August 2023

F-35B Lightning II

F-35A Lightning II

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Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II

617 Squadron “The Dambusters”, Royal Air Force


Airfix 1/72 with Academy Pylons & Eduard Brassin ASRAAMs

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The F-35B Lightning II is operated by the UK within a joint Royal Navy / Royal Air Force structure.  617 Squadron, the famous  RAF “Dambusters” is the first (and so far only) operational front line squadron, serving ashore and also at sea onboard the Royal Navy’s two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.  17 Sqn, based at Edwards AF Base in the USA are the UK’s operational test and evaluation squadron, taking deliver of new F-35Bs as they become available, whilst 207 Sqn RAF stood up in 2019 at RAF Marham as the joint RN/RAF Operational Conversion Unit (OCU).  809 Naval Air Squadron is expected to become the first Fleet Air Arm squadron, once sufficient aircraft and pilots are available.

During 2021, the aircraft of 617 Sqn embarked in HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH for the Carrier Strike Group 21 global deployment.  Although somewhat curtailed by the COVID pandemic, the ship and its aircraft successfully demonstrated the reach of the UK’s Carrier Strike capability around the world, including participation in combat operations against IS over Syria and live interceptions of Russian aircraft that were a potential threat to the NATO Carrier force.

Building the Airfix F-35B Kit:

The announcement of a new Airfix 1/72 F-35B kit for release this year came as a pleasant surprise, although my excitement was slightly tempered by the news that it would be a simplified kit to enable the less experienced builder to complete it without too many problems. Not quite a "starter" kit, but not "fully leaded" either !

So what do you get with the Airfix F-35 kit?  Well, it does look good in the box and has some finely depicted detail. It is also available at a much lower cost than the Fujimi / Hasegawa / Italeri offerings and fortunately it has avoided the massively overscale "stealth joint" effect that many other kit manufacturers have fallen for.  Not only does the F-35 not have massive walls on its smooth stealthy surfaces, but more recently the aircraft have appeared in what is effectively a single overall colour too, with the joints more evenly matched to the overall colour.  Well done Airfix!

Of course, this simplification has not come without consequences and some of the more noticeable shortfalls don’t seem to me to have any reason.  In particular, the jet tail nozzle is disappointingly plain and parallel in shape (and in fact this is the major shortfall for me), whilst the open auxiliary inlet doors on the upper fuselage only have some basic  detail inside (but at least they are there - more than can be said for Fujimi!).  Another obvious shortfall is the large gap between the tailplanes and the fuselage; this gap exists on the real thing but is so small that it shouldn’t be obvious in 1/72 scale. Indeed the tailplanes look a little small to me, both in width and length.

The kit can be built in either flying/stowed configuration with all doors closed, or with its lift fan open and the tail nozzle pointing down. Parts breakdown follows that of most F-35 kits with a horizontal fuselage split (which went together perfectly) and separate lower nose section. There is no weapons bay and the undercarriage bays are pre-moulded into place. The undercarriage is very much simplified (basically, leg and wheel), but will go together easily. Although it has nothing more than a basic ejector seat, the cockpit is sufficient for the basic modeller with raised controls that respond well to dry brushing.  If you use the supplied pilot figure (a little small, but seems to have the distinctive F-35 helmet mounted display) it will look perfectly functional although once more (becoming a pet hate for me, especially after the disaster tinting my F-35) the canopy is perfectly clear and not tinted.  Nevertheless, a nice touch for the less experienced is that the canopy clicks into place, reducing the risk of a messy glue spill and mark. If you tidy it up well before fixing it, then there should be little or no gap.   

Link to more NATO aircraft on my Friends and Allies pages

August 2023 - F-35A Lightning II (Norway)

Link to August 2023 Part 1 (F-35A Lightning II) >>

Part 2

I had intended to build this kit fully closed up and on the deck, not least because I was seriously underwhelmed by the jet nozzle moulding.  However, for goodness sake, it's an F-35B and it seemed to be a real waste of the kit not to have the lift fan barn doors open and jet nozzle vectored down (in which position the lack of taper is slightly more credible).  The engine intakes are very short and end in a flat blank, but the F-35's stealthy shape means that this is not really visible from most directions (except perhaps straight ahead).

A special shout out for the coloured instructions that are superbly laid out and leave little or nothing for the less experienced to guess at.  I particularly like the yellow markings showing where to apply the glue - if only the likes of Academy would do this on some of their more mysterious kit structures. Decals represent one of the aircraft that embarked in HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH for the 2021 Carrier Strike Group deployment to the Far East (and I checked, it's not the aircraft that ditched!).  Like all things F-35 they are a little plain, but accurate and apply well, although please note that the numbers on the placement sheet bear no resemblance to those on the actual decal sheet.  It should be relatively obvious what goes where, but given the target market, this is a disappointing quality control slip.  

Since they were left over from my F-35A kit, I added the wing pylons, creating some new outer pylons from plastic card.  The Paveway IV GPS/Laser/Inertia guided bomb comes from the Italeri kit (which has 4, posing as Paveway II enhanced - the two types are very similar in shape) whilst the ASRAAM air to air missiles were made from sprue, using Eduard Brassin ASRAAMs as a master (The resin ones will go on my next 2 kits!).

This kit is an interesting new direction for Airfix. It is certainly an easy build, and has been simplified by omitting some normal F-35 kit details, such as the internal bomb bay and I guess that these shortfalls are likely to drive off the experienced modeller or obsessive detailer. Nevertheless, its shape looks good and the nice surface detail is a bonus. I think the majority of casual (or even intermediate) modellers are likely to be quite pleased after building one of these.  My extra detail (pylons weapons etc) does help to busy it up and I reckon it would have been a good candidate for lowering the flaps (a fairly simple structure on the F-35 and the kit breakdown would help in doing this), which would have made it look even busier.  I guess that cloning a new jet nozzle from one of the other kits would have been well within my ability too and would have made a very big improvement. It will be interesting to see if any after market ones appear, or if the cottage industry will shun this kit as too toy-like.

At present, the kit only comes in “gift packs” with paint (yeeuch - bin it!), glue and (barely usable nylon) brushes.  These sets aren’t particularly good value if you don’t actually need the paint, glue or brushes, but if my e-bay sales are anything to go by, does help to attract a lot of casual modellers, so I guess Airfix know what they are about.  I chose the "Then and Now” pack as the included Spitfire Vc (also simplified, but looks very good in the box) can join my Malta project in due course.  For paint I used Humbrol 164 enamel overall.  This is what Airfix recommend and although its not entirely right, it is good enough.  I highlighted some areas in a darkened mix  to reflect the aircraft in their CSG-21 state (which looks a lot different from the Norwegian F-35A).

Given that I approached this kit with limited expectations, based on what Airfix themselves had stated about its target market, I'm have to admit that I am pleased with the result and it can stand happily alongside my Fujimi F-35Bs. Sure, if you really want an accurate and detailed F-35B and you have some modelling skills, then Italeri seems to be the best way to go at present (notwithstanding the erroneous over done surface detail), but I enjoyed this Aifix kit as a quick build and it is a really good option for the less experienced or less detail obsessed.

Background Picture - Copyright UK MOD - used under OGL