August 2023

F-35A Lightning II

F-35B Lightning II

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Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II

331 Skvadron, Royal Norwegian Air Force (Luftsforsvaret)

Ørland flystasjon, Norway, 2023.

Academy 1/72 with Xtradecal markings

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The Royal Norwegian Air Force (Luftforsvaret) converted to an all F-35A Fleet in January 2022, with the retirement of their long-serving F-15 fighters.  At present, the force, consisting of 331 and 332 squadrons, is concentrated at Orland Air Base, half way up the Norwegian west coast, with regular forward deployments to operating bases further north.  As well as undertaking QRA duties in the Norwegian Air Defence Region,  they have also undertaken the NATO  QRA duties in Iceland.

Norways’s F-35s have a distinctive humped pod on their upper fuselage, housing a drogue parachute to enable safe landing on icy runways.  The drogue housing is designed for minimal effect on the aircraft’s stealth capabilities and was co-funded by the Netherlands and Denmark, who may fit the pods to their own aircraft in due course.  Norwegian aircraft are armed with AIM-9x Sidewinder short range air to air missiles and up to 4 AIM-120 AMRAAM BVR missiles.  For the ground attack role the aircraft can carry GPS guided JDAM and laser guided precision bombs and will add more armaments as they are released for F-35 use.

The F-35A is the simplest variant of the fifth generation F-35, intended as a light fighter replacement for the F-16 and is currently (2023) operational with the USAF, RNoAF, RAAF, Israeli Air Force, Italian Air Force, Japanese Air Force and Royal Netherlands Air Force, with Belgian, Danish, Canadian, German, Finnish, Polish, South Korean, Singaporean, and Swiss aircraft currently being delivered and working up to operational status.

Building the Academy F-35A Kit:

This is my third F-35 build. The previous two were Fujimi kits of the F-35B and even though they were released quite a few years ago, they remain good replicas of an F-35B with aspects that certainly better the Hasegawa kit, although I think Italeri's recent F-35B just pips them both.

Academy's F-35A Lightning II kit certainly betters the F-35A kit from Italeri (and Revell) with better mould engineering, more restrained detail (e.g. the joint tape is infinitely better although still a little prominent) and a nicer feel all round.  The kit parts layout seems remarkably similar to that of Fujimi, as if they perhaps have some connection, with the multi-coloured plastic helping to reinforce that thought.

Parts fit is very good, although the interior of the engine intakes requires a little thought and care to get a good fit.  Like the Italeri kit, I think the chine at the top of the front fuselage side may be a little overdone, although it does help to get a good fit between upper and lower parts (I used a smidgeon of filler).  Cockpit and seat are reasonable, with a pilot figure included (including their uniquely shaped helmet!). Unfortunately, my figure had quite a bit of flash around the helmet sensor area, but it is still a welcome touch. I chopped the pilots legs off to let them fit in the limited space between the console and cockpit sides.  The kit fuselage is split top and bottom, with large inserts to provide the weapons bay, undercarriage wells and intake trunking. I don't normally like kits split this way, but for an F-35 it is really the only logical choice and works very well with all of the joins on natural shaped edges.

Mainwheel tyres and their centres are provided as separate parts, which helps greatly with painting.  Unfortunately there is no easy way to pose the control surfaces in different positions, a shortfall that is increasingly pestering me on modern kits.  After all, you seldom see them parked on the ground with all control surfaces inline!  The undercarriage is a little fragile, but went together easily. Academy would have to you assemble the gear legs before fitting in place, but I went for assembly in-situ to ensure that the various parts ended up at the correct angle. Weapons bay doors have what looks like good attachments/hinges, although these don't actually seem to help in fixing the doors in place. Likewise with the undercarriage doors, and note that the forward door needs to be closed once the gear cycle is complete and wheels down.

Link to more NATO aircraft on my Friends and Allies pages

With my Airfix and Fujimi F-35B models

A good selection of armament is provided with the kit, although the AMRAAMS are a little skinny.  The GBU-31s / GBU-38s are quite good, but realistically, aircraft seldom carry the massive GBU-31s these days, preferring smaller and more accurate weapons to reduce unintended collateral damage. Unfortunately, the smaller GBU-38s are not yet cleared for release from the F-35.  For my Norwegian QRA Air Defence aircraft, I thus limited myself to the AMRAAMS and AIM-9x, adding some better AMRAAMs from the spares box.  I'm not sure that the F-35 can actually carry 4 AMRAAMs inside its bomb bay yet, but it will do in time.

The canopy is moulded in clear plastic, which is disappointing since the real thing has a noticeable tint. Fujimi and Italeri are much better here.  I decided to attempt some tinting, which wasn't my best idea.  My Humbrol gold "Clear Coat" wasn't the right colour and in any event it didn’t seem to want to adhere to the plastic.  I then tried some highly thinned black enamel paint, which gave the right effect, but unfortunately the canopy quickly fogged over as it dried.  Cue an afternoon polishing it back to clarity with some toothpaste and a cloth, followed by a dip in Klear floor polish (the results of which were satisfactory if not perfect).  Unfortunately, for an unknown reason, once the canopy was attached, some of the fogging returned overnight and there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it now.  I found some difficulty with the canopy fit, with the instrument panel interfering with the forward part of it. I'm not sure why as there are good tabs to make sure it is in place.  I suspect that my instrument panel wasn't quite in the right place.  I removed the offending panel, trimmed it down and replaced it, but still had some interference, requiring a little Krystal Klear white glue to fill the remaining gaps at the front.

Rather than use the kit provided decals for an USAF aircraft, I decided to go for a Norwegian aircraft from Xtradecal Sheet X72338 with Viking tail markings.  Cue problem number 3!  Unfortunately the colourful Norwegian Air Force 75th anniversary markings from the top of the tail (decal 40L) are missing from the  decal sheet. I contacted Hannants by e-mail and received a fast response telling me that all of their stock seems to have the same error and that they would contact the printer to see what could be done. In the meantime I decided to continue with the kit, not last because by then I had managed to craft and fit a reasonable representation of the icy runway drogue parachute pack that is fitted to Norwegian aircraft (and may eventually be fitted to Danish, Finnish and Dutch ones too). Without giving away too many secrets, my pod (which I'm quite pleased with) is based on the spare canopy from a WW2 kit, along with a little sanding to shape. If and when Hannants resolve the shortfall, the missing markings can be added later.

Paint is mostly Humbrol 164 enamel, along with a few locally mixed greys for detail. No two F-35s seem to look the same these days, with the lighter grey joint tape that was originally so prominent now seeming to match the main colour well. The colour definitely changes depending on the ambient light and angle from which you view it, but it does seem that the Norwegians now have some lighter panels around the intakes as well.

The F-35A is, IMHO the best looking of all the F-35 variants.  I have an F-35C kit in the stash to add to the several F-35Bs already built and perhaps that will change my mind, but for now this is a good kit from Academy that I definitely recommend!

The real thing - Above and below USAF F-35As at the Royal International Air Tattoo

Link to August 2023 Part 2 (F-35B Lightning II) >>

Part 1

The real thing - a RNoAF F-35A taxies out onto an icy runway

August 2023 - F-35B Lightning II (RN / RAF)