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Mike

JAS-39A/C Gripen - 1:48 Kitty Hawk

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JAS-39A/C Gripen
1:48 Kitty Hawk


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The Gripen was a name chosen by the people of Sweden for the replacement for the much loved Viggen and Draken from the deep Cold War era. It was decided that the aircraft should be capable of air-to-air, air-to-ground and reconnaissance missions, which in Swedish gave rise to the JAS acronym. It took 9 years from initialisation of the development studies in 1979 to the first flight of the Gripen, but after a couple of crashes early on, the programme was slowed down significantly while kinks in the fly-by-wire system were ironed out, resulting in an in-service date of 1997.

Operating costs were a very important factor in the project, and Saab and their partners worked hard to keep this low, using a system health monitor that reports back to a continuous improvement programme to continue to work on any problems that cause additional costs. The longevity of parts and simplicity of maintenance were also considered from the outset, and the Volvo built General Electric derived motor has been trimmed of excess weight, given better bird-ingestion protection and a reduced part count to assist in this, as well as reducing the weight of the unit in a highly weight conscious project. Despite its small size, the Gripen can carry a significant quantity of munitions on its pylons, and has the capability of accommodating the defensive or offensive components from a number of countries, which helps to recommend it to potential export purchasers.

The Next Generation Gripens are in development offering increased fuel or munitions load, more powerful engines, enhanced avionics, and due to their long projected service life, we'll be seeing them in the skies for a long time to come in some shape or form.

The Kit
Although there are a couple of Gripen kits in this scale already, Kitty Hawk have tooled this completely new kit using modern technology and looking over the sprues and their delicate surface detail, we should be in for a treat if the buildability is of the same quality. Continuing their tradition of diminutive boxes, the Gripen arrives in their now-usual white box with a painting of a well-loaded Gripen coming at us on the front. Inside there isn't much room for air as there are nine sprues of mid-grey styrene, one of clear parts, a fret of Photo-Etch (PE) brass, two decal sheets and of course the glossy combined instruction booklet and painting guide. The cover of the booklet is of the new fold-out type, so that the decaling and painting guides can be more complete, covering all sides of the aircraft, rather than leaving us guessing at times as was the case in earlier issues. Thanks for listening guys!

The kit is broken down with vertical seams on the fuselage, and it has a separate nose section to allow for a later two-seat variant, which I'm sure won't lag too far behind. The two-seater is a good 66cm longer than the single-seater, but as they share the same radar, it makes sense that the nose-cone is separate. The lower wing is full-width with a section of the lower fuselage moulded in, and the tail fin is moulded into the fuselage, which also holds a full engine representation, although there are no intake trunks supplied. Personally, while I think it's a shame that they aren't fully trunked, most people won't even notice due to the small intakes either side of the cockpit. If it bothers you however, the simple answer is to make or buy some intake blanks, or to build your own trunks… I'd choose the former any day rather than the thankless task that is building your own intake trunks. Been there, incinerated the t-shirt.

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Construction starts with the cockpit, and a decent representation of the Martin Baker Mk.10 is provided, although there are a couple of small sink-marks on the front of the seat cushion on my sample due to the thickness of the styrene there. Nothing that a tiny smear of filler can't sort out though, so not really worth getting upset about. A couple of decals are supplied for the headbox sides, which is always good for improving the realism of a cockpit in my estimation. The cockpit tub is a single part, into which drop the seat, and a pair of odd-looking (but essentially correct) rudder pedals, complete with a PE skin to the textured pedal face. The short HOTAS stick sits on a raised base between the pilot's knees, and the instrument panel fixes in a slot just in front, having a pair of decals applied over the raised details to depict the mostly glass cockpit of this modern fighter jet. The rear deck has a couple of avionics boxes on top, which just need their connecting cables adding, which can be seen in any reference pictures of the cockpit. The sidewalls attach to the side consoles, and a small bulkhead fits into a slot in the back of the tub to complete the job. It's noteworthy that Kitty Hawk have chosen not to provide PE instrument panels or side consoles in this kit, but have included a set of PE seat harnesses, which are more crisp and detailed than previous efforts.

