Revell 1/144 Concorde

KIT #: 04257
DECALS: Several British Airways options


Concorde was the world's only commercially successful supersonic passenger transport. Beaten into the air by the Soviet Union's Tu-144 which made its maiden flight on New Year's Eve 1968, Concorde took to the sky for the first time on 2 March 1969. 

It's popular in some gloomy corners of the internet to compare the two aircraft and claim that the Tu-144 was superior. Well, as Sir Sydney Camm famously said of the ill-fated TSR-2, "All modern aircraft have four dimensions: span, length, height and politics". In the case of the Tu-144 and Concorde, a fifth dimension might be added: commerce.

By the time Concorde retired in 2003, the Tu-144 was a distant memory. Concorde had flown regular commercial service for more than 20 years from 1976 to 2003, with just 18 months grounded after the disaster of July 2000. Throughout that two-and-a-half decades, British Airways and Air France had daily services to New York from London and Paris respectively. At different times, as demand for premium service on other routes waxed and waned with the global economy, there was regular (more than once a week) service between London and Miami, via DC, and Paris and Mexico via DC or New York. The Tu-144, meanwhile, managed only 102 commercial flights (only 55 carrying passengers), all on domestic routes, before being retired in 1979 not even four years after its first in-service flight.

Concorde suffered one disastrous crash in Paris on 25 July 2000. The plane was lost on take off with all 109 passengers and crew, and four more people were killed when the flaming aircraft crashed into a hotel. Investigations revealed that the plane had hit a piece of titanium that had fallen off a Continental DC-10. The metal burst a tyre, and a piece of rubber was flung into the Concorde's fuel tank. Another piece of rubber shredded some wiring in the landing gear. The impact of the rubber into the fuel tank caused an overpressure which burst a fuel valve, and fuel squirted onto the exposed wiring hit by the other piece. The engine fire made the crew shut down the engine, but then the plane didn't have enough power to continue taking off. The pilots lost control and the plane crashed into the hotel. Years of litigation followed and the Continental mechanic who had failed to prevent the titanium falling off was convicted in a French court (along with Continental) of involuntary manslaughter in 2010. This was overturned on appeal in November 2012. As is so often the case (Space Shuttle, anyone?), the early warning signs were there but ignored. Concorde had a long history of explosive tyre bursts, happening up to 60 times more often than in regular airliners, earning the plane a warning from the NTSB as far back as 1981. But as is also often the case, there were many complex factors that led to this terrible crash. Some were human error, some were engineering failures, and some were just plain bad luck. It was a fatal combination.

Concorde retired in 2003, as much a victim of the post-September 11 environment and Airbus losing interest in ongoing support as any other reason. It's hard to believe Concorde couldn't have continued a little longer, but the impact of the Global Financial Crisis from about 2009 would certainly been the last nail in the coffin. No matter how beautiful or capable a plane is, airlines won't fly it if people aren't buying tickets. It's the unavoidable fifth dimension of aeroplane design: commerce.

This glorious aircraft still holds the world record for the transatlantic crossing by a commercial aircraft: 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds from takeoff to touchdown. British Airways G-BOAD did this in 1996. (The SR-71 holds the absolute record: 1 hour, 54 minutes 56 seconds). Hard to see either of those records falling any time in the near future given there is now nothing remotely as fast, especially at long range.

I previewed this kit right here on MM. In a nutshell it has nicely engraved panel lines, but is otherwise fairly basic (limited detail on undercarriage and inside the engines, for example). My boxing has only BA liveries - the decals are marked (c) 2005. I know there are other recent boxings which include Air France decals.

The options are the earlier "Landor" scheme with the geometric patterns on the tail and the silver coat of arms or a few variations of the "Chatham" scheme which Concorde wore in the last years before it retired. See the section on decals below for more on that. The sheet, by Cartograph, comes with a mass of data stencils, most of them legible and very clearly printed. It also enables you to make every British Airways Concorde by means of a selection of letters. It comes with a ready-made G-BOAD decal for the aircraft that holds the transatlantic speed record for a civilian aircraft (although I am not sure whether G-BOAD flew that record-setting flight in the earlier or later scheme. Best check your references if that's important for your build).

Simple start on this one: paint the inside of the cockpit area black, add a bit of noseweight, and glue the fuselage together. (Of course, I needed to trim off a bunch of flash first - this is an old mould). 

