Space Shuttle, External Tank & Boosters

Published: September 17th, 2011     
Product Image
Box Art
Reviewed by: Dick Montgomery - IPMS# 14003
Scale: 1/72
Company: Revell, Inc.
Price: $95.00
Product / Stock #: 85-5089
Product provided by: Revell, Inc.

The Parts

You will recognize the molding as it goes back, to my knowledge, to at least 1999. On several of the pieces in the box, one can find the original copyright inscription of "Revell 1999". It has also been released under the Monogram label as well, as is the case with this review item. This is not a problem, since the kit was a good kit in 1999 and is still a good kit in 2011. That having been said, there are some signs of age on the finished parts. On several pieces a tan-colored stain appears, and upon inspection with a fingertip, this substance appears to be oil. The location of the stains indicates that it might be a mold-release agent that simply was not cleaned up properly before packaging. It is advisable, therefore, to wash all of the pieces thoroughly prior to assembly. A sign of an aging or ill-fitting mold is flash, and there is some flash that will need to be cleaned up. The image provided shows a small amount of flash in the front windows on the port side of the windscreen.

Another issue is that of fit. These parts are Big with a capital B. The External Tank (ET) and Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) stand 30 inches tall and the ET has a diameter of approximately 4.5 inches. The Shuttle fuselage is about 18 inches in length with a cross-section of a little over 2.5 inches. A display space for this behemoth will need to measure 33x14x14. Now that's Big. When pieces are this big there are two issues that are of concern. The first is that the parts may be warped, and the second is that the subassemblies may need some internal structural support to get the attachment surfaces lined up during assembly. There was some warping on a few of the parts in my sample kit. The Orbiter fuselage is formed in the usual manner of left and right fuselage halves. When the fuselage is assembled there is a very noticeable problem along the surfaces that form the payload bay walls. These walls are pinched inward. There are some additional comments regarding this problem in the assembly section of this review.

The second concern is that there is a need to fill and sand along most of the seam and joint lines on the SRBs and on the ET. While the ET and SRB pieces have sufficient thickness to provide the rigidity and strength required to get everything aligned and glued together properly, care must be taken in the assembly process in order to avoid misalignment. There are not a sufficient number of locating pins or locating biscuits on the SRBs or on the ET, and working to get the halves aligned in one area could cause misalignment in another. Those who build rocket models will understand how frustrating it is to deal with the seams on a cylindrical piece that has a considerable amount of detail molded into the surface. Hiding the seam while retaining the molded detail will be tough.

The kit provides landing gear that can be assembled in the extended position, and nicely molded wheel well walls allow the builder to complete the Shuttle in a wheels-down configuration. Also included are several payloads that can be built up and installed in the payload bay. An airlock assembly, a Space Lab assembly, a telescope and pallet, a Bio-Medical satellite, and a Communications satellite are all optional. Two Astronaut figures, both in the same "I'm floating in space!" pose, are included. Not surprisingly, after a program the length of the STS program, the modeler would hope for some cargo options that feature actual equipment that has been carried into orbit by the STS. The cargo items in the kit are rough approximations, but a more exacting, scaled version of the Hubble, the Harmony, or specific satellites carried into orbit by the Shuttle would have been a major enhancement to this classic mold. Another disappointment is that there are no figures in flight suits for placement in the cockpit. The windows are quite large and offer a good view of the interior, but the interior is crew-less. Lastly, the two spacesuited figures are not garbed in realistic space suits. We are accustomed to seeing the Astronauts in full flight packs and with equipment pouches and tools attached to them. Other than the lack of figures in launch clothing, none of the above complaints mattered to me too much. I chose to build my review sample in launch configuration so the landing gear and cargo were not used, the payload bay doors were closed, and no Astronauts would be displayed hovering outside of the spacecraft.

What's Out There: A Great Place to Begin Research

Start this project by visiting Sven Knudson's informative and helpful website at http://www.ninfinger.org/. And, of course, go to Google and the NASA home page and prepare to spend considerable time sifting through images. Mike Mackowski's publication on the shuttle is available. It can be found at http://www.spaceinminiature.com/.

Decals

Decals are a big issue for this kit. While the kit decals offer a full range of Shuttle ID names and various NASA markings, there is some concern about the accuracy of the colors. Some say the gray on the NASA markings is off. Some feel it is too light while a few claim that it is too dark. There are also some accuracy issues with placement of the NASA meatball decal. The kit instructions show it being placed on the Discovery while those with in-depth knowledge of shuttle markings claim that it should not be included. There is no lack of research material on the web and, in fact, the problem will be the time it takes to sort through the thousands of images available to find those that are helpful. In any case, one of the main problems addressed by decals was the availability of tile decals. At this time, it appears that no one is producing and selling decals for that purpose. Keith McNeill in England, makes them by batches, but only one set at a time and the decals are not cheap, although the quality is reported to be very high. His email address is keithmcneill@blueyonder.co.uk, and is provided here with his permission. The kit decals, regardless of the above issues, are easy to apply and pull down on the model nicely. There are no issues with the application of the kit decals.

