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F-5E Tiger II

Kitty Hawk Models 1/32 F-5E Tiger II Build Review

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review May 2018 Manufacturer Kitty Hawk Models
Subject F-5E Tiger II Scale 1/32
Kit Number 32018 Primary Media Styrene, Resin, Photo-Etch
Pros Nicest F-5E kit in any scale Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $129.95

The Build

For a brief discussion of this subject and a look at this kit out of the box, look here.

When Kitty Hawk first announced this kit last year, it was exciting news as the Hasegawa 1/32 F-5E was the only option on the market. Unlike Hasegawa, Kitty Hawk has also announced the F-5F in this scale, so all we could do is wait for Kitty Hawk's tooling to reach the market. Tanmodel had previously announced the F-5A in 1/32, but for whatever reason, that kit never materialized. But that's another story. During my Air Force years, I had the pleasure of supporting the aggressors at Nellis and had the pleasure of visiting them on a few occasions. One such visit was during ACEVAL/AIMVAL which was a two-pronged test to evaluate new aerial combat tactics for the new (then) F-14 and F-15 fighters as well as the new AIM-9L Sidewinder, the first heat seeker to be able to be launched head-on. If you look at Wikipedia's description of ACE/AIM, any resemblance that summary has to reality is strictly coincidental. Watching several engagements from inside the ACMI trailer was fascinating as this small, low-cost fighter was consistently kicking F-14 and F-15 butt on the range.

Before the start of Red Flag at Nellis AFB, fighter pilots had been getting their aerial combat training from dogfighting one-another. While that does develop some skills, the lessons learned from WWII through Vietnam showed that you need to train against your adversary, not your friend. In those days, the MiG-21 was the greatest and most numerous dogfight threat, and the USAF selected the F-5E for dissimilar aerial combat training (DACT). The F-5E would remain at the core of Red Forces at Nellis (the 64th and 65th Aggressor Squadrons) for several decades before the focus would shift to training against the Su-27 and MiG-29. That led to the replacement of the F-5E with the F-15 and the F-16 as threat surrogates.

The Navy followed a parallel path for DACT by standing up Top Gun at NAS Miramar. After Vietnam, they still considered the MiG-17 to be a serious threat in third-world scenarios, so they pressed the A-4 Skyhawk into the MiG-17 role while the F-5E and T-38 took the role of MiG-21. The T-38 would be replaced with the F-5F, and while other US Navy line aircraft were brought through for DACT roles, the F-5E/F remain in service to this day. In fact, the service wanted newer/lower-time F-5Es for adversary duty and surplus aircraft were purchased from Europe for that role. Those aircraft were brought online as the F-5N.

Speaking of A-4 adversaries, I was TDY to Nellis about a decade after ACE/AIM and was driving along the flightline, watching the aircraft passing overhead through the sunroof. All of a sudden, there was a MiG-17 overhead. I slammed on the brakes, hopped out of the car, and watched the MiG pitch out into the downwind and there was a gray A-4 Skyhawk with a green and tan MiG-17 painted over the wings and fuselage. In the right lighting, you don't see the Skyhawk. Guess what subject is still on my bucket list...

Back to this kit. After finishing my first-look evaluation of the kit and some of the 'nits' that stood out, I happened upon a thread over at Large Scale Planes (LSP) that went into much deeper detail about the perceived bugs and flaws. While I haven't seen a perfect kit ever produced to date, there were a few standout items that I want to address in this build such as the right side cockpit console was backwards, and the fuel fillers on the dorsal spine were molded on the right side of the spine instead of the left. Like the things I mentioned in the first-look, these are easily corrected. Oddly enough, no matter which of the seven subjects provided as decals in this kit, none can be accurately built straight out of the box with this kit. So for this build, I am building a 1970s era F-5E based at Nellis AFB.

Starting with the cockpit, there are actually two issues here: first, the cockpit tub is a few millimeters too shallow; and second, the right side console is backwards. The image below-left shows the cockpit tub out of the box while the image on the right shows the console reversed thanks to my razor saw.

