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U-2S "Senior Span/Spur"
Part Three
- Painting and Finishing

by David W. Aungst


U-2S "Senior Span/Spur"


Cutting Edge's 1/48 scale U-2 accessories and conversions are available online from Meteor Productions


    9th Wing Badge

This is part three of my marathon three part posting on my U-2S "Senior Span/Spur" project.

After over three and a half years on my work bench, I can finally call this one DONE.

In parts one and two of my U-2 project build posting, I discussed a brief history of the U-2 and the building of my U-2S model. In this part I will discuss the painting and finishing of the model.

Follow these links to get to the other parts of this posting.

  Part One: Aircraft History, Model Kit Description, and
Fuselage Interior Construction
  Part Two: Fuselage Exterior, Wings, and
Completed Airframe Construction

Model Surface Details and Scribing


There is really only one painting option for making a late model U-2S -- black, black, and more black. With this one camouflage option available, the question became, "How do I make an all-black aircraft interesting?". I decided that I needed airframe details to help fill in the long areas of flat nothing. To that end, I postponed painting for just a little while longer and scoured over all the U-2 references I had looking for panel lines and access panels on the airframe. I figured that some extra scribing would go a long way to adding interest into the surface of the model.

Even before I started painting, I was starting to really like the way the model was looking with all the added access panels and details.

Some further scrutiny of the Senior Spear antenna farm on the belly of the aircraft and the provided blade antennae from both Cutting Edge's update set and Italeri's Senior Span kit made me decide to handle the blade antennae a little differently than I had originally thought. I already had drilled holes in the locations I thought I wanted the blade antennae to be, but a late discovery of a bottom-side image of a U-2S in the landing pattern changed my opinions of the locations I chose to drill the holes. So, I filled the holes and relocated the antennae as outlined below.

  Corrected Blade Antennae
Corrected Blade Antennae
Also, I knew that both the Cutting Edge and Italeri blade antennae were too big. I had not taken time to determine just how much they were too big. After some careful measurements from the pictures I had, I did the math to find that both the Cutting Edge and Italeri blade antennae were substantially too big. Both were incorrect in the angle that the "hockey stick" antennae were mounted. I liked the shape of the Cutting Edge blades better, so I started with theirs and trimmed them down to more appropriate sizes. See the image to the right for a comparison of the original and modified antennae.

The first thing you will note in the picture is the height of the blade antennae. I cut off about 0.1" inches (measured at the leading edge) from the base of the antennae. I also changed the angle of the base so that the "blade" of the "hockey stick" would be more parallel to the airstream. The shortening of the blade in addition to the change in angles substantially reduced the overall height of the blades, solving the problem of having them hit the ground on the complete model. Additionally, I slightly reduced the width of the blade and the length of the tip.

Using my newly modified "hockey sticks" as a basis, I then cut down the other blade antennae to correspond to the size change in the "hockey sticks".

Since I was cutting the blades from their mounting plates in order to fix their size, I decided to make my own mounting places (thinner) out of 0.010" strip styrene and attach the mounting plates to the aircraft before painting. The images below show one of the reference images along with a picture of my model (before painting). The model image shows the final positions of the blade antennae (really just the mounting plates) as best as I could interpret from the reference images. Note these are only marginally different from the positions given in the Cutting Edge instructions.


Antennae Positions -- Reference Image
Antennae Positions -- Reference Image
Antennae Positions -- Model
Antennae Positions -- Model


Painting and Markings


After adding all the three-dimensional details that I could find, it was now time to start painting. I wanted to verify all my work was clean, so I did something very out of character for me and primed the model. I used Model Master D.Ghost Gray and painted the whole model. Had I known the trouble this would cause me later, I would have decided not to prime the model.


Primed Model
Primed Model

After having a mostly black plastic model (with some gray resin portions) on my desk for the last couple years, it seemed strange to see this all gray model. One thing was very evident -- the primer showed that my scribe lines were way deeper and more pronounced than I would have liked, but it was well past the time to fix that, so I moved on. The following images show some of the additional scribing I added to the model. The red arrows in the images highlight the additional lines.


