Lockheed Martin F-104 Starfighter A/C
This is a re-release of the F-104 A/C kit originally released by Italeri back in 2014. The kit includes six sprues of grey plastic, one clear sprue, a photo-etch sheet and two large decal sheets. In examining the sprues, it is clear that some of them are common to Italeri’s 1/32 F-104G as the sprues include the later zero-zero ejection seat, AIM-9L Sidewinders, several pylons that are not used on the F-104A or C, as well as two styles of ventral fins and exhaust nozzles. The decals depict five F-104As and one F-104C, however two of the six aircraft (markings E and F) are repeats from the original 2014 issue. Unlike the previous release, all 6 of the aircraft depicted in this kit are in a natural metal finish with white upper wings. I build 1/72 aircraft almost exclusively, so this kit was a real change of pace for me, initially just due to its size – almost 23 inches long and 9 inches wide, but also because I have fastidiously avoided building any kit that required me to finish the model in natural metal.
I strongly recommend that the first thing you do is to review the instruction sheet completely, decide which markings you are going to use, and which weapons you plan on using, and then set aside the parts you are not going to need in order to avoid confusion later. Resist the temptation to add the extra parts to your parts drawer until after you have completed the build or to throw or give them away, as errors do happen.
The kit is designed to allow several display options in that the fuselage is split into forward and aft halves, so that you can display it as a complete aircraft, or in sections with the tail section removed with the J79 engine sticking out of the forward fuselage or with the engine also removed. The kit also gives you the option of leaving open the gun bay doors to display the M61 Vulcan (if installed on the version you are building), the speed brakes deployed or closed, the upper fuselage avionics bays open or closed and the cockpit canopy open or closed. In addition, the slats and flaps on the wings are separate pieces allowing them to be displayed either fully retracted or lowered. As I wanted to illustrate all these options, I elected to have pretty much everything deployed or opened up.
On page 3 of the instructions, which are presented in CAD style, Italeri includes a color chart referencing both FS numbers and Italeri paints (for those that exist). I did find one error on the paint chart as it lists color “O” as Flat Gull Gray FS 36622, Flat Light Gull Gray would be 36440 and the instructions list Flat Dark Gull Grey FS 36231 as a separate color called Interior Grey, while FS36622 is the underside grey in the Southeast Asia/Vietnam paint scheme. I opted for FS36622 where color O was indicated.
As with most aircraft kits, construction starts in the cockpit, but in this case with the ejection seat first. Each step includes color callouts for the various parts, however, be sure to check your references as parts 5D and 8D, which make up the headrest for the ejection seat, are listed as being FS36231 Interior Grey, when they should be flat red (color E). The kit includes photo etch parts for the harness and lap belts along with restraints along the sides of the seat. The etch is a little stiff to use, so I recommend annealing it first before painting and bending it. After the seat was completely assembled, I set it aside for installation at the end of the build in order to keep it clean and undamaged. The next step was construction of the cockpit itself. The kit includes very a nicely detailed instrument panel and detailed side consoles, which paint up very well. What is surprising to me is that despite the decal sheets being large and extensive, there are no decals for the instrument dials for the front instrument panel and there is absolutely no detail molded inside any of the instrument dials, so once painted you end up with a lot of black circles. I used a pin and a fine paint brush to create my own dial faces using photos of F-104A cockpits. I then placed a drop of Future in each dial to represent the glass. When you are ready to install parts 27C and 28C, the ejection seat rails, you will need to use the completed ejection seat to set the proper spacing between them.
The next step is assembling the main landing gear and the main landing gear bay. Italeri has molded the two main gear legs as a single piece which slots into the aircraft’s keel and this assembly is then attached to the roof of the gear bay. I like this approach as it ensures that both main gear legs are fixed at the correct angle. The bay is completed by attaching the front and rear bulkheads. I painted everything flat aluminum as per the instructions, however, when I was dry fitting this assembly in the fuselage, I discovered that depending on your viewing angle, parts of the upper surfaces of the gear bay and the outer surfaces of the bulkheads were visible, so I ended up painting both sides of everything aluminum along with the inside of the fuselage halves above the main gear bay. This step also has you construct and paint the aft section of the intake trunking leading from the aft gear bay bulkhead to the front of the engine. Initially I thought it was interesting that there is no intake trunking from the intakes back to the forward gear bay bulkhead, however, after building up the intakes, I discovered that it is nearly impossible to look down them and tell that there is no trunking.
