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KIT REVIEW


Modelcollect USAF B-2A Spirit Stealth Bomber
1:72 Scale



In the late1970s, stealth technology held a unique and powerful potential to give the United States a significant advantage over the Soviet Union – considering both the deterrent it could represent and the warfighting capability it would provide if the Cold War ever went hot.  One of the most famous examples of a stealth aircraft, of course, materialized in the form of the Northrop B-2A Spirit.  There have been only about eight or nine kits of the B-2 produced to date, and in 1:72 scale, the 1991-era Testors kit was the only game in town.  Yet, it suffered from various fit issues and inaccurate details.  In late 2017, Modelcollect (who normally produce armor kits) released a new-tool B-2A.  So let’s take a look at this new Spirit kit.    

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Efforts to make aircraft less visible, first to the eye and later to radar, go back to the First World War.  Low-observable technology made major leaps beginning in the 1960s.  For example, the leading edges and paint of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird contained early generation RAM (radar absorbing materials) including ferrite particles to absorb radar energy.  In the 1970s, stealth went further into a “deep black” world and involved some of the most sensitive defense projects in American history.  By then, approaches evolved to consider radical aircraft shapes.  In 1975, DARPA and the Air Force initiated the Experimental Survivability Testbed (XST) program.  Northrop and Lockheed developed models in the first round of testing and Lockheed won the contract.  Their “Hopeless Diamond” led to the HAVE BLUE technology demonstrators that were the origin of the legendary F-117A.  Lockheed used combinations of faceted shapes among other tricks to scatter and absorb radar energy.  As the F-117 program started to get underway, the Carter Administration was so confident in the promise of a stealthy strategic bomber in the form of the ATB (Advanced Technology Bomber) program, they infamously cancelled B-1 procurement.

Yet, the Northrop XST concept was a solid starting point for the DARPA/USAF Battlefield Surveillance Aircraft-Experimental (BSAX) program.  The goal was to develop a JSTARS-like reconnaissance aircraft but that could operate in a “hot” battlefield environment and be undetectable by radar.  The resulting TACIT BLUE technology demonstrator (affectionately known as “Shamu,” “The Blue Whale” and the “Alien School Bus”) began development in 1979 and flew a highly successful flight test program out of the Nevada test site between 1982 and 1985.  Its unique use of curved stealthy surfaces, composites, RAM, reduced thermal signatures, and other features were a proving ground for ideas and technologies incorporated into Northrop ATB bid.

The ATB finalists were again narrowed down to Northrop and Lockheed proposals.  Final design studies by both contractors independently gravitated towards a flying wing design.  Northrop’s SENIOR CEJAY was selected over the Lockheed/Rockwell proposal on 20 October 1981 and became the B-2 bomber.  The Pentagon changed the aircraft requirements in the mid-1980s from high-altitude attack to a low-altitude and terrain-following profile.  This redesign delayed the B-2's development by two years and added about $1 billion to its cost.  By this time, the B-2 was a “dark gray” program, as it was known that the USAF was developing or already had a stealth bomber.  Revell even produced a 1:72 scale model kit of a flying wing-style next-generation bomber without any inside knowledge of the program.

The final design for Northrop’s B-2 flying wing featured multiple low-observable technologies, very long range (6,900+ miles without refueling) and a 40,000 pound payload.  It original mission was a Cold War era deep-penetration nuclear strike role using B61s, B83s, SRAMs, or nuclear-tipped AGM-129s.  Following the end of the Cold War, the B-2 evolved into a multirole heavy strategic bomber outfitted with conventional weapons as well.  These included JDAMs, bunker busters, and the 30,000-pound GBU-57 MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or the “Father of all Bombs”) along with the Mk. 82, 83, and 84, CBU-87 Combined Effects Munitions, GATOR mines, the CBU-97 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, and AGM-158 JASSM cruise missile.

The advanced avionics in the B-2 also contribute to its unique capabilities, including a high degree of systems automation requiring only two aircrew.  The “eyes” of the Spirit are its highly classified pair of low-probability-of-intercept AN/APQ-181 multi-mode radars that reportedly produce targeting imagery far better than any targeting pod.  The B-2 fleet has also been upgraded over the years to include new stealthy skin surfaces in addition to multiple software and other capability enhancements.

