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Completed : Hobbyboss 1/72 Grumman F-14A Tomcat ‘VF-41 Black Aces’


Kit Info
Brand: Hobbyboss 80276
Scale: 1/72
Media: Styrene
Markings: Wolfpak Decals 72-048 ‘TAC-Air’

The Subject
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is an American supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat, twin-tail, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft developed for the United States Navy’s Naval Fighter Experimental (VFX) program after the collapse of the F-111B project.

The F-14 first flew on 21 December 1970 and made its first deployment in 1974 with the U.S. Navy aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65), replacing the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. The F-14 served as the U.S. Navy’s primary maritime air superiority fighter, fleet defense interceptor, and tactical aerial reconnaissance platform. In all, 712 F-14s would be built and would serve the US Navy from 1970 to 2005. Iran is the only other operator and the Tomcat is still being flown by the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) as of 2020.

The F-14A is the initial variant of the Tomcat and served as the all-weather interceptor for the carrier group. Later modifications added precision strike to its portfolio. In all, the US Navy would receive 478 F-14As.

VF-41, nicknamed ‘Black Aces’ (radio callsign ‘Fast Eagle’) was established in 1 September 1950 at NAS Oceana and is the fourth US Navy squadron to be designated VF-41. In April 1976 VF-41 transitioned to the F-14A Tomcat and their first cruise began in September 1977 as part of CVW-8 on USS Nimitz. While on deployment in the Mediterranean on August 19, 1981, during a routine combat air patrol mission over the Gulf of Sidra, two Libyan Su-22 “Fitter” aircraft were shot down by squadron aircraft. The incident marked the first Navy air combat confrontation since the Vietnam War and the first ever for the F-14A Tomcat. It was also the first time a variable wing geometry aircraft shot down another variable wing geometry aircraft.

In late 2001, VF-41 transitioned to the F/A-18F Super Hornet and was redesignated VFA-41.

The build here depicts 1 of the VF-41 F-14As that were involved with what would be called the ‘Gulf of Sidra Incident’. Fast Eagle 107 (BuNo 160390) was piloted by LT Lawrence ‘Music’ Muczynski and LTJG James ‘Luca’ Anderson during that engagement and would down an Su-22 with an AIM-9 Sidewinder. I have modeled how Fast Eagle 107 looked before the engagement: there would be a silhouette of an Su-22 painted below the squadron logo on the tailfins after the engagement. BuNo 160390 was destroyed in an accident on 25 October 1994 while assigned to VF-213 ‘Blacklions’. Piloted by LT Kara ‘Revlon’ Spears Hultgreen, the first qualified female F-14 pilot in the US Navy, BuNo 160390 crashed into the sea on final approach to USS Abraham Lincoln.

Sources
Grumman F-14 Tomcat
VFA-41 Black Aces
Gulf of Sidra Incident
Kara Spears Hultgreen

The Kit
This kit was released in 2011 so the expectation was that it’ll be the a modern and accurate version. It’s a mixed bag though.

Hobbyboss released this kit along with the B 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 we get the early gun vents 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. There are no side console details and curiously, no decals provided either. The seats look decent but lack restraint details and the prominent ejection rings on the head rests. There’s also no open canopy option.

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 the lowered down catapult-ready version of the nose gear. Engine and intake fans are included but not the ramps inside the intakes which makes them especially bare. Weapons are included and look good but only consist of 2x AIM-9 Sidewinders, 2x AIM-7 Sparrows and 4x VF-54 Phoenixes. The LANTIRN pod and rail, bomb racks and bombs are not included. Hobbyboss got many of the details correct: the lumps, bumps and antennas are correct for the A and the earlier glove vanes are present. There’s a reinforcement plate on the co-pilot’s step which is only accurate for the B but I think this is a minor detail that most folks won’t notice. You also get various options of engine nozzles: both open, both closed, one open and one closed.

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.

4 ‘hi-viz’ marking options are provided for 2x VF-41 jets and 1 each of VF-111 and VF-142 (mislabeled as VF-84). The details are quite sharp and the decals are glossy and should go on without trouble. A sheet of missile bands are also included but are all black which isn’t accurate to any US missiles.
All in all, a kit of 2 halves: some simplified design and yet detailed elsewhere. Having built 1 before, this kit builds up much faster than the fussier Hasegawa kit and does look good overall.

