Academy 1/48 F-15E Strike Eagle Kit First Look
|Date of Review||February 2006||Manufacturer||Academy|
|Subject||F-15E Strike Eagle||Scale||1/48|
|Kit Number||1687/2117||Primary Media||Styrene|
|Pros||A nice alternative to the Hasegawa kit||Cons||Poorly printed decals, older aircraft configuration|
|Skill Level||Basic||MSRP (USD)||$35.00|
In 1969, McDonnell Douglas was awarded a contract to develop the Air Force's next generation fighter. The Vietnam air war had caught the service without a suitable all-weather fighter and as an interim measure, the Air Force purchased their own variants of the Navy's F-4 Phantom II.
Given the rapidly declining kill ratios from World War II through Korea and into Vietnam, what was needed was a true air superiority machine. The resulting design was very large, but the F-15 Eagle was the first production aircraft that produced more thrust than it weighed. While the US Air Force didn't have the opportunity to fly the Eagle in combat during its first 20 years of service, the Israeli Air Force literally decimated anyone that opposed the F-15 in the sky. During operations against Syria in the Bekaa Valley, the F-15 destroyed around 80 Syrian Air Force MiGs with no losses, becoming the widest distributor of MiG parts in the world.
Designers saw further potential in the F-15's design to adapt to the air-to-surface strike mission. With the F-111's service life rapidly coming to an end, McDonnell Douglas adapted a two-seat version of the aircraft to employ new night-attack sensors called LANTIRN, (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night), increased fuel capacity using conformal fuel tanks (FAST (fuel and sensor tactical) packs), an increased gross weight for the additional fuel and a significant payload, and more powerful Pratt & Whitney F100 engines to push the lot aloft. The result was the F-15E Strike Eagle, nicknamed Beagle (Bomber Eagle) or simply Mud Hen. This aircraft remains at the forefront of the USAF's strike capability, while versions of the F-15E have been exported to various Air Forces around the world.
When the USAF started operations in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the F-15s swept the skies of Iraqi fighters while the F-15E used its precision strike capabilities to pick apart the Iraqi war machine. Even more than ten years later, new generations of aircrews took these very same aircraft into Afghanistan in OEF and back to Iraq in OIF, and once again the Eagle reigns supreme.
Before Academy released this kit many years ago, the only choice for a decent 1/48 F-15E was Hasegawa's Strike Eagle. At that time, Hasegawa's kit lacked some significant details that were later rectified in the next reissue of the kit. This reissue didn't happen until well after Academy's release seriously cut into sales. So what was so special about the Academy kit?
Initially, not much. Both the Hasegawa and Academy 1/48 F-15E kits featured nicely scribed surface details and were molded in the standard utility light gray styrene. The Hasegawa kit lacked any armament as they were counting on folks to bomb up their aircraft using their line of weapons sets (when you could find them). The other significant oversights were the lack of LANTIRN pods and FAST packs.
The first release of Academy's F-15E kit had the FAST packs and LANTIRN pods, but also lacked air-to-surface armament as many of the sprue trees were shared with the earlier F-15C and F-15D releases.
The one thing BOTH companies got right was the speed brake. The Achilles heel of other F-15E kits was the speed board. The kit manufacturers, like Revell's 1/32 F-15E, based their designs on the prototype F-15E, which was itself originally a prototype F-15B that still had the pre-production full-sized speed board. Hasegawa and Academy waited for the full-production Mud Hens to come online so that they'd capture the right details.
Hasegawa later re-released their Strike Eagle in the 'Seymour Johnson' edition that featured FAST packs, LANTIRN and armament options. Academy also re-released their kit with new weapons sprues.
Both kits have simple cockpits that many modelers will be satisfied with, but the AMS modeler will want to use a Black Box replacement with either kit.
Both kits feature intake trunks that lead to engine faces. Both kits have engine nozzles with and without turkey feathers. USAF Mud Hens fly sans the feathers. International Mud Hens (like the Israeli F-15I) retain their turkey feathers on the nozzles. Check your references.
