Saab J-35 Day-Glo Wing Numbers

Have you ever wondered how to make those large, day-glo numbers on the upper side of Austrian Air Force Saab J-35 Draken’s wings? Here is an approach that might help you!

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An Austrian Draken banks for the camera. (Photo credit: Christian Hauser via Airliners.net)

A Brief Introduction

The Draken was one of those exotic European jets that came out in the 60’s. It had the style, the technology, and the futuristic look that made Russian and American jets look… obsolete.

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An Austrian Air Force Draken in modern times (Photo credit: Aldo Bidini, via https://commons.wikimedia.org)

Developed in the 50’s, the unique J-35 was manufactured by the Swedish company Saab. The Double-Delta winged fighter jet took the aviation industry by surprise with its unconventional but distinctive look. The J-35 had limited export success. Besides the Swedish Air Force, the air forces of Austria, Denmark, and Finland also used several versions of the J-35.

More reading on the Draken in Wikipedia

Hasegawa J-35 Draken in 1/72 scale

Hasegawa’s 1:72 scale Draken (Kit no. 51402) is a simple and tiny kit, though it might be their better offerings. The surface detail was very good and came with a low part number, totally only 56 plastic components. Like other Hasegawa kits in this scale, they gave you decals for the cockpit, an over-simplified ejection seat, and no weapon options. It was  quite a simple but the build was not that easy. The fit was good, but not that great. So there are always some work for me to do.

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One thing that Hasegawa forgot to include in the decal sheet was the large day-glo numbers seen in Austrian Draken’s upper wing. And I probably had wondered how on earth could they omitted THAT very prominent feature on the sheet?

Not to worry, its not the end of the world. These are called challenges in the modeling world and like any other challenges in the real-world, there is always a fix of some kind. It’s not always done through using “basic modeling skills”; however, the steps I am about to show you will require some of that plus a bit more on precision cutting, masking, paint mixing, graphic skills, and careful airbrushing.

Despite the sample that I am showing here was conducted on a 1/72 scale model, the basic principal, concept, and approach can be applied on any scale. Even the example of an Austrian J-35 should not stop you in trying out these steps on other J-35 of any air force (or any aircraft, for that matter).

The Fix

Instead of developing new decals, I decided to spray-painted the large day-glo numbers. I used a vector-design software to draw up a set of new number and used that as a template for the paint masks.

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A dramatic photo of an Austrian J-35 banking in low level flight (Photos credit: Martin Rosenkranz via Airliners.net)

Measuring the Numbers

The first order of business was to get a measurement of the day-glo numbers, as accurate as possible. Using an actual image of the J-35, I worked with a drawing compass (or math compass) to measure the size of the number. With that tool, I could measure the relative distance of an aircraft part that I saw on a photo with those same parts on the scale model.

Once I measured the day-glo numbers and compared the results with other features of the aircraft, I then brought the findings and compared them to the same parts on the scale model.

By using different photos, I could cross-examine the size of the large day-glo numbers and get a better readout , resulting in improved accuracy of my measurements.

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An excellent flat-out view of the day-glo numbers on the upper wing area of the Draken (Photo credit: Anthony Osborne via Airliners.net)

Vector Drawing

The next step was to bring over those measurements on to the vector-drawing software. I am not an expert on CorelDraw but knows the bare minimum of tools to get what I needed from this software.

After further observation, I decided to base my day-glo wing numbers on the AmarilloUSAF font. I had to modify the original AmarilloUSAF fonts as they didn’t quite look the same with the ones on the aircraft.  The day-glo wing numbers on the J-35 were slightly longer but slimmer. The first this I did was to convert the font into workable vectors. And from there on, I used the cursor tool to pull, stretch, and resized the object until I was satisfied with final look.

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The Base Color

Before I moved on to masking, I laid down the orange day-glo base color. I wanted it to show a slightly weathered appearance, so I used a mix of colors to show some tonal variety. My color of choice fell on ModelMaster 2041 Florescent Red-Orange, Tamiya XF-2 Flat White and XF-3 Flat Yellow.

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Paints used for the day-glo numbers

Using an airbrush, I sprayed those colors interchangeably. I faded the day-glo orange with a bit of yellow and white until I got the weathered look that I was aiming for, based on various photo references. If you are not opting for a weathered look, then you can omit the white and yellow and just go for the florescent red-yellow.

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The Draken with the base day-glo color

If you don’t have Model Master, other brands like Mr. Color (Mr. Color C173 Flourescent Orange and Acrysion C-173 Flourescent Orange) and Humbrol (Humbrol 209 Flourescent Fire Orange Gloss) provides range of paints similar to florescent red-orange in acrylic, lacquer, and enamel.  They might be a bit different than that of ModelMaster version but you might be able to match it by mixing a bit of red into it.

The Mask

It was time to transfer the numbers onto the masking tape. I printed a black-and-white version of the numbers and cut them out with a sharp blade before placing them onto the Tamiya masking tape. I added a bit of white glue on the back of the paper cut-out so that it sticks better on the masking tape. This helped me keep both the paper and masking tape temporarily in place when I traced them with a sharp blade.

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Masks are on!

Respray The Primer

With the masks in place, I continued with re-priming the aircraft and applying its base color. I sprayed Mr. Surfacer Black 1500 onto the oversprayed day-glo that was not covered by the masking tape. Then I apply Mr. Color. No.306 as the base for light-colored grey front fuselage.

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Re-priming the model

I then followed up the paint job by marbling Mr. Color No.305 and masked the soft-edge boundaries with Blu-tack.

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Two-tone greys

Unmasking

Once the lacquer paint dried, I peeled off the masking tape to reveal the day-glow orange. Always take extra care when peeling off the masks and avoid ruining any paint work as much as possible.

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The moment of truth

The last step of the process was to add stencil lines crossing horizontally across the day-glo numbers. These lines were basically the grey camouflage color cutting across the numbers, perhaps due to the stenciling process when the Austrian Air Force maintenance personnel painted the numbers on the actual aircraft. To achieve this look, I masked the necessary areas with Tamiya masking tape and covered any of the day-glo paint that came through the masks with Mr. Color No. 305.

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Promising results

Final Look

Hell, the result from masking definitely beats any decals!

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Beats any decals!

Happy Modeling!

3 Comments

  1. Great step by step, the same technique can be used even instead of using the often large decals that are supplied for many display schemes which are always difficult to apply, as well as for those the manufacturer has omitted as in this case. Much easier to weather and blend into the aircraft than decals can often be too.
    Great looking final results, really makes me want to pick this kit up myself.

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