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Mike

F-35B Lightning II - 1:48 Kitty Hawk

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F-35B Lightning II



1:48 Kitty Hawk

boxtop.jpg

The F-35, otherwise known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is an American led multi-national effort to bring a fifth generation multi-role aircraft to a number of Allied nations, whilst spreading the cost of development between them. The Lockheed X-35 won the JSF contest over the Boeing X-32, and development went ahead, culminating in its first flight at the end of 2006. There are three variants of the F-35, the A, which is a conventional aircraft designed to take off and land on made-up airfields, the B, which is to be the successor to the Harrier, or AV-8B as it is known in the US, and finally the C model, which is the carrier based cat & trap variant.

The F-35B is the most complex of the three variants, as it has an additional lift fan installed behind the pilot, which is powered from a shaft linked to the engine. There was, and continues to be a great deal of negative speculation about the validity of additional weight that is carried around after the take-off phase of flight, when the aircraft has transferred to horizontal flight and the fan is essentially redundant. This is likely informed partly by the love for the Harrier, and the lack of success of the Yak-38, which is the only other production aircraft to use such a technique to achieve hover, as well as the comparatively low fuel load that can be carried as a result. It can't have helped that the British AND Americans hold the name Lightning in high regard due to the success of the BAC Lightning of the 60s and the WWII P-38 Lightning, respectively.

As well as all of the latest avionics and weapons systems, the JSF is also a low-observable airframe, more commonly known as stealth, and has two internal bays that can be used to carry munitions, as well as six external hard-points for when stealth is not the primary mission focus. It also exhibits the same style blended fuselage and wings as the F-22 Raptor, with semi-blended engine intakes and heavily canted twin-tails, although it sports only one engine compared to the Raptor's two. The engine has a flexible nozzle that is used in the Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) process, when it is directed downward to support the rear of the airframe while the lift fan supports the forward section. In horizontal flight, the flexible nozzle is used to enhance manoeuvrability in much the same way as the F-22.

The first of the F-35Bs has arrived with the RAF in July of 2012 for evaluation, with a further three on the way, and this stealth capable aircraft is expected to be operational from land bases at least by 2018. These aircraft are significantly more expensive than originally planned, and successive changes to the order have come and gone, giving the builders of the two new aircraft carriers on which they will be carried sleepless nights.

I'm sure that the same wringing of hands and negativity will be lavished on the successor to the Lightning II in due course, as these things seem to be cyclical.

The Kit

Kitty Hawk are a relatively new kit company to me, and I have only seen their F-94C Starfire so far, and was impressed with the attention to detail and finesse of the parts. This kit has arrived at just the right time from a British perspective because of our new delivery, and as the previously available kit in this scale was a rather poor rendition that bore only a passing resemblance to the more developed airframe we see today, it should sell well. What we will be saying in 2018 is another matter!

The kit arrives in a glossy, predominantly white box, with a nice painting of an F-35B on finals with its lift-fan door extended and wheels down. Inside are six sprues of dark grey styrene, plus three individually moulded parts for the fuselage, a clear sprue, three small decal sheets, and a glossy instruction booklet that repeats the boxtop image on its front page. The sprues are bagged in pairs for the most part, with the flimsy bags remaining open for easy access to the sprues. The clear parts were in a closed bag to protect that beautiful goldfish bowl of a canopy, as were the decals, curiously further protected by a clear acetate film over each sheet, rather than the usual grease-proof paper type.

