- Published on Monday, 01 October 2012 00:00 Matt McDougall
1/48 Lockheed F-35B Lightning II
Catalogue # 80102
New-kid-on-the-block Kitty Hawk Models seems to be busting out of the gate, following up their first release, the oft-overlooked F-94C Starfire, with the newest aviation hotness, the Lockheed F-35B Lightning II.
Kitty Hawk's is the first kit of the F-35 to be released in 1/48 scale. But is it any good? Let's find out.
The Lockheed F-35 Lightning II
I was eleven years old when Operation Desert Storm kicked off. As a young modeler with a thing for modern aviation, it was basically crack. All these aircraft I'd seen at air shows, built in my garage, and flown around my backyard shooting imaginary Sidewinders at the dog, here they were actually doing things!
Looking back now, it seems obvious that Desert Storm was in many ways a last hurrah for the old soldiers of the Cold War. The world had changed. The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Hollywood had to start casting about for new bad guys. With the Cold War finally coming to an end, the time had come for the U.S. and its allies to streamline their military forces.
Old aircraft were retired from service. Even not-so-old aircraft were pushed aside by multi-role replacements that could do their job more or less as well. And plans were laid for the next generation of combat aircraft to consolidate things further still.
In 1996, the Joint Strike Fighter program awarded prototype development contracts to Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The purpose of the Joint Strike Fighter program was to develop a common replacement for the F-16, F/A-18, and AV-8B Harrier, both in the United States' armed services as well as those of several allies, including Britain, Australia, Canada, a good number of NATO countries, and so on.
After a tight competition, the Lockheed X-35 beat out the Boeing X-32, and rechristened the F-35, began the march toward production. In the years since the competition was decided, the F-35 has run into delays, cost overruns, and compromises that many argue have lowered its combat effectiveness, particularly in terms of combat radius and stealth. Though, outside of the pressures of wartime, it's difficult to identify a new weapons system that has not fallen prey to similar developmental woes.
As of this writing, the F-35A (conventional take-off) and F-35B (STOVL variant) are technically in service with the United States, though they are still restricted to basic maneuvers and have not yet been cleared for even training operations.
Kitty Hawk's new kit represents the jump-jet F-35B variant of the Lightning II, and its box art clearly represents that that, depicting the F-35B undergoing STOVL trials on board the USS Wasp in late 2011.
The box is your standard top-opener, and about as rigid as the box of the average 1/48 Tamiya kit. I wouldn't fear collapse, but at the same time I'd probably avoid sticking it underneath several heavier kits.
The kit itself is molded in a very dark gray plastic that recalls memories of old Monogram kits molded in something kind of similar to their final color schemes. Honestly, I don't see the utility in this. Molding a cheap and simple Corsair in dark blue might make sense, considering the decent chances a kid would buy it and slap it together without painting it, but this F-35 is fairly intricate, and the dark plastic seems unnecessary and actually makes it harder to scope out small details.
The first items you notice with this kit are the three main fuselage pieces. The upper fuselage extends from the nose all the way aft, while the lower is broken in two, one making up the lower nose and the second making up the bulk of the fuselage aft of the intakes.
Like the real F-35, the kit's fuselage parts are covered with raised areas representing low-observable sealant applied to panel lines. My research indicates that these areas are indeed raised on the real F-35, but nowhere near as exaggerated as they appear on the kit surface.
Overall, the exaggerated lines are a bit frustrating, but nothing some quality sanding time couldn't address. More frustrating still is the knowledge that the LO sealant is left a lighter gray than the rest of the fuselage on current F-35s, meaning that you're going to be in for one intense masking job when the time comes to paint this thing.
Moving on, the rest of the kit consists of six dark gray sprues and one clear. Let's see what they're all about.
The first sprue contains a number of gear doors and internals.
Detail here is good-not-great, and the cockpit in particular looks "soft" to me. Probably worth waiting to see what the aftermarket has to contribute.
The next sprue contains the upper wings, stabilators, and elements of the landing gear.
One particular disappointment on this sprue is the main tires - not only is the detail extremely soft, but one of the tire halves seems to have fared rather poorly in the molding process.
The stabilators show the same raised sealant detail as the fuselage, albeit more subdued. One thing I really like about these is that the upper surfaces are molded as a single part (there's a small insert piece for the lower surface), eliminating the need to muck about joining the trailing edges.
