The new MD-3 tractor appeared on the flight decks of the U.S. Navy carriers in early 1960s. Designed by Hough (a subsidiary of International Harvester) as probably the first US purpose-built shipboard tractor, it was substantially larger and heavier than all its predecessors (to cope with towing heavier aircraft), but at the same time sported a very low profile so as to fit under the longer noses of modern aircraft. An interesting feature was the modular rear deck: different containers can be flush-mounted there, thus defining the vehicle's role. The jet aircraft start unit, housing a gas turbine air compressor, was the most common: nearly all MD-3s on carriers were equipped with one. A frame containing a compact firefighting unit could also be employed.
The vehicle proved to be a success and came to serve on all US carriers (including Oriskany, Midway, Forrestal, Kitty Hawk, Enterprise and Nimitz classes) as well as on most helicopter carriers and assault ships (in particular, LPH Iwo Jima, LSD Anchorage/Whidbey Island/Harpers Ferry, LPD Austin, LHA Tarawa, LHD Wasp and LPD San Antonio).
In 1990s all MD-3s went through a modernization program and received a new standardized designation – A/S32A-31. Externally this new version differs from the early one by wider rear fenders, slightly raised rear deck, different wheels and compressor unit.
The model presented here shows an MD-3 tow tractor from one of the USN aircraft carriers in the late 1960s.
2.1. The Kit
The Fujimi's 1/72 MD-3 kit comes as a part of the "Flight Deck Crew & Carrier Tractor" set which also includes ten flight deck personnel figures. It contains the early (pre-1990s) version of the tractor and provides three options: one can build a tractor with either a compressor or a firefighting unit attached, or have it in a plain "tug only" configuration . The MD-3 itself is rather accurate and well detailed; the only major issue is the rear wheels: they should have twin, not single, tires.
It should be noted that the flight deck personnel figures included into the set are outfitted in 1980s/1990s gear; therefore they wouldn't be applicable for, say, a Vietnam era carrier deck diorama without considerable modifications.
2.2. Improvements and Detailing
- The kit's rear wheels with single tires replaced with twin tires; this process included making wider wheel wells in the tractor's body and getting additional tires by replicating the original ones.
- The tractor's body corrected in the area of the driver's position (see the drawing given below).
- Bottom plates made for those kit parts that didn't have them (compressor unit, driver's position).
- Chassis imitated (rather sketchily though).
- Various small items added, e.g. braces, and also levers and pedals on the driver's position.
- Clear headlights with foil reflectors installed.
- The compressor's air hose, tie-down chains and wheel chokes were added, as operational MD-3 photos show that this gear was frequently stored on the tractor's top deck.
2.3. Materials Used
- Sheet polystyrene, wire, aluminum foil;
- Headlights from the "Landing Light" set by Elf;
- Photoetched tie-down chains from the "USN Aircraft Carrier Deck Tie Down Set" by White Ensign Models;
- An air hose form the "U.S. Aerospace Ground Equipment Set" by Hasegawa;
- Lasil-S and Protocast 85R two-component polymers for moulding additional wheels.
2.4. Known Issues
All ventilation grills on the tractor should've been modeled using a photoetched mesh. The kit's plastic imitates the mesh texture rather well, but this plastic mesh is so shallow and fine that it's next to impossible to make it be seen on the finished model.
3. Painting and Markings
3.1. Historical Context
Between 1960s and early 1990s all MD-3s serving as tow tractors were painted Orange Yellow (FS33538), a standard color for the Navy's support equipment at that time. The bumpers were painted with warning black stripes, towing hooks were dull red and the special anti-skid coating on the tractor's top surface had a distinct asphalt-like color and texture.
In early 1990s a new paint scheme of overall white was introduced for shipboard support equipment. Shift to this new scheme was a gradual process, so both white and orange yellow vehicles could be seen working side by side for some years. At the same time the tractors received reflective stripes and a lot of small font stenciling, including inventory numbers, warning labels and various service notes (none of which are seen on MD-3 photos from the 1960s). Large-sized tactical numbers seen on shipboard tow tractors and fire trucks in the period between the 1960s and 1990s do not seem to be in use anymore. Headlights on early MD-3s were either clear or red, while starting from mid 1990s they have been blue.
3.2. Materials Used
Vallejo acrylic paint, Humbrol enamel and Master Class oil colors were used for painting and weathering the model.
4. Information Sources
- Photographs from historical publications such as the In Action and In Detail & Scale series (by Squadron/Signal Publications), Combat Aircraft series (by Osprey Publishing) and Lock On series (by Verlinden Publications).
- Photographs from the following Internet sites:
- A walk-around found at combatedgeproductions.com (note, however, that it covers a modern tractor, an A/S32A-31A, which differs from the early version)