50 Shades of Standard

It’s been a while, dear reader, so let me apologize. Not only have I been getting ready for the new college semester, but I’ve also been having a lot of fun building tiny models of Panavia / BAe Systems Tornadoes in 1:144 scale (more of that anon, maybe) and very soon I’m going to build a couple of examples of the Eurofighter EF-2000 (Typhoon in RAF naming).

In this endeavour, one question has frequently arisen in my mind. It appears there is no completely satisfactory answer, depending on your degree of geekiness or need to adhere to exact specification. The question is this: Just how many pots of grey paint does one person need?

(Above) They tell me that’s BS381c/626 Barley/Camouflage Grey. 11 Squadron RAF Typhoon takes off during Green Flag 08-07 at Nellis AFB, Nevada, USA June 2008.
Photo by Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery, USAF (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I started off with my fairly big F/A-18 and so had a good stock of American Federal Standard grays available. Tonight I was reading up on the colours necessary for my RAF Typhoons (which is apparently BS381c/626 Barley or Camouflage Grey – not that Barley is grey, the colour was apparently invented by Mr. Barley.) The questions came to me again. Have I got the right paint? How many pots of grey paint do I need? A more dangerous question flitted across my mind. Does Barley Gray or Camouflage Grey really look like FS36314? How about Light Aircraft Grey or Medium Sea Grey? (Hint: there are usually two answers to all of these questions which are diametrically opposed.)

I have already dipped my toes into the murky waters of equivalency when painting a couple of the Tornadoes. The Tornado F3 started its RAF life in two shades of grey, and then changed to a different shade of grey. The Tornado Special Interest Group of the International Plastic Modellers’ Society says:

Upper surface: Barley Grey (BS4800.18B.21) now known as Camouflage Grey (BSC381C:626)  (satin) Undersides: Light Grey (BSC381C:627) (satin) Radome: Medium Grey (matt) In the mid 2000’s F.3’s were repainted in overall Medium Sea Grey with a slight variation in the radome colour.


So that’s easy enough then, right?

(Above) Was this picture taken after it had been repainted in BS 381C Medium Sea Grey (637) overall. Or is that Barley Grey deceiving us again? RAF Tornado F3 ZE342 taxiing for take off at the Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, England. Photographed by Adrian Pingstone on July 17th 2006 and released to the public domain.

There are two broad schools of thought on the topic of equivalency. One school will not compromise and insists on the exact standard colour for the subject. The other school looks to see if certain American colors match certain British colours (see what I did there?) in the sure and certain hope that you can get something that looks about right, without having to own more than the legendary 50 shades of grey. Some of the modelling purists appear to despise the compromisers to the extent that I have seen the acronym TLAR (That Looks About Right) used in somewhat disparaging terms in Internet discussions. “There is no way a British manufacturer would use or specify a Federal Standard colour for their products!”

(Above) Wearing the “new” Tornado GR scheme of BS381c/626 Barley/Camouflage Grey. Does it look the same colour as the Typhoon in the top picture? I know the Typhoon was in Nevada and this is in England so the light’s different. RAF Tornado GR.4 of IX(B) Squadron training somewhere in NW England prior to deployment to Afghanistan, 12 October 2012. Photo: Corporal Mike Jones/MOD OGL Via Wikimedia Commons.

Maybe not, but how close is it? Coming from the world of Hex colours on the Interwebs I suppose that it might be the way of establishing whether or not there is commonality.

Ugh. So I’m no closer tonight although I have a few more ideas. I still have two Tornado GR.4 models (which are probably BS381c/629 Dark Camouflage Grey but see above) and then onto the Typhoons. Or the other way round.

Heaven help me when I get to the Dassault Rafales. 🙂

As a footnote. I was cruising around the Web, and came across an explanation of how FS 595 numbers actually work. I had no idea there was such an explanation, and I’m happy to present it here just in case anyone else wonders.

The colors in the Federal Standard set have no official names, just five-digit numbers.

The first digit indicates the level of sheen:
1 = gloss
2 = semi gloss
3 = matt

The second digit indicates a general color classification group:
0 = Brown
1 = Red
2 = Orange
3 = Yellow
4 = Green
5 = Blue
6 = Grey
7 = Other (white, black, violet, metallic)
8 = Fluorescent

The remaining digits indicate the intensity. Lower values indicate a darker color and vice versa.