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KIT REVIEW


Zoukei-Mura Super Wings Series 1/48 No. 7
F-4D Phantom II -- 1:48 Scale

Zoukei-mura’s phamily of 1:48 scale F-4 Phantom IIs just keeps on growing with no signs of slowing down.  Following the release of their superlative F-4J and F-4S kits they followed up with the F-4C that has now been joined by an F-4D.  A sample of this kit arrived on our review bench last week, so let’s take a look at the second Phantom II operated by the U.S. Air Force.

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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 story of the F-4D begins in the early 1960s with the F-4C and the philosophical quest by Secretary of Defense McNamara’s Department of Defense for greater efficiency and cost-savings in the form of inter-service “commonality.”  In 1962, the DoD selected the Navy’s record-breaking F-4B to be procured for the USAF’s Tactical Air Command.  Originally designated as the F-110A, it was later re-designated as the F-4C Phantom II.

The F-4C was based on the Navy’s F-4B airframe, but the USAF variant was fitted with several distinct features not found on the carrier-based Bravo-models.  Among these changes, the F-4C received a new aft cockpit that was completely reconfigured for an Air Force weapons system officer (WSO, or “whizzo”), the J79-GE-15 powerplants, and wider tires that facilitated optimal land-based performance.

The F-4D was, for all intents and purposes, an F-4C with significantly upgraded avionics.  They flew the APQ-109 radar, which featured a solid-state design and ground slant ranging, making air-to-ground strikes far more accurate.  The jet also received the ASG-22 LCOSS optical sight system, a new inertial navigation system, and a new weapons release computer.  Most of the new hardware apart from the radar was squeezed into the space above their No.1 internal fuel cell.  Some F-4Ds also sported an AN/ARN-92 LORAN-D antenna on the aircraft’s spine.  Of course, its shape garnered the “Towel Rack” antenna nickname.  Early F-4Ds had a slick ventral radome, but experiences in Vietnam demonstrated the vital need for forward-facing missile lock and launch detection.  Thus, a chin pod similar to that on the Navy’s F-4B was soon fitted and housed the AN/ALR-46 Radar Homing and Warning System (RHAWS) radar warning receiver. 

The first F-4D flew on 9 December 1965, and a production run of 825 airframes began soon after.  The F-4D was also at a crossroads in terms of the history of weapons development, and over its time in Vietnam, it flew everything from the relatively primitive AIM-4 air-to-air missile to the first generation of laser-guided bombs and laser designator targeting pods.  As noted above, the PAVE Phantom program led to 72 Block 32/33 F-4Ds modified with the LORAN-D antenna allowing for precision navigation.  Those jets served as pathfinders for strike missions as well as dropping sensors at night over the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Ten F-4Ds were modified as “Smart –Ds” to carry the PAVE KNIFE designator pod and GBU-10 laser-guided bombs, the results of which were seen on the strikes of the infamous Paul Doumer Bridge.  Other airframes were modified as EF-4D Wild Weasels.  In Southeast Asia, one USAF pilot and two USAF WSOs became aces in F-4Ds.  In the early 1970s, the F-4D began to be rapidly eclipsed by the F-4E and the jet cycled into stateside Air National Guard and Reserve units to conclude their service in the 1980s.   

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Zoukei-mura’s 1:48 scale F-4D Phantom II is an injection molded plastic model kit.  It contains 372 medium gray parts distributed across 11 sprues along with 14 clear parts on one clear sprue.  Approximately 108 of these parts go unused in the F-4D.  Also included in the box are the beautifully rendered and very clear instruction booklet that guides the build over 45 steps, and a full-color, double-sided painting and markings guide.  As typical for the Zoukei-mura F-4 kits, markings are provided for two jets:

Strengths: This kit is based on Zoukei-mura’s F-4C in 1:48 scale (see our review HERE) and shares approximately 98% parts commonality.  Overall, the Zoukei-mura F-4D kit is light-years beyond the 1980-vintage raised panel tooling that characterized the Hasegawa F-4D.  This kit also arguably edges out the Academy F-4s in a few important ways (for a fuller discussion, see click HERE).

