Academy 1/32 F-18C Hornet

KIT #: 2191
PRICE: $199.00 SRP
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Lee Kolosna
NOTES: Cutting Edge seat, Rhino Models intakes and wheels. 2bobs decals


            Much to the irritation of modelers around the world, the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet has gradually replaced all of their US Navy favorites: the F-4 Phantom, the A-4 Skyhawk, the A-6 Intruder, the A-7 Corsair II, and most begrudgingly the F-14 Tomcat as the primary fixed wing aircraft deployed on carriers. Over the twenty years it is has been in service, the Hornet has demonstrated capable performance in all the roles it has been assigned: fleet defense, combat air patrol, aerial refueling, close air support, reconnaissance, electronic countermeasures, and suppression of enemy air defenses.  Modelers and armchair aviation enthusiasts dismiss the “Bug” as a Jack-of-all-Trades but Master-of-None, which really undermines the critical role it plays in force projection for the United States.  The aircraft has an excellent service record with a very high readiness rate, can be turned around with less maintenance hours required than all the aircraft it replaced, and has become a relative bargain for the Navy due to common parts and a simplified supply chain.   The A/B/C/D models of the F/A-18 are now referred to as “Legacy Hornets” and are being phased out by the larger F/A-18 E/F/G models as they reach the end of their operational service lives.  Export versions of the legacy F/A-18s are in use by Canada, Australia, Spain, Finland, Malaysia, Kuwait, and Switzerland.
            When issued in 2003, this magnificent kit from Academy instantly earned the title of “Finest Jet Model Kit Ever Made”.  A decade later, it still is an amazing achievement and remains competitive with newer offerings from other manufacturers.  Containing a staggering 900 parts (a lot of them are for the extensive ordnance selections), there are also four figures included with optional poses.  The nicely detailed landing gear are assembled around metal supports for strength and rubber tires are provided.  The cockpit is sufficiently detailed with separate clear parts representing the Multi-function displays (MFDs) on the instrument panel.  The ejection seat is a decent representation of the mid-period SJU-5/A model but modelers might want to consider using an aftermarket replacement due to the limitations of injection molding replicating something as complex and three-dimensional as a modern ejection seat.
            Options abound.  The wings can be posed folded or extended, the flaps have actuators that allow four different positions, the speed brake can be posed open or closed, and the stabilators can be adjusted in any angle desired.  The rudders and ailerons are separate pieces.  The canopy has the proper hemispherical profile which requires a faint mold seam to be removed. Two complete General Electric F404 turbofan engines are provided with intake trunks and two sets of nozzles for open (powered up) and closed (powered down) positions.  There is a boarding ladder that attaches to underside of the wing leading edge extension (LERX) and there is a radar unit and dish inside the nose.
            And then there is the ordnance – a stunning selection of accurately done targeting pods, launchers, dumb bombs, smart bombs, rockets, missiles, and fuel tanks.  One small note – the GBU-32 JDAM bombs are an Air Force variant so the nose will need to be sanded to a more blunt profile for the Navy version.  It truly is an awesome set of sprues that will provide extra things to hang under other modern 1/32 scale models that you might want to build in the future.
            The only weak part of the kit is the Academy decals, according to reports from many modelers who have tried to use them.  The artwork is excellent with dozens of stencils not only for the aircraft itself but for all of the ordnance as well. Unfortunately the decals themselves don’t adhere very well or conform to compound surfaces.  The strong advice is to obtain one of the many aftermarket decal sheets still readily available for this model.
            I obtained this kit as a gift in 2004 and it sat in my stash for nine years. Frankly, I was intimidated by the sheer number of parts and undecided as to how I was going to configure the ordnance load.  Over the years I did purchase a Twobobs decal sheet, a Cutting Edge early period SJU-17 ejection seat, and Rhino Modelworks seamless air intakes and resin wheels. The latter set isn’t necessary, but it does make a nice addition to the model and prevents one from dealing with the seams inside the intakes.  An added bonus is that the intakes are cast in white resin, making painting easier as well.
            A good modeling buddy of mine discussed our trepidation about the kit (he also had one festering away in his stash) and after a couple of beers decided that we would both confront our fears and just go ahead and take the plunge.  2014 was declared “The Year of the Hornet” and we committed ourselves to clearing our modeling desks of all other projects in order to tackle this beast.


            Before any parts were removed from the sprues, I put together a plan on how I wanted to configure the model.  After looking at hundreds of photos of Hornets from the 2003/4 Iraqi Freedom period, I elected to have the wings extended, the flaps in the full down position, the nose cone, air brake, and boarding ladder closed, and an asymmetrical ordnance load that reflected a typical mission in the early days of the conflict.  Even with thorough ordnance options in the kit, I still needed to borrow a 500 pound GBU-12 laser-guided bomb left over from the Trumpeter AV-8B Harrier kit.
           My first task was to assemble the engines, which while they can’t be seen in the finished model (shades of Trumpeter), are still needed to mount the intakes and exhausts.  As mentioned above I decided to go with aftermarket intakes in order to avoid having to deal with filling the seams inside the intakes.  Even though they are cast in white resin I still gave them a quick spritz of flat white so as to avoid any yellowing that might occur over the years.
            Next up was assembly and painting of the ordnance.  I do this with modern jet projects as I find it keeps my momentum going better than building the model first and then become discouraged when I realize I have many more hours of work to do to complete the ordnance.  I found a clear picture of a VFA-25 F/A-18C on the USS Abraham Lincoln during the time period depicted by the decals and chose the following load which is referred to as the “goofy gas” configuration: an AIM-9M Sidewinder on the port wing tip, fuel tanks on the centerline and right inboard station, an AGM-65 Maverick on the left outboard station, a GBU-12 bomb on the port inboard station, the LANTIRN pod on the port cheek, and a Mk 82 bomb on the right outboard pylon.  The starboard wing tip was left empty.  Each piece had to have the seams filled, painted including the necessary warning stripes, decals applied, and the appropriate launchers and sway braces added to the pylons.  I roughed up the surface of the two bombs to depict the heat-retardant coating seen on Navy ordnance by slathering the plastic with liquid glue and stippling the melted surface with a stiff brush.  I enjoyed painting the fin and seeker assembly of the GBU-12 Olive Drab with a Light Ghost Gray body, another frequently-seen mismatch of colors at the time of transition from all green to all gray bombs.
            The landing gear was the next subproject, and they took a good amount of time to assemble and paint.  There are 22 parts for each for each main strut, with some of the teeny-tiniest pieces I have ever had to apply to a model.  There is an oft-repeated piece of conventional wisdom that states that as modelers get older and lose their visual acuity that they tend to build larger scale kits to compensate.  I have to strongly disagree with this notion because I find the opposite to be true: larger scale kits include parts that are smaller on average due to the need to provided detail in places like wheel wells and cockpits that would be simplified in smaller scale kits.  I had to use a magnifying glass to get some of the parts properly attached and aligned.  If I had an Optivisor, I surely would have used that, but alas I don’t own one.
            The rear fuselage was glued together and there were a number of relatively large seams on each side that had to be filled.  The wings were next.  After assembly I glued the wings onto the fuselage and noticed that the port wing was warped.  I remedied this by repeated dunking of the wing in a pot of almost boiling water for ten seconds at a time and gently pressing it back into proper alignment.  The flaps were glued onto the wings in the fully down (45 degrees) position as seen in most photos of Hornets at rest.  I chose to do this before painting because I wanted the strongest possible bond for the flaps.  The vertical stabilizers were added to the top of the fuselage and the rudders posed in a right turn.  Photos show a lot of variation in rudder position, so just about anything is acceptable.
            Cockpit assembly was done without incident.  The cockpit was painted Dark Gull Gray FS36231 and the consoles were flat black.  The instruments were highlighted by drybrushing light gray and a dark wash was added to give depth to the structures.  There are a number of aftermarket cockpits out there that provide more detail for the “hell hole” behind the ejection seat, but I think the kit parts look just fine and are busy enough for my tastes.   The nose wheel well and landing strut was assembled, painted flat white, dirtied up with a wash and pastels, and inserted into the forward fuselage section.  Joining the front fuselage section to the rear revealed fairly large gaps that had to be filled, which was made somewhat more difficult by the one piece resin aftermarket intakes.  I glued on the windscreen and carefully filled the seam in order to make a nice smooth transition to the surrounding nose section.  The aircraft I modeled had the early style avionics vents (Academy provided two styles) and the “bird slicer” antennae just ahead of the windscreen.  The LERX pieces were glued onto either side of the nose and the resulting seams were filled.  Fit wasn’t quite up to the standard of the rest of the model here.
            I restored all the panel lines that were lost in the seam filling process by re-scribing and washed the model thoroughly in the sink with warm soapy water in preparation of paint

