F-14A "VF-143 Pukin Dogs"
In December of 2019, Academy released a newly tooled 1/72 scale F-14A Tomcat kit. Like many of Tomcat kits of recent years, the kit is clearly designed to maximize the use of the molds to enable the company to issue not only the “A” version of the Tomcat, but also the F-14A+/B and the ultimate Tomcat, the F-14D.
Upon opening the box, you will find 8 sprues of grey plastic parts, 2 clear sprues and separately molded intake trunks, ejection seats and upper and lower fuselage halves and a Cartograph printed decal sheet for single F-14A of VF-143. The styrene parts have finely molded features and crisp recessed panel lines. Unfortunately, you will also find quite a lot of ejector pin marks as they are on almost every part. Many of the parts are single sided parts where the ejector pin marks are on the inside of the part and therefore will not be seen when assembled. However, many of the parts, such as the gear doors, missiles, missile rails and intake trunks, are double sided parts, so you will need to address the ejector pin marks on these parts before assembling or painting the parts. I used Mr. Surfacer and sanding sticks to address those marks that would be visible, especially on the insides of the landing gear doors.
The kit includes many of the optional parts that are applicable to the F-14A+/B or D, so the first thing I did was to identify the parts that were not applicable to the early block F-14A I was building. I then cut these parts from the sprues and added them to my Tomcat parts box. For the most part this helped prevent me from installing the wrong part (with one exception discussed below). Some of the unused parts would be appropriate if you were to build a late block F-14A, or even an early block aircraft that had been retrofitted to be a “Bombcat” as the kit includes a LANTIRN pod with its adapter for the lower right shoulder pylon, bomb racks for two Phoenix pallets, the AIM-9 launch rails with the self-contained BOZ chaff dispenser, and two laser guided bombs.
As with most aircraft kits, construction starts with the cockpit area. The cockpit side consoles are all separate pieces, allowing for the different configurations seen on the various versions of the Tomcat, the other side console panels are present on the kit sprues, but went into the parts box. The consoles have finely molded details, but as 1/72 cockpits are small and hard to peer into, I opted to use the provided decals for the consoles instead. I also used the decals for the front and rear instrument panels, all of which snuggled down nicely with a little Micro Sol. Early Tomcats had CRT type display screens, so I felt the green of the CRT screens on the decals was a bit too bright for me, so I toned them down a bit with some Tamiya clear blue. A nice touch in the rear cockpit is the inclusion of the Radar Intercept Officer’s radar controller handle below the large TID scope. The GRU-7(A) ejection seats are provided on individual sprues, again indicating that future kits will have the NACES/SJU17A seats for the F-14D. The seats are sharply molded and include a separate top section with a nice representation of the upper ejection handles of the GRU-7(A). No harnesses are provided either on the seat cushion parts or as decals. I am sure Eduard or one of the other accessory manufacturers will address this shortfall.
After the cockpit has been assembled, it is attached to the top of the front nose gear bay and then sandwiched between the front fuselage halves. The fit of the parts throughout the kit is outstanding and engineered so that if assembled carefully, you will need minimal filler on the kit. In the second part of step 2, I made a mistake as I inadvertently grabbed the wrong insert for panel behind the gun fairing and by the time I realized it, the glue had set and the part was not coming out. There are three options for this panel and the actual panels changed over the life of the Tomcat, so you will need to do some research to see which panel is correct for the airplane and date you are depicting with your model.
The next step is inserting the lower fuselage section aft of the nose gear bay and the radome. Before you insert the lower fuselage part, you will need to decide how you are going to arm your Tomcat. If you are going to mount the Phoenix rails, you will need to open some holes in this part for the forward attachment points for the rails. Before gluing on the radome, I filled it with some lead shot secured by white glue to ensure my Tomcat would not be a tail sitter.
Next up is assembly of the long intakes of the Tomcat. Like the seats, each intake section is separately molded, so I assume that there are separate moldings for the F-14B and the F-14D as there are some differences in the engine bay doors for the F110 engines. While the intake sections are nicely molded, there are some prominent ejector pin marks on the inside of the intake trunks that you will need to address. There was also a slight mold seam along the outside edge of each intake trunk, but this is easily removed and smoothed out with a fine sanding stick. The intake interiors are constructed next along with the front face of the engine compressor section. Careful assembly will reduce the interior seams in the intakes, but they are so far inside the intake that they are not easily seen. Remember to paint the intakes and intake trunks white before attaching the front compressor face and installing the intakes in the lower body section.
