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F/A-18D Kit

Academy 1/32 F/A-18D Hornet 'Night Attack' Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review June 2005 Manufacturer Academy
Subject F/A-18D Hornet 'Night Attack' Scale 1/32
Kit Number 12103 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Lots of options, easy construction, great detailing Cons Nothing noted
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $159.00

First Look

F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit
F/A-18D Kit

In the early-1970s, the US Navy had started receiving deliveries of its new super fighter, the F-14A Tomcat. The US Air Force was also receiving deliveries of its own new super fighter, the F-15A Eagle. What was apparent to both services was that neither could afford to equip all of its fighter wings with these new and expensive aircraft. The Air Force addressed this problem first with a new competition, the Lightweight Fighter (LWF). The two major contenders were General Dynamics with the YF-16 and Northrop with their YF-17. The Navy also expressed interest in their own lightweight fighter and Congress gave approval with the condition that the Navy use the same aircraft selected by the Air Force.

When the Air Force selected the F-16 for its lightweight fighter, the Navy was not able to visualize an F-16 modified for carrier operations. Instead, they initiated their own lightweight fighter project (VFAX) and ultimately turned to a consortium that (leaving the turbulent contractual history aside) led by McDonnell Douglas to adapt the Northrop YF-17 into a carrier capable 'lightweight' fighter. The resulting design became the F-18 Hornet (AKA 'Bug'), later re-designated as Fighter/Attack F/A-18. The Hornet would become the de facto supplement to the F-14 Tomcat in the fighter world as well as the replacement for the A-7 Corsair II light attack aircraft and (to a limited extent) the venerable A-6 Intruder.

The F/A-18 was subjected to a turbulent early life with critics citing the Hornet’s limited range and payload as well as its costly price tag. Nevertheless, the visionaries that stood by the Hornet would ultimately be vindicated, as this aircraft would become the launch platform for new generations of precision-guided weapons, eliminating the need for carriage of larger numbers of bombs to attack the same target. In addition, the F/A-18 would also become the first Navy attack aircraft that could defend itself in aerial combat without the need to jettison its bombs to survive the encounter. The first true naval multi-role fighter had been developed.

The F/A-18, like its Air Force F-15 cousin, went through the period where the two-person crew concept was dead and one pilot could handle all of the tasks in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. Two seat versions were only for training (F-15B, F-15D, F/A-18B). It didn't take commanders long to remember once again why two sets of eyes and hands are better than one in a dynamic environment and the F-15E Strike Eagle and F/A-18D Night Attack Hornet revived two place aircraft, just like the F-4, Tornado, and similar mission aircraft around the world.

The F/A-18D employs the full range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry, from Sidewinder, Sparrow and Slammer (AMRAAM) to HARM, GPS-guided munitions and laser-guided bombs. If you can hang it under a fighter, the Hornet can deliver. The US Navy and US Marines have used the Night Hornet to great effect not only in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, but in operations around the world.

Academy strikes again! In this third Hornet release, we have the long-awaited two-seat F/A-18D and it is every bit as impressive as the two F/A-18Cs that preceded it. There are twenty parts trees inside this box. Sixteen of these trees are molded in medium gray styrene (three of these trees are duplicates for extra weapons and are not illustrated); three trees are molded in light gray styrene and five figures; and the final tree is molded in clear styrene and contain the various lights and lenses. In another nice touch from Academy, there is a smaller box inside the kit that not only contains the clear parts tree, but also specially wrapped canopy and windscreen parts, metal landing gear strut cores, radome, rubber tires, and a bag of screws that are used sparingly to hold this project together.

All of the panel lines and appropriate details are beautifully scribed into the model.

The project starts out with assembly of the two NACES ejection seats, which is comprised of 14 parts each. Seatbelts and harnesses are molded onto the seat cushion. The new two-place cockpit tub is accompanied by the appropriate rear instrument panel and details to create the 'back office' in this project.

