Tamiya 1/32 F-4E (early) Phantom II

KIT #: 60310
PRICE: $213.00 SRP
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Sam Thurman
NOTES: Includes a clear nose to show radar and cannon detail.


   The F-4 Phantom II multi-role fighter, spanning several variants, is one of the most famous and distinctive military aircraft employed by the United States during its involvement in the Vietnam War. Originally conceived as a U. S. Navy carrier-based fighter, the F-4 was ultimately adopted and used extensively by the U. S. Air Force, as well as the air services of many other countries for over 30 years. A great deal has been written about its history, including other reviews appearing within “Modeling Madness,” hence the emphasis herein will be to describe the “E” version a little more and its origins.

   The first U. S. Air Force variant of the F-4 was the F-4C, which came into service in 1962, and was essentially the Navy’s F-4B subject to some modifications to meet USAF’s specific requirements for a land-based version. The F-4C, and its successor the F-4D, were the first to see combat encounters in the burgeoning air war over Vietnam that came with the onset of large strikes into North Vietnam in early 1965. As with its naval cousin, the USAF’s F-4C/D aircraft were armed solely with missiles for air-to-air combat, which proved problematic in many early encounters with slower, but highly maneuverable, MiG-17 and -21 Soviet fighters flown by North Vietnamese pilots. The hot, tropical environment of the Vietnam theater, coupled with high-g maneuvering that frequently occurred during dogfights (for which the missiles in service were not designed), led to early USAF air-to-air missile reliability on the order of 10-15%. Beyond the reliability issues with new, complex missile electronics, many dogfights led to situations where F-4C/D Phantoms achieved good firing positions on MiGs, but within the minimum range allowed by the missiles of that era. The USAF began equipping several F-4 squadrons with gun pods, carried externally on the aircraft’s centerline, by late 1965 in an attempt to circumvent this. 

   The F-4E, which entered USAF service in Vietnam near the end of 1968, included several improvements based on combat experience with the F-4C/D airplanes between 1965 and 1967, such as an inboard Vulcan 20 mm rotary cannon (mounted in the nose) for close-in dogfighting, a more versatile airborne radar with better capabilities for the use of the Sparrow radar-guided missile, leading edge slats to enhance combat maneuverability (appearing in later production versions by 1972), more powerful engines, and an additional internal fuel tank for improved range. The early production versions employed a shorter 6-barrel set for the Vulcan cannon, while later versions (after about 1970) made use of a longer 6-barrel set with higher muzzle velocities and range. There were more F-4E’s built than any other version of the aircraft – over 1,300 examples, including those used by other countries.

   As the F-4E came into operational use, the bombing offensive against the North (Operation “Rolling Thunder”) was placed in an indefinite hiatus by President Johnson, which nearly eliminated encounters with MiG fighters until new bombing campaigns (Operations “Linebacker” and “Linebacker II”) were conducted in 1972. In this latter phase of the war, the F-4E was used extensively as an attack bomber as well as in air-to-air roles, due to the heavy losses experienced by the F-105 fighter bomber during 1965-68. During 1972, intensive offensive operations by USAF into North Vietnam led to many encounters with newer versions of the MiG-21 fighter, along with the twin-engine MiG-19, in which the F-4E acquitted itself well, being credited with 21 air-to-air victories, of which 5 were accomplished with the 20 mm M61 gun – the USAF leadership realized that the success rate in air-to-air encounters with the 20 mm gun was about 50%, whereas the corresponding rate for the use of missiles was still in the 10-20% range, even after several modifications to the Sparrow and Sidewinder designed to improve their effectiveness in combat. It was also during 1972 that three USAF flight crew members achieved “ace” status, with five aerial victories, along with two USN carrier-based aviators.


  This is a large, expensive model with a large (300+) number of parts. Tamiya offers four different versions of the F-4 in 1/32 scale, all of which appear to be based on a set of common parts, with some version-specific parts on some sprues that are called out in a lengthy, detailed 22-page instruction manual. The kit is very well thought out in many respects, such as the single-piece fuselage, and a single-piece lower wing that improves its eventual sturdiness as these parts are assembled. There are a set of small screws used to provide strength and to reinforce joints between the larger pieces.

   The kit includes a wealth of detail, the most interesting example of which is the clear plastic noise assembly, along with parts and decals to portray the airplane’s Westinghouse airborne radar and M61 Vulcan 20 mm rotary cannon (options here include both the short barrel assembly and the later long barrel variant). The cockpit, landing gear assemblies, and underwing ordnance (including Sidewinder and Sparrow air-to-air missiles, bomb racks, and 370 gallon drop tanks) also offer excellent detail in out-of-box form. The interior of the exhaust nozzles are also well rendered, and look realistic once painted and installed. Another interesting feature is the movable stabilators that fit nicely into the tail assembly and also appear realistic.