            As I rule I prefer to model line jets rather than the more colorful CAG aircraft, mostly because I prefer to have a model that few if any other modelers have done.  I chose Bureau number 164645, modex number 208 from VFA-25 “Fist of the Fleet” as seen aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in the first days of the Iraqi Freedom campaign.  Finished in the standard Tactical Paint Scheme of Dark Ghost Gray FS36320 over Light Ghost Gray FS36375, I used paint from the Testors Model Master Acryl line.  The exhausts were painted with Testors Metalizer Burnt Metal and the aftermarket resin tires were painted with the last remaining bottle of Polly Scale Scale Black.  I decided to paint the walkways rather than use decals, so I masked the sections of the LERX off and used Polly Scale Steam Power Black, also from my last remaining bottle of that color.  I’m really going to miss these two black paints – they have served me faithfully for decades.  The tip of the radome was painted with Testors Sand.
            The model was sealed with a coat of Testors Arcyl Clear Gloss before the decals and extensive weathering was applied.  Since I have been bedeviled with silvering issues even with good aftermarket decals, I tried a technique of adding just a tiny puddle of Future floor polish to the surface of the model immediately before applying the decal.  This helped tremendously with the stencils, filling the air pockets that get trapped under the clear carrier which is the cause of the silvering effect.  I had to do almost no application of Micro Sol afterwards because the Future helped draw the decals down to the surface of the model as it cured.
            What makes a modern US Navy jet model dazzle with realism is how effectively one can replicate the grungy paint effects that the real aircraft endure during carrier operations.  Contrary to popular impression, these aircraft are kept really clean as they are washed down regularly with fresh water to combat the corrosive effects of sea spray and salt air from attacking the aluminum airframe.  But the TPS paints pick up dirt from spilled fluids, the greasy boots of the maintenance crew, and the constant touch-ups from spray cans.  This gives a unique opportunity for a modeler to see if they can mimic these effects in miniature.
            My technique starts with a dark gray wash applied to all the panel lines, wheel wells, and landing gear.  For this I used MIG Productions “Dark Wash” for the first time and I’m really impressed with how nice it was to apply.  Then the camouflage paint was diffused by spraying a random pattern of squiggles of a dark gray paint, followed by more random application of very light gray paint.  This is all blended back into the camouflage scheme with a highly-thinned filter of the original Dark Ghost Gray and Light Ghost Gray colors on the top and bottom, respectively.  Then I got my airbrush very close to the model and added more of the Ghost Grays at select panel line joints and wear areas on the airplane to replicate the spray can corrosion control. After that, I added chalk pastels to mimic the places where the deck crew placed their grubby hands (particularly on the fuel tanks) and to add the lines of hydraulic fluid leaks usually seen coming out of the rear of the main wheel wells.  When I was satisfied with the effect, I applied a light coat of Testors Acryl Clear Flat to seal everything for the final assembly stage. 

            All the ordnance was hung underneath the pylons and on the fuselage and wingtip.  I give Academy great credit for providing robust attachment points for these relatively large pieces.  The resin wheels were glued onto the landing struts being very careful to align them properly.  This is a big, heavy model and the wheels have to carry a lot of weight.  The stabilators were glued on in their characteristic nose-up attitude, the ejection seat glued in the cockpit and the canopy posed in the open position.  More kudos go to Academy here as the attachment of the canopy is quite secure with good gluing surfaces.


            It took me 90 hours of effort over the course of a year to complete this model, and I am pleased with how it turned out.  While it is certainly intimidating in scope, I found that following my plan and removing the unneeded parts from the box helped tremendously in reducing clutter and keeping me organized. This is still one of the finest jet kits on the market today and has been issued as a two-seat F/A-18D version.  As of this writing, my friend who shared this journey with me is still working on his model, albeit slowly.  Any modeler considering building this kit is encouraged to understand that it will require a lot of time to complete but the reward at the end will be great.


Danny Coremans and Nico Deboeck: Uncovering the Boeing F/A-18A/B/C/D Hornet
Dennis R. Jenkins: US Naval Aviation, A Military Photo Logbook, Volume 1

Lee Kolosna

May 2015

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