It’s always wise to look over the instructions before starting any kit, but if you decide to build Special Hobby’s 1/72nd-scale X-15A-2, it’s best to first check the Internet, since the directions provided with this kit are ambiguous and the exploded diagram is confusing. Two reputable modeling websites are Hyperscale.com and ModelingMadness.com, both of which offer well-researched “build-up” articles about Special Hobby’s kit.
At each site you’ll find that the cockpit walls, instrument panel and floor should be painted light ghost gray, FS-36375, and the ejection seat frame should be dark ghost gray, FS-36230. Add a few dots of black in the holes of the instrument panel, to simulate the dials, and paint the seat cushions pale greenish-gray, with blue-gray seat belts.
The fuselage is split horizontally, allowing the completed cockpit to be easily dropped in and glued into place. You can also cement the nose gear well into position at this point. Position about half a dozen BBs in a pool of white glue behind the cockpit, to ensure your model will sit properly on its tricycle landing gear.
After cementing the fuselage parts together, pay particular attention to the kit’s exploded diagram while assembling the dorsal and ventral vertical stabilizers. Note the airbrakes are located at the point where the fins attach to the fuselage. These airbrake parts can be built in the open position, but since I couldn’t find any photos showing the brakes open while the plane was on the ground, I built mine in the closed position.
Next glue the wings into their corresponding slots. Attach the horizontal stabilizers at the indented points molded into the aft portion of the fuselage. Note that the elevators should be glued at a downward angle, much like those on the empennage of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.
The X-15 was skinned with a nickel-steel alloy, Inconel X, along with titanium and stainless steel. The aircraft’s black paint scheme resulted from an order issued by Paul Bickel, director of NASA operations at Edwards Air Force Base. The black coating ensured that the various skin sections would remain a uniform temperature during flights. The paint weathered due to operations in the desert climate and the effects of high-Mach flight, quickly fading into shades of gray.
A good starting point for an overall base color for your model is flat aircraft interior black, FS-37031. Referring to NASA photos online, mask off selected areas and spray them with various grays, such as British extra dark sea gray, BS381C/640; Schwarzgrau, RLM-66; gloss black, FS-17038; stainless steel; and dark anodic gray. Other shades such as engine gray, FS-36076, and navy dark gray, FS-36081, will add realism to the model.
Once you’re satisfied with your paint job, spray several light coats of Future acrylic floor polish or Testor’s Glosscoat over the model. A very smooth, extremely shiny surface is a must, as the model has numerous decal markings. Apply each decal carefully, to ensure the edges settle cleanly—eliminating any possibility of silvering (this occurs when air is trapped under a decal or the marking does not conform to the model’s surface and becomes silver on the edges).
If you plan to display your model with the cockpit canopy open, mask the inside and paint it the same light gray as the cockpit. I brushed the teardrop windows with Tamiya’s clear blue to reflect high-altitude glare. Make two canopy braces from plastic rod, paint them yellow and position them using NASA photos as a reference. Note that the Special Hobby kit is the X-15A-2, incorporating the airframe that was rebuilt and extended after a crash in 1962. This aircraft carried additional fuel tanks on the fuselage sides, which appeared in various color schemes. The model shown duplicates the unpainted metal shades used when NASA photo EC65-900 was shot in 1965.
Read more about the X-15 in Across the Hypersonic Divide by Richard P. Hallion.