Scale 1/72
Manufacturer Heller
Kit ID 80301
Type T-33A 53-5044
Unit 5021st TOS, 21st TFW, Alaskan Air Command, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
Date 1983-4
Aftermarket parts used
Other detail added Decals from various sheets, including Microscale 72-133
Model built by Chuck Holte
Date Completed June 2020

For some reason, I have a hard time starting a new “state of the art” kit, even though I have a basement full of them.  Maybe it’s the high price of the new kits and a subliminal fear of screwing-up something expensive.  Or maybe my skills aren’t up to modern technology.  Or maybe I’m searching for old memories.  At any rate, I often find myself going back to the stash of “old” kits.

This time I took on the venerable Heller RT/T-33 in 1/72 scale.  The kit dates to the early ‘80s and is a considerable improvement over the Hasegawa kit of ten or more years earlier. 

Heller issued their kit in at least two different boxes (both numbered 80301) with different decals but the same plastic.  The USAF Thunderbird T-33 kit includes decals for a French AF

RT-33 from the 33rd Reconnaissance Squadron and the other kit has decals for a French T-33 from GE 314 and a Dutch RT-33 from 306 Squadron.  Both kits include the optional photo nose and a rack of equipment boxes to install in the rear cockpit instead of the seat.  I wanted a standard T-Bird so I didn’t use the photo nose.  For something a little different, the unused photo nose could be combined with the Airfix F-80 kit for a relatively simple conversion to a RF-80A.

The parts are typical of the early ‘80s.  The cockpit tub is adequate but could use a bit more detail.  Front and back instrument panels have some raised detail and will require delicate painting or replacement with brass bits (Airwaves # 2107, Eduard #72145).  Ejection seats are pretty basic but True Details has a nice set of resin seats (# 72405).  The canopy is a one-piece affair and a bit on the thick side.  I scribed the panel lines using the raised panel detail as a guide.  I cut out the inboard lower flaps so they could be displayed in the open position, typical of a T-Bird on the ground.  I suggest scribing the panel lines on the wings before assembly, it’s a lot easier.  The landing gear and wheels are satisfactory, but there is no gear well detail. 

A few words about the Eduard brass set for the T-Bird.  It’s a large set with four pages of instruction/direction in the usual diagram format.  Major sections include: Cockpit interior (with a choice of early or late instrument panels); Canopy frame and locks; Intake plates; Undercarriage well detail for both nose and main gear; Gear strut arms; Replacement speed brakes; And best of all, full open flap details. If you want to add any detail at all to the model, this brass set is a great place to start.

The kit parts fit fairly well for an older kit, but almost every seam needed attention, particularly the nose to fuselage joint. I modified the assembly sequence in an attempt to get a closer fit.  As separate sub-assemblies, I did the wings, the fuselage, and the nose.  After adding weight to the nose, I joined it to the fuselage assembly.  I then added the forward gear well.  The cockpit tub, with the instrument panels installed, will slip into place from the open wing root area.  Finally, add the wing assembly to the fuselage.  This sequence seemed to allow the best alignment of the nose to fuselage and the best fit for the forward gear well and the cockpit tub.

I carefully separated the windscreen from the rest of the canopy so I could display the canopy in the open position. A strut to raise the canopy was fashioned from two sizes of telescoping tubing and attached to the canopy cross brace and the cockpit floor just behind the front ejection seat.

I wanted to finish my T-Bird in the markings of the 5021st Tactical Operations Squadron, 21st Tactical Fighter Squadron, Alaskan Air Command, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, 1983-84.  These were among the last T-33s on the active Air Force inventory and were somewhat colorful.  The aircraft assigned to the 5021st TOS were finished in the Air Force Arctic markings of either natural metal or light gray highlighted with international orange on the nose, tail and tip tanks, per U. S. Air Force TO 1-1-4.  A good photo reference is Airman magazine January 1984, pp21-26. I airbrushed the entire model with Spray-n-Plate non-buffing aluminum as a base coat and primer.  Then I did the trim (radomes, flap wells, anti-glare, etc.) and the Arctic orange prior to applying the aluminum foil (Reynolds Wrap household foil) skin for the “natural metal” look. The orange is FS 12197; Testor’s Model Master International Orange (G) #2022 is a good match. Decals are from various sources including Micro/Superscale #72-133.  Other sheets for the T-Bird are #72-197 and 72-603.  For additional reference and some other cool T-Birds, including U.S. Navy and Canadian aircraft, see: Shooting Stars by Michael O’Leary, Osprey Publishing Company.

In summary, I enjoyed the time spent on the Heller T-Bird and am quite happy with the model.  The Eduard brass set and the True Details ejection seats improved the kit considerably.  Recommended for those who want to revisit an older kit and incorporate some of the newer after-market accessories. 

Model, review and images by Chuck Holte