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A-4F Skyhawk

Hasegawa 1/48 A-4F Skyhawk Build Review

By Kelly Jamison

Date of Review June 2007 Manufacturer Hasegawa
Subject A-4E/F Skyhawk Scale 1/48
Kit Number 09399 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Many versions can be built Cons No weapons
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $34.95

Background

 

 

The US Navy had to rely on the A-1 Skyraider series of aircraft to carry out ground attack missions during the Korean War. They started putting out feelers for a replacement or at least a low cost airframe for the vendible propeller driven plane. The “powers that be” were concentrating on upping the Soviet fighters design for design. Not much money was left for the more unglamorous rolls of ground pounding. The Douglas Aircraft Company got wind of this need and started designing an all new carrier-borne ground attack airplane.

It had to be small and strong. Fast at altitude and good slow speed characteristics for getting on and off the carrier deck and it had to carry lots of heavy ordnance. This lent itself to an unusual delta wing with elevators too. It looked right. It looked fast and it looked like a lean light weight prize fighter. The Navy liked it. No complex wingfold mechanisms and it can be easily tucked away below deck.

One of the biggest cosmetic changes it had came in the form of the humpback electronic systems package retrofitted to the A-4E and later series. The large hump on the back looked like the plane had been injected with steroids and was ready to take on all. The hump housed various electronic systems and enhanced battle field survival in the burgeoning electronic countermeasures. The A-4F looked very similar externally but had a few changes the trained eye can pick out.

First of all the nosewheel steering got changed and upper wing lift spoilers were added to the wings, the Escapac 1C-3 ejector seat and Pratt & Whitney J52-P-8A engines were installed. The humpbacked pod was also retrofitted to all operational A-4E aircraft and a few A-4C aircraft as well. Some late A-4Fs were retrofitted with ALR-45 at the top of the vertical fin and a small chin-type DECM antenna was stuck underneath the nose. Douglas Aircraft Company supplied 100 kits to the fleet to upgrade the little plane with the more powerful J52-P-408. The installation of this engine resulted in a marked improvement in performance.

The Build

A-4F As most builds start with the cockpit and I will do the same. The seat is not bad but with a quick dig into my spares box, I found a resin seat by Black Box to replace the kit seat. Avionix (by Black Box) sells a 10 piece seat set for all your favorite fighters. This is a suitable way of not having to replace the whole cockpit when it is not necessary.

I used a dark gray, FS 36231, for all cockpit features. Carefully placed decal placards detailed up the side panels and instrument just fine. The usual black wash brings out the detail. While I had the cockpit in my hand, I sprayed Tamiya Gloss White in the nose wheel well area that the cockpit is molded from.

The intake trunk just starts to hint the problems to come. I sprayed it gloss white while I had the airbrush out. I couldn’t get a good paint job on the compressor blades, so I went back and airbrushed the blades black, went in with silver and cut a disk out of masking tape to cover this area and then reloaded the airbrush with the gloss white. It got glued into position after making sure it fit between the two fuselage halves.

A-4F The cockpit got glued into place with superglue and the long exhaust tube got glued into place too. No big deal here. I did make sure alignment with both sides of the cockpit stayed within acceptable norms. The instructions call for 8 grams of weight. I prefer to put the very precise measurement of “A whole butt load” of weight so as to not fall short after it is too late. Better safe than sorry on that subject. The fuselage halves went together with some difficulty. It was hard to keep everything in alignment and keep the fuselage from “bananaing”. It might have been a little heat damage from storage or bad technique on part of the builder but it was an issue on this build. Lots of filler was used on the bottom of the engine cowl too.

A-4F Time to make a decision; What type of A-4 did I want to build? After lots of debating and pouring over photos, I made up my mind and decided to build an “F” model right from the box with the “Lady Jessie” scheme. This decision was hard because there are so many good schemes out on the aftermarket decal sheet scene. I even thought about building a “C” model or one of a dozen good Aggressor schemes.

With the decision to build a humpback “F” model, I had to start picking out the parts that are exclusive to this version. The faring plug below the engine bay, the hump, and the rudder cap all got placed on the fuselage. The hump didn’t fit that great and I had to use some putty to blend it into the base of the rudder. I also had to fill in a huge sink mark in the rudder cap and had to sand the whole thing smooth to blend with the tail better.

Now it is time for the intakes. They did not fit too well. I had to use filler on the inside and outside to get them smoothed out. I spent about a quarter of the entire build time on just this area and I am still not completely happy with the results.

Next item on the list are the wings. I thought I would help the alignment of the fuselage to the wing root on the bottom side of the fuselage by not gluing the top of the wings on until the bottom of the wing was glued on the fuselage. Wrong. It did help a bit but when it came time to glue the top wing panels on, they would not align up. I fought and fought with it. I would get one side aligned and the other side would bend the wing down. This went on for some time until I found a happy medium and left it alone.

