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Grumman F-14A Tomcat
VF-84 "Jolly Rogers"
USS Nimitz (1981)
Why this plane?
The Tomcat is a strong candidate for the best-looking fighter jet ever made. As a teenager I much enjoyed watching the Jolly Rogers travel in time to defend Pearl Harbour in the movie The Final Countdown. So, when I got this kit I knew immediately which of the 3 options I was going to build.
What was added
I added an angle-of-attack nose probe, which was not in the kit. I made that from a hypodermic needle, sawed off and sanded to blunt the tip. I drilled a little hole in the tip of the nose cone, and glued it there with cyanoacrylate glue.
As explained below, there were also some problems with the decals. Some of these were serious enough to demand home-printed replacements.
Notes and lessons learned
Italeri, I love how you made the 1/48 Tomcat available to the masses. An excellent kit for 1/3 of the price you would have to pay elsewhere. But why, oh why, did you not show the same care getting the decals right?
This kit is a pleasure to build, everything fits, and filling and sanding is kept to the minimum. It gives you a good-looking F-14A for a bargain price. But...
Some of the decals are just the wrong size. The grey decals to represent the walkway on top of the jet intakes are the most visible problem. For whatever reason, the ones that comes with the kit are tiny, in comparison with the real thing. Unfortunately the "check your references first" lesson had not been fully absorbed on that day, so I ended up applying the decals, and then having to remove them after they had set in place. What you see in the pictures is result of subsequent masking and airbrushing (Vallejo dark gull grey).
The model comes with decals to represent the formation lights: 2 on each side of the nose, 2 in the rear fuselage, 2 in the wing tips and 2 in the vertical stabilisers. Except that they are a wrong colour (bright yellow) and wrong size (they don't fit at all in the engraved detail that shows the places where they are supposed to go). My solution was to print my own decals - using Bare Metal Foil decal film, and then use a fine fluoro yellow highlighter to give them a semblance of the colour I see in pictures of real Tomcats.
The nose decal numbers (201 in my model) are also too big in comparison with my reference pictures. I decided that I can live with this, and used them as provided.
The decals provided for the red strips under the rear fuselage stop short of where they should go. Again, used them as provided.
Some of the stencils in the Sidewinders are too big. Again, used as provided.
Other problems and warnings
The wing glove weapon pylons, from which the Sidewinders and Sparrows hang, break off easily. I reinforced their connection to the bottom of the wing with metal rods, and glued with cyanoacrylate.
The decals are a bit thick, which is good to avoid other kinds of problems, but they need a lot of microset and microsol before the transparent edges "melt" into the paint. The most problematic decal in this respect is the skull and crossbones that go on the vertical stabilisers. The iconic skull and the yellow letters AJ are part of a single big decal, which means a lot of potential shiny bits interfering with the matt back appearance. Many repeat applications of Microsol were needed.
The glove vane housings in the leading edge of the wing, are provided as long rectangular pieces, which I found difficult to fit over the corresponding hole. This required a lot of attempts, which resulted in some mess that needed to be sanded. Rather than re-scribing (in a difficult place, given the sharp curvature) I ended up printing a decal to represent it.
In this model I encountered a new problem at the very last step. I thought everything was ready to go and decided to "seal" the decals and weathering, and reduce the shiny appearance, with a final layer of TS-79 Tamiya semi-gloss - same as I had done successfully in the Panther and Skyhawk. To my horror, once dry the top coat became all wrinkly in several places, giving it a honeycomb-like appearance. A lot of sanding later, I managed to get rid of most of that effect, and the remnants were hidden by "weathering" with Tamiya Weathering Master B (I did not plan to have this model looking so "dirty", but had to improvise). If anyone knows why this happens, and what can be done to avoid it, please drop me an email using the link below.
(Good) things I learned:
The front panel of the Tomcat canopy has a green tint. This is not in the instructions, but can be seen in many pictures online. After experimenting with spare pieces of sprue I discovered that you can tint floor polish by mixing it with a bit of Tamiya clear green acrylic. This can be safely painted over the clear plastic or over a pre-existing layer of floor polish. It spreads nicely just like the normal floor polish. This mix stays stable for weeks (at least).
I experimented using a fine pacer pencil running over the panel lines to accentuate them. This was done instead of using Tamiya panel line accent colour after the decals and sealing, as in previous models. I liked the result - the panel lines look slightly metallic instead of solid black, and it is easy to erase your mistakes. This step was done after the flat acrylic paint was fully dry, and before sealing it with airbrushed floor polish.
And *finally*, I managed to get a shiny canopy. In my case, the recipe was:
Clean with a mild solution of dishwashing soap; wash out in running water; let dry under a cup to avoid gathering dust;
Once dry, use a lint-free polishing cloth to make it shiny;
Dip in floor polish, and place it over a kitchen paper towel inside a sealed contained overnight;
Repeat previous step once or twice;
Once fully dry, glue to the fuselage using Micro Krystal Klear applied with a toothpick
Mask with Tamiya tape so you can paint the frame, using airbrush.
Keep the mask on until the final unveiling.
Building the F-14A cockpit
These images give you some idea of what type of cockpit detail you can get out of the box. The cockpit is assembled as separate upper and lower halves, and then joined together. Here I experimented for the first time with dry brushing metallic paint to accentuate the instruments and buttons. I think the effect looks OK.