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KIT REVIEW


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

As one of the most anticipated kits of 2016, Zoukei-Mura’s latest addition in their Super Wings Series (SWS) in 1:48 scale is the legendary F-4J Phantom II.  In this scale, the F-4J has a long and diverse history going back into the 1970s with the venerable and memorable Revell and Monogram kits.  Those were the best game in town until Hasegawa’s Phantom F-4J series debuted in 1989.  Academy’s 1:48 F-4J in 2014 raised the bar even higher, and now, Zoukei-Mura brings us their version of this legendary Navy Phantom.  It just landed on our review bench, and here, we’ll take in-depth look at Zoukei-Mura’s latest kit.

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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, Navy, USAF, and USMC F-4s were among the most versatile airplanes involved to the conflict, serving in interceptor, fighter-bomber, battlefield interdiction, recce, and even FAC roles.

The Navy and Marine Corps’ F-4B first flew in 1961, and it was the first major production variant of the Phantom II.  By 1966, the F-4B design was in need of an extensive upgrade and the F-4J was the end product of that effort.  One major external difference involved deletion of the F-4B’s under-nose infrared seeker, but most of the key improvements of were on the inside – all focused on making the Phantom a more lethal air-to-air platform.  The new Phantom featured significantly improved avionics across some 10 different systems.  F-4Js were upgraded with the APG-59 pulse Doppler radar (the first transistor-based fighter radar and which had a look-down capability) linked to the AWG-10 fire control computer.  It was also fitted with RHAWS gear and an early data link system.  The uprated J79-GE-10 engine, visually distinguished by its longer afterburner nozzles, each provided 17,900 pounds of thrust.  The landing gear were strengthened and a fuel cell was added in the aft fuselage.  The F-4J simultaneously benefitted from the improvements in Sidewinder and Sparrow air-to-air missiles, and the Navy's only Vietnam aces flew the F-4J for all of their kills.  A total of 522 F-4Js were manufactured in St. Louis between 1966 and 1972.  F-4Js were also exported to the United Kingdom as F-4Ks and F-4Ms (the FG.1 and FGR.2, respectively).  The ultimate USN/USMC Phantom was the F-4S, which were the 302 upgraded F-4J airframes fitted with slatted wings and other structural modifications.

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Zoukei-Mura’s 1:48 scale F-4J Phantom II is an injection molded plastic model kit.  It contains 244 medium gray parts distributed across nine sprues along with 13 clear parts on one sprue.  Also included in the box are the instruction booklet and a full-color, double-sided paintings and markings guide.  Markings are provided for one aircraft:

- F-4J BuNo 155800, VF-96 Fighting Falcons (CAG bird - Showtime 100), 1972

Strengths: When I first heard about the release of Zoukei-Mura’s F-4J in 1:48 scale, I was actually a bit reticent.  That had nothing to do with Zoukei-Mura’s sterling reputation of making excellent kits, and I had no doubt that this would be a great Phantom.  My reaction involved my wondering if the 1:48 scale F-4J market had been saturated by the Hasegawa and Academy kits.  After all, the Academy F-4J was a pretty definitive quarter-scale Phantom and would be hard to beat – especially after the Academy F-4J fixed the gross errors in the rear cockpit configuration that was present in their F-4B/N kits (just as the Hasegawa kits had erred, Academy had their Navy rear cockpits configured as Air Force Phantoms).  All this said, I would argue that the Zoukei-Mura F-4J edges out the Academy kit in a few key ways.

The overall accuracy and fidelity of detail in this kit is remarkable, and represents the high standards that Zoukei-Mura brings to all its kits.  The parts are drop-dead gorgeous just sitting on the sprues.  In fact, I would rate the cockpit’s instrument and console details, along with other parts such as the wheel hubs, as being on par with resin detail sets.  When I build, I nearly always use aftermarket cockpit parts, but not for this kit.  I love working with resin part, but here, it’s just not necessary.  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 – I love it.  The shape of the ejection handles, which is sometimes molded quite inaccurately by in other manufacturers’ 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. To me, that’s nice engineering that greatly simplifies the fit and precisely alignment of the cockpit and gear well. 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 fits down on top of the cockpit’s sidewalls to again reflect great thinking about kit detail and engineering.  Also, two sets of clear parts are provided.  One set (separate windscreen and canopies) allows for building the F-4J with canopy up, and the other is a single piece windscreen and canopy assembly to make life considerably easier for those who wish to build their F-4J with a closed-up cockpit.  Also, 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 itself looks excellent and is rich with detail, characterized by fine recessed panel and screw/fastener details.  Unlike the Academy kit (or the 1:32 scale Tamiya F-4, for that matter), the fuselage is not a slide mold-produced, single-piece part.  Instead, it features a more traditional left and right fuselage halves and the top of the aircraft’s spine plugs in as a separate piece.  This way, the access panel details on the spine aren’t interrupted and potentially sanded into oblivion while cleaning up a centerline seam (something that always irked me with the Hasegawa F-4s).  In reviewing my F-4J references and line drawings, the panel configuration appears to be accurate.  It also appears to capture well the “thick wing” and trunnion cap configuration accommodating the larger main landing gear.  Other subtle details are worth noting, such as the thousands of small perforations on the intake splitter plates (these vent boundary air overboard) and are beautifully represented.  They are amazingly fine, so be sure to paint these parts with a very fine coat of paint.  I also appreciated the fact that Zoukei-Mura did their homework and nicely represented the flapper doors on the back portion of the forward Sparrow missile wells.  Again, its’ the little things…!