To close up the nose section you need to build the nose gear bay, which is a central tub with add-on sides, and at the front of the wheel well, you might well find another small sink-mark, again due to the thickness of the styrene here, with the same simple fix. The landing gear is made up from a two-part leg, with separate oleo-scissor and perpendicular bar to the rear, with two wheels made up from halves with nicely moulded in hub detail. You should be able to add the gear leg later if you are concerned about knocking it off, but check that the base will fit through the bay opening before leaving it off. Having built a Jaguar with the same pre-installation of the gear legs however, apart from a bit of extra masking, I've not found it to be much of a problem. Once installed along with the cockpit, the nose section can be closed up, the coaming and clear HUD are added, and you can then choose to install the nose cone and pitot, or leave it off and show off the radar installation that is provided in the kit. Either way, you're going to need 9g of weight according to Kitty Hawk, so plan ahead, as too much is better than too little.

I've often wondered whether this "build the nose and fuselage, then attach them together" process was the best idea, electing to attach the nose halves to the fuselage with my Jaguar build, but the Gripen is broken down in such a way that apart from a small section under the nose/fuselage there is very little in the way of seam. Do some test fitting before you start the build, and make up your own mind here, as apart from maybe getting a better joint with the cockpit/spine interface, there's not too much that could go wrong. I'll have a quick test fit myself once I've taken the sprue pictures, and if there are any concerns I'll report back.

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As mentioned earlier, a full rendition of the Volvo built GE engine is supplied, from the initial compressor face through the afterburner to the exhaust trunking. There aren't many parts, but as most of the motor will be hidden away, that’s not exactly bad news anyway. The casing is in two halves, into which you glue the two-part compressor blade/stator vane assembly, the afterburner ring, and a PE trunking inner face. You'll need to roll the trunking part to fit snugly with the tube of the engine, but it will be worth the effort, as it is covered with nicely done fine surface detail. On the fuselage halves, a pair of inserts are added either side of the jet exhaust in readiness for the air-brakes, a bay detail part for the in-flight refuelling probe is added to the upper port intake area, and a pair of small recessed bays on the rear of the port wing root for the APU, both of which have PE sidewalls which project out of the fuselage to portray the outward opening doors. A bit of masking will be needed to keep things tidy, and alternative closed bay parts would have been welcomed, rather than having to resort to making plugs from styrene sheet. At this point the fuselage can be closed up around the engine, as the main gear bays are attached to the lower wing, which is good news for anyone that can't wait to close up the fuselage during a build.

The main gear bays are next, and these have some good detail moulded in, with five extra parts added to further improve them, plus a bulkhead at the front. Again, the main gear is added at this stage, made up from three parts plus a clear landing light, and the tyre in two halves that again has some nice detail moulded into the hub. They are offered up to the lower wing, locating on two pegs each that pass through corresponding holes in the bay. The mating surface is large, so some liquid cement flooded into the area and then firm pressure should result in a good strong joint. The upper wings can then be added, and have spacers to keep them at the correct separation so they meet up with the wing root on the upper surface. The leading-edge dog-tooth is added once the wings are together, and the flying surfaces are added to the rear edge, and can be offset to give a more candid appearance to the aircraft's pose. The fuselage is dropped into the gap between the upper wing halves, and if all has gone well, should fit neatly into the slot with minimal clean-up. The missing portion of the lower fuselage between the nose and wing section is added from a single flat part, and the gear bay doors are shown added at this point too, although it's a wiser modeller that will leave them off until later. With careful alignment and test-fitting, the join-lines should require little clean-up, and I've never had problems with KH kits before, so fingers crossed.

The tail has some sensors built into the leading edge, one of which is rather fragile and likely to get knocked off during construction. The rudder is separate and can be posed offset if you wish, and there are a couple of PE antennas on either side of the tail bullet, as well as some more on the aircraft's spine. The air-brakes have been engineered to fit only in the open position, although they should fit flush if you'd like a cleaner look to your model. At this stage you fit the four underwing pylons, of which two types are included, one having a more organic shape and more detail. The two wing-tip mounted rails, centreline pylon starboard rail under the intake are then added, at which time the nose is installed between the as-yet uninstalled intakes. The rear cockpit fairing slides over the fuselage around 5cm, and has a very large mating surface, resulting in a good join, and very little chance of your nose falling off in the future. The intakes are C-chaped profile parts that mate to the flat splitter-plates, and inside them you will find a few ejector pin marks that should be removed if you're not adding FOD guards. These fit against the fuselage on a long slot, and if you test-fit them should need little work, as the join falls on a panel line. The three doors on the nose gear bay are added, the front one having a pair of retraction arms, and a clear part for the landing light. The canards fit into a small hole in the sides of the intake trunk, and can be angled to suit your references, as they are often angled downwards to act as an airbrake, particularly during short-field landings. At the rear, a nicely detailed single part exhaust is fitted, with individual petals engraved on inner and outer faces. There is evidence of a slight sink-mark on the inner face, but this is right inside the exhaust tube, unlikely to be seen and painting will disguise it well.

