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KIT REVIEW


Revell Lockheed Martin F-117A Nighthawk -- 1:72 Scale



The F-117 will forever be remembered as the world’s first operational low-observable (or stealth) combat aircraft.  Its exotic form and remarkable service record raise the -117 to a legendary status in the history of aviation.  In this re-release of a 1992 kit, Revell has brought back their 1:72 scale Nighthawk. 

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The F-117A was a single-seat, twin-engine stealth ground attack aircraft developed by Lockheed's legendary Skunk Works division.  The jet emerged from combat experience in the Vietnam War where increasingly sophisticated Soviet SAMs posed an ever-growing risk to American pilots.  If the Cold War ever went hot, it was clear that many U.S. attack aircraft would be very vulnerable to enemy air defenses.  In response, the idea was born to render an airplane invisible to radar. The origins of the F-117 came about in 1975 with a Skunk Works model called the "Hopeless Diamond" that used the formulae developed by a Russian mathematician first published in 1964 that indicated faceted geometric surfaces would scatter radar waves.  By 1977, the HAVE BLUE technology demonstrators flew for the first time at the Nevada test site and validated the design’s remarkable invisibility to radar - effectively scattering 99% of any radar energy directed at the aircraft.

While both demonstrators were lost in the course of the flight test program, the SENIOR TREND program was launched.  Despite the use of the “F” designation, this stealth aircraft would be an exclusive ground attack aircraft.  The final design focused on a significantly enlarged HAVE BLUE configuration using faceted surfaces and “dog-tooth” or serrated edges to major panel lines such as the bomb bay doors.  To speed development as fast as possible, lots of proven off-the-shelf systems were incorporated into the new jet.  The use of faceted surfaces made the airplane very aerodynamically unstable, and the quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire system from the F-16 kept the stealth fighter in the air.  Its non-afterburning F404 engines were siphoned off as “spares” from the F/A-18 program, the landing gear came from the F-15, and so forth.  The F-117 would not carry a radar but used passive sensors (FLIR and a laser designator) to identify targets.  A radar wave-cancelling grill was positioned at the front of each intake. The IR signature was reduced using a platypus-style engine exhaust that pre-cooled the exhaust plume, exiting from slit-style openings on either side of the V-tails.  The F-117A's internal bomb bay could accommodate two trapeze-mounted air-to-ground munitions such as GBU-10, GBU-12, or GBU-27 laser-guided bombs, BLU-109 penetrators, and later, JDAMs.

The first YF-117A (79-0780) made its maiden flight from the Nevada test site on 18 June 1981.  The first production F-117A was delivered in 1982, initial operational capability was achieved in October 1983, and the production run of 59 airframes concluded in 1990.  In those early days, the F-117A fleet was based out of the Tonopah test range and used A-7 Corsair operations as a cover.  In 1988, its existence was revealed to the public, and the Nighthawk came out of the black world.  

The F-117’s potential was first realized during Operation DESERT STORM where they attacked targets in some of the most heavily defended airspace in history and emerged unscathed.  Nighthawks went to war again in 1999 during Operation ALLIED FORCE where one F-117 was lost, downed by a Serbian SA-3 SAM following it being spotted when its bomb bay doors cycled open.  In 2003, it was back to Iraq for the Nighthawk as they participated heavily in the “shock and awe” phase of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.  In fact, the first sortie of that conflict was conducted by a pair of Holloman AFB-based F-117s attempting a bold “decapitation strike” against the regime leadership.  By the early 2000s, the F-117 started to become obsolete with the emergence of the F-22 and F-35.  In 2008, the last F-117A was formally retired. Yet, most of the fleet was stored in Type 1000 storage allowing for possible future operational recall. As recently as 2018, aircraft spotters have identified at least two F-117s soaring above remote Nevada skies.  It is safe to assume these aircraft are involved in some kind of flight testing, but whatever they’re doing is a deeply guarded secret.  The F-117 started in the black world, and a decade after its public retirement, it has returned to the shadows.

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Revell’s 1:72 scale F-117A is based on their 1992 tooling.  It is a pretty simple injection molded kit:  35 parts on five sprues and one clear part.  Markings are provided for one Nighthawk:   

Strengths:  This is a simple kit, and that simplicity embodies both its strengths and Achille’s Heel(s).  To my eye, it does a fine job of accurately capturing the Nighthawk’s shape, size, proportions, and recessed and raised panel lines (where applicable).  The V-shaped vertical stabilizers come as a single-piece assembly.  The gear bays and bomb bay come as large single interior insert piece that again makes for a quick job of assembly.  The cockpit and FLIR sensor are another single-piece, drop-in assembly.  The kit contains a pair of GBU-10 2000-pound LGBs that are mounted on extended trapeze assemblies.  The fuselage sides also feature the radar reflectors and raised anti-collision beacon used on domestic flights, but if you are modeling this jet in a combat configuration, you’ll certainly want to sand those off.   
The decals were printed by Zanchetti and look to be quite well done from a technical perspective.  The 49th FW Wing King’s jet is also a nice subject for a late-life -117 scheme.

Weaknesses: Again, this is a simple kit and it reflects early1990s tooling.  The canopy is integrally molded into the fuselage and nose so that cannot be raised, but that’s probably a good thing.  You’ll want to hide the kit cockpit.  It is egregiously inaccurate.  The ejection seat is molded into the cockpit floor and rear bulkhead, is significantly over-scale (probably in the 1:55 to 1:65 range).  It also resembles nothing of the real ACES II ejection seat.  The instrument panel is grossly inaccurate, there are no side consoles, no control stick, rudder pedals, or other details that should be there.  There’s a decal for the instrument panel, but it does not represent anything even close to a late-life -117 instrument panel configuration.  The canopy glass is thick and distortive, and for an accurate appearance, you’ll need to tint the clear plastic gold.  A pilot figure is included, but it looks like he’s wearing Korean War-era P-1 helmet with an external visor.  The laser designator window appears banked off.  The bomb bays and landing gear wells are very simplistic and correspondingly inaccurate.  Also, it looks like the bomb bay trapeze mechanisms only come in one position – extended – so these parts don’t allow the builder to have the ordinance pulled up into the bomb bay as is typical when on the ground.       

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Overall, this kit gets an “okay” grade, given that the exterior is well done and is better in my opinion than the Hasegawa 1:72 scale F-117A.  Yet, the interior and lack of building options hold this kit back.  For many scale modelers, this kit can build up into a decent replica of the F-117A, and for those interested in making a more accurate Nighthawk, your work is cut out for you.  Focus on the cockpit, gear wells, and bomb bays.  Moreover, this underscores for me the fact that we need a new-tool F-117A in 1:72 scale that has accurate interiors.  The Academy and AMT small-scale F-117s are also pretty long in the tooth.  How about it, Revell?  :)        

Sincere thanks are owed to everyone at Revell for the review sample.  You can find them on the web at https://www.revell.de/en/home/

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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