F-5E Tiger II

The revelation of the shallow cockpit tub came from that LSP thread, and comparing this tub to the Hasegawa tub, they are correct. One of the concerns they had was that the ejection seat and everything else would be compressed to compensate, but that, fortunately, is not true. In the image below, you can see the kit's resin seated pilot figure next to the partially assembled kit ejection seat. The seat, from the top edge of the seat pan to the canopy breaker atop the headrest is correct in height. The kit is simply missing some of the thickness at the bottom of the seat. You can see the True Details, TAC Scale Dynamics/CAM, and Verlinden ejection seats below in contrast.

One 'glitch' in the kit is that thing sitting like a rear seat cushion in the back of the kit's ejection set. The instructions have you glue that there, and in fact it is molded to fit into that concave back. As you can see on the other seats, that 'thing' is supposed to be the seat cushion that sits atop the hard box survival kit in the seat pan. That is easily fixed (since I hadn't glued those in yet). Which brings up another nit: the bolster that sits under the 'thing' and behind the survival kit is a bolster that the pilot's backpack parachute sits on when the pilot is strapped into the seat. That bolster is too high as you can see in the other seats, and to complicate things, the backpack parachute on the seated pilot is too big.

F-5E Tiger II

Even with the really low bolster in the back of the Verlinden seat, the backpack parachute still gets in the way as you can see here, but it does show that the height of the pilot is just right. Note the pilot's legs are pulled up a bit, this is due to the shallow floor in the kit, but if that's all there is for problems, I'm leaving the floor alone.

F-5E Tiger II

I've moved the seat cushion onto the survival kit box and shortened the rear bolster. I still need to add the rest of the details to the seat, but at this stage, I was still considering one of the aftermarket seats instead.

F-5E Tiger II

Once again, the razor saw trims the bottom off of the backpack parachute and now the pilot figure fits into the seat as intended.

F-5E Tiger IIF-5E Tiger II

Here is where test-fitting each part pays dividends. These are the rudder pedals (parts F28/F29), and that pin and tab (left rudder pedal) are supposed to fit into a corresponding hole/slot in the box in the footwell. Unfortunately, while there is (sort of) a hole there, the slot wasn't molded into that box. I used my Funtec Carbide Scraper/Cutter to open up the holes and then removed the tabs off of the rudder pedals (right rudder pedal). Now they fit just fine.

F-5E Tiger II

The image on the left is the rear deck behind the pilot (part E28). It is supposed to have a tab that fits into the mounting slot atop the cockpit rear bulkhead (part C41). Instead, both have slots, so I took some card stock and fixed the alignment mounting (right image).

F-5E Tiger IIF-5E Tiger II

Here is the completed cockpit tub, ready for painting. There aren't any surprises in the build as long as you're test-fitting each part. There is a small ejector pin stub that extends out of an inopportune part of the avionics A-frame (parts E16) that holds the front avionics box behind the ejection seat. Despite the confined area, the Funtec Carbide Scraper made short work of the stub without attacking the surrounding details.

The ejection seat and instrument panel are not glued, so they can go off for separate attention. I've left the canopy lift system off until much later as I'll be keeping the canopy closed for painting, then it will get mounted when we're in the final steps.

F-5E Tiger IIF-5E Tiger II

Here's the cockpit tub with the pilot figure. I know some folks are not going to be happy knowing that the tub is a few millimeters too shallow, but they can either use one of the aftermarket cockpits made for the Hasegawa kit (the Verlinden cockpit dry-fits inside the Kitty Hawk kit) or wait for one of Harold's (AMS Resin) masterpieces.

F-5E Tiger II

I was going to really super-detail the cockpit, but I will save that effort for the next builds. This time, I want to get this first one completed to identify any issues before really getting into the AMS detail mode. I'll add the pilot figure before I close up the nose section, and I'll add the canopy lift mechanism and canopy after all of the painting is finished.

F-5E Tiger IIF-5E Tiger IIF-5E Tiger II

The cockpit is just about finished and dry-fitted into the forward fuselage halves.

