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Minicraft 1/144 scale E-3 Sentry AWACS

Just as Boeing modified the 707 airliner to create the E-3 Sentry for the U.S. Air Force, Minicraft added parts to its long-standing 707 kit to model the AWACS airframe.

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Given the expense of new molds nowadays, Minicraft has hit on a very efficient way to create a new release – pack a few new parts into an existing kit, print new decals and voila! it’s a new product. Such is the case with Minicraft’s new E-3 Sentry AWACS, a modified version of its previously released Boeing 707.

A new sprue holds the distinctive rotating dome of the AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) along with the additional nose, cheek and tail antennae of the latest version. The kit’s en-gines look somewhat generic – a purist will want to correct them. The box top states the kit is an
E-3A, but the parts and decals are for an updated E-3C (as stated in the markings instructions). There are two sets of decals, differing mainly in tail code and stripe color. The Cartograf decals are well printed, but photos on the Internet show the fuselage stars are too big; also, it looks like some small badges are missing from the Alaska-based option. A photo I found of the Oklahoma bird showed a white tail stripe instead of the black stripe provided in the kit – different times, perhaps? There are not many options in the kit other than the decals, although the extra parts apparently are for a future release of a J-STARS variant.

Having built the kit’s previous incarnation as a 707, I was reminded that the panel-line engraving and a number of the smaller details are a little soft. The landing gear is beautiful, however. For best effect, leading edges should be rounded off and trailing edges thinned on all flying surfaces.

The kit goes together easily, but beware that the instructions show the inner main landing gear doors down – this is only true during cycling or servicing. This error causes one of the major fit issues with this kit, as the doors don’t close properly. Also ill-fitting are the engine pylons, especially where the top meets the portion of the pylon molded to the upper wing surface. Interestingly, all the new parts provided for the AWACS version fit very well without filler. Minicraft supplies a clear part that includes a substantial portion of the nose in addition to the windscreen, a great method for providing a seam-free clear part. A little filler was all I needed to blend in the nose’s clear section.

The only tricky painting is the dome, which includes specific directions about the stripe width – in inches, to four decimal places! The decals were applied without fuss, although the directions transpose wing stripes P and R. Don’t worry, their correct location is obvious. Attaching the landing gear completes the build, although the kit does not include a number of small antennae that should be all over the airframe.

Minicraft’s AWACS looks the part and builds easily, but thinning the edges and handling other small details will require finesse to bring it to life. I spent slightly more than 14 hours on mine. Now I have some direction for my growing 1/144 air fleet.

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