July 2017

F-35B Lightning II

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Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II


Fujimi 1/72 with own inkjet printed markings

The F-35 “Lightning II” emerged from the international Joint Strike Fighter project.  Like several projects before (the P.1154 springs to mind in particular), it attempts to combine the diverse needs of naval and land based aviation in one multi-role package, and like those predecessors, it has found this difficult, such that three separate  F-35 variants have been produced, the land-based F-35A, STOVL F-35B and catapult launched and hook arrested naval F-35C.  

After a long and occasionally difficult gestation, during which costs have multiplied, the aircraft is now entering service across the globe.   With its low observable (stealth) design, fully integrated and comprehensive sensor suites, networked data sources and advanced weapons, the F-35 is very different from legacy aircraft, and brings, it is claimed, a whole new dimension to air warfare.

The UK intends to field 4 joint RN-RAF squadrons, with two focused toward naval aviation and two land-based, but with all 4 interchangeable as needed. The first aircraft have been delivered and it is expected that 617 Sqn RAF will form up at RAF Marham in the next 12 months. Naval trials will commence shortly thereafter, based around the UK’s 2 new full size aircraft carriers, HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and HMS PRINCE OF WALES

The kit itself is very nice, with generally perfect fit and lightly engraved detail.  It also seems to be reasonably accurate in shape and representative of the production aircraft.  Like Academy’s F-35A kit, it seems to be designed to allow a degree of snap-fit glueless construction and is moulded in multi-coloured sprues that certainly aid painting, and will aid a “build and fly away” approach for inexperienced modellers. Indeed, the two manufacturer’s kits are definitely very different, but sufficiently similar in style to suggest some common origins.   

Whilst the snap-fit approach does work very well, the clips do sometimes get in the way and if you attempt a dry fit, it can be very difficult to prise them apart again.  As a result I removed some, which made alignment slightly more difficult, but as a testimony to the accuracy of moulding, still as easy as most other manufacturer’s kits.

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Fujimi provide two marvellous removable engines with different tailpipe versions - the in-flight straight through configuration and the vectored landing/take-off  one.  The undercarriage and intake doors also come in two versions, slightly different to allow them to be posed open or closed.

The kit does have a number of niggles, such as the lack of the wing trim nozzles (or their doors) and one major shortfall with the secondary air inlet on the fuselage top moulded shut.  This is quite  a major problem as the two sets of doors do not open independently on the real thing, so I resorted to a bit of hacking to open the missing inlet up, using some paper to create the visible intake trunking. Fortunately Fujimi provide the lift fan shaft (along with an entirely hidden lift fan casing)  and the new hole allows the nicely moulded engine inlet fan blades to be clearly seen.  

Two sets of canopies are provided, with one in black smoked plastic and one entirely clear.  The real thing is of course gold smoked, so neither is better than the other! Weapons are provided for the very nice weapon bays, but are US specific, with two JDAMs and a set of AMRAAMs, neither of which are planned for the UK aircraft, which will use Meteor, ASRAAM, Paveway IV and SPEAR 3.   Unlike Academy’s F-35A kit, there are no external pylons,  which is a shame as these are likely to be carried whenever stealth is a lower priority.

I’ve generally got on well with inkjet decals, purchasing the paper at various model shows, but have found them a little thick and prone to curling up as they dry, so this time I used some cheap white inkjet decal paper sourced from Amazon, which proved much thinner and stretchier than the paper I have used before, using Powerpoint to put together some test profiles then print the decals themselves. Having used white paper this time, I added some grey borders to allow me some flex in cutting them out, and this was generally successful, but matching the grey proved quite difficult.  I did think that my previous problems with thick decals might have been because I was using Humbrol satin varnish to seal them, so I bought some proper decal sealer.  This seemed to be acrylic based and unfortunately it dissolved some of the red ink, so after a few pink smeared tries I reverted to my old cellulose-based Humbrol Satin Cote which worked perfectly this time with the new paper.

The real thing:  One of the UK’s F-35s performed at the RIAT 2016 air show

The absence of the auxiliary intake is a disappointing shortfall, especially as the kit includes a nicely detailed lift fan and its shaft, along with the detailed compressor faces for the engine.

The real thing:  A USMC F-35 with everything open at RIAT 2016 air show

The earlier Italeri/Revell X-35B model makes an interesting comparison

Fujimi’s F-35B kit has never been readily available in the UK and when it has been, it has been very costly.  However, from time to time it is also available directly from Japan  at much more reasonable prices.  This was how I procured this particular kit, for th e grand sum of £19. Fujimi produce 3 variants, one in genuine US Marines markings (albeit for a development aircraft, one in speculative JASDF air superiority colours, and this one which is the a speculative Japanese naval version in a rather improbable blue camouflage.  

The real thing:  HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH emerges from  the non-tidal basin at Rosyth, Scotland on 26 June 2017

(photo courtesy of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance)   It is expected that the first F-35B aircraft will embark in 2019

The real thing:  HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH at anchor in the Firth of Forth and passing beneath the Forth Rail Bridge (photos RN/Aircraft Carrier Alliance)