The first B-2A was rolled out in a ceremony on 22 November 1988 at Plant 42, Palmdale, California, and it first flew on 17 July 1989.  By that time, the original program of 132 aircraft was curtailed to 70 and then eventually to a final delivery of 21.  This had the effect of driving up the per-unit cost of each airplane to over $2.1 billion.  The entire fleet is based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri with Anderson AFB (Guam), RAF Fairford, and Diego Garcia functioning as forward operation locations. 

Initial operational capability was declared on 01 January 1997, and two years later, its combat debut came over Kosovo and included 30-hour nonstop sorties.  B-2s accounted for about 33% of all targets struck during the first two months of Operation ALLIED FORCE.  Along with the Navy’s F-14s, the B-2 carried out the first strikes over Afghanistan at the opening of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (according to one account I’ve heard, B-2s destroyed the Taliban’s air defense network and air force in about 12 minutes).  B-2s also played a major role in the “shock and awe” portion of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM accounting for 1,500,000 pounds of expended ordnance including 583 JDAMs in 2003.  B-2s led the way in Operation ODYSSEY DAWN in 2011.  They currently participate regularly in exercises and high-priority strike missions to represent one of the most powerful tools of US deterrence.  Crews often refer to the B-2 as “The Beast” in very respectful terms.

Today, the B-2 is approaching its 30th birthday and is inevitably becoming obsolete.  In October 2015, Northrop Grumman won a $55 billion contract for the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) now designated the B-21 Raider.  This will be a fifth-generation global precision attack platform and will replace the B-1 and the B-2, though the Spirit may continue to fly until 2040.  While a few concept sketches have been released that show a strong resemblance to the B-2, the B-21 will in many ways represent a generational leap over the B-2’s capabilities.  The projected IOC of 2024 suggests to some analysts that prototypes have already flown (and perhaps in competition with a Lockheed prototype).  Regardless of how the B-21’s development unfolds, the story of the B-2 continues to be written as it serves as one of the most essential elements of contemporary American airpower.

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Modelcollect’s 1:72 scale B-2A kits consists of 258 Gunship Gray-colored parts on seven sprues.  The upper and lower wing halves and upper and lower fuselage halves are further separately packed (sprue-less) together in a pre-cut foam cradle at the bottom of the box.  There are also six pre-painted photoetched metal parts and one clear part on a single clear sprue.  The instructions guide assembly over 42 steps.  Markings for three Spirits are included:

Strengths:  In 1:72 scale, modelers had to suffer through the flaws and fit problems of the classic (but problematic) Testors kit.  The wing joints in particular were ill-fitting along with some accuracy issues that would be present in any early kit of what was then a very secret airplane.  Modelcollect’s B-2A represents a comparatively far better kit, offering a wide range of really great construction options and other details absent in the old Testors kit.
The parts breakdown, especially for the major assemblies, is simple and well-designed.  Surfaces are smooth and all panel lines are recessed.  The fuselage and wing halves nearly seamlessly fit together and demonstrate generally good fit to each other (but see below).  I also really applaud Modelcollect for their forward wing seams.  The upper wing part surface continues across the leading edge of the wing as a lip to the bottom of the wing, and then the lower half meets up with the seam just about perfectly.

Size and shapes also look quite good.  Modelcollect seems to have done a very good job in capturing both the “beak” nose shape of “The Beast” along with the subtle twist of the leading edge of the wings that eventually straightens out in the outboard third of the wing structure.  I don’t think anyone has accomplished this in a kit before.

This B-2 kit comes with a full interior.  The flight deck is rather nicely done, and includes the aft compartment space where crew rest occurs (but there’s no Wal-Mart reclining lawn chair; that would have been a fun touch).  The boarding ladder is also included.  The photoetched metal parts are used for the instrument panel, side consoles, and center consoles.  The B-2 has gone though several cockpit upgrades, and these parts represent the current P6 Mod cockpit configuration.  I’ve got to say these parts are really nicely made.  I would hit them with a little flat coat first since they are a bit shiny.

Nose and main gear wells are present, and one of the things your reviewer is happiest about is the complete bomb bay (but also see below).  The kit has optional refueling door parts for open or closed configurations, just as there are parts for open or closed auxiliary air intake doors.  There are also the twisting, serpentine air intake ducts and exhausts as well as the F118 powerplant cores.  The flaps, ailerons, and beaver tail are separate parts and the flaps and ailerons can be positioned as desired.  The beaver tail is designed to go straight-in, so some modification will be needed to get it in a lowered position if the landing configuration is what you want.

