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KIT REVIEW


Kitty Hawk #32019 F-5F Tiger II -- 1:32 Scale

The F-5 Tiger II is one of the most noteworthy and iconic U.S. Cold War aircraft.  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 plenty of kits over the years –231 separate kits by my count.  These range from 1:144 to 1:32 scale with offerings by manufactures as diverse as Starfix, Esci, Testors, and Hasegawa.  In 1:32 scale, builders could only turn to Hasegawa’s venerable family of F-5Es that are all derived from tooling now 40 years old, first designed in 1979.  The hobby has come a long way since then.  Further, there were no 1:32 scale two-seat variants available until late 2018 when Kitty Hawk released a new tool 1:32 scale F-5F Tiger II.  Let’s take a look.

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Northrop developed a number 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 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 very 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 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 a significant improvement over 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 such as the MiG-21.  A radar was finally fitted to F-5E, and it retained the internal pair of 20 mm M39A2 Revolver cannons in the nose.

The F-5F was the analog of the F-5B:  a two-seat combat-capable trainer variant of the single seat aircraft.  The F-5F first flew on 25 September 1974 at Edwards AFB.  Its nose was stretched three feet and it retained a single M39 cannon.  Its Emerson AN/APQ-157 radar had a range of about 10 miles.  The F-5F was widely exported to American allies, but in U.S. service, the F-5F never saw combat.  They did serve in the iconic role of providing dissimilar air combat training at TOPGUN and the USAF’s Fighter Weapons School.  The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps continue to operate F-5Fs as adversary aircraft at several locations including NAS Key West, NAS Fallon, and MCAS Yuma.

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Kitty Hawk’s 1:32 scale F-5F kit contains six light gray injection molded polystyrene sprues containing 378 parts.  Panel lines, rivets, and fasteners are all delicately represented by engraved, recessed details.  Twenty-five clear parts are present on a single sprue.  Thirty-two photoetched metal parts are included on one fret.  Six cast resin parts come in this kit, too:  a boarding ladder, a single-piece sitting pilot, a single-piece pilot climbing the ladder, a fixed refueling probe, and and fuel line cover (the latter two not used in this version of the kit).  The decals come on three sheets and are supplemented by one correction insert.  The black-and-white instruction booklet organizes the build over 35 steps.  Decals and the markings guide cover 11 F-5Fs:

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-5F to date, just as they did with their F-5E.  A lot of my observations overlap with our review of the F-5E kit.  The new stuff here is on Sprue D with the F-5F nose and cockpit, the new clear parts sprue, and an expanded selection of PE parts, and the F-5F specific decals.

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 all the molded detail, including great recessed panel lines and rivets to the Goodyear imprimatur on the tires.  The overall quality and level of detail is impressive and as far I know, it all looks overall rather accurate – from the ejection seats, 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 seats, cockpit, gun bay, the even separate disk brake assemblies on the main wheel hubs.  Sure, it is 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 (but see below).  There’s no warpage, flash, or other major defects (again, see below).  Working out test fits between major assemblies (i.e., fuselage, wings, vertical stabilizer) demonstrated very tight fits and overall solid basic 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.  Kitty Hawk really knows how to do great clear parts.  Also in regard to molding:  in the past, I’ve critiqued Kitty Hawk kits for “soft” detail in the front office.  Here, the quality of detail as can be appreciated on the instrument panels is 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 bay with a 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 install and paint 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, but for caveats, see below) and whoever sculpted the masters is to be commended.  Nice work!  Molding is likewise well detailed on the ladder.  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-5Fs that could be chosen.  Of course, there are surely a lot more F-5F schemes out there, and aftermarket manufacturers should have a field day in producing and selling new sheets for this kit (and for other reasons as well; see below).  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 a description of multiple errors errors in decal printing to consider).  Stencils are provided for the airframe and the ordnance.

Weaknesses:   There are some issues in this kit to consider.  First up:  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.  Also, the tooling on the left and right sides of the F-5F nose halves is different in terms of the very shallow, almost ghost-like depth to the panel lines on the port side, and the otherwise “normal” depth consistent with the rest of the kit on the starboard side nose half.  And just like the F-5E issue of this kit, there are no intake trunks.  If you install those J58 engines, you will have a whole lot of empty interior fuselage in view if you don’t put remove before flight covers in the intakes.  As a solution, Phase Hanger Resin Accessories (https://phasehangarresin.com) is about to release a set of resin intake trunks for this and the F-5E kit.  To me, that’s the way solve that unsightly problem.

