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KIT REVIEW


Zoukei-Mura Super Wings Series 1/48 No. 5
F-4S Phantom II -- 1:48 Scale

Following the release of one the most anticipated kits of 2016, Zoukei-mura’s latest addition in their Super Wings Series (SWS) in 1:48 scale is the F-4S Phantom II.  In this scale, the F-4S has not seen a lot of attention, and the Hasegawa F-4S kits have a few glaring errors and shortcomings that really detract from overall accuracy.  Zoukei-mura’s F-4S just arrived on our review bench, and here, we’ll take a careful look at Zoukei-mura’s Sierra-model Phantom II.  

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The F-4 Phantom II is one of the best-known aircraft of the 20th century, originally developed for the U.S. Navy by McDonnell Douglas in the late 1950s as a two seat, dual engine, all-weather interceptor.  Then known as the F4H-1, it beat out the Chance Vought XF8U-3 Super Crusader to become the Navy’s principal carrier-based fighter of the 1960s.  As the Vietnam War intensified, the versatility of the F-4 was demonstrated as it served in interceptor, fighter-bomber, battlefield interdiction, recce, and FAC roles with the Navy, USAF, and USMC.

The lineage of the F-4S begins with the F-4B that first flew in 1961.  By 1966, the F-4B design was in need of an extensive upgrade.  The resultant F-4J was focused on improving air-to-air lethality.  In addition to some subtle structural changes and the addition of a new aft fuselage fuel cell and strengthened landing gear, the F-4J was fitted with the APG-59 radar and additional new avionics, new RHAW (radar homing and warning) gear, and the uprated J79-GE-10 engine.

The ultimate Navy and Marine Corps Phantom was the F-4S which first flew on 22 July 1977. A total of 302 F-4J airframes were modified and upgraded to the S-model.  Needing to keep up with the third and fourth generation of Soviet fighters – and after being clearly outclassed by the likes of the newer F-15 and F-16 – the F-4S featured distinctive slatted leading edges on the wings.  They improved performance in the high-AoA portion of the envelope.  The slats were very similar to those on the F-4E.  They helped keep the F-4 relevant in the dogfighting arena and decreased the Phantom’s turning radius by about half.  Other changes included a small outboard wing fence, the switchover to a smokeless J79 engine, the AWG-10 radar set, new RHAW gear and antennas, and new low-voltage formation strip lights.  Also, the F-4S (along with some F-4Es and all F-4G Wild Weasels) featured a large “belly strap” external reinforcement plate.  This plate went wingfold-to-wingfold across the bottom of the jet to offset the structural loading produced by unique aerodynamic pressures generated by the leading edge slats.  

The F-4S saw many carrier deployments and flew with a range of active and reserve USN and USMC units.  The type completed a number of “phinal” Phantom landmarks, as the last active duty U.S. Navy Phantom to launch and trap from a carrier in 1986 and as the last Naval Reserve Phantom in service in 1987.  The Marine Corps held on to the jet for several more years as the last of the F-4S Phantoms were retired and replaced by the F/A-18 in the early 1990s.

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Zoukei-mura’s 1:48 scale F-4S Phantom II is an injection molded plastic model kit.  It contains 369 medium gray parts distributed across 11 sprues along with 14 clear parts on one sprue.  Approximately 106 of these parts (mostly missiles from the earlier F-4J kit) go unused with the F-4S kit.  Also included in the box are the instruction booklet that guides the build over 48 well-illustrated steps, and a full-color, double-sided paintings and markings guide.  Markings are provided for one jet:

Strengths:  This kit is based on Zoukei-mura’s F-4J in 1:48 scale and shares about 85% the same parts.  It comes in a slightly larger box to accommodate a few new sprues.  This kit arguably edges out the Academy F-4J kit in a few important ways to (see our review here).

First up: let’s take a look at the new plastic in the F-4S kit.  Starting with the all-important F-4S wings, it is clear that Zoukei-mura got it right.  Both overall configuration and the details of the inboard and outboard slats, actuators, wing fence, and wingtip AN/ALQ-45 RHAW antennas look just about perfect.  These parts significantly outclass the wings on the 1:48 scale Hasegawa F-4S that appear devoid of detail in comparison.  They also have represented the the belly strap, and it looks correct!  Thank goodness!  I think Zoukei-mura is the first manufacturer of an injection molded Phantom to represent this feature.
Other Sierra-model details (that differ from the F-4J) have also been carefully and rather thoughtfully represented here.  These include subtle cockpit details, such as the correct configuration shared by the late F-4J and F-4S with the offset radar scope on the pilot’s instrument panel, the “half-moon” plate in the framing between the pilot and RIO, the external rear-view mirror on the RIO’s canopy, and the pilot’s optical sight unit (a kind of “proto-HUD.”)

This kit appears to correctly represent all other external F-4S details, such as the correct configuration of low-voltage formation lights (particularly noticeable on the vertical stabilizers) deletion of all the J-model antennas, and inclusion of the short AN/ALQ-126 DECM waveguide fairings on the intakes.  The kit also possesses the unique shape for the ram air intakes on the nose, and the left air scoop has a splitter plate – again, a very subtle detail, but 100% correct.  The shape of the antennas adjacent to the speed brakes looks right.  The ECS ram air louvers to the left of the nose gear well have been changed and appear shape- and configuration-accurate for the F-4S.
 
