Academy 1/48 F-111E

KIT #: 1689
PRICE: $50.00 or so
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Spiros Pendedekas


The origins of the F-111 can be traced back to the early 60s, when both the USAF and USN were seeking their new supersonic, heavily armed, twin seat, twin engine aircraft, where Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, formally directed the services to study the development of a single aircraft that would satisfy both requirements.

Designated Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX), the project raised controversy from the start, as the only areas the two services would practically agree upon would be the (trendy by then) swing-wing, the twin-seat and the twin-engine configuration. For the rest, USAF wanted a 7.33g rated low level penetration attack aircraft, capable of Mach 1.2 at sea level and Mach 2.5 at altitude, while the Navy, less aggressively (which might have presumably pointed to a simpler, lighter, smaller and less costly solution) wanted a 6g rated high altitude interceptor with speed at the neighborhood of Mach 0.9 and Mach 2 at sea level and altitude respectively. While the USAF had no significant restraints to specify a length of 70ft, the Navy would not allow more than 56ft (so the plane could fit at the existing carrier elevators). The Navy would also require a wide cross section nose, capable of hosting a 48 in diameter radar dish.

As it turned out, the TFX’s basic set of requirements was based largely on what the USAF wanted, with Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed, McDonnell, North American and Republic submitting proposals. Of them, Boeing and General Dynamics were selected to present enhanced designs and, to make a long and somewhat complicated and controversial story short, despite the fact that the Navy found both unacceptable, Boeing’s proposal was picked by the selection board after two rounds of updates. Interestingly, it was General Dynamics that was finally selected to develop the TFX, as its proposal featured greater commonality between the USAF and USN versions (which were named F-111A and F-111B respectively).

Both variants would share the same basic air frame, engines and side-by-side seats in an escape capsule. The USAF version would feature the AN/APQ-113 and -110 attack and terrain-following radars respectively, using air-to-ground armament. The Navy version would feature the AN/AWG-9 Pulse-Doppler radar to guide its AIM-54 Phoenix missiles and, apart from a shorter nose by 8.5ft, would have 3.5ft wider wings, to improve endurance.

Since General Dynamics had no experience on carrier fighters, they teamed with the established Grumman, in order to develop the Navy version. The partnership extended to Grumman, in addition, building the aft fuselage and the landing gear of the Air Force version.

While from the start the jet was fast, early flights were troubled by compressor stalls,  attributed (at least partially) to the intakes, which led to the redesigned “Triple Plow” ones. Another issue that plagued the bird’s early career were the quickly developing cracks in the wing attach points, with the entire fleet grounded for more than six months, where a structural redesign of the problematic area took place.

Regarding the distinctive side by side crew arrangement, though some scarce reports indicate that, at least at some point, the USAF might have seen the concept positively, the conceived perception is that it was a Navy prerequisite. It is kind of strange how things sometimes go, though, as, finally, the Navy went for tandem seating with their F-14.

With the Navy version still in development, USAF F-111s started to be delivered at Nellis AFB from July 1967, with the 428 TFS  achieving operational capability by April 1968. Already from March, six aircraft from 474 TFW “Roadrunners” were sent for nine months to Southeast Asia for testing in real combat conditions. A considerable three aircraft were lost during 55 missions. While the cause of the first two losses was unknown as the wreckages were never recovered, the third loss was due to a failure of the horizontal stabilizer hydraulic control valve rod, causing the jet to pitch uncontrollably, with good chances to be the reason for first two losses, as investigation of the fleet revealed another 42 aircraft with the same potential failure.

Meanwhile, despite the significant amount of work and, to a degree, the encouraging results the Grumman / General Dynamics joint effort yielded, the Naval F-111B (a plane that, truth be told, the Navy did not want from the start) was finally canceled in 1968 on account of weight and performance issues together with revised tactical requirements (including, among others, dog fighting doctrine, something that the F-111 was not designed to perform).

From September 1972 onward the type was re-deployed to Southeast Asia. Its crews, among other crews, soon realized that "Speed is life", "One pass, haul ass" and "You do more than one pass in a target area you die". Having by that time its teething problems addressed to a good degree, carrying four times the payload of an F-4 Phantom, with the terrain-following radar enabling it to fly as low as 200 ft above the ground level at almost 500 knots, needing no tankers or ECM support and operating in weather that grounded most other aircraft, it came as no surprise that this effective aircraft flew more than 4,000 combat missions in Vietnam with only six combat losses and with North Vietnamese calling the bird "Whispering Death".

