|REVIEWER:||Scott Van Aken|
|NOTES:||2 kits in the box|
The average life span of a modern aircraft in US military service is about 25-30 years; sometimes more if the airframe is extensively overhauled. Most modern tactical aircraft (and we are talking fast jets) have anairframe life of around 5,000 hours. Patrol and cargo aircraft are much, much more, but they don't have to deal with the sort of stresses that are routinely a part of the flight envelope of a fast jet.
This is particularly true of those aircraft that deploy on America's aircraft carriers, where they are flung into the air by powerful steam catapults and then snatched from flight by arresting cables. With the retirement of the F-14 Tomcat coming closer, it was realized that something was needed to replace it.
The F-18A-D Hornet was already in service and doing a fairly good job of things, despite being unable to meet the original goals of the design in terms of load carrying and range. It was postulated that a modified Hornet would be able to meet the needs of the Navy as a replacement for a variety of aircraft, like the A-6, F-14 and older Hornets and have commonality with the earlier versions of the F-18. Sounded great to the Navy planners and so they OK'd the design.
Well, as things turned out, many modifications had to be made to what was now referred to as the Super Hornet. The end result was a larger aircraft that has almost no commonality with the earlier version other than the designation. It also suffered from an inability to meet all its design goals, but as it was an improvement over the existing F-18A/C, and with nothing else on the horizon, the decision was made to go with it .
The resulting aircraft, which first flew in 1995, is now pretty much fully integrated into the fleet. The first variant to see fleet service was the F-18E, one subject of this kit, an aircraft that started entering service in the late 1990s, initially replacing A-6, then earlier F-18A and F-14 Tomcats as those units retired their aircraft.
Those squadrons flying the F-18E are primarily tasked with the fighter-bomber role, despite being single seat, though it can also operate as a standard fighter, carrying the usual array of air to air weapons. It also incorporates as much 'stealthiness' as it can with the gear doors having serrated edges and other parts of the airframe (such as the intakes) designed to be less visible to radar. Those few that have been used in combat (albeit against light defenses) have proven to work as advertised and more are due to be built until it, too will succumb to old age and be replaced by something else on down the line.
The other is the new F-18G 'Growler' the EA-6B 'Prowler' replacement. This aircraft harkens back to the EA-6A with its two man crew and heavily computer controlled weapons system. Apparently the aircraft will be limited to three jamming pods and two fuel tanks as the F-18 still doesn't have the range of the plane it will be replacing. Currently undergoing testing and evaluation, it is hoped that the first production planes will be entering service with the RAG units in the next year or so.
Dragon has to be the leader in producing military aircraft in 1/144 scale. At least modern military aircraft, as their catalogue shows it has Hornets, Tomcats, Eagles, Harriers, and Falcons, to name a few. We can now add to it the F-18E/G Super Hornet and to provide a perception of value, Dragon has recently been putting two aircraft into their newest boxings. These generally retail around the $15 dollar range and might even be less expensive if the company had not buckled to the greedy lawyers at Boeing in terms of having to pay licensing fees on each kit.
Anyway, the sprues are quite nicely detailed with engraved panel lines which, while grossly out of scale as you'd expect, do provide what modelers want and look very nice once under a coat of paint. Naturally, the kits are designed to make conversion to the F-18G a snap by simply adding another upper fuselage insert for the longer cockpit section. The cockpit is pretty much devoid of panel detail, though you do get a believable bang seat, control stick, and instrument panel. As you might expect, the tub is for the two seat plane, but one simply puts a piece in there to cover it up as would be required for the F-18E
The wings can be displayed with the tips folded if you want, and it is on these folded sections that I found the only molding glitch, a slight sink area near the hinge. There are a complete set of pylonsprovided though not all will be filled with available ordnance. There are drop tanks for the centerline and inboard wing stations. The tips have AMRAAMS, while there are a pair of Anti-Radiation Missiles for the outer pylons. Landing gear are well done for this scale and appear to be quite robust. This is topped by a clear one-piece canopy. Some of these weapons are not required for this boxing, and Dragon has added a sprue that contains the jamming pods and wing tip pods of the F-18G. Also in the mix are tiny little triangles that fit on the tip pods. As I don't keep up with modern aircraft, I'm not sure if these are antennas or aerodynamic devices, but I'm banking on them being the latter. To install these pods, the wing tip missile rails need to be cut away.
Markings are nicely printed and are for two aircraft. For the F-18E, we have the CAG bird from VFA-14 in their 90th anniversary markings. Rather nicely done with a large tophat on the fin. The G model is for the test and evaluation unit, VX-31. The usual Gunze paint references are provided as well as FS 595, which is good as Gunze is getting very scarce in the US.
Another fine pair of modern navy jets from our friends at Dragon. These folks really got the ball rolling in terms of 1/144 military aircraft and it is nice to see them continuing. If you have not built any of these newer small scale kits, you really should give one a try.
Thanks to www.dragonmodelsusa.com for the preview kit. Get yours today at your local shop or on-line retailer.
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