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Brian Powell
41 articles

Revell Ariane 4

May 21, 2023 · in Space · · 7 · 528


The was a three-stage, medium-lift expendable launch vehicle used by the European Space Agency. Designed by the French space agency CNES, it had a successful career spanning 15 years, from 1988 to 2003, during which it became a key player in the commercial satellite sector. It was launched from a specially designed pad in French Guyana where it enjoyed a 97.4% success rate. Wikipedia describes the first launch failure:

“The failure occurred because a worker assembling a Viking rocket motor had left a handkerchief in one of the motor's coolant tubes. He had done so as a reminder to himself to inform his superior, as per procedure, of an unplanned polishing he had made to fit the tube. But he fell ill before he could do so and was replaced by other workers who did not notice the handkerchief. In flight, the handkerchief blocked the coolant tube, the motor overheated and failed, and the Ariane self-destructed after veering off its trajectory. Its payload, two communications satellites worth 500 million US dollars landed in pieces in the swamps near Kourou.”

I'm wondering if that's still their procedure…

The main stage was powered by 4 Viking 5C engines, which are long and narrow and almost resemble bullets. The Ariane 4 could accommodate either 0, 2, or 4 external liquid- or solid-rocket boosters.

The Kit

The 1/144-scale Revell Ariane 4 was produced once in 1985, three years prior to the rocket's maiden flight. There are a few inaccuracies that might be blamed on this production schedule, the most egregious being terribly shaped Viking rocket motors. The colors are off and the decals are also not accurate; for example, the payload emblem TVSAT apparently launched on an Arian 2. The satellite is included and the payload fairing can be constructed open to reveal the satellite, but this is silly because the rocket is meant to be built on its launch pad, which is also included.

The launch tower and pad are not at all accurate as far as I can tell, but this seems OK since they are really meant merely to frame the rocket, which is the main attraction. Initially I was set against building the launch tower, seeing it as time consuming and ultimately potentially detracting. But then I admitted that it would likely display better with the tower, and so I begrudgingly constructed it. I would, however, not put much time into it; don't want to outshine the bride. Fast-forward to me dry brushing and carefully applying pigments to this damn thing. The objective was still for it to sit in the background, but I admit I had some fun adding some subtle color variations and depth to it.

Incidentally, Heller also makes an Ariane 4 in 1/125 scale with accurate engine nozzles. I bought a kit for my son when he discovered my Ariane 4 in my stash and “just had to build one”. His kit would come in handy as a decal donor when it became clear that the Revell decals were goners. Since the kit is from 1985, there's a risk of yellowed decals, which, alas, mine were. So, I taped them to my window and let them get a couple months of sun. This worked wonderfully:


While the decals went down without problems, they were still just the slightest bit yellowed; probably good enough for virtually any other surface but the snow-white rocket body. And so I removed them and used the Heller decals, which thankfully (and oddly) were approximately of equal size.

I looked at probably every Ariane 4 image on the internet to get the proper colors: the bronze-ish upper stage was a mixture of Tamiya Metallic Gray (XF-56) and Orange (X-6). The Viking engines were very shiny in most of the images where I could spot them, and so I tried to replicate this (even if they are absolutely terribly shaped) using Alclad Polished Aluminum over a glossy black base:


Sitting down inside the pad, they're a bit hard to see anyway.

When complete, she stands just under 17″ tall when placed on the launch pad.


Here she is next to my -scale Saturn V for comparison.
Reader reactions:
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7 responses

  1. Profile Photo
    said on May 21, 2023

    Ariane series are pretty amazing machines, and your model is an excellent tribute. I think the launch tower and pad were worth your time as they add context and "frame" the Ariane 4 nicely.

  2. Nice to see a real space build. Well done, Brian.

  3. Amazing job and great writeup, Brian!

  4. Great build, Brian @bapowellphys
    What a huge difference compared to the Saturn V.

  5. Something you don't see every day, Brian. Nice work and a super result.

  6. Good write-up and an excellent build, Brian, what’s not to like?

  7. @bapowellphys - Great writeup and great build. I've never heard of correcting yellowing decals using sunlight. That's a fantastic tip.

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