All the accolades that I have previously stated regarding the Zoukei-mura F-4C apply to the F-4D kit as well.  The kit itself features an excellent overall accuracy and fidelity of detail.  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.  The Martin-Baker Mk. 7 ejection seats are also nearly perfect for an injection-molded seat (but see below).  Perhaps taking a cue from 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 precise alignment.  The beautifully detailed cockpit sill, which normally I would usually recommend be represented 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 is rich with detail, such as that seen with the thousands of small perforations on the intake splitter plates (which vented boundary air overboard) and are beautifully represented.  They also did great flapper doors on the back portion of the forward Sparrow missile wells.

The intake trunking lead 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 and afterburner nozzles in the completed model, since the engines 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 AIM-7E Sparrows and AIM-9J/P Sidewinders.  However, do watch out for the fine seam lines on the missile bodies that you’ll want to sand down. 

Now zeroing-in on the F-4D-specific details: Zoukei-mura just about perfectly captures the features of the early USAF F-4C/D, such as the slightly bulged/raised upper inboard wings.  More than half of the new F-4D-specific parts on Sprue L are for the cockpit that to me appears as accurately represented in every respect, from the flight controls to the side instrument consoles and circuit breaker panels.  The new radar came with new displays and the front cockpit had a differently shaped glare shield.  The kit has these along with the RWR and ILS scopes.  There’s also an accurate nose RHAWS faring and vertical stabilizer cap.  The kit features the alternate shapes of the aft-facing radar warning receivers.  The LORAN-D antenna also looks pretty sharp.

The decal sheet was produced by Cartograf of Italy and it is beautifully made.  The two schemes feature the standard (and quite familiar) SEA camouflage paint scheme, but the second option (the 497th TFS jet) is one of the famous “Night Owl” pathfinders.  Of note, this scheme had the bottom of the jet (and pylons and drop tanks, too) painted flat black.  It’s a neat look.  There’s also a lot of stenciling for both the airplane and the missiles, and they all look right.    

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.  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 absent.     

Just like the Academy kit, there is no provision to build the wings folded, but for any USAF Phantom, this is a nearly meaningless critique.  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.

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 cart.

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Zoukei-mura’s F-4C Phantom II is an outstanding kit in virtually all respects.  They nailed the variant-specific details such as the correct wings, short afterburner nozzles, and more.  While the Academy F-4D is an excellent kit, the Zoukei-mura kit edges it out in a few ways to be the best F-4D in 1:48 scale.

The fact of the matter is that the kit is designed quite specifically to portray a late 1960s Vietnam era-configured F-4D.  Maybe Zoukei-mura will release an early and late version of the F-4D.  Until then (and IF it works out that way at all), you can still do some pretty simple modifications.  With the right set of decals and the PAVE KNIFE and GBU-10s in Hasegawa’s Weapons Set B, you can certainly build from this kit a precision attack-configured F-4D.  Eduard also makes a far better set of GBU-10s in their Brassin product line.  Such a so-called "Smart -D" also had a square radar scope that could produce a TV-like image.  That modification should also be pretty simple to fabricate.  This LGB-armed configuration, which pioneered today’s precision-strike capability, really appeals to me.  If you want to go the other way and build an early F-4D, Hasegawa also does AIM-4 Falcons in their 1:48 scale Weapons Set C (again, so does Eduard, and again, they are far better than the Hasegawa missiles).  Some early F-4Ds did not have the nose-mounted RHAWS fairing, so check your references if building an early F-4D.  If building a later 1980s-era F-4D, some (not all) of those jets had the AN/ALR-69 (V2) system on the nose with various rounded sensor protrusions and is not depicted by the parts here. 

Sincere thanks are owed to Mr. Hideyuki Shigeta, the president of Zoukei-mura 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_099.html, which is a good way to follow development of their kits and other activities of interest which currently include their 1:32 scale Fw 190, a two-seat Ho 229 conversion set, and their next 1:48 scale Phantom II: the F-4E.  We can’t wait!  

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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