Academy 1/32 F/A-18C Hornet Kit First Look
|Date of Review||June 2005||Manufacturer||Academy|
|Kit Number||2191||Primary Media||Styrene|
|Pros||Lots of options, easy construction, great detailing||Cons||Nothing noted|
|Skill Level||Basic||MSRP (USD)||$109.00|
In the early-1970s, the US Navy had started receiving deliveries of its new super fighter, the F-14A Tomcat. The US Air Force was also receiving deliveries of its own new super fighter, the F-15A Eagle. What was apparent to both services was that neither could afford to equip all of its fighter wings with these new and expensive aircraft. The Air Force addressed this problem first with a new competition, the Lightweight Fighter (LWF). The two major contenders were General Dynamics with the YF-16 and Northrop with their YF-17. The Navy also expressed interest in their own lightweight fighter and Congress gave approval with the condition that the Navy use the same aircraft selected by the Air Force.
When the Air Force selected the F-16 for its lightweight fighter, the Navy was not able to visualize an F-16 modified for carrier operations. Instead, they initiated their own lightweight fighter project (VFAX) and ultimately turned to a consortium that (leaving the turbulent contractual history aside) led by McDonnell Douglas to adapt the Northrop YF-17 into a carrier capable 'lightweight' fighter. The resulting design became the F-18 Hornet (AKA 'Bug'), later re-designated as Fighter/Attack (F/A-18) and later still simplified to FA-18. The Hornet would become the de facto supplement to the F-14 Tomcat in the fighter world as well as the replacement for the A-7 Corsair II light attack aircraft and (to a limited extent) the venerable A-6 Intruder.
The FA-18 was subjected to a turbulent early life with critics citing the Hornet’s limited range and payload as well as its costly price tag. Nevertheless, the visionaries that stood by the Hornet would ultimately be vindicated, as this aircraft would become the launch platform for new generations of precision-guided weapons, eliminating the need for carriage of larger numbers of bombs to attack the same target. In addition, the FA-18 would also become the first Navy attack aircraft that could defend itself in aerial combat without the need to jettison its bombs to survive the encounter. The first true naval multi-role fighter had been developed.
The Hornet has now seen combat in many parts of the world and is one of the principal multi-role combat aircraft for the US Navy, US Marine Corps, Royal Australian Air Force, Canadian Armed Forces, and more. The FA-18C is an evolutionary development of the Hornet, providing more modern avionics and weapons capabilities to the fleet. Even this aircraft will move into second echelon operations as the new 'Super Bug', the FA-18E/F Super Hornet moves into more squadrons.
In the world of 1/32 aircraft models, there is a hierarchy of excellence. Years ago, Revell (USA & Germany) led the way in this scale. Hasegawa (Japan) competed for the lead with (what was then) better technology molding and more subjects. More recently, Tamiya (also Japanese) assumed the lead role with their breath-taking 1/32 Phantoms, Eagles and that astounding A6M5 Zero. Then along came Trumpeter (China) with a rapid-fire array of 1/32 Fishbeds, Farmers, Frescos, Fagots, Mongols, Warthogs, and more. The level of detail and molding technology in these kits raised the bar far beyond anything that has been released in this scale from Japan. Who could possibly top this?
Leave it to the Koreans to pick up that challenge. Academy has become famous for its phenomenal 1/35 armor kits. Starting with their Tiger tank series, they've released a variety of self-propelled artillery pieces, tank killers, and most recently, the M3 Stuart. With each release, there is more and finer detail inside the vehicle and out. I wondered what would happen if these fine armor kit craftsmen were to tackle an aviation subject?
This is exactly what happened - Academy has moved their level of modeling excellence into their aircraft line and this Hornet was the first off that line. Developed in conjunction with a number of experts, this kit is about as detailed straight out of the box you can imagine. As with their armor kits, Academy has left little room for the aftermarket detail companies to improve what comes complete in the box.
The first thing that impressed me was the sheer size of the kit box. At approximately 22” x 15” x 5”, it is the same length and width as the Tamiya Eagle and Phantom kit boxes, but another inch deeper. This will become apparent as you look over the number of parts trees to the right. There are in fact 19 parts trees inside this box. Sixteen of these trees are molded in medium gray styrene (three of these trees are duplicates for extra weapons and are not illustrated); two trees are molded in light gray styrene and four figures; and the final tree is molded in clear styrene and contain the various lights and lenses. In another nice touch from Academy, there is a smaller box inside the kit that not only contains the clear parts tree, but also specially wrapped canopy and windscreen parts, metal landing gear strut cores, radome, rubber tires, and a bag of screws that are used sparingly to hold this project together. All of the panel lines and appropriate details are beautifully scribed into the model.
