Media: Injection Plastic
Markings: Cam Decals 72-046 Tomcat Alley: Grumman F-14B Tomcat
In 1987, the Grumman F-14A received its first major upgrade in the form of the F-14A+. The original TF30 engines were replaced with the F110, which provided a significant increase in performance, range and reliability. With these new engines, the F-14A+ could take off from the carrier deck without afterburner. The other major upgrade was internal, with the installation of the ALR-67 Radar Homing and Warning (RHAW) system.
38 new aircraft were manufactured and 48 F-14A’s were upgraded into the B variant. The F-14A+ was officially redesignated F-14B in 1991. F-14Bs will serve with distinction (with further upgrades) into 2005 with VF-11 Red Rippers and VF-32 Swordsmen being the last 2 US Navy squadrons operating the variant.
Fighter Squadron 102 (VF-102) nicknamed Diamondbacks was a fighter squadron in the US Navy. The VF-102 here is the second VF-102 squadron that was established in 1 July 1955. VF-102 would serve with distinction in various operations including: Vietnam War, Operations Attain Document, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Provide Promise, Deny Flight, Restore Hope, Southern Watch, Deliberate Force and Enduring Freedom. VF-102 first flew the F-14A in 1981 and would transition to the F-14B in 1994. in 2002, VF-102 would turn in their F-14, transition to the F/A-18F and changed their designation Strike Fighter Squadron 102 (VFA-102). VF-102 has the distinction of dropping more ordnance and flying more combat hours than any other F-14 unit during OEF in 2001 and 2002.
This build depicts ‘Dback 102’, the squadron leader’s F-14B with colored markings.
While not lacking for choice in the market, this is the newest one that was released in 2011 so the expectation is that it’ll be the most modern and accurate version available. It’s a mixed bag though.
Hobbyboss released this kit along with the A and D variants. Hobbyboss’ wholesale approach to differentiating between the variants (whole nose halves for the B/D variant vs the A) means there is a general lack of cutting or fitting of separate panels. So here, the gun vents are the modern NACA type and are molded in which avoids any fitting issues. Unlike Hasegawa, Hobbyboss has gone with a simplified build. First, the nose gear doors are molded on in the open position which precludes modeling this kit in flight. The MLG doors are kept separate though. The cockpit details are of the decal variety but curiously they left out the side consoles so these are bare. The seats look decent but there are no restraint details and the prominent ejection rings on the head rests. The HUD is not included which the F-14B has. The GPS dome on the newer F-14s is also missing here.
The wings are one piece and are designed to swing in and out but don’t have separate flaps and slats. This is even though they include lowered down the catapult-ready version of the nose gear. Engine and intake fans are included but not the ramps inside the intakes which makes the intakes especially bare. Weapons are included and look good but only consist of Sidewinders, Sparrows and Phoenixes. The LANTIRN pod and rail, bomb racks and bombs are not included. Curiously, the kit does include nicely molded modern BOL launchers for the Sidewinders. Hobbyboss did get some of the minor details correct: there’s a reinforcement plate on the co-pilot’s step, the lumps, bumps and antennas are correct for the B and the glove vanes are not present.
General details and panel lines are sharp and nicely done with no serious injection marks nor flash. The canopy is very clear with the frame being slightly proud to aid in masking. There is however a seam line that runs down the middle of the main canopy.
All in all, a kit of 2 halves: some simplified design and yet detailed elsewhere. With less parts, it might be a shorter and less finicky build than the Hasegawa.
Construction was remarkably straightforward due to the number of parts and it’s also general knowledge that any Tomcat kit will usually have some fitting issues with the intakes. While this kit has less parts (hence less details) in this area, the fit is still not great. There are long seamlines running inside both sides of each intake that are hard to fix.
The lack of the ejection handles on the seats was really obvious so I scratchbuilt myself a pair from brass rod. I also added tape to replicate the restraints. The blank side consoles were left as is since they’re aren’t that visible.
The cockpit needed some finessing for the front canopy to fit. I ended up shaving a couple of millimeters off the cockpit tub and inside the front canopy. I also managed to crack a bit of the canopy frame and I spent some time fixing this. Another issue is that the nose gear needs to be installed at the beginning. Obviously, I managed to break this off a few times. I was building an F-14B flying in 2002 so I grabbed a LANTIRN pod, the pylon for it, 2x GBU-12s and 2 bomb racks from the Hasegawa Weapons Set.
Colors & Markings
The kit includes nicely done markings for VF-74, VF-103 and VF-143 but for this build, I wanted to do an OEF VF-102 bird so out came the Cam Decals sheet I have had for maybe a decade. The instructions state that the plane was 1 color overall: FS 36375 but this being a modern US Navy plane during a war footing, it had a very weathered look which I planned to replicate.
While painting other builds, I sprayed leftovers in the paint cup on this kit. I ended up with a base of splotches of black, dark gray, light gray, silver, brown, white and even green. I’m sure that contributed to the somewhat patchy look to the overall color. But more needed to be done.
I detailed how I did the weathered paintjob in a previous post.
As usual, finishing took longer than usual. Removing the canopy masking was easy but it tore off some of the red chevron decals so I salvaged what I could, glued them back in place with Future, and touched up the rest with paint. The front canopy tinting turned out to be too light but I can live with it.
I could breathe again when the wings clicked in place without much trouble and without any paint being scratched.
Then it was time for all the tiny details like wingtip lights, wing glove lights, the light and camera face on the chin pod, detailing the landing gear with silver, touching up the formation light decals which tore, antenna bumps and fuel dump pipe (which was optional but I think the red color broke up the monotony). This all took some kid gloves, steady hands and a general lack of coffee.
The biggest headache for me were the tiny AOR sensors on the nose. They are designed to be butt jointed and I managed to ping them off the table (though I found them) multiple times and in the end, I only attached 2 out of the 4 with Vallejo Gloss Varnish to save my sanity. I also managed to drip 2 drops of superglue onto the nose while doing this which required some last minute sanding, priming, painting, weathering and matt coating. The nose color now looks slightly different but it’s OK. The pitot tube was last on.
This kit is actually an easier kit to build than the Hasegawa: there are fewer parts and therefore, fitting is less finicky all round. But the intakes were still a challenge and the lack of details there is a real disappointment. Overall it was a smooth build which is more than I can say with the 2 Hasegawa F-14s on my shelf of doom. If you’re after accuracy, the Hasegawa is still king. But if you want to have a pretty nice F-14 relatively quickly on your display shelf, this one is it.
Number 12 of 2016