Next is the J79 engine and again, I recommend you check your references regarding colors as the instructions advise you to paint the interior of the exhaust tube flat black, but in several of the photos that I found, this area appears to have an almost transparent green tint to it. To capture this color, I painted the inside of the engine FS36231 and then applied an uneven coat of Tamiya clear green. The engine builds up into a nice replica right out of the box with just two seams to address – which can be minimized with careful gluing – providing a good canvas for those who like to superdetail. I contented myself to experimenting with painting to make the engine look used. If you decide to super detail the engine, you will probably have to display it on the provided engine stand as tolerances around the engine and the photoetch aft bulkhead (part 6E) are tight. If you have decided to model the fuselage completely closed up and the tail section attached, you can skip most of the painting of the engine as all that will be visible is the exhaust tube.
Two other options that you will need to consider before closing the fuselage are whether you intend to install the inflight refueling probe and whether or not the aircraft you are modeling has the M61 Vulcan installed. If you are going to install the refueling probe, you will need to open the mounting holes on the left fuselage. I also recommend installing either part 14A (gun nozzle) or 4A (blanking plate) in the left fuselage at this time rather than in step 14 as provided in the instructions as it will be much easier to fish it out with before the fuselage halves are joined together. I also jumped ahead several steps at this point and installed the intakes and ramps as I felt it would be much easier to sand and fair them in before the fuselage halves are joined and the cockpit installed. Fit of the intake parts was surprisingly good and again the plastic used by Italeri sands very well. I did tape off some of the surrounding detail before sanding in order to protect it.
Before you join the fuselage halves together, be sure to insert clear parts 10F in each intake. I believe they are position lights as the instructions have you paint the inside of the left one red and the right one green. I recommend you sand them down a bit as well so that they are flush with the fuselage sides as mine stood a little proud of it. You may also need to use a little filler or white glue around the sides of each as mine were slightly smaller than the holes. As discussed above the engine can either be attached to the airframe or displayed by itself on the provided engine stand. I elected to keep mine separate. Once the fuselage halves are dry, the next step is to assemble the nose gear bay. As I am a bit of a klutz, especially with a model that is much larger than I normally build, I decided to not glue the nose gear strut in at this point, but instead to leave it moveable to that I could rotate it up into the gear bay while sanding or doing other work to avoid snapping it off. I also left off the actuators, nose gear steering unit and the landing light for installation after painting was completed. If you forget to install part 5F before installing lower fuselage panel like I did, it is not a big deal as the hole is easily filled with Krystal Klear later. I recommend not installing assembly Z (the shell ejector chute) until the end of the build as it is a butt joint against the lower fuselage. I also recommend leaving off the nose gear doors and the retracting mechanism (part 26C) until much later in the build. If you are building version F, you will need to decide what you are going to hang on the centerline station as there are different holes to open up in part 9C before installing in the fuselage, depending on which pylon you will be using. Take your time and do a couple of test fittings for part 9C and assembly “Y” in order to ensure the best fit and to minimize the amount of filling, sanding and polishing you will need to do in light of the natural metal finish.
Next up is the cockpit coaming and the doors to the avionics bays. I dipped all the clear parts in Future and let them set up for a couple of days before installing them. Be sure to paint the side brackets for the HUD display (part 2F) before installing it. The instructions do not list a color, so I used flat black on mine. It was at this stage that I noted a downside to the kit in that in some areas - the exterior side of some of the avionics bay hatches have slightly sunken areas where there is detail molded on the inside the hatch. This is also the case for gun bay doors and some of the gear doors. I assumed that painting would help hide this flaw, but I discovered later that the AK Interactive Xtreme Metal paints I used, went on in such thin coats that they did not cover this issue. This stage also addresses the construction of some small photo-etch parts for the cockpit. I found the instructions on how to bend part 8PE confusing and managed to mangle two of the three samples included before getting the third one to look sort of like the one in the instructions. Once completed these assemblies were set aside for installation later.
