Two and a half years ago, I put the finishing touches on Italeri’s big F-104, which I’d built as an Italian F-104S ASA.
At the time, I was not particularly kind to the kit.
The kit has just enough charm to pull you through the early stages of the build, and once you’re closing the fuselage, you’re kind of committed. There’s a lot of grumbling about the trench-like panel lines and all…honestly those didn’t bother me that much. What did bother me was the sloppy molding, which left separation lines on every damn thing, the sloppy fit, which is easy enough to hide with massive pieces like wings, but becomes apparent late in the build when antennas and such are 1) tiny, 2) in need of cleanup and 3) too big to fit in their damn holes.
Now, for whatever reason, I’m in the initial stages of building another.
Does this mean that I’ve revised my opinion of the kit? Not really. If anything, it means I get to go into the build with my eyes wide open to the various issues that will have to be faced and challenges overcome.
With that in mind, I thought it might be productive to do a rundown of considerations and plans of attack. Not only to organize them for myself, but for others who may be tackling this kit in the future.
There are mold seams everywhere. Also flash. Almost everywhere you look on the F-104, there’s something to be cleaned up. Up front where the windscreen mounts? Flash. Along the inside face of the fuselage halves? Mold seams, I guess from some sort of insert. Gear struts? Same. Central gear bay truss? You guessed it. With this kit, cleanup is half the battle.
The question of the tail. As seems to be the rage, the F-104 is molded with its tail section as a separate piece. This sets up a choice – gluing the rear fuselage/tail to the main halves first, or joining the halves and then gluing things front-to-back. Last time I went front to back and didn’t suffer too badly for it. But I may try side-by-side this time. The main consideration of which way to go is the ability to clean up and fill the inside of the aft join without the exhaust nozzle making it impossible to do so.
The nose is rocky. For some reason, probably all due to sloppy molding, the kit exhibits varying texture across multiple part surfaces. Some are Hasegawa-like in their smoothness. Others have a very fine grit that will demand some sanding to smooth down. The nose is different. It’s literally wrinkled in places, particularly down by the tip. This has already been sorted out in the initial cleanup pass, but is something to look out for.
Drill baby drill. Depending on the particular version of the F-104 you are building, various holes have to be opened up from the inside to accommodate antennas and pylons. Much to my happiness, I found that many of these, particularly those associated with the most painful antennas last time around, do not apply to the Danish Starfighter. But I still had to open holes for the ventral Sidewinder mounts.
Landing gear silliness. Last time around, I had to install the gear struts very early in the build process. This time, I thought I’d look for an alternative. Yeah, NOPE. The nose strut is located by trapping between the two gear bay sidewalls. And the main gear is located by a central truss that goes down on top of them. This piece has to be in place to install the front and rear bulkhead parts that hold everything together. Any hack to install the gear later would set up even more problems than just dealing with them poking out.
The lower wings are warped. Holy shit. I don’t remember this from last time, but the lower wings have a pronounced droop out toward the tips, almost like we all wish rotor blades had as standard. This doesn’t seem to be a big deal, as the uppers are straight, and both are sort of sandwiched into the tip tank. But to keep the warp from pulling the uppers into any kind of droop, I’ll probably do the boil-and-straighten thing.
The aftermarket situation for the Italeri 104 is annoying. Mainly because of resin manufacturers’ tendency to give fewer than two shits about how things actually go together. I know some modelers are perfectly happy hacking and grinding a kit to pieces to fit resin parts. And I know that I am not one of those. Unless we’re talking about a massive increase in detail, in an area that is highly visible. And even then I’m on the fence.
So my thoughts on aftermarket are based on that sort of middle ground…I want detail, and I want it to integrate well with the kit parts.
Cockpit – After reading that the Aires cockpit doesn’t fit well (SHOCKER), for some idiotic reason I decided to see what I thought of the CMK cockpit. Yeah, it doesn’t even attempt to fit. And the cockpit itself is at best a marginal improvement over the kit parts. Not worth it at all. Instead I’ll be relying on the kit cockpit for the most part.
For aftermarket, I’m certainly adding the Quickboost control stick, Airscale gauge decals, and a seat. Which brings me to…
The Ejection Seat – I’m sure the kit seat isn’t bad or anything. But to be honestly I’ve never even looked at it, even now that I’m tackling this kit for the second time. A 1/32 jet just demands the extra detail of a resin seat. When I did this kit the first time, I used Eduard’s MB seat. With the exception of the stupid PE belts, it was fantastic. Crisp, detailed, and it included a rail mount that was a drop-fit to the kit bulkhead.
Still…those damn PE belts.
For this go-round, I thought I’d try something else, and ordered a nice-looking seat from AMS Resin.
Is it nice-looking? Yes. Compared to the best seats I’ve seen, I’d probably give it, I don’t know, a B+. There’s some vagueness in some detail that holds it back slightly.
But the biggest problem is that it straight up doesn’t fit with the kit’s rail mount. Like, not even close.
So instead, I’ll be using an Eduard seat again. Where literally the only downside is those stupid PE belts, and those can be overcome.
Exhaust – Last time around, I used Eduard’s late exhaust nozzle and really loved the level of detail if afforded. This time around, I’ll be doing the same, albeit with the early J-79 nozzle. These are basically the same as the exhausts on the early F-4s like the B, C and D. It’s a drop-fit upgrade that does a lot to enhance the backside of the aircraft.
Wheels – I used Eduard’s Late F-104 Wheels last time, and will be using them again for the Danish Starfighter. Why? They’re wonderfully detailed, fit together well, and mount to the gear struts perfectly. Resin tires can sometimes mean a battle in exchange for detail, but these don’t.
Gear Bays – For some reason, I bought CMK’s main gear bay. It was a mistake. It doesn’t come close to fitting, and even if it did, it makes no provisions for the bulkheads to either side. Sure you get a small bit more wiring detail, but this is largely pointless considering that the forward gear bays are mostly closed except when the gear is actively extending and retracting. Save the money and stick with the kit bays.
Pitot Tube – The pitot tube on the F-104 is long and rather prominent (though not as prominent as some). It’s also painted in a sort of barber pole stripe, which is going to demand some strength to put up with the masking and handling. Last time around, I used Master’s excellent turned brass pitot tube, and will be doing so again this time.
Order of Attack
Italeri’s F-104 and the way it’s engineered calls for some advance planning in how to not only build, but paint the damn thing.
Cockpit – With the cockpit, it’s necessary to glue the rear bulkhead to the aft deck. The best way to do this is to tack it in place, and then use the fuselage halves to trap the parts and let them set up on their own. These can then be glued in along one side to ease assembly later on.
Gear Bay – The gear bay is something of a mess. But it seems best to do any additional plumbing, then paint the thing silver, then glue everything down (gear bay ceiling, gear bay, central truss, front and rear bulkheads), then glue it all into fuselage along one side (using the other side to trap and allow it to cure. But don’t forget, the front of the engine connects to the rear bulkhead.
Wings – Do to their fickle nature, this is certainly a kit where it makes sense to glue the wings on before bringing the fuselages together. This way you can work the interior of the join, which last time around called for shims to keep the wings at the proper dihedral.
Formation Lights – The Italeri’s formation lights install into the fuselage from the inside, which means…you get to fuss with masking them! The way I tackled this last time around was to prime and paint the area first. This way I could just drop a bit of tape on them and not have to worry further.
Exhaust – Fun story. The exhaust has to be installed from the inside of the tail. It’s not something you can plop into place after the fact. This is rather annoying, but it is what it is. You essentially have two routes here.
First, you can glue the full lengths of the fuselage together first, then install the engine between them and then bring the halves together.
Second, you can glue the fuselage halves together, and the tail halves together, separately. Then close them front to back. This leads to a bit more difficulty at that join (though not impossible). But it also makes it easier to clean up and paint the engine orifice in the back since you don’t have to try to work around the nozzle.
Intakes – The intakes on the F-104 are silver, with black cones and a black lip around the outer edge. The rest of the aircraft is…rarely black. A way around this is again a bit of advance planning – paint the surrounding fuselage area before installation. Easy peasy.
Ad Astra Per Aspera
My high school’s motto was “through adversity to the stars”. Considering it was a private school, the whole adversity part seems a bit silly, though I guess you could apply it to the academic rigor. Anyway, it seems a fitting motto for this kit, which presents you with plenty of advance planning before coming out the other side with a Starfighter.
Let’s get to work.