Trumpeter 1/32 A-4E Skyhawk
KIT #: 02266
PRICE: 118.95 SRP
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Lee Kolosna
NOTES: AMS Resin intakes, ejection seat, cockpit detail, nose wheel.  True Details main wheels.


It’s somewhat hard to believe that the diminutive Douglas A-4 Skyhawk series began life as a nuclear bomber, but that is exactly what its primary design objective was when it was accepted for production in 1952.
  Douglas Aircraft designer Ed Heinemann insisted on creating an airplane with the smallest possible carrier footprint with the least amount of weight to get the job done.  With an almost fanatical approach to avoiding unneeded structure and therefore weight, the delta-winged attack plane sported spindly landing gear to allow for clearance of the Mark 7 nuclear bomb.  Powered by a Wright license-built version of the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engine, the bantam airplane evolved through the late 1950s and early 1960s into a more traditional attack weapon as the nuclear mission conveyed to the much larger A3D Skywarrior.  After the Department of Defense naming restructuring in September 1962, the A4D became the A-4, with the A-4C deploying to the fleet in large numbers.  The A-4E variant saw a new and more powerful J52 engine supplied by Pratt & Whitney, two additional under-wing hard points, a longer nose to house a navigation computer and other related electronics, and redesigned air intakes. Later Es were fitted with a humpback on the spine to provide more space for additional electronics.

A-4s saw continuous service in Vietnam with the Navy and Marines right from the start of the conflict.  They bore the brunt of the Navy’s air-to-ground mission for many years before being phased out in favor of the Vought A-7 Corsair II.  The Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team converted to A-4Fs in the 1974 season and flew them for eleven years. The Marines flew their A-4Es and Fs up until they were replaced in the mid 1980s by the AV-8B Harrier.  The A-4M was a Marines-only variant that served up until 1990.  Two-seat TA-4F and J aircraft were used as advanced flight trainers for future Naval Aviators as well as in a Forward Air Controller role.  Foreign operators of the Skyhawk include Argentina, Australia, Israel, Brazil, Singapore, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.  A total of 2,960 Skyhawks were produced over a remarkable 27 year production run.
The Skyhawk was a joy to fly and quite nimble with its flight characteristics mimicking the MiG 17 quite well.  Use as an adversary began in the 1970s at Top Gun at NAS Miramar.  “Jester is dead, yee-haw!”  Even today, A-4s are used by private firms on contract to the US Navy and Air Force for combat flight simulation exercises.  Not bad for a small, subsonic, nuclear-armed attack airplane, eh?
As with all Trumpeter kits, a careful inspection of the model is required to determine what they did right and what needs to be corrected in regards to accuracy. There is a bunch of stuff included in the box of 470 styrene, photo-etch, and rubber pieces that includes parts for the A-4M kit.  You get a complete J52 engine, which of course is mostly invisible after gluing the fuselage together.  There are various open avionics bays that have some amount of detail provided (all could stand sprucing up with wire bundles and small bits), open 20mm cannon bays, and open engine access hatches.  The good news is that overall shape of the model is good, including the main canopy shape – always a Trumpeter weak point.  You get eight sprues filled with ordnance that includes the maddening assortment of bombs and missiles that either weren’t used on the A-4, or are so poorly shaped that they are unusable.  But there are a few items that can be salvaged. Decals are for two early (and plain) A-4Es and a later Adversary aircraft from VF-43.

The really, really great news is that Trumpeter’s Mad Riveter was evidently on holiday when this kit was designed, so we see nice recessed panel lines and only a minimum of divots meant to replicate access panel fasteners.  There are no long lines of divots depicting flush rivets like seen on the F-105, F-100, or P-47 kits.  It looks very Hasegawa-like, and that is a good thing.

            There are a fair number of accuracy issues to contend with, almost too many to mention.
  I will hit the highlights as my research has unveiled, with a big thanks to Thierry Laurent’s tweaks listing from Large Scale Planes.
Overall shape.  It is pretty good, actually.  There are lumps and bumps and antennae that are included in the kit that were used at various times in the Skyhawk’s long career with the Navy, so a good reference is needed to help when deciding what gets put on where.
