NOTE: This is not a review per se. There will be no fondling of sprues or the like. Think of this more as an addendum – impressions from mid-way through the actual build.
Since the first test shots emerged, Tamiya’s new 1/48 F-14A Tomcat has been praised to the heavens. Reviews have been almost universally glowing. And to be sure, it’s a fine kit.
But now that I’m a ways into building one, I’d stop shy of calling it a great kit. Much less the OMG BEST KIT EVAR!!!! adulation that some heap upon it.
I know. There’s just no pleasing some people.
In his business books, Jim Collins goes on about the Hedgehog Model. You can read about it here if you want, but the TL;DR version is pretty simple. The hedgehog is really great at one thing – rolling up into a spiky ball that predators don’t like to bite. Businesses, by focusing on that one thing they do really, really well, succeed over the long term.
Tamiya’s hedgehog is fit. They may fuck up here and there on other things, but when you crack into a Tamiya kit you’re pretty much assured of truly wonderful fit (and the engineering that assures that).
Tamiya’s Tomcat is no exception. The engineering – and the fit that follows from it – cannot be disputed. Pieces slot together with authority and precision. There’s no guessing. There’s no hoping. Shit just fits.
And I’m not just talking about the fuselage or the cockpit – it extends to the wing glove pylons and the gear bays and the gear struts and the intake trunks.
From an assembly perspective, Tamiya’s F-14 is great.
Beyond engineering and fit, Tamiya drops several balls with their Tomcat. They’re little things, but taken together they add up to a kit that falls just shy of greatness.
I’m going to address each, as well as offer up a few thoughts on how Tamiya – or the aftermarket – could address them.
The Tamiyacat’s wings? They’re solid. Personally I’m fine with this, since unless the F-14 is literally on the catapult or landing, the slats and flaps aren’t splayed out. But it gets under some people’s britches.
Solution: This one is simple, thanks to Tamiya’s excellent spar tabs. Offer a “F-14 Premium Wing” set. Meng already does shit like this with their armor.
Detail in the cockpit is…decent. And honestly, with what Tamiya’s been doing with their last several 1/32 releases, and what AMK and Eduard and Trumpeter and others have been pulling off in 1/48 recently, decent is a letdown. The knobs are clumsy and don’t really match up 100% to the real thing. The stock throttle is just a lump of plastic. The gauges on the instrument panels are tiny in their bezels.
I mean…just compare it to Hobby Boss’ A-6E Intruder:
Solution: Despite the spartan nature of Tamiya’s efforts, engineering comes to the rescue here. Every single detail part is an insert that slots into the bare cockpit tub. The firewalls, the side consoles, the sidewalls, everything.
The door is wide open for aftermarket resin to come to the rescue. Now – the way the cockpit and the nose gear bay fit together and locate into the fuselage would be a nightmare to match in resin, but there’s no need for that. Just make new cockpit inserts. That’s probably too clever for Aires, but if Eduard isn’t already working on it, I’ll find a hat and eat it.
The Gear Bays
The gear bays – as with everything else – fit together wonderfully. But they commit the sin of completely ignoring the rat’s nest of plumbing you’ll find looking up an F-14’s skirt.
Quite the difference, no?
Solution: Honestly, given the way that elements of the gear bays are integral to other parts, full-replacement gear bays will be a shit-ton of work. More work than I’d be willing to put in at least. But the separate pieces could certainly be upgraded, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eduard try to tackle of some of this via photo etch (shudder).
The F-14A went through several production blocks, with small-but-noticeable tweaks throughout. The main ones were different gun vents, the addition of tail stiffeners, ECM antenna bulges under the wing gloves, and the addition of the TCS chin pod. None of these were included in the kit, which is just fucking maddening.
Then again, Hobby Boss’ F-14A doesn’t have a TCS pod, either.
Right now, your only options for upgrades are either stealing shit out of another kit (like the Hobby Boss F-14B for the TCS pod) or buying some less-than-stellar resin from Steel Beach.
Personally, I don’t really give a shit about the gun vents or other smaller details, but the TCS pod is a big one. It’s a large, prominent thing on the F-14, and many earlier-block F-14As were retrofitted with them over time.
Solution: Aftermarket seems to be the way to go here. Wolfpack is generally pretty on top of various block and mid-life update sets, and I’d expect them to have something put together for later F-14As as soon as possible. Until then – I’m stealing my TCS from the Hobby Boss F-14B.
The Fucking Plastic
For some reason, Tamiya decided to abandon their usual gray for a weird, light, creamy gray plastic that gives me PTSD flashbacks to Kinetic’s F-5B and Revell’s 1/32 Bf 109G-6.
Not only does this plastic present a real pain in the ass when it comes to photography and visual definition, it also seems to have trouble curing with Tamiya Extra Thin. I had a similar issue with Tenax on Revell’s 109G-6, and the only reason Tamiya gets away with it is the staggeringly good fit. You don’t have to worry about panels pulling away, so the weird slow curing thing isn’t a huge deal. But still…give me back my normal gray plastic.
Solution: Hope Tamiya gets back to the usual plastic for their next variant. And yes, I acknowledge that this appears to be the same plastic the 1/48 F-16 is molded in. By usual plastic I mean the wonderful, darker gray seen on most of their other kits, including their recent 1/32 releases:
Very Good, Not Quite Great
So there you have it. Tamiya’s put together a very competent F-14 that nevertheless doesn’t quite knock it out of the park. Maybe an infield home run.