Hobby Boss 1/48 F-14A Tomcat Kit First Look
|Date of Review||August 2012||Manufacturer||Hobby Boss|
|Kit Number||80366||Primary Media||Styrene, Photo-Etch|
|Pros||Lots of details||Cons||Mad Riveter has returned, over-engineered, can only build early F-14A (see text)|
|Skill Level||Intermediate||MSRP (USD)||$100.00|
Back in the early 1960s, then-US Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Robert McNamara had a vision to bring the different armed services together to save some money by combining requirements. For example, the Air Force and Navy had slightly different requirements for the AIM-9 Sidewinder resulting in different versions for each service at a higher price tag. In the case of the missiles, the services finally banded together and are buying the same missiles allowing for purchases at a greater quantity discount. The concept was definitely sound.
McNamara was looking hard at his shrinking defense budget and in 1963, forced the services to use a common nomenclature system for its aircraft so that aircraft like the Air Force's new F-110A was really an F-4C. About this same time, the Air Force was looking for a new nuclear-capable precision strike aircraft while the Navy was looking for a fleet interceptor. The SecDef chose this unfortunate combination of requirements to force the two services into a common airframe. The F-111 was born. While the Air Force version would go on to meet that service's expectations, the Navy's F-111B just wasn't going to cut it for carrier operations. McNamara reluctantly agreed.
What the F-111B had going for it was a crew of two, a pair of good engines with the TF30 afterburning turbofans, the AWG-9 advanced fire control system, and the long-range AIM-54 Phoenix missile. What it needed was a lighter, more agile airframe! Grumman developed the answer by wrapping all of the best features of the F-111B into the F-14 Tomcat. A legend was born.
Like the F-111B, the F-14A uses variable geometry wings to allow for maximum lift during launch and recovery from the deck while still achieving Mach 2+ intercepts in defense of the fleet. Unlike the F-111B, the Tomcat was agile in a dogfight, though its TF30 engines were just not powerful enough to sustain high-performance maneuvers for very long. This was later fixed with the replacement of the TF30 with the F110 engines on the F-14B/D.
The only country to operate the F-14 outside of the USN is Iran. While US operations of the F-14 never accumulated the combat records of the F-15, the Iranians used the Tomcat to its fullest extent and not only fired the Phoenix in anger (which the US has not done), but when they ran out of AIM-54s, they began carrying HAWK missiles instead!
The F-14 Tomcat is one of my all-time favorite subjects. Seeing the F-14As on the ramp at Nellis AFB during the AIM-9L evaluations back in the mid-1970s wearing the Keith Ferris camouflage won my heart over and I've been hooked ever since. So when Hobby Boss announced that they were releasing the F-14 Tomcat in 1/48 scale, I had to take a look.
The kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on 23 parts trees plus the separately packaged upper and lower fuselage halves, intake tunnels, and radome. The kit also consists of one tree of clear parts, one fret of photo-etched parts, and one set of rubber (vinyl) tires. As you would expect, this kit is a scale-down of Trumpeter's 1/32 scale F-14A kit. We did review the Trumpeter 1/32 F-14D (look here) and you can see the similar parts breakdown, but I didn't get a chance to see how the Trumpeter 1/32 F-14A was laid out, so let's take a look here:
Clearly the designers that created the tooling for the Trumpeter and Hobby Boss releases had Hasegawa in their sights as their 1/48 kit held the title of best Tomcat in any scale. In 1/32 scale, the only real competition was the F-14A kit produced by Tamiya that started off with the nose section featuring scribed detailing, but the remainder of the kit had raised details. The kit was very buildable, but didn't have the options offered in the Hasegawa kit. So here the designers easily won best Tomcat in 1/32 scale with any of the three F-14s released in that scale, but up against the Hasegawa kit is another matter.
