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AFTERMARKET REVIEW


Steel Beach Accessories #48173
F-14 Preproduction Backdate -- 1:48 Scale

 

The F-14 Tomcat was the U.S. Navy’s premier interceptor beginning in 1972, and in the 1990s, it also served as an exemplary deep strike, CAS, and FAC aircraft until its retirement in 2006.  There have been more than 400 F-14 kits released over the years, but not one represents the earliest Tomcats:  the first 12 preproduction F-14s.  If a scale modeler wanted to build one of these early F-14s, they were either out of luck or faced a lot of scratchbuilding.  Though the F-14 didn’t see a lot of dramatic configuration differences over the years, there were several big differences between the preproduction jets and all of the subsequent F-14As, F-14A(Plus)/Bs, and F-14Ds.  

Technically speaking, there were no F-14 prototypes, but 12 preproduction airframes configured by Grumman for various tasks in the Tomcat’s development program that began in late 1970.  For instance, No. 2 was dedicated to low speed handling tests, No. 3 was the non-destructive structural flight test vehicle, No. 5 was the systems compatibility demonstrator, No. 7 was the propulsion testbed, No. 9 was the AWG-9/Phoenix test vehicle, and so forth.  These early F-14s carried some early ideas regarding structures and airframe configuration that were evaluated and eliminated by the time the first production jet came off the line at Grumman’s Plant 6 in Calverton, NY.  These included very robust upper fuselage stiffeners, aft overwing fairings, a short M61A1 gun muzzle, and a large boat tail at the aft end of the fuselage.

In this set, Steel Beach Accessories provides resin cast parts to backdate the exemplary 1:48 scale Tamiya F-14 kit (see our review HERE) to preproduction configuration.  This set includes 10 cast resin parts (boat tail, fuselage stiffeners and fairings, IRST chin pod, and short gun muzzle) and the parts are well cast.  Steel Beech resin parts often possess a of a bit grainy texture since they are cast under relatively low pressure, and this necessitates some extra parts preparation and surface sanding.  Yet these are some of the smoothest and most blemish-free castings I’ve ever seen from Steel Beech.  To get the boat tail, gun muzzle, and aft overwing fairings integrated with the Tamiya kit, some razor-saw surgery and sanding will be needed, and the various steps and construction tips are illustrated in the full-color instructions. 

Steel Beach is to be applauded for this conversion set that opens up what is the single most neglected category of F-14 in any scale.  Personally speaking, and as a Grumman guy since childhood, I love it!  I can’t honestly say enough about this set’s potential.  Steel Beach has provided some great parts to build pre-production F-14s.

At the same time, your reviewer’s specialized knowledge of F-14 pre-production airframe minutia must emerge.  It will be up to the scale modeler to do some research on which preproduction airframe they wish to build and how it fits in with this set.  This set will take a builder pretty far in backdating their Tomcat, but there were many one-off features and changes over time, even in the same airplane.  The earliest F-14s, such as No. 1X, 2, 3, and a few others were fitted with the first version of the chin pod which was quite different than the one included in this set.  In the early days, No. 3 had the large overwing fairings and stiffeners, but at some point probably in the 1970s, those were swapped out for the production configuration.  Some of the preproduction jets also had a few extra antennas such as those atop the starboard vertical stabilizer that transmitted real-time telemetry and test point data back to the flight test engineers at Calverton.  Nos. 1, 1X, 2, 3, 7, and 8 were all fitted with a 13 foot-long nose test boom that measured static pressure and AoA, and the test boom is not included in this set.  Some of the early preproduction jets featured a curved internal windscreen fixed to RIO’s instrument shroud, and you’ll have to fashion that as well.

The early upper curved speedbrake is not represented in this set (you only get the production squared-off speedbrake), and to go early, the builder will have to fill in those panel lines and re-scribe.  I do recall when the squared-off upper speedbrake was introduced at some point in the preproduction process, and it’s not clear which jet got it first, though No. 3 flew with the rounded speedbrake until its retirement in the early 1990s.  Also, at least No. 3 had the dielectric panels on the sides of the big boat tail removed.  By the time No. 7 flew in 1973 as the F-14B prototype, it was mostly a standard F-14A airframe, and by the late 1980s, it flew a production F-14D external configuration though it retained the GRU-7A ejection seats and the nose boom.

Also, the instructions indicate correctly that the preproduction jets lacked a low voltage formation light on the vertical stabilizer and instead had two “slime lights” beneath the wing bladder.  At least No. 1, 2, and 3 had two total temperature probes, with the second one on the port side of the nose below the RIO’s position (not under the windscreen as the instructions state).  And do note that several of the preproduction jets (No. 1,1x, 2, 3, 7) had pilot and RIO instrument consoles specially configured for flight test duties and differed greatly from production jets.  To get you started, Torsent Anft’s website M.A.T.S (http://www.anft.net/f-14/index.htm) is a good place to begin your research.  At detailandscale.com, keep an eye out for forthcoming photo set series of the No. 3 and No. 7 Tomcats, including cockpit photos.          

Many thanks to Darren Roberts of Steel Beach Accessories for the review sample. You can find them on the web at http://www.steel-beach.com/ and this set, along with the rest of the Steel Beach product line, can be purchased at http://spruebrothers.com.

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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Just Released!

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Detail & Scale Special Edition Books

U. S. Navy and Marine Carrier-Based Aircraft of World War II
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Attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan Awakens a Sleeping Giant

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Colors & Markings of U. S. Navy
F-14 Tomcats,
Part 1: Atlantic
Coast Squadrons
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Colors & Markings of the F-102
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Colors & Markings of U. S. Navy
F-14 Tomcats,
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