Air intakes.  The kit pieces are somewhat thin in the walls and the opening is not as blended to the boundary layer plate as on the real aircraft.  AMS Resin provides a drop-in replacement of the kit pieces that makes for a nice if somewhat subtle improvement. Note that the trapezoidal reinforcing plate on the side of the intake was introduced late in the A-4Es service life.
Slat wells.  Repeating the mistake of Hasegawa, the leading edge slat wells on the kit are recessed, whereas in reality there are no wells – the slats sit on top of the wing itself.  This can be fixed by sawing out the wells and reattaching them to mate even with the wing top.
Landing gear.  Also repeating Hasegawa’s 1/48 scale design, the nose wheel and tire are molded integrally with the landing gear strut.  In a 1/32 scale kit, this is simply unacceptable.  AMS Resin and True Details provide resin wheel replacements, but you will need to cut the kit piece apart carefully to extract the nose wheel and then reshape the fork.  The main wheel struts are a little too long and should be reduced in length 1 to 3 mm.
Windscreen.  The A-4E had an oval windscreen, whereas Trumpeter squares up the bottom frame.  In all honesty, this one is a lot of trouble to fix for a small amount of reward as the bottom of the windscreen is blocked from view by the de-icing and rain-removal vent. I found the vent to be a bit too tall and sanded it down to half its thickness.
Aft avionics bay.  Trumpeter gives you the camel hump seen on all A-4Fs that were eventually fitted to later A-4Es.  None of the kit decals options use this hump, but it’s nice to have for use with some aftermarket decal schemes.
Refueling probe.  You only get the straight probe, not the cranked one seen on later Skyhawks and most Aggressor aircraft.  AMS Resin offers a replacement.
Ordnance Oh boy – I could write a few paragraphs on this subject, but I will try to be brief.  The two 300 gallon fuel tanks are just fine.  There is no 400 gallon centerline tank provided, which is a shame because A-4Es used this quite often as period photographs show.  The AGM-12 Bullpup missiles are fine.  The AGM-45 Shrikes are slightly misshapen but can be used in a pinch, although there is no launcher provided.  I have seen some photos of them mounted directly to the wing pylons, at least in the early deployments of the A-4E. The Mk 82 Snakeye 500 pound bombs are simplistic in detail but are usable.  These and the smaller 250 pound Mk 81 variants appear to be the most common weapon seen hung under A-4s during the Vietnam years.  The Mk 82 LDGP “slick” bombs are the same anemic pieces first seen on the A-10 kit a decade ago and are hopelessly too skinny.  The Mk 117 bombs are bad, too – the shape of the fins is all wrong and besides this weapon was used by the Air Force almost exclusively (to be fair, you see them occasionally mounted to shore-based Marine A-4Es now and then) and shouldn’t really be in this kit at all.  The AGM-65 Mavericks are for A-4Ms only and can’t be used on an A-4E.  The GBU-8 TV-guided bomb was not used on the A-4E, either.  The AGM-62 Walleyes are okay for use on mid-war period A-4Es.  Finally, the TER and MER bomb racks are much too skinny and could stand replacing if you load your Skyhawk up with bombs.  I had an extra MER leftover from a Tamiya F-4C kit. The ordnance load-out guide on the back of the instruction sheet is ludicrously incorrect and should be ignored.
Cockpit.  Detail is so-so.  Photo-etch harnesses are provided for the ejection seat. Trumpeter doesn’t provide a throttle.  The instrument panel has issues – the radar screen is much too small in relation to the other dials.  Trumpeter gives you a decal to use over the raised plastic detail.  I used the AMS Resin ejection seat which also provides a throttle and a much more detailed control stick and side panels.  There is no control stick console for the AGM-12 Bullpups if you use them on your model.
