Building SOFIA - a conversion article

Started by Rick Lowe, October 23, 2022, 03:50:01 PM

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Rick Lowe

NASA/DLR SOFIA Airborne Telescope

The model project started when I was casting around for ideas of what to get my Brother-in-Law for Christmas 2021.
I had made him models as presents for some years, so it was more a case of thinking of what would suit, be fairly easy and quick to do.

I found NASA had a printable SOFIA model, but the trench lines on it are like Matchbox at their finest, so that was out.

I had seen the V1Decals sheet a while ago and made a note of it, so the markings would be easy.

I have a couple of 1/144 fuselages acquired from somewhere, so advertised here for wings, engines & everything else.
Only after Kit had offered the parts, did I stop and think about how large it would be... ok, 1/200 it is... sorry, Kit - thanks but no.
Nothing available or cheap... wait, Academy has one... dang, 1/288 scale.

I sent a message to V1Decals to ask whether they would be willing to resize their sheet? they were and I ordered one forthwith.
Also an Academy kit, from a local computer retailer of all places!

With the kit in hand, work began.

"I know I saw a conversion article in one of my magazines once, where is it?" Not found. "OK, we'll do this the old-fashioned way."
Search for dimensions of the SP, draw around the kit part, do some rough calculations and sketch where the cuts were to be made.
Find an article online for the conversion, and "Dang it, there are a lot more little things to do, too."

*A note here that the Academy kit is an earlier model, IIRC a -100 version, but this is perfect for the SP as the later versions had a longer hump and longer wings.

I was going to make the telescope cavity as detailed as I could, but lack of time, energy and willing stopped that. Besides, in that scale, how much would you really see? I could pick out details with paint.

Make a 'Z' shaped cut in the forward fuselage and shorten the parts, cut the rear off behind the wing, cut the tail part under the fin from that, cut the fin off.

Re-join the forward fuselage, using the discard parts to strengthen the join. Drill a hole underneath and glue in a length of tube for the stand, later.
Make the new rear part from the cut off scraps and glue the extreme rear part to this, tilting it up just a tad per the original.
Putty, file, sand... Putty, file, sand ... oh, and fill in the windows as they're all on the transfer sheet anyway. More Putty, file, sand.

File the fin's lower  rear edge a bit to allow for the tilting up of the part it attaches to (the RW plane kept the 45deg rake of the long-body versions).

Realize there are no fairings around the wing roots. Shape a piece of 20thou to the underside profile & glue it to the bottom of the fuselage. Mix some milliput and apply. File, sand.


The SP had a different flap system, simpler; so the large canoes underneath the wings had to go. They were duly clipped off and replaced with smaller bits from shaped kit runner.

Tailfin & Tailplanes.
These were lengthened in RL, so extensions from sheet styrene were glued on and filed/sanded to shape.

Engine Pylons.
These were modified to reflect the changes made as used in later 747 versions. The easiest way (did I mention I'm an inherently lazy modeller?) was to make a square cut-out  and glue bits of sheet plastic in place and Putty, file, sand.

Telescope cavity.
The hole was cut out and boxed in. The fairings for the door track were shaped from sheet and glued on (easier than shaping them in situ). I was thinking of installing a tube, but decided instead to build up relief detail on a flat sheet and do any other detailing with paint. Scrap plastic was shaped to match photos (a 7-sided tube? Whose bright idea was that?) and detailed.

The aircraft was assembled, less engines and telescope, for painting.

Paint and Markings.
The craft was given a spray of rattle can white and the underside and engines in Humbrol very Light Grey (I think the SEAC one). Engines were detailed with 2-3 shades of metallics.
The transfers were applied, much relief being experienced that they stood up to my usual rough handling. There were one or two that needed some modification, but nothing major (and the fella at V1 says he's going to look at altering the sheet in light of this).

Final Detailing.
The engines were glued on, and the telescope and its doors installed - yes plural, there is a lower one that rises in concert with the upper one – presumably to keep the gaping hole in the plane to a minimum.

I had an A4 picture frame I could use, so I made a triangular plinth and installed another tube in it. I found a bunch of the Patches from the various Missions online, and grabbed the ones from when the airplane was operating out of Christchurch, NZ – also the one from the Missions that Nichelle Nicholls was on, and the specific SOFIA badge.         
I printed them out, glued them to cardboard and cut them out. The Mission patches were glued around the edge of the base plate and the SOFIA one to the plinth. I drilled through the base board and the clear sheet that I put over the base plate, into the plinth and screwed them together. I clipped a knitting needle to length and fed it into the two tubes and that was basically it.


*Another note, that knitting needles are great for this sort of thing – robust enough to stay straight but malleable if you have to shape or cut them. They're also as cheap as chips from the local op-shop.
Then the article I was originally searching for turned up... but as I seem to have covered all the stuff mentioned in it, I'm happy enough.

Bro-in-Law was very happy with it, as it ticks multiple boxes for him – General Aviation, Space Stuff and Star Trek. Result!

Conversion article:

These are great; well printed, robust and you get some spare blue cheatline to fill any gaps.

NASA's website for detail shots of the aircraft scheme and telescope:

If you just want the printable version, here 'tis:

Rick Lowe

Mods - I seem to have put this in the wrong place; can you please transfer it to current & finished projects - aircraft?
Still working on attaching photos...  :banghead:

Done, but they're HUGE! And blurry - sorry folks.

Rick Lowe

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Rick Lowe

And hows about some WIP shots, too... details in the article.


OUTSTANDING Rick, and just how a conversion article should be written.  :thumbsup:  :thumbsup:
Kit's Rule 1 ) Any aircraft can be improved by fitting longer wings, and/or a longer fuselage
Kit's Rule 2) The backstory can always be changed to suit the model

...and I'm not a closeted 'Take That' fan, I'm a REAL fan! :)


Rick Lowe


Do not condemn the judgement of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong.

Rick Lowe


Very cool Rick  ;D
I saw a program which had this plane in it and hell ..even tho it's not my sort of thing it's still quite different and that's the part I like ..nice matey  :thumbsup:
If it aint broke ,,fix it until it is .
Over kill is often very understated .
I know the voices in my head ain't real but they do come up with some great ideas.
Theres few of lifes problems that can't be solved with the proper application of a high explosive projectile .

Rick Lowe

Captain Canada

That is a great little article, both in print and in model form ! Nice work. Now I want to build an SP !
CANADA KICKS arse !!!!

Long Live the Commonwealth !!!
Vive les Canadiens !
Where's my beer ?

Rick Lowe


Really cool conversion! :thumbsup: 747SP is so cute imo :wub: