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RF-5E Tigereye

Kitty Hawk Models 1/32 RF-5E Tigereye Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review February 2019 Manufacturer Kitty Hawk Models
Subject RF-5E Tigereye Scale 1/32
Kit Number 32023 Primary Media Styrene, Resin, Photo-Etch
Pros Nicest RF-5E kit in any scale Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $129.95

First Look

RF-5E Tigereye
RF-5E Tigereye
RF-5E Tigereye
RF-5E Tigereye
RF-5E Tigereye
RF-5E Tigereye
RF-5E Tigereye

The RF-5E Tigereye is a derivative of the single-seat lightweight fighter developed by Northrop. This design was a follow-on of the company's earlier RF-5A developed for export to allied nations. The RF-5E offered improved cameras over the RF-5A plus the performance of the F-5E. The RF-5E was armed with a single 20mm gun (the starboard gun of the F-5E was deleted in this variant) and the capability to carry many of the weapons of the F-5E as well. The RF-5E was exported to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia while upgraded versions would serve in the RoCAF and Republic of Singapore Air Force.

Kitty Hawk has released the third installment of their F-5 series, this time representing the RF-5E Tigereye. Like the full-sized aircraft, the RF-5E kit is essentially an F-5E with a new nose. The kit captures those differences with the new nose, complete with cameras, and a new instrument panel decal. The model is molded in gray styrene and presented on six parts trees plus two trees of clear parts, one fret of photo-etched parts, and a resin pilot figure. The surface detailing is nicely done, and the overall kit is not over-engineered nor overly complex to build. Among the features and options in this kit:

  • Nicely detailed ejection seat
  • Beautifully detailed cockpit
  • Relief detail provided in instrument panel, designed to be overlayed with instrument panel decal
  • Details behind the ejection seat headrest nicely done
  • Canopy lift mechanism nicely replicated (designed to be displayed open only)
  • Choice of no pilot or resin seated pilot
  • Nicely detailed landing gear and gear wells
  • Tires are 'weighted'
  • Nose gun bay is nicely detailed (see notes below)
  • Gun bay doors provided for 'open' display
  • Two J85 engines provided though not overly detailed/complex
  • Choice of styrene or resin afterburner nozzles
  • Photo-etched splitter plate inserts with nice holes for the boundary air flow
  • Choice of open or closed auxiliary intake shutters
  • Positionable rudder
  • Positionable ailerons
  • Positionable stabilators
  • Positionable leading and trailing edge flaps
  • Positionable speed brakes
  • Beautiful wingtip missile rails with hollow tracks

Among the external stores options included in the kit:

  • 2 x 275 gallon underwing external fuel tanks
  • 1 x centerline fuel tank
  • 2 x Mk.82 500lb bombs with choice of three fuses
  • 2 x Mk.20 Rockeye cluster bombs
  • 2 x AIM-9 Sidewinders with choice of AIM-9B or AIM-9L/M seeker heads
  • 2 x AIM-7 Sparrow (never carried on the F-5 though proposed for the later F-5G)

Markings are included for five options:

  • RF-5E, 71-1420, test aircraft (Northrop markings)
  • RF-5E, 71-1420, test aircraft (USAF markings)
  • RF-5E, M29-20, Malaysian AF
  • RF-5E, 872, Singapore AF
  • RF-5E, 73-0083, Republic of China Air Force

Builder's notes:

Unless something unexpected happens, this could very well be the best RF-5Ein any scale. That said, there are a number of 'nits' that I want to bring up so you can do your homework for your own build. The instructions are usually one of the weaker features of Kitty Hawk kits and this one is no different. As I mentioned above, they don't tell you to add the pilot restraints to the ejection seat even though they do point out where the other photo-etched parts need to go. The instructions also have you install or retain antennas and sensors on the airframe though many of the subjects presented in the decals don't have them. You'll need to review photos of the subject you're building to see if those details apply to you.

  • Some subjects don't use the dorsal antenna (part B31), so you'll need to fill the hole and remove the molded-on antenna base
  • Ditto on the rear RHAW antennas (parts B42/B43)
  • The fuel filler caps are molded onto the right side of the dorsal spine (they belong on the left side). I show how to correct that in my F-5E build review
  • The kit provides the horizontal plate antenna atop the vertical stabilizer, you'll want to see if this antenna was installed on your subject
  • This kit has the chisel-type wing LEX which is common for late-block and some updated aircraft. Earlier RF-5Es have the swept-back LEX, which is easy enough to replicate with a careful cut of the kit's LEX. As always, check your references
  • The ejection seat is nicely done and while the photo-etch fret has the pilot's restraints provided, they're not mentioned in the kit's instructions
  • No option for the 'extended' nose gear strut used during take-off
  • The gun bay doors can be posed closed but you'll need to make some minor adjustments
  • The instructions show that both gun bay doors can be posed open, but since there is no starboard gun, and there are no other details provided for the revised bay in the RF-5E, keep that door closed
  • No mold lines in the canopy or windscreen
  • The canopy has the later-block exhaust vent on the left-rear side of the canopy frame. Earlier F-5Es did not have this vent, so you may need to fill in this detail if your subject didn't have that feature
  • One of the puzzling 'features' in this kit are the intakes trunks. There aren't any. When you look down an intake, you'll see both engines inside along with the hollow fuselage shell. While someone in the aftermarket may come up with a fix, this might be a good time to either blank off the back of the intakes like the Hasegawa kit or install some intake covers
  • The box art correctly depicts the RF-5E armed with AIM-9J Sidewinders as those were the front-line heaters for the USAF and allied aircraft at the time. The one version of the AIM-9 not included in the kit is the AIM-9J. Instead, we have AIM-9B and the AIM-9L, so you'll need aftermarket AIM-9Js for the F-5E or RF-5E
  • Some RF-5E (like the Saudi examples) were equipped with air refueling probes. While the F-5F release did include an air refueling probe, that detail didn't make it into this release

As I said above, most of these are nits which can be addressed with a little modeling skill and some good reference photos. With a subject like the RF-5E which has been around for more almost 50 years, you'll not only want to find specific photos of the tail number you're building, but also of a particular time frame as even some of the RF-5Es were later updated.

With all the features and options in this kit, there are many possibilities right out of the box, and just imagine all of the colorful subjects that will come with the aftermarket decals. You can see the F-5E kit built-up here.

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