Growing up in an aviation-centric home in the 70's and 80's, for years there were the rumors. A secret squadron of planes, called "Stealth Fighters," operating in the Nevada desert. They were akin to the rumors of captured UFO's, seemingly just rumors and yet with enough credible details. Built by Lockheed with twin F404 engines, so said the rumors.
"Someday we'll know," my Dad would say. Actually, Dad knew a few more details already. At the time he was an engineer who had helped design the F404 engine, and while production was in full swing to supply the new F/A-18 Hornet plus a few other projects, the GE engineers had noticed that a number of engines were being shipped to totally obscure destinations. Many of them had put two and two together, then kept the answer quiet or only whispered it to others who had come to the same conclusion. Then that great day in November 1988 when the existence of the F-117A was announced to the world, confirming nearly every rumor that had been circulating for a decade.
As the Stealth program was unveiled, the rumors as to its origins were also confirmed, of the two Lockheed proof-of-concept planes built in the late 1970's, designated "XST" (Experimental, Stealth, Tactical) under the project code name "Have Blue". True to Lockheed "Skunks Works" practice, these planes used as much "off-the-shelf" equipment as possible, including F-5 landing gear and engines, and a digital fly-by-wire system developed for the new F-16.
The XST's proved the amazing concept of building a plane with reduced radar signature, "as small as an eagle's eyeball," it was said. According to one report, it actually flew next to an E-3 AWACS without being detected. While both XST's were lost in non-fatal accidents during testing, enough information was gained from both to develop the amazing F-117 Nighthawk, the world's first successful and operational Stealth Fighter.
I can't wait to learn what other secrets Nevada is still keeping (and I don't mean Las Vegas)!
images below to see larger images
It was 1994 when I discovered the existence of the Pegasus short-run injected kit of the XST in a modeling magazine advertisement. A longtime stealth fan, I jumped at it. It was my very first mail-order model. When it arrived I could see how challenging a build it would be.
Fast forward to 2012. You read right; eighteen years. I finally decided to give the XST my best shot. Turns out that's what it would take. A basic rundown of the modifications includes:
-Creating the wheel wells (none existed)
-Italeri F-5E landing gear
-Photoetched brass mesh fitted to intakes
-Scratchbuilt canopy using clear plastic packaging (almost everything comes in a plastic package of sorts, mounted on a cardboard backing)
Additionally, the large instrumentation boom was scratchbuilt. The entire leading edge of the wing (leading all the way up to the tip of the nose) needed additional plastic strip added and sanded to shape to make the appropriate sharp-edged corners.
If you attempt this kit, do not use the angled shape of the maingear doors as scribed on the bottom of the fuselage. An in-flight photo of one of the planes shows the doors to be plain rectangles. At least they're simple to scratchbuild. I also realized too late the tails are actually too short.
There was no question to me which paint scheme to do. The very first time I saw the declassified photos of XST #1 in its camouflage, it was love at first sight. It was absolutely gorgeous! Apparently the pattern was designed to mask the faceted shape of the plane from unwanted observers (judging by the photos I think it worked!). I actually agonized for three years over the colors. I finally settled on the following stock MM colors:
-36440 (Light Gull Gray)
-30277 (Armor Sand)
-35237 (Medium Gray)
-37038 (Flat Black)
I offer absolutely no guarantee these are correct, but they're my best guess. I tried so many combinations that it made my head spin. If anyone can offer a better alternative than this, I'm all ears!