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The Pink Panther X-15

You May Have Been Modelling Too Long If You See Pink Elephants, But Not If You See a Pink X-15!

n by Barry Davidoff
n photos by Staffan Skogsby and Per-Olov Broddeson

The X-15 always has held a fascination for me for since it was a major progenitor of the space shuttle and hypersonic research. The X-15 is a space vehicle since five of its pilots were awarded astronaut wings and it flew above 50 miles twelve times. After constructing numerous versions of the X-15 in a variety of scales, the pink thermal protection version remained as a major challenge. The convergence of the Special Hobbies kit, the New Ware conversion, and the publication of an excellent reference within a short period of 2003, provided the opportunity to built this very colorful version. While the model was under construction I brought it to one of the IPMS Stockholm meetings, where it was promptly dubbed the "Pink Panther."

The model was based on the Special Hobbies kit of the X-15A-2 in 1/48 scale (Kit Number SH008). It is indispensable to have the New Ware conversion kit for the High Speed Record X-15 (Kit Number NW008), which provided the lower ventral fin and the "eyelid" for the canopy. A very detailed reference is provided by Hypersonic -The Story of the North American X-15, by Dennis Jenkins and Tony Landis, which was recently published. The book contains over 550 photos of the X-15 and shows almost every detail in addition to a superbly written text. 

The Special Hobbies X-15 represents both some of the best and worst of modern model technology. The kit is advertised as a limited edition injection molded kit with resin details. The major components are molded in a thick gray plastic that is two or three times thicker than on average kits. This very thick plastic makes cutting much harder, and there is a considerable amount of that required for building. The fuselage has panel lines that are lightly recessed into the plastic, which from the photos are in the right positions. The panel lines are so light that they are easily obliterated by a thin coat of paint. Fortunately on the actual pink X-15 the thickness of the special thermal protection paint eliminated most of the panel lines that had not been specially masked. Therefore only a few of the major panel lines were re-scribed. 

The Special Hobbies resin parts are very well detailed. The ejection seat is extremely well cast and contains all the details that can be found in a set of three color photos in Hypersonic. Although little of the seat can be seen in the final model, it is delightful to paint and decal the seat according to such an excellent reference.

I had been warned about some of the major pitfalls of the kit, by fellow IPMS Stockholm member Per -Olaf Broddersen, since he had purchased his kit before me. He informed me that the canopy is molded in two pieces with the split right down the center. Given its complex curves, this part either should have been injected molded in one piece, or if that was too difficult, then it could have been cast in resin. The canopy required precise alignment and super-glue, followed by an ample amount of putty. 

The greatest difficulty with the kit was the cockpit tub. Since it was cast in resin and very nice detailed, I expected it to fit roughly inside the fuselage. I therefore had painted it and applied all the control levers. The cockpit tub was grossly oversized. An attempt to grind it with my Dremel only resulted in a cloud of dust. A second attempt also failed to downsize it sufficiently. I actually shelved the entire project due to frustration. Finally I took my razor saw and performed major surgery. I removed about one centimeter from its length and five millimeters from its width. After retouching the paint, the cockpit finally fit into the fuselage.

After the fuselage was joined together, there was still a gap of 1-2 millimeters, particularly on the front left of the fuselage. This large gap was filled with a combination of Milliput for the large gaps and putty for the small gaps. There also was considerable sanding. 

The dorsal (upper) and ventral (lower) stabilizers represented other challenges in construction. The dorsal stabilizer consisted of two thick sides to which a triangular top was to be sandwiched between to produce its shape. The back of the stabilizer was far too short and narrow so it was replaced with PlastaStruct grooved styrene to represent corrugated Iconel X. 

In order to construct the ventral stabilizer in its ground configuration the instructions of the Special Hobby kit provide that the thick plastic be sawed in half vertically and then joined with a resin wedge bottom which would have been difficult. The ram-jet version that set the speed record used a different ventral stabilizer with a rounded leading edge. Since New Ware provides the correct stabilizer this very difficult task was avoided. 

The X-15 is unusual in that the horizontal stabilizers have a 20 downward dihedral angle. The Special Hobby kit does not include the right locating pins so the correct angle was obtained by drawing two 20º lines on graph paper and then aligning all the major elements. Considerable filler was again required for the wings and the horizontal stabilizers. 

