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KIT REVIEW


Kinetic F-104G Luftwaffe Starfighter -- 1:48 Scale



The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter is one of the great legends of aviation.  It was defined by an innovative and sleek design, high speed, and a reputation drawn from its multiple world records.  There have been lots of kits of “The Missile With a Man In It” and since the 1990s, Hasegawa has ruled the roost in 1:48 scale with their extensive and rather well regarded family of F-104 kits.  In the summer of 2019, Kinetic released a new-tool 1:48 scale F-104G and F-104J.  Recently, a review sample of the Luftwaffe edition of the Kinetic Starfighter arrived on our review bench.  Let’s check it out. 

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The F-104 needs little introduction as one of the early “Century Series” aircraft that applied lessons from the Korean War to jet fighter design.  The legendary Kelly Johnson and his team created the lightest, most aerodynamically efficient airframe combined with a single powerful engine (in this case, the General Electric J79).  Less than a year elapsed between contract finalization and first flight, with the prototype taking to the air on March 4, 1954 at Edwards AFB.  Its high tail, unusually thin mid-fuselage-mounted trapezoidal wings, and low drag conferred Mach 2+ performance.  Between 1958 and 1977, F-104s set multiple speed, altitude, and time-to-climb records.

Originally conceived of as a fighter and interceptor, the F-104 was a capable aircraft.  Yet, its turning performance, propensity for high-alpha stalls, limited missile carriage, and growing mishap record were generally seen as problems.  Following service in the USAF’s Air Defense Command, F-104s went to work in TAC (with deployments during the early days of the Vietnam War) and later in stateside ANG squadrons.  The last F-104 in U. S. service hung up its spurs in 1975 when the Puerto Rico ANG transitioned to the A-7.  However, the F-104 was exported to many NATO nations including Germany.  The presence of the F-104 with Germany was a key element of NATO airpower in Western Europe that held the line during the hottest years of the Cold War.  Unfortunately, Germany in particular lost some 260 of its Starfighters to accidents over the years.  Italy retired the very last operational Starfighter in the world in 2004, marking a remarkable service life of 50 years. 

The F-104G was arguably the ultimate Starfighter.  Later 104 variants were produced (such as the -J, -N, and -S variants), but they were all derived from the -G in one way or another.  The G model was a multi-role fighter-bomber.  A total of 1,122 F-104Gs were manufactured by Lockheed and under license by Canadair and via a collaboration between Messerschmitt/MBB, Dornier, Fiat, Fokker, and SABCA in Europe.  F-104Gs featured strengthened fuselages and wings, increased internal fuel, an enlarged vertical stabilizer, stronger landing gear with bigger tires, and revised flaps for improved maneuvering.  F-104s also featured a new radar with an early combination of air-to-air and air-to-ground modes along with other avionics.

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Kinetic’s 1:48 scale F-104G kit comes on three injection molded polystyrene sprues containing 191 parts.  Twenty-nine clear parts come on one clear sprue, and 11 photoetched metal parts are included on one small fret.  The black-and-white instruction booklet organizes the build over 28 steps.  Markings for three airplanes are included:

Strengths:  Kinetic released their first kit in 2007.  Since then, they have been continuously improving their game in terms of manufacturing quality.  This is the second kit in the Kinetic “Gold” product line, and that new designation marks another major milestone of progress in their kit quality and standards.  I’d say Kinetic has now unquestionably entered the ranks of the most elite kit manufacturers that are out there.

Kinetic looks like they have really nailed the F-104.  Exterior shapes and sizes look perfect.  The beautifully recessed panel lines, rivets, and fasteners are a treat for the eyes.  Other details appear impressively accurate and rich with details (see below).  I understand that Kinetic is now using lasers to detail their molds in ways that build upon traditional methods.  Parts breakdown is fairly conventional, with left and right fuselage halves, upper and lower wing halves, and so forth.  I snipped off the fuselage halves and wings and did some test fitting.  It’s pretty much perfect.

Starting with the cockpit, the detail painter will have a field day.  Raised details on the instrument panel and side consoles are outstanding.  The ejection seats also look great.  In this issue of the kit, you’ll use the Martin-Baker ejection seat, and shoulder harnesses and lap belts are represented by very nicely done photoetched metal parts (the most realistic way to do belts, in your reviewer’s opinion).     

Building options abound in this kit.  The canopy can be positioned open or closed.  The radome can be left off (no hinge mechanism on the Starfighter) to reveal a nicely done radar set.  The avionics bay (again, very well detailed) just aft of the cockpit can be displayed open or closed.  The leading edge and trailing edge flaps, rudder, stabilators, and speed brakes are all separate parts and can be positioned as desired.

The gear wells and speed brake wells are all very well done and nicely detailed, with their features going a bit beyond “basic plumbing.”  The landing gear are likewise sharply detailed and the wheels (with slightly bulged tires) are rather impressive.  The back end of the jet features a nice engine nozzle that captures a lot of the complex detail on the inside of the nozzle.  And between the nose and the tail, there are plenty of other details, from navigation lights to the inside of the canopy frame.  And speaking of the canopy, the clear parts are optically flawless.  External stores include a pair of really sharp-looking AIM-9B Sidewinders (though see below), and Aero-3B dual pylon adaptor, a pair of tip tanks, and a pair of underwing external fuel tanks.      

The decals were designed by CrossDelta and printed in Italy by Cartograf.  In other words, decals don’t get better than these.  The markings options are great, too.  There’s a German Navy Starfighter as well as two Luftwaffe jets that flew the final German F-104 flights in 1987.  Careful reading of the markings guide followed by a quick check of the decal sheet confirms that the builder also has markings for two additional “fini-flight” Luftwaffe F-104s (22+91 [tail no. 7174] and 25+23 [tail no. 8298]).  Nice!      

Weaknesses:  I cannot offer any substantive critiques of this kit.  The radome is split into left and right halves, because pulling off a single-piece that long and deep as an injection-molded part is not very feasible.  Seam cleanup on the outside will be a breeze, but the inside of the radome will have a seam that the builder might want to clean up.  The AIM-9s do not seem to be included in the instructions, but they are shown in the box art.  It’s not clear if they can/should be used, so do your research.  Last, I really wish the markings guide could be done in color.  That would really be a major help especially with colors that have fairly close shades when converted to grayscale.  The images of the markings options below were taken from the Kinetic website.  

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The new 1:48 scale F-104G in the Kinetic Gold product line is a hit.  It is plain to see that it outdoes the fidelity of detail of the Hasegawa F-104, inside and out.  It also appears to have gotten the details right that the Hasegawa kit did not, and you don’t need a correction set (e.g., Daco) for the Kinetic kit.  At $39.99 MSRP, it is also very well priced.  Of course, some readers at this point might be thinking they should start selling all their Hasegawa F-104s on eBay.  Personally, I’ll hang onto mine since the Hasegawa kits are still decent F-104s.  But at the end of the day, the title of “Best 1:48 scale F-104” looks like it has been passed on to Kinetic.  You can make a real masterpiece with this kit.  And I try not to “read the sprues” too much, but it does look like Kinetic has planned additional releases beyond this F-104G and the F-104J.  We look forward to these possible future kits with anticipation.

Sincere thanks are owed to Raymond Chung of Kinetic/Lucky Model, along with Jose “Fuji” Ramos, for the review sample.  You can visit them on the web at http://www.kineticmodel.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Kineticmodel/.  You can hopefully this kit at your local hobby shop, at distributors such as Sprue Brothers, or order direct from http://luckymodel.com.   

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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