F-5E Tiger II

The fuel filler caps were molded on the right side of the spine rather than the left, and the antenna base in the center needs to go. I dug out my trusty Waldron punch set and found a punch the same diameter as the fuel filler caps. I punched out four disks, two to overlay the right side holes, and two to serve as new filler caps. I used a pin vise to drill out pilot holes for the new refueling points on the left side, followed by a drill bit that matched the diameter of the Waldron punch that I had just used. After opening up the two holes, I used a chamfering tool to bevel the edges, and then glued the disks into place as the new filler caps. I also opened up the hole for the antenna, inserted sprue stock, and glued the hole closed. I used my Sujiborido course file to remove the excess plastic in the old filler holes and the antenna base, then applied Mr.Surfacer 500 to find any imperfections. When all of that is sanded and polished, the spine is now corrected and backdated.

F-5E Tiger II

Here is the foundation for the nose section ahead of the cockpit - the nosewheel well. This serves as the nose gear mount, gun bay walls, and structural support for the forward nose section and radome subassembly. The kit was designed so that the nose gear strut must be installed as part of the assembly.

F-5E Tiger II

While the nose gear well is drying, it was time to backdate the forward nose section. The RHAW blisters are integral to the nose but don't exist on early F-5Es, so these need to go. Looking from the inside, the RHAW blisters are hollow so they'll be filled with cyano. Once the cyano dried, I used my Sujiburido planing file to remove the blister and as you can see on the left, the cyano filled in the void.

F-5E Tiger II

Since I'm building this model with the gun bays closed, I didn't add any of the details inside but added the structural frames fore and aft. The gun bay/nose gear well subassembly was glued into place on the left fuselage half, leaving the right half removable, for now.

F-5E Tiger II

The forward nose section is assembled and the early radome is dry-fitted.

F-5E Tiger II

This step took some time. While I thought the gun bay doors were positionable, they were really designed to be displayed open. The latches on the upper door halves are molded open and will need to be filled-in. The doors themselves didn't quite fit onto the nose, but with a little dry-fitting and trimming, they eventually went into place.

F-5E Tiger II

The lower sides of the forward nose section had recesses left over from the slide molding process. these recesses were filled in with Evergreen styrene strips and then plane-filed smooth to the surrounding surface with the Sujiburido file.

F-5E Tiger IIF-5E Tiger II

I finished painting the pilot, mounted him in the cockpit with cyano (the figure is resin), then glued-up the nose subassemblies.

F-5E Tiger II

Here is my head-scratcher with this kit. Here is the lower rear fuselage half with the J85 engines and intake ducts installed. Yes, there are no ducts.

F-5E Tiger II

I thought about blanking-off the intakes like Hasegawa does with its 1/32 F-5E, but I opted to paint the inside of the rear fuselage black instead so you won't see much of anything down the intakes.

F-5E Tiger II

With the rear fuselage halves together, I glued the forward fuselage to the rear. While there isn't that much of a mechanical joint here, I used liquid cement to fuse the two sections together solidly.

F-5E Tiger IIF-5E Tiger II

After studying reference photos, I found that the early and late LERX terminated at roughly the same point against the intakes. Rather that guessing the cut angle for the early LERX, I cheated and pulled out the Monogram 1/48 F-5E kit which does have the early LERX. All I needed was the angle, which I transferred to the kit wings and then a simple straight cut on each side with a razor saw.

F-5E Tiger II

Here are the wings dry-fitted to the fuselage. The reshaped LERX look good, so now to finish the intakes and mount the wings.

F-5E Tiger II

The wings and intakes go together uneventfully, but I couldn't get the wings to sit snugly against the fuselage. After lots of test-fitting trying to isolate the problem, it turned out that there was some flash in the slots of the fuselage wing mounts. Once I got a micro-file in there and cleaned that out, the wings fit very nicely.

As you can see, the bulk of the work was from the cockpit forward. Once all of that was done, the rest of the model goes together swiftly. The next steps will be to get the vertical stabilizer, wing flaps and ailerons all installed before I address a few areas with filler and apply the primer coat. It won't be much longer before this bird is finished! Stay tuned.

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

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