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F-35B Lightning II

Kitty Hawk Models 1/48 F-35B Lightning II Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review September 2012 Manufacturer Kitty Hawk Models
Subject F-35B Lightning II Scale 1/48
Kit Number 80102 Primary Media Styrene
Pros First kit of this subject Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $59.95

First Look

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The Joint Strike Fighter program started with a set of requirements for a tactical fighter that would meet the operational needs of the US Air Force, US Navy, and US Marine Corps using an airframe that maximized the number of common parts and thereby reduce development and maintenance costs. As with any ambitious program like this, the devil is in the details and as the program evolved, challenges arose. The first step in the program was to determine the best overall design and Boeing developed the X-32 that had, shall we say, a rather unique appearance. Lockheed Martin countered with the X-35 and this design would ultimately prevail. This victory made Lockheed Martin the only US company to produce the only two Generation Five fighters in US service - the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II.

As development continued on the F-35, it became clear that the operational differences between the military services was going to pose a greater engineering challenge than originally thought. The F-35A for the USAF was straightforward and didn't pose any great challenges, but of course the facility producing the F-35 also produces the F-16 Fighting Falcon which the F-35 will eventually replace. The F-35C for the US Navy was going to be more difficult as it would need larger wings and horizontal stabilators for better low-speed performance getting on and off the deck of aircraft carriers. The larger wings mean folding wings which also means more weight and complexity (anyone remembering the F/A-18 Hornet early development will remember these wing challenges). Even now, the all-important arresting hook for the aircraft is still not reliably 'trapping' the aircraft on landing (catching the arresting gear) but this bug will soon be fixed.

That brings us to the most challenging variant of the F-35 series - the F-35B. Designed for the US Marine Corps, this aircraft needs to be capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) under extreme conditions and short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) under normal conditions. This magic feat is accomplished with a combination of articulating afterburner nozzle on the rear of the aircraft and a lift fan behind the cockpit. Both of these systems are powered by a single engine similar to the Harrier it replaces. In normal flight, the F-35B will have very similar capabilities as the F-35A and F-35C.

Despite much of the critical reviews of the F-35, the program is getting back on track and the recent sea trials of two F-35B STOVL aircraft aboard USS Wasp proved that the Marines will get a very capable aircraft to replace the aging Harrier. Unfortunately, with the tragic loss of eight VMA-211's Harriers to a Taliban attack on September 14th, 2012 and the death of the squadron's commanding officer and one of it's NCOs, it will be very unlikely that we'll see forward deployment of the F-35 until such a time that we're seeing the Generation Six fighters coming online (and these are not on the drawing boards yet!).

Kitty Hawk Models has produced the first kit of the F-35B in any scale (less than 1:1) and this is arguably the first true kit of any F-35 as well. You'll recall that Panda Models released their 'F-35' in 1/48 scale roughly ten years ago (look here) but this was based on the X-35 airframe with some educated guesses to fill in some missing details. DML released the F-35A in 1/144 about four years ago but it still looked more like an X-35.

Here we have a detailed F-35B and it looks quite impressive out of the box. Molded in dark gray styrene, this kit is presented on nine parts trees (including the three major fuselage parts in the first image) and a single tree of clear parts. The molding looks good and the kit has some nice features and options. Let's take a look:

  • Nice looking MB Mk.16E ejection seat though no belts/harness details
  • Positionable canopy
  • Detailed Pratt & Whitney F135 engine with full intake trunks and auxiliary intake
  • Positionable afterburner nozzle (normal and VTOL)
  • Detailed lift fan with engine drive shaft, clamshell intake door and directed exhaust ducts
  • Detailed weapons bays though without launcher nor suspension systems installed
  • Positionable wing leading edge flaps
  • Positionable wing trailing edge flaperons
  • Optional external weapons pylons
  • 2 x AIM-9X
  • 2 x AIM-120C

At first glance it looks like the kit can only be posed with the engine nozzle downward for VTOL (along with the open lift fan). The instructions don't show any options for normal nozzle position, but a closer look at the parts tree with the articulated duct parts also has the normal positioned duct - you can build the kit with the lift system stowed.

The inclusion of the external stores pylons is a real plus though the AIM-9Xs can only be mounted on the outer wing stations and the instructions don't show you where the AIM-120s go. The instructions do show JDAMs under the wings and in the weapons bays but none are included in the kit. If you want to put the AIM-9 and AIM-120 into the weapons bays, you'll need to add your own rails/launchers. If you want to hang JDAMS in the weapons bays, you'll need JDAMs as well as a means of mounting them in the bays.

The kit canopy is clear and it is tinted on the full-scale aircraft, Check your references but you can simply apply a light coat of Tamiya Clear Smoke to get that look on the kit part.

My main concern with this kit was the instructions. The assembly steps are well-illustrated but some of the options like the optional positioned exhaust nozzle, positionable lift doors, etc. aren't documented. While the color profiles at the end provide the exterior colors, the assembly steps don't provide colors for the cockpit or other visible details not shown in the final color profiles. With a little online searching, you can determine the colors for yourself, but it would have been easy enough to have these on the instruction sheet as you work through the project.

Notes:

This is the first fighter in some time that won't have either the ACES II nor Naval ACES (NACES) ejection seat. The Martin Baker Mk.16E was selected though it was interesting to see even the light-weight and very capable Russian K-36D under consideration at one time.

This is also the first fighter since before World War II that doesn't have a heads-up display (HUD) or gunsight atop the instrument panel. This capability is now built into the pilot's helmet as part of his/her augmented reality displays projected into the visor.

The aircraft is intended to be flown without pylons to maintain its 'stealth' capability similar to the F-22, but like the F-22, this aircraft can use pylons to provide additional fuel and weapons stores when stealth is not required.

This kit has some nice decals with three markings options covered by the instructions:

  • F-35B, 168057, VM/01, VMFAT-501, USMC
  • F-35B, BF-04, USS Wasp Trials
  • F-35B, BF-01, International Flag Scheme

The decal sheets also provide markings options for BF-01 through BF-05 in low-visibility markings as well as low and high-visibility national markings for Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Turkey, and United Kingdom in case you want to render what one of these aircraft will look like in their service.

This kit captures a lot of details that haven't been seen in kit form before. I saw the prototype for the 1/32 scale F-35 from Lindberg/Hawk several years ago and it wasn't this nice. While it is a shame that no bombs aside from the pair of JDAMS, nor provisions for internal weapons suspension are included in the kit, this is common in many Hasegawa and other kits as well. What we have here is the first kit of the F-35B and I sincerely hope that Kitty Hawk Models will produce the F-35A and F-35C variants as well.

Here is a quick-build look at this Kitty Hawk F-35B kit.

My sincere thanks to Kitty Hawk Models for this review sample!

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