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Big Lightning II roars in for landing

FineScale Modeler reviews the 1/32 scale plastic model aircraft kit
The F-35, America’s newest jet fighter, has been plagued by development issues and cost overruns, and critics claim it is overweight and basically useless. However, others closer to the program, whose opinions I trust, believe in the Lightning II’s capabilities. Only time will really tell. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to see F-35s landing at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and they certainly looked purposeful then.

Italeri’s large-scale kit replicates the F-35A,the land-based conventional takeoff and landing variant. The kit features yellow-tinted clear parts, photo-etched (PE) details, self-adhesive masks for many of the zigzag panel edges, and Cartograf decals for six aircraft from five countries — U.S., Italy, Netherlands, Israel, and Australia. Options abound: posable canopy, wheel-well doors, weapons bays, and inflight refueling receptacle. Weapons choices for the bays and optional wing pylons include GBU-31 JDAMs, AIM-120 AMRAAM, and AIM-9X missiles.

Construction starts with the Martin-Baker Mk.16 ejection seat, unique to the F-35 — it’s well proportioned and looks the part. I had trouble bending the PE belts; annealing them helped but I couldn’t get them to drape realistically. The rest of the cockpit went together easily, but the decal for the instrument panel needed trimming to fit the recessed panel.

Italeri’s engineering of parts around the intakes makes it possible to paint the intake trunks white and the intake lips and fuselage bulge gray before assembly, eliminating tricky masking. Unfortunately, I ended up with obvious gaps at the joins that would have been difficult to fill and repaint. Leaving the left and right trunks separate from each other and the engine as you attach the bulged fuselage panels to the trunks and mounting the trunks in the lower fuselage may minimize those gaps. But the gaps between the wing panels and the fuselage halves required filling.

The landing gear and weapons bay doors fit so well that I held them in place with my fingers to mask them for painting. I used Mr. Paint “Have Glass” dark gray, which sprayed beautifully and reproduces the Lightning II’s low-observable finish.

The kit masks worked pretty well but lifted a little on convex curves. They also are far from comprehensive; I had to mask several areas with tape.

I chose to pose the canopy open, but testing showed it fit perfectly closed. The inflight refueling doors dropped straight into place to close. The IFR receptacle itself was somewhat simplified, so I went ahead and closed it.

Posing most of the separate control surfaces in anything but neutral position would required minor modifications. The solid, sturdy undercarriage has positive locators that aid alignment; I sliced off part of the mounting tabs to install the legs after painting the bays, rather than before as instructed.

The well-molded weapons do not fit into the bays without interfering with part of the bay structure — either the weapons are too big or the bays are too small. The mount for the AMRAAM launcher/rail was fiddly; the JDAMs’ PE strakes attach to the body with simple butt joins.
Optional wing pylons allow for AIM-9X Sidewinders or the JDAMs to be mounted if you want to depict an aircraft in high-visibility configuration. Extra bombs to hang on the wing pylons would have been welcome.

Being Australian, I naturally marked my F-35A for the Royal Australian Air Force. The decals performed flawlessly.
Modelers have been spoiled recently, with stunning kits featuring incredible fit and engineering. In comparison, Italeri’s Lightning II seems a little less polished, with slightly soft edges and details, and fit requiring a little work before glue. It requires some old-school modeling skills, but that actually increases the level of satisfaction derived from building, in my opinion.

Italeri captured the spirit of the subject well, with accurate shapes and proportions and good detail. I hope kits of the F-35B VSTOL and F-35C carrier-based jets are forthcoming!

Note: A version of this review appeared in the September 2017 issue.
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