Speaking of the cockpit tub, the detail on the side consoles is very nicely executed and the tub comes complete with a detailed stick, throttle and rudder pedals. The instrument panels are another interesting work of art. The basic parts have beautiful detail molded onto their faces and three square holes for the Multi-Function Displays (MFDs). Academy has provided an opaque part with the three MFDs that goes into the rear of the instrument panel and three clear lenses that go into the front of each panel. If one were to simply paint the rear opaque part dark green or black, the result would be a beautiful rendering of the Hornet at rest. What is intriguing is that Academy has provided three decals that go onto that rear opaque part that, after assembly, give the appearance that the Hornet is powered up. Very nice indeed!

The completed cockpit tub and nose gear well come together and are locked into the forward fuselage halves. There is an opening on the forward left side of the kit that contains a spot light. This kit uses a blank panel to cover this feature, as it should with this version of the Hornet. However, there is another panel also provided that indicates that there is a Canadian and/or Australian Hornet in the future as well. In addition, the way that Academy has provided the ALQ-145 ASPJ antenna covers as separate parts indicate the potential for not only a CF-18, but also an F/A-18A/B as well. The layout of this kit is well thought out and will provide is with a wide variety of Bugs in our future.

The radome can be posed open or closed. If you choose to position the radome open, a detailed radar bay is provided which can be slid forward to reveal the avionics racks. Lower nose panels are provided as separate parts to give you your chose of early or late styled gun gas vents.

The rear fuselage is also well engineered, not only are two F404 engines provided, Academy has also engineered the intake ducts in order for you to peek down the intakes and see engine compressor faces. As with the real aircraft, receiver/actuator blocks are mounted in the rear fuselage to serve and mounts and pivots for the horizontal stabilizers.

On to the wings. The wings are molded top and bottom and with the wing tips down and locked. However, there are cut lines molded inside the wing halves to permit positioning the wing tips in the folded position. Two-piece hinges are also provided to accurately pose the wing tips folded. In addition, the wings do not have the leading edge slats nor the trailing edge flaps and ailerons molded as part of the wing – these are provided separately. Like the wing, the leading edge slats are provided as a single piece per wing, but they too have a cut line molded inside to also support the folded wing tip option. These can be positioned as desired.

One truly impressive detail in this kit is the set of aileron/flap hinges provided. Academy has included four complete sets of hinges to pose the trailing edge flaps and ailerons up, down a notch for maneuvering, down another notch for take-off, and down full for landing (or at rest). Once again, check your references to select the pose that is right for your display.

The vertical stabilizers are uniquely F/A-18C/D with the antenna pod fairings on the trailing edge of the fin tips. If/when Academy does produce an early or international Hornet, replacement vertical stabs will be required (or good instructions to perform the surgery to backdate the existing tails). Black Box has also produced a backdate set to render an F/A-18A. These tails can also be used to render the F/A-18B.

As with the wing lift and flight control surfaces, the rudders are separate parts and can be positioned as desired. Likewise on the installation of the horizontal stabilizers. Two complete sets of engine nozzles are provided, one set with the nozzles closed down (engines shut down) and one set dilated (engines idle).

The detail in the six-piece nose gear well is also nicely executed. Into this well goes a very detailed nose gear strut. The core of the nose gear is metal, providing the needed strength keep this model from later collapsing under its own weight. Around this metal core goes another 19 parts that make up the basic strut, positionable launch bar, holdback receiver, approach light indicator and taxi light. In addition to that, the nose wheels are rendered in your choice of rubber or styrene, either of which goes over a styrene wheel hub. In all, there are up to 24 parts for just the complete nose gear assembly alone.

As with the nose gear, each main landing gear strut is comprised of a metal core with another 15 styrene parts to represent the trailing link gear, and shock absorber assembly. Once again, the main wheel is comprised of a styrene wheel hub and your choice of single piece rubber tire or two-piece styrene tire. If you were impressed with the detail in the nose gear well (and I was), you’re going to love the main gear wells!

Rounding out the options in this kit, there is a positionable tailhook, your choice of stowed or extended cockpit boarding ladder (and eight-part assembly), open or closed canopy (complete with rear view mirrors), a five-piece HUD, and your chose of open or closed dorsal speed brake.

