|1/32 F/A-18E Super Hornet|
|Kit Number: 3204|
|Reviewed by Joe Hegedus, IPMS# 33868|
Kit Supplied by Stevens International: www.stevenshobby.com
With the Super Hornet approaching 10 years in fleet service, Trumpeter has released the first kit of this mainstay of US Naval Aviation in 1/32. The box is large and sturdy, and filled with a lot of plastic. There are 37 separate trees of gray plastic, 3 trees of clear plastic and a small photoetched fret with seat belts and what is supposed to represent the screen on the nose landing gear strut door. Decals are included for 3 different CAG jets; VFA-31 "Tomcatters" with a black spine and fins with red trim, VFA-27 "Royal Maces" with a black spine and fins with yellow trim, and VFA-143 "Pukin' Dogs" with blue trim and the famous "puking dog" Griffon emblem on the fins. For the purposes of this review, I did not use any of the kit schemes for a few reasons. First, the red and yellow colors didn't look right to my eye, being too light. Second, the US national insignias are misproportioned and look cartoonish. Finally, since I'm most likely only going to build one 1/32 scale Super Hornet, I'm waiting to see what the aftermarket offers up as options, as none of the kit schemes really "grabs" me. If one wishes to use the kit decals, I recommend replacing the national insignia and modeling the VFA-143 jet over the other 2 options due to the noted discrepancies with the red and yellow colors.
Options in the kit include raised or lowered leading and trailing edge flaps and ailerons, separate rudders that can be positioned if one trims off the small mounting tabs, stabilators which can be positioned but aren't designed to move, wings extended or folded, boarding ladder extended or (probably with some fitting) retracted, open or closed canopy, open refueling probe that can be closed with some effort (recommended as there is no well provided for the probe, just a shallow depression in the nose), an open or closed radome with a fair representation of the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar in the latest lots of Super Hornets, an open avionics bay on each side of the nose, and a lot of weapons. I'll address the weapons later. The kit, as molded, represents an FA-18E that has been fitted with the "Bard Stack" exhausts for the environmental control system heat exchangers on the upper aft fuselage, so depending on the specific jet and time frame one models, one may need to backdate the ECS exhausts to the earlier configuration. For the kit markings, the VFA-27 jet was built with the earlier ECS exhaust configuration while the VFA-31 and VFA-143 jets were built as the kit represents. I don't know if the VFA-27 jet has been updated or not. There are provisions in the moldings for the 2 seat FA-18F to follow by including a second cockpit, new canopy, and new fairing between the canopy and spine.
Overall, the kit looks to borrow heavily from the design of the 1/48 Hasegawa Super Hornets. The overall shape of the kit looks pretty good, with no glaring errors as have plagued some other Trumpeter releases. The canopy has the correct bubble cross section, which means that one has a mold line to sand and polish away.
Surface detail is recessed, and restrained. The "mad riveter" did not get hold of this product apparently, as the detail that is there looks good.
Trumpeter included full-depth intake and exhaust ducting with interior detail to the afterburner section.
Metal cores for the landing gear are included to provide strength to support the finished model, and rubber tires go over the plastic hubs.
Full stencil detail for the jet and weapons is included on the decal sheets.
The wing fold hinge area has good detail and seems to fit well in the folded position.
Avionics bays have good molded-in detail and the doors fit well closed if desired.
As previously mentioned, colors on the decal sheets appear too light and the national insignias are misproportioned. Also, the decals for various weapons have errors that I will address in the weapon section.
The cockpit sidewalls are bereft of detail, and there are no rudder pedals included in the kit. The decals for the left and right main sub-panels are completely inaccurate and do not reflect how those specific panels look.
The ejection seat head box appears too large, and of incorrect shape and proportions. I used a Black Box SJU-17 seat with molded-on belts in the review kit.
As a final note on the cockpit, the combining glass parts for the HUD are too wide to fit between the frames, and need to be trimmed so the frames are not bent outboard at a very noticeable angle.
The wing pylons, while shaped correctly, are somewhat simplified for this scale. Each pylon consists of a left and right half, but the area around the swaybrace fairings and swaybraces is solid. I would have expected to see separate fairings and swaybraces in this scale, as well as the areas behind the bomb racks on the bottom of the pylons opened up as this is open on the real pylons for connections of store umbilicals, fuel tank connections, and such into the pylons. The centerline pylon is also simplified, and did not fit the contours of the lower fuselage. I reshaped the top of the pylon to better match the fuselage, but still didn't get as good a fit as I would like.
Trumpeter included full engines in the kit, but other than the front and rear faces in the intakes and exhausts, they are completely buried in the fuselage and invisible.