As molded the kit actually depicts a late block F-14A or F-14A+/B as it includes the ALQ-126 antennas molded on the lower body section, so if you are building an early block Tomcat you will need to remove the two antennas on the lower body half. I recommend doing so before you attach the assembled intake sections to avoid damaging the sharp edges of the intakes. You will also need to open several holes in the lower fuselage part if you are going to mount the Phoenix rails. I elected to install just the two forward Phoenix rails as prior to the Tomcat becoming a bomb carrier, the aft rails were rarely mounted.
Unlike a number of other F-14 kits, even though the wings are molded with everything retracted (slats, flaps and spoilers), Academy’s Tomcat is not designed to have the wings move together, instead each wing moves separately, so you will need to take a careful look when you finally display your completed kit to ensure that you have the wings at the same angle. One benefit of this approach is that there is no complicated internal mechanism to be constructed to keep the wings in sync.
Academy provides two options for the airbags that inflate to close the gaps between the wings and the fuselage – deflated or fully inflated. As the airbags are only inflated when the engines are running, unless you plan to depict your Tomcat as manned with the engines running, use parts C31 and C32 to depict the deflated airbags in step 5. In step 5 the instructions also tell you to insert the upper section of the fuselage “boattail” between the vertical tails (part A7). I recommend you hold off until after the upper and lower fuselage halves are joined and you are also ready to install the corresponding section of the lower fuselage as these two parts need to meet at the aft end of the jet. If either part is out of alignment when installed, the aft fuselage will not look right. I also recommend adding some small sheet styrene tabs to the front of part A7 to ensure a solid joint between it and the upper body section as otherwise it is a simple butt joint and could snap if any pressure is exerted on it.
Before the upper and lower fuselage halves are joined, the instructions would have you assemble and install the wings. In dry fitting the parts I discovered that if I did not glue the wings to the wing sweep hinges (parts B14 and B15), I could slide the wings on and off the hinges, which would allow me to paint and decal the wings separate from the fuselage. As a bonus the hinge parts work pretty well as handles for holding the fuselage while painting and decaling. One problem with many F-14 kits, is that when the wings are swept back and forth, they put pressure on the seam at the front of the wing gloves. By experimenting with parts B14 and B15 and the assembled wings, I discovered that if I installed the hinges one way, moving the wings forward caused the seam between the upper and lower wing gloves to split, but if I swapped and inverted these parts, the wings swept back and forth without splitting the seam. Unfortunately, I had not marked the hinges with the part numbers, so I do not know which one ended up where but try it yourself to see which way works best for you.
After joining the upper and lower fuselage sections, the nose section is added and as a testimony to the excellent engineering of the kit, I had absolutely no seams to address once this was done.
Construction now moves to the engine area. Academy has molded the exhausts tubes so that they can be painted and inserted after the engine fairings in the fuselage. I left them off until the end of construction so that I could paint and weather the exhaust tubes and the nozzles separately from the main fuselage section. The lower portion of the boattail is now added and married up to the upper section. The fit here is still surprisingly good, but I had a few gaps on the bottom where the two parts meet and required a little filler to address.
Next the instructions would have you attached the vertical tails and the horizontal stabilators. I recommend leaving the horizontal stabilators off until the end of the build as it is much easier to paint and decal them off the fuselage.
Steps 9 through12 deal with the assembly and installation of the landing gear and the landing gear doors. Again, I recommend not installing these parts until much later in the build to make painting easier and to avoid damaging these parts during painting. I elected not to install the external tanks on my build, so I had to remove a slight ridge under each intake that is used for locating the pylons for the external tanks.
Steps 13 through 17 deal with the assembly, painting, decaling and installation of the external tanks and weapons. I also left these parts off the kit until final assembly for the reasons discussed above.
