F-111E – The Boneyard Build – Part 1


Act in Haste, repent at Leisure is an aphorism. An aphorism is a pithy observation containing a general truth. Thus the story of my F-111E Boneyard Build begins. It all started at the Modellers of Ballarat annual show on a cool April day several years ago. Involving spare cash, a vague idea over-percolated in the back of my brain and an unloved F-111E kit in 1:48th scale sitting on someone’s pile of kits to trade.

The kit

First off, this model kit is neither good nor bad. The kit has build issues that in hindsight the model makers should have overcome to make a more buildable kit. All other issues aside the kit does a reasonable job of representing the real aircraft. During my research on the aircraft I’ve learned that there are many aftermarket parts available to doll the old girl way up should you want to do just that. My intention was to build the kit straight out of the box; giving me some time away from building and weathering railway models. Opening the box I noted no parts broken and that all the sprues were intact. This is always a good sign for a second-hand kit. The kit instructions were straightforward and the model appeared to be easy to build.

Starting the Build

I started the build process by putting extra weight in the nose, using round fishing weights hammered to fit and attached with superglue, to make sure that the model would not drag its tail and leave the nose in the air. After putting in the wheel well and cockpit I glued the two nose halves together. My next step was to test fit the canopy. It was here where the original plan went out the window. Sun Tzu said that no plan survives first contact with the enemy and as I sat contemplating what next, I knew was taking enemy fire. When I say I test fit the canopy, what I meant was that I discovered that the canopy failed the fit test. I’m not talking a little out of true here or there; rather we’re looking at 3 millimetres over the height of the moulding at the rear. Then there were the gaps between the canopy base and the top of the cockpit tub.

I’ve not built an aircraft in 30 years. They’re all curvy, slippery and not really my thing as they’re without a right angle anywhere. As I sat looking at the misshapen canopy I remembered why that was. Having got to this technical impasse I was tempted to scrap the kit and keep the sprue and parts for other work. After I cured the shock with some medicinal Brandy, kept on hand strictly for just such an occasion, I got creative. That vague idea came back from the near dead part of my brain, down near all the wonderful ideas I had in my youth that never made it to the more useful part of my brain (the part that helps me to the pub, and home again without getting lost). The big question now: ‘How could I build this kit out of the box while covering any inaccuracies in the moulding and still have it look good?’ Funny that you should ask that very same question.

What is The Boneyard?

Navy and Marine Corps McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighters in storage at AMARG. (Image courtesy of Aspersions)

Aircraft modellers deserve to know about this fascinating unit of the United States Air Force. Located within the limits of the city of Tucson, Arizona Davis-Monthan Airforce Base is home to the 355th Fighter Wing of the Twelfth Air Force, part of Air Combat Command (ACC). The base is better known as home to the Air Force Materiel Command’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). This is the place where all excess military and government aircraft go into storage. Mostly to die, other times to be reborn.

AMARG’s establishment in 1946 as the 4105th Army Air Force Base Unit was to house excess B-29 and C-47 aircraft at the end of the Second World War. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s choice as the primary storage site was due to Tucson’s low humidity, infrequent rainfall, alkaline soil, and altitude of 2,550 feet (780m). These factors combined to reduce rust and corrosion. Additionally the hard soil made it possible to move aircraft throughout the facility without having to pave the storage areas.

What happens when aircraft arrive at the Boneyard?

On arrival at AMARG aircraft undergo several processes to safe them before storage:

  • All guns, ejection seat charges, and classified hardware are removed,
  • The fuel system is protected by draining it, refilling it with lightweight oil, and then draining it again leaving a protective oil film throughout the system, and
  • Seals are applied to ensure dust, sunlight, and high temperatures do not degrade the aircraft using a variety of materials including a high-tech vinyl plastic compound called Spraylat (after its producer the Spraylat Corporation) of which there are two coats applied a black spray to block sunlight and a white layer to help with temperature control within the body of the aircraft

When all the steps above are complete a tug moves the plane to its designated “storage” position.

Storage types at AMARG

There are four types of storage for aircraft arriving at AMARG:

  • Type 1000 – long-term storage to be maintained until recalled to active service; “inviolate” – these aircraft have a high potential to return to flying status and no parts may be removed from them (All type 1000 units are ‘re-preserved’ every four years
  • Type 2000 – available for parts reclamation these ‘aircraft storage bins’ are used for parts to keep other aircraft flying
  • Type 3000 – flying hold aircraft are kept in ‘near flyable’ condition in short-term, temporary storage; usually waiting for transfer to another unit, sale to another country, or reclassification to the other three types
  • Type 4000 – excess of DoD needs have previously been gutted and every usable part reclaimed; airframes and parts are sold, broken down into scrap, smelted into ingots, and recycled

What’s in part two?

In the next part of this build article I’ll detail how I went about fixing the problems with the canopy and how that drove me to build a boneyard aircraft, and look at some of the tools involved in getting the model ready to build.