The project starts out with assembly of the NACES ejection seat, which is comprised of 14 parts. Seatbelts and harnesses are molded onto the seat cushion. The kit seat represents the SJU-5/A NACES installed in the FA-18C and in the rear of the FA-18D. The SJU-6/A NACES is installed in the front pit of the FA-18D and only has minimal visual differences from the SJU-5/A. Why is this important? There are two complete seats in this kit along with a two-pit cockpit tub, which means that there will be an FA-18D in our future!
Speaking of the cockpit tub, the detail on the side consoles is very nicely executed and the tub comes complete with a detailed stick, throttle and rudder pedals. The instrument panel is another interesting work of art. The basic part has beautiful detail molded onto its face and three square holes for the Multi-Function Displays (MFDs). Academy has provided an opaque part with the three MFDs that goes into the rear of the instrument panel and three clear lenses that go into the front of the panel. If one were to simply paint the rear opaque part dark green or black, the result would be a beautiful rendering of the Hornet at rest. What is intriguing is that Academy has provided three decals that go onto that rear opaque part that, after assembly, give the appearance that the Hornet is powered up. Very nice indeed!
The completed cockpit tub and nose gear well come together and are locked into the forward fuselage halves. The two forward fuselage halves speak volumes of the future of this kit. First, the assembly will support a single or two-seat Bug with the right supplemental parts (canopy, etc.). There is an opening on the forward left side of the kit that contains a spot light. This kit uses a blank panel to cover this feature, as it should with this version of the Hornet. However, there is another panel also provided that indicates that there is a Canadian and/or Australian Hornet in the future as well. In addition, the way that Academy has provided the ALQ-145 ASPJ antenna covers as separate parts indicate the potential for not only a CF-18, but also an FA-18A/B as well. The layout of this kit is well thought out and will provide is with a wide variety of Bugs in our future.
The radome can be posed open or closed. If you choose to position the radome open, a detailed radar bay is provided which can be slid forward to reveal the avionics racks. Lower nose panels are provided as separate parts to give you your chose of early or late styled gun gas vents.
The rear fuselage is also well engineered, not only are two F404 engines provided, Academy has also engineered the intake ducts in order for you to peek down the intakes and see engine compressor faces. As with the real aircraft, receiver/actuator blocks are mounted in the rear fuselage to serve and mounts and pivots for the horizontal stabilizers.
On to the wings. The wings are molded top and bottom and with the wing tips down and locked. However, there are cut lines molded inside the wing halves to permit positioning the wing tips in the folded position. Two-piece hinges are also provided to accurately pose the wing tips folded. In addition, the wings do not have the leading edge slats nor the trailing edge flaps and ailerons molded as part of the wing – these are provided separately. Like the wing, the leading edge slats are provided as a single piece per wing, but they too have a cut line molded inside to also support the folded wing tip option. These can be positioned as desired. One truly impressive detail in this kit is the set of aileron/flap hinges provided. Academy has included four complete sets of hinges to pose the trailing edge flaps and ailerons up, down a notch for maneuvering, down another notch for take-off, and down full for landing (or at rest). Once again, check your references to select the pose that is right for your display.
The vertical stabilizers are uniquely FA-18C/D with the antenna pod fairings on the trailing edge of the fin tips. If/when Academy does produce an early or international Hornet, replacement vertical stabs will be required (or good instructions to perform the surgery to backdate the existing tails). Black Box has also produced a backdate set to render an F/A-18A.
As with the wing lift and flight control surfaces, the rudders are separate parts and can be positioned as desired. Likewise on the installation of the horizontal stabilizers. Two complete sets of engine nozzles are provided, one set with the nozzles closed down (engines shut down) and one set dilated (engines idle).
The detail in the six-piece nose gear well is also nicely executed. Into this well goes a very detailed nose gear strut. The core of the nose gear is metal, providing the needed strength keep this model from later collapsing under its own weight. Around this metal core goes another 19 parts that make up the basic strut, positionable launch bar, holdback receiver, approach light indicator and taxi light. In addition to that, the nose wheels are rendered in your choice of rubber or styrene, either of which goes over a styrene wheel hub. In all, there are up to 24 parts for just the complete nose gear assembly alone.
As with the nose gear, each main landing gear strut is comprised of a metal core with another 15 styrene parts to represent the trailing link gear, and shock absorber assembly. Once again, the main wheel is comprised of a styrene wheel hub and your choice of single piece rubber tire or two-piece styrene tire. If you were impressed with the detail in the nose gear well (and I was), you’re going to love the main gear wells!
