Italeri 1/12 TF-104G Starfighter Cockpit Kit Build Review
By Michael Benolkin
|Date of Review||November 2020||Manufacturer||Italeri|
|Subject||TF-104G Starfighter Cockpit||Scale||1/12|
|Kit Number||2991||Primary Media||Styrene|
|Pros||Nice details||Cons||See text|
|Skill Level||Basic||MSRP (USD)||$49.95|
For a look at the basic F-104G Cockpit kit out of the box, look here.
When Italeri first announced the reissue of ESCI's venerable 1/12 F-104G cockpit, I wasn't that interested at first. Then Tom Anyz appeared on the scene with a whole family of products to superdetail cockpits in 1/48, 1/35, and 1/32 scales. It was impressive to see his work, but trying to wrap my head around the actual steps needed to replicate his brillant results was daunting at best. I decided to use the Italeri F-104G cockpit as a training ground to understand how to get this done. I received the kit in July, finally got space on my bench in August, and began to break down the steps. I wasn't happy that the cockpit wasn't a 'tub' as the front and rear ends were open, but I wanted to build this out of the box and move on. I started to prime the kit using a Tamiya gray thinned in lacquer thinner and was trying to figure out how to mask the upper/lower instrument panels. As I pondered the instrument panels, I decided to assemble the Martin-Baker ejection seat. This kit replicates the F-104G airframes that were upgraded to the zero-zero ejection seat from Martin-Baker instead of Lockheed's C2 upward-firing ejection seat, which in turn replaced the F-104's original Lockheed C1 downward firing ejection seat, but that's a different story. The seat parts didn't fit that well together, but with a little work and patience, the basic seat was together.
Getting back to the instrument panels, I wanted to see how well the instrument faces, provided as decals, would fit into the kit's panels. That's when I discovered the decal sheet had gone missing. After checking around, the only answer seemed to be to purchase another kit, but there were few kits left from this reissue. A quick order on Amazon, and I had another kit inbound from somewhere in Europe. About a month later, literally the day before the replacement kit was due to arrive, there was the original decal sheet. What to do with two complete F-104G cockpits? I decided to build a TF-104G cockpit instead.
The first task was to fabricate front and rear bulkheads from styrene card stock. The rear cockpit attached to the front tub with a 'step' up to replicate the full-scale cockpit design in the TF-104G. I used Plastruct I-beams on either side of the tubs to provide structural strength to the assembly. Once everything was solid, I painted the tub interiors Neutral Gray while the exterior was given a dark gray finish.
It was time to face my fears. Now I had TWO complete sets of instrument panels and subpanels to paint. First came the base coat, again Neutral Gray acrylic thinned with lacquer thinner. The next several days were spent hand-painting the various instrument bezels, frames, and subpanels NATO Black. Looking at the Italeri (ESCI) decals, I thought the instrument decals would stand out better over a silver background inside the bezels. I did two instrument bezel interiors using a silver paint pen, then applied the associated decal instrument faces. THE DECALS DON'T FIT!!! Evidently, ESCI designed the decal faces to be smaller, in some cases much smaller, than the molded-on bezels. Now I had decal faces surrounded by silver. Time for an adult beverage.
The solution came to me from my friend Jack Daniel, paint the instrument faces NATO Black, apply a coat of gloss clear over the panels, and apply the decals. I carefully painted around my two test decal faces, and now things are looking up. The first set of panels took some time interpreting the instructions and applying the decal faces, but once they were in place, they don't look bad at all. The second set of panels came together much faster with one example complete. Once all of the decals had dried for at least a day, I applied another gloss coat over the panels to seal the decals in place.
The lower main panel and subpanels have annunciator panels with red, yellow, and green lights. The kit provides decals for these, but I opted to paint all of the annunciator lights with the silver pen, then apply several coats of Tamiya Clear Red, Clear Orange, and Clear Green to the relevant lights. I am very happy with that result.
By the way, I am ignoring the kit instructions for painting the details. I have Verlinden's F-104 Starfighter book and I'm using the color photos of the instrument panels and side consoles to replicate the look of the cockpit. The knobs on the panels and side consoles are essentially the same black as the background, but the photos show a bit of contrast with the knobs from wear, so I opted to use a dark gray and hand-painted all of the various knobs. That took a few days of painting and another day to uncross my eyes. Once I could see clearly again, I used liquid mask to mask off the instrument faces, then applied Gunze's Clear Flat to the panels. Removing the masks, I now had glossy instrument glass to contrast the flat panels. The last stop was the radar scopes - I've seen the radar display tubes in a variety of color over the years, and Italeri provided a decal to replicate an active display (sort of), but I opted for an inactive radar display. The Verlinden book showed that those aircraft had the orange display, so I installed the clear lenses into the panel, painted the backside with two coats of clear orange, then a coat of opaque dark gray.
It was time to paint all of the knobs on the front and rear cockpit side consoles the same dark gray as the panels. Once that process was finished, I painted all of the switches (which are taller and thinner details) silver as well as applying a touch of silver on the various fasteners that hold each control head into the side consoles. The doctor says I should regain my eyesight again soon.
After installing the sun shades over the front and rear instrument panels, I decided to dry-fit them into the cockpit tubs. I still have the red-brown safety switches w/covers and the yellow T-handles to get painted, but we're getting close.
So here's a look at the basic Martin-Baker ejection seat assembly. I have a few more details to add including the upper and lower actuator handles, and then there is that crew restraint harness. I have a feeling I'll be talking with my friend Jack Daniel again.
So I'm getting closer to the finish line and I now have an understanding of the process I'll use on future projects to 'busy up/superdetail' the cockpits. It really isn't difficult though it takes time and patience. When you look at all of the details, this is the stock kit(s) and I've added nothing aftermarket to this project aside from styrene bulkheads and I-beam supports. Making all of the kit's details stand out is like trying to eat an elephant - a little at a time.
Thanks to MRC for the review sample.