The instructions call for the installation of the avionics bay hatches next, which is fine if you are going to have the hatches closed on your model, but mine were going to be open, so I tacked them in place with white glue for now. You are also supposed to build, paint and install the M61 Vulcan at this stage, but I also left this off for later installation and tacked on the gun bay doors with white glue for painting. As I had already installed the intakes, next up was attaching the nose radome. Mine went on a little off kilter but fairing it in with a little filler and some sanding was straight forward. As the front fuselage was now complete and fairly easy to handle, I elected to address the seams at this stage. The raised spine of the F-104 actually made it easier to address the upper seam without worrying about damaging the fuselage detail. On the underside, I did not have to do a lot of filling and sanding as I had spent some time refining the fit of the various inserts. One area that I did spend a fair amount of time on was blending in the two ends of the main gear bay spar section into the lower fuselage as there was a slight step between the two. I checked my progress on the seams by spraying them with Testors gloss black. Once I was happy with the seams, I used 3200, 4000 and 6000 grit sanding sponges to smooth out and polish the seams and the black primer coat, and then restored any lost detail with a sharp Xacto or a scribing tool.
Moving on to the wings, before gluing the top and bottom halves together, if you are going to hang pylons under the wings for either drop tanks or bombs, you will need to drill out the inner set of holes on the lower wing halves. The fit between the upper and lower wing halves was good and as the leading-edge slats and trailing edge flaps are separate pieces, the only seam to address is a small one on the underside of the wing. This step also includes the installation of the speed brakes, which I skipped as I was going to have them deployed. The fit of the wings to the fuselage was exceptionally good and I only had a small seam along the aft wing root on one side to address. You could probably leave the wings off and paint them separately if you wanted to, but I glued mine on and they turned out to be a particularly useful handle during the painting and decaling stage (I left the slats and flaps off until the end of the build as well).
The next stage of assembly is the construction of the rear fuselage and F-104’s “T” tail. I recommend installing all four of part 7F, then painting the exposed interior side of each flat red before you paint the interior of both halves of the tail section. I used flat green instead of gloss green as the pictures I looked had more of a flat finish. While the paint was drying, I attached part 37B to part 15B (the rudder) and blended it in with a little filler and some sanding. Once the paint was dry, I glued the fuselage halves together, attached the rudder and the horizontal tail. I recommend using superglue on the lower fuselage seam as mine split a couple of times, including once after it had been primed, causing extra work. I left off the photo-etch front bulkhead until after painting so that I could plug the inside of the tail with foam to protect the interior color. Once the tail assembly had dried, I did a dry fit of it to the fuselage just to see if there were any issues. I discovered that Italeri has molded the fuselage halves for the tail section with a very narrow lip (about 1/16th of an inch) that fits inside the front fuselage halves. If you are going to build the fuselage closed up and the tail section attached, I think that this joint could be problematic, and I would recommend adding some sheet styrene tabs for additional support when attaching the tail section.
I really like the fact that Italeri has done its homework and has included in the kit several pieces of the maintenance gear used on the F-104. These include not only the pilot’s boarding ladder, but also a stand for the engine and a rolling stand for the tail section. The instructions include detail painting instructions for all three pieces, however, I disagree with the instructions regarding the color for the boarding ladder as Italeri says it should be painted FS34079 flat green, whereas all of the photos I found of early F-104s show it as being painted yellow. I opted for yellow and painted all three pieces Tamiya flat yellow over a NATO Black primer coat, to tone down the yellow a bit.