Antennae.  The AN/ALQ-126 ECM system started showing up in 1965.  You see them as “ice cream cone” receivers under the nose and tail and these are included in the kit, but Trumpeter forgot to give you the ones seen under the fuselage just in front of both landing gear bays.  If you use the kit decal options, this system was not present on any of those aircraft at the time depicted, so leave them off.  The same is true for the small bump underneath the nose.  There were a number of changes to the antennae seen on the rear of the tail over the years, in different combinations.  The kit instructions appear to provide an A-4M configuration.  The best recommendation is to find a photo of an A-4E during the period you wish to depict and use that as your guide.  Also, the position of the pitot tubes on the nose is different than indicated in the instructions.  The two devices should flank either side of the de-icing vent, very close to the windscreen.
Decals.  The VA-72 and VA-212 Scooters are from 1964 and the markings are okay with the exception of the US national insignia (another infuriating Trumpeter mistake seen over and over again in their kit decals), which have red bars that are much too thick and are therefore unusable.  The Insignia Blue is a shade too light as well.  The VF-43 Adversary markings look all right.  The low viz national insignia is not standard, but photos seem to indicate this is correct.  The stencil markings for the AGM-65 Mavericks prominently say “US Air Force”.  My guess is that the Navy would probably not have such on their carriers, but it’s academic because Mavericks weren’t used on A-4Es.
Chaff dispensers.  These dispensers appears later in the life of the A-4Es.  The kit provides three of them.  The dispenser further aft appeared first, and might have been present on the VA-212 aircraft.  I don’t see it present on the VA-72 aircraft.  Neither of these would have the more forward bank of dispensers.  For the VF-43 Adversary aircraft all the chaff dispensers were present, but covered over with a plate as they weren’t utilized.
Horizontal stabilizers.  These were generally left in a forward edge down configuration on the deck of the carrier.  Doing so reveals a hole in the tail fin that you can see clear through to the other side of the airplane – something that Trumpeter doesn’t provide.  I drilled that section out on my model.
Air brakes.  The kit provides you with some nice detail in the two air brake wells on either side of the rear fuselage.  The problem is that these were almost always closed when the airplane is parked.  Sometimes you see the brakes just barely cracked open, probably because of a loss of hydraulic pressure.
Control surfaces.  All are separate pieces.  The top of the rudder is molded integral to the tail fin.  Chop it off and attach it to the rudder instead.  The elevators are always in a neutral position with respect to the horizontal stabilizer (with the whole assembly leading edge down, as mentioned above).  The flaps were often left open, so you can pose them down to expose the colorful red interior.  Note that the lift spoilers, which mirror the flaps and automatically open upwards on top of the wing when the aircraft hits the runway, only were present in A-4F and later Skyhawks.  For the A-4E in this kit, the spoilers should be blended into the surrounding top surface of the wing and the seam filled to prevent them from appearing movable, which they were not.
So, once your homework is done on what Echo model Skyhawk you want to depict during what timeframe, you can proceed with the build.  Out of the box, there is enough there to make a very nice model.  Fix the leading edge wing slat well issue and leave off the forward chaff dispensers and perhaps the ice cream cone antennae, depending on the date of operation.  Load your Scooter with the two 300 gallon fuel tanks and the centerline MER with four of the six Snakeye bombs on it with either Bullpups or two more Snakeyes hung under the outer pylons.  Replace at least the US national insignia decals and you will be set.


The first thing I did was cut out the wing leading edge slat wells by scribing them repeatedly with the back of an X-acto knife blade until they broke free.  Then I glued them back on the wing with the rearmost portion even with the wing surface.  I had to add shims of sheet styrene on the sides to account for the removed material and filled the gaps with CA glue.
The J52 engine was assembled, even though none of it will be seen in the completed model.  Trumpeter allows the model to be built so that the rear half of the fuselage is removable, but I doubt many will utilize this feature.  You need to build the complete engine no matter which option you choose, as it is needed to assist in the structural integrity of the fuselage and to place the tailpipe in the right spot.
I decided to order the AMS Resin correction set for this kit.  A little bit of cutting and sanding was needed on the air intakes to get them to fit to the kit jet engine intake trunk.  I filled the gaps on the outside with CA glue and also sanded off the hexagonal reinforcing plate as that wasn’t added to A-4Es until much later in their lives.  The AMS intakes aren’t perfectly seamless, but they make for a very nice transition to the internal kit parts.
