ESCI/ERTL 1/72 KC-135A Stratotanker Kit First Look
|Date of Review
|Best kit of this subject in any scale
|Out of Production
As the US Air Force continued to field more capable turbine-powered fighter and bombers, many of which were equipped for air refueling, a serious mis-match became a growing safety problem. The primary air refueler of the 1950s was the KC-97, a four-engined piston-powered airframe based upon the B-50 Superfortress wings and tail build around a new cargo fuselage. When the newer fighters air-refueled from the KC-97 which was flying as fast as possible, these fighters were approaching their own stall speeds which was further complicated as the refueling fighter became heavier from the incoming fuel load. The addition of two turbine engines on the KC-97L helped a little, but a high-speed tanker was required.
The Air Force ordered a tanker based upon the Dash 80 and subsequent 707 design, but the resulting KC-135 was smaller than the 707 and only slightly larger than the Dash 80. The initial KC-135A was powered by four Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojets and 732 examples were built. Refueling was accomplished using an updated flying boom system that equipped the KC-97 and an adaptor could be connected to the end of the boom to add a short length of hose and a droque for refueling older US Air Force and US Navy/Marine Corps fighter.
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 is the kit that started it all - the KC-135A Stratotanker released in 1992 as part of the Desert Storm series of kits. Shortly after the release of this kit, the ESCI brand was replaced by AMT (as AMT/ERTL) and future variants of this tooling were released under the AMT/ERTL banner. In 2005, ERTL sold most of their tooling to Italeri which is how we're seeing these kits come back periodically.
The ESCI/ERTL/AMT/Italeri KC-135 kits are an outstanding and this tooling remains today as the best of this subject in any scale. Molded in light gray styrene, this kit is presented on 18 parts trees plus one tree of clear parts. Assembly is straightforward and there are lots of nice details. Among the features and options in this kit:
- 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
- Detailed wheel wells and landing gear
- Detailed refueling pod with couches
- Positionable boomer window hatch
- Positionable air refueling boom
- Optional hose and droque attachment
- Nice J57 engine pods
Remember Scale-Master decals? These look as good as new! There are two subjects included in this release:
- KC-135A, 57-1423, 92 ARW, Fairchild AFB
- KC-135A, 56-3635, 93 ARS, Castle AFB
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.
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 KC-135A, AMT released the KC-135E and KC-135R with the progressively newer engines as well as a variety of C-135 variants. We'll take a look at these in the coming weeks.