Main Engines and OMS Nozzles

RealSpace Models produces aftermarket SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) and OMS (Orbital Maneuvering System) engine nozzles. One receives 3 SSME parts and 2 OMS parts for $20.00. You can view this product at http://www.realspacemodels.com/shop-galapagos/172-space-shuttle-main-engines . This product was not used as part of the review for the Monogram Shuttle, and listing the parts here is not a statement as to their quality, but only a statement that the parts are available. The images of the products indicate, though, that they have a considerable amount of surface detail that is lacking on the kit parts.

Fisher Model & Pattern has recently released a set of parts for this kit. Parts included are single-piece resin parts for 3 Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME), 2 Orbital Maneuvering Nozzles (OMS), and 2 Aft Control Thruster Housings. These parts were reviewed recently by IPMS and were found to be of excellent quality, featuring engraved tiles and superb detail on the SSMEs and OMS components. At a price of about $50, the addition of this after-market set of parts significantly improves the Monogram Shuttle kit.

Assembly

The Orbiter and ET have only three attachment points and it is very important that the attachment between the two assemblies is strong and firm. Because of this issue, it is recommended that the receiving hole (located just aft of the front landing gear wheel well) not be filled when working on the belly seam of the Orbiter. A locating pin on part # 4, forward strut, will fit into that hole. That locating hole makes alignment and mounting of the Orbiter to the rest of the "stack" a much easier task then if that hole is filled and sanded over.

As mentioned earlier, when assembling the Orbiter fuselage, one will see that the payload bay walls are bowed inward. There is sufficient support at the forward end and aft end of the bay but there is no bulkhead to provide support at the midpoint. The result is that the fuselage bows inward at its midpoint. If one installs the payload bay interior pieces the problem may be resolved, but I chose to build my review sample with the payload bay doors closed and I did not include any of the bay parts in my project. I did not think that the payload bay interior parts would provide the necessary support and I had another plan to solve the problem in mind. Several pieces of the kit sprue were cut to fit across the payload bay opening and were glued into place. These four homemade support bars provided the necessary support structure to produce a uniform width along the entire length of the payload bay.

An unavoidable issue when working on the main fuel tank will be getting rid of the seams when the tank halves are joined. The tank is molded with a slight orange peel texture. The trick is to disguise the seam and blend it into the surrounding orange peel surface. I struggled with several methods to hide the seam while maintaining the integrity of the detail, but unfortunately failed in the effort, at least in my opinion. Fortunately (and thanks to the kit designers for this excellent piece of engineering design), the seams are located adjacent to the SRBs when they are installed next to the tank. This helps to limit one's view of the seam line and the resulting damage to the molded texturing on the ET.

Conclusion

On a scale of 1 to 100, 100 representing perfection and 1 representing the worst rating:

Quality of the Parts

This model rates a 75. Flash must be removed, mold release oil or some other oily substance must be cleaned up, many parts show mold separation lines that must be sanded away, lack of crew in launch configuration, lack of any updates to the cargo.

Fit

This model rates a 75. The Orbiter will need special attention to remove the fuselage seams along the underside (note the picture of the underside of the Orbiter with the putty clearly visible). There are some issues when adding the aerodynamic fairings on the rear of the fuselage. One must exercise some patience and have some strong clamps to hold those fairings in place while the cement dries. An accompanying image shows a fairing being held in place during the test-fitting process. While most of the seams are located on the ET, SRBs, and on the undersurface of the Orbiter, one will need to pay attention to the seams where the front edge of both wings fits into position on the fuselage. I found a slight bulge on both the left and right attachment points and had to work to remove some of the bulge during the sanding process. The most problematic fit was the wheel well doors. If one builds the model with the wheel well doors open, the issue is of no consequence, but I chose to build my model in launch configuration and the doors are definitely closed for that portion of the flight. The fit was not good and I resorted to using some thin plastic shims to form a transition between the doors and their mounting points to reduce the resulting seams. It was not a difficult step in the process, but I have seldom used as much putty to fill a seam on any project. The end result was totally acceptable and that is the bottom line.

Decals

The decal rating is a 90. This has been discussed elsewhere in this review, but a brief summary will be offered here. There are no problems with application of the kit decals. They are sturdy, yet thin enough to snuggle down on the shuttle surface. The decal backing is very clear and, for the most part, I did not trim the colored portions of the decals away from the backing material. The accuracy in the decals is questionable and only a significant time spent researching the specific vehicle and flight being represented by the builder will solve that issue.

Instructions

The instructions rate a 95 and can be viewed at http://manuals.hobbico.com/rmx/85-5089.pdf. I did not find any errors in part numbering or in the sequence the instructions use to guide the modeler to a successful conclusion to this project. I must say that the color callouts in some cases have been questioned. Again, the only sure cure is for the builder to perform extensive research on the vehicle and specific flight being represented.

Thanks to the fine folks at Revell/Monogram for the opportunity to review this very enjoyable model.

  • Trademark and copyright
    Trademark and copyright
  • Suspected mold release agent
    Suspected mold release agent
  • Flash in window edge
    Flash in window edge
  • Fairing fit
    Fairing fit
  • Underbody seam filling
    Underbody seam filling
  • Sprue supports
    Sprue supports
  • Completed kit - front
    Completed kit - front
  • Completed kit - side
    Completed kit - side
  • Completed kit - back
    Completed kit - back

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