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The first thing that is evident from perusing the sprues is that there is a lot of detail moulded in. There is also a lot of mould release still evident on my review sample, so a good wash of the parts will be essential if you ever want to get the paint to stick well. There are some fabulous compound curved parts that must have taken some moulding, and a few parts have been improved by a little slide-moulding. Surface detail is good, and a little more restrained than Hasegawa's recent F-22 kit in 1:48, but more evident than the earlier Academy kit of the same aircraft. To my tired and untrained eyes, they seem to have got the balance just right between relief and accuracy in representing the oddly raised and curved panels.

detail-fuselage1.jpg

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Opening the instruction booklet, it is obvious that the kit has been engineered to be displayed in the STOVL configuration, as the exhaust nozzle is moulded in the hover position, which would appear to take a lot of work to change to level-flight mode. There is however a pair of parts for the exhausts that allow the modeller to build it that way, although this isn't documented in the instructions. The build begins with the cockpit conventionally enough, which is well detailed, although the ejection seat will need seatbelts adding if you intend on omitting the supplied pilot. Given that the stick-jockey is supplied, that can be forgiven, especially as the figure is so well moulded, with separate arms and head, with the pilot's helmet being correct for the type - an insectoid looking VSI helmet with integrated screens and night-vision to aid the pilot in his tasks. The glass instrument panel sits inside a coaming, and a large decal is supplied to replicate this. The side-consoles are decorated with more traditional switches, and even the cockpit sills have some detail moulded into them.

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As with many modern jets, the nose gear bay, which is surprisingly shallow fits to the bottom of the cockpit tub, and the single nose-wheel mounts in a slot to the rear of the bay, while its retraction strut does the same at the front. The gear leg is nicely moulded, with a separate oleo scissor and ancillary parts, although the single-part nose wheel itself looks a little bland, but does at least have some tread moulded into the contact surface. The upper half of the nose of the kit is moulded into the top fuselage half, but the bottom is a separate part, and it is into this piece that the nose bay and cockpit assembly fit. This is then put to one side while the intakes, engine and exhaust path is built up.

A basic rendition of the P&W F-135 engine is supplied, and this is built up with its front and rear faces detailed with appropriate fans and the large drive shaft that leads forward to the lift fan. This is then cocooned inside the y-shaped intake trunking that is built up using six parts in total, with some neat curves. The insides of the intake trunking is a little rough, but as you will probably see very little of it on the finished model, 99% of the modelling public will probably not be unduly concerned. If you are the 1%, the main inlets can be fettled while still in their appropriate halves, and the seam then attacked with putty once joined. The vectoring exhaust nozzle sits behind the rear of the engine, and as mentioned earlier is angled downward for landing/take-off. If you wanted to change the configuration to horizontal flight, you need to replace the C11 & C12 C9 and C10 which are the two halves of the straight exhaust trunk. The controversial lift-fan sits between the bifurcated intake trunks, and attaches to the drive-shaft at the rear. The fan has blade and stator-blade detail top and bottom, and should look good once painted.

detail-engine1.jpg

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The main landing gear bays are built up next, with plenty of detail moulded into each one. The instructions would have you add the gear legs here, but these can be left out until later, as they drop into slots in the roof of the bay. The two weapons bays build up from several parts each, with the shell made up from the main "tub", plus an end plate, after which five detail parts are added, including a rather long and chunky conduit that runs the full length of each bay. When these are added to the lower fuselage, it should become a lot more stable, as without the bays installed, it is a little prone to temporarily warping under pressure during handling. The lower louvers for the lift fan are added to the front lower fuselage, and then the nose plus the completed engine assembly are added, sitting on a couple of well-engineered pegs to ensure a snug fit, and hopefully leading to a good fit between the intakes and lips. Some detail painting of the interior will be needed where they are visible through the open bays during STOVL configuration. The aft section of the engine, the opening on the top of the trunking and the lift fans are all visible with the various doors and panels deployed, but check you have painted everything sufficiently before gluing it in, or you will be kicking yourself!

With the lower fuselage now full of components, the upper fuselage is added, completing the main part of the fuselage build. Attention then turns to the wings, which are nicely detailed with some rivets and raised detail - I'll have to check my references a little closer to see whether the rivets are appropriate for an aircraft with a high composite materials count. The tails have thick lower parts, and this is shown well in the bulbous moulding, which also gives them a rather sturdy mating surface with the fuselage top. The main wings are built up from a central core of top and bottom, to which the flying surface and leading edge slats are added. A small Wing Exhaust Bypass Vent (so I'm told!) is attached to the underside of the upper wing, and is later visible through a corresponding hole in the lower wing that is part of the lower fuselage part. The offsetting of the lower and upper wing parts gives a good mating surface, and the elevators have a large peg to ensure they have a good grip on the rear of the fuselage, as they trail behind and would be easy prey to clumsy handling.