   The decal sheet offers markings for an aircraft of the 469th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, portrayed either as flown in 1968, from Korat Royal Thai AFB, or in 1973, while stationed at Andersen AFB on Guam. Painting instructions and Federal Standard color numbers for reproducing the Southeast Asian (“SEA”) camouflage scheme are provided as well. There are 100+ decals, most of which portray the numerous small, stenciled markings found on these airplanes with various cautions (e.g. “no step”), maintenance and handling information. I came to realize that the kit is designed to be built with the landing gear extended, whereas I wanted to build the model with the gear up, so it would appear as in flight and I could hang it for display. Without much trouble, though, I found that with some relatively simple trimming and shaping of several of the parts (landing gear doors and the ailerons, which are designed to droop as on the actual aircraft in the absence of hydraulic pressure), the underside of the model can be assembled with the gear doors closed while achieving a nice appearance.

   This is actually the first Tamiya plastic model I’ve ever built – I found the detail and quality of the parts, decals, and instructions to be everything I had heard of Tamiya kits by reputation. There were a few, perhaps inevitable, eccentricities in building and painting this particular kit that I’ll elaborate on below in the section on construction. As noted in other reviews and information on Tamiya’s suite of F-4 kits, the model is not a flawless portrayal of the actual airplane (e.g., there are seams visible in the engine inlets whereas the actual aircraft’s intakes have smooth surfaces), but to my eye, these and other flaws I noted were very minor and did not detract from the overall quality and appearance of the finished product.


   Per the instructions, the air intakes are painted and assembled first, followed by the cockpit area. The cockpit pieces build up into a single assembly, encompassing the instrument panels and controls, which are affixed into the fuselage with one of the small screws provided, as well as conventional cement. Some of the instruments are cleverly represented with decals applied to the back of clear plastic pieces that fit into the instrument panels, creating an authentic look without having to paint indicator dial faces, etc. A great deal of caution is advised when seating the cockpit assembly into the forward fuselage – the instructions call for insertion of the two ejection seats and attachment of the canopy pieces near the end, and I found (the hard way, naturally) that the alignment of the cockpit and gun sight pieces towards the front can prevent the forward canopy piece from seating properly unless all of these are well aligned!

   After the cockpit is done, the engine turbines and outlets are assembled, along with the stabilators and the surrounding portions of the tail area. The areas near the exhaust nozzles need to be painted to simulate the appearance of unpainted titanium, which is best done prior to the assembly of the parts into the tail section. After this area is completed, it is possible to mask it off effectively when priming and painting the large surface areas – light grey underside and camouflage pattern on the upper surfaces - to come later. The stabilator assembly is movable and actually works well, provided the instructions are followed to install it. Next comes the attachment of the fuselage to the lower wing piece, followed by some parts to complete the tail area, and then the attachment of the two upper wing pieces, including some details of the main landing gear wells that need to be painted before assembly. I found after getting the wings together that there were substantial gaps at the junction of the fuselage and the upper wing pieces, as was pointed out in other reviews. These filled in nicely with medium CA glue used as gap filler, and looked smooth later after priming, sanding and painting.

   The next series of steps involves the painting and assembly of the airborne radar system and M61 nose-mounted 20 mm Gatling gun, for those who wish to take advantage of the clear plastic nose pieces for such a display. Doing this involves many decals and can be an impressive mini-project unto itself. Since I wanted merely to paint the aircraft in its entirety, I assembled these pieces without painting and decals, as some of them serve as structural elements used later for the attachment of other parts. Following the nose assembly, next comes a lengthy series of steps for painting and assembly of the nose gear and main landing gear struts, wheels, and doors. By test fitting all of the doors into the wheel wells, I found that several of them can be glued “closed” without modification, although there is one small piece for the nose gear, as well as a few of the main gear doors, that need some surgery such that they can be attached in the closed position and with proper appearance. Some hand trimming with a small X-Acto knife is all that is needed to do this.

   After figuring out how to fit the gear doors, next comes another sizeable mini-project to assemble and paint all of the underwing ordnance, depending upon how extensive one wishes to be in this aspect of the model. I elected to build the Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles, the centerline-mounted bomb rack (Multiple Ejector Rack) with six 500 lb. bombs, and the 370 gallon drop tanks (one for each wing). There are two additional bomb rack assemblies that I didn’t choose to build – these are the Triple Ejector Racks with three additional 500 lb. bombs each. At this point I deviated from the instructions, as it appeared that the painting of the exterior surfaces needed to be done first before mounting all of the ordnance assemblies onto the underside.

