Hobby Boss 1/48 F-111A Aardvark Build Review
By Fotios Rouch
|Date of Review
|Nicely detailed kit
|Windscreen shape, nice details with no provision to show them off
For a look brief history of the aircraft and a look at the kit in the box, look here.
As 2009 was coming to an end and 2010 was just around the corner and with a few days off from work I decided to start yet another kit but finish it this time and not only that but do it with a minimum amount of modifications.
With this thought in mind I decided to jump into the Hobby Boss F-111A kit I had gotten recently. I have to say that I was very impressed when first opened the box and gazed over the multitude of sprues and endless parts. As I started going over the kit with the intent of building it I started noticing some details that started bugging me. There are a ton of weapons in the kit but not all of them went on the A model and more importantly standard weapons load outs are not included in the kit. Then I noticed in the instructions that all the beautiful detail in the radar section and electronic compartments in the forward fuselage are not meant to be shown off as there is not provision to pose these compartments in the open position. Then I noticed the weird shape of the canopy. It was time to take out the Academy kit and the references and start going over the kit. The Academy canopy is much closer to reality but it too needs help. There is no way to use the Academy canopy as it will not fit. I also noticed that the very important Vulcan canon that was very characteristic of the F-111A is totally missing from the Hobby Boss kit. Reading the Jim Rotramel references I am finding out that the bomb bay doors are always open when the aircraft is parked. This mean that if I were to use the canon part from the Academy kit I would have to scratch build the whole canon drum and assembly in the bomb bay. Furthermore the canon fairing included in the Academy kit is rather anemic and lacks detail. Then I went over the jet exhausts included in the kit and I found those lacking in detail, thick and with no internal detail to the petals. As I kept going over the kit I was finding more details that were bugging me. Was this too going to be another one of those projects that would end up never finishing due to the amount of conversions necessary?
I thought about it and decided that this was going to be my first model of 2010 and that was that!
Just in case and for emotional support I took out a few of my accessory sets that I had purchased for the Academy Aardvarks in case something would be necessary for a replacement.
Invaluable references were found in the Kinzey Detail and Scale issue, the Verlinden Lock-On issue and the Famous Aircraft of the World issue as well.
Work started with the cockpit assembly. Very impressive overall straight out of the box. The only thing I replaced were the crew seats. I used the ones from Black Box. The kit seats are OK but there is no way that injection molded seats can look as good as the BB seats. I also stole some photo-etch parts from the Eduard set for the ejection handles and the pilot's throttles. I also intended to use the Black Box side wall details as no parts at all are provided in the kit. I scratch built a couple of tinny details for the instrument panel as well.
Some things that worked OK for me while painting the cockpit were to first paint everything Dk Gull Gray and then spray a coat of Future over it once dry. I then used black paint for the instrument panels and kept a little quantity of thinner on the side to occasionally dip my fine brush in it to keep it from clumping up and help keep the black paint thinned down. Paint really goes well over the acrylic floor polish. I used clear red, yellow and orange from Gunze for the radar screens. At the end I used and x-acto blade to scrape black paint off from the individual panel separation lines. I tried to use decals for some of the instruments but they did not come out very well.
I also used clear plastic stock and a punch/die set to create the HUD display together with some photo-etch parts from a True Details generic set.
After all painting was done I tried to test fit the cockpit in the escape capsule and noticed that there was no way for the Black Box resin parts to fit. They were too thick and not meant for the Hobby Boss kit. The solution was to use the Eduard photoetch parts for the side walls which worked great.
Assembling the wheel wells and especially the main one was a slightly complicated matter. Very enjoyable and fun to put together. Rarely do I see so much detail in a wheel well. OK, so is it accurate or just fun to look at. It is close but the Stephen's Scale Down set is much better. Mostly because of the fact that Hobby Boss made the side walls of the main landing gear slab sided instead of having them bulging inwards as they follow the contours of the engine intake trunking. Some of the details seem a little fictitious but overall very pleasant to look at.
The bomb bay is also nice but lacks some detail like the canvas that goes over the center tube and the sway braces for the bombs and most importantly the gun bay with the its own wall and ammo drum. This will be fun scratchbuilding if I could get all the photos together.