Bob Sanchez of TwoBobs Aviation Graphics designed the decals.  They look simply great.  The decals include the markings for the specific airframes described above, along with the pitot sensor ports, stenciling, and the extensive walkway markings on the top of the jet.  Cartograf printed the decals and they appear technically impeccable.    
      
Weaknesses:  This kit has a lot of potential, but it is not perfect.  There are some things to consider here.  None of them are showstoppers, however.  The recessed panel lines are okay, but frankly a bit over-scaled – good for 1:48 or even 1:32 scale but a bit too wide and deep for my tastes in 1:72 scale.  Scaled up to 1:1 scale, a few panel lines on the aft upper fuselage would be multi-inch gaps – not too stealthy!

I test fit the wing-fuselage joints extensively, and I found the fit to be certainly better than the Testors kit, but still resulting in a gap in the Modelcollect B-2.  It’s not a bad gap and one can get a pretty tight fit when you play with it, but there was always a slight gap in my test fits.  But we have dozens of filling compounds to choose from in our hobby.  This should not dissuade anyone from building this kit.  And speaking of seams, plan ahead for filling the seams in the intake and exhaust trunking (the dip-and-drain-in-housepaint method looks like the best option here).

I would argue the detail in the wheel wells in the bomb bays involves a problematic combination of both simplified and over-done details.  There’s really no plumbing except for simplified wiring here and there, and the wiring in the in the bomb bay looks like it’s sized for 1:32 scale.  My reference material shows tons of piping and cable bundles in the bomb bay in particular.  Those details are all absent here.  Other details, such as spars, and other structural elements including features like the insides of gear well doors are large, thick, and again, too big for 1:72 scale.  In diplomatic/pragmatic wording, I’d call these gear wells and the bomb bay a “good starting point for scale modelers to add more detail” if they wish.  The bomb bay wind deflectors are also way too thick for 1:72 scale.

The ACES II ejection seats are a mixed bag.  Their side details are great, but they are two-piece assemblies and an unnecessary seam runs down the middle of the headrest and backpad.  Shoulder harnesses are absent, and the lap belts are very simplistic.  Also, there are no pitot sensors or armrests on these seats.  I recommend something like a Quickboost ACES II as a replacement.

The bombs that come in this kit are unusable.  I rarely use that phrase, but they are grossly misshapen – perhaps they were an attempt to represent a Mk. 83 or Mk. 84 bomb shape but that missed the mark by a mile.  For a kit with this price tag, the manufacturer should get everything as right as possible and not drop the ball on the munitions.  The kit has a pair of rotary launchers, but to be complete, I think it should also have featured the Boeing-built smart bomb/JDAM racks, too.  Plenty of the B-2’s weapons are not compatible with the rotary launcher.

Also note the astro-tracker sensor is missing.  You’ll have to make your own and add it to the upper surface of the fuselage off to the left side of the cockpit. 
The clear part in my kit was scratched with multiple, long scratches.  It came in its own little sealed bag, so this could have only occurred in the production process.  In this day and age, such damage seems negligent.  Sure, I normally polish my clear parts, but here – I should not have remove this kind of egregious damage.  Also, the real B-2’s windscreen is tinted as part of its low-observable characteristics.  I’d mist this clear plastic with something like Tamiya’s Clear Smoke.  

One last point: note that this B-2 will be a tail sitter.  You’ll need about 50 grams of additional weight in the nose.

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While it’s not a perfect kit, Modelcollect has come up with the best B-2 Spirit model kit to date in any scale.  I’ve been a fan of this airplane since before its rollout in 1988 and it’s one of my favorite aircraft to photograph since it looks so different from almost every angle.  I’m pleased to see a good kit of the Spirit finally emerge, but personally, I’ll be putting in a lot of extra details (including Eduard aftermarket parts) to make this kit even better.    

Sincere thanks are owed to your reviewer’s wallet for this review sample.  We contacted Modelcollect multiple times over a six-month period to request a review sample for Detail & Scale, but we were ignored.  It’s not our policy to purchase a sample for review and it’s not sustainable, either.  Every so often, I will review something I get for myself that I feel strongly is worth a close look and sharing with our readers.  You can see what Modelcollect is working on next, including their 1:72 scale B-52s by visiting Modelcollect on the web at http://www.modelcollect.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Modelcollect/

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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