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F-117A Nighthawk

Trumpeter 1/32 F-117A Nighthawk Kit First Look

by Michael Benolkin

Date of Review April 2012 Manufacturer Trumpeter
Subject F-117A Nighthawk Scale 1/32
Kit Number 3219 Primary Media Styrene, photo-etch
Pros Nicely detailed kit Cons Nothing noted
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $164.95

First Look

F-117A Nighthawk
F-117A Nighthawk
F-117A Nighthawk
F-117A Nighthawk
F-117A Nighthawk
F-117A Nighthawk
F-117A Nighthawk
F-117A Nighthawk

The F-117A was a low-observable aircraft developed by Lockheed's Skunkworks in the late 1970s to put early stealth technology into practical use. This early approach used an airframe composed of facets (flat surfaces at different odd angles) to avoid having any surface reflect radar energy back at its source. Of course a faceted airframe was about as aerodynamic as a brick, so the F-117 employed fly-by-wire technology developed with the F-16 to compensate for the aircraft's inherent instability.

The first prototype to fly was a sub-scale testbed designated as HAVE BLUE which looked like the F-117 but had its tails further apart and canted inward. The production design brought the tails together and canted them outboard, similar to a Beechcraft Bonanza. These tail surfaces were all-moving like the SR-71 but these tails were ruddervators providing pitch and yaw control (like the Bonanza). The aircraft was powered by a pair of GE F404 engines sans afterburners (same powerplant as the F/A-18A-D, Gripen, F-20, etc.).

The aircraft was initially based at a remote airfield in southern Nevada (not in Area 51) and kept under wraps for many years though it didn't take long for the aircraft to get spotted and for grainy images appear on aviation titles like Koku Fan. The F-117 had its combat debut during the invasion of Panama though its true nature would be shown during Operation Desert Storm. During the first night of 'Shock and Awe' in and around Baghdad, the F-117 flew through some of the most sophisticated air defenses on the planet with ease and delivered precision-guided munitions on key targets to surgically neutralize those air defenses. With a good mix of F-117 and cruise missiles strikes on those key targets, the airspace around Baghdad was much safer for the more conventional strike aircraft (F-15E, F-111F, Tornado, etc.) to operate. In short, the F-117 made it possible to kick the doors open for the rest of the allied airpower to strike.

Speaking of 'Shock and Awe', I was quite surprised when Trumpeter made that relatively last-minute announcement that they were releasing an F-117 in 1/32 scale. Sure enough, the kit arrived today and the box is impressive - 24" x 18" x 6". More than half of that volume was taken up with the protective packaging for their two huge fuselage halves. You'll remember that Testors produced the F-117 in 1/32 scale but that kit had its wing halves molded separately from the fuselage halves. These two huge parts represent some very impressive molding technology.

Molded in light gray styrene, this kit is presented on 11 parts trees plus the two fuselage halves, two small trees of clear parts, one set of rubber tires, one set of metal landing gear struts, and one small fret containing the two intake grilles. The kit really isn't complex, just large.

Among the features in this kit:

  • Nicely detailed cockpit with the instrument faces and MFD displays provided as decals
  • Nicely done ACES II ejection seat
  • Positionable canopy
  • Choice of plastic or metal landing gear struts
  • Choice of open or closed weapons bay doors
  • Weapons bay trapezes rendered in the extended position
  • F404 engines nicely done with complete intake and exhaust ducts
  • Choice of plastic or PE intake grilles
  • Choice of open or closed air refueling receptacle
  • Detailed FLIR in nose
  • Choice of stowed or extended ventral FLIR turret
  • Positionable ailerons
  • Positionable flaps
  • Positionable ruddervators
  • Choice of stowed or extended communications antennas
  • Optional peacetime corner reflectors for US flight operations
  • 2 x GBU-10 Paveway laser-guided bombs

This kit is similar in detail and layout to Tamiya or Academy's 1/48 scale kits so you can expect a straightforward build.

The instructions only provide decal layouts for one example with no supporting information, but the decals provide markings for three examples:

  • F-117A, 80-788, 8 TFS/49 TFW, Holloman AFB, NM
  • F-117A, 81-10795, 8 TFS/49 TFW, Holloman AFB, NM
  • F-117A, 81-10798, 9 FS/49 TFW, Holloman AFB, NM

It is odd that the painting and marking guide doesn't indicate which unit their one illustrated example represents nor do they mention the other two examples that are on the decal sheet. There are lots of good images of these three aircraft online to get an idea of decal placement. Markings are provided for all three squadrons of the 49th TFW in case you run into photos of one of these airframes while they were in a different squadron. No markings are provided for their former assignment to the 37th TFW at Tonopah.

Trumpeter did a nice job of this kit and a very impressive job of packaging this beast for shipment. If you've been wanting a nice kit of the Nighthawk in 1/32 scale but didn't want the challenges of working through the Testors kit, you now have this offering which really turned out well. This is easily the best F-117 in 1/32 scale and has my vote for best F-117 in any scale.

My sincere thanks to Stevens International for this review sample!