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Tamiya 1/48 scale F-35A Lightning II plastic model kit review

Great engineering and options with decals aplenty
Kit:61124 // Scale:1/48 // Price:$98
Tamiya (Sample courtesy of Tamiya America)
Sharp molding and fits; good cockpit detail; options for canopy, flaps, weapon bays, ladder, and RCS enhancers; great decals, including RAM tape and markings for nine aircraft
You better like applying decals
Injection-molded plastic (gray, clear, tinted clear); 329 parts (2 metal rods); decals; masks
With the F-35 entering service with countries across the globe, kits of the Lightning II have been flying onto the market from nearly every manufacturer in nearly every scale. Here comes Tamiya with a 1/48 scale F-35 Lightning II plastic model kit, and it is, as we have come to expect, practically perfect.

The fit of the cleanly molded parts was spot on throughout the build, and I used no filler and little sanding. Almost every join fell on natural panel lines making things even simpler.

There are three weapon loadouts — stealth with a pair of AIM-120Cs and GBU-31s in the internal bays, air-to-air with internal AIM-120Cs and a pair of AIM-9X Sidewinders under the wingtips, and beast mode with everything listed so far and four GBU-12s under the wings.

Optional parts allow the flaps to be posed up or down, the boarding ladder deployed or stowed, and the weapon bays open or closed. Two gold-tinted canopies are provided, and interchangeable parts mean the canopy can be posed open or closed at whim. Other features include full intake trunking, detailed gear bays, radar cross section (RCS) enhancers, and a perfectly posed pilot.

You’ll need to enjoy decals if you tackle this kit. Three sheets provide stencils for the ordnance and airframe, and markings for nine aircraft — one each U.S. Air Force, Japanese, Norwegian, Australian, Netherlands, Italian, Israeli, South Korean, and Danish. The sheets also provide all the radar-absorbing material (RAM) tape for both the early and late versions. There are full-size color decal diagrams for both RAM tape options and the stencils, and smaller black and white sheets show the individual aircraft markings. Over many decal sessions, I was constantly juggling these guides as well as the different decal sheets. And that doesn’t include numerous decals called out during steps in the instructions. The good news is that all the decals go on well, fit, and respond to Tamiya decal solutions.

Good color callouts and clear assembly diagrams made assembly a snap. Pay attention in steps 1 and 8 because you will need to open holes in the fuselage top if you are building the Norwegian plane, adding the wing pylons, or fitting the RCS enhancers.

The weapon bays occupy much of the center of the F-35, and assembling it, not including the ordnance and doors, takes six steps in the instructions. Parts need to be painted and installed, then another layer is painted and installed, followed by another. The result is a pair of great-looking bays, but it is a time-consuming step that can be a tad fiddly.

The rest of the airframe went together quickly. I added the leading and trailing edge flaps, stabilators, and vertical tails before painting, but left off the canopy, landing gear, and exhaust nozzle.

The kit provides outlined masks that made masking the various sensors and canopy easy. The optional closed weapon bay doors make great temporary masks.

Rather than following Tamiya’s paint mixes, I airbrushed the model with MRP Camouflage Grey (No. MRP-280); the leading edges and the nose were painted dark gull gray. After a coat of clear gloss and the decals — so many decals — for the Royal Australian Air Force option, I airbrushed the entire model with MRP Have Glass Varnish (No. MRP-278). This gave the Lightning II a changeable sheen, much like the real thing.

The final assembly went smoothly, except I broke a couple of the arms for the bay doors, something I can only blame on myself.

I spent roughly 30 hours building Tamiya’s 1/48 scale F-35 Lightning II plastic model kit, much of that on the weapon bays and painting. This is where I confess to not being a fan of the F-35. I’m sure it’s capable, but it just isn’t pretty. That said, I wanted to build one for my collection of RAAF aircraft, and this was a fun, interesting project. If you are a fan of the fighter, you’ll want to build this kit. If you are like me and only plan on building one F-35, this is the kit to build.
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