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Panda Models 1/48 F-35A Lightning II Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review May 2007 Manufacturer Panda Models
Subject F-35A Lightning II Scale 1/48
Kit Number 48001 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Easy build Cons  
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) Out of production

First Look


In mid-1990s, the Department of Defense consolidated several fighter programs into the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), which could meet the requirements of the US Air Force, US Navy and the US Marine Corps (fortunately, not all in the same version!). These unique (and usually conflicting) requirements include:

  • USAF – an advanced lightweight tactical CTOL fighter (to replace the F-16 and A-10, as well as complement the F-22) that can carry a wide range of weapons internally and maintain its stealth
  • USMC – an advanced supersonic STOVL fighter to replace the AV-8B Super Harrier
  • USN – an advanced lightweight tactical fighter that is carrier capable (catapult/arresting gear), twice the internal fuel as the FA-18C and better low-speed handling

The British Ministry of Defence also joined the project to obtain an advanced fighter to replace their fleet of Harriers and operate aboard their next generation aircraft carrier, the CV(F). The decision is still out on whether they want the STOVL or the carrier version of the aircraft.

Two teams emerged to tackle this project – Boeing with the X-32 series and Lockheed-Martin with the X-35. Both teams put forth a terrific effort and developed successful designs, though Lockheed-Martin’s X-35 design was designated the winner. The X-35A successfully demonstrated the Air Force’s requirements whilst the X-35B met the USMC’s supersonic VSTOL requirements. In an unusual move, the X was replaced with an F and the resulting JSF aircraft will be designated as F-35 Lightning II.

As development of the aircraft continues, the three variants are also diverging in their commonality. The USAF F-35A is moving alongwith no major changes. The USMC STOVL F-35B reportedly has smaller weapons bays to help meet its weight goals. The USN carrier-capable F-35C features enlarged wing and tail surfaces to improve its low-speed performance.

Okay, I know what the box says, but Panda got their variants mixed up. They've released four versions of this kit so far and these are:

  • F-35B USAF Kit 48001 => should be F-35A
  • F-35B USMC Kit 48002 => correct
  • F-35C NATO Kit 48003 => the C-model will be the USN carrier version
  • F-35K Royal Navy Kit 48004 => still to be determined

To be absolutely accurate, these kits are based upon the X-35A and X-35B airframes, but kudos to Panda for getting these done, expecially so early in the program. I was so surprised to see these kits when they came out in 2002 that I grabbed two and built them on the spot (see the build review here).

Molded in light gray styrene, the kit is presented on three parts trees and a single tree of clear parts. The detailing is engraved but the detailing is naturally vague since the designers were obviously working from whatever photos and drawings available at the time.

The cockpit is simple, but now that there are good photos of the real front office available, it wouldn't be hard to tweak that area up. One small problem - the canopy is one-piece. The aircraft has a separate canopy (side-hinged) and windscreen. In my build, I obviously left the canopy closed and simply painted a canopy bow in place.

For the X-35, the A model shared the same airframe components as the B, though the lift fan doors were deleted. To do a proper F-35A will take a little putty work as you can still see remnants of the doors in my build.

The kit is simplicity itself, and they both went together very easily.

Markings are provided for the test aircraft (X-35A) as well as a notional aircraft assigned to Misawa AB (though they now wear the tailcode WW (Wild Weasel)).

Now that better information is becoming available to the general public about the Lightning II, I had to snag a few more airframes for future 'do-overs' and bring the models up to date. It is hard to argue over the low retail price and I just picked up another one on sale!

What will be a little fun is to take one of these and enlarge the wing and tail surfaces to reflect the F-35C. With all of those great F/A-18 markings available, it won't be difficult to predict what a CAG bird might look like in another 10-12 years...