I left off all of the gear doors and the remaining gear struts and actuators until after painting was completed to simplify painting them and the airframe. I did a quick test fit of the nose pitot and decided to install and blend it in before painting in order to eliminate a slight step between it and the radome.
The canopy sections provided by Italeri are commendably thin and very clear. I dipped them all in future as additional projection and once they were dry, I masked them with frosted Scotch tape, trimmed with a new blade in my Xacto. The canopy frames are raised just enough to make this a fairly easy process. There is a small bump at the base of the front windscreen that in most pictures appears to be a clear lens for some piece of equipment, so I put a drop of masking fluid over it to protect it from paint.
I was fortunate enough to find a color photograph of the aircraft depicted by markings “E” of the kit and the photograph showed an exceptionally clean airplane that was mostly polished aluminum with white upper wings and a light grey radome. To minimize later cleanup in preparation for the natural metal paint I taped off the wings and the radome and sprayed both of them Testors gloss white. Once this was dry, I painted the radome FS36622 light grey. I tried to tape off the pitot tube to keep it white but managed to bang it into the spray booth while doing so and snapped it off (1st time). After re-attaching the pitot and re-sanding it, it was sprayed white again and once this was dry, I was able to paint the radome. I set the fuselage aside to allow the white and grey colors to harden completely and focused on painting the tail section. First step was to apply masking fluid to the outside of each of the part 7F’s installed earlier to ensure they remain clear. Next, I painted the entire tail section with AK Interactive Xtreme Metal Black Base as a base coat, with mixed results. In some areas the black base went on very smoothly and dried with a nice glossy finish, while in other areas it had a patchy appearance and when dry the finish varied from very glossy in some areas to very flat in others. Next time I think I will use a gloss black enamel as my base coat to achieve a more consistent finish. In the photograph I found of the aircraft I was replicating, the silver on the tail section has a different sheen than the forward fuselage does, so I painted the tail section Dark Aluminum overall and picked out a couple of darker panels with Metalizer non-buffing steel. Once I was happy with the colors on the tail section, I removed the masking around the edges and the foam I had filled it with and set aside the tail section aside to dry and harden.
Before painting the fuselage, I masked the two position lights on the intake sides with masking fluid, taped over the white upper wings and taped off the grey radome. I then sprayed the entire fuselage with AK Interactive black base for the base coat. This time most of the black base dried with a nice glossy finish, but there were still a couple of areas under the fuselage where the base coat dried with a flat finish. I then applied a couple of very thin coats of AK’s Polished Aluminum to the fuselage. To ensure the paint had plenty of time to dry and harden, I stuck a piece of foam in the nose gear bay as a support, cleaned out the kit box and then placed the painted fuselage in the box, put the lid on it and put it away for about a week.
While the fuselage paint was drying, I painted the slats and flaps (white on top, polished aluminum underneath), the landing gear doors and speed brakes (flat aluminum inside and polished aluminum outside) and then set them aside as well. I also painted and assembled the M61 Vulcan next using the colors listed in the instructions at this time.
Once the tail section had dried for a couple of days, I applied the decals, starting first with the unit and aircraft markings and then applying the stencils as some of the stencils are actually stenciled over the unit or aircraft markings. The decals are printed by Cartograph and are very thin. One thing that was surprising is that many of the decals actually depict several separate stencils but have been printed as one long decal with thin sections of decal film connecting them. Since almost all of the decals were applied to the silver painted sections, the decal film pretty much disappeared as the decals dried, but I would be concerned using decals like this on a finish that was not perfectly smooth, as I think there would be a fair amount of silvering. I tried to avoid using setting solutions as much as I could as I was not sure how these solutions would react with the metal paint, but in most cases, they were not necessary as the decals conformed very well when applied. I also made sure to soak up as much of the water after applying each decal in order to avoid water stains.
While the decals on the tail section were drying, I went back to the fuselage, removed the masking from the wings and the radome, snapping off the pitot tube again (2nd time). After re-attaching the pitot tube, I masked off the radome and the upper wings, using sticky notes and sprayed on a couple of coats of Future to prepare these areas for decaling. I then used sticky notes to mask off the speed brake wells, the nose gear bay and the main gear bay and painted them all flat aluminum. I also painted the gear struts and actuators flat aluminum at this time.
Now that the painting was done it was time for decaling the fuselage. Be sure to set aside a fair amount of time for decaling this airplane as there are over 100 stencils on the decal sheets, plus the national insignias and the markings for the specific aircraft you are modeling. Again, I applied the markings for the specific aircraft I was modeling first (including the national insignias) followed by the stencils. If you are going to have the speed brakes deployed or the gun bay opened, you will need to tack them in place before decaling as there are markings that go over them. Once these decals had dried, I used an Xacto knife with a new blade to gently slice through these decals following the panel lines. I noted a couple of errors in the decal sheet in that the stencil diagram lists stencils 102 and 103 to be applied to the vertical tail, but I was unable to find them on either of the two decal sheets. In addition, the kit only provides decals for the upper sides of the AIM-9 wingtip rails when there should be decals on both sides of each rail. I also discovered that the anti-glare panel decal is much too wide when it reaches the windscreen. If you look at photos of silver F-104s the antiglare panel should be snug up against the windscreen and then extend back right up against the horizontal frames of the main canopy. Unfortunately, the kit decal is too wide and when installed there is a significant gap between the sides of the anti-glare panel and the canopy. I did not notice this until I was almost done decaling, when it was too late to go back and paint the anti-glare panel instead.
After the decals had dried, I again used sticky notes to mask off the radome and the upper wings. The upper wings received another coat of future while the radome and the anti-glare panel received a coat of clear flat. Once this had dried for a couple of days, it was time to start installing everything. I first installed the retraction arms and actuators for the nose gear strut and glued the strut in place. I then added the actuators and retraction arms for the main gear. Next up were the wheels, which had been assembled and painted earlier. Each wheel is molded with a flat spot on one side to simulate the weight of the aircraft. The main wheels are keyed with square attachment pegs to ensure that the wheels are installed with the flattened side down, so I attached them first. Once they had dried, I attached the nose wheel with slow drying superglue and setting the fuselage on a piece of glass to ensure all three tires contacted the ground. Next up was installation of the landing gear doors. Unlike many other military aircraft, the large main gear doors of the F-104 are actually almost completely closed when the aircraft is on the ground and powered down. Since I wanted to depict an aircraft undergoing maintenance, I glued these two doors closed up. The doors will not close completely as they hit the gear actuators, but they come pretty close.
Before installing the speed brakes, I popped off the main canopy, which I had tacked on with white glue and removed the masking from the canopy. I found that I had to go around the outline of the tape with a sharp Xacto in order to cut through the metal coating from the paint before I could remove the masking. After cleaning up the masked edges, I installed the ECS pipe inside the main canopy section along with the photo-etch mirrors and I installed the small photo etch parts assembled earlier on the canopy rails. Next up was installation of the slar and flaps, which I posed slightly drooped, followed by the speed brakes in the fully deployed position. I then installed the M61 Vulcan, followed by the aft gun bay door which hangs down vertically when open. The forward gun bay door was not attached as it is not hinged like the aft door but is completely removed when the bay is opened up. I then installed the avionics bay hatches using the actuators provided in the kit followed by the main canopy.
The last step was to install the engine on its stand. It is such a tight fit that I did not use any glue at all when installing it. I also did not glue the tail section to its stand to simplify transporting it as it is rather top heavy when in place.
This kit took a lot longer to construct than I had expected partly due to its size but also, I suspect in large part due to my aversion to natural metal finishes. Now that the build is done, I have to admit that I actually enjoyed it and learned a lot about how to apply metal finishes and more importantly what not to do when applying natural metal finishes.
This kit builds up into a really nice model of an early F-104 Starfighter and I really liked the options of displaying it opened up and broken apart.
Highly recommended for those not adverse to natural metal finishes.
Thank you to MRC for the review sample and to IPMS-USA for letting me build and review it.