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The canopy of the Gripen is side-opening with a fixed windscreen, and this is how it is supplied in the kit. The winscreen fixes to the space around the coaming, and the canopy is shown either closed, or posed open by the use of a small PE hinge that is bent to shape. It's nice that they have included this, as quite often kit manufacturers give no thought how to pose a side-opening canopy. The opening canopy has a moulded in frame on the top, which is a little too prominent, and would benefit from sanding back. I suspect that is should be inside the canopy anyway, so it could be removed completely, re-polished and a length of rod used to more accurately depict it. It won't bother too many people however, but the detail hounds may want to consider it. A set of PE rear-view mirrors are included, as is the prominent cross-brace that joins the two canopy rails together. A long PE part is placed around the inside of the canopy's front lip, just behind the rear-view mirrors, the reason for which I can't quite make out on my reference photos. The canopy interior is black anyway, so paint it a very dark grey, and hope no-one asks if you don't know what it is either.

There are three sprues of weapons, two of which are from the Mirage F.1 kit, the other is specific to the Gripen, and of these three sprues, you can use the following:

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  • DWS 39 Mjölner sub-munitions dispenser (no longer carried)
  • AGM-65 Maverick x 2
  • Python IV air-to-air missile x 2
  • RV-15S anti-ship missile
  • AIM-120 AMRAAM x 2
  • AIM-9L Sidewinder x 2
  • IRIS-T air-to-air missile x 2
  • GBU-12 Paveway II 500 bomb x 2

The Mjölner sub-munitions dispenser was prohibited from use by the Swedish Flygvapnet in 2010 after they signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in May 2008, and the Python IV is named "Phyton" in the instructions due to a typo that made it through. You should have plenty of weapons for the parts bin after completion of your model, and to help you along, KH have included a diagram showing which weapons are carried on which stations on the last page of the instructions. Nothing is shown on the port shoulder station however, which is where you will sometimes find a targeting pod such as the LITENING pod with some operators. Stencils are included on the decal sheet, and the front inner cover has a full page devoted to their painting and markings, which is good to see.

Markings
Four options are included with the kit, and although a little light on Swedish subjects, represents the other operators well, as follows:

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  1. Swedish Flygvapnet Meteor test aircraft 101 Medium Sea Grey over FS36622 with low-viz markings and a griffon (gripen) on the tail in grey.
  2. Czech Air Force aircraft 9237 Medium Sea Grey over FS36622 with low-viz markings and sepia tint tiger motif on the tail and the digits 211.
  3. Hungarian Air Force 59th TFW ident 30 Medium Sea Grey over FS36622 with hi-viz markings.
  4. South African Air Force ident. 11 Medium Sea Grey over FS36622 with low-viz markings. SA flag in colour on the tail.

Each set of markings is given either a separate page (options 3 & 4) or a double-page spread (1 & 2), with both sides, top and bottom views sized so that they can be viewed easily. This has clearly increased the cost of printing the booklet, but it is most definitely worth the effort from the modeller's point of view, so to be applauded. It's a shame however that for the Meteor test marking option, that the pylon and missile weren't included. Dr Pepper resin offer a pair for a reasonable sum, but it would have been nice if KH could have included one in each kit, which probably wouldn't have broken the bank if tooling one in styrene was out of the question.

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The decals are printed by an unknown printer, but appear to be of good quality. There is a slight off-set of the white printing however, as seems to be a case with a lot of KH decals, but the impact should be minimal, as there are only a few decals carrying white backgrounds. The printing of the sepia-tinted tiger is excellent, as are the full-colour tail flags, which are all on the smaller sheet. Also on the smaller sheet is the decal for the instrument panel, which as well as being very nicely printed depicts the panel fully active, with instruments and maps visible on each of the three MFD screens. If you're going into full pedant mode, these should be switched off and a dark shade of green if the aircraft is parked up, but if you dial back the pedantry a little, they will add valuable extra life to the cockpit when complete. Don't forget to use plenty of setting solution to enable the decals to settle down over the raised bezels of the MFDs and the instruments moulded into the area under the HUD.

