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KIT REVIEW


Zoukei-Mura Super Wings Series 1/48 No. 8
F-4J Phantom II Marines -- 1:48 Scale

The F-4 Phantom II requires no introduction, and since their inaugural release of their 1:48 scale F-4J in 2016, Zoukei-Mura’s growing and much-lauded family of Super Wings Series (SWS) Phantoms keeps growing.  In August 2018, the F-4J “Marines” edition of the kit is scheduled to be released.  Here, we’ll take a 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 as the F4H-1for the U.S. Navy by McDonnell Douglas in the late 1950s.  The two seat, two engine, all-weather interceptor 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 served with great versatility in interceptor, fighter-bomber, battlefield interdiction, recce, and 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.  The resultant F-4J was manufactured in St. Louis between 1966 and 1972, with 522 built.  This model deleted 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 -J 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. 

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Zoukei-Mura’s 1:48 scale F-4J Phantom II Marines kit is an injection molded plastic model kit.  It contains 368 medium gray parts distributed across 12 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 two aircraft:

Strengths: All of the accolades given to the previous Zoukei-mura F-4J kit and their other 1:48 scale Phantom IIs apply equally to this kit.  You can find those reviews HERE (and scroll to the bottom of the page).  But to recap: the overall accuracy and fidelity of detail in this kit is outstanding.  The parts are drop-dead 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 resin detail sets.  When I build, I nearly always use aftermarket cockpit parts, but not for this kit.  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, and this approach allows for maximum detail in injection molding.  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 precise alignment of the cockpit and gear well.  The beautifully detailed cockpit sill, which normally I would 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.  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.  Zoukei-Mura nicely represented the flapper doors on the back portion of the forward Sparrow missile wells. 

The intake trunking is present separated into upper and lower halves, and they lead right to a pair of complete J79 engines.  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 (see below).

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 with the Red Devils markings was printed by Cartograf of Italy. 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.

NEW IN THIS EDITION OF THE KIT: This is not a 1:1 re-boxing of the first edition of the Zoukei-mura F-4J, but it’s quite close.  The decals are obviously the principle difference, and especially for their domestic market in Japan, Iwakuni-based subject matter is likely to be a big seller.  I critiqued the first edition of the kit regarding the fact that while the kit’s leading edge slats, ailerons, and wing flaps were separate parts but  the mounting tabs only allowed fitting these control surfaces in the neutral (up) position.  Here, the instructions for these parts are reworked allowing for the construction option involving dropped positioning.  Also, there’s some subtle differences in the location of external antennas to represent an accurate configuration for a Marine F-4J, and this version of the kit takes that into consideration. 

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).  Aftermarket belts are out there, of course.

The representation of the plumbing in the nose gear well is pretty basic and sparse, and even one of the two 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 bulkheads.  As with the engines, the invitation for the scale modeler to add detail is here.  Additionally, the kit detail for the rat nest of cables and wires behind the RIO’s instruments is quite minimal.

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 is fine and easy to separate the parts – except for the rather large gates that attach to the front of each of the face curtain ejection handles.  Be very careful removing those ejection handles for this reason. 

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.  The display stand/engine cradle is inaccurate.  J79s were removed by a hydraulically powered cart and maintained on a standard wheeled cart.  This stand does not represent either.  The instructions call it “a simplified display stand” and that’s fair enough.

One quirk: two sets of Sprue N are included in this kit.  Sprue N has been standard in all the Zoukei-mura F-4s since the F-4S came out in 2017.  Here, you won’t use a single part from either Sprue Ns for the F-4J.  Bonus missiles and boarding ladders!

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Zoukei-Mura’s F-4J Phantom II Marines is another winner from Zoukei-mura.  It is an outstanding kit in all respect and it does justice to this great plane and to the Marines who flew it.  This new edition with the markings for a pair of mid-1970s VMFA-232 jets is really great, and the dropped slats and flaps are a nice touch.  Zoukei-mura keeps producing what I consider to be the best 1:48 scale F-4s to date, and we eagerly look forward to their forthcoming F-4E. 

Sincere thanks are owed to Mr. Hideyuki Shigeta, the president of Zoukei-mura, and Yuko Yamashita (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_100.html, which is a good way to follow development of their kits and other activities of interest which currently include their aforementioned 1:48 scale F-4E Phantom II, a 1:32 scale Fw 190, and more for 2018.

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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