The wheels are made with plastic inserts going in rubber tires. Looks cool but the main tires are not thick enough (again Stephen Thrum of Scaledown has a great set for that).
As a break from all these expanses of white paint I moved to the back end of the model and started work on the engines and exhausts. Nobody has made yet an excellent exhaust set for the F-111. I fully expect that Aires or CMK will finally do something in this area with the new F-111 family of kits coming out. As it is, I had to thin down the exhaust lip by far by turning them over a roll of sand paper. The rest of the parts look nice and offer themselves to great AlcladII use! I used many shades of AlcladII for the different areas trying to make the exhausts look interesting since they lack detail and to offer nice contrast with the SEA camouflage later on. I used pastels to give the illusion of some internal detail to the exhaust cans. I did not care to build or add any detail to the engine trunks since they will be completely invisible inside the model.
Next, I started work on the electronics bays by spraying them with interior green/yellow, coating them with future and painting all the different electronic boxes which more or less match the reference photos. Of course, all these boxes have bundles of wires and harnesses coming out and going in them and I am not sure if I want to go to town with all that mess. I might do a few just for effect.
The kit provides a fairly decent representation of the early radar. In the kit there are parts for the later bigger radar included in the later variants as well.
Here is one of the big puzzles with this kit. All that great detail is not supposed to be seen! There are no attachment points and support struts to pose the radome open and the electronic bay covers up. The instructions show you how to paint everything and then how to properly cover it all up and make it disappear! I would love to get the inside story on that one day. It is not too difficult at all to make the swinging mechanism for the radome or the struts for the electronics bays covers but it just does not make sense that someone at HB would give an order to create expensive tooling and complex molds for no reason at all.
The last thing I did was to glue the wheel bays and bomb bay in the main and forward fuselage parts and let them set overnight. One item of note is that despite all this complexity, the forward fuselage went together very well with no fuss and everything fit very snug.
For a change of pace the next logical group I went to work on was the wings.
A fairly straight forward construction that went very well with the only items needing attention being the inner surfaces of the wings and flaps that needed cleanup. The sprue pouring stubs do not end at the the leading or trailing edge but continue for a bit inside the mating surfaces. An x-acto can clean that up fairly fast and easy.
After the glue had set on the wing subassemblies I used insignia red to paint all the inside surfaces of the leading and trailing edge flaps, spoilers, etc.
Test fitting of the wing assemblies shows a reasonable and positive fit of all the parts. The parts were not glued as it will be easier to paint and detail everything separately before final assembly. Some detail inside the leading edge flaps and the top spoilers can be added according the modeler's references and wishes.
The intakes were worked on a bit since I wanted to eliminate the ejection pin marks and seriously reduce the two steps provided for the intake covers to sit on the splitter plates.
I thought it would be much easier to paint the inside of the intakes now rather than after the assembly was completed. I decided not to waste the nice photoetch vortex generators for the inside of the intakes on this kit and save them for the Academy kit with the aftermarket intakes at a later time.
After all the easy stuff was done I went back to the bomb bay.
I had decided to go with the gun option.
I was going to pose one of the bomb bay doors open and other one with the gun closed as per the pictures generously provided by Phil "Bondo" Brandt and Jim Rortamel. This meant that I had to scratch build the walls that contain the gun and its mechanicals as well as the ammo drum and all the necessary supports.
I started by building the side wall and the cover for the central bomb bay tube. More work will be required here but I run out of the weekend! Next will be the completion and weathering of the bomb bay and hopefully the correction of the Academy gun based on available photos.
Well, the time had come for completing the bomb bay gun compartment infrastructure. As it frequently happens, life and work got in the way again. The MLK weekend though saved the day and progress was made again.
Using photos I decided to scratch build the ammo drum from brass rod stock. This was the widest brass rod I had in my inventory but I would have liked to have used a slightly larger diameter tube. I dressed it with plastic stock and capped it with plastic sheet cut to the same diameter. I painted the drum semi gloss white and the reinforcement bands gun metal gray.
I stuffed the drum in the gun bay, added some more details from brass rod and some more hardware that I chopped off from the engine detail set and I made the bullet belts from thick lead sheet stock. Speaking of engine details, do not trash the all those great looking parts that are meant to go on the jet engines but will be for ever invisible. They provide great detail that can be used in scratch build projects.
