Airfix 1/72 F-35B Lightning II Kit First Look
|Date of Review||August 2023||Manufacturer||Airfix|
|Subject||F-35B Lightning II||Scale||1/72|
|Kit Number||A55010||Primary Media||Styrene|
|Pros||Excellent detail||Cons||Lacks external pylons/stores|
|Skill Level||Starter||MSRP (GBP)||£19.99|
One of three models to emerge from the X-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme of the late-1990s, the F-35B is the Short Take-Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) version for the US Marine Corps, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF). (The other variants being the conventional F-35A for the US Air Force and several other international customers; and the US Navy’s F-35C, with increased wing, fin and elevator areas, for carrier operations.)
The F-35B is powered by a Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan, mounted in the rear fuselage with a Rolls-Royce three-bearing swivel-duct nozzle to deflect thrust downwards; and an engine-driven fan behind the cockpit for the STOVL mode. A maximum level speed of Mach 1.6 is claimed, along with a combat radius of 517 miles (833 km). Weapons, including the AIM-120 AMRAAM and GBU-31 JDAM bombs, can be carried in two internal weapon bays; with provision for three stores pylons under each wing plus a centreline location, which can take a ‘missionised’ 25mm GAU-12 cannon in a low-observable pod.
The first development F-35B (BF-1) made its maiden flight on 11 June 2008, with first deliveries to the US Marine Corps in November 2012, reaching Initial Operating Capability in July 2015. The first RAF unit to receive the F-35B was 17 (Reserve) Sqn – the test and evaluation unit – in April 2013, followed by with the first operational unit – 617 Sqn (The Dambusters) forming on 18 April 2018 and attaining IOC in January 2019. The Lightning Operational Conversion Unit – 207 Sqn – stood-up in August 2019. The first Royal Navy unit – 809 Naval Air Squadron – is due to reform with the F-35B imminently (August 2023).
So to the kit itself, which comprises 38 crisply-moulded parts across four sprues (including a display stand in the form of the F-35 plan) plus separately moulded upper and lower fuselage parts and a delightful canopy. Being a Starter Set, it also includes six pots of paints, two brushes and a tube of cement. In addition to a clear step-by-step instruction sheet, there is another offering hints for the new modeller. The decal sheet depicts one aircraft (ZM153 / 019) of 617 Sqn, RAF, as deployed on HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2021 as part of Carrier Strike Group 21.
The assembly is straightforward although much simplified compared with ‘regular’ kits but this does not detract from the finished product, as the detail is up to the current Airfix high standards. However, many of the sprue components have small mould ejector pin release stubs that need to be removed before assembling (this process being highlighted in the instruction sheet). The modeller will need to follow the staged assembly process carefully, as (for instance) the lower half of the underside structure must be attached to the main part ahead of closing the two fuselage halves. The model can be built in either flight mode (undercarriage retracted, hover fan doors closed and engine nozzle fully aft) or hover mode (undercarriage down, hover fan doors open and engine nozzle pointing down). Again, this process is clearly marked in the instructions.
As a Starter Set, only one set of markings are supplied, in the low-visibility grey. However, any sharp-eyed modeller who watched the BBC TV series covering HMS Queen Elizabeth’s 2021 deployment to the Far East, via the Mediterranean, would have noticed that the F-35Bs used by the RAF featured a small Union flag on the inner surface of the hover fan door (while the US Marine Corps aircraft carried a 1930s-style US roundel of a white star, with a centre red spot, on a blue circle in the same position). Viewers of this series will also have noted that the F-35Bs shown taking part in combat operations were using underwing pylons carrying AIM-132 ASRAAM missiles and Paveway IV laser-guided bombs. (Hopefully, one or two of the after-market accessory suppliers will fill this particular gap in due course.)
As to the paint scheme, a four-view colour guide is on the back of the kit box … but it fails to highlight the lighter grey outlines of the radar absorbent material panel lines, obvious in any photograph of ‘the real thing’. A small omission that the more experienced modeller will have no problem resolving.
Altogether, this is a welcome addition to the Airfix range and I would not be surprised to see a future re-issue with the underwing stores and a more comprehensive decal sheet including US Marine Corps markings as well. I look forward to building this model (although it must take its turn on the production line!).