F-14A Tomcat, VF-111 Sundowners, "Miss Molly"

Published on
March 22, 2015
Review Author(s)
Product / Stock #
Company: Hasegawa - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Hobbico
Box Top

OK, let me start by admitting it – this one kicked my modeling butt.

But before we go there, a little history of the personal and Tomcat varieties. When Dave and Dick put this kit up for grabs, I made an impassioned plea to be the reviewer. Several drivers – first of all, I worked for Grumman for 21 years, starting straight out of college as a mewling infant of an engineer. I was quickly disabused of any thought that I knew anything about designing airplanes by the curmudgeonly, yet avuncular grizzled old pros who took me under their wings to teach me about aircraft structural design. My first F-14 assignment, several years after the airplane entered Navy service, was designing formed armor plate to be installed in strategic locations inside the engine nacelles. Turns out that the ill-fabled TF30 P&W engine had a nasty habit of shedding turbine blades, which acted as miniature guillotines as they exited the engine case. My job was to protect vital fuel and hydraulic lines and cabling located in the path of the blades as they exited radially (and forward) out of the dying engine.

Fast forward 7 years and I find myself assigned to our Milledgeville, GA composites and metal bonding facility, where we're building F-14 parts and assemblies. Milledgeville is famous for a few things but among them is being the home town of Congressman Carl Vinson, often called the father of the modern US Navy. Wielding enormous political influence, “Mr. Carl” is often credited with leading the charge to regenerate the USN Fleet in preparation for WW2. I had the pleasure of meeting the Congressman several times, often in the company of his assistant/nurse, Molly Snead, aka “Miss Molly” - a true Southern Lady. When CVN-70 was christened as the USN Carl Vinson, I was the one who hung an oil painting created by Grumman's resident artist over the fireplace of Miss Molly's home. So, for me, building and reviewing this model had more than a slight personal connection.

Now, on to the kit. This is a re-release of Hasegawa's venerable Tomcat in 1/72, packaged with new markings to represent the CAG bird of VF-111 on board the Vinson, ca 1989. Packaged in an attractive full color box with a cover image of the actual bird, the kit includes 15+ light gray sprues (some of which are duplicates; more on that later). The expected clear parts are included along with a small fret of photo-etched details (more on that later too) and one large decal sheet, with markings for Miss Molly only. A detailed instruction booklet, including two full-page marking and color guides, rounds out the kit.

I have to admit it had been a while since I'd tackled one of Hasegawa's older offerings. Be forewarned that hiding among the 190+ parts are a great many that will not be used. In most cases, this will be clarified in the instructions, because the part number that's not needed for Miss Molly simply won't be called out. This is fine if you remove parts from the sprues as you go – not my normal build technique; I like to remove and clean up parts before building, rather than each time I need one. I don't recommend this with the way Hasegawa packaged this model, unless you somehow mark or tag the parts you intend to use.

Construction started with the cockpit. I elected to use the nice p/e consoles, sprayed them with flat black, and then gently scraped off the high spots, leaving me with panel outlines and instrumentation in bare metal. A little bit of white, yellow and red paint livened up each panel (there are 6 in total) and these were then super-glued into the cockpit tub, which was painted with Vallejo Acrylics Medium Gray. I noticed when installing the p/e parts that some of them extended beyond the edge of the cockpit tub and a little warning bell went off in my head, but I continued with the build. In lieu of painting, I used the multiple decals to represent instrumentation on the pilot and RIO's panels. The decals, like the p/e parts, were larger than the area they were intended to sit on. A little bit of Solvaset snuggled them down into the lumps and bumps molded into the panels, but if I were to do it again I would sand most of that molded-in detail away. Be careful fitting the instrument panels and their shrouds into the tub – I would suggest multiple dry-fitting sessions before committing to the glue, as it is easy to mislocate these parts. I ended up having to trim away a lot of the instrument coaming to get them to fit over the panels and into the cockpit edges.

I elected to use the kit bang seats as they were pretty well detailed and included p/e ejection handles, which I painted yellow and black. Online photos of the seats and the interior were very helpful here.

Remember those p/e panels I mentioned earlier? When I installed the tub into the forward fuselage halves, I heard the dreaded pop of a departing p/e part as the pilot's LH console panel went flying onto the floor. The same thing happened with the RIO's breaker panels. A fun morning was spent carefully trimming down the various p/e panels with cutters until they fit flush with the tub perimeter, and into the fuselage halves. I lost one and replaced it with the corresponding decal. Be prepared to address this issue, which disappointed me.

