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RC-135V Kit

ESCI/ERTL 1/72 RC-135V Strategic Recon Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review August 2014 Manufacturer ESCI/ERTL
Subject RC-135V Strategic Recon Scale 1/72
Kit Number 8956 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Best kit of this subject in any scale Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) Out of Production

First Look

RC-135V Kit
RC-135V Kit
RC-135V Kit

The KC-135 entered production in 1955 and the aircraft provided the much-needed air refueling capability for tactical and strategic aircraft at more comfortable airspeeds for the high-speed aircraft being refueled. It wasn't long before the KC-135 airframe would demonstrate even greater versatility. In late 1960, a KC-135A fresh off the production line was modified into the very first reconnaissance aircraft based on the C-135 airframe. 'Nancy Rae' (59-1491) was configured to monitor Soviet ICBM testing. Initially designated JKC-135A, Nancy Rae flew surveillance missions out of Alaska through 1963 when she was updated and redesignated as RC-135S Wanda Belle/Rivet Ball. The success of that first reconnaissance platform led to other variants which would feature even more distinctive modifications.

The RC-135V Rivet Joint is one such configuration which evolved from the RC-135C Big Team program. The airframe is distinctive with the 'polar pig' nose and cheek pods mounted ahead of the wings plus a wide array of antennas. Over time the aircraft have been updated internally with the latest in mission equipment, and externally with much-needed engine upgrades. The J-57 engines (many equipped with water-injection for additional take-off thrust) that powered the early -135 aircraft were replaced in the 1980s with TF-33 turbofan engines from surplus 707 airframes, then later with the F108 (CFM-56) engines used today.

I recently acquired a number of C-135/707 kits in 1/72 and thought it might be worth a look at these kits given that they are still available at kit swaps and a periodic release. This release is the RC-135V circa 1980/90s after receiving the TF-33 turbofan engines. The KC-135A kit we examined previously was powered by the J-57 engines. This kit shares most of the sprues from that release and the images above show the new sprues unique to this release. Please follow the link above to see the complete KC-135A parts images.

You can see in the images above that new fuselage halves were created with the integral polar pig nose which was an interesting choice rather than molding a new nose for the KC-135A kit fuselage. We'll be seeing other unique fuselages in later installments of this series. In addition to the new fuselage halves, five new sprues were created including the TF-33 engine pods (two of which have the generator fairings in the pylons). Check your references as some of these aircraft had three generators. Among the features and options in this release:

  • Nicely detailed cockpit complete with pilot, copilot, navigator and flight engineer stations
  • Detailed cargo floor with O2 bottle stowage
  • Positionable crew entry hatch with ladder
  • Positionable cargo door (blocked by the cheek pod unless you do some surgery)
  • Detailed wheel wells and landing gear
  • Nice TF-33 engine pods
  • New cheek pods
  • New refueling pod fairing
  • New HF antennas for the outboard wings
  • New antennas for under the fuselage

Note that the cargo door is blocked in this kit by the cheek pod. There are photos out there that show the cargo door open so you can do some surgery to the pod to have that feature, though you'll have to scratchbuild a portion of the interior which might be good reason to leave the door closed...

Remember Scale-Master decals? These look almost as good as new! There are three subjects included in this release:

  • RC-135V, 62-4139
  • RC-135V, 63-9792
  • RC-135V, 64-1484

There are lots of details and possibilities in this kit, but do note that one of ESCI/ERTL's and AMT/ERTL's common kit 'features' is the use of a soft styrene for their kits. You may not notice it right away, but larger kits like this C-135 series and their B-52 series will start to sag over time. I've see a few of these beauties hanging up in different collections and the wings start to sag. The fix is easy - install a Plastruct styrene I-beam or L-beam as a mainspar in each wing and there will be no sag. The spar will also reinforce that overlapping upper/lower wing joint.

If you have the KC-135A, KC-135R, and this kit, you have all three engine sets for the -135 airframe. This provides some interesting mix and match possibilities such as backdating the RC-135V with the J-57 engines or bring it up to date with the CFM-56 engines and backdate the KC-135R to the KC-135E (for example). With all of the variants of this aircraft that have served and many of which continue to serve today, you have lots of possibilities to create something distinctive on the contest table!

Once upon a time, kits as large as these were widely available but not that popular just due to their sheer size in the box as well as built-up. These days however, this kit is not that large given the growing trend of 1/32 scale kits out there. If you've got one of these stashed away, perhaps it is time to dust it off and give it a try. In addition to the RC-135V, ESCI/ERTL reissued the KC-135A and released the KC-135R with the different engines as well as a variety of C-135 variants. We'll continue our look at these in the coming weeks.