A-4F Don’t bother to put the leading edge slats on until near the end of the build. Be ready to break off the little tabs that hold the leading edge slats in the open position. It will happen. The landing light didn’t want to fit I the leading edge properly too, probably due to the misalignment of the wings to begin with. I superglued it in and then sanded it down and polished it out before taping it off for protection and painting.

A-4F I held off putting the tail planes on until after painting so we will come back to that later. The wing roots have machine gun ports on them for the E/F models. They did not fit too well and lots of putty had to be used to blend them in along with the wing joint. Not Hasegawa’s usual engineering we have become spoiled with. I actually had to fill and sand some and re-scribe. Go figure! The rest of this part of the build was filled with putting all the festoons and accruements on to represent an F version. This took some time and more than a few trips to the bookshelf.

A-4F The drop tanks are not the best either. The tail fins fit very poorly. Then needed a few layers of putty to build up and blend it down to a smooth surface. More and more time was spent on all the little bits and pieces that needed to be cleaned up and painted either flat gull gray or gloss white. Some of the more tedious chores to do are painting the red outline around the landing gear doors. You better have a steady hand. Next time I might try red decal film. It might give you a better and sharper line. All the red areas that needed painting were a bit of a pain. The leading edge slat wells, back sides of the airbrakes were the big areas. Some might paint the underside of the leading edge slats and the inside of the airbrake wells red too but left them gloss white.

A-4F Now with the tough stuff out of the way comes the fun part in my book. I gave a pre-shading effect before using Model Masters Acryl Flat Gull Gray and Gloss White paint. After using some tac putty to hold the landing gear doors on, I painted the bottom gloss white. Don’t forget the ailerons and rudder too. The top half of the plane got a coat of gull gray. After all was dry, I used the old Future gloss trick to prepare it for decals.

A-4F Painting the air intakes was a real pain. I mixed up a red that matched the “Air Intake” triangles painted on the side of the intakes and masked off the outer edge. The inner edge was very difficult to get right and I had to stuff tissue in the intake to keep the red overspray from messing up the clean white intake area. On and on the masking went. Little by little I got the area masked off and had to mask off the whole plane too. More time spent on such a little detail. I wonder if red decal film could be used to get a cleaner look. Maybe next time. I still wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to use out of box decals so I decided to make it a generic A-4F just incase I changed my mind at the last second.

A-4F Well let’s stick with the plan! “Lady Jessie” it is! The decals are opaque but did not react at all to Micro-Sol. I needed something chemically hotter like Solva-Set. Solva-set is considered a nuclear weapon of the decal setting solution world. It is a very hot emulsifier. The Hasegawa supplied decals acted very very well to Solva-Set. You better have the decal right where you want it when you put this stuff on. It took 4 or 5 attempts to get the decal around all the vortex generators on top of the wing. Small cuts with a hobby knife allowed the trapped air out and another spot of decal solution tucked them down just fine. Another gloss coat locked them down for good.

Now I had the problem of the bottom needing to be gloss white while the gull gray should be flat. My not too ingenious idea was to spray flat on just the area painted gull gray. I had to watch for flat overspray. Not an easy thing to do! This simple system seemed to work just fine. Remember to mask off the white flight controls so that they stay glossy white. The next problem is that the orange and red of the decals should be glossy. So I went back with a fine brush and hand painted clear gloss over anything red or orange. It was tough but added a little detail that really pays off in the end.

A-4F More pieces and parts go on now. Machine gun barrels, refuel probe, dump mast, flare boxes, sensors, airbrakes bomb braces, drop tanks, on and on. I got ready to put the tail hook on and found the thin plastic rod was bent in 5 different directions. It had to go. I took a small piece of brass rod and cut the ends off the kit tailhook and superglued them on the rod. A coat of white and masked off stripes for the black areas and the tail hook was done. Much better!

Another area I had a problem with was the forward wind screen. The injection lug seemed to warp and discolor the windscreen. I tried to polish it out and a dip into Future to clear it up but it still looks bad. A new windscreen will be put on at a later date. There is a boarding ladder included that is not bad but I did not use it.

Conclusion

All in all I really liked this kit. It looks fantastic on the shelf. The instructions were not always clear as to what little piece goes where and can be confusing with the E/F versions mixed in with a C version that is not mentioned at all. You end up with lots of odd spare parts. The intakes were a bit of a distraction and the wing roots were another time killer. The upper wing joint to the fuselage was probably the builders fault so it is hard for me to bash on that. I got a bit tired of all the stuff that had to be put on after the major part of building was over. It never seemed to end.

A-4F

I would have liked to load out my Scooter with all kind of different bombs and rockets but you have to buy the weapons kit separate or raid other kits like the cheap and easy to find Hobbycraft A-4 kit. After knowing where all the trouble spots are, I really want to build a C model, M model and maybe a Free Kuwait A-4KU some time in the future (you will have to buy a different kit for the M and KU models). I highly recommend it for all lovers of Naval Aviation and Viet Nam aircraft. Go buy one and enjoy.

A-4F A-4F A-4F A-4F

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