Both kits offer positionable horizontal stabs. Neither kit offer separate ailerons (ever notice how BOTH ailerons droop on the ground?).
Both kits are out of date. The Strike Eagles have been refined over the years and neither kit quite captures the bomb carriage points on the FAST packs. Neither kit has contemporary weapons (AMRAAM, JDAM, etc.). Neither kit has the updated details like bulged main gear doors, etc. Fortunately there are enough aftermarket items out there to update your aircraft until Academy or Hasegawa decide to update their kits.
So back to the question, why choose the Academy kit?
At one time, the Academy kit was priced lower than the Hasegawa kit, but more recently these have roughly the same retail price.
THE most significant feature on this kit is the choice of intakes. Unlike other supersonic fighters that have variable ramps inside their intakes to alter the airflow to the engines at high speeds, the F-15s dip the top of their intakes to reduce the frontal area of the intake and regulate airflow externally. When an F-15 is running on the ground, you can see the intakes angled down to their lowest position. Academy offers a set of intakes that are full-up as seen parked, and the angled down position as the aircraft is running and taxiing on the ground. No other kit in any scale to my knowledge has captured this detail.
The one disappointing part of my F-15E kit is the decals. The printing is crude and unusable on the first sheet with the 57 FWW, Nellis AFB markings, though the second sheet of stencils is printed just fine. This really isn't that critical since many of us will use aftermarket decals anyway.
If you'll look closely at the fourth image, between the FAST packs, you'll see a relic from one of Academy's early F-15A kits - the aborted ASAT (anti-satellite missile). You won't find many of these around and would certainly make for an interesting what-if configuration should your Eagle be out plinking adversary satellites in orbit!
I received a number of emails after first posting this review wondering how this kit stacked up against the Revell, Revell Germany, Revell-Monogram, and Pro-Modeler F-15E kit. Fair question.
The Academy and Hasegawa kits were developed relatively close in time to one another. The Revell (etc.) kit came along later. Its initial release lacked an array of armament just like the initial versions of the Academy and Hasegawa kits, but the second release in its 'Tigermeet' colors featured a similar array of weapons as the updated releases of the Academy and Hasegawa kits.
Unlike the Academy and Hasegawa releases, Revell did capture the external rack configurations on the FAST packs and also feature other up-to-date details like the bulged main gear doors. The cockpit is typical Revell and can be used as-is, but as with the other two kits, the AMS modeler will want to use the Black Box cockpit here as well.
There is an interesting assumption among many modelers. If you put any given kit subject from three different manufacturers side-by-side with roughly the same features at roughly the same price, many modelers will assume the Tamiyagawa offering is the best and sometimes that is actually true. In the case of the F-15E, the Academy, Hasegawa and Revell/Germany offerings are indeed about the same retail price. I like the Academy kit for the unique intake ramp option to model an Eagle with its engines running, something not done by anyone else to date in this scale. But for pure out-of-the-box up-to-date accuracy, the Revell (etc.) kit wins. Don't get me wrong, the Hasegawa kit is still a very nice F-15E kit, but it is third on my list in a contest of roughly equal price. But a word of warning...
I just popped over to the Squadron Mail Order website where they have the Academy, Hasegawa and Revell/Germany kits all listed and they are indeed roughly the same retail price. The Revell/USA kit is also there at roughly $8.00 cheaper than the others, but it seems that there are versions of the Academy and Revell F-15E kits with and without armament, so make sure you're getting the version you want.
In the end, all three kits are roughly equivalent. The Academy and Hasegawa releases will build into a nice rendering of an early Mud Hen. You'll need to hit the aftermarket folks to dress up the cockpits as well as add the details to update the aircraft. The Revell kit is much closer to the current version of the Mud Hen but will also benefit from the aftermarket cockpit. This one is a close call.
Nevertheless, this kit is definitely recommended!