Getting the wings on wasn't as easy, and I got a lot of superglue on my hands by the time I was done. After test fitting and trying a few different approaches, I decided to install the bottom piece first, and then put the top wings on one by one. A bit of swearing and cussing and rubbing superglue off my fingers later, the plane actually looked like a Concorde. You do need to take your time underneath and do some practice fits, including of the engine pods. Don't rush it, because it's easy to mess up.
The join at the trailing edge of the wing, directly underneath the fuselage, is an area for particular attention. It needs some sanding to get rid of a small but noticeable step. 
Inside the engine pods there is basically nothing other than a simple piece with a simplistic turbine facing. Nothing in the rear end where the exhausts are, and also no real effort to depict the intake interiors. You can do some improvements here if you want. I elected not to because I just wasn't in the headspace for major modifications. This one is a shelf-sitter for me not a show stopper.
You need to take care at the leading edge too, up front where it joins the fuselage. The fit is not perfect (especially on the underside too) but you don't want to be too heavy handed with the sanding or putty because it's one of the most noticeable parts of the plane and you'll lose the nice surface detail. 
I had already decided to do my Concorde nose up, partly because I read somewhere that the Revell kit looks wrong in nose down position, but mainly because Concorde looks way cooler nose up. Relax - Concordes were regularly seen nose up while on the ground. They taxied nose down, of course, but to avoid damage they kept the nose up wherever practical. And on closer inspection of photos, the error is easy to see. The Revell kit has the cockpit windscreen (not the supersonic one) as totally flat. In fact it is two windows and they are at an angle with its apex in the centerline.
That said I didn't apply the nose until right at the very end because I'd wanted to at least take a photo of it nose down (which I didn't do because I couldn't get it to stay in place). So the join isn't as clean as it might have been. I had to scratch up some card to blank off the interior of the nose cone so it wasn't so visibly hollow when seen through the visor. In reality the nose seems pretty empty anyway - it's just a fairing after all.
There's no detail in the main wheel wells and no well up front, but the wheel bay doors seem to be closed except when cycling, so that's no problem. 
The undercarriage is pretty basic but there is something you can do to make it look better. Concorde's undercarriage has two fairly prominent features that are easy to scratchbuild and make your model look a little more realistic. First, on the main bogey, there is a wheel protector of some description. It's very prominent on the real thing (but possibly wasn't always there - I did some cursory research and I think it was added in the mid-late 1970s). I've seen it variously described as a spray deflector or also as a kind of FOD protector, to stop the wheels kicking debris up into the engines. Either way, you can build it fairly easily with a piece of scrap plastic to connect to the front of the main gear bogey, and then a thinner piece perpendicular to that and as close to the main wheel as you can. The real one appears to actually have a circular indentation so the tyre can get very close, but in 1/144 you aren't going to see that. Be careful to set it low to the ground rather than at the same height as the axles.
The other little upgrade you can do, also pretty easily, is build the similar spray deflector on the nose gear. This is also fairly prominent on the real thing, although I'll confess I didn't know of it until I started looking closely (unlike the main gear one, which I'd heard of, possibly from reading news about the crash at the time). I used sheet styrene and basically just cut two matching triangle shapes and glued them to the wheels. Then I added a cross-piece on top. The whole thing took about 15 minutes and I think it does make a worthwhile modification.
Last of all, I stuck a square sheet of plastic card inside the nose cone, so that when you look through the windscreen, you don't see all the way to the bottom of the cone. In reality the nose cone is basically empty apart from the mechanism that raises and lowers it, at least as far as I can tell.
Apart from those three scratch-ups I didn't make any modifications to the kit at all. I just decided to try to build, paint and decal it as cleanly as I could.

Concorde was generally white all over, apart from its airline decorations. The famous Pepsi marketing livery was only temporary, and the plane needs the white paint to be able to manage body heat at sustained flights at Mach 2. White spray paint on white plastic. How hard can it be, right?
Well, it took three coats from a spray can before it looked acceptable. I'd painted the inside of the cockpit area black, and that showed through the white. Same around the engine area. But it didn't take too long and I got a pretty nice finish. Maybe not as glossy as it could have been, and I won't use that brand of spray again, but I was happy enough.
The decals are by Cartograph and very satisfying to use. They are neatly printed, go on well, settle onto the surface even without a solution, and once a bit of Mr Mark Softer hits them, they look very nice indeed. Take it easy with that stuff though, these decals only need a small amount. I tested it on an underside data stencil and one of them blobbed out and bled colour everywhere. I really liked the attention that's gone into the decals, with a separate decal to cover the prominent lumps on the tail and special instructions about the best order of decal application. It comes with two door outlines for the front door - one that matches the engraved panel lines, which are incorrect, and another decal which is the proper scale size of the door (ie bigger than the kit's lines). The instructions refer you to for photos of the different markings options. I've yet to put one of these on - I'll do it as soon as I find it!
The only downside to the decals is that the later version of the "Chatham" scheme - the red and blue swishes on the tail -  looks "pixellated" to me. That is, the decal that tries to capture the shaded red and blue doesn't do so very well because the shading isn't subtle enough in its colour transition. No big deal though because there is a very similar but unshaded scheme.

I started with the idea of doing one side of the plane in Landor and one side in Chatham. I realised early on that I liked both schemes, but had no intention of building two Concordes. Because the only top-and-bottom markings on this plane are data stencils, common to both versions (at least according to the instructions) you can easily take this approach. I have yet to find a single viewing angle where you can see both sides of the plane at once. 
This isn't as weird as it seems. This very plane - G-BOAD - once carried the BA livery on one side and the Singapore Airlines one on the other. The two had a codeshare agreement (as we'd know it today) in the late 1970s.
As noted above, these decals were wonderful to use. Beautifully designed and printed, and very well behaved. If only all decals were of this quality.

I don't want to sound boastful but I am very pleased with this model. It's one of the nicest ones I have been able to produce in recent times. I took my time on the building but apart from a couple of simple and minor mods on the landing gear it is straight from the box.
If you like Concorde (and let's face it, unless you're a gloomy conspiracist who blames the Tu-144's failings on that mystery Mirage at the Paris airshow, how can you not?) then I can thoroughly recommend this kit. Build it as a "kerbside" to showcase its lovely lines and beautiful scheme, and I think you'll be very happy.

Fantastic Concorde documentary: - nice online resource with some good diagrams of the undercarriage among other things. - another nice online resource probably a bit more comprehensive than concordesst

Richard F

June 2014

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