The layout of this kit is similar to the Hasegawa kit and offers many of the same features plus a few more. Let's take a look at these first:
- Nicely detailed GRU-7 ejection seats w/photo-etched seatbelts/harnesses
- Nicely detailed cockpit
- Positionable canopy
- Positionable boarding steps and ladders
- Positionable radome
- AWG-9 radar under the radome
- Positionable port side avionics bay door with bay details
- Positionable gun bay door w/M61 Vulcan gun inside
- Positionable leading edge slats
- Positionable training edge flaps
- Positionable glove vanes
- Positionable stabilators
- Positionable speed brakes
- Movable wings
- Positionable air refueling probe
- Two complete TF-30 engines
- Intake ramps molded in closed (supersonic) position
- Choice of open or closed afterburner nozzles for both engines
- Choice of AIM-54 or AIM-7 glove pylon adapters
- Choice of normal or 'squat' nosegear strut
- Rubber tires
For external options:
- 2 x AIM-9L
- 4 x AIM-7
- 6 x AIM-54
- 1 x TARPS pod (not used in this build)
- 2 x external fuel tanks
What you have in this box is an early F-14A as it would appear early in its career, but it does have a few contradictions that are correctable. The gas vents on the gun door are of the mid-group design (the early doors six small sets of louvers, these have the two larger sets of louvers, the late F-14A/B/D had the NACA vents). The antenna bump under the wing glove represents one of the early updates to the Tomcat, but later updates aren't here. The beaver tail is also of the early fuel-dump-only configuration. I'm sure there are other differences, but the point is that this kit has a very limited set of applications.
We've wondered what had happened to the Mad Riveter and he's back with this release. The rivet details look good in 1/32 scale, but they're a bit too much in this 1/48 scale version.
What I would expect out of a kit with an MSRP of $100 is a more versatile kit. I would expect to see the early chin fairing as seen in this kit complimented by the IRSTS fairing or the TCS (TV camera) fairing as options. I would expect to see the later ECM fairing and the later beaver tail in here. I would definitely expect to see the NACA gun door in there too. While the kit does have the BOL-type later-style AIM-9 rails (not called out in the instructions) as well as the TARP pod (ditto), you can't use these without the other parts. With the weapons loadout in the box, you can replicate most of the configurations carried by the Tomcat in its early career except for the six AIM-7 loadout as you only have four in the box. In a $100 kit, I'd also expect to see the LITENING pod and Bombcat options here too. This is a bit disappointing.
Unlike the Hasegawa kit though, this release has lots more parts and not many of them are optional weapons. I'm not convinced this is a good thing though. Where lots of details are great in a 1/32 scale kit, when it is scaled down to 1/48 scale, this becomes over-engineered. First, there are no provisions to open the engine bay doors, so those nicely detailed TF30s will not be seen again after assembly. The wheel wells are more detailed than the Hasegawa kit, but each wall/panel in the three wheel wells is a separate part which may lead to some fit issues later.
I honestly don't know why this release has movable wings. You cannot build this kit with extended flaps and movable wings as you will shred the flaps off the first time those wings are swept. There is no wing sweep synchronization so the wings can move individually (unlike the full-scale aircraft).
Markings are provided for two examples:
- F-14A, BuNo 159008, VF-32, AB/200, USS John F Kennedy, CAG's aircraft
- F-14A, BuNo 160379, VF-41, AJ/100, USS Nimitz, CAG's aircraft
The decals are provided on four smaller decal sheets that also include airframe and weapons stenciling. Of the two subjects depicted in this release, I believe that at least one of them is a later block Tomcat than portrayed in this box.
If I was comparing this kit to the ESCI/Italeri or Academy kits, this might be a different review but with the WIDE variety of Tomcats previously released by Hasegawa over the last five or so years at $40-$60 USD MSRP, I can't understand why this kit is priced so high with such limited prospects. I've noted that due to the exchange rate, Hasegawa Tomcats are now selling at around $100 USD, but most modelers who would want this kit would already have one or more Hasegawa kits on their shelves. The parts that could have been provided to make this a more versatile F-14A/A+ kit (and therefore worthy of a $100 price tag) are already available in the F-14B/D boxings of this kit, so it wouldn't have been much trouble to provide those parts in this release as well.