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KIT REVIEW


Kitty Hawk #32018 F-5E Tiger II -- 1:32 Scale

The F-5 is one of the most noteworthy and iconic U.S. Cold War era light fighters.  It is particularly known for its roles as an aggressor and adversary aircraft, as well as for its service with many foreign air forces.  The F-5 has been the subject of many kits over the years – by my count, 231 separate kits.  These range from 1:144 to 1:32 scale with offerings by manufactures as diverse as Starfix, Esci, Testors, and Hasegawa.  Scale modelers who enjoy 1:48 scale have some great F-5 kits to choose from, especially those by AFV Club and Kinetic that really rule the roost in that scale.  Yet, 1:32 scale builders could only turn to Hasegawa’s venerable family of F-5s that are all derived from tooling nearly 40 years old, first designed in 1979.  The hobby has come a long way since then.  In April 2018, Kitty Hawk released a new tool 1:32 scale F-5E Tiger II.  A review sample just landed on our review bench.  Let’s see what this eagerly awaited kit looks like.

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Over the years, Northrop developed rather exceptional airplanes, from the exotic experimental flying wings of the postwar era to the B-2 Spirit.  Yet, their mid-1950s design of a simple lightweight fighter will probably go down in history as their most versatile creation, all starting with the N-156 design that was pitched to the U.S. Army, Air Force, NATO nations, and most everyone in between. 

Christened as the F-5 Freedom Fighter, procurement was initially quite slow by NATO partners and the DoD was hesitant to acquire it for U.S. service since there was no defined need for a supersonic light fighter.  Yet, by the mid-1960s, the F-5’s utility and value became increasingly evident as an air-to-air and air-to-ground platform.  Being relatively inexpensive, it was affordable for many smaller nations to equip their air forces.  Some 34 different variants were developed over the years and the jet was flown by no less than 35 nations – in addition to the USSR that evaluated F-5s handed over by Vietnam and Ethiopia. 

The first generation of F-5A and B Freedom Fighters eventually needed replacement.  In 1970, Northrop won the International Fighter Aircraft (IFA) competition and the result was the F-5E Tiger II.  It was quite an improvement upon the earlier F-5s with more powerful GE J85-21 powerplants, and more internal fuel.  Enlarged leading edge extensions provided increased wing loading and improved maneuverability so as to keep up with Soviet fighters like the MiG-21.  A radar was finally fitted to F-5E, but it retained the internal pair of 20 mm M39A2 Revolver cannons in the nose.  The first F-5E flew on 11 August 1972, starting a production run of 792 airplanes by Northrop and even more under license by allied nations.  The USAF, USN, and a wide range of export customers from Brazil to Iran operated F-5Es.  While the USAF retired its last F-5E in 1990, the Navy still operates the type and continues to upgrade their F-5s.  In U.S. service, the F-5E never saw combat.  Yet, they served in the iconic role, providing dissimilar air combat training aircraft at TOPGUN and the USAF’s Fighter Weapons School.  As noted, the Navy operates upgraded F-5Es, designated as the F-5N, in this role to this day.       

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Kitty Hawk’s 1:32 scale F-5E kit contains six light gray injection molded polystyrene sprues containing 394 parts by my count.  Panel lines, rivets, and fasteners are all delicately represented by engraved, recessed details.  Twenty-three clear parts are present on a single sprue.  Twenty-eight photoetched metal parts are included on one main fret and a small secondary fret (looking like the “overflow” of PE parts that could not be squeezed on the main fret).  Four cast resin parts come in this kit, too: a single-piece sitting pilot, a single piece standing pilot, and two engine afterburner nozzles.  The decals come on two sheets.  The mixed black-and-white/color instruction booklet organizes the build over 31 steps.  Decals and the markings guide cover nine Tiger IIs:

Strengths:  Overall, there’s a lot to enjoy here.  Right off the bat, I think Kitty Hawk has produced the definitive 1:32 scale F-5E to date.  This kit outdoes the old Hasegawa tooling in some rather definitive ways beyond the fact that the Kitty Hawk kit possesses a higher level and fidelity of molded detail, from great recessed panel lines and rivets to the Goodyear imprimatur on the tires, for instance.  Another touch that is as nice as it is subtle: the latches on the open cannon bay access panels are molded in the “popped open” position, projecting up from the door, just as they should.

The overall quality and level of detail is impressive and as far I know, it all looks accurate as well – from the ejection seat, cockpit details, landing gear, wheel wells, cannon bays, speed brake wells, and afterburner nozzles.  One will note, as one often does with Kitty Hawk kits, that there are a lot of small constituent parts to the ejection seat, cockpit, gun bay, the separate disk brake assemblies on the main wheel hubs, and some other areas, too.  Sure, it might be fiddily and a bit more work, but this approach produces some very detailed final products for the scale modeler–superior to the inherent limitations of a single or two-piece injection molded assembly.  This allows the Kitty Hawk parts to build into assemblies that fall into the range of detail sported by some resin aftermarket offerings.   