Upper Rear Fuselage
Upper Rear Fuselage
Rear Fuselage Sides
Rear Fuselage Sides
Upper Mid-Fuselage
Upper Mid-Fuselage
Lower Forward Fuselage
Lower Forward Fuselage
Flap Actuator Access
Flap Actuator Access Panels
Fuel Cell and Wing Tip Access
Fuel Cell and Wing Tip Access

Pictures from the World Airpower Journal issue that covers the later U-2 had plenty of shots of U-2 aircraft showing a wide variety of weathering patterns. I decided to try to capture a weathered look without making the aircraft look too busy.

The first thing I had to do is start thinking in terms of very dark gray, not black. This would then give me the latitude to vary the shades and simulate a paint scheme similar to what I was seeing in pictures. I started by painting the whole model in Model Master Interior Black. Previous usage of this color by me over bare plastic showed it to be a nice extra dark gray color. Over the gray primer paint, however, the color turned to a near black color. This was much darker than what I was initially intending as the overall color of the model.

Now I had to decide what to do. The problem was that I liked the dark color I got when applying this paint over the gray primer. I decided to keep it, which changed some of my other plans for painting on the model. I masked off and painted the ASARS II nose in a very thin true black. Most all pictures of ASARS equipped aircraft from the 1990s show the nose being darker than the rest of the aircraft. I kept the paint thin and just misted it on until I had slightly darkened the nose. I did the same darkening to the noses of the super pods, the forward portion of the Senior Span pod, and the engine intake lips.

Most aircraft in pictures show a faded pattern across the upper wings and fuselage with very slight darkening near panel lines. I mixed up some Engine Gray (F.S.36076) and misted it in a wide spray pattern across the inboard wings and the upper fuselage. Before doing this paint fading, I masked off the fairings for the super pods. Images showed these were generally darker than the surrounding wing areas, probably because they are removable and thus not as weathered.

A couple images showed aircraft where the outer wing fuel cells had been recently maintained. This resulted in a dark gray outline to the panels. I masked the wings and applied this outline using Engine Gray (F.S.36076). While painting full-strength Engine Gray, I also masked and painted the panels under the nose, in front of the ECM blisters on the engine intakes, and the front and rear faces of the ECM pods on the wing tips. Most images show these areas being a lighter color than the rest of the airframe.

The "scuff zones" on the upper wing flaps and the small pie slice at the front of the vertical tail are white. I had painted these in gloss white and masked them before starting the overall colors. The spoiler wells are Chromate Yellow with the actuator pistons painted white. I have no detail color references for the wells, so I chose to make the pistons white just to liven up the area.


Ready for Gloss Coating
Ready for Gloss Coating

With all the major area painting done, I was really starting to like the looks of the model. Next, I held my breath and applied a gloss coat using Floquil Crystal Coat to the whole model. This gloss coat changed the colors of the model considerably. All the things that should have been darker but did not seem to be much darker suddenly were darker. I felt vindicated over the color choices I had made and that the color variations were not too over-done (a BIG fear I had before the gloss coat). Then, it was time to start applying decals.

The decals for the unit markings came from the Cutting Edge TR-1A / U-2R/S "Dragon Lady" sheet CED48026 (seen below). While there are several nice tail art aircraft on this sheet, they all go on aircraft from the 1991 Desert Storm conflict. I was limited on using any of these because of the airframe details I already had applied to the model. Specifically, the GPS dome fairing on the left wing was not present for the 1991 Desert Storm period. Besides, what I really wanted to build was an aircraft that used the "BB" tail code like the one I saw at the Andrews AFB air show. So, I ignored the neat tail arts and just used the generic "BB" tail codes and numbers from the bottom portion of the sheet.


Decal Cover Page
Decal Cover Page
Decal Sheet
Decal Sheet

The Cutting Edge sheet I originally purchased years ago turned out to have a severe registry problem. All the "BB" and serial number decals had the white backing showing from the sides of the markings, making them look like they were shadowed. A quick trip (well, not SO quick being a six hour round trip) to Meteor allowed me to pick up a replacement. My off-register sheet must have been a fluke, as the first two sheets I picked off the pile were in perfect register. The sheet includes a bit of airframe data markings. Loving data markings, I could not help but to add these to the model, too. Most U-2 aircraft seem to maintain their data markings pretty well, so these are not out of place.