The intake trunking is present separated into upper and lower halves, and they lead right to a pair of complete J79 engines – very cool, indeed!  The engines themselves are accurate in shape and general layout, and I particularly like the representation of the injector lines that feed fuel to the afterburner fuel injectors.  At the same time, the engines are a little basic. That is to say that there’s a fair amount of plumbing and the prominent lever assemblies on the side of the motor are omitted.  To some degree, this is probably a reflection of the limitations of injection plastic molding, and the fact that if you’re building according to the instructions, you’ll never see the J79s aside from their first stage compressor blades and afterburner nozzles.  So, for those building out-of-the-box, there’s plenty of detail to work with even if the engines are going to 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).  For those wanting to add more detail, Zoukei-Mura’s 1:48 scale J79s provide an exciting invitation for superdetailing.  Personally, when I build this kit, I think I’ll cut and swing open the lower engine access panels to show the engines off.

Other notable high points include features such as the separate inboard and outboard flaps, open or closed speedbrakes, the 600-gallon centerline and 370-gallon outboard wing droptanks, great pylons and representation of sway braces, and a very nicely made set of four AIM-7E Sparrows and four AIM-9D 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.  For most of these decals, there is, for all intents and purposes, no visible carrier film to speak of.  There’s a lot of stenciling, and it looks absolutely accurate.

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.  This is unfortunate, but Zoukei-Mura was probably considering the cost-benefit analysis of providing injection molded belts (which by virtue of this production technology often appear unrealistic) and that they, along with manufacturers such as Eduard, will no doubt produce aftermarket belts in the very near future.

The representation of 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.  The main gear well is even more basic.  Granted, the real thing doesn’t have a lot of a lot of wires and cables, either, but here, the main wheel wells in the Zoukei-Mura kit are pretty much just bulkeads.  As with the engines, the invitation for the scale modeler to add detail is here. Also, the kit detail for the rat nest of cables and wires behind the RIO’s instruments is quite minimal.

Just like the Academy kit, there is no provision to build the wings folded.  Further, while the leading and trailing edge flaps and 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.  Virtually every pour gate should be fine and easy to separate the parts – except for the rather large pout gates that attach to the front of each of the face curtain ejection handles.  Be very careful removing those ejection handles for this reason.  Also, be vigilant regarding ejection pin markings.  They are all mostly quite restrained and shallow.  This is nice, since it will be pretty straightforward to eliminate them on most parts such as the intake trunks and landing gear.  A few others, such as those located on the inside of landing gear doors, are probably best taken care of by using some kind of self-leveling filler.  Also, I think the display stand/engine cradle is inaccurate.  The instructions call it “a simplified display stand” and that’s fair enough.  But to my understanding, J79s were removed by a hydraulically powered cart, and maintained on a standard wheeled cart. This stand does not represent either.

Some scale modelers might feel a bit shorted by the fact that the decal sheet only one set of markings.  To that, do consider that the one scheme here is of Showtime 100 - the iconic F-4J that Lt. Randy Cunningham and Lt. (JG) Willy Driscoll scored their third, fourth, and fifth kills with on 10 May 1972 and then were promptly shot down by an SA-2 surface-to-air missile.

If there’s interest to build some other F-4J, the aftermarket decal world is replete with F-4J schemes. A good number of those aftermarket decals are not terribly airframe shape-specific, so they are usable without question. Others have large decals that cover very specific shapes for example, such as with a bicentennial scheme. Out of curiosity, I cut out a red, white, and blue decal that covers the entire tail from the CAM sheet for VMFA-115 Silver Eagles’ Bicentennial Scheme. That decal was sized for the Hasegawa kit, and it fits like a glove on the Zoukei-Mura vertical stabilizer. I think only a little trimming will be required. So, great news – evaluate it on a case-by-case basis, but aftermarket decals sized for the Hasegawa F-4Js should be able to fit nicely on this new Phantom, too.

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Zoukei-Mura’s F-4J Phantom II is an outstanding kit in any respect and it does this great plane justice.  Beyond the evaluation of this kit on its own merits, another near-constant mental thread concerned comparison with the Academy kit.  To me, both are excellent, and it’s comparable to the choice between driving a Mazeratti or a Lamborghini.  In other words, they're both pretty sexy cars and it boils down to a matter of individual taste.  For me, I’d gravitate more towards the Zoukei-Mura kit for the outstanding fidelity of cockpit and airframe details, the inclusion of the engines (I just love engines!) and the separate control surfaces.  I also think this kit going to be easier to build and better is engineered than the Academy kit.  For me, these details meaningfully elevate the Zoukei-Mura F-4J just above the rest.

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_083.html, which is a good way to follow development of their kits and other activities of interest which currently include a 1:48 scale F-4S Phantom II, a 1:32 scale Fw 190, and more for 2017.

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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