There are plenty of modelers out there who will start a project and, no matter how shitty or dispiriting it proves to be, will see it through to the bitter end.
I have a healthy respect for those who do…but it’s not something I particularly excel at. For me, modeling is a hobby. And while I like challenges, there comes a point where the enjoyment slips away and the bench sessions become drudgery.
And for some reason, Academy kits always seem to drag me into that drudgery.
I’d hoped that the F-4C Phantom would be a way to break the curse, but alas, here I am, teetering at the edge.
Why? Not because of anything big. Not because the kit has “defeated” me. But rather, because compounding annoyances have worn me down, and because of swirlings in the larger market.
Let’s go through those annoyances first…
The Cockpit is Bullshit
My first annoyance with the Academy F-4C was the laughably spartan cockpit. After reading the horror stories of the Aires cockpit set for this kit, I stayed well away, but maybe I should have taken the plunge, or at the very least used the resin to create a hybrid cockpit of sorts. I mean…the kit pit has no sidewall detail. At all.
Aside from the absent sidewall detail, the side consoles and IPs are no great shakes, either.
Seriously – the old Hasegawa and even Revellogram F-4s put it to shame.
The Surface Texture
The entire surface of the Academy F-4 is covered in a slightly gritty texture that has to be sanded away. And I thought I had, but well into the painting process, it keeps popping up in places. UGH.
Say what you will about the old Hasegawa kits, their polished plastic eliminates this as an issue.
There are also various mold lines along the single upper fuselage piece, kind of negating some of the point of having it in the first place.
The Separate Heat Shield is Bad Engineering
The titanium heat shield is one of the F-4’s most defining visual elements, and a veritable garden of delight for worn metal effects.
But look at where it meets up with the aft fuselage. It’s very precise, with lots of fine fastener detail.
Academy, following Tamiya’s stupid lead on this, makes the heat shield a separate, single piece. Well, multiple pieces if you count the upper portions around the tail.
Why is this annoying? Because the join is dicey and this is NOT an area where you want to be doing extensive cleanup.
When engineering a kit, it’s generally a good idea to try to put the joins in places where they aren’t going to cause any more headaches than they have to. This is why most cylindrical fuselages join side-by-side, rather than top-to-bottom. Easier to deal with a seam across the section of the top not taken up by the cockpit or the tail, than to deal with a seam down the entire side of the fuselage.
The same logic *should* apply to the heat shield. Both Hasegawa and Zoukei-Mura mold the fucker as part of the fuselage sides, and it joins at the bottom, where any cleanup work can be conveniently hidden by the arrestor hook.
The Intakes are Bad and Should Feel Bad
Most intakes on jet kits suck. Especially on American aircraft, because some dinglelord decided “hey, let’s paint those trunks white!”. Fuck that guy.
There are seamless intakes available to address this, but generally, they’re a pain to install vs. the kit parts. And since this F-4C was going to be rocking FOD covers, I figured I’d use the kit intake parts. What a fucking travesty.
The fit of these was bad. Leaving a step with the lower fuselage and necessitating cleanup on the upper fuselage sides.
It’s generally a bad thing when your kit intakes fit worse than aftermarket options.
The Main Gear Bays – Also Bullshit
Anybody who’s tackled an Academy F-4 knows that the main gear bays are a box of annoyance. Not only for the lack of location aids that could have easily been incorporated, but for the fact that they make you install the main struts before pretty much anything else. While I appreciate that this locks the struts in at a perfect angle, there are less bullshit ways of going about it.
No Navigation Lights
Many of the more visually interesting F-4Cs and Ds can be found in Air National Guard service in the late 70s through the 80s. And every single one of them has nav light strips on the nose, fuselage and tail.
These are not present on the Academy kit.
I eventually had to add them to my F-4, but it was a…fraught process.
No One-Piece Canopy
Zoukei-Mura and various Hasegawa F-4 kits provide not just the multi-piece canopy, but a handy single-piece option if you’re inclined to display your F-4 all closed up.
Now, it’s hard to be too rough on Academy here. A second, single-piece canopy is a rarity in the modeling world.
BUT when both of your main competitors are doing it, and you decide to put next to zero effort into the cockpit…
None of these are deal breakers. Not really. But they’ve been chewing away at my thoughts and my patience throughout this build.
Honestly, I’d probably keep on pushing through, if not for things outside the kit’s control. Such as…
My Own Fucking Tastes
We all have our own tastes. And for me, growing up in the 80s and following Desert Storm on CNN and through trading cards, my taste in Phantoms has always run to the long noses – particularly the F-4G Wild Weasel.
Down from the F-4G, my preferences fall toward other long-noses such as the F-4E, German F-4F, and even the recces like the RF-4C.
I’ve also got a thing for the slatted wings and low-viz schemes, which puts the F-4S in play.
But generally, the shorties don’t excite me as much.
And I’ll admit, I’m fucking pissed that Academy seems to have just done the unslatted, short-nosed Phantoms and called it a day.
The same has been true of Zoukei-Mura with the F-4J. But with the release of the F-4S, they’ve opened up a window of hope.
There is Another…
Perhaps the biggest sapper for me, however, was the reveal of Zoukei-Mura’s forthcoming F-4C.
I’m already a fan of several of the engineering approaches ZM takes with their F-4J and S – including actually doing the cockpit justice, molding the heat shield as part of the fuselage, and having a more sane intake design. But if you look closely at the test build photo, you’ll see position lights. These are optional, so those looking to build a Vietnam-era C can still go to town, but they’re also available for those looking to build a late 70s/80s Phantom.
So, What’s My Plan Now?
For now, I’m going to set the Academy F-4C aside. I’m not about to chuck it yet. Instead, I’m planning to tackle a Zoukei F-4S and see what I make of it. If I enjoy it, well, I’m going to keep the decals planned for the Academy ready to go for the ZM F-4C.
And so for now, I guess, the Academy curse holds.