Second: let’s take a look at the overall kit.  Here, I’ll reiterate many of the same comments that also apply to the Zoukei-mura F-4J.  The overall accuracy and fidelity of detail in this kit is remarkable.  The parts are gorgeous just sitting on the sprues.  The cockpit’s instrument and console details, along with other parts, such as the wheel hubs, are on par with most resin detail sets.  When I build, I nearly always use aftermarket cockpit parts, but it’s just not necessary here.  The Martin-Baker Mk. 7 ejection seats are also nearly perfect for an injection molded seat (but see below).  Perhaps taking a cue from how Eduard does their aftermarket seats, the seat pad, backpad, and parachute pack are all separate parts.  This approach allows for the most accurate and detailed seat that injection molding can produce.  The shape of the ejection handles, which is sometimes quite badly done in other F-4 kits, is accurate here.

The cockpit and nose gear well assembly are integrated, such that the floor of the cockpit and gear well roof are shared by the same part. This greatly simplifies the fit and provides for precise alignment.  The beautifully detailed cockpit sill, which normally I would usually recommend to represent with a photoetch metal detail part, is a single plastic part that drops down on top of the cockpit’s sidewalls.  The two sets of clear parts allow for either open or closed canopies.  The in-flight refueling probe can be displayed in the closed or deployed positions and the auxiliary air intake doors on the bottom of the fuselage can be positioned open.

The airframe exterior itself is rich with detail, characterized by fine recessed panel and screw/fastener details.  It captures well the “thick wing” and trunnion cap configuration accommodating the larger main landing gear.  Other subtle details such as the thousands of small perforations on the intake splitter plates (these vent boundary air overboard) are beautifully represented.  They also nicely represented the flapper doors on the back portion of the forward Sparrow missile wells.

The intake trunking leads right to a pair of complete J79 engines that appear accurate in shape and layout but are still fairly basic.  There’s a fair amount of plumbing and the prominent lever assemblies on the side of the motor are omitted.  But of course you’ll never see the J79s between from their first stage compressor blades to their afterburner nozzles in the completed model, since the engines are buried inside the fuselage – except for what you can see when the auxiliary engine intake doors are open (which is anytime the F-4 is sitting on the ground).

Other notable high points include features such as the separate inboard and outboard flaps, open or closed speed brakes, the 600-gallon centerline and 370-gallon outboard wing drop tanks, great pylons and representation of sway braces, and a very nicely made set of four early-1980s AIM-7E Sparrows and four AIM-9L Sidewinders.  However, do watch out for the fine seam lines on the missile bodies that you’ll want to sand down.
The decal sheet was produced by Cartograf of Italy and it is beautifully made.  Beyond the typical high-quality printing and perfect register, it is amazing how tightly applied the carrier film is to the margins of the ink.  There’s a lot of stenciling for both the airplane and the missiles, and they all appear accurate.    

An interesting observation comes from a look at the two sets of Sprue N that was not present in the F-4J kit.  Of course, the later AIM-7Es and AIM-9Ls come on Sprue N, but there are also parts (not designated for use in this kit) that sure look like USAF AIM-9Ps and USAF F-4 boarding ladders.  While one should not “read the sprues” too deeply, it sure seems to me that Zoukei-mura is at least planning for an Air Force F-4... 

Weaknesses:  This is a superlative kit by any measure, but there are a few perceived shortcomings and little warning flags to note. 

The ejection seats lack shoulder harnesses and lap belts, but aftermarket belts are inexpensive and easy to obtain.  I’m not quite sure the pilot’s missile control panel and comm/nav panel (different on the F-4S) are accurate.  They look a bit simplified, but in 1:48 scale, these details required a good deal of squinting to evaluate (and I’ve got pretty good eyes).  It’s minutiae to be clear.  Similarly, the plumbing in the nose gear well is pretty basic and sparse, and even one of the two really large bleed air pipes is missing.     

Just like the Academy kit, there is no provision to build the wings folded. Further, while the leading and trailing edge flaps are separate parts, their mounting tabs only allow fitting these control surfaces in the neutral (up) position.  So if the builder seeks to drop these surfaces, some modification and test fitting will be required.  Also, if the model is built without the Sparrow missiles, blank off the inside of the slots where the missile’s fins extend from the missile well into the fuselage.  Otherwise, you’ll be able to look right into the model’s interior.

Also, the engine display stand/cradle is inaccurate. The instructions call it “a simplified display stand” and that’s fair enough.  But do recall that J79s were removed by a hydraulically powered cart and maintained on a standard wheeled cart.  The stand in the kit does not represent either.
 
Some scale modelers might feel a bit shorted by the fact that the decal sheet has only one set of markings for VF-161, but if there’s interest to build some other F-4S, the aftermarket decal world is replete with schemes and already I know of a few decal manufactures planning sheets for this kit.

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Zoukei-mura’s F-4S Phantom II is an outstanding kit in virtually all respects.  They nailed the variant-specific details here, and the new wings with the slats (and all the other details) are simply great.  The scale modeling world has needed a good F-4S kit for decades, and finally, we’ve got a great 1:48 scale F-4S.  

Sincere thanks are owed to Mr. Hideyuki Shigeta, the president of Zoukei-mura, Christopher Coutinho, and Carmine Napolitano (also of Zoukei-mura) for providing this sample. You can find out more about them at http://www.zoukeimura.co.jp/en/ and follow Mr. Shigeta’s blog at http://www.zoukeimura.co.jp/en/sentiment/oyajiblog_093.html, which is a good way to follow development of their kits and other activities of interest which currently include a 1:32 scale two-seat Do 335A-12, a 1:32 scale Henschel Hs 129, a 1:32 scale Ki-45 Toryu, and pair of Horton 229s in 1:72 and 1:144 scales.  


Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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