You'll note from the “exploded view” photo that because Hasegawa went with the modular approach, the Tomcat builds up in smaller subassemblies that then have to be fitted together. While most of the subassemblies join along panel lines, the complex contours of the Tomcat's shape mean that you'll want to take extra time getting these to align to avoid a lot of filling and sanding, which can destroy the subtle panel details molded into the rest of the model. In fact, when I was wrestling with the installation of the main landing gear bays into the fuselage, I was reminded of similar issues we faced on the 1/1 version – getting complex shapes to meet in mid-air and “fair in” was a real challenge. I spent an hour dry-fitting the MLG bay – which comes into existence only when 4 different parts are assembled – and I still had to do a lot of clamping and adjusting. Same goes for the installation of the beavertail assembly, and fitting the forward fuselage and nacelles. In some cases I was able to tack in the sub-assembly with superglue and come back later with liquid cement, but I ended up using the old standby of stretched sprue and liquid cement to fill and fair some gaps. I only resorted to filler – in this case Mr. SurfacerTM 500 – where the upper and lower fuselage halves met (and I use that word advisedly) near the horizontal stabs.

While the major assemblies were drying, I tackled the numerous panels and doors – I wanted to show Miss Molly unbuttoned (!!) wherever possible. On Tomcats, pretty much any exterior moving part gets a red edge that should in theory not be visible when the part is in the closed or stowed position. Rather than try to do this with red paint, I was successful in using a red SharpieTM marker to add the color. I'd suggest sealing over this wth a clear sealant of your choice as the Sharpie ink tends to bleed and run. For larger surfaces, such as the leading edge slat interiors, I used Vallejo Red to fill the area.

I had not previously experimented with pre-shading, but having seen the technique used, I wanted to take a shot at it. After priming with flat white, I sprayed a thin mixture of Vallejo Black and Vallejo Dark Sea Gray along most of the panel lines. This initially looked horrible, but when I went back with the Dark Gray topcoat, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well I could control the tonality of the pre-shaded areas. I had to go back and do some touch-up work around the radome, and I had what I thought was a brainstorm – why not just use a black permanent marker to pre-shade with? Disaster struck – no matter how many coats of acrylic Vallejo gray I applied, I could not get the darker areas to blend in. I ended up going back and reapplying my acrylic pre-shading mix over the marker and finishing with the Dark Sea Gray topcoat. I may try the marker approach again on another project, but only when using enamel top colors. By the way, although I went with the Dark Sea Gray color, this is a decidedly darker tone out of the bottle than all of the online images of the real bird seem to be. If I were building again, I would lighten the base color considerably. Your call.

The kit contains a few stores options – you get Phoenix pallets, Sidewinder adapters, two fuel tanks, and a TARPS (reconnaissance) pod. Hasegawa sells aftermarket weapons sets but things were busy enough so I went with what came in the kit. Well, almost. I neglected to back-drill the mounting locations for the TARPS pod before assembling the fuselage, and rather than guess their location from the exterior, I just went with the fuel tanks – these had their own sharkmouth markings and I thought they added to the cool factor. Installing the Phoenix pallets was another exercise in “clamp and tack”; I had to modify the mounting surfaces several times before I got a decent fit to the various fuselage parts.

My pre-shading turned out so well that I decided to put a wash into the panel lines. This was accomplished with diluted GrumbacherTM water colors (sold in small tubes at art supply stores). I used Vallejo diluting agent to thin the mix of dark gray and raw umber paint and sloshed it on the model. After it dried, I used damp cotton swabs and paper towels to remove the excess.

Since all of the major subassemblies were done, I focused on adding the MANY small decals – most of them being hoist points, tie down locations, Do Not Step warnings, and maintenance placards. One of the large vertical fin Sundowner decals went on without a hitch; its opposite number fought me all the way. Fortunately I had sprayed the outboard sides of each stabilizer in white as the decals are not very opaque. The Sundowner decals don't fit well to the stabilizers so some red touchup was in order, particularly around the base fairing areas. I'd replace these with paint if I built the kit again rather than trying to accommodate the highly contoured surfaces. I had to do some touch-up on the prominent sharkmouth due to cracking and some bleeding of the red areas into the white – this may have been an artifact of the Solvaset, but I was disappointed nonetheless.

Final assembly included adding aftermarket Scale Aircraft Conversion landing gear (see separate review for these items), gear doors, access steps, upper and lower speed brakes, arresting hook, and canopy parts. I used FutureTM to install most of the photo etched parts to the canopy. The shape of the forward frame, which incorporates the three pilot mirrors, doesn't match the clear part, so I had to use CA to install this and carefully file and sand the metal part down to match the canopy shape. Not fun.

I overcoated the aircraft with TestorsTM Clear Acryl semi-gloss. Frankly, this dried to more of a satin sheen than I wanted, particularly for a showboat airplane, but I chose not to go back and overcoat again.

So – in summary – a colorful Tomcat color scheme with some great history, but a kit that's starting to show it's age in terms of construction approach and excess flash. I'm pleased with the results but would chance some of my approach to the build and finishing if I built another one. That being said, even in 1/72 scale, the finished model represents the “heft” of this big, beautiful carrier fighter. My thanks to IPMS/USA and to Hobbico for providing the kit.


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