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MQ-9 Reaper


Mike
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MQ-9 Reaper



1:48 Skunkmodels Workshop

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In association with

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The Reaper is the successor to the innovative Predator drone, and is broadly similar in plan, although larger in all dimensions. It is also significantly more powerful than the Predator, having a much more potent turbo-prop engine onboard. Other than its size, the main differentiating feature is the upward mounted V-tail with another small stub hanging below the rear fuselage.

It is also has 7 hard-points for mounting weapons and sensors, although the centreline is as yet unused. This makes it a much more formidable weapons platform than the earlier MQ-1 Predator. So far the US military, border forces, RAF, Turkish Air Force, and Italian Aeronautica Militaire are using them, with the British using them in operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban insurgents.

The kit arrives in Skunkmodels by now familiar end opening box, which is a little flimsy if I'm honest. Inside are four sprues of light grey styrene, one tiny clear sprue containing the navigation lights and sensor lens, a small decal sheet and an A5 instruction booklet.

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These UAVs are simple beasts on the outside, having none of the frippery required when a pilot is to be installed in an airframe, so the part count is low, although not as low as the Bronco Predator I reviewed some time ago. The increase is mainly due to the engine "hump" being moulded separately and the weapons, pylons and sway-braces that are included with the kit.

Being constructed mainly from composite materials, there aren't many panel lines, but those that exist are crisp with the exception of the main "cockpit" sensor blister in the nose, which could do with a little sharpening with a scribing tool. The nose gear bay is moulded into the underside of the fuselage, while the main gear bays are separate boxes that attach inside, and have basic panel and rib detail provided. The landing gear is stronger than that of the Predator, with large attachment points, separate wheels and hubs to ease painting.

The "power egg" to the rear of the fuselage is separate as already mentioned, as it has some complex shapes that don't lend themselves to one-piece moulding. There will be a seam running down the centre to clean up, but as only one panel line crosses it, that shouldn't be too much of an issue. The location tabs on the V-tail are long, and fit into a long sleeve in the engine cowling, so obtaining the correct angle shouldn't be an issue, and I wish that more model manufacturers were so helpful in this respect.

The wings are designed to interlink inside the fuselage to give a strong joint before the fuselage halves are brought together. As the wingspan is a manageable 42cm, I doubt many would need to adapt the lugs to make the wings removable, although it would be possible using the technique I used on the Global Hawk I built. The flying surfaces are moulded integrally to the wings, so would need to be mobilised if you want to add a little visual interest. The wing undersides are quite curved on my review sample, although the uppers have only a little sag built into them. Whether this will disappear on joining the two parts I can't say yet, but the wings do suffer from the effects of gravity on the ground, and bow upwards once under load when in flight. Check your references and use some hot water (carefully!) if you feel the need to change them.

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The propeller is a one-piece unit, and the spinner will need a coat of your shiniest metallic shade to replicate the almost chromed finish on the real thing.

The balance of the build will be taken up with adding sensor stalks and choosing the load-out you wish to depict. Using reference pictures from real missions would be a bonus here, as there are load limits applicable to each station, and you are provided with four Hellfire missiles on dual launch rails, and two GBU-12 Paveway II LGBs with which to decorate the provided pylons.

The J-DAM and Stinger air-to-air missile are to be tested and approved for use by the Reaper, so if you don't build your kit immediately on release you can update the armament in due course.

The decals provided are printed in Italy by Cartograf, and you can build one of the following:

  • MQ-9 04-4011, 432D Air Expeditionary Wing, USAF (Nevada)
  • VMQ-9 07-0108, United States Customs & Border Protection

Of course some of us (me included) will want to model a battle-hardened British airframe, so here's hoping we get some aftermarket decals in due course.

Conclusion

Another UAV from Skunkmodels, and it looks like another winner. The parts are well moulded, construction is simple, and would make a great project to get those of us with AMS (Advanced Modeller Syndrome) out of a rut.

If you'd asked me two years ago whether I'd model a UAV, I'd have shaken my head enthusiastically, but today I seem to be drawn to them, having built both the Predator and Global Hawk in recent history. They represent the next evolution in military aircraft development, and keep our pilots safe from harm, which to me makes them rather more interesting, especially as they are now developing an offensive capability.

Review sample courtesy of luckylogo.gif

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