The last big item to be installed before painting was the canopy, however there is a visible mold seam down the center of the main canopy, so this was sanded and polished out before the canopy was dipped in Future and left overnight to cure. I have become a big fan of Eduard’s masking sets, so I purchased the Eduard set for this kit and installed it before attaching both sections of the canopy for painting. I did not install the interior canopy rails (part C22) at this stage to ensure that I had a good seal between the canopy and the fuselage. The last items to be installed were the various sensors and instrument probes on the sides of the nose. These are very finely molded parts and unfortunately, I managed to launch both parts D2 across the model desk, not to be seen again and had to create replacements from stretched sprue. I also left part A5 at the tip of the nose until after painting as I had painted it chrome silver and did not want to damage it during painting and decaling.
Early F-14s were painted gloss gull grey over gloss white with the upper control surfaces also in white. I first painted the entire model NATO Black as a base to allow some weathering to be done, particularly with the white undersides. I painted the lower areas and the control surfaces Tamiya white, allowing some of the black undercoat to show through. Next, I masked off and painted the radome with radome tan and once that was dry, I masked it off to protect it while the topside color was painted. I masked off the demarcation line between the upper and lower colors with snakes of silly putty supplemented with thin Tamiya thin tape where needed. For the upper control surfaces, the rudders were easily masked with tape, however masking off the spoilers on the wings will take time and lots of small pieces of tape, so do not rush. The upper surfaces were painted with Testor’s Gloss Gull Grey FS 16440. Early Tomcats had natural metal leading edges on the wings, stabilators and the vertical tails, which I replicated with Tamiya flat aluminum. I did not have any of the paints listed in the instructions for the dark blue tips of the vertical tails, but I found a bottle of Testor’s Dark Blue (#4660) in my paint stash that is pretty close to the color I was looking for. Once the paint had dried, I airbrushed on a couple coats of Future to prepare the kit for decaling.
The kit decals are for AE 100 of VF-143 based on the USS America in 1976 and are printed by Cartograph. Plan on setting aside several hours for getting all the decals on as there a lot of them to apply. I used Micro Set and Micro Sol to apply the decals and as expected the conformed wonderfully to the underlying kit details. The kit also includes decals to simulate the wear patterns seen on some Tomcats when the wings are swept fully forward. I elected not to use these decals as I felt they were a bit overdone and of the wrong color as the decals look like the paint on the wings has been scraped down to bare metal, whereas photos of this area show these marks are dirt or grime marks not bare metal.
Once the decals had dried, I washed off any excess decaling solution and then sealed the decals with a coat of Future. Tomcats of this period had a glossy finish, however, I have found that a n overall gloss finish on a model makes it look a bit toy-like, so I applied a finish coat of Testor’s semi-gloss instead. After this dried I added all of the smaller parts that had been left off, other than the wings and did some detail painting such as the navigation lights on the wingtip (clear red for the left and clear blue – yes blue for the right) and the leading edge of the left vertical tail (red again). Academy has molded the white rear position light located on the aft edge of the left vertical tail, so I painted it white and added a coat of Future when this was dry.
The kit includes 4 AIM-54A Phoenix missiles, 2 AIM-9 D/J’s, 2 AIM-7E’s (and 2 later versions of the AIM-7) and 2 external tanks. A nice touch is that the decals for the AIM-54s include serial numbers for each missile and unlike many other kits, Academy includes 4 different serial numbers. I elected to arm my Tomcat with 2-2-2 but no external tanks as tanks were not often carried when the Tomcats first entered service.
During final assembly I must have installed part C22 incorrectly, as when I slid the rear canopy into position, I ended up with a significant gap between the bottom of the canopy and the fuselage. Next time I will trim off the tab at the back of part C22 to see if that solves the issue. However, as I wanted to display the canopy open anyway, I manufactured an actuating rod from stretched sprue, painted it chrome silver and positioned it behind part A14 so that the tab at the front of part C22 sat between the upper posts of part A14.
Academy has produced a very nice Tomcat kit, which (except for the ejector pin mark issue) has been very well designed, fits together wonderfully and most importantly, really looks like a Tomcat. I know I am planning to pick up the other versions of the Tomcat when Academy them.
Highly recommended! Thank you to MRC for the review kit and to IPMS-USA for letting me review it.