Academy 1/48 F-14A Tomcat Kit First Look
|Date of Review
|One of the nicest F-14 kits in 1/48 scale
|Textured 'shadow' on the underside of the fuselage to show where TARPS goes
Back in the early 1960s, then-US Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Robert McNamara had a vision to bring the different armed services together to save some money by combining requirements. For example, the Air Force and Navy had slightly different requirements for the AIM-9 Sidewinder resulting in different versions for each service at a higher price tag. In the case of the missiles, the services finally banded together and are buying the same missiles allowing for purchases at a greater quantity discount. The concept was definitely sound.
McNamara was looking hard at his shrinking defense budget and in 1963, forced the services to use a common nomenclature system for its aircraft so that aircraft like the Air Force's new F-110A was really an F-4C. About this same time, the Air Force was looking for a new nuclear-capable precision strike aircraft while the Navy was looking for a fleet interceptor. The SecDef chose this unfortunate combination of requirements to force the two services into a common airframe. The F-111 was born. While the Air Force version would go on to meet that service's expectations, the Navy's F-111B just wasn't going to cut it for carrier operations. McNamara reluctantly agreed.
What the F-111B had going for it was a crew of two, a pair of good engines with the TF30 afterburning turbofans, the AWG-9 advanced fire control system, and the long-range AIM-54 Phoenix missile. What it needed was a lighter, more agile airframe! Grumman developed the answer by wrapping all of the best features of the F-111B into the F-14 Tomcat. A legend was born.
Like the F-111B, the F-14A uses variable geometry wings to allow for maximum lift during launch and recovery from the deck while still achieving Mach 2+ intercepts in defense of the fleet. Unlike the F-111B, the Tomcat was agile in a dogfight, though its TF30 engines were just not powerful enough to sustain high-performance maneuvers for very long. This was later fixed with the replacement of the TF30 with the F110 engines on the F-14B/D.
The only country to operate the F-14 outside of the USN is Iran. While US operations of the F-14 never accumulated the combat records of the F-15, the Iranians used the Tomcat to its fullest extent and not only fired the Phoenix in anger (which the US has not done), but when they ran out of AIM-54s, they began carrying HAWK missiles instead!
Many folks have been dazzled by the Hasegawa 1/48 Tomcat series, and rightfully so as those kits offer some impressive details. However, at an MSRP that ranges from $43 to over $60 USD, is that the best option for every project? No!
The problem is that the aftermarket community continues to have a love affair with the F-14. As a hardcore F-14 lover myself, it pains me not to be able to model all of the magnificent color schemes that are available. But the thought of building the very detailed Hasegawa kit for many of these schemes is far too much work! Even the most AMS modeler will want one or two Tomcats with the flaps and slats hanging out, but the rest would be parked with their wings swept as not to occupy too much shelf space. So if you're not going to hang everything out, do you want to spend that much for a Hasegawa Tomcat? I think not.
The Academy F-14A came out about the same time as the first Hasegawa Tomcats and its scribed detailing is every bit as nice. Assembly of the kit is more like building the Revell-Monogram F-14 - a no-brainer. This is an ideal combination if you're looking to build up your collection of fleet colors without having to deal with all of the engineering required for the Hasegawa kit.
The kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on six parts trees, plus separate upper and lower fuselage halves, and a small clear tree containing the windscreen and canopy. As I mentioned earlier, the surface detailing is all finely scribed.
The cockpit is nicely detailed and, like the Hasegawa kit, can be displayed empty or with a pair of nice crew figures seated in the 'pit'. Unlike the Hasegawa kit, the Academy F-14A can be posed with the radome open revealing the radar underneath.
The wings of the Academy kit are designed like the Revell-Monogram kit with a sweep mechanism that will allow the wings to be moved after completion. If you want to display the aircraft in the take-off or landing configuration with the flaps and slats all out, then you really want the Hasegawa kit. If you are going to simply park the aircraft with the wings swept, the Hasegawa kit is major overkill and this kit is what you're looking for.
Academy engineered the gun area of the nose as a separate part, but to date have not done anything with this innovation. Out of the box, this F-14A has the early styled gun gas vents, but the fleet was updated with the later-styled vents that were fielded with the F-14B and F-14D. It would be nice if Academy (or someone) would offer an updated panel here.
The Academy kit, like the Hasegawa, feature engine faces visible down the intake trunks, though the afterburner chambers are a bit shallow on the Academy kit. There are several replacement sets for the TF30 nozzles and A/B chambers out there including a nice set from Aires. The kit does provide a pair of open or closed nozzles allowing you to pose your aircraft in a variety of conditions.
Unlike the Hasegawa kit, the Academy Tomcat comes with a nice set of external stores including:
- 2 x AIM-9
- 4 x AIM-7
- 6 x AIM-54
- 1 x TARPS
- 2 x External Fuel Tanks
Markings are included for only one example:
- F-14A, 159434, VF-143, AE/100, USS America CAG aircraft
I recently picked up a couple of these kits as I wanted to do some of the colorful cats without going through the pains of building the super-detailed Hasegawa kit for all of them.
I don't know if you remember, but the early Hasegawa 1/48 Tomcats had an engineering flaw in the lower intake trunk parts that meant that there was no way the kit would fit together without some work. I wound up tossing one of these expensive cats into the trash after discovering the flaw for myself. Hasegawa has since fixed their molds, but there are still some of these flawed cats floating around the hobby swap meets and eBay.
Don't get me wrong, the Hasegawa kit is still king when it comes to the super-detailed Tomcat and is the only contemporary option for an F-14B or F-14D unless you want to work with the older Revell-Monogram raised panel lines. But in my book, for the F-14A, the Academy kit is sill my top pick for modeling a parked aircraft. The Academy F-14A is a quick and painless build at a fraction of the price. And at the price, I find it easier to drop an Aires resin cockpit into the model than the more expensive Hasegawa kit.
Now if we can only convince Academy to add some tooling to render an F-14B and F-14D from this kit!