The photoetched metal fret provides parts for the front and back cockpits, but provide only ONE set of ejection seat shoulder harnesses and lap belts.  What a basic and unfortunate oversight!  It forces the builder to use aftermarket detail sets for the belts and you can’t build two good out-of-the-box ejection seats.  The pilots are also quite nice, but I would not use them if you’re doing the VFC-111 or VMFT-401 schemes.  The pilots are not wearing USN/USMC gear of any era and their helmets are wrong for the modern era, too.  Also, I was thinking to backdate this jet to a TOPGUN or USAF FWS jet.  In that case, you may need to raid the F-5E kit for the earlier style radome depending on your era and airframe configuration (the F-5F here only comes with the so-called ‘shark nose’).  The early style swept LEXs will have to be modified from the late chisel-style LEX represented here (that’s easy with a sanding stick), and the early cockpits were different, too – especially the TOPGUN jets that had no radar, radar screens, and no RHAW gear as depicted in the kit. 

There are a few pesky issues with the instruction sheet errors, to include the absent description of the one set of ejection seat harnesses.  The instructions describe what are clearly 500-pound Mk. 82s as Mk. 84 bombs.  To be clear, you get Mk. 82 slicks with optional fuse extenders here in this kit.  The markings guides that are in the centerfold of the instruction booklet were misprinted.  The proper interleaving of the manual pages as everything comes together and gets stapled into a booklet provides you with the markings guide for the front half of one airplane…with the back half of another, and vice versa.  Where was Kitty Hawk’s QA check?  Further, the markings guides are printed in black-and-white which is unusual for a Kitty Hawk manual.  Markings guides in color are really quite helpful.  The standard bilingual descriptions of each markings option is absent here and only presented in Chinese.  

While these problems are varyingly annoying, the biggest issues surround the decals.  Kitty Hawk really blew it with a good portion of the decals.  When its done right, the printing, especially of the complex tail art, is hands-down awesome.  For instance, the VFC-111, VMFT-401, and the RTAF 30th anniversary jet tail art are all impressive and look great – except they were originally printed as all starboard tails with the port side tail decal still configured with a starboard outline and mirror-image reversed text.  Corrections are included in the insert (whew!).  A few other markings on the decal sheet, such as ejection seat warning triangles, are also mirror/reversed images but have no corrections. 
 
The stencils are the biggest mess.  There are big, very legible stencils that read “SHSGEWBSJSKAL SJSJWIOFHS” or “SHD SJUWAD WOID.”  Some others are badly misspelled, such as “Danger Aeresting Hoor,” “Push Latch to OpexDpor,” “Service This Aircaft Mith Srade JP.8fuel If Sut Available,” “This Is a Thinskinned Honeycomb Stugtine,” and I could go on and on.  I’m not sure there’s a single stencil decal spelled correctly.  I just want to say that as someone who speaks a couple of languages, I am very sympathetic about how hard writing in a non-native language can be.  I do it frequently, and I screw up frequently.  That’s okay.  But I also consult native speakers to limit my errors.  Kitty Hawk, if you’re not going to do the research to produce properly spelled decals, there are people over here willing to help proofread your decals before they go to the printer!  And if Tamiya, Kinetic, AMK, and others can produce accurate stencils, so should Kitty Hawk, especially for a kit at this price point.  Hopefully, the call is now out to Furball and others to provide aftermarket replacements for the stencils and more. 

Overall, Kitty Hawk has done a very good job with many of the technical aspects of this kit, and it is quite inviting to build.  I really am happy to have a 1:32 scale F-5F.  I look forward to what aftermarket manufacturers will eventually offer for this kit, and I hope that Kitty Hawk will improve its game with some of the shortcomings described here.  

A big thank-you to Dave Baranek for sharing his recollections and technical observations on the F-5F from his days as a TOPGUN instructor as I was working on this review.  Sincere thanks are given 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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Just Released!

JET FIGHTERS
OF THE U. S. NAVY AND MARINE CORPS
PART 1: THE FIRST TEN YEARS
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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 Series



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

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Colors & Markings of U. S. Navy
F-14 Tomcats,
Part 2: Pacific
Coast Squadrons

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