So the gun bay started looking busy enough and definitely adequate with the bay cover closed.
Before I would modify the gun cover itself I decided to work on the fuselage assembly because I was getting the feeling that it was complex enough to cause me troubles.
I tried all the possible combination (even what the instructions suggest) for bringing together the top and bottom main fuselage, the forward lower fuselage assembly and the crew escape module. Nothing fell into place.
I chose a path which might or might not work the best. It just felt that it gave me the most leeway and freedom of adjustments.
I first test fitted the lower fuselage assembly with the lower front fuselage assembly. As you can see the contours of the forward and rear fuselage are different. Here is what I think is the reason. I tried my best to have the lower forward fuselage be in perfect contact with its rear bulkhead all the way around. I also tried my best to have the landing gear bay perfectly match the contours of the forward landing gear bay bulkhead. Well, that was a mistake as you can see since the bulkheads have different contours. Corollary. For the forward lower fuselage assembly glue only the bottom and just a small portion of the sides of the rear bulkhead to the fuselage sides. For the rear lower fuselage do not force the side walls to come perfect contact with the bulkhead. This way you will the option to easily spread the side wall in order to make perfect contact. In my case this is what I had to do.
I used plastic tube stock cut to size and with the aid of small shims and after I made small incisions where the bulkheads met the fuselage walls I managed to get the widths to match. I used no glue until both sides looked like the fit OK.
The next problem as I was moving forward was the fit of the escape capsule to the lower forward assembly and the lower main fuselage. Nothing seemed to fall into place.
By continuous test fitting I decided on the proper width for the side walls and spread the part with plastic stock again.
The escape capsule also did not care much to fall into place.
I opted after much thinking to glue only the forward portion of the escape capsule to the lower forward fuselage assembly let it dry overnight and the slowly fit and glue the side and move to the rear and match the leading edges top and bottoms.
I did not follow the instructions in putting the airframe together. I made the decision that it was more important to me to have the escape capsule to the lower forward fuselage fit as perfect as possible. Later I would join the top fuselage to the forward assembly and if the fit was not great I would deal with it then. It turned out that all the joints were acceptable which is something I did not expect. You see when kits are over-engineered and there is too much complexity, something has to give. In this case I more or less lucked out.
I was not satisfied with the fit of the top cover as it left big gaps all around that would have to be very carefully filled and re-scribed. (image 30)
The forward glove cover and rear fabric imitation fuselage opening covers fit ok and they will need a bit of attention in adjusting them as the glue sets.
The intakes were installed very carefully as to not to have to do too much sanding and having to do all that re-scribing and riveting. I was pleased again to not that the intakes went down well. Not bad engineering, although I do wish that money was saved by skipping the jet engines that nobody can ever see and use that money on trunking. I do have a nice set of resin CE intakes but those are saved for another build. The intake splitter plates were carefully masked and stuffed with moist paper. While I was at it I protected the gun bay and front wheel well with tape and paper. The gun area which was augmented a little bit with working on the muzzle, vents, and rear area was sprayed with Mr Surfacer. (image 35)
The basic airframe was basically ready for painting and the only thing left was to get the windscreen installed and then mask the canopy opening. Since I was going to pose the canopy panels open I decided to make good use of the closed up canopy and not mask the cockpit interior and not risk damaging any of the details. Before painting the airframe it is good to remember to spray a coat of Interior Black over the forward canopy.
I decided to use Xtracolor paints for this project. I like the fact that they dry gloss and that I might not have to use Future before laying down the decals.
I started the SEA camouflage painting with the lightest color tan and went on to the two greens after that. I noticed pattern discrepancies between the HB painting instructions and the ones in the TwoBobs Combat Lancer decal set instructions. Then again the photos of the actual aircraft have differences between them as well. I did not get the fine definition and separation I was hoping for between the colors so I had to go over the pattern one more time with more diluted paint. I think I need a new needle and head assembly for my Badger. After the top camo was completed I moved on the bottom camo portion. This is interesting and maybe not very well known. The early SEA Combat Lancer F-111As went to the theater with an Olive Drab underside and not Black. This makes it very interesting visually and I am happy that this info is properly represented in the TwoBobs decal sheet.