Up next, we come to the tail fins and the lower wing surfaces.
The next sprue contains the conventional engine, pilot and bang seat, as well as two AIM-150 AMRAAM missiles and some external hardpoints.
The engine detail looks quite well done...
But I'd pass on the pilot.
The next sprue feels like a continuation of the last, with more engine, armament and ejection seat elements as well as the main landing gear bays.
The last of the solid sprues contains the parts needed to built the F-35B in STOVL configuration, with the lift fan exposed and the aft nozzle turned down.
Lastly, the clear parts, which are few but well done and quite thin.
Beyond the plastic, the kit includes an instruction manual with a nice glossy cover depicting the box art.
The instructions themselves get the job done. They aren't indecipherable, but they don't really stand out, either.
Though the glossy cover does provide a space for some nice color painting profiles on the back:
The decals for the kit are divided into two sheets. The first is entirely low-visibility gray, and chock full of all the markings and stencils you could want.
The second sheet goes full-color with the dramatic tail markings for F-35B-01, as well as colored national insignia for several confirmed and anticipated operator countries. No profiles are provided for, say, a Canadian F-35B, but the insignia make it possible to do one up for the RCAF if you wish.
There's also one small decal for the instrument panel that looks rather nice.
With any new kit, it's great to know what's in the box. But it's equally important to get a sense for how it goes together. And that's especially true with a new manufacturer where, let's be honest, both factors are unknown quantities.
So, how does the Kitty Hawk F-35B go together?
First, a caveat. This kit requires a fair bit of internal work - for example the wings seat onto the tops of the landing gear bays - and the absence of that infrastructure makes it difficult to accurately assess how well it fits with a few strips of tape.
Overall, though, everything does fit together to form the basic airframe of an F-35B.
That's not to say that it falls together. Without the internals, the lower fuselage has a lot of flex to it, and the limited mating surfaces with the upper fuselage required quite a bit of tape to hold in position. But once things were taped down, the fit was there, and I didn't encounter anything I'd call a show-stopper.
The fuselage join up toward the intakes is a bit tricky. Not because it doesn't fit, but again due to the small mating surfaces and the flex of the lower fuselage.
The canopy doesn't seat perfectly, either, but some simple edge cleanup should fix that right up.
Even without the internal support of the gear bays, the wing-to-fuselage join is quite good.
The only real fit complaint I have is with the tail fins, which didn't really want to seat into their depressions. This was complicated somewhat by, again, the flex in the lower fuselage, which made it difficult to apply any kind of pressure to the fins to get them to seat properly. With the fuselage halves mated and the internals in place, they may be far easier to just shove into position.
From the bottom, it's immediately obvious why the lower fuselage has the degree of flex that it does. There's a lot of internal space that's missing at this stage, and a fully build-up example would no doubt be significantly sturdier.
So What Do We Think?
Whichever way you slice it, the Lockheed F-35 is a critically important aircraft that in coming decades will fill the ranks of the United States and most of its allies. Whatever the cost overruns or design compromises or production delays, the F-35 is a reality that will be with us likely through the middle of the 21st century.
And...it's an ambitious kit for a new manufacturer to tackle.
Has Kitty Hawk succeeded? I would say yes, more or less. For a second kit, the F-35 is one heck of an achievement, with levels of detail and fit that may not quite be ready to stand up to the Tamiyas and Trumpeters of the world, but that show immense promise.
- Overall shape and fit. This kit looks like an F-35 and went together nicely in my test fit.
- Detail. With a few exceptions, the detail is solid, especially in the underside bays, sawtooth doors, and the nice ejection seat.
- Decals. The decal sheets look very well done and are definitely a step ahead of those offered by other new manufacturers.
What needs work?
- The raised LO seals. They're far too exaggerated.
- The tires. The weakest details in the kit, in my opinion. Fortunately, tires are about the easiest thing to replace on an aircraft.
- The dark gray plastic. Perhaps it's nitpicking, but I'm not a fan. And considering that Kitty Hawk's inaugural release, the F-94C Starfire, is molded in good old light gray, there's a reasonable hope that this is a one-off aberration.
Kitty Hawk also has the benefit of first-mover status with this release, as theirs is currently the only 1/48 F-35 on the market.
Recommended for fans of modern aircraft.
Review sample courtesy of Kitty Hawk Models
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