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
Time to beat-up the finishing! 😀
First up I added some sponge chipping using Model Color Medium Sea Grey.
I was quite random about this.
This is a much faster way than using salt for chipping but the effect isn’t as fine.
Decals are next after a gloss coat. The markings are from Cam Decals’ Tomcat Alley: Grumman F-14B Tomcat 72-046. The VF-102 Diamondbacks F-14 depicted here was one that operated during Operation: Enduring Freedom in 2002. The decal was printed by Microscale. Alas, quality isn’t great: fidelity is not quite there, some looked oversized and some shattered/tore when I tired to re-position them.
One of those that tore was the 3 diamond marking on the wing gloves which had to conform to curves. I ended up removing the torn pieces that also lifted the paint underneath. So I sanded them down, masked (using the remaining good decal as a template) and painted the diamonds. Some touch-up was done by handpainting.
The placement guide was also not very clear as the panel lines shown in the instructions don’t quite match the ones on the kit so I ended up guesstimating some of the locations. Once properly cured though, they do look very good. I decided not to put any of the small stencils.
After another gloss coat to seal in the decals, I proceeded with panel lining with Raw Umber oil paint. The oil paint was quickly brushed onto all the panel lines and wiped away with a turpentine-soaked tissue to leave the panel lines filled.
After that I randomly filtered the panels, paying more attention to the rear fuselage and wings.
I also added streaks on the wings with oil paint.
I was given a tip by my friend Max (from Out There) that streaks can be done with a normal 6B pencil. I gave it a try here by lightly adding squiggles and used a cotton bud streak the graphite. Looks good. But I decided to keep it light and move on.
Next were attaching the ‘things under the wings’ which I worked from inside outwards. The GBU-12s were first, then the drop tanks, then the gear bay doors, then the AIM-7 and LANTIRN, and lastly the AIM-9s. The gear doors’ red trims was done with a red permanent marker.
The wheels were then attached and I’m close to the finish line. I hope when I attach the wings they won’t be scratched up too much.
Work (finally) continues on the F-14.
Surprise surprise, the first thing to be tackled is the cockpit. I first sprayed Vallejo Air Dark Sea Gray thinking that it’s a match to FS36231 (the standard interior color for modern US jets) but it was too dark. So I ended up spraying my usual Vallejo Air US Gray over and be done with it.
The ejection seats are given a base of Vallejo Air Black Grey with the details handpainted on. I also added seatbelts made out of 1mm width masking tape.
The instruments are all provided as decals. Some people really have a problem with this. I’m not one of those though. However, the side consoles have no details on them. Nor are there decals provided, which is very strange. With the canopy closed, this isn’t a serious issue. But still, it’s lazy on Hobbyboss’ part.
To ease painting, I cut out a section of the connector on the wing. The wings can now be removed and snapfit back in.
Next I tried to fix the intake gap issue. The seamlines here are quite obvious and I decided to run some Vallejo Plastic Putty into them to remove as much of the very visible gaps as possible. It’s a bigger issue further inside the intakes. For now, these are left as is until I find a better way to fix them. A glaring mistake for most people who knows the F-14 would be the missing air intake ramps. After looking at photos, I noticed that there’s a distinct demarcation line inside the intake that splits the gray and white colors. So I inserted masking tape the best I can and hope for the best.
The canvas covers on the instrument shrouds were painted in Green Brown and the seats were attached. I think the restraints look a bit too thick but I’ll live with it. The canopy had a center seamline which was cleaned up and then had a dip in Future. It was then masked off and cemented onto the fuselage. The front section of the canopy needed some sanding and finessing to fit flush. To add to the patched up effect, I sprayed randomly onto the kit with leftover paint from other projects I was doing concurrently. I also made sure to spray Black Grey onto the canopy frame before main painting begins.
Mig AMMO Light Compass Ghost Gray is used for the main color. Unlike most F-14s of this era, this particular VF-102 Tomcat is conveniently a single color overall. I went light on the trigger this time to make sure the patched up paint underneath will show through.
As for the Mig AMMO paint, it comes in the same bottle style as Vallejo, has a steel BB inside for easy mixing, looks grainier than Vallejo but went on very nicely and easily slightly thinned. It however has a slight smell that’s not pleasant.
Media: Injection Plastic
The Douglas (later McDonnell Douglas) A-4 Skyhawk is a single seat subsonic carrier-capable attack aircraft originally developed for the US Navy and US Marine Corps. While relatively lightweight, it was nimble, had a top speed of more than 670mph and could carry the same bomb loads as the B-17 Flying Fortress. Deliveries to the USN and USMC commenced in late 1956 and withdrawn from front-line service in 1976 and 1994. The A-4 would however remain in USN service in training units (like TOPGUN) flying as stand-ins for the MiG-17 in Dissimilar Air Combat Training. It will serve in this role in TOPGUN until 1999.
This build depicts an A-4E serving with TOPGUN in the early 1980s. During this period, the squadrons were constantly trying different camouflages. TOPGUN 56 had the silhouette of a camouflaged MiG-17 painted onto it but was only dressed up this way for a short period of time.
This is pretty much the definitive 1/48 A-4 kit in the market right now. Hasegawa has boxed every major variant of the Skyhawk except for the OA-4M, with each box usually including parts to do up various versions of the A-4 if you know what to look for.