The figures alone would make a nice kit of their own. There are four figures provided: a seated pilot, a pilot climbing the cockpit access ladder, a standing deck hand, and a launch director squatted into the launch signal pose. Now if that is not enough, there are an interesting array of heads that accompany these figures. The pilot has heads in the following conditions:

  • No helmet or sunglasses
  • Sunglasses, no helmet
  • Helmet visor up, no O2 mask, and sunglasses on
  • Helmet visor down, O2 mask on
  • Helmet w/NVG goggles and O2 mask on

Another set of parts trees that should become a separate kit for other 1/32 modern aircraft builders are six trees of external weapons options. These include:

  • 1 x AAS-38 Laser Designator pod
  • 1 x ASQ-173 Laser Detector/Tracker pod
  • 2 x AIM-7F/M Sparrows (the nicest I’ve seen in this scale)
  • 6 x AIM-9L/M Sidewinders (w/launch rails)
  • 2 x AIM-120A AMRAAMs
  • 2 x AGM-84D/E Harpoon/ SLAM
  • 4 x AGM-65 Maverick missiles (w/launch rails)
  • 4 x AGM-88 HARM w/LAU-118 launch rail adaptor
  • 8 x Mk.82 500lb bombs with your chose of normal low-drag fins or Snakeye high drag fins
  • 2 x GBU-10 Paveway II Laser-Guided Bombs
  • 2 x GBU-24 Paveway III Laser-Guided Bombs
  • 2 x GBU-32 1000lb JDAM smart bombs (as Dave Roof pointed out, these have Air Force fuses on them, but a few seconds with a sanding stick will solve this)
  • 2 x Twin AIM-9/ AIM-120 missile rail adaptors
  • 4 x Vertical Ejector Racks (VERs)
  • 4 x External Fuel Tanks

The decals for this model are as stunning and complete as the rest of the kit. Two sheets are provided, one of which is almost as big as the box itself. On sheet one, markings are provided for four examples:

  • F/A-18D, BuNo 165532, VMFA(AW)-225 'Vikings', CE/01, 2004
  • F/A-18D, BuNo 164717, VMFA(AW)-224 'Bengals', WK/06, 2001
  • F/A-18D, BuNo 164884, VMFA(AW)-224 'Bengals', WK/00 (Tiger stripes), 2002
  • F/A-18D, BuNo 164705, VMFA(AW)-332 'Moonlighters', BM/00, 1999

The first sheet also contains a complete set of maintenance stencils for the aircraft. The second sheet contains additional stencils for the radar, sensor pods, weapons and MFD displays.

As with the F/A-18C Hornets that preceded it, this kit is nothing less than awesome. The folks at Academy continue to set the bar for 1/32 kits. The Hornet is now joined by the first 1/32 F-16 kit that offers your choice of F-16CG Block 40/42, F-16CJ Block 50/52, or KF-16C Block 52, all straight from the same box, also by Academy of course.

While not for the inexperienced modeler, this kit does not present any unique construction challenges and will likely become a favorite of contest tables for years to come. Stand by for a wealth of decals and other goodies from the aftermarket community to try to jazz up an already stunning kit.

My sincere thanks to MRC for this sample!

References:

Here are some good references for your Hornet project:

  • F/A-18 Hornet Series Online Reference
  • Uncovering The Boeing F/A-18A/B/C/D Hornet, By Danny Coremans and Nico Deboeck, DACO Publications, 2004, ISBN 90-806747-3-7
  • Walk Around F/A-18 Hornet, By Greg Davis & Chris Neill, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1999, ISBN 0-89747-401-5
  • F/A-18A/C & CF-18C Hornet, By Willy Peeters & John Brooks, Verlinden Publications, 1992, Lock On Nr.15
  • F/A-18 Hornet in Action, By Lou Drendal, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1993, ISBN 0-89747-300-0
  • F/A-18 Hornet in Detail & Scale, by Bert Kinzey (Published under Detail & Scale Publications, Squadron/Signal Publications & Kalmbach Publications - check with your book seller and/or hobby shop on this one), 1994
  • Hornet's Nest - MAG-31, by Randy Jolly, Concord Publications, 1997, ISBN 962-361-732-1
  • World Airpower Journal, Volume 26, pp 50-111
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