   Once all of the ordnance has been completed, the outer portions of the wings must be assembled, followed by the ejection seats and the pilot and weapons system officer figures, if desired. To pose the ailerons for flight, the tabs by which they fit into the wings need to be bent upwards, to remove the 20 deg of droop they otherwise have on the ground. Once the ejection seats and crew figures are in place, the remainder of the cockpit instrumentation is then assembled and completed. Once again, I would recommend test fitting the main pieces to be assembled here, especially the Heads-Up Display, early when the cockpit is installed, to ensure that the canopy pieces will fit over them properly when it is time to glue them in place. The kit parts are designed so that the pilot and WSO canopies can be mounted either open or closed. To represent a parked aircraft on the ground, parts for the egress ladder and steps for the crew members are also included that had good detail. I assembled the canopies closed, following the objective of an “in-flight” display.

  After painting the exterior camouflage scheme (see below for more), I applied all of the exterior decals along with a few small remaining parts per the instructions (e.g., the Pitot tube mounted on the nose). After allowing a couple of days for the decals and setting solution to dry thoroughly, I masked the exterior one more time in order to spray all of the matte surfaces with a clear coat, Testors Dullcote in this case. Once the clear was fully dry, I returned to the instructions for installation of all the underwing ordnance. All of the underwing assemblies fit well and were attached without much trouble, completing the model.


The kit manual included detailed instructions for the look of the “SEA” camouflage scheme and how to paint it. The Testors Model Master series includes spray cans with the Federal Standard color numbers for all of the needed colors – camouflage grey for the underside, and dark tan, medium green, and dark green for the upper surfaces – so I elected to use these. Testors offers the same colors that can be used for airbrush application as well. For the titanium areas around the exhaust nozzles, I used the corresponding Testors “metalizer” color and overcoat, which yielded a good appearance after buffing and application of the clear overcoat.

   I started the exterior by masking the titanium areas near the tail, along with the black-painted radome on the nose and the canopy area, then priming all other areas with Tamiya’s light grey fine surface primer. After priming, sanding and checking the seams, etc. was completed, I masked off the upper surfaces and sprayed the underside first, following the suggested order of application from the instructions. After the camouflage grey was dry, the underside was masked to paint the entire upper surface with dark tan first. I then incrementally masked for application of the medium green areas, and finally the dark green areas, following the pattern shown in the instructions for the distribution of the colors. To create color boundaries, I traced patterns onto cellophane tape and cut them out with a sharp X-Acto knife. This eventually worked well but was very time consuming – the exterior painting effort took nearly two weeks before all of the colors were completed and I had removed all of the masking tape that had gone onto the model along the way. I had bottled enamels (also Testors Model Masters paints) matching these four colors, which came in very handy for touching up edges where there had been a little paint seepage under the tape.

   Aside from their large number, the decals included in the kit appeared to be of high quality, had good color registration, and went on without much trouble. I used both Micro-Set and Micro-Sol for decal application, especially for some of the more complex decals, such as those which recreate the signature “shark mouth” painted around the forward portion of the 20 mm cannon fairing on the nose. The USAF national markings were relatively small and subdued, in order to maximize the benefit of the camouflage scheme for these airplanes while operating over an area of dense tropical jungle.


   This kit was the most complex plastic aircraft model I had ever attempted – taking about six months of weekend and some vacation overtime to complete. Overall I was impressed with the Tamiya kit, and fairly pleased with the outcome, as an infrequent modeler with modest skills. This kit is clearly designed for more seasoned, experienced modelers, given the large number of parts, intricate assembly steps in some areas, and impressive detail offered, as well as the complexity of the paint scheme involved. For those with patience and persistence, I think that all of Tamiya’s F-4 kits, not just the USAF F-4E, can be used to create a large and visually stunning representation of this famous airplane in its various forms. Whether or not the kit is worth the cost is up to the individual to decide. I don’t have any regrets, although I admit this scale of project is not one I would attempt very often.

   This particular model now hangs on display in the high school classroom which my son attends as part of his school’s USAF Junior ROTC Program. He and the other young cadets there had never heard of the “Phabulous Phantom” or its role as a MiG killer and attack aircraft over the skies of Vietnam, and other conflicts in which it served. For them, the plastic modeling hobby has brought a little bit of history to light!


1.     Davies, Peter, USAF McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. Air Vanguard No. 7, Osprey Publishing, Botly, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2013.

2.     Elward, Brad and Peter Davies, U. S. Navy F-4 Phantom II MiG Killers 1972-73. Osprey Combat Aircraft No. 30, Osprey Publishing, Botly, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2002.

3.     Michel, Marshall L. III, Clashes, Air Combat over North Vietnam 1965-1972. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1997

4.     Michel, Marshall L. III, The Eleven Days of Christmas, America’s Last Vietnam Battle. Encounter Books, New York, NY, 2002.

Sam Thurman

September 2014

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