On 14 April 1986 the plane took part in Operation El Dorado Canyon, conducting air strikes against Libya. The 18 F-111s augmented by 4 EF-111s performed a round-trip flight of 6,400 miles between the United Kingdom and Libya, spanning some 13 hours. With one lost (probably shot down), the operation was considered a success, as it achieved precision strikes against targets thousands of miles away

The effectiveness of the F-111 continued during the 1991 Operation Desert Storm, where the type carried out 3.2 successful strike missions for every unsuccessful one, better than any other U.S. strike aircraft used in the operation. The group of 66 F-111F dropped almost 80% of the war's laser-guided bombs, including the penetrating bunker-buster GBU-28. Dubbed as "tank plinking" in the anti-armor role, the F-111 was credited with destroying more than 1,500 Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles.

During its initial development, it was falsely believed that the plane looked quite simple to maintain. In reality, though, it proved expensive to operate. With USAF wasting no time to spread its roles to the F-15 and B-1, the attack versions were retired in summer 1996 and the EF-111 electronic warfare variant in 1998. Australia, the only other user, retired its fleet by end 2010. In total, 563 examples were built.

Officially named Aardvark (which was its unofficial name when in service) after its USAF retirement, the F-111 rose a lot of controversy, especially during its early days (with factors including, but not restrained to, its capability to fulfill both the Air Force and Navy requirements, its complexity, the elevated costs for both development and production, let alone the money spent for the ultimately canceled Navy version and its high operational costs). 

Tailored towards USAF’s requirements, the plane effectively solved its teething problems to a good degree and quickly matured to a potent attack/bomber. With its complexity partly attributed to its role (the available technology of the era was pushed to its limits, in order to fulfill the aggressive requirements) and partly to some questionable design choices (the impressive in paper but too complex in practice escape capsule springs into mind), the iconic F-111 (and I am sure Yours Truly is the only one considering the plane an icon of the past) was present when needed and mission-effective.


This is the 1997 reboxing of the venerable 1987 Academy mold. Definitely not intending to challenge the vastly modern 2010 Hobby Boss offering, it is  a decent kit that can still hold its own today. The specific kit was bought in 2004 from one - then usual, now, sadly, closed - Athens hobby shop at a not exactly low price and for a look at its contents you might check its preview found at the ever growing MM archives


I started by putting together the 10-piece cockpit which, together with the 2-piece nose bay, were trapped between the fuselage halves. As quoted in the instructions, a remarkable 2 oz. of weight was also secured within the nose (not sure if the model needed so much, if at all, but better safe than sorry). Basic cockpit color was Dark Gull Gray, with the stick grips, dashboard, instrument panel and console faces painted black, the latter two then dry brushed with silver, followed by “pinning”  some white, red and yellow paint to simulate various knobs on them. Seats had Dark Gull Gray frames, red head cushions, OD lower ones and light gray seat belts. As foreseen, the cockpit, while not overly detailed, looked acceptable under the closed canopy I would go for.

Opting for simplicity of construction and avoiding slacks and sagging over time, I decided to permanently glue the wings in “extended” position. This meant that I would skip the complex pylon rotating linkages. The wings were thus easily assembled and then trapped, together with the compressor faces,  between the upper and lower rear fuselage halves. The dual compressor plate had the compressors painted steel and the surrounding matt black.

To assure structural integrity, I reinforced the above subassembly’s innards with various styrene rods. My job at the lower wing-to-fuselage joints was not that good, ending to permanently glue the wings to the fuselage inserts there, hoping that the black undersides will somehow blank the offending area. My less than perfect job was also clearly evident at the slight, but noticeable anhedral the wings presented, (they should be straight). In order to represent the distinctive fabric wing seals, I blanked their openings with styrene sheets and sanded the area smooth, then added suitably cut pieces of masking tape, which I painted a tar color.
Time to put all subassemblies together, where the front and rear fuselage were joined, followed by the 2-piece “Triple Plow” intakes (intake innards were painted white), the dorsal fins, the stabilator base filets and  2-piece stabilators themselves, the 2-piece fin and 3-piece tailpipe dividing fairing. I decided to go for a six wing pylons configuration, so all six pylons were assembled and attached in position. .

This concluded basic assembly, which, truth be told, was easier than initially envisaged, with the decision to build the wing fixed in fully extended position simplifying things a lot. Overall fit varied from good to challenging, the most awkward area being the front/rear fuselage joint and, surely, a number of misfits were self-inflicted (the lower wing-to-fuselage insert joints spring into mind…). Gaps were first treated with liquefied styrene, followed by “normal” filler. After a couple of filling and sanding rounds, I blanked the cockpit with wet tissue, masked the intake innards and took the big bird to the paint shop!