The Olive Drab I used was by Testors as I could not find the equivalent in my Xtracolor stock. OK, so I will have to use Future after all!
If it was not for setback there would be no progress at all on this project!
A few days after the last progressive build installment was posted on Cybermodeler and after I was done with applying Olive Drab on the bottom side of the F-111A I received two very nice and detailed emails by an ex-crew chief that worked on the said F-111As from that specific era. With permission from Mr. Marvin Reyes I am posting excerpts from his very detailed notes:
"...us maintenance types spent a lot more time in, and around, the aircraft than the aircrews...that's just a matter of job functions. The pilots and WSO's would, of course, do a walk around before the mission (and sometimes afterwards), but these exterior checks didn't last long, so they didn't really get to see the aircraft like we saw them. We would be on the flightline with the airplanes, for hours on end, getting very familiar with just about everything. The aircrews, just didn't have the time, nor the opportunity, to spend so much time with the aircraft. Each squadron in the 474TFW had approx 24 aircraft, so I got to know each one. Later, after consolidation of the maintenance functions, each "shop" was responsible for the entire wing, so we had to become familiar with four times what we started with...morale certainly suffered. Anyway, this is a long way of saying that maintenance troops got to spend more time with the airplanes than the aircrews.
Because of this, and my modeler’s eye, I paid attention to the details of the aircraft, from the condition and colors of the SEA camo, to the individual markings carried by each plane. During the early years, it was very rare to see any individual (or personal) markings on the -A models. My favorite plane was 66018, which was COL Dethman's aircraft during HR/CL; I spent a lot of time with that airplane. Perhaps the reason I liked 66018 so much was because it had a red/white/blue command stripe (for COL Dethman) running diagonally down from the canopy hatch...no other 474TFW F-111 had such a marking (at least while I was there).
I liked the HR/CL birds because they were unique...I saw them when they had the special blue/yellow HR markings, while the rest of our aircraft had blue/white markings up on the tail (later changed to a solid blue for the 428TFS). I spent a lot of time with the HR/CL birds and noticed the green paint on the undersides was just a continuation of the med green color of the upper surfaces; this was easy to spot because there was no break, the color just kept going. I just don't know how the OD color story came about, but, as mentioned before, I never saw it used on an -A model.
One interesting use of paint on the -A models was the use of spray cans to mark the various screws used to close the equipment bay panels on the sides of the front of the aircraft. We had to open these panels a lot, to access the avionics boxes located within (INS/TFR/Attack Radar, etc.). The screws were different lengths (shorter on top, and longer near the bottom of the panel. Well, we would get these screws mixed up and use the wrong ones and strip the screw. This caused the plane to get a "red X" (down for safety-of-flight issue) and thoroughly PO'ed the crew chiefs (whose plane was "down" because some stupid maintenance troop couldn't figure out which screw to use. Soooo, in response, the crew chiefs would get so cans of Mil Spec spray paint from supply and would paint the various screws and a little bit of the surrounding area in bright, primary colors. So, if you are building a model of an -A model at Nellis, for extreme accuracy, you could put little dots of color on the screws on the avionics panels. Little known fact, but true."
So there you have it. No olive drab underneath.
Furthermore, in a previous email Mr. Reyes noted that the seats had red cushions in all the early F-111s and this is how they came from the factory. It was only later after they got worn out that they got replaced with green color cushions. If I have the energy I will repaint mine.
Painting continued after the bottom color was replaced with the natural continuation of the med green. The masking was removed, new masking was applied for all the dielectric panels and the model is at the point now where I am going to start the final assembly work. Two items remain, one is to build internal details to the radome and the other is to build and paint the center canopy section.
Again, many thanks to Mr. Marvin Reyes for his valuable input.
Next item to be tackled were the gloves around the leading edge slats or flaps as you prefer.
I started with the lower portion of the glove first. Make sure that you thin out the rod actuator or that you enlarge the grove provided so that rod can slide in.
The top part of the glove went in its positioning hole snug and made it easy to adjust the angle the glue it in place.
One thing that bothered me were the holes on the bottom of the wings meant for pylons that did not go on the F-111A.
The references I have showed that only the inner pylons were used in the early life of the F-111A and not the middle or outer pylons. I decided to close up the gaping holes on the bottom of the wing with styrene rod which will be trimmed to be almost flat with the wing surface but not completely flush. I think that the pylon attachment points were there but not used. This way there will be an indication of where the point is supposed to be.
