It’s weird how ideas can snowball. That’s exactly what happened when Jimmy D proposed an informal F-4 buddy build over in SMCG. What started as “huh” quickly gathered steam, and suddenly the start date for this informal affair was bumped up to July 4th.
I was just coming off Bandai’s A-Wing and a rather epic bench cleaning and reorganization, and uncommitted to any particular project.
So I decided “fuck it, I’m game”.
My kit of choice? Academy’s 1/48 F-4C Phantom II. With some goodies.
Markings and Aftermarket
Aftermarket’s always a balancing act – how much detail do you want to bring, versus the risk of getting bogged down in the build and losing interest?
I’ve seen plenty of horror stories regarding Aires’ cockpit for the F-4C, and Eduard could only be assed to do a fancy Brassin cockpit for the F-4J, so I’m stuck with the kit cockpit. But I’ll be adding Quickboost ejection seats, Airscale gauge decals, Eduard exhausts and wheels, and DEF Model FOD covers. I haven’t decided what I want to do about armament yet, but I’m considering going pretty clean, and keeping it to maybe as little as just two Sidewinders.
Marking-wise, I waffled a bit. There are some very cool F-4Cs and F-4Ds that found their way into the Texas ANG. Some in wraparound SEA camo, others in ADC gray, and still others in a weird gray scheme that I still want to tackle one day.
But the one I settled on – #64-829 – is the F-4C once flown by Robin Olds in Vietnam, represented much later in life, serving in the Texas ANG and wearing the Euro I camoflage scheme that replaced SEA Brown with Euro I Gray.
It should be a fun one to have a go at.
The Academy Curse
I have a silly admission. Since coming back to the hobby, I seem to be under some kind of Academy curse. By which I mean I haven’t been able to finish a single one of their kits.
Why? Well, there was the P-38F that was trashed by our late yellow lab while he was surfing for table scraps. But for the most part, it’s come down to reaching the end of my motivation. Or, in other words, running out of fucks. I seem to start a build with a certain reserve of fucks, and if I can get to paint, I’m generally on track to finish the damn thing. If not…it ends up like the big F-16D, or the Academy F-4B (I never even got the fuselage closed). Or the big F/A-18C. That one got waylaid by my frustration with the vent detail ahead of the seamless intakes. By the time I was ready to come back to it, I was deep in Tamiya’s F-14 and my low-viz cravings were temporarily sated.
Can I beat the curse this time out? Fingers crossed!
Let’s get this party started
Now – I don’t intend to present this as a step-by-step or anything so grand. I have been thinking about how I might upend the presentation of such a SBS on this blog, but with this build, my goal is momentum. Keep it moving, get it into paint. I stalled out on the F-4B a while ago, and ultimately got distracted by other kits before I finished the cockpit. I don’t want to fall prey to that here – and with Tamiya’s big F-4E waiting for a green light, let’s be honest, it’s a distinct possibility.
Rather than being cliched and starting with the cockpit, I decided to start with removing all the resin pour blocks and tackling some initial construction. The intakes went together – even though they won’t be visible I figure they’re a good place to stash some weight if I need. The main gear bays, too, were knocked out right away.
Academy’s designed these at that maddening 80% level. The way it works is, you get to bring together five different pieces – the four walls and a crossmember, with all of like two actual location aids. These then fit into the vaguest of depressions in the inside of the lower wing. Better location aids, or more defined insets in the wing itself, would have made this a very simple step. But alas.
Oh, and you also have to install the main gear struts at this stage. This is annoying for all the reasons you’d imagine, but the way they trap in place, you do get the benefit of basically perfect alignment.
From there it was on to a test-fit of the fuselage, and some potential problems. The one-piece upper is awesome, but seemed to kind of cave in a bit toward the wingroot, making alignment over the locating tabs a challenge, and leaving a sizable gap in the starboard wingroot. Great…
The engines got treated to a funky green color, and then some weathering, both of which will be completely invisible to anyone save Douchey McPenLight.
I tried to get cute with the nozzles, but they came out grainy as shit. Not acceptable. And strange considering I was using MRP metallics. I think it was the mixing of metallics with actual colors. That and I noticed that Super Fine Silver seems to not enjoy mixing with other MRP metallic shades.
So they were repainted with Gunze GX2 (the best gloss black out there), and then hit with various Alclads. It’s the only brand where I have a deep bench of “dark” metallics. And they came out better this time.
The engine trunks were installed into the fuselage – and Eduard does a good job here playing nice with the kit to give us truly drop-fit exhausts. The burner cans? I’ll place them at the tail end of the build.
This. Is. Spartan!
Moving on to the cockpit, this is some bullshit. Like, “this is 1/48 and you can’t give us sidewalls?” levels of bullshit. The side consoles and instrument panels and control sticks are slightly less disappointing, but suffer a surfeit of shallow surface detail that wouldn’t be out of place on 70s-era Monogram.
Rather than endure the tedium of masking the individual gauges and side console panels, I painted everything Dark Gull Gray FS 36231, then picked out the black details with a Faber Castell artist pen. This is a great tool in that it allows you to be really precise with picking out black details. But I’ve found the ink can act strangely in the presence of washes and decal setting solutions, so it was hit first with a coat of Tamiya X-22 gloss.
Next, to give definition between the panels, I put down and then removed Ammo Sky Gray Panel Line Wash. It’s not an exact match for Dark Gull Gray, but inside a cockpit, it’s close enough.
Next came the seats. I despise the colored PE belts Eduard uses, so I’m going with Quickboost’s take on the Martin-Bakers. These are basically the same as the Aires seats, but with the belts molded in place. Major painting of the cushions, headrest and so on were all done freehand with Mr. Paint through my Gunze PS-770.