I first gave the nose cone area, the leading edge flush ECM antennas and all undersides, including doors, a coat of Hu85 black, then masked it off. The topside camo was next free handed, using Hu116, 117 and 118 for the dark green, medium green and tan respectively. After painting the fin top red, a coat of Future prepared the bird for decaling.

I used the kit decals to represent the sole scheme offered, that of the box art, depicting 77 TFS, 20 TFW #68-0078 bird in SEA camouflage, as it stood in RAF Upper Heyford 1991. It carries a very cool nose art portraying a black silhouette of an F-111 on a surreal landscape and reading “Whispering Death”. If memory serves,  I recall reading a net discussion upon not only the nose art shades, but also the overall existence of that nose art itself, let alone on the specific bird. Whatever the case, it does look absolutely cool, totally believable, so I decided to go for it! Decals, though thin, behaved generally well, my only complaint being the slight translucency of the yellow areas, which is evident on the ones representing the formation lights. A coat of Future sealed the decals.


The main and nose landing gear legs were assembled and attached in position, followed by the wheels and doors, with the bird proudly standing on her feet. All landing gear parts, including wheel rims, bays and door innards were painted white, tires were black and oleos were highlighted with a fine tip silver pen. The wheels were tad filed to look weighted.

I was about to fit the ordnance, when I noticed something odd-looking at the main landing gear. By consulting net pics, I came to the conclusion that Academy instructions have the main rear door wrongly depicted: it should be perpendicular instead of horizontal. As a remedy, I removed the door, cut off a portion from its one end and fitted it vertically aft of the main legs on a trial and error basis, in order to obtain the looks witnessed in reality.

All six pylons were assembled and attached in position. Regarding the stores, as I usually prefer to add pylons and external tanks but otherwise don’t go for armed birds (go figure, this is my modeler’s OCD speaking...), I decided to assemble and attach the four wing tanks to the inner pairs of pylons, leaving the external pylons “clean”,  kind of a "ferry flight" configuration. All pylons and wing tanks were painted dark green (black pylons have also been witnessed in net pics).

The exhaust nozzles were assembled and attached in position, They were painted Testors Burned Metal, together with the central divider and the pair of tailplane root fairings.

Those birds were usually seen to be in generally good to near pristine condition, so I was not too intense in weathering (meaning I could not hide my build's shortfalls that effectively...). I first gave a quite heavy black wash at all landing gear areas, followed by a lighter one at the topsides, where the engraved detail was accentuated and hinge lines exhibited a somewhat “oily” look. I continued by applying dark colored pastels at all areas where dirt, grime or even soot would reside. Some gray pastels were also applied to the black undersides, to break-off the monotonous look, with a matt coat giving the bird its final hue.

After attaching the port side HUD glass, I hand painted the canopy’s well defined frames and attached it in position, with fit being acceptable and the gaps faired with white glue. The two side mounted pitots were attached, followed by the three UHF/IFF aerials (net reference shows a variety of antennas mounted at those birds, so better check them for more accurate depiction of “the specific plane at the specific time”). The nose pitot was at some point lost, never to be found again, being replaced by a suitably cut needle piece. The top beacon was represented by an oval shaped transparency from spares, while blobs of red and green clear paint represented the wingtip lights, before calling the iconic bomber done!


Hobby Boss came in 2009 with their quarter scale F-111 line. Modern, detailed and sensibly priced, these very good kits by all means represent the latest and greatest, superseding the Academy offering in everything but complexity of build. If you want the best 1/48 F-111, you should look no further than the Hobby Boss.

Now in second place, the elderly Academy mold is by no means an obsolete kit. General shape is correct, molding is crisp, panel lines are nicely engraved, overall details are still adequate, transparencies are well done and instructions are clear. Though it wouldn't hurt to have more than one scheme offered and less translucent decals, you can always go aftermarket. 

Speaking of aftermarket stuff, you will not be disappointed, as, apart from decals, a variety of goodies is available in order to boost the kit's looks or correct some of its shortfalls, with the decision of investing on aftermarket or going for the overly superior Hobby Boss kit left to the individual.

The build itself was not too complex, but fit needed its attention in places. That said, I would recommend this kit to an average modeler (but definitely not to an absolute beginner) for a satisfying, even out of the box build. Of course, the experienced modeler can work his way out and come up with masterpieces such as the 
EF-111A by C. Wayne Sharp and the F-111C by Grenville Davies, found at the ever growing MM archives.

If you have one or find one at an interesting price, go on and give the venerