Academy 1/48 Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22A Raptor
MSRP $76.50 $68.85 from Squadron Mail Order
Images and text Copyright © 2011 by Matt Swan
The F-22A Raptor built by Lockheed Martin in cooperation with Boeing represents the fifth generation of The United States air superiority fighter. Not only is it an air superiority fighter but also fills several other mission functions including ground attack, electronic warfare and signals intelligence. The aircraft traces its origins back to 1981 when the Air Force first began to look for a replacement for the F-15 Eagle. Utilizing stealth technology, super-cruse engines that allow for supersonic flight without the use of afterburners and systems integration the F-22A began to enter service in 2005.
The Raptor was conceived as a deterrent to fifth generation aircraft coming from Russia and China however those programs have yet to produce any viable candidates which means the F-22 currently has no clear air-to-air combat mission. After 183 units have been produced no further procurement budget is approved and by 2009 all construction funding had dried up. Lockheed Martin claims that the aircraft is the best overall fighter in the world today because of its combination of stealth, speed, agility, precision and situational awareness unfortunately there is no current market for the aircraft. U.S. procurement is dead in the water and sales outside the U.S. are currently banned. Construction of existing orders expect to be completed in 2011 and the possibility of a watered down export version is still under consideration but at an average unit cost of $339 million per aircraft it’s not something you’ll find in just any aircraft hangar.
This is a big, sturdy box, nearly as large as that which contains a Revell/Monogram 1/48 B-17 kit. Once the lid comes off you have to appreciate the way in which Academy has packaged the model, the top half fuselage/wing unit is fitted into a cardboard insert on top protecting it from any shipping damage. All other parts sprues are bagged and packed beneath it and this box is full. Not only do we have lots of plastic modeling goodness here but a very large decal sheet offering plenty of unit marking options and a rather large construction booklet along with some pretty nice paint guide materials.
The kit consists of six parts trees in light gray styrene with generally good detail. The cockpit is a bit Spartan and the engines could use some better detail work. The radiation dispersal plates in the belly are a little light in surface detail however given the option of the heavier (some consider too heavy) detail on the Hasegawa kit I think this one is the better choice. The parts are all well done with no flash or sink marks. Mold separation seams are minimal and general parts fit is good. Two sprues of clear parts are provided with the first being completely clear and the second providing the modeler with an option for the gold plated glazing similar to what is on the actual aircraft. The kit does not have a lot of internal structure like that found on the Hasegawa kit and it's debatable about the benefits of this feature. While this kit does not include the complex internal ducting system for the engines the only person likely to notice is the guy building the kit, once complete this is not really noticeable. We get a complete compliment of weapons load-out and the option to build this with weapons bays open or closed.
Decals and Instructions
Kit instructions begin with a large eight panel fold-out which covers primary kit assembly. It opens with a full part color chart and launches right into nineteen exploded view construction steps. There are plenty of color call-outs and a few assorted construction tips scattered throughout the instructions. The second set of instructions is a four panel fold-out covering decal placement and exterior painting options along with a complete parts map.
First off let me say that the kit decals do not normally have a small section cut out in the middle like these do but I was in desperate need for a few low visibility numbers for another build so ... my bad. The decals do however give the modeler plenty of marking options with markings for eighteen different aircraft. Common service stencils are shown here as well. Decals are well done with good color density and near perfect print registry. They do behave well with common decal setting solutions.
Right off the bat I need to look at upgrading the cockpit and the engine nozzles. Also I want to consider my final finish as the Raptor has an unusual metallic sheen to it, part of the radar absorbing technology. Not long ago I was introduced to a product called ‘Raptor Sheen’ by my friend Jack at MidTenn Hobbies. This stuff is a metalized additive that can be introduced to virtually any enamel or lacquer based paint to create a metallic sheen and is manufactured by a small company called Hawkeye Hobbies. The original blend was intended for this aircraft hence the name ‘Raptor Sheen’. We’ll take a closer look at this product as we get into final painting.
Aires saw the need for a replacement cockpit immediately upon release of this kit and had it ready for distribution almost immediately after the base kit hit the market. This is a pretty nice accessory kit that really improves the front office however, unlike many contemporary aftermarket cockpit kits, does not include any acetate instrument sheets. Instead we have a well detailed IP done in light gray resin and the modeler is responsible for figuring out how to detail that area. I’m going to use a combination of clear Tamiya paints and Mike Grant instrument decals to replicate the glass cockpit. Not long after the cockpit upgrade became available Aires released an engine/nozzle upgrade that includes well detailed resin goodies and photo etched detail pieces. So what we have here are Aires detail set #4480 and #4430.
Construction Update 2/5/2011
Most of the time I start work in the front office being a real sucker for instrument panels and seats however this time something drew me to the main weapons bay and I began work with the AIM-120 missiles. I'll be placing the AIM-9X in the outboard bays so have to get those done as well. Each weapon consists of several parts, a three color paint job and a boatload of little stencils. Painting was done with Alclad pale burnt metal, Model Master flat white and Model Master light gull gray. Decals were applied after a quick dip in Future floor polish. Once the decals had set up I brush painted the entire weapon with Future then applied some judicious sludge wash. Finally each weapon was brush painted with Squadron's clear flat. When doing the AIM-9X I used Alclad steel for the nose section. The lens in the tip was done with a spot of silver then covered with Alclad clear blue with a final touch of Future after the dull coat was applied. I think just from this description you can tell a fair amount of work goes into making these look nice but was well worth it. During various dry times here I also was working on detailing the bay itself. Here we are mostly looking at some very fine brush work as there is a multitude of hydraulic and electrical lines running through here and they should all be varying shades of black and gray with some anodized metal fittings – not all just dead, flat white.
I spent over a week working with really fine paint brushes and flat black enamel paint interspersed with sessions using a carbon pencil or a black fine point magic marker but was finally able to color enough of those various lines to satisfy myself. Another week was spent detailing the AIM missiles before the main weapons bay was ready to be completed. The secondary bays were also painted and decaled then all three were installed to the lower fuselage shell.
Moving to the main gear bays the same techniques were used to highlight the various hydraulic lines as in the weapons bay. With all this white I was not comfortable using a wash as I felt it would make things too dirty. The forward gear bay was also completed and all three installed in the lower fuselage shell. The intake fans and duct work were completed and installed. At this point I thought back to a comparative review I had read between this kit and the newer Hasegawa kit and that reviewer had speculated that the internal structure of the Hasegawa kit would provide superior fuselage strength than the Academy kit. He had also postulated that the Academy kit would be susceptible to squeezing due to lack of internal support. At this point in the construction it is easy to see that these concerns were groundless. This kit has exceptional internal support and if you can squeeze this hard enough to this fail then you are going to have much more severe problems than a few cracked seams.
Looking at the burner cans I have replaced the kit components with the Aires resin and photoetched parts. These are such a huge improvement over the base kit pieces that I could not ever consider building this right from the box. The basic replacement cans are installed but the PE side mounted pieces will be attached after the exterior paint job is complete. Now it is time to look at the new Aires front office. This area builds up very well with excellent parts fit and not noteworthy problems. One thing that is not covered in the Aires instructions is that the instrument panel gets installed after the fuselage and tub areas have been assembled. It will drop in from the top and has a fine lip that should rest on top of the plastic cowling so should you be building this conversion be very careful about the area you remove from the upper fuselage half. All subassemblies are now installed and the fuselage halves can be closed up. The nose strut is only in place temporarily.
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As you can see in the last picture there is some putty work needed around those intakes. Exterior work is Bondy automotive body glazing finished with some Mr. Surfacer 500. Interior finishing is the same however there I needed to make a tool to get the job done. I had purchased a big bundle of wooded skewers for cooking on the grill. I took one of those and sawed off one end at about a 30 degree angle then super glued a piece of wet/dry sandpaper in the tip. The entire sanding surface was only about half the size of a dime but it worked like a charm inside the intakes to smooth everything out. A final couple coats of white paint were applied with a brush to finish it off.
Construction Update 6/16/2011
A lot has been going on in little bursts here and there over the last four months. Before I had closed up the fuselage I had secured about five lead fishing sinkers in the nose to ensure it would stay on the ground. An added benefit of this is it gives the model a certain ‘heft’ that just makes it feel more impressive. A drawback to this weight is the delicate nose gear. Without the nose wheel and remaining strut pieces in place you can quickly collapse the nose gear. I shifted over to the wheels next getting them all painted up and installed to strengthen things up then wrapped them with tissue prior to painting. All bays, intakes and other openings were gently packed with tissue and the model was ready for some color.
I’ve spent some time studying pictures of F-22s and have not seen evidence of weathering or panel fading, in fact all the aircraft I have been able to examine have been meticulously maintained so the paint job on this model will reflect that. This eliminates any need to preshade the model. As I mentioned earlier I’ll be using Raptor Sheen made by Hawkeye Hobbies and distributed by MidTenn Hobbies. I have two bottles of Raptor Sheen and three basic exterior colors. After some experimental mixing and test shots I find that if I split the total amount of Raptor Sheen into thirds and add about ¼ ounce of color paint (that's about half a standard bottle) to each portion I get a pretty good mix that is well thinned for airbrush use and provides a nice ‘sheen’. Bottom line is I have .25 ounce paint mixed with .66 ounce Raptor Sheen. All exterior painting is done using a Badger Krome limited edition airbrush with a fine tip. The Krome airbrush is available through MidTenn Hobbies also. The model is given a final wipe-down with a lint free cloth and blown off with air before painting begins.
I begin with Model Master Light Gray shooting the entire lower surface, the nose and the upper surfaces of the leading edges. The fins and elevators are painted off the aircraft to be attached later. Once this coat has dried the model is lightly sanded with 800 grit wet sandpaper then wiped off with a damp cloth. The leading/trailing edges, intake edges and nose area are masked off and the surfaces are shot with Model Master Light Ghost Gray. Masks are removed and again the painted surfaces are lightly wet sanded. My initial idea for painting the final camouflage was to mask the perimeter with Blue-Tac then cover the outer areas with masking tape. I tried this on one surface and shot the Model Master Medium Gray. Results were very disappointing – very. I had to aggressively sand this area and repaint the Ghost Gray to get back to my previous starting point. This time I laid out strips of masking tape on glass and traced the pattern in sections with a razor knife. The tape was then transferred to the model and shot with paint. When the masks were removed there was a paint ridge but the light wet sand took care of that quickly and I was left with a very smooth surface with good color transition.
Now that the primary paint scheme is complete I can start attaching the various weapons bay and gear doors. Next the rudders and elevators are glued in place along with some minor exterior details such as pitot tubes. It's time to wrap up the engine components. The Aires detail set that I have is actually intended for the Hasegawa kit so some modification is necessary.
All this means is that some of the inside tail end pieces of the side mounted photo etch panels need to be trimmed back about a quarter inch then everything slides into place very nicely. The interior areas and the photo etch panels are all done with Alclad pale burnt metal. All parts here are attached with medium super glue and helped along with some accelerator. Once the engine pieces have been completed the model can be sealed with Future - three coats cut 25% with isopropyl alcohol does the job nicely. It's time to start looking at placing a few decals.
The kit decals are very nice, they slide into place without difficulty and respond very well to Micro-Sol setting solution. There are a lot of decals involved here and I spent about three sessions placing these. After the decals had a day to dry down the model was sealed with Micro-Flat. The final detail is the canopy. As with the engine set this detail package was originally intended for the Hasegawa kit. All parts were usable except the resin frame for the canopy which was considerably narrower than the Academy canopy part. I used the tinted canopy provided with the kit dipped in Future. Final pictures were taken outside in natural sunlight.
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Overall this was a pretty pleasant kit. Everything fit together well; the instructions were clear and to the point. I did have a few issues with fit around the engine intakes and had to apply some body filler there to get things smoothed out. Since I started work on this kit Aires has introduced detail kits specifically tailored to the Academy kit so those modifications I had to make will no longer be necessary. The decals behaved nicely and the kit provides a wide selection of aircraft markings allowing the modeler to represent virtually any aircraft currently in service. I feel comfortable giving this kit a good recommendation for any intermediate to advanced modeler.