Stemming from Academy’s excellent 2013 F/A-18 Super Hornet kit releases, they have yet again pleased Naval Aviation fans with the colorful VFA-2 Bounty Hunters Super Hornet CAG!
The kit offers two marking options, both from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 2, Bounty Hunters, out of Lemoore, California. The scheme shown on the box is the colorful CAG 100 bird BuNo 165916. The second option is line number 104, BuNo 165920. The decals are by Cartograph and are of extremely high quality.
The box contains six sprues molded in hard light grey plastic, and one sprue in clear for the canopy and HUD. The nose cone, rear fuselage, and front fuselage are sitting by themselves in the box. For those who have built Academy’s Super Hornet or Growler releases from 2016 on, you will find that the parts are pretty much the same. This can serve as a review for all these kits as they are molded the same way, aside from a few pieces belonging to each aircraft designation.
Instead of the cockpit assembly being found in step one, this kit begins by assembling the wings. The top of the aircraft is molded into one piece, and wings cannot be folded in the “stored” position. The inside of the wheel bays are also molded into one piece that fits tightly into the rear fuselage. The air intake assembly consists of three parts, and snaps into the rear fuselage piece as well. At this point, it is a good idea to paint the inside of the air intakes white, and mask them before joining this part to the top fuselage in a later step. A slight gap between the attaching edges of the wings runs right through the inboard flap on the underside. It is a good idea to fill this, even though many won’t see that side. See picture below.
The second page of the instruction manual shows the main landing gear legs installed, but I opted to leave these out until the end. Step three begins by sandwiching the horizontal stabilizer in between the rear fuselage and the top fuselage. The stab can be glued with either a few degrees pitch trim up or down if you force it but is really designed to be set in the neutral position. So far, the kit is borderline snap tight. The fit is so good that glue is not required but is recommended of course for longevity.
Page three begins with cockpit assembly. I have to say, for a 1/72 scale model, the detail is very good. Each ejection seat is made up of two parts, and all the panels molded on the cockpit tray have raised button, throttle, and lever detail. The decal sheet provides decals for the green DDI screens, as well as some of the button-laden panels. With a bit of time invested and a fine tipped brush, you will have a very realistic cockpit. These parts all fit into the tray that aligns into the forward fuselage piece, B4.
Step four joins the cockpit and forward fuselage assembly to the rest of the airplane constructed in previous steps. Be aware that at this point, once you press in the front fuselage and cockpit to the upper fuselage, it will be extremely hard to remove.
Step five joins the nose cone to the airplane. There are some mold lines on the cone that can be removed with a sharp X-Acto blade. I added about 7 grams of weight inside the cone as it provides a large enough cavity to place a substantial amount. A bit of putty is required to create a seamless fit between the fuselage and cone, but nothing excessive. Part B3 is glued behind the Naval Flight Officer’s seat and will house the canopy joints later. There is a tiny seam that needs to be filled and sanded where this piece joins the fuselage spine. See picture below.
Step six shows the tails being glued to the fuselage. The fit is extremely good here, so I decided to leave them off until they were painted, decaled, and weathered. This step also includes engine nozzle installation. A tiny gap between the nozzles and the rear fuselage is apparent but can be filled easily. I opted to leave these off until the end for ease of painting too.
Steps seven through nine focus on the landing gear. The doors fit well, but the attachment points are a bit clunky looking. Most of this gets hidden though, as the wheel wells have a lot of raised detail. The main wheels are separate from the tire, so painting is easy. The nose gear wheels are a single piece. The nose gear door attachment pins need to be sanded down a bit to allow for a tight fit against the fuselage. After test fitting, I left all gear doors and landing gear off until final assembly following paint.
Steps 10 and 11 focus on external stores. The kit provides two AIM-120C AMRAAM missiles, two GBU-38 JDAM bombs, and three 480-gallon external fuel tanks. Additionally, two AIM-9X Sidewinders for the wingtip rails. The underwing bombs and missiles have multiple parts and lock into their respective hard points quite well. If you want to leave a pylon hard point off, two attachment holes are left in the underside of the wing. These can be filled and sanded flush. I decided to leave the two wing tanks and their pylons off. The fuel tanks are halved, with one side including the pylon, or centerline attachment. The fit is alright but will require some sanding to get rid of the seam.
The Sidewinder attachment points to the wingtip rails are clunky pegs that do not fit well. After trying to sand and fit them, I ended up snipping the pegs off the missiles, and filling the large attachment hole on the wingtip rail. The missiles look a lot better glued than the intended method of attachment.
Step 12 instructs the pitot probes, various antennae, and tail hook to be installed. The attachments on the pitot probes need to be sanded down to fit flush with the fuselage. Step 13 shows final installation of the HUD and canopy. The HUD is a clear piece and is often tinted green in the real Super Hornet, so to achieve this, I use translucent green to paint the edges of it.
The canopy comes with a raised mold line down the center. This takes a bit of time to remove. First, I used an X-Acto blade to carefully scrape down the mold line flush with the rest of the canopy. Then, wet sanded using 800, 1000, 1500, 2000, and 3000 grit sandpaper. Finally, the canopy was polished with Novus 2 Fine Scratch Remover and dipped in Future. Once dry, I masked it with Tamiya tape and glued it to the airplane with white glue. I would not try to test fit the canopy as it is impossible to remove it without breaking off one more attachment pieces.
The build process is very high quality and straightforward. The fit is so good that this kit can almost be marketed as snap tight! Highly recommended!
Painting and Weathering
I begin all my aircraft models with a prime in Vallejo Primer Black. Now, it is time to study reference photos! By simply looking up the Bureau Number (BuNo, the number located under the horizontal stab), a host of pictures of this exact airplane is shown. Some show it fresh out of paint, some during and after a tour. I like to give my aircraft models some life, so I usually try and show it after being on duty for a while. A great reference for Navy and Marine aircraft and ship photos is seaforces.org. Once I have an idea of what I want to achieve I can now begin the pre shading.
I loaded up Model Master Light Ghost Grey in the airbrush and began to heavily mottle the surface. This consists of randomly spraying squiggles and blotches along the entire surface. For the areas of the real airplane made from fiberglass, even heavier mottling is applied. This is the nose cone, and the fuel tanks. In almost every reference photo, you will see the nose cone and fuel tank discolored, unless it is fresh out of paint. The mottling provides a great uneven base that will help break up the somewhat monotone top and bottom finishes of a Navy Super Hornet.
Next, I finely sprayed black along some of the panel lines, over the mottling, to boost these areas once the topcoat is applied. Continue to use references! If you think you have messed up on the pre-shading, you probably haven’t. These jets get really beat up! See the picture of what it looks like before final paint. (Attached below)
Once the pre-shading was done, the top of the airplane was sprayed in Model Master Acryl Dark Ghost Grey, and the bottom in Light Ghost Grey. The surface is really popping now! The CAG bird of VFA-2 that I am modeling has a black accent around the canopy, and yellow stripes on the tails. These were painted with Vallejo Model Air. The whole model was now glossed with Future to protect the paint for decals. There are a lot of decals in this kit, but they really give this airplane character. The instruction manual does a great job of showing where each one is placed. The decals sink well into the surface after just a few coats of Micro Sol, or your favorite decal setter. The airplane was glossed again with Future to protect the decals. The nozzles were first painted black, then Model Master Jet Exhaust, and then various tones of Alclad metal. I like Alclad Magnesium, the same color used for the gun port on the nose.
Now comes one of my favorite parts, weathering. Since the pre-shading was applied, there isn’t too much to do here. I began by applying a dark grey oil wash to all the recessed panel line detail. I let this dry for about 30 minutes, and then used Q-tips and paper towels to wipe the excess off. I then used artist oils to dot the surface with white in some areas, to depict the anti-corrosion paint applied to the jets after wear. I dotted burnt umber on the centerline fuel tank and blended that in too. As the crew walks about the leading-edge extensions and work with access panels near the nose, they leave boot prints and hand scuffs. This can be achieved by taking some powdered graphite and using a small brush to create impurities. Also, a brown color often streaks back from the main landing gear compartment. This was achieved by dotting brown oil paint and simply pulling it back with a flat brush. This is it for the weathering, and the model. I sealed all this in with a coat of Vallejo Matte Varnish.
Overall, this is a fantastic kit by Academy. This is, in my opinion, the best 1/72 Super Hornet on the market right now. Aside from the few areas of attention I mentioned earlier, it goes together very well. This VFA-2 release is an excellent addition to Academy’s ever-growing collection of Super Hornets, and Naval aircraft. Thank you to MRC for providing this kit, and thank you to IPMS USA for giving me the opportunity to review it!