The Build
Having built this kit before I focused my attention on the areas that caused me problems previously. These included:

  • Intakes. The fit for the intakes into the lower fuselage required some finessing. In the end, I simply cut off the tabs and pins, shimmed and butt-joined them which I think worked better.
  • The horizontal stabs’ fit is loose so I reinforced the insides with plastic rods and plates and now they friction fit into place.
  • Missile pylons. I also attached these on the wing gloves upfront during construction. While harder to paint, getting a solid fit now prevented them from easily coming off later.
  • Ejection seats. These were missing the prominent ejection handles which I made with thin copper wire and plastic plate. I used much thinner wire than previously and I think these look much more to scale.
  • Instrument consoles. I decided to simply go with whatever decals were available and left the side consoles. The canopy will be closed so not much will be visible.

Some new issues did pop-up during this build. Some of which I chose to ignore in my previous build and some unique to this variant:

  • Wing glove vanes. the port wing glove vane area was short molded. I ended up filling up the area with epoxy putty and re-scribing the wing gloves.
  • Windshield. The windshield sits slightly proud from the nose. This was something I ignored before but decided to fix this time. In the end, I also faired in the windshield into the fueselage so they don’t look like 2 separate parts.
  • Main landing gear. The port landing gear leg should have 2 attachment points to the lower fuselage but 1 of these points was short shot. I added a small piece of plastic plate to bridge the gap. This also gives the leg a stronger fit to the fuselage.
  • Intake ramps. The lack of the intake ramps inside the trunking is especially obvious. If I ever build another Hobbyboss F-14, I’ll find a way to address this.

Besides these issues, I modified the starboard AIM-9 Sidewinder rail to show an empty rail. Based on photos I added a shallow trench with a chisel and some plastic bits for detail.

Colors & Markings
I’m modeling Fast Eagle 107, 1 of the 2 F-14s involved with the ‘Gulf of Sidra Incident’. The markings come from Wolfpak Decals which IMO, still leads all aftermarket decal manufacturers when it comes to information on their subject. Besides information on the aircraft, you also get the detailed history of the particular subject in the sheet and details to properly model it. It’s unfortunate that Mark Bilas, the owner of Wolfpak Decals, died in September 2020 when I was building this kit.

According to the Wolfpak’s info, VF-41 went with a single camouflage color of FS16440 during this time. As usual nowadays, The main color went over a base of black that had a marble coat added with white color. To add even more variation, I sprayed a dark brown marble coat in random spots around the rear fuselage and the nose. For this kit, I also tested pre-shading white over random panels. I think this helped to add even more color variation once the main color went on.

The kit comes with markings for Fast Eagle 107 but comparing it to the Wolfpak Decals sheet, there are noticeable differences especially the tail art. Wolfpak also uses a very dark gray in place of any dark markings which I think looks better. I’ve previously used Wolfpak Decals once and they seem to have improved on their product: the markings now slide off the backings much quicker. They reacted well with both Mark Fitter and Mark Softer and the the carrier film disappears once cured.

Wolfpack doesn’t include the standard stencils and I’d used up the ones from the kit for another build so I decided to go without the myriad ‘no steps’ for this build.

Finishing
As Fast Eagle 107 was only weeks into its tour at the point of the event, she remained relatively clean so I went with just a panel wash to pop the details and some very mild weathering on the bottom fuselage.

Putting all the last pieces together went smoother than my previous F-14 builds. The most difficult were the 4 small probes around the nose which had to be attached via butt joints. I managed to ping 2 away and replaced these with spares from my Hasegawa F-14s that were stuck in modeling hell. The windshield also took a bit of tidying up after the masking tape has been taken off.

Overall I think I finished this one better than my first Hobbyboss F-14 kit. But my work is still not as clean as hoped especially in the areas around the intakes and the fit of the back end of the canopy.

Build Log
Part 1 : Construction
Part 2 : Construction
Part 3 : Painting
Part 4 : Finishing

Number 09 of 2020

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