The wing flap hinges do not depict the actual articles very well, with an overly large "bullet"-shaped fairing on one side that should only be about 1/32 inch thick in scale. The flap side of the hinge should also be a tab that fits into a U-shaped fitting on the wing side, whereas the kit shows the wing side as an "L"-shaped fitting that the flap side is bolted to.
While not really a "con", I would have liked to have seen the ALE-47 countermeasures dispensers in front of each MLG well be separate inserts rather than molded into the fuselage. It would make filling and sanding the intake-to-fuselage seams easier and neater.
There are large, triangular depressions molded into the intake sides above the MLG wells that are much too pronounced. These are much less noticeable on the real jet than on the kit.
The open avionics bays are not the ones usually seen opened on the ground during preflight inspections; those are the large panels just aft of the ones that are open in the kit - particularly the one on the right.
The nose landing gear strut door (long, rectangular one) has a mesh screen vent on the real jet. Trumpeter provides a solid rectangle of photoetched brass for this, which is not at all representative of the real deal.
Building the kit
The actual building of the kit is straightforward. There aren't really any glitches that need to be addressed, except for one major thing. The attachment points for the stabilators are quite inadequate for the job. I'll address this more later. I began by prepping everything that needed to be painted white. This meant assembling the landing gear struts now for efficiency. While the landing gear was drying (I assembled the whole nose strut assembly except for the wheels and landing light, and the whole main gear assemblies except the wheels now, using the locating holes in the wells to align the support and retraction struts for the MLG), I painted the interior of the afterburner section with Model Master "Jet Exhaust", and the cockpit tub and instrument panel with Dark Gull Gray. Next up was installing the rear cockpit deck, using some sheet styrene to add mounting tabs on the underside to help hold it all in place and provide some additional gluing area. I also add some tabs to the aft lower fuselage around the stabilizer pivot points to reinforce and help align the joint.
Next, after cleaning up the landing gear, I sprayed it, the wheel hubs, interior of the landing gear doors, wheel wells and associated parts, boarding ladder, and intake duct parts with Model Master Classic White from the automotive paint line. This is a REALLY nice white paint that sprays and covers very well when thinned with lacquer thinner, and dries to a bright, smooth, glossy finish.
While the white paint was curing, I turned to assembly of the wings, stabilizers, fins, control surfaces and other airframe components. There is a gap between the underside of the leading edge extensions (LEXs) and the upper fuselage that is visible through the cockpit, so I used sheet styrene and putty to fill this gap. The intakes were assembled, then painted Light Ghost Gray before I added the intake ducts. This makes getting the demarcation between the gray and white simple but aligning the intake ducts to the intakes is tricky as the forward end of the ducts is quite thin with little area to glue. I addressed this after assembling the ducts by placing strips of sheet styrene on each side of where the intake duct fits to both hold the intake in alignment and provide more area to glue.
The ducts themselves needed some attention to the interior seams after assembly; I used white spackle smeared along the seam to hid it but didn't do as good a job as I'd have liked getting it all smoothed out afterward. I chose to proceed in the interest of timeliness; but since in reality no one is really going to be peering down the intake when the kit is finished an on my display shelf I'll live with it.
I assembled the engines, one completely to show all the parts and the other just the shell as there was no reason to add all the external bits. I chose not to paint the engines as they will never be seen again other than the front face, which I painted Model Master Radome Tan instead of a metallic shade, as when one peers down the intake of a real Super Hornet, one does not see the actual engine compressor face but rather an intake-mounted device ahead of the engine that looked to be a light, tannish color to me when I saw it. Once assembled, the engines were fitted to the completed intake ducts.
The wings are designed to be assembled folded, and the hinge parts provided are adequate for the job and depict the appearance of the real article. Since I'm not sure what markings I'm going to be using yet, I chose to extend the wings as I'm really hoping that Afterburner Decals scales their VX-23 markings up to 1/32 scale so I can build the jet I worked with for 8 years. This particular airplane doesn't fold its wings because of instrumentation installed. Building the wings extended was simple, but as insurance I used some styrene strips along the insides of the wingfold joins to reinforce them. No modifications were required to the wing parts to extend them and they fit well.
I assembled the intake ducts to the intakes, and proceeded to add the fuselage sides/intakes to the lower fuselage. Start at the rear, and glue it in sections. Leave the part in front of the MLG wells unglued for now, as this will help getting things lined up with minimal gaps when you assemble the fuselage.
Assemble the wing top and bottom sections, and add the wings to the upper fuselage before adding the lower fuselage. This allows cleaning up the seams around the wing/LEX underside joint without having to work around the intakes.