Again, the kit has been engineered to be displayed with all of the doors open, so be prepared for some work if you elect to close the weapons bays, and even more to display it wheels up in horizontal flight. There are a profusion of doors under the aircraft, and each one has some rather nice detail moulded into both sides, although a few ejector pin marks will need removing. This will be easier because almost all of the hinges have been moulded as separate parts, so there is no risk of knocking them off during preparation. As well as the gear bay and weapons bay doors, there are also a pair under the fuselage for the lift-fan louvers and two more fuselage panels that hinge down and outboard so that the engine nozzle can transition to fully vertical, which after a little experimentation seems to be designed with closing of the doors in mind, which should just necessitate the removal of the moulded in door hinges. Add in the large barn-door that covers the lift fan upper and the ancillary intake behind it, and you have a lot of doors to prepare, paint and install. This will also increase the masking load due to the pre-painted bays all over the airframe.

clear.jpg

Once all of these parts are installed, it just remains for the forward hinging canopy to be installed, and here is another high-point of the model. The canopy is supplied as a single piece, and is crystal clear, with minimal thickness reducing distortion, and nicely engraved framing. The traditional windscreen "hoop" is moulded inside the canopy, so masking will have be done to both sides to get the correct look, but after a dip in Klear or Alclad Aqua Gloss, it should look stunning. The canopy side-rails are supplied as styrene parts, and the hinge at the very leading edge of the canopy is also glued to the clear part. Careful choice of glue will be needed to obtain maximum strength to support the weight of the part without clouding the canopy itself. The canopy then fits into a slot in the front of the coaming, which holds it at the correct angle, and with a little testing could allow the modeller to simply slot it in rather than gluing it, which would doubtless save it from danger during transport.

The supplied armament consists of two AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, plus a further pair of AIM-9X Sidewinders, the latest generation of the famous air-to-air missile. The AIM-120s are for installation within the weapons bays, and the Sidewinders on the outboard stations on the wings. A further four underwing pylons are provided in the box, but no munitions to populate them, sadly. A weapons diagram shows it loaded with four iron bombs on the inner wing stations, although it is noted they aren't in the kit, so you will need to source some 500lb GBU-38s or 1000lb GBU-32s if you feel like loading her up to the max.

Decals are provided on three sheets, the smallest of which simply contains the cockpit instrument panel, so is only postage stamp sized. The largest sheet contains a full set of low-viz markings for American and other nations, while the smaller sheet carries hi-viz markings and some of the more garish multi-national markings associated with the test machines.

From these sheets you can build one of the following:

  • VMFAT-501 in dark grey with Marines writ large on the wings and fuselage in low-viz.
  • BF-04 USS Wasp carrier trials in dark grey and low-viz markings.
  • Test airframe B-01 with dark grey fuselage, black tail with a lightning bolt and STOVL in orange/yellow and multi-national flag banners running along the fuselage sides.

decals.jpg

The decals are well printed, although the more colourful sheet has a somewhat faded aspect to some areas that may or may not disappear once applied. You should note that as well as the instrument panel on the separate sheet, there is also one on the main colourful sheet, but this is significantly smaller, and would leave large borders around it if used.

Conclusion

This is a welcome new release from this new company, and detail is excellent for the most part, and very much up with the larger companies in terms of quality of moulding. Part breakdown is sensible, and although inclusion of a full motor might seem a little wasteful of tooling at first glance, the fact that sections of it will be visible once the model is complete makes more sense once you have studied the build.

It would have been nice for the alternative parts for a bird configured for horizontal flight to be documented, but that is a minor gripe that can be corrected by reading this review anyway!

