Brand: Academy 12563
Markings: Fightertown Decals 72004 + Kit stencils
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.
The F-14A+ was officially redesignated F-14B in 1991. Thirty eight new aircraft were manufactured and forty eight F-14A’s were upgraded into the B variant. F-14Bs will serve with distinction (with further upgrades) into 2005 with VF-11 Red Rippers and VF-32 Swordsmen being the last two US Navy squadrons operating the variant.
Fighter Squadron 103 (VF-103) nicknamed the ‘Jolly Rogers’ is an aviation unit of the United States Navy established in 1952. The squadron radio callsign is Victory. The original VF-103 squadron insignia was a cloverleaf with a stylized aircraft darting through the leaf added, along with a baseball bat. In 1995, the Sluggers adopted the Jolly Rogers name and insignia after VF-84 (1955-1995), the original holder of the nickname, was disestablished. In the summer of 1996, VF-103 became the first Tomcat squadron to introduce the LANTIRN targeting pod to operational service. The LANTIRN radically improved the F-14’s strike capabilities by providing a precision strike capability. VF-103 would transition to the F/A-18F Super Hornet and re-designate as VFA-103 in February 2005.
This build depicts Victory 103, Buno 161435, the Squadron Commander’s F-14B during USS George Washington’s 2000 cruise where it dropped 2x GBU-12s and a single GBU-10 over Bosnia. Victory 103 features nose art markings for the ordnance dropped in the Fall of 2000.
Before this kit was released in 2020, the general consensus for the best 1/72 F-14 kit was from Hasegawa: it was showing its years, was difficult to build but yielded a very nice result. One could argue that Fine Molds makes a better kit but it’s expensive and hard to find outside of Japan.
I can happily say that the Hasegawa offering has been dethroned, at half the price no less! Behind the deceptive boxart (Academy went the lazy route and re-used the one from their (mediocre) 1/48 kit) lies a very good kit. It features:
- nicely detailed seats
- cockpits that offer both raised details and decals
- positionable canopy
- intake ducts and intake details like the bleed air ramps
- wings can be displayed extended or swept
- full weapons loadout include: 2x AIM-9G/H, 2x AIM9L/M, 4x AIM-7, 4x AIM-54, 2x GBU-12 and 2x external fuel tanks
- markings and stencils for one ‘hi-viz’ F-14A from VF-143 Pukin’ Dogs
Best of all, this kit includes ALMOST all the extra parts required to build any of the three major F-14 variants! These are the only options missing from the kit:
- you get the F-14D NACES ejection seat cushions but not the chairs themselves
- a TARPS recon pod
- the initial beaver tail of the early F-14A
- the extendable wing glove vanes (all closed up by the mid 1980s and omitted in the F-14B and F-14D)
- decals for the specific F-14A/B/D you want to build
Everything else though, is covered by this kit. You even get the LANTIRN pod and smart bombs that later F-14s typically carried.
Right now we suddenly have a dearth of choices for the F-14 in 1/72 scale: Fujimi, Italeri/Tamiya, Revell, Hasegawa, Fine Molds and Great Wall Hobby. By price alone, the Academy wins hands down as it can be gotten for half the price of the Hasegawa, Fine Molds and Great Wall Hobby kits. Add to that the detail and what you get in the box, this one is really a no brainer.
I’ve heard good things about this kit from a couple of friends so I wasn’t expecting too much trouble. This being an early F-14A boxing, the instructions only called for that variant’s part. I just mixed and matched the extra parts as needed.
Overall, the kit fit very well but I did encounter a few issues:
- the reinforcement plate around the rear cockpit step is missing but I believe this is a very minor issue
- there are injector pin marks in the most inopportune places in recessed circles in the main gear bay and Sparrow missile well which are very hard to reach
- the forward Phoenix missile pallets didn’t quite fit properly even with the pilot holes opened up. Mine ended up not quite aligning properly
- the nose gear door actuators (which are small and fragile) require some shimming before fitting properly
- once assembled, the beaver tail has obvious seamlines and gaps which require some work to fair in properly
Everything else though, fit like a dream. There are a lot of nice touches like:
- this kit didn’t suffer from fitting issues in the intakes and the nose to fuselage join unlike the Hasegawa and Hobbyboss kits
- the windshield is molded with part of the nose which made fitting and join cleanup much easier
- the main wings are designed to slot into tabs which allows for assembly to be done at the end.
- the landing gear legs have robust square tabs that fit positively
Overall, the build was largely painless with only minor gap filling needed unlike my previous experience with F-14 kits.
Colors & Markings
I’ve long wanted to build a VF-103 F-14B in the ‘Santa Cat’ special marking and have had the Fightertown Decals sheet in my collection for the longest time. I followed the TPS color scheme as specified in the sheet: FS35237, FS36320 and FS36375. I used a mix of Vallejo Model Color (Dark Ghost Gray), Tamiya (XF-19) and Mig AMMO (Gray Blue) acrylic paints. For the black parts of the color scheme I went with a very dark gray instead of full black as usual.
To simulate the weathered and faded look, I went with a combination of a black base, white marble coat and additional brown marble coats in random spots. I added more brown patches towards the back of the fuselage. The main colors were then painted in very thin coats to slowly build up the opacity as I still wanted the marble coats to be visible. The result is quite an effective look of faded and grimy paintjob. Further weathering will enhance this even more.
Decals were next and… Santa Cat didn’t work out. The two crossed bones on the logo were replaced by striped candy canes for Santa Cat and the red stripes come as separate decals. I ended up folding one of the stripe decals and had to bin the Santa Cat idea and went back to the conventional Jolly Rogers logo instead.
Fightertown didn’t include three major things: the white fin flash, wingtip lights and the slime lights. The former required painting while the latter I took from the kit decal sheet. I also decided to mask and spray the white outline on the ventral fins instead of using the decals provided. To prep for the decals, I buffed the surface smooth first. Putting on the black lines on the fin flash I realized that they were too short so I had to paint them instead.
Other than these hiccups, the decals went on very easily and reacted well with Mark Softer.
Once the decals have cured, I did the usual panel wash with diluted Abteilung Starship Filth. Two problems surfaced this time: 1) the panel wash looked really stark and dark which made the whole kit look oddly toy-like and 2) cleaning up the wash resulted in some of the paint dissolving and the black base showing through again.
So I went back in and first painted over the dissolved spots and then misted over the panel lines randomly to knock down the contrast. A pleasant additional benefit is that this also resulted in an even more discolored look to the overall finish. I then added spot staining on the kit with more on both sides of the rear fuselage, the port side of the nose and part of the wings that go inside the fuselage when they are stowed in storage.
After this it was time for final assembly. I usually hurry up at this point and inevitably some small disaster happens so I decided to slow down and think carefully the sequence needed to minimize problems:
- I painted the wingtip lights with transparent paint over a base of silver
- I attached the landing gear. Most of the gear door actuators needed to be trimmed for proper fit though
- the main wings were inserted and positioned in a neutral closed position
- removed the canopy masking
- attached the external tanks
- attached the weapons with sprue glue
- attached the nose probe
Thankfully, except for the gear doors, everything went on without a hitch and I can add one more F-14 to my collection. I’m still quite a ways from a table full of Tomcats though!
Number 6 of 2022