Studying the pictures of the aircraft I saw at the Andrews AFB air show, I saw many airframe panels had silver/gray fasteners lining the panels. I decided it would make this all black aircraft look more interesting to incorporate these fastener patterns into the model. I got the idea for this from Gekko Graphics silver scratches weathering decals. I measured the panels that were to get the fastener decals and drew up the art work on my PC. After cross-checking and verifying the patterns and sizes, I printed them on my ALPS printer using a silver foil ribbon. Covered with gloss and flat coatings, these dulled down nicely to a metallic gray color.

The following is the art work I used for my custom decals (reduced in size to save space). I also changed the background color in this image to make the fastener patterns easier to see.


Custom Decal Art Work
Custom Decal Art Work

When the decals had dried, I applied another gloss coat to seal them. Then, I applied a satin finish to the entire model using Floquil Flat Finish. I have never gotten a flat finish from Floquil Flat Finish, instead always giving me a nice satin finish. Lastly, I applied a flat coat to specific parts of the model using Polly Scale Flat Finish. After this flat coat, the red of the tail markings seemed extremely bright on the dark airframe. I toned down the red color by doing a light misting of black over the tail. The effect better captured the look of the markings I saw on real aircraft in pictures.


Decaled and Satin/Flat Coated
Decaled and Satin/Flat Coated

For weathering, I did very little beyond what I had already done with the colors of the paints I used. Most of the weathering was built into the already applied color coatings. Also, the scribed lines were deep enough to be seen without needing any washes applied to them. I did do some minor dry brushing to pop out and enhance a few surface surface details (like the stiffening ribs on the tails).

For the record, this black finish on the model was more troublesome than other color finishes I have applied. The biggest issue was that I could not make touch-ups without having them show. It was almost as bad as a natual metal finish in this respect. What I fould is that the colors painted from the bottles (brushed or air brushed) were very different from the same bottled colors that had been gloss, satin, and/or flat finished. I have some areas on the bottom that really got me annoyed around the blade antennae because my touch-ups are not matching the surounding paint. Oh well...



Finishing Touches


With the model painted and decaled, it was time to work on the landing gear. With all the detail I had added to the rest of the model, I did not want to come up short on the landing gear, so I started doing some scratch building and detailing. The following image shows the landing gear items that I updated.


Updated Landing Gear Items (Mostly Unpainted)
Updated Landing Gear Items (Mostly Unpainted)

What I did to the landing gear items is as follows:

  • Main Wheel Well Doors: The kit pieces are not bad. They only lacked some inside ribbing. I added the ribbing with 0.010"x0.020" styrene strips. I also added 0.020" square strips on the mounting edges of the doors to provide a lip to assist in aligning the parts when I attached them to the model.
  • Main Landing Gear: Pictured is the Cutting Edge landing gear strut that I made the master for with the kit-provided landing lights attached to it. On looking closer at the strut, I found I needed to add some small wiring harness details. Not easily visible in the images, after completing the painting of the strut, I added some black hydraulic lines and wiring to the back side of the strut and two MV Lenses for the landing lights.
  • Tail Wheel Well Doors: Out of the box, these could work, but I have images that showed details that the kit had missed. I cut holes in the doors and added vent louvers in the rear sections. I added a scoop to the leading edge. I also added the retraction linkage connect point on the inside. Like on the main wheel well doors, I also added 0.020" square strips on the mounting edges of the doors to provide a lip to assist in aligning the parts when I attached them to the model.
  • Tail Landing Gear: The kit piece for the strut is quite close to the real thing. All I did was add the linkage lines for the steering collar and drill holes to receive the linkage arms for the wheel well doors.
  • Wing Pogo Struts: The pictured items are already painted white. I cut down and re-built the mounting shanks, replacing the kit's plastic mounting pins with brass wire. This would help the pogos survive years of display on my model shelves. I also added the tie-down lugs to the front and back of each pogo.
  • Speed Brakes: Like the main wheel well doors, the speed brakes are not bad right out of the box, but I was not happy with the thinness in the kit pieces. There were also a series of knock-out pin flaws on the inside surfaces. I decided to re-build the inner side of the speed brakes. This made the brakes more bulky as well as covered the knock-out pin flaws.
  • Speed Brake Actuators: The kit piece for these were too small. Besides, having rebuilt and deepened the speed brake wells, I needed longer actuators than what the kit provided. The only course was to scratch build new actuators from styrene rod and brass wire.