Conclusion
A very nicely tooled kit of the Gripen. There are a few ejector pin marks here and there that will need removing, including a few on missiles, but they have generally been well hidden. The large ejector-towers within the fuselage and engine halves are a momentary distraction, and are easily nipped off and made good, but without those few seconds of work, you'll wonder why the halves won't go together.

Apart from the omission of the Meteor missile from the kit, the weapons provided are many, with plenty of the spares collection, which will be very useful if you have some French aircraft in the stash. As usual with Kitty Hawk's design ethos, the emphasis is on surface detail and opened panels, so if you want to portray your Gripen clean, or with wheels up, you'll need to put a little work in. It'd be a shame to hide away most of the detail though, although I'd seriously consider closing up the APU vents and possibly also the air-brake to accentuate the comparatively slim rump of this single-engined power-house.

Highly recommended.

Available soon from all good model shops.

Review sample courtesy of

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Great! I've been waiting for a better kit of this after the gaudy monstrosity of a Italeri kit I built years ago.

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Thanks guys :) I've just finished a quick tape-together and test fit of the parts, and have a few observations.

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  • I can't really see any merit in joining the nose and fuselage halves together before they are both built. The fit seems to be pretty good as it stands, but as you can imagine, it's difficult to be 100% conclusive without any of the internal structures inside that give the assemblies strength, which seems to be a feature of Kitty Hawk models. Check out the fuselage in the box and it is flexible and wobbly. Put the various bays & cockpit in, and it firms right up.
  • The air-brake will fit in the closed position. My suggestion would be to support it from behind with tabs of scrap styrene sheet or strip, then fill any gaps, re-scribing after the putty/CA is set. You'll also need to cut the tab off the actuator arm to make it fit into its fairing on the fuselage.
  • That probe on the tail is going to be obliterated during construction, so cut it off and keep it to one side until the end. Then either replace it with sprue/rod or glue it back in place, resolving never to touch it again.
  • Test fit and fettle the lower wing assembly, as slight flares at the edge of the parts can lead to misalignment. Don't slap glue on it until you're sure it fits as well as you can make it.
  • The nose cone fit isn't too crisp, so fettle it a little, and make sure you glue it on the right way up, as the profile curvature is slightly different top and bottom.
  • The windscreen is very thin, so handle it gently and infrequently.
  • Gripens are quite small.

It looks ok in outline to me, and the surface detail is very nicely done. There may be an issue with the side profile of the canopy having too smooth a curve toward the front, but I'd need to study it a little more before I could say conclusively.

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Thank you for your objective and constructive (builder friendly) review Mike.

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How much better is it than the Italeri offering?

I suspect that will be the question for many of us in deciding whether to add this to a stash that already includes the italeri effort plus after market.

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I don't have an Italeri kit (that I can remember at least), so I can't comment, sadly. I can't imagine it won't leave it for dead though, judging what some people have said about it over the years :S

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Thanks, Mike.

Look likes a nice kit.

With the paveways, it would have been nice to get a designation pod, but maybe those GBUs are were not intended at first for this kit?

There's certainly another mirage kit in sight.

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I'm sure you're right Antoine :) A designation pod & a Meteor missile... small but notable omissions. :shrug:

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Still, we can't really complain.

Overall, that's more than one sprue and half for bonus weapons.

Soon we can forget about hasegawa weapons sets.

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I'm sure you're right Antoine :) A designation pod & a Meteor missile... small but notable omissions. :shrug:

There isn't a drop tank either, I don't think I've seen a Gripen without one. I think Maestro Models do an aftermarket tank.

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Thanks for the review Mike. And thank you Mr Song for producing some interesting and desirable kits. Will definitely be getting one of these.

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On ARC someone noticed that the kit only contains parts to build a JAS 39C so a JAS 39A (like the one on the boxart) can't be built correctly from the kit.

Koen

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Pity about the weapons, just the like British Jag . It's annoying when they skimp on things like the appropriate tanks/weapons.

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Better to have some relevant weapons and spares for the parts bin than none at all like some manufacturers :)

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Hi Mike.

Great review. I just have one question though, maybe it's just me but I cannot see any IRIS-T missiles on those weapon sprues. Did I just miss them? Where on the sprues are they? This is an IRIS-T:

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I almost missed them too, but there are two on the "nose" sprue, salted away down the bottom. They have the right profile fins & that castlated exhaust profile too:

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Thanks for a great review and follow-up, Mike! I am aiming to make this my next build.

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