October 2022

Part 1 - F/A-18E Super Hornet

Part 2 - F-15E Strike Eagle

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McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F-15E Strike Eagle

48th Fighter Wing (Liberty Wing), USAFE

RAF Lakenheath, deployed to Middle East 2018

Academy 1/72  with Two Bobs Decals (72–109).

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The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F-15 Eagle first flew 50 years ago in July 1972 and entered service with the USAF in 1976.

Designed originally as a pure air superiority fighter, it ranks amongst the most successful of modern fighters, with 104 air to air kills for zero losses.  Designed to overcome the shortfalls demonstrated by F-4s over Vietnam, the Eagle emphasised speed and agility, with a large powerful radar providing look down/shoot down capability for operations at height over cluttered land surfaces. A wide flat fuselage provides its own substantial lift, to the extent that an Israeli F-15 landed safely after loosing an entire wing in an air to air collision.

Despite the widely publicised original F-15 design mantra of “not a pound for air to ground”, the F-15E Strike Eagle is a 2-seat ground attack development of the F-15, fitted with conformal fuel tanks to add range and free wing weapons stations, as well as adding 6 new weapons stations on the tanks themselves. Developed by McDonnell-Douglas as a private venture to replace the F-111 and ground attack F-4s, the Strike Eagle first flew in 1986, with initial deliveries to the USAF in 1988.   Its rear fuselage has been modified to accommodate larger and more powerful engines, Since 2010, in-service aircraft have been upgraded with an active electronically scanned radar array (AESA) that melds the radar transceiver of the F-18 Hornet with the large AESA antenna fitted to the fighter variant F-15C.  External pods below the fuselage provide Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) and visual targeting/designation capabilities.  Since 2004 some avionics and airframe  assemblies have been manufactured in Korea, reflecting the wide use of the F-15E by the Korean Air Force.

The USAF 48th Fighter Wing operates the F-15E Strike Eagle out  of RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom.  Named “The Liberty Wing” after its previous base in Chaumont, France where the Statue of Liberty was originally built, it has operated the F-15E since 1992 and currently consists of the 492nd Fighter Sqn (F-15E), 493rd  FS (F-15C), 494th FS (F-15E) and a new squadron, the 495th operating the F-35A.

The Liberty Wing led the El Dorado Canyon raids into Libya in 1986 and was the first F-111 fighter unit to deploy to the Gulf during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The Liberty Wing also anchored NATO forces during Operations Deliberate Force and Allied Force. Since September 11, 2001, the 48th FW has played a key role in anti-terrorism operations, flying combat missions and providing combat support in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.”

(Copied from the RAF Lakenheath web page)

Building the Academy Strike Eagle Kit:

Having decided I wanted to build an F-15 (no idea why, totally off-theme, but it just seemed a good idea) in this, its 50th year of service, I looked around at what was available. I decided quickly on the F-15E as I like the menacing dark grey colour scheme and think the aircraft looks much better with a twin cockpit and heavy weapon load.  The old Airfix kit is a little too basic (although apparently a good shape), the Hobby Boss kit is noticeably misshapen and the Hasegawa kits in various issues over the years, range from chunky and basic to complex and very expensive.  Academy sits nicely in the middle, with good detail and also a good provision of ordnance for it to carry.

I've always liked Academy kits, which seem to be generally well engineered with good fit and good detail.  Even their early kits, which could often be described as FROG copies, were definitely FROG upgrades by the time they hit the streets.  Decals are perhaps not their strongest point, indeed I don't think I have ever used Academy supplied decals (mainly because they were not a scheme I wanted to use) and this kit will be no different. The kit comes with markings for an aircraft of the 461st TFTS, 405th Training Wing at Luke AFB, Arizona, but I wanted to do a "local" UK RAF Lakenheath based aircraft, so I acquired a rather nice set of Two Bobs decals via Hannants for the USAF 494th Expeditionary Air Wing during their 2018 deployment to the Middle East to fight against ISIS.

Building an Eagle so closely after my Super Hornet allowed some interesting engineering comparisons in regards of both the real thing and the model.  The Super Bug seems to have all manner of aerodynamic oddities such as the very large LERX and appears to be a much thinner aircraft. The Eagle by comparison seems bulky, but has a very slick and apparently simple aerodynamic configuration. Of course, none of this is absolutely correct; both aircraft are sophisticated designs, but have taken a somewhat different approach. The Eagle's rear fuselage is much thinner in the vertical plane but from the rear it looks much less bulky than the Hornet. It is interesting to note that the Eagle was essentially a clean sheet design, whereas the Hornet still shows some of its F-5 Freedom Fighter / Tiger ancestry.  

In a similar vein, Academy's approach to the complex fuselage shape is similar to the Italeri Hornet, but perhaps not as well formed, although I did find it easier to work out which part would touch what (and thus where to apply glue).  Academy's cockpit is better, or at least its ejector seats are, even if they do have no attempt at representing seat belts.  The seats come as 4 separate parts (squab, sides and back).  As usual I left these out until late in the build.  Unfortunately the horizontally joined fuselage halves were not a comfortable fit, with the rear locating pins refusing to fit (leaving a gap that needed filler) and a small step remaining along the side of the forward fuselage halves.  Full marks to Academy though for reminding me at exactly the right time to add weight to the nose cone.  How often have I forgotten that !  Marks deducted though as the nose cone has nothing to indicate its correct orientation.  Its fairly obvious what should be top and what should be bottom, but the less experienced modeller could get this wrong, or not entirely right.

