LS 1/144 F-20 Tigershark

KIT #: ?
PRICE: $1.20 at Xinshi, Beijing
DECALS: One option

(Alternative) History:

Northrop had a great plane on its hands in the early 80s but it just couldn't sell one. By pimping out its popular basic model, the F-5E, the storied American company had created a really hot ship - the Tigershark. With 60 per cent more power than the F-5, the Tigershark could blast along at Mach 2, and with an advanced radar it had beyond visual range capability and could fire guided air-to-ground missiles. But why wouldn't anyone buy one?

The company was hemorrhaging cash on this project. Some in the boardroom blamed the Air Force "Fighter Mafia" for pushing the F-16 (even though it wasn't as good). Others looked internally. Maybe the sales pitch wasn't right. Maybe there was a market for the Tigershark after all.

The company's best pitch team rolled into action. Looking for smaller air forces with cash and a capability gap, they found willing listeners in Bahrain and South Korea. Some tentative orders there were promising, but not enough to justify production. Then they visited Tokyo. They didn't know it at the first meeting, but this time they'd saved the project (and saved their jobs!)

Japan really needed to upgrade its fleet. It had some brand new F-15s patrolling its skies but the rest of its fleet was old. Phantoms. Starfighters. Even Sabres, in the recon role. It was time for a highly capable new "Support Fighter". The F-16 people were lobbying hard. Very hard. Maybe even ever-so-slightly-ungentlemanly hard. In Japan, there was a strong faction pushing to develop a new fighter at home.

And so Northrop found its opening. Buy the F-20 and build it in Japan. Developed privately, the F-20 wasn't so tied to the specific requirements of the USAF. Yet most of its development costs had been covered, so Japan would save hundreds of millions yet still be able to tweak the design.

The deal was signed. A great deal of sake was consumed. Big bonuses were paid. And the JASDF got 200 highly capable new support fighters.

Entering service in the late 80s, the F-20J Tigershark still serves alongside F-15Js on Japanese airbases. It has been progressively updated just like its nemesis the F-16. Today, upgraded to the F-20J kai standard, it can carry the AMRAAM missile, and with the addition of a Japanese-designed laser designation system on a small pylon under the leftside intake, it can deploy precision guided bombs day or night (after jettisoning the centerline tank). With its digital recon pod, it can conduct tactical recon missions and beam the imagery back in real time via satellite. It provides significant tactical capability across a range of roles and is the perfect complement to the JASDF F-15Js.

For years, the USAF refused to let the JASDF fly F-20s against its F-16s in mock combat. Finally, in 2002, in the aptly-named Keen Shark joint exercise, the F-16s and F-20s squared off over the training range. In BVR, the F-16s had better luck, with their greater load of AMRAAM missiles. But close in, the dogfighting was so tightly fought that even the most virulent Viperista had to admit that the Tigershark was a hot ship.

[obviously most of that is made up. Oh, and before the Viper Fan Boyz e-mail me: dude, it's just a story!]

This is a very neat little 1/144 kit. At 8 RMB in Beijing it was very attractively priced. I have seen it online at a major US model seller for over 15 dollars which is pretty outrageous. If I'd known that, I would have picked up the other 5 kits at the shop!
Moulded in white plastic with nicely engraved panel lines, this really is a gem.
The shape seems just right. There is no cockpit detail. The kit includes a centerline fuel tank, a big centerline recon pod, two passable AGM-65 Mavericks and two squashed-looking Snake-eye bombs. The two nice Sidewinders wrap up the stores and allow you to tool this Tigershark up for some serious business.

Decals seem usable after all this time. They allow you to do the generic-looking F-20 prototype in grey.

I painted the cockpit area black and added a bit of nose weight before gluing the fuselage together. It fits nicely and there wasn't much call for filling or sanding. A little underneath the tail and around the area where the intakes connect to the main part of the plane was all that I did.

The wing pylons fit perfectly and so did the belly tank. I dry fitted the recon pod which also looked pretty cool.

After painting - see below - I went back and added the nicely done undercarriage. It comes with fairly thin wheel bay doors.

Add the underwing stores and you're done.

For my fictional F-20J kai, I used the kit's weapons except for the bombs. I replaced them with some laser guided bombs from a Dragon kit. Then I used some scrap plastic to add a little pylon under the left side intake, which would hold a designation pod. Looks like the pilot would need to jettison the fuel tank in order for this pod to have a full view of the target area. I took another bomb from another 1/144 kit, chopped off the fins, and carved the front a bit to make what was meant to look like the moving ball thing at the front of these pods, the part containing the laser and TV camera for the pod to stay aimed at the target even as the aircraft changes position.

I have no idea whatsoever whether that arrangement is plausible or practical but it's a "what-if", not a museum piece.

This is the part I enjoyed the most. The real F-20 prototype was a boring grey. Great for low visibility in air combat I guess, but pretty lame to look at. So I thought for a while about what alternative schemes I could do. I wanted to make something historically plausible, so, for example, a Royal Air Force version didn't seem likely to me. I thought either an air force that had used the F-5 and might have upgraded, or an air force that bought the F-16 or Mirage 2000 around the mid to late 80s. Then I was limited by the decals I had in my spares department. It isn't every day I build a 1/144 kit, and it isn't every kit that comes with a spare set of decals.

I settled on Japan when I discovered a bunch of red circles left over from the equally-neat LS Mitsubishi F-1 kit. At that point I thought I would do a F-4EJ kai style scheme of light blue over gull grey. But as I looked into a potential backstory a bit more, I learned of the Mitsubishi F-2, which is Japan's extremely expensive souped-up F-16 that came into service in the 1990s after a costly, controversial and protracted development.

It has an awesome colour scheme of light, bright blue with splotches of a rich middle blue.

I could not find reference to exact paint colours for this scheme, so I used Tamiya XF-8 Flat Blue (acrylic) for the darker blue areas. For the lighter overall blue, I mixed a small amount of Mr Color 65 Bright Blue (enamel) into a large amount of Mr Color 34 Sky Blue. It needed something else, because what I ended up with is not quite the right colour, but I couldn't work out what else to mix in so after various experiments I went with this.

Decals were basically imagined but drew on a few photos. The tail art actually comes from a Tamiya 1/100 Fiat G-91 kit, but it seemed fine for this "what-if".

I don't know that I'd pay 15 bucks for this kit but if you can find it at a reasonable price, it's excellent (especially considering its age). The F-20 offers a wealth of possibilities for what-if builds when you consider the number of air forces that operated the F-5 (for which it might have been a logical upgrade) and/or the F-16 (against which it was a direct competitor).
and google.

Richard F

October 2011

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