Let's go back to the lower fuselage now for a bit. Recall I mentioned the inadequate stabilator mountings. I used blocks of styrene, glued to the inside of the aft fuselage between the fuselage wall and the engine case, as mounts for brass tubing to support the stabilators, as well as allowing them to pivot. Once this is done, and the upper fuselage seams are taken care of, the lower and upper fuselages can be joined. I again used some strips of styrene along the flap root of the fuselage to help hold things in alignment. It all fits together reasonably well, but some filling is still required to smooth the joints out. In retrospect, I should have used the same strip technique where the intake joins the lower fuselage in front of the ALE-47 buckets as that may have reduced the work required to clean that area up-it was the worst fitting part of the build.
The fins are molded with a large, raised panel on both the inside and outside surfaces where the formation strip lights go on the outer side. I sanded the inner panel off as there isn't one on the real airplane on the inside of the fins, but left the outer one alone even though it really should be reduced almost flush with the skin.
Now, let's return to the cockpit and forward fuselage. The decals for the main instrument panel and side consoles are adequate, and react very nicely to normal decal application processes. The subpanels by the pilot's knees, though, must be painted as the decals provided are wrong. The arresting hook handle and parking brake handle are provided to add to these panels, but the landing gear handle that goes on the left subpanel and the canopy jettison handle that goes under the windscreen by the canopy rail are missing. These are, to me, odd omissions given the other, similarly-sized controls that were provided. No rudder pedals were included, either which is a puzzling oversight and needs to be dealt with if one builds with the canopy opened. The replacement seat is not as tall as the kit seat, so I built a platform under it to raise the seat to the appropriate height.
After completing the cockpit and assembling the NLG well, I assembled the forward fuselage. When you do this, ADD WEIGHT IN THE NOSE. I did not, and right now the model will sit on its tail if bumped. I omitted the radar as I intended to close the radome (maybe if I'd put the radar in it'd sit on the nosewheels better in hindsight), and closed the forward avionics bays also. I like clean lines on my builds. I also closed the refueling probe doors and omitted the probe. Some filing and sanding was required to get the probe doors to fit and match the nose contours. The radome fit without too much trouble except for some minor gaps at the bottom.
With the forward fuselage assembled, I added it to the rest of the fuselage. Some filling was required where the two sections met by the intakes. Other than adding the underwing pylons, landing gear and doors, boarding ladder, trailing edge flaps, ailerons, and rudders, the rest of the assembly, including adding and masking the canopy, was accomplished prior to painting. I brushed Model Master Light Ghost Gray around all three wheel wells to make my life easier with masking, then sprayed the rest of the airplane with Model Master enamels. I used Light Ghost Gray on the underside, including the pylons, tanks, and some weapons (I'll get to the weapons, I promise!) and Dark Ghost Gray on the top but if I had to do it again I think I'd mix the Dark and Light Ghost Grays half-and-half for the top to reduce the contrast between the upper and lower surfaces. After I got the paint on, I applied several coats of Future to gloss things up, then painted the exhaust nozzle petals and the bare-metal "fingers" just in front of the petals with Metalizer Titanium, then sprayed a bit of Metalizer Exhaust on the petals for a bit of contrast. I had some fine mesh screen in my spares box that I cut to size and added to the nose landing gear door for the vent after spraying the mesh gray on one side and white on the other, then added the landing gear, doors, and tail hook to the build.
At this point, I've pretty much taken the build as far as I intend to right now for the airplane, until I see what decal options become available. I did use the kit decals for the airplane formation lights, and pylon stencils, and found the decals to be of very good quality in that they are thin and conform very nicely, and are opaque.
Okay, now on to the stores, as promised. This is, as seems to be typical of Trumpeter regarding Western weaponry, a mixed bag. Here's what comes in the kit:
I'd like to close this out with some notes regarding the kit instructions. Except for the LTGR and sometimes the GBU-12, all the weapons should be painted Light Ghost Gray. White missiles went out in the 80s, generally. Next, throw away the load chart on the last page of the instructions. The table below lays out how the jet can be loaded with the stores that are 1. included in the kit and 2. useful:
Having assembled and painted the kit, overall my impression is that the Trumpeter FA-18E is a reasonable representation of the prototype. I enjoyed building the kit and encountered no problems that were not my own fault. I would recommend this kit to builders who have some experience with larger models, but with a caveat: While the kit is nicely molded and fits reasonably well, it is my opinion that the value received for the MSRP is lacking, due to the simplified detailing on areas such as the pylons, wing flap hinges and cockpit, the quantity of unusable weapons and other stores (for whatever reason), and the decals that at the very least require aftermarket national insignias. I don't think I would be willing to spend more than about $100-120 for this kit but if it were available at that price point I would consider building a second one. It does look good built up and painted. I would like to thank Trumpeter and Stevens International for the opportunity to build and review this kit.