Next, I attached the front landing gear details and wheel well doors. I also attached the ALQ jamming pod in place per the photo references since the HB instructions do not show anything at all. Not only there is no positioning reference for the pod, they also missed the second pod that goes under the aft fuselage.
I continued with the completion of the main landing gear parts other the anemic wheels which will go on at the end of the build process.
I still need to complete the nose cone inner structural details and attachment pivot point to the fuselage and the main canopy frame job. Other than that all other work basically done. Looking forward to completing this beast.
Have you ever had a project that just never seems to want to get off the workbench? This is one of them.
Mr. Marvin Reyes pointed out to me that the F-111As from the Harvest Reaper / Combat Lancer era had red seat cushions just as they came from the factory and only later as they wore out they were replaced with green cushions. OK, that meant I had to redo the seats and that was not an easy thing to do. Marvin also pointed out that the main landing gear speed brake / door was red and not white on the inside. Another thing to fix but pretty easy. The thing he also pointed out which is important and a huge mistake on my research is the absence of formation "tape" lights. HobbyBoss incorrectly molded them in for the F-111A. They could have skipped it it on all variants and have given a thin photo-etch fret for the formation lights. This one will be tougher to fix as it would been sanding and re-shooting the camouflage.
Just to keep things rolling, I continued on with some more assembly and paint work.
The main window hatches including interior detail molded in the clear plastic and I decided to do something that I usually do not do. It seemed that it would make good sense to mask and paint the inside of the clear part with dark gray and then mask and paint the outside of the clear part with the camo colors. The effect is good and more realistic than shooting a coat of gray on the outside of the clear part and then covering it up with camo colors. When I do that the inside of the clear parts look gray but they are always shiny since there is no paint on the actual inner surfaces. I also used the resin part for the window hatch support from the Black Box set. It is not as long as the Hobby Boss part so a little insert will be necessary to extend it and make it fit right. The HB part is very weak on detail.
The next job was to put in the re-painted seats and work on the avionic hatches.
The red paint went down OK on the seats but red is not color that brushes well and definitely not over dark substrate colors. Two coats were needed and some corrections were necessary after the paint was dry.
For the hatches I used as a reference the Verlinden Lock On and the Detail and Scale printings. The photos pointed out where the support struts go and the angle of the hatches when open.
I worked on the wing spoilers next. I first inserted the actuators provided in the kit and then placed the spoilers on the wing. I chose to pose the spoilers as per the color photo in the D&S book since it makes for a more interesting wing look.
The next job was to wok on the Aardvark radome. I wanted to pose it in the open position so some extra work was going to be needed. I added some interior detail as per the D&S photos and made the hinge and support rod out of styrene rod. I also added some more detail to the radar itself.
After long deliberation and after some hard work and redos, the F-111A is finally completed. The TwoBobs decals went down OK with very silvering in areas where the Future layer was not sufficiently glossy. The decals reacted well to to Microl and Microset and the final result was satisfactory. My only complaint has to do with the size and location of the fuel cap circle decals.
After the decals had dried off I airbrushed the whole airplane with semigloss Testor Modelmaster varnish. The nose cone wqs kept glossier than the rest of the airframe. I then used pastels to do the weathering. These aircraft were new in service and not too beaten up.
If I were to ignore the inaccuracies around the cockpit area, the lack of the second jamming pod, the gun omission and proper gun bay for an A, the lack of correct bomb pylon and the appropriate bomb loads, the undersize main wheels, the inaccurate exhausts and the inclusion of formation lights I would say this is a pretty good kit.
For the discerning modeler there is a lot of work to be done. Maybe drafting the Academy front fuselage/cockpit area would be a partial solution although the Academy canopy is still not close enough. There are a lot of aftermarket parts, originally designed for the Academy kit (Scaledown of Australia is superb) to address most problems.
For the modeler that spent over a hundred bucks and just wants to get lost in the complexity of the myriad of parts in this kit and does not care too much about ultimate accuracy this kit s a great buy.
Maybe in the end after the model is in the display case next to the other models with all of its panels open and everything hanging out I will forget the shape issues and be happy with it.