After all the updates were done, I painted the pieces and attached them to the model. The one landing gear item I did not change from the kit was the rather complicated looking retraction linkage for the main wheel well doors. Testors/Italeri seemed to do quite well on this piece, so I just removed the mold marks, paint it, and installed it as is.


Updated Landing Gear Items (Painted)
Updated Landing Gear Items (Painted)

Now that the model was sitting on its landing gear, I could start adding all the blade antennae. Having already attached the mounting plates of the antennae and pre-drilled all the antennae locations before painting, the antennae were fairly easy to attach. I drilled a hole in the bottom of each antenna with a #80 drill bit and glued in a piece of fine brass wire. The wire acted as a locator pin and made a positive attachment to the aircraft in each place I had drilled a hole on the bottom of the model.

Underside Antenna Farm
Underside Antenna Farm


While attaching the blade antennae, I painted some of the antennae bases in the light yellow/green that I used in the wheel wells. Then, a quick swipe with a paint brush colored the actual blade antennae. The Cutting Edge instructions state that the antennae vary in color. I found most pictures showed black antennae, so I chose to make most of them black. For variety, I did pick off a couple odd antennae in medium gray. Pictures also showed the antennae were glossy finished. After the colored paint dried, I gave each blade a swipe of clear gloss paint.

Attaching the wing flaps and spoilers came next. No matter how long I had played with the detail fit of the flaps, I always found I could tweak something else to improve the fit even more. Finally, I gave up and added glue.

The spoiler wells were detailed with some fine wire. I have no pictures of this area on the real aircraft, so I just added the wire to make things look busy. The wire is ignition wire for 1/24th and 1/12th scale car models.


Left Wing Spoiler Well
Left Wing Spoiler Well


As is almost always the case for me, detailing around the cockpit and the interior of the canopy were the last things I did on the model. I scratch-built the defogging pipe in the rear section from copper wire. I added the latching handles on the right frame edge with fine brass wire. Finally, I added the rearview mirrors and movable sunshade with its guiderail to the front edge using fine brass wire and sheet styrene. Cutting Edge provides a nicer version of the personal fan for the left side of the canopy than the kit-provided version, so I used the Cutting Edge version. Italeri's instructions tell you to mount the fan to the canopy glass, but it really is attached to the canopy frame. I removed the molded locator lines from the glass and attached the fan to the canopy framing.

Research showed that the majority of the canopy is clear plexiglass with only a couple inches of frame running around the outer edge. What looks like a solid upper portion is really a self-adhesive sunshade applied from the inside of the canopy glass on the upper rear section. The kit molds this detail correctly with the line for the shade only present on the inside of the canopy. I masked the inner canopy and painted the sunshade from the inside.

One item to add on the upper left windscreen frame was the rearview mirror. The kit-provided piece for this was way too bulky, so I scratch-built a new mirror from a piece of styrene rod, some 0.005" brass wire and some 0.005" sheet styrene. This looked much better and was more dainty, like the one on the real aircraft.

With all this work done around the cockpit and canopy, I attached the canopy in the open position and completed the project.


Cockpit and Canopy
Cockpit and Canopy



So what EXACTLY have I built?


This picture was the prime inspiration for the project.


68-10329 Reference Image
68-10329 Reference Image

This biggest difference between the above image and my model is the ASARS II nose. While I have other images showing that 68-10329 can carry the ASARS II nose, the above image shows it at a time when the ASARS II nose was not being carried. This aircraft (and more specifically my model) bristles with antennae all over its surfaces. What are they all and what do they do? From studying various books, I have learned the following.