Academy provide alternative parts for the intakes and the jet nozzles. These are clearly marked in the instructions, but unfortunately it doesn't tell you why there are alternatives and which are appropriate; the two sets of intake nozzles actually allow the intake to be in either the raised or lowered position (and both are very fiddly to assemble).  The simple jet nozzles are NOT appropriate for a more recent USAF F-15, as the aerodynamic covers proved to be a maintenance nightmare for marginal performance gain so were removed in about 2015, leaving the complex multi-part nozzle as the correct item for this kit. Korean aircraft, which Academy probably used as the basis for their model, possibly do still carry the original nozzle covers.

October 2022 - Part 1

More US Air Force models on my Friends & Allies US Aircraft Pages

A few shots of F-15s from RIAT Fairford:

Background: An F-15E from RAF Lakenheath decorated for the anniversary of the USAF  

Back to Part 1 - Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet >>

Part 2

I needed some filler around the intakes, the horizontal nose seam and the horizontal seam beneath the tail planes.  As these represent almost all of the visible seams, I would have to say that fit on this kit is not great.  It’s not disastrous, but I had hoped for better given the otherwise precise moulding of the kit detail.   

In fact I seem to have many more problems building this kit than I would have expected, given my experience and Academy's normal standards.  The wing pylons were somewhat vague in their construction, with the large MER-style rack not matching the holes on the pylon. The conformal fuel tanks were a particular issue, as there is no indication of where they should fit exactly, plus they don't fit well wherever you put them. Academy seem to indicate that not fitting them is an option, however they are certainly (in Europe) a distinctive feature of the F-15E, so should be fitted.  The inboard pylons that sit on the conformal tanks also have no real indication of where they should fit.  I resorted to using my reference pictures and hoping I'd got it right.  The instructions also fail to mention the part number for the air brake jack, although it is reasonably obvious on the sprue (part 18 FWIW).  Although the large air brake is seldom left open, except for maintenance or at shows (see my pictures below) I decided to leave it open - if a kit manufacturer goes to the effort of providing an open part, then I like to use it (but it's such a shame they don't do the same for flaps and slats) !

The weaponry provided with this kit is most impressive, in its detailed moulding and its quantity.  It is, perhaps, a shame that it doesn't include the more typical current smart weapons used in, say, Syria or Iraq against ISIS. Nevertheless, you will still have an impressive stash of weapons for other builds regardless of how you arm this one.  Marks deducted though for no mention of opening the holes in the lower fuselage for the LANTIRN AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod and AN/AAQ-14 targeting pod, which, incidentally, Academy have slightly mixed up on the instructions - both pods together make up the F-15E LANTIRN system (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) and the longer one is the targeting pod.

Academy provide decals for the instrument panels and of course, these don’t fit well.  As well as being too wide, they don’t sit over the protruding throttle levers, so a little trimming is essential.  It's really not the best cockpit interior I've seen, but I will concede that the 4-part McDonnell-Douglas ACES II ejector seats are nicely presented (I’ve seen another review that suggest otherwise, but I thought they matched my reference pictures very well).  Pity they don’t have seat belts and I’m not sure they should have the canopy breakers at the rear.  The main canopy section sits on a thin frame that includes the middle deck to which the raising hydraulic ram is attached.  This assembly requires a little care as it is fragile and fiddly and unfortunately on mine it interfered with the rear seat (perhaps I fitted the seat too far aft, but I don’t think so. A quick dry fit suggests it may not be a good fit if closed and the instructions definitely get the part number wrong for its raising ram. The fold out/pull out cockpit steps are a nice touch though, but very fragile once added and I suspect mine will not last long.  The nose undercarriage gear is another very fragile part.  I did fit quite a lot of nose weight, but even so, its scale thickness seems barely strong enough to support the kit when finished, with the wheel bending alarmingly when it sits unaided.

Painting was accomplished using my usual thinned Humbrol enamel, applied by brush, with Satin 125 acting as the Gunship Grey (Gray?) main fuselage colour and others mixed to taste.  

The Two Bobs decals are very nicely presented, with two large colour sheets showing positioning for up to 4 of 15 separate aircraft.  After much indecision, I went for the Wing Commander’s aircraft, AF91 311 “Lady Liberty”, with its image of the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers.  I also mixed in a few of the kit’s own decals, although these had a worrying tendency to curl up.  The decals were applied over a wet coat of Johnson’s Klear, followed by a coat of Windsor & Newton Acrylic Matt varnish to finish.  F-15Es seem to be well maintained and usually show little sign of weathering, so I restricted myself to a light oily wash in some of the detail (vents etc).  The weapons (and targeting pod) provided by Academy are well formed, but not really appropriate for a more recent deployed aircraft - I may change them in future, but for now the heavy loaded look is what I wanted, so I have fitted 12 CBU-87 Cluster Bomb units - these somewhat indiscriminate types of weapons are outlawed by most countries, but the United States (and Russia) have not done so.  I also fitted four AIM-9X Sidewinders and 4 AIM-120C AMRAAMs. The remaining 12 Mk.82 bombs have gone into the spares box for future use.

And so another kit joins the collection.  I have slightly mixed feelings on this one; it wasn’t as easy to build as it should have been, but the end result is very pleasing, definitely worth the effort and makes an interesting comparison with the F/A-18E Super Hornet!

With this month’s other model build, an F/A-18E Super Hornet: