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Tamiya McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom II

Build review of the 1/48 scale aircraft kit with fantastic fits

⬅️ Watch the unboxing video here!
With two Genereal Electric J79 engines belching black smoke and carrying up to eight air-to-air missiles ordnance load larger than most World War II bombers, the F-4 epitomized brute force fighter design. It’s only shortcoming — the lack of an internal cannon — stemmed from non-fighter pilots deciding that the age of close-contact aerial combat (dogfighting) was over, leading at least one fighter pilot to comment, “Never bring a missile to a gunfight!” Everyone from Academy to Zoukei-Mura has produced a 1/48 scale Phantom, so do we really need another? Read on.

Tamiya provides 399 molded light gray and clear parts on 22 parts trees — at least by the letters. In several cases, Tamiya has left two or three different letter trees together; for example, Q, R, and S were still connected. 

A 24-page, 63-step instruction book guides construction, and three to-scale, color painting instructions show the marking options. There’s also a stencil layout, tech tips, painting tips and a short history. Nearly 400 decals make up the three schemes and stencils. Canopy masks are included, although they are not pre-cut. 

Build options include extended refueling probe, boarding ladder, dropped flaps, deployed air brakes, folded wingtips, and open or closed canopies.

Pick the scheme you plan to build before starting construction, because there are minor part and painting differences between the airframes. Being a sucker for shark’s teeth, I chose Option B for VF-111 Sundowners.

Several of the steps, including the first, are just detail painting instructions. This makes things quite clear and I found it extremely helpful. 

Before constructing the cockpit, Tamiya has you install several exterior panels. Traditionally there would be a flat recess that the panel would drop in and hopefully be flush. If you used too little glue the panel would fall back out at some inopportune moment; too much and the excess may squeeze out and require cleanup or, worse, find your finger and leave your “builder’s mark” (aka fingerprint) in the plastic. Instead, Tamiya has a deeper recess at the panel line, a raised ridge that insures a flush fit, and a hole through the fuselage. I was able to put minimal quick-setting extra thin cement on the ridge, place the panel, and wait a few seconds for it to grab. Then, I could flip the fuselage half over and add more glue from the back side through the hole. Why am I geeking out over something so insignificant? Because it shows that Tamiya’s thoughtful engineering extends to the smallest detail, and a commitment to not just a superior fitting kit, but to the best build experience possible.

This is perhaps the most complete kit cockpit I’ve seen, and no photo-etched metal parts are involved. Decals detail the instrument panels. The console switch panels are separate drop-ins making painting easy. Extra structural elements and braces on the front gear well, afterburner sections, and wing interior ensure alignment and establish correct cross sections for the airframe. A separate spine and lower forward fuselage minimize awkward seams and nearly every exterior joint in the kit falls on a panel line.

Do not forget to open holes for the underwing stores or install the intake probes before closing the assemblies, although you will be able to install the probes later if you forget them as I did. The seams inside the intakes are mostly hidden, so I felt no need to putty and sand them. 

The only fit issue I encountered was between the intakes and the fuselage and wings. With the intakes positioned flush at the top, a gap showed up at the wing root. After gluing the top seam, I used small bar clamps to draw the wings tight against the intakes. Just be sure the glue cures beforehand or the tension may pull the intakes down and produce a step at the upper joint. A small dab of Vallejo putty smoothed with a wet finger finished the job. 

I was concerned about the seven-piece exhaust units, but the fit was perfect. Three pages later the beautifully detailed landing gear was in place and the plane could finally stand on its own feet. Tamiya has designed the wing tips, flaps and speed brakes with plenty of support. Be sure to read all the side notes for the missiles, pylons, and tanks, or you risk missing important details. 

Construction then came full circle, back to the cockpit. The parts breakdown for the ejection seats is unusual and careful painting will bring out all the beautiful detail. A seated flight crew with helmet decals are provided, but I chose not to put them in the seats.

Although I prefer die-cut masks, the guidelines for cutting Tamiya’s were on target and they worked well. However, disaster struck when I removed the interior masking. After removing the mold seam that runs the length of the canopy centerlines, I had dipped them in Pledge Floor Gloss (PFG). I added the decals before unmasking the canopy and some of the decal solvent seeped under the tape I used to mask the interior. It reacted with the PFG and the tape adhesive and turning it into a crazed mess. I used Goo Gone and Nu Finish scratch remover to strip the canopies, re-dipped them, and then used the closed canopy decals to fix the problem. 

With Tamiya’s attention to prototypical detail, such as the intake splitter standing off the fuselage sides, I did most of the exterior painting as construction proceeded. Tamiya acrylics were used for most colors according to the instructions, but I used Mr. Color flat white and light gull gray for the camouflage; Alclad II clear gloss prepped the model for decals. 

Just like the real F-4, this kit also has one shortcoming; the decals. While the colors, registration, and sizes are perfect, the decals are thick and reluctant to conform to detail. For example, the stripes didn’t want to wrap around the missiles. I started with Tamiya Mark Fit but obtained better results with Walthers Solvaset, but touch-ups were necessary. Vallejo Model Air Red (No. 71.003) matches the setting sun tail marking on the VF-111 bird. Tamiya also provided F-4 Phantom II Decal Set A (No. 12692; $12.50). It is mostly access door stencils, but the kit instructions state that the Sundowners aircraft had been freshly repainted and devoid of stencils. However, the set does provide decals for the thin yellow canopy seals and some details for the exhaust turkey feathers. These decals were thinner and more cooperative than those in the kit.

While the fit throughout construction was nearly perfect, I would not characterize this as a “shake-and-bake” kit. It was more of a slow waltz, proceeding in a three-step rhythm of parts prep, painting, and then construction on consecutive nights. Moving two or three pages at a time, I spent about 65 hours building my F-4 — and spent all of them amazed at the quality of this beautiful kit. 

Tamiya’s F-4 measures perfectly for the B-model. Unused parts and notes on the extra access door decal instructions that some are only for the J-model indicate other F-4 variants may be in the works.

In retrospect, “Do we need another 1/48 F-4 kit?” is the wrong question. Now that Tamiya’s is on the market, the question is “Do we need any of the others?” 

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