  • The nose is the ASARS II synthetic aperture radar. This side-looking radar is used to make detailed radar maps of target areas from considerable stand-off distances. Sample images in books show astounding clarity in the images, and I am sure that the images declassified for publication are only a fraction of the true capability of the system.
  • The antenna farms on the lower airframe and the canoe fairing on the left super pod are all part of the Senior Spear COMINT system which gathers and classifies various forms of communication signals. The flattened portions of the forward sections on the super pods are for Senior Ruby. This is an ELINT system that gathers information on radar emissions. The combination of Senior Spear with Senior Ruby together on one aircraft is also referred to as Senior Glass.
  • The four "hockey stick" blade antennae mounted on the top and bottom of each of the Senior Ruby super pod noses are unknown to me. The image above of aircraft 68-10329 is the only image I have showing these, and since I wanted as many antennae on the model as I could, I added them. Perhaps they were an experimental extension of the Senior Spear fit.
  • The dorsal antenna pod is a satellite up-link antenna to allow real-time interpretation of the information gathered by the U-2. It is referred to as either Senior Span or Senior Spur. Senior Span is for transmission of SIGINT data recorded through the Senior Glass systems. Because I also attached the ASARS II nose on the model, this aircraft could have a Senior Spur installation which transmits radar imagery recorded by the ASARS II system. Differences in the transmission process dictate that the dorsal pod is either Senior Span or Senior Spur. It can not be both. The external details of the pod appear to remain the same, no matter whether Senior Span or Senior Spur are inside.

These are my best guesses based on what I have read. Considering the classified nature of the U-2, these interpretations could be correct or just elaborate fabrications. I do know that some of the references I checked contradict each other on various points. Whatever the case, all the assorted antennae, bumps, and bulges give the model a very determined look that lives up to the U-2 pilot's motto -- In God we trust, all others we monitor.


Model Picture




Did I mention that the finished model is HUGE?!?! The completed model has a 26 inch wingspan. I need to find a creative way to fit this model onto my display shelves in the living room. The following image shows just how big the final model is as I proudly hold it up for the camera.


Me Holding the Completed Model
Dave Aungst Holding the Completed Model


I believe all the update sets I used on this model are still available from Cutting Edge. If you get the current Italeri "Senior Span" release, you really will not need the Cutting Edge Senior Span/Spur/Spear set. The ASARS II nose fit problems are not impossible to overcome, but they will require time to work out.

This model is a record-breaker for me.

  • It holds the record for the highest number of hours I have invested into any single model -- 180.8 hours. And, this time tally does not include a further 86.2 hours I spent building the masters for some of the U-2 update sets I incorporated into the model. Just the "extra detailing" time alone -- 82.3 hours -- is double the time a "normal" project build would take me.
  • The work I did constructing the master for the main wheel bay constitutes the largest pure scratch-building effort I have yet to undertake. Scratch-building the tail wheel well / engine exhaust and wing flaps / spoilers just added to the tally.
  • It has the largest amount of resin updates that I have ever put into any one model. I used a total of seven different resin update sets on the model that replaced over half the kit parts and about 25% of the overall volume the original model with updated, enhanced, or otherwise changed pieces. Interestingly, there are no etched metal pieces anywhere on the model.

I really enjoyed building this model, although I am really, REALLY, REALLY tired of black finishes for a little while. And, in the process of researching for the project, I learned that there is much more to the U-2 than what meets the eye.





(Newest to Oldest)

  • U-2R/S Walk Around by David W Aungst
    On-Line HyperScale Reference, 2003

  • U-2: The Second Generation by Chris Pocock
    World Airpower Journal, Volume 28, AirTime Publishing, 1997

  • Dragon Lady by Ted Carlson / Toyokazu Matsuzaki
    Koku-Fan Magazine, Volume 1996-04, Bunrin-Do Company, Limited, 1996

  • Recce Tech by Paul F Crickmore
    Osprey Color Series, Osprey Aerospace Publishing, 1989

  • U-2 Spyplane in Action by Larry Davis
    Squadron In Action #86, Squadron Publishing, 1988/2002

  • Lockheed U-2R/TR-1 by Jay Miller
    AeroFax MiniGraph #28, AeroFax, Inc., 1988

  • Lockheed U-2 by Jay Miller
    AeroFax AeroGraph #3, AeroFax, Inc., 1983


Additional Images and Project Summary


Click the thumbnails below to view images full-sized.
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Project Statistics

Completion Date:

30 December, 2005

Total Building Time:






Painting (includes creation and printing of custom decals):


Decals / Markings (includes creating and printing custom decals):


Extra Detailing / Conversion:


Model, Description and Images Copyright 2006 by David Aungst
Page Created 09 January, 2006
Last Updated 09 January, 2006

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