The kit comes in 7 light grey and 1 clear sprues. Panel lines are nicely done and recessed. Options include open canopy, dive brakes, slats, flaps and two different types of fuel probes. As per usual with Hasegawa, no weapons are included but a nice touch is the inclusion of a crew ladder.
Construction was pretty straightforward and fitting was generally OK. As it’s a modular mold, there are a lot of small parts that need to be added or cut off to get the exact variant you’re building. It’s also quite obvious that Hasegawa didn’t design the dive brakes to be closed as it took some sanding and finessing to get them to fit. The brakes also do not have the same â€˜curve’ as the fuselage so when fitted in, they aren’t perfectly flushed.
TOPGUN 56 had some specific features in which Dave Aungst has wonderfully documented in his article on Hyperscale. I referred to it quite heavily for this build.
The showcase of this build is of course the camouflage pattern which I have detailed here. It took a few rounds of tweaking and respraying but in the end, I think I got a decent result.
The markings are on the TwoBobs Heinemann’s Hotrods but it turns out I only had the other options and not TOPGUN 56. I had to custom make my own decals so this was what I came up with. Since it’s my decal sheet, I decided to assign Lt. Pete Mitchell as the crew chief for TOPGUN 56. It didn’t come out perfect (the font is not 100% same, some of the sizes were off, BuNo in the wrong color and the nameplates aren’t in gold color) but it will have to do. Annoyingly, I placed the MARINES decals onto the tailfin before inserting the stabilizers. Turns out the starboard stab covers a bit of the marking. I cursed but had to move on. Otherwise though, the custom decals went on fine. The remaining ones came from the original TwoBobs sheet which worked very well although having to stack some of the decals was a bit challenging.
The edges of the MLG doors were painted with a red permanent marker. This is a whole lot easier than using a paintbrush.
After another gloss coat over the decals it was time to put everything together. The arresting hook, flaps, slats and refueling probe were attached with superglue and the 2 blade antennas with Gator glue. For some reason (and it seems like not many bring this up), the MLG doors are attached via a butt joint which isn’t ideal. To strengthen the joint I drilled a small hole in both the bay and the MLG door and inserted a 0.5mm brass tube to pin them together.
I then noticed that the brown camo on the port nose needed to be fixed: the demarcation between the brown and the grey was too low. I spent about 10 minutes cursing and 30 minutes deciding if I could live with the mistake. I decided that I couldn’t so I carefully masked off the decals with a Post-It note and rolled the blutack needed. Then I carefully sprayed on more paint to a somewhat finished kit (with all the fragile parts on). I made sure to spray in a very low pressure and in layers. I think I also held my breath on every color I added. Anyway, luckily for me it got done with no problems.
Then I gave the whole kit a wash of black grey oil wash (yeah I’ve given up on the Vallejo Wash for now). My gloss coat wasn’t smooth enough so I had some difficulty removing the wash in some spots. In fact, my turpentine rubbed off a whole section of gloss from the upper fuselage. I’ll just say it’s patchy weathering on the plane. Interestingly the nose camo that I fixed also has a different tone even after the wash: yepâ€¦ more ‘weathering’. I then attached the clear bits with Gator glue. These were colored with transparent Vallejo model color paints by hand.
Then an overall flat coat was sprayed on. After that I go back to brush Future onto the clear bits to gloss them back up. The exhaust is then cemented in place. The final step as per usual is removing the tape off the canopy which is always teeth gnashing. It wasn’t too bad though. Just a bit of scraping with a hobby knife after which I brushed on Future to clear up all the tiny scratches.
I made quite a few mistakes on this one:
But most importantly, I’m done! Onward to the next imperfect build! 🙂
Number 6 of 2016
Another queen (this time from 2011) joins the masses. 😀
This is a Hasegawa 1/48 Skyhawk kit to be draped as TOPGUN 56, an A-4E flown by the US Navy as an Aggressor. The scheme is very unique with a desert camo MiG-17 silhouette superimposed on the aircraft. This build is heavily reliant on the excellent article by David Aungst at Hyperscale and the info found on the TwoBobs decal sheet.
As I restart this build, the kit is already in a grey-primed state and the undercarriage parts were handpainted in white and given a wash of Black Grey a long while back. I didn’t do a very good job at them to be honest. I’ll see if I can live with it down the road. It’s more important to do the camouflage properly as that’s the highlight of this build.
I decided to preshade with Black Grey instead of re-black basing the whole kit. As usual, I’m not that particular nor neat about the way I do it but I do make sure I didn’t paint the undercarriage bays.
So first up I painted with Lifecolor UA023 Gray color on the parts of the aircraft that’s grey. The rest I left as is with the preshade on. Using blu-tack to mask, I then tackled the bottom with Model Master Acryl Medium Grey. I didn’t get the pattern right and there’s overspray but I’ll fix those in the fine-tuning stage.
I also then sprayed the undercarriage bays with Game Color Dead White.
For the top-side camouflage pattern, I first painted Model Color Desert Yellow.
Then it was Model Color US Tan Earth for the darker brown color. Both of these were done with blu-tack masking.
The colors I’ve used aren’t 100% correct but the photo references available are all scans of old 35mm photos which don’t have the correct color fidelity anyway. Close enough is good enough for me. Next up is corrections and fine-tuning of the camouflage.