I don’t care for open avionics bays on my models, so all of the kit bays were glued shut.  As expected, these pieces didn’t fit too well, so the surrounding seams were filled and then re-scribed.  I sanded down the raised gun blast protection panels, which should not be proud of the fuselage skin.
The cockpit was painted overall Dark Gull Gray FS36231, with a flat black instrument panel coaming, decking behind the seat, and sills.  The AMS Resin set provides you with the missing throttle, a more detailed control stick, side panels, and an ejection seat with harnesses.  I sanded off the Trumpeter details on the side consoles and added the resin replacements.  Trumpeter’s instrument panel is made in clear plastic, but there is no acetate to add to the back – just a decal.  So I painted the panel Dark Gull Gray and applied the decal, which conformed to the raised detail with an application of Micro Sol.  I know the instrumentation configuration is not quite accurate, but the panel is recessed under the coaming so far that it’s really hard to see on the completed model.  I added a black wash and dry-brushed the raised details with light gray.  The ejection seat was painted flat black overall with light green cushions, medium gray harnesses, and yellow grab handles.
The cockpit tub went into the fuselage half along with the completed engine assembly and the nose landing gear well.  I added two large fishing sinkers in the nose to prevent tail sitting, which will surely occur if you forget this step.  The forward fuselage halves were glued together as were the rear fuselage halves, and the front and back assemblies were mated together.  Fit was just so-so, so I had a bunch of gaps that had to be filled.
I cut the top of the rudder from the tail and glued it onto the rudder proper.  The horizontal stabilizers, elevators, ailerons, and wing halves were glued together and the seams filled.  As mentioned above, a Skyhawk at rest usually has the horizontal stabilizers posed with the leading edge downward, which exposes a triangular gap at the rear of the tail that you can see through to the other side of the airplane.  Trumpeter doesn’t provide this, so I drilled out an appropriately shaped opening in the tail and filed and sanded the edges to make it neat.
The main landing gear struts appear to be a little too tall, not providing the proper tail-end squat seen on A-4s, so I lopped off about 3 mm from the top of the plastic struts. The kit provides both metal and plastic parts for this, but my experience with the bigger and heavier F-8E and F-100D kits makes me satisfied that the plastic struts are strong enough for the job.  The nose wheel was snipped off the landing strut and a lot of cutting and filing was required to restore a proper fork to accept the separate AMS Resin nose wheel.
The forward flare dispenser pieces were glued in the recessed and sanded smooth with the fuselage.  The rear chaff dispenser was glued on, but I promptly sanded it and all the raised reinforcing sections surrounding it flush with the fuselage as these were later additions in the service life of A-4E.  The clear navigation lights were added to the wingtips and sanded smooth and polished back to clarity.
I glued on the wing assembly and had a pretty significant gap to fill at the wing root.  After that was done, I added the 20mm cannon detail inside the gun bays and glued the doors closed over them.  The cannon ports on the leading edge of the wing are separate pieces and don’t fit very well.  More filling and sanding was required to blend them in properly.  I have to say that this kit doesn’t fit as well as other Trumpeter 1/32 scale kits that I have worked on.
The ailerons and flaps were glued in place on the wing.  Fit was just okay.  Most Skyhawks have their flaps down when parked, so I chose this option with the kit pieces. Be careful to securely glue the flap top to the wing – it is nothing but a butt join. As mentioned above, the flap top is only movable upwards (as a lift spoiler) on A-4F and later Skyhawks, so I filled in the seam surrounding these pieces. The rudder was glued into the tail fin which left more of a separation than is warranted.  I used a shim of sheet styrene at the bottom to make the gap less obvious.
I assembled the Mk 82 Snakeye bombs and filled all the resultant gaps – a tedious process.  The MER I got from a Tamiya F-4C kit was assembled and new holes were drilled in the bombs to fit the Tamiya mounting points.  The ordnance pylons were assembled and glued under the wings and belly. I re-scribed the panel lines that were obliterated in the seam filling process and washed the model in preparation for painting.