Overall molding quality is generally excellent.  There’s no warpage, flash, or other major defects, save one (though see below).  Working out test fits between major assemblies (i.e., fuselage, wings, vertical stabilizer) demonstrated very tight fits and overall solid engineering.  Other aspects of the kit design are thoughtful, especially with the extended windscreen fairing that makes integrating the windscreen cleanly into the nose a far easier and less painful or error-prone proposition.  Also, the optical quality of the clear parts is stunning – crystal clear and defect-free.  Also in regard to molding: in the past, I’ve critiqued Kitty Hawk kits for sometimes “soft” detail in the front office.  Here, the quality of detail as can be appreciated on the instrument panel is very impressive – top-notch for injection molding.  It is nice to see this improvement over time.  Still, I would like to see raised dial faces for the detail painters out there.

Construction options in Kitty Hawk’s 1:32 scale F-5E include a positionable canopy, open or closed nose cannon bays with complete interiors (some of the highest and most impressive fidelity of molding in the kit is seen here), and open or closed auxiliary air intake blow-in doors.  Other options include positionable leading edge slats, flaps, ailerons, rudder, and speedbrakes, and extended or retracted landing lights.  While they are buried inside the fuselage, the kit also includes a pair of J85-GE-21A turbojets.  Of course, if you build the kit with the auxiliary intake louver doors open, you’ll definitely want to paint and install the J85s.
Underwing stores include a pair each of the AIM-9B, AIM-9E, and AIM-7 air-to-air missiles.  Air-to-ground ordnance includes two MK. 20 Rockeye CBUs and two Mk. 82 iron bombs (see below).  Two small- and large-style drop tanks are also included.  Of note, the underwing and centerline pylons also look quite nice, and Kitty Hawk did a really nice job on their pylon sway braces.

I also really like the resin parts.  The casting of detail on the single-piece pilots is very well done (not overdone or exaggerated) and whoever sculpted the masters is to be commended.  Nice work!  Molding is likewise well detailed on the afterburner nozzles, both on their internal and external surfaces and with raised and recessed features.  These are exactly the right kinds of parts to do in resin, and it works quite nicely.     

The F-5E was a truly international fighter, and the markings options represent a collection of some of the most diverse, colorful, and interesting F-5Es that could be chosen.  Of course, the F-5N is an upgraded F-5E flown by the U.S. Navy as an adversary aircraft, and its exterior differences are nil between it and most F-5Es.  There are surely a lot more, and aftermarket manufacturers should have a field day in producing and selling new sheets for this kit.  The decal sheets are in general beautifully printed and impressive in their detail, legibility, colors, restrained carrier film, and so forth (but see below for some errors in decal printing to consider).  Stencils are provided for the airframe and the ordnance.

Weaknesses:  Before beginning work on this kit, there are a few problems to consider and plan for.  None are show-stoppers.  Issues arise from small but important blips and glitches in the instructions – a common problem with Kitty Hawk kits.  For example, two styles of radomes are supplied – the original style and the later “shark nose” that at least most USN F-5Es/Ns were eventually fitted or retrofitted with.  The instructions note the difference between the radome styles, calls it out as a building options, and leaves it at that.  So which version is appropriate for which marking option?  For the Navy aircraft, the shark nose is correct, but what about the early USAF F-5Es, or the Mexican or Iranian jets?  I can make an educated guess, but additional research will be needed to make sure what you’re building has the right nose on it.  A few other instruction sheet errors include describing what are clearly 500-pound Mk. 82s as Mk. 84 bombs.  To be clear, you get Mk. 82 slicks here in this kit.  Also, one of the markings guide identifies one of the USAF jets – that beautiful metal and yellow-striped F-5E from the 425 TFTS – as a U.S. Army AH-6J helicopter – clearly a leftover from their last set of kit instructions.  

For all the really great injection molding, the single-piece mid/aft upper fuselage has a prominent raised seam running along the sides of the fuselage.  The raised seam is obvious and more prominent on the left side, but will need to be sanded down and eliminated.  There’s one peculiarity with the seated resin pilot:  his oxygen mask hose rides up over his left shoulder and into the top of his parachute pack behind his neck.  I thought the O2 hookup was on the upper left side of the F-5’s ejection seat and was not routed via the ’chute.

The primary concern I have here is with some of the decals.  On one hand, and as noted above, most of the printing and other technical qualities of the decals are really excellent.  Yet, there are a few whopper errors.  First, the red bars in all of the high-visibility U. S. national insignia are badly out of register.  It is by far the worst with the smallest of the U. S stars-and-bars and you just cannot use them.  Fortunately, (1) replacements can be sourced from a variety of aftermarket decal sources, and (2) the ROKAF national insignias are not affected.  Second, in at least a few of the IRIAF roundels, the red circles in the center are all equally just a bit off-center.  Third, the starboard side tail art on the F-5N from VFC-111 has the “AF” tail code mirrored and reversed.  I rarely use the phrase, but that beautiful giant decal is unusable.           

Overall, Kitty Hawk has done a great job with many of the technical aspects of this kit, and it is quite inviting to build.  I look forward to what aftermarket manufacturers will eventually offer for this kit, and I hope that Kitty Hawk will either rapidly offer a correction decal sheet insert for the printing errors.  Also, I try not to “read the sprues” too carefully, but with the way the nose assembly breaks down and the fact that there are two sets of ejections seats between the two sets of Sprue F, we can only hope that a two-seat F-5F might be under consideration.  The instructions also show a Sprue Q attached the Sprue C that’s not included here, and I wonder if what we’re seeing there are parts for a Tigereye…

Sincere thanks to Glen Coleman and Kitty Hawk Models for the review sample.  You can find out more about them and future releases at www.kittyhawkmodel.com

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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