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T-38A Talon

Trumpeter 1/48 T-38A Talon First Look Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review March 2014 Manufacturer Trumpeter
Subject T-38A Talon Scale 1/48
Kit Number 2852 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros Another T-38 alternative Cons See text
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $34.95

First Look

T-38A Talon
T-38A Talon
T-38A Talon
T-38A Talon

The T-38 Talon was a trainer variant of Northrop's project N-156 that developed a lightweight, low-cost, single-seat, supersonic interceptor. While the USAF was not very interested in the single-seat aircraft, they lacked a supersonic trainer in the 1950s. The venerable T-33 Shooting Star was the best jet trainer in the inventory and the Air Force recognized that they needed a trainer to bring pilots into the supersonic age.

The T-38 first flew in 1959 and would enter service in 1961. Production would run through 1972 with over 1,100 aircraft built. The T-38 was initially used primarily as a training aircraft, taking new pilots out of the T-37 and giving them experience with higher performance aircraft. The aircraft continues in this role today, with a number of them being updated to the T-38C configuration to provide pilots with the look and feel of contemporary service aircraft.

Almost 50 years after the T-38's first flight, the aircraft remains in service with the USAF with no replacements on the horizon. The T-38 also serves with NASA as a proficiency trainer and has provided flight training in a number of international air forces including Germany, Portugal, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Trumpeter has released the T-38A Talon in 1/48 scale and has announced at least the T-38C as well. It is interesting how this release is another example of kit companies competing with one another given that Wolfpack released their T-38A late last year. We had the opportunity to look that kit over, I did a quick-build of the kit and discovered the annoying bug with their front cockpit instrument panel and this was followed by Fotios Rouch's recent build of a NASA T-38A (which ironically was followed as a release subject by Wolfpack!). In the course of that build, Fotios had mentioned to me that there were discussions online about how the shape of the Trumpeter T-38 didn't look right.

Before we get into the shape discussion, let's cover the basics. The kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on four parts trees plus one tree of clear parts and one fret of photo-etched parts. Among the features and options in this kit:

  • Nicely detailed cockpits and egress systems
  • Optional boarding ladder
  • Positionable canopies
  • Positionable speed brakes
  • Positionable landing gear
  • Positionable stabilators
  • Optional centerline travel pod
  • Detailed afterburner chambers

Markings are provided for two examples:

  • T-38A, 68-8141, 49 FW, Holloman AFB, 2002
  • T-38A, 2602, Portuguese AF, 2009

The fin flashes on the Portuguese AF example are backwards - the larger field should be red, not green. Not to worry, there are a number of aftermarket options for the T-38 for you to choose from.

After my Wolfpack T-38A quick build, I ordered two more from Lucky Model and grabbed one to compare with this Trumpeter kit. One online comment said that the Trumpeter kit's canopies were shorter in profile than Wolfpack's canopies, and that is true. Something else caught my eye though and I put a fuselage half out of each kit together for comparison. The fuselage is a little too long.

[Update:] I finally found someone with the technical orders for the T-38A and I also found that I had a length error in my scale conversion. I've revised the data below accordingly.

The real T-38A is 556.5 inches long or 11.59 inches in 1/48 scale which includes the pitot boom on the nose. The wingspan of the full-scale T-38A is 303 inches, or 6.31 in 1/48 scale. Here's what I found:

1/48 Northrop Sword Wolfpack Trumpeter
Length 11.59" / 29.4 cm 11.5" / 29.2 cm 11.44" / 29.1 cm 11.9" / 30.2 cm
Width 6.31" / 16 cm ~6" / ~15.2 cm 6.31" / 16 cm 6.5" / 16.5 cm

Holding the Trumpeter and Wolfpack fuselages together quickly revealed the differences in length. When I aligned the cockpit and nosewheel wells together, the Trumpeter kit's nose is a little longer but the rear fuselage is definitely longer. The measurements above are from the pitot boom to the end of the rear afterburner nozzle fairing, while the width is of course wingtip to wingtip.

In terms of dimensions, the Wolfpack kit is closest to reality. Trumpeter's kit is a little too long but it compensates with the lower-profile canopies (unfortunately). Given that the wingspan of the Trumpeter kit is just about right, it looks like the CAD designers assumed the published length of the T-38 did not include the pitot boom and stretched the fuselage accordingly. That would make their numbers match - incorrectly unfortunately.

We'll have to see how this kit goes together. As I mentioned previously, the Wolfpack kit goes together nicely with the exception of the oversized front instrument panel that will catch you by surprise if you are unaware of the problem. The Sword kit was more of a challenge and didn't make it to print here. I'll leave it to the Talon experts to delve into the details, but it looks like Trumpeter developed this design without doing some hands-on research. Lenghth issues aside, the kit should build easier and we'll put that to the test soon.

As an aside, we had the hottest T-38 in the world here being rebuilt. It started as a forward fuselage of a stock T-38A mated to the rear fuselage of a CF-5. I believe the aircraft is on the airshow circuit wearing USAF Thunderbird colors and is the hottest Talon flying.

My sincere thanks to Stevens International for this review sample!