For the instrument panels, I used Airscale gauge decals. These damn things are wonderful, but I’m pretty sure the Academy gauges are underscale, so I got to endure the tedium of punching out individual gauge decals, probably 25% smaller than their actual size.
To bring out the details in the side consoles, the relief is too shallow for me to use my preferred method of paint-on-a-toothpick. Instead, I basically did a rubbinig of the side consoles with a white Prismacolor pencil. Perfect? Fuck no. Good enough for the relatively hard-to-see interior of a Phantom? Yes!
Pull ring bullshit
One thing I despise about the Quickboost seats – and many other seats besides – is the bullshit fragile ejection pull rings. These had flash inside the rings, and cleaning said flash out soon led to this:
Faced with scratching pull rings, I tried a notion of twisted thread…and as you can see above, it looks pretty awesome when it’s straight. But when you loop it around, not so much. So I’m going in a different direction that I think might pan out. Involving PE and Bondic. Stay tuned.
Okay, so back to the cockpit proper. The black from the artist pen is really black, and I wanted to knock down the contrast a bit, so oversprayed a thin coat of MRP Dark Gull Gray. Nothing fancy. And after the IP decals were placed, everything got a quick flat coat before Bondic was used to gloss up the gauges.
While various cockpit bits were coming together, I pushed ahead on construction. The outer wings fit decently, but I feel like this could be better done. There’s enough slop that getting the proper dihedral is…interesting.
But it was the fuselage and all the rear heat shielding shit that had me worried.
Fortunately the fuselage proved a nothingburger. Fears unfounded. A bit of pressure applied from above spread it nicely, and a touch-n-flow loaded with MEK locked everything in place. Academy plastic takes really, really well to the stuff, by the way.
The rear heat shielding took a bit more care. You have this weird sort of tab-and-groove arrangement that should align all the edges, but doesn’t quite. Fortunately, MEK and Academy plastic are besties, and working in small sections, it’s possible to use hand pressure to get it all lined up properly.
The result? Getting the bulk of the airframe together far faster than I’d anticipated. If only the cockpit were as much a pleasure as the rest of the kit!
Overall, Academy’s put together a fine kit, but again, 80% effort. The glory of the one-piece upper fuselage is marred by the silly decision to split the lower fuselage in two. And that silliness is compounded by some engineering WTFery. Let’s explore.
The annoyances start with (1) the design of the gear bay and cockpit. As with the main bays, the nose bay walls don’t have the best location aids. And neither does the inside of the lower fuselage where it’s supposed to sit. Vague indentations must be all the rage in Korea.
The gear bay also installs into the bottom of the cockpit – and this is apparently where the Aires set runs into significant problems. The instructions would have you install the combined assemblies into the bottom part first, but I decided to put my focus on making sure the cockpit was in the right place, so I glued the aft bulkhead in place first.
Moving on, the point where the lower fuselages come together (2) is a fucking BUTT JOIN. There is absolutely nothing to make sure they align vertically. To address this, I installed some square styrene rod (3) to act as a brace.
When I went to weld the lower forward fuselage in place, I opted to put my focus into getting the panel lines aligned and making sure the nose would fit properly. With some cajoling and light pressure, this is pretty easily done. But it leaves a gap at the back, where the lower fuselages meet.
To give the parts more purchase and make life easier down the line, I cut up some thin styrene sheet and shoved the pieces into the gap to act as shims. These were then hit with welder. There will still be some cleanup, but infinitely preferable to playing the filler game over the areas.
With the fuselage together, the build moved to the intakes.
I have nothing pleasant whatsoever to say about these.
This is more of that 80% effort thing I keep coming back to. Let’s explore.
Above, you can see where the intakes are supposed to go. As with the lower fuselage joins, the intake join is another fucking butt join (1). Would it have been so difficult to put some kind of lip here to help manage depth?The issues are further compounded by (2) this silly lower intake join. And don’t even get me started on the intake trunks.
After a lot of sanding of that lower join area, the intakes do fit. Mostly. But it’s a sloppy fit that calls for some very precise cleanup that threatens a lot of very fine detail.
If I’d known earlier on that the fit would be this tedious, I’d have gone ahead and used a set of XMM seamless intakes, which fit better and with less drama than the kit parts.
On the Nose
Next up, the radome. The fit here is pretty good – but not perfect. Sitting on the lower prongs that help locate it, the nose fits nicely around most of the circumference, with the exception of the very bottom (where the prongs are), where it sits just a hair proud of the fuselage. Sanding sticks make short work of that issue, though.
The join of the nose to the fuselage is a bit ragged, and has me wishing that Tanmodel would go ahead and drop their Su-33. The idea of taking the nose join off the radome/fuselage line and putting it somewhere else for ease of cleanup is, frankly, inspired. And would have been welcome here.
The Verdict So Far
And with that, it’s time to bring Part 1 of this WIP to a close. The build is all over by the crying – and by crying I mean attending to seams and other cleanup matters before moving on to the shit that I don’t want to get damaged by said cleanup – the forward air scoops, canopy, flaps and so on.
So what do I make of the Academy F-4C so far?
Honestly, it’s a mixed bag. The one-piece upper fuselage is great, as are the aft elements, including the heat shielding, tail, stabilators and so on. Detail overall is strong – on the exterior.
But it feels very much like Academy was heading down the field toward a truly great kit, and fumbled the ball. The gear bays are needlessly tedious. The cockpit is sorely lacking when it comes to detail. And that lower fuselage join and the much more visible intakes are seriously dinged by poor engineering choices.