            Polly Scale Reefer White was used on the underside, wheel wells, and landing struts.  Testors Acryl Gull Gray FS36440 was used on the top.  I diffused the top paint with random patterns of lighter and darker grays to break up the monotony of a single color, followed by a misting of the Gull Gray to pull it all together.  The bombs were painted Testors Acryl Olive Drab with Insignia Yellow noses.  The landing gear oleo struts got a spritz of Testors Aluminum Metalizer, and the exhaust nozzle was painted with Testors Burnt Metal Metalizer.
            After evaluating my options, I decided to use the kit decals for a Skyhawk assigned to VA-72 as deployed on the USS Independence in 1964.  Working with period photographs, I applied the markings and found the Trumpeter decal quality to be outstanding.  The decals are thin, draw down over even the most uneven surfaces without the need for a solvent solution, don’t silver, and are opaque.  I just wish Trumpeter did a better job with the artwork.  The national insignia came from an AeroMaster sheet.  I was intimidated by the wing top vortex generators and whether I would be able to coax the star and bar decal over them.  Through the cutting of tiny slits around each little vane and repeatedly slathering the decal with Micro Sol, I was able to get it down on the model with an acceptable level of smoothness.  I used a small brush to apply dark blue and then white paint to touch up the spots where the gray undersurface was peeking through. 
Another coat of Polly Scale Clear Gloss sealed the decals and allowed me to apply a wash of Payne’s Gray artist’s oil thinned with Turpenoid to highlight the panel lines.  I also used a number 2 pencil to help accentuate some panel lines. Various gray and brown pastels were used to dirty up the places that accumulate grime during carrier operations. Testors Acryl Clear Flat was used as the finish coat on the Gull Gray surfaces only.  The white parts were left in a semi-gloss state.
            The shortened landing struts were glued in as were the related landing gear doors. Each door had an Insignia Red outline carefully applied by brush.  I used punched out small circles from chrome mylar and glued them the backs of the landing light lenses.  The bombs were glued onto the MER, and then the whole assembly was glued to the centerline pylon using metal pins for additional strength.  Pins were also used to help attach the two large fuel tanks.  The navigation lights were painted with clear green and clear red paint. Various doodads such as pitot tubes, antennae blades, and beacon lights were carefully added.  The ejection seat, control stick, and throttle were added to the cockpit.  Trumpeter does not provide any mechanism for mounting the canopy in the open position, so I glued a strip of sheet styrene to the rear of the canopy, painted it black, and drilled a hole in the rear for insertion of a pin.  A corresponding hole was drilled in the rearmost bulkhead and the canopy was mounted to that with CA glue.
            The leading edge slats were mounted with quite a bit of fiddling before I was happy with their alignment.  The horizontal stabilizers went on with a press fit.  The refueling probe snapped into place and with that, I was done.  All the bombs hanging under the wings combined with the long probe, open canopy, rickety leading edge slats, and huge fuel tanks make this a very fragile model that will require extreme care when transporting.
            As is true with just about everything that Trumpeter offers in this scale, the good qualities outweigh the bad, although the bad can be truly frustrating.  This A-4E kit builds up to a pretty nice model, and the aftermarket accessories I used made it even more accurate.  One needs to fix the leading edge slat well issue, and cutting out the nose wheel from the strut helps maintain the proper appearance for a large model.  I found the overall fit to be less precise than other Trumpeter kits that I have built, which led to some extensive seam filling on the fuselage and at the wing root.  I was able to cobble together enough ordnance from the mishmash of stuff provided to be presentable.  The kit decals were really a joy to work with, except for the messed up artwork of the national insignia.
            I put in 75 hours of effort over six months on this project. One has to ask if this kit, which is quite expensive, is that much better than the older (and cheaper) Hasegawa kit.  I can’t answer that because I have no experience with the Hasegawa kit, which has raised panel lines and much less detail.  I can say that I enjoyed building this model and think the final result is quite striking.  Whether it’s worth it for your modeling budget – that is up to you to decide.  For me it was and I’m happy to have this finished model in my collection of 1/32 scale combat jets from the 1960s.
Thomason, Tommy H: Scooter! The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk Story
Laurent, Thierry: Trumpeter Skyhawk Tweak List,
Baugher, Joseph: Douglas A-4 Skyhawk,

Lee Kolosna

June 2012

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