Rounding out the options in this kit, there is a positionable tailhook, your choice of stowed or extended cockpit boarding ladder (and eight-part assembly), open or closed canopy (complete with rear view mirrors), a five-piece HUD, and your chose of open or closed dorsal speed brake.
The figures alone would make a nice kit of their own. There are four figures provided: a seated pilot, a pilot climbing the cockpit access ladder, a standing deck hand, and a launch director squatted into the launch signal pose. Now if that is not enough, there are an interesting array of heads that accompany these figures. The pilot has heads in the following conditions:
- No helmet or sunglasses
- Sunglasses, no helmet
- Helmet visor up, no O2 mask, and sunglasses on
- Helmet visor down, O2 mask on
- Helmet w/NVG goggles and O2 mask on
Another set of parts trees that should become a separate kit for other 1/32 modern aircraft builders are six trees of external weapons options. These include:
- 1 x AAS-38 Laser Designator pod
- 1 x ASQ-173 Laser Detector/Tracker pod
- 2 x AIM-7F/M Sparrows (the nicest I’ve seen in this scale)
- 6 x AIM-9L/M Sidewinders (w/launch rails)
- 2 x AIM-120A AMRAAMs
- 2 x AGM-84D/E Harpoon/ SLAM
- 4 x AGM-65 Maverick missiles (w/launch rails)
- 4 x AGM-88 HARM w/LAU-118 launch rail adaptor
- 8 x Mk.82 500lb bombs with your chose of normal low-drag fins or Snakeye high drag fins
- 2 x GBU-10 Paveway II Laser-Guided Bombs
- 2 x GBU-24 Paveway III Laser-Guided Bombs
- 2 x GBU-32 1000lb JDAM smart bombs (as Dave Roof pointed out, these have Air Force fuses on them, but a few seconds with a sanding stick will solve this)
- 2 x Twin AIM-9/ AIM-120 missile rail adaptors
- 4 x Vertical Ejector Racks (VERs)
- 4 x External Fuel Tanks
The decals for this model are as stunning and complete as the rest of the kit. Two sheets are provided, one of which is almost as big as the box itself. On sheet one, markings are provided for four examples:
- FA-18C BuNo 164905 VFA-192 ‘Golden Dragons’ NF/301, USS Kitty Hawk, 2001
- FA-18C BuNo 164905 VFA-192 ‘Golden Dragons’ NF/301, USS Kitty Hawk, ‘Year of the Golden Dragon’ Special Scheme, 2000
- FA-18C BuNo 163777, VFA-146 ‘Blue Diamonds’ NG/300, CAG aircraft w/US Flag Draped Across Nose, USS Stennis, early 2000
- FA-18C BuNo 163777, VFA-146 ‘Blue Diamonds’ NG/300, CAG aircraft w/US Flag Draped Across Nose, USS Vinson, late 2000
The first sheet also contains a complete set of maintenance stencils for the aircraft. The second sheet contains additional stencils for the radar, sensor pods, weapons and MFD displays.
As you can see, this kit is nothing less than awesome. The folks at Academy have now set the bar for 1/32 kits at a new all-time high and will be very difficult for anyone to catch up to this. The Hornet is now joined by the first 1/32 F-16 kit that offers your choice of F-16CG Block 40/42, F-16CJ Block 50/52, or KF-16C Block 52, all straight from the same box. This kit is also Academy's, of course.
While not for the inexperienced modeler, this kit does not present any unique construction challenges and will likely become a favorite of contest tables for years to come. Stand by for a wealth of decals and other goodies from the aftermarket community to try to jazz up an already stunning kit.
My sincere thanks to MRC for this sample!
Here are some good references for your Hornet project:
- F/A-18 Hornet Reference Section
- Uncovering The Boeing F/A-18A/B/C/D Hornet, By Danny Coremans and Nico Deboeck, DACO Publications, 2004, ISBN 90-806747-3-7
- Walk Around F/A-18 Hornet, By Greg Davis & Chris Neill, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1999, ISBN 0-89747-401-5
- F/A-18A/C & CF-18C Hornet, By Willy Peeters & John Brooks, Verlinden Publications, 1992, Lock On Nr.15
- F/A-18 Hornet in Action, By Lou Drendal, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1993, ISBN 0-89747-300-0
- F/A-18 Hornet in Detail & Scale, by Bert Kinzey (Published under Detail & Scale Publications, Squadron/Signal Publications & Kalmbach Publications - check with your book seller and/or hobby shop on this one), 1994
- Hornet's Nest - MAG-31, by Randy Jolly, Concord Publications, 1997, ISBN 962-361-732-1
- World Airpower Journal, Volume 26, pp 50-111