Lost Designs
BAC TSR2 – Northrop YF-23 – Dassault Mirage IIIV

The history of aviation is littered with aircraft designs that never made it off the drawing boards, many of them good ideas that weren’t needed or were impractical. There are also many good designs that were built but never entered production. Sometimes they didn’t live up to expectations, sometimes the role they had been designed for ceased to exist and sometimes they were not chosen for production because a competing design was chosen instead. This week I thought we’d look at three lost designs that had potential and are great looking aircraft, but which did not get beyond the prototype stage.

Dassault Mirage III V in 1/72 by Modelsvit
In 1961 NATO issued a requirement for a VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) supersonic fighter. Two aircraft were selected for consideration, the Hawker Siddeley 1154 and the Dassault Mirage III V. The French aircraft was a modified Mirage III with eight small engines installed vertically around the main engine to lift the aircraft into the air. Two prototypes were built, for first one flying for the first time in February 1965. It was not very successful and in tests it could either take off and land vertically or reach supersonic speeds, but not both on the same flight. It was as very complex design so the single engined Hawker Siddeley 1154 was chosen. After that decision work on the Mirage III V stopped. One crashed during testing and the other one is on display at the French Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget.

This model was made using the Modelsvit kit which is the only kit there is. The company offers kits for both prototypes, the first having the more complex intake doors for the lift jets and the second having a slightly elongated fuselage. This is the first prototype with the complex intake doors which were a serious challenge to get right. I really didn’t enjoy making this kit with it’s box of what seems like an endless supply of tiny parts that had to be built up into parts which would have been a single part in any other kit. Frustration and annoyance drove this project to the shelf of tears many times but it was too interesting a model not to finish, so I eventually did. Not really recommended.

Northrop YF-23 in 1/72 by Dragon
At the beginning of the 1980s the US Air Force began looking for a next-generation fighter to counter the new Russian fighters then being developed. It was to be a stealthy air-superiority fighter with supercruise capability. After a long process of investigation two designs were selected to be built, the Lockheed YF-22 and the Northrop YF-23. Two of the Northrop fighters were constructed, the first one flying in August 1990. The competing aircraft were tested in late 1990, the YF-23 was faster and more stealthy and the YF-22 was more agile. In April 1991 the US Air Force announced that the YF-22 had been selected for production. The YF-23s were placed into storage and are now on display in two United States aviation museums.

There may be two kits available of this aircraft, one offered by Dragon first in 1991 and then in several boxings and Platz quite recently. The other was published by Italeri first also in 1991 and then also boxed by Testors, Revell and Tamiya. For all I know they may all be the same kit published by everyone. In comparison to the Modelsvit Mirage III V, this kit is simple and easy to assemble, being basically upper and lower fuselage halves, a couple of control surfaces with the only slightly difficult parts being the cockpit and undercarriage. This is a good model to make, it might challenge your painting skills a little but it really is an elegant looking aircraft and stands out in any collection. The F-22 looks like a flying bathtub in comparison.

BAC TSR.2 in 1/72 by Airfix
This aircraft was the result of a British requirement for a very high speed medium bomber and reconnaissance aircraft that could fly at low altitudes to attack high-value targets and could also conduct reconnaissance missions. Out of the submissions it received the government decided on a combination of the best features of the English Electric and Vickers designs. Serious work began on the design in 1959 and the prototype made its first flight in September 1964. However, rapidly escalating costs and other problems led the British government to cancel the project in April that year. Three TSR.2s were built and two are on display, one at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and the other at the RAF Museum, Cosford.

Over the years there have been several attempts to make an acceptable kit of the TSR.2. I had the old Contrails vacform kit which I battled with for several years before throwing it in the bin. After that there were several resin kits, memory of which has disappeared into the mists of time. The only easy to make kit is the Airfix one that was first published in 2006 and has been republished several times as a science fiction model with some additional parts. Most modellers were looking forward to this when it was published but were disappointed when they tried to put the parts together. The fit was terrible in many places and I still remember with a sort of sick feeling the experience of trying to make the intake trunking fit. As is usual, in-box reviews such as the one in Hyperscale are positive while build reviews such as the ones in Modeling Madness and Fine Scale Modeler are not so pleased. But, as the reviewer in Fine Scale Modeler comments, ‘boy, it sure is a good-lookin’ model’.