If you'd asked me three years ago what I thought of the Lightning II, I would have been quite dismissive, but lately it's been growing on me and with the delivery of the UK's first airframe recently, this kit couldn't have come at a better time. I'm going to have a hard time resisting the temptation of building it straight away.

Review sample courtesy of

logo.gif and available soon from major hobby shops

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Thanks Stephen - it's a nice kit, despite the best attentions of the courier, who seems to have used it as a seat-cushion for the journey to my house :S

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well i definatley want one of those

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Nice review Mike. The decal sheet with the hi-viz markings is interesting. There are Dutch roundels on there but the Royal Dutch Airforce only intends to buy the -A variant. Might signify that there are other variants in the pipeline

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Thank you for the review Mike.

That kit is going on my wish list

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Great review, thanks for sharing.

I preorder one of this at ebay and i'm counting the days to get it on my hands.

Regards

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Nice review Mike, i'll probably have to get one of these for the stash now !

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Judging by the RRP of the previous release, with a similarly full box, I'm guessing around the £34.99 mark? Just my guess though, based on NO hard evidence :)

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Thanks Mike,its showing on Hobbyeasy for £34 plus shipping so I was just working out if it was easier to wait foe the UK release.

Stephen

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NIce review, Mike, thanks.

Just a quick correction:

The F-35, otherwise known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is an American (ru)led multi-national effort to bring a fifth generation multi-role aircraft to a number of Allied nations, whilst spreading the cost of development between them.

Just joking, of course.

I hope the kit will hit my LMS soon, as I'm really curious about it, much more than about the F-22.

Edited by Antoine

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A small countermeasure pack is attached to the underside of the upper wing, and is later visible through a corresponding hole in the lower wing that is part of the lower fuselage part.

A further four underwing pylons are provided in the box, but no munitions to populate them,

Excellent review Mike - thanks!

A couple of things that pop out:

- are the 'countermeasures packs' actually the wing exhaust bypass vents Or 'Roll Posts' (tech term?) just outboard of the MLG doors? (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolls-Royce_LiftSystem#section_3)

- I'm disappointed that F-35 specific stores appear to be absent - namely the ferry tanks (excusable) and the 25mm gunpod (unique to the B & C models: see - http://aviationintel.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/20120222_O_GR159_001-copy.jpg ).

- with all those open doors, the IFR probe near the cockpit and the boarding ladder would've been the icing on the cake.

Minor gripes, looking forward to seeing it built.

Once again, great review!

Greg

Edited by GMK

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found some on the auction site £30 plus £10.50 p+p

from china

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- are the 'countermeasures packs' actually the wing exhaust bypass vents (tech term?) just outboard of the MLG doors?

Wing exhaust bypass vents... criminy! I shall update my review, thanks for the info :)

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The box artwork reminds me of the Squadron publications Aircraft In Action book covers.

I wonder if it's the same artist?

Chris.

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Ooh nice. Going to have to get one of these to put next to the Forger I've just finished.

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I'm going to have a hard time resisting the temptation of building it straight away.

Me in your place i would do it now ! ;)

Regards and thanks for the reivew.

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Glad you liked it Wolf. I've just corrected an error in the code for the review, which now shows the additional detail picture of the upper fuselage area round the cockpit and lift fan, which is festooned with lovely raise & engraved detail. :)

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Maybe it's me Mike, but whilst I agree that it's a really nice kit, the modeller appears to be on his own when it comes to internal colours. There are no call outs on the instructions at all, and given Kitty Hawk were able to do that with the Starfire, that in my book is a real shame. :(

Also, there's only 2 decal sheets in the box, and the instructions only refer to the one, B7. Weapons bay placements are also vague, but it is a nice bit of plastic.

That is all.

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Just got mine today - largely as a result of your review Mike - looks good. Surface finish looks far finer than what I was expecting.

Still disappointed there's no 25mm gun pod and the retractable boarding ladder omission is not ideal.

That said, looks like a lovely kit!

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