare metal, but they didn't stay that way long. While the KC-97Ls stationed at Phoenix-Sky Harbor Airport (Arizona ANG) were usually shining and mostly bare metal, the aircraft of the Illinois and Ohio ANG were painted ADC Grey (FS 16473) in large areas (usually the underside of the aircraft) and the rest of the bird was not-so-shiny bare metal. Why? Corrosion. The desert-based aircraft had little exposure to the corrosive elements, but the birds stationed up north were operating off of runways laced with salt to clear up ice during the winters. Most folks know what salt does to painted/corrosion-controlled automobiles; so bare metal was far more vulnerable to corrosion. Metal panels that required protection began getting painted, and eventually whole areas of the aircraft were painted as a precaution. Check your references.

This kit was another excellent release from Academy that lends itself to a nice model straight from the box or a show-stopper with a little modeling savvy. Due to its size and complexity, I would be reluctant to recommend this kit to pre-teen modelers, but anyone else would have no problem building this kit. Good show Academy!

My sincere thanks to MRC for this review sample!

Release Notes

  • Cobra Company has released a detail set containing four complete engines and nacelles that go back through two rows of cylinders (the kit only reveals the first row). They've also corrected the profile of the engine cowlings, added the missing exhaust fairing to the cooling flaps, and provided detailed replacements for the turbo-superchargers. This set also provides two replacement nose wheels and four main wheels with the correct "late" wheel hub designs appropriate to the KC-97. Finally this set provides nose wheel steering cylinders, a large antenna fairing found on the bottom of the fuselage just behind the nose gear and the two position-keeping "strip lights" that go on the belly of the late KC-97 aircraft
  • Airway Graphics International released set number AGM7-002 for the C-97, HC-97 and KC-97 series. There are markings in this set for twelve (12!!) different aircraft. The decals themselves are on two letter-sized sheets. In addition, the set includes some useful color profiles and detail notes on each of the 12 aircraft represented. This is one of the most impressive decal sets I've seen to date. Unfortunately, Airway Graphics International went out of business and the KC-97 decals are no longer available for now. You'll have to keep your eyes open for a set on eBay or your local hobby flea market