Special Hobby 1/32 X-15A-2 with Ground Dolly Kit First Look
By Peter O. Johnson
|Date of Review
|North American X-15A-2 with Ground Dolly
|Styrene, Resin, PE
|Nice detailing inside and out
The X-15 is perhaps the best-known X-plane. North American built three X-15s, with the design goals of reaching 250,000 feet altitude and a speed of Mach 7. The second X-15, the subject of this kit, first flew on 4 Sept 1959. Following a crash landing at the end of its 31st flight on 6 Nov 1962, the second X-15 was rebuilt as the X-15A-2. The fuselage was lengthened, external fuel tanks were added, and various systems were upgraded. The rebuilt aircraft flew 22 more times from 25 June 1964 until 3 Oct 1967. For its final flights, the X-15A-2 was coated with an ablative heat shield. The ablator was designed to char, thus dissipating the high heat loads caused by the X-15’s high speed. On its final flight, the X-15A-2 reached a speed of Mach 6.72, over 4,500 mph. The ventral fin was heavily damaged by shock waves. The aircraft was repaired, but was never flown again. Today it is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
The X-15A-2 flew four powered flights with the external tanks. The kit’s configuration represents three of these flights, using the original lower vertical fin and without the white ablative coating applied. The kit can also be built without the external tanks, representing 18 earlier flights. (To model it without tanks, use the original release, which is much less expensive. No sense spending money for parts you won’t use.)
The kit comes in a sturdy tray-type box with a corrugated bottom. Special Hobby also uses the tray-type box on their 1/48 Douglas Skystreak, and for me it’s a welcome change. For the X-15, the box needs to be strong – this large kit weighs in at almost 2 pounds. The resin, PE, acetate and decals are attached to a separate cardboard insert, so they won’t be damaged by rattling around with the large injection molded sprues. The instructions comprise 16 pages of detailed assembly instructions and 5 pages of markings for two flights. The largest difference in markings is the external tanks, which had different high-visibility markings for each flight. In addition to the exploded drawings, the instructions are enhanced with “INFOviews” showing completed assemblies. These are very helpful for clarifying the position of the many resin and photoetch details.
Cybermodeler looked at the original release of the kit, without the dolly or external tanks, here. The basic airframe, cockpit, landing gears and engine have not changed. Rather than restate what has already been written, I will focus on the external tanks and ground handling dolly that are added to this new release.
The external tanks comprise two new sprues for the body of the tanks, plus numerous resin and photoetch detail parts. Wire is included to create the plumbing and wiring runs along the upper surface of the tanks. Each tank is a model in itself, with about 40 individual pieces. “INFOviews” of each tank show the layout of the wiring and details. The two tanks are not identical, so care is needed to get the details right. The expanded decal sheet includes a comprehensive set of stencils for the external tanks.
Ground Handling Dolly
The ground handling dolly is equally complex. The dolly is made up of 73 resin, photoetch and wire pieces, with no injection-molded parts. This accounts for the majority of the resin pieces added to this version of the kit. A four-view drawing of the finished dolly is provided to help get everything assembled properly.
The original release contained one clear resin and one vacuformed canopy. This release contains one injection-molded clear canopy. Unfortunately, the canopy lacks any interior detail. This will need to be added if the canopy is displayed in the open position.
A decal sheet has been added, which includes the many stencils applied to the external tanks. The main decal sheet is the same as the original release.
The PE fret has been considerably enlarged, adding 29 parts to the original fret. The extra parts apply to the external tanks and dolly.
A Few Problems
Although the kit is excellent overall, it does suffer from a few dimensional problems. The wings are mounted 0.1 inch too far aft. This is an easy fix. Simply remove 0.1 inch from the front of each wing’s mounting tab, and mount the wing to the forward end of the slot. Each horizontal stabilizer is 3/16 inch too short in span. The addition is made to the outboard end of each stabilizer. Plastic card can be used, cutting and sanding the card to conform to the stabilizer. Cutting Edge produced replacement stabilizers, but those are Out of Production with Cutting Edge’s demise. Neither of these problems will be noticeable to the average modeler.
The PE seat belts look too narrow for the X-15’s robust belts. I’ve purchased a set of Eduard F-105 belts to replace them.
This new version builds on the original by adding superbly detailed external fuel tanks and ground handling dolly. Each of these is a kit in itself. If they follow the example of their 1/48 X-15 kits, Special Hobby will also be releasing the X-15A-2 with the white ablative coating and dummy scramjet under the lower fin. I’m also hoping that they will release the original, shorter X-15 version in the future.
For modeling information, the following three books can’t be beat:
- Hypersonic: The Story of the North American X-15, Dennis Jenkins and Tony Landis, ISBN: 978-1580071314 - Hypersonic is the definitive work on the X-15 program. Because the authors had far more photographs than could be used in the book, they also co-wrote this:
- X-15 Photo Scrapbook, Tony Landis and Dennis Jenkins, ISBN: 978-1580070744
- North American X-15, X-15A-2 - Aerofax Datagraph 2, Ben Guenther, ISBN: 0942548345 - Long out of print but worth searching for
Here are some books about the X-15 program:
- At the Edge of Space: The X-15 Flight Program, Milton O. Thompson, ISBN: 978-1588340788 - Written by a NASA test pilot who flew the X-15
- Always Another Dawn: The Story of a Rocket Test Pilot, A. Scott Crossfield, Long out of print, but your library may be able to find it. Crossfield flew all of the early test flights in the X-15
- X-15 Diary: The Story of America's First Space Ship, by Richard Tregaskis and A. Scott Crossfield, ISBN: 0803294565
Tony Landis, author of X-Plane Photo Scrapbook and co-author of Hypersonic: The Story of the North American X-15, has posted a set of annotated instructions in PDF format here. Although they’re from the first release of the kit, they’re equally applicable to this release.
The X-15A-2 is displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. There are many walk around sites for the X-15A-2, including:
These NASA sites have information about the X-15 program:
This independent site has a wealth of X-15 information:
A tip of the hat to John Doerr, who helped with this article, Tony Landis for his wealth of X-15 expertise, and my PayPal balance, which funded this kit.