What’s in the Bag?
The presentation of every Afterburner decal I’ve ever seen is very eye-catching, and this one is no exception. The cover sheet has left-side profiles of the 8 aircraft represented in the package, along with a color print of the squadron patch of each aircraft. Flip the baggie over and you’re presented with a very colorful 8” x 10” decal sheet full of markings and stencils. Stick your meaty paws inside the baggie and it gets better. In addition to the 8” x 10” decal sheet, there is a 5” x 8” sheet with further markings and stencils, mostly black, white, and brown. All decals, printed by Cartograf, appear to be in register, shiny, sharply printed, and with excellent color saturation. They do, however, feel thicker than your typical aftermarket sheet; we’ll find out more about that when I put them on a model. Also in the bag are four 8 ½” x 11” sheets of paper, printed on both sides, giving you stencil placement and left and right color profiles of every aircraft offered, along with scrap views of the inner vertical fins and upper wings, where appropriate.
What Aircraft are Represented?
As stated earlier, you’re given markings for 8 SuperBugs, all in FS36320/36375 camo gray with various colors of trim (see attached profiles); 2 F/A-18Es, 5 F/A-18Fs and 1 F/A-18G. Here’s the specific breakout of markings included:
- F/A-18F, 166791, VX-9 ‘XE-260’, Feb. 2011
- F/A-18E, 166434, VFA-14 “Tophatters”, Mar. 2011
- F/A-18E, 166901, VFA-195 “Dambusters”, March 2011
- F/A-18F, 166663, VFA-211 “Black Lions”, June 2011
- F/A-18F, 166917, VFA-102 CO Retro Scheme, March 2011
- F/A-18F, 166621, VFA-103 CO, May 2011
- F/A-18F, 165875, VX-23 “Green Hornet”, April 2010
- EA-18G, 166894, VAQ-132 CO, Operation Odyssey Dawn, Aviano AB April 2011
I was able to locate at least 1 picture of every aircraft represented and, as best as I can tell from those pictures, these decals are accurate. The attached profile scans show each option included in the package.
Things to Know
There are enough stencils provided for 2 aircraft replacing all kit stencils and then some. Afterburner even includes the little white squares seen inside the tailpipes. You will still need the kit decals if you don’t want to use a wash to highlight all the screens on the model and, if you mount stores on your model, you’ll either need the kit decals or some other source.
Several options will require some trim painting that could cause color-matching headaches. If you choose the VFA-102 bird, you’ll have to paint the rudders and wing tips red to match some of the decals. FS31136, insignia red, is quoted in the instructions as the correct shade. I used Model Master FS31136 and while it was the closest match I had in my paint stash, it was too dark, so be forewarned. See pic01 through pic04 of my completed model for the color clash.
If you want to do VFA-213, you will have to paint the blue on the rudders, but no FS number is given. Fortunately, you don’t have to match the blue to any decal on the sheet, so you can fudge it. If I was doing that version, I’d use either insignia blue or Blue Angels Blue.
Most disappointing though, if you want to do the VFA-195 Dambusters aircraft, you’re on your own to paint the green stripes on the upper fuselage and to match it to the green on the decals. In Afterburner’s defense, to include those green stripes would have required another whole sheet, but an approximate FS number or paint brand match for that green would be a huge help in doing, what is to me, the most attractive aircraft on the sheet.
How Do They Work
I chose the Hasegawa F/A-18F for this build and decided on the VFA-102 markings, in part so I could test the opacity of the decals. How many times do you see a model with a light-colored decal over contrasting colors and one or more of those colors are visible under the decal? Detracts from the build, doesn’t it? With the VFA-102 option, you have a large, white diamond on the vertical tails, half of it on gray and half on dark red; a recipe for that red bleeding through the white. More on how that test came out later.
Following painting, I coated my Bug with 2 coats of Model Master lacquer gloss, gave it a buffing with a 6,000 MicroMesh pad, and it was ready for decals. I always apply decals to the bottom of my models first to get a feel for how the decals are going to work. That way, if something goes wrong, it’ll be less visible. The first thing I noticed is that the decals tended to grab hold immediately and were difficult to move if I used straight MicroSet as a wetting agent. However, by diluting the MicroSet with water, I had plenty of time to move each decal into its proper place. Other than that, Afterburner’s decals performed flawlessly, needing nothing more than MicroSet to get them to settle down into and over the surface detail, except that the decal with stripes for the tail hook required SolvaSet to wrap tightly around that part.
The instructions don’t say if the decals are sized for the Hasegawa or the Revell kits, but for those decals where size mattered, they fit my Hasegawa kit perfectly. I don’t know if you’d have the same results with a Revell kit.
One feature I was very thankful for was the way the white diamond decals for the wing tips were sized and separated for each part they had to go on. For example, there are four separate parts on the wing tops that take a piece of white diamond on them – the wing, slat, flap, and that little piece between the wing and flap; and three on the bottom – the wing, slat, and flap. Rather than giving you one long piece each for the top and bottom, leaving it up to you to wrestle with and cut, you’re given 4 pieces for each top and 3 for each bottom that fit each kit part perfectly. A very nice touch. Pic05 and pic06 show how perfectly sized they are for this kit.
Another nice touch is a minimum amount of clear film between those decals with multiple letters and numbers, such as “NAVY” and “VFA-102”. Normally, you get clear film from top to bottom between the figures. On this sheet, there is just a small strip of clear between letters and numbers, something like this, “N=A=V=Y”. Less clear film means less chance of silvering, so that’s a good thing. However, you have to be careful moving these decals around as each letter/number is more likely to fold under or over itself while being moved. It happened to me several times but fortunately, these decals are tough and, with a little water and prodding, all righted themselves.
As for that opacity test with the white diamonds over the gray and red on vertical tail, no bleed-through at all there. However, there was a small amount of the black lettering on the diamond bleeding through the slime lights on the vertical tail. It’s minimal and you really have to look for it, so it’s not really a problem. Close up pic07 and pic08 show no red bleeding through the white, but a small amount of black bleeding through the slime lights. However, pic09 and pic10, from further away, barely show the bleed-through.
One little nit for the VF-102 option. The instructions call for a triple-diamond decal on each side of the centerline tank. For the life of me, I couldn’t find them on either sheet. As I’m writing this, I’m searching them again and still don’t see ‘em. Fortunately, the kit decals have a VF-102 option, so I used those.
A final surprise, and the last decals to go on my SuperBug, were 24 3-square decals, one for each of the inside petals of the tail pipe (see pic11 and pic12). These were quite a challenge to get positioned just right, but worth the effort, as an anal exam of a SuperBug shows them there. I struggled with the first few since none of the tools on my table were quite right to get the decal off the paper and positioned in such a tight space. But once I began using a partially straightened paper clip, the rest went much easier.
While the decals seemed thicker than normal on the paper, when settled down on the model they’re acceptably thin. Pic13 through pic16 show how well the 3-color national insignia settled into the piano hinge panel lines on the fuselage, a tough act for any decal.
As you can see, there was no silvering anywhere and all decals settled fully into and over surface detail. And where fit was important, they fit perfectly.
With vivid, opaque colors, colorful markings, sharp printing, perfect registration, excellent instructions, numerous options, and perfect performance, I highly recommend this decal set……. unless you have your heart set on the VFA-195 Dambusters bird and your color matching skills are as bad as mine.
My thanks to Afterburner Decals for providing this sample and to IPMS/USA for the opportunity to review it.