In contrast to the ill fitting major injection plastic components, many of the resin parts were very well cast. The XLR-99 engine exhaust cone and rear panel was well detailed and fit well. Many of the small details also are well molded. More effort should have been devoted by Special Hobbies into engineering some of the castings and injection molded parts. The company concentrated on making the parts detailed, rather than on their fit on the model. As mentioned previously the resin cockpit tub required major surgery.

New Ware Conversion Ki

New Ware produces one of the finest lines of kits of real space models. The conversion kit for the X-15 world speed record configuration (NW015) is one of a series of conversion kits that New Ware produces for the 1/48th Special Hobby X-15, so it is possible to make all the versions used during its 199 flights. Tomas Kladiva of New Ware has created several other conversions for the X-15 which include; 

  1. The X-15 with XLR-11 engine version used for its first flights (NWO17) 
  2. The World Altitude Record version (NW018) 
  3. The proposed X-15 with Blue Scout-proposed satellite launcher version (NWO19) 
  4. X-15 A-2 decals which includes an amazing 48 stencils of all the markings used on the X-15's external tanks (NWD005)

The New Ware conversion kit contained all the parts that are necessary to model the version of the X-15 that Pete Knight flew to set the absolute speed record. Included in the kit are the rounded ventral stabilizer, the eyelid for the left canopy window and the ram jet. 

The pink thermal protection paint version did not include the external tanks or the ram jet so these parts were omitted. The ventral stabilizer in the New Ware conversion was intended to have the ram jet attached. In creating the ground based version resting on its dolly, a new bottom for the ventral stabilizer was made from sheet plastic.


The major purpose of this project was to demonstrate the distinctive pink color of the thermal protection paint, which makes this X-15 "Pink Panther" stand out in a crowd of airplane models.

The Martin Marietta MA-25S ablative paint did not have a specific FS number so its exact shade can not be determined. There also are relatively few photos of the pink X-15. The two that are provided by the History Office at the Dryden Flight Center on the web are included in this article. Hypersonic fortunately includes three photos of the pink X-15, which provides the best source for matching. 

I used Testor's Model Master enamel paints to create the pink color of the MA-25S ablative. The color was obtained by trial and error and matching small samples to the photos in Hypersonic. The color is a mix of; 

  1. Gloss White 
  2. Flat White 
  3. Red 
  4. Insignia Yellow 
  5. Fluorescent Orange 

The fluorescent orange considerably brightened the pink color and gave it added life. The exact percentages are unknown since it was more of adding a few drops to the white base and then matching the photos. Although I wasn't certain if the color I used was an exact match, I did bring the X-15 and Hypersonic to a building night meeting of IPMS Stockholm to obtain opinions. Several members agreed that the color matched the photos very nicely.

The other distinctive feature of the pink X-15 was the black foam tape that was used to mask off the panels on the fuselage. Since on the original the foam masking tape was thick, decals would not have stood out enough above the surface. I therefore used 1/64 inch black artist tape produced by Chartpak. Although the panel lines were lightly recessed on the Special Hobbies kit, I was able to follow them by working under a strong light. Applying the artist tape took several hours. 

Once all the artist tape was applied, the entire model was airbrushed with several coats of Polly S flat. The right canopy window was made from Micro Crystal Clear. Decals were not required on the pink X-15 since the MA-25S was covered by two layers of Dow Corning DC90-090 white paint before the flight to protect the pink ablative from liquid oxygen. The limited markings and stencils were applied only over the white paint on the actual X-15.

The Pink Panther X-15

The "Pink Panther" contrasts greatly with the many other versions of the X-15 that are in stark black and white as shown in the photos. Many extra hours were devoted to building the Special Hobbies kit due to design and fit difficulties. The excellent series of conversion kits by New Ware makes the challenge of building other X-15 versions tempting. Since the "Pink Panther" represents the "before" version of the X-15 that still holds the world's absolute speed record, a version showing the "after" with charring and damage to the ventral stabilizer would be a great companion.


The author deeply appreciates the assistance of Staffan Skogsby for his many photos of the Pink Panther. The photos of the Monogram X-15A-2 and the Dragon B-52 were taken by Per-Olov Broddeson. The assistance of Martin Waligorski in editing the article and preparing it for web publication also is appreciated.


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