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Mike

X-47B US Navy UCAS - 1:48

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X-47B US Navy UCAS
1:48 Freedom Model Kits


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Like 'em or loathe 'em, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV is here to stay, and as the technology advances, you'll find them creeping into more aspects of military aviation. The US Navy were comparatively slow in entering into the Unmanned Carrier Air System (UCAS) field, possibly due to the immaturity of the technology for the sometimes tricky take-off and landing cycle of a carrier aircraft, not to mention the harsh environment found out to sea. The eventual aim is to create a large surveillance and strike vehicle that can project US air power into perhaps more hotly contested airspace than would be suitable for manned operations.

The original A variant was a proof of concept technology demonstrator, while the B is a more robust airframe that is capable of carrying existing weapons systems, while the projected in-service airframe will be roughly the same size, but able to carry new weapons systems more suited to unmanned delivery systems. Taxying under its own power in 2010, the first airframe flew a year later, and after successful testing that resulted in a shortening of the programme, has now embarked upon sea trials ahead of schedule aboard USS Harry S Truman. In 2013, successful launches and landings were performed from USS George H W Bush in the Atlantic Ocean. This year (2014) will see more trials that involve deck handling and clearing of the deck within the same timescales as manned vehicles, so as not to disrupt operations.

The Kit
This is the first release from newcomer Freedom Model Kits, and it is of an unusual subject, so hats off to them for their enthusiasm. The kit arrives in a sturdy top opening box, adorned with some nice artwork of an X-37B being shadowed by an F-35, and inside are six sprues in a mid-grey styrene that has a translucent edge, a small fret of Photo-Etch (PE) brass, and a sizeable decal sheet. The instruction booklet is printed in black and white on A4 folded concertina-style, with the painting and decaling guide on a glossy sheet of folded A3 in full colour, which is nice. So far, it's a professional looking package that shows no "first product" rough edges. The larger sprues are individually bagged, while the two smaller sprues are bagged together, and on my review sample, which had withstood the rigors of individual shipping by DHL, there was evidence of minor chaffing on the bags, but not on the sprues thankfully. The aircraft is a blended wing/fuselage, and the halves are certainly surprisingly large, getting larger still when you add the folding wings.

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Construction begins with the landing gear, which will be very familiar to anyone that has built a modern carrier based jet in recent years. The nose gear leg is a rugged main part with the retraction jack and catapult lug moulded in, to which the rest of the retraction mechanism is added, plus a box of tricks, some tiny PE linkages, landing lights etc. added during construction. The main leg is supplied in deck-handling mode, or extended for take-off, with the catapult linkage in the dropped position. More PE is used to add some tie-down points on the leg, which will require a steady hand and a pair of tweezers. The main gear legs are similarly constructed with separate oleo scissor-links, retraction jacks, and separate brake detail, with a scrap diagram showing the correct orientation of the part. Both the twin nose wheels and individual main gear wheels are built up from halves, with some nice hub detail moulded in. The gear bay doors are angular for radar signature reduction, and each has separate hinge parts that many an established manufacturer would do well to imitate.

Traditionalists that are missing building cockpits will be twitching noticeably by now, as the wings are built up next, with separate ailerons and air-brakes, the latter capable of being posed open or closed by including or omitting the separate hinge-points. Clear landing lights are inserted from within the lower wing parts, and covered over by the upper section with a surprisingly thick profile. With no cockpit to build up, the intake/exhaust trunking is built up next, and Freedom have opted to create a single two-part trunk, with front and rear engine faces obscuring the view through, for strength and simplicity of construction. The moulding on the fans is excellent, with gaps between the individual blades of the front compressor face and afterburner ring at the rear. The trunk is split horizontally, with a vertical splitter in the exhaust section moulded into the lower half. The completed assembly is then dropped into the lower fuselage and covered over by immediately adding the upper fuselage – the joys of having no complex cockpit to build and paint!

The landing gear bays and weapons bays are all moulded into the lower fuselage half, and detail is excellent, with plenty moulded into the roof and sidewalls of the weapons bays, and into the roof of the gear bays. The gear bay doors all have well-defined location points in the side of their bays, as do the large weapons bays, with the same parts used for opened and closed options, again by the addition or omission of the separate hinge parts. A pair of GBU-32s are included on the sprues, and these have separate rear fins, plus a shackle on the top that mates with holes in the bay roof. The arrestor hook can be posed up or down too by using a short or long bracing strut in construction. The inner control surfaces are also added to the rear of the "diamond" at this point.

The wings are now added, and again you have a choice of folded for stowage, or deployed. In the down position they are fixed to the fuselage with an insert that creates a tab to attach to the fuselage, plus a pair of hinge-covers on the upper side. The folded option has a more complex joint, with hinge detail and locating tab inserted into the fuselage, and the wings then added to the remaining tab. PE avionics bundles are added to the hinge, and plenty of scrap diagrams show the correct position and final look of the many parts used to detail the area. The final task is to add the variety of sensor blisters and aerials that adorn any modern aircraft, most of which appear to be on the upper rear fuselage over the exhaust port.

Markings
So far, only light grey (FS36118) has been applied to the test vehicle, and it has deployed with two carriers, but decals for many more have been included on the sheet in case you plan on portraying a "what-if", or projected scenario. Only two tail codes are given however, with markings for both deployments on the sheet, as follows:

  • 168063 CVW-9, AV-1 coded 501
  • 168064 CVW-9, AV-2 coded 502

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The swallow and eagle motifs are provided for opposing wingtips top and bottom, as well as a full complement of national markings, walkways and stencilling. The decals are well printed with minimal carrier film, and registration is good with the exception of the red, which is slightly offset, but shows up because wouldn't you know it? The majority of the decals featuring red are rings around centre points in different colours. With those few exceptions though, the rest of the sheet is nice, and the detail on the technology participants decals on the nose gear doors is very good indeed.

Conclusion
It's hard to think that this is a first product from a new company, as they have certainly hit the ground running, with everything you could expect from a modern model kit out of the box. Quality of moulding is good, detail is good, instructions are clear and concise, and the options for opening or closing everything is good to see. So many companies today only offer the open option, which not everyone likes, and even those that do sometimes want to at least have the option to build their chosen subject with at least some panels closed. Freedom of choice…

Even if UAVs aren't normally your bag, I suspect when you see this kit, you might find yourself inexplicably drawn to it. One note to the tool-setters in closing though – you need to dial down the force on the ejector-pin machine, as it's caused a few stress marks in the plastic on the other side of the part due to the force with which it's been expelled. It's only a visual thing as no discernable damage has been done to the outer surface, but it might be worthwhile turning it down from 11!

Very highly recommended.

Video of her first launch and trap on, taken 2013



Coming soon to model shops everywhere.

Review samples courtesy of
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That does look very nice indeed. Will certainly be getting one to add to the UAV collection.

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Funnily enough, my sprue cutter fingers are getting itchy. I forget I've also got a "collection" of UAVs. I built the Global Hawk and Predator a few years back, and have a Reaper, plus a teeny tiny resin hand-launched drone I got from somewhere, I know not where :)

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That looks rather interesting, much better than an F-35. However i think it needs some CAG colours, it's too bland in grey. Thanks for the review Mike, I think I might have to dabble/indulge here.

Colin

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For a first time model, it certainly looks excellent, considering the state of some of the sprues you can get from a big company. Might pick one up once I've thinned the stash.

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I've just started to build this kit, and will report tomorrow with a little progress, all being well :)

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Nice to see the Grumman name back in the US Navy. It is an interesting looking beast and I find myself strangely tempted.

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Shame on you,Freedom Models, fancy bringing out a model with no scope for resin cockpits and no etched seat belts, are they trying to bankrupt the aftermarket chaps,life will not be the same without constant moaning about colours for the cockpit interior etc

Nice one :thumbsup2::winkgrin::cheers::partytime::clap2::thanks:

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Hi all,

Mike, you seem to be doing a great job so far. I have reported back to Bryan the issue with the strength of the ejector-pin jettison. I've asked him to recommend that it is turned down.

Thanks for letting us know. Quality control is very important so other feedback is gratefully received.

Really looking forward to watching more of your build and thanks for having me here.

I will try to answer questions as much as possible.

Looking forward to becoming a long term participant here too.

Happy Easter.

Martin

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What about à nEUROn next?

Good call, also a BAe Taranis, and EADS Talarion as well?

Julien

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Antoine / Julien,

Next project has been decided and should be ready by Autumn this year. Certainly ready for Christmas.

The next model is certainly going to appeal to you guys. Please don't ask because this is a trade secret of course.

I also like the drama :P

Martin

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Antoine / Julien,

Next project has been decided and should be ready by Autumn this year. Certainly ready for Christmas.

The next model is certainly going to appeal to you guys.

So you're doing a 1/32 Mirage F.1???

:smartass:

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@ FMMartin You tease you! But I promise not to tell anyone it's a 48th Bristol 188....OOPS

@luis Nice knowing you. After leaking such a secret about their weaponry expect a visit from North Korean security soon. Best get a Chinese smuggler haircut before, it may help your defence :clown:

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Ok, so the question "what next" is one of the most intruguing in the industry. :)

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Still waiting for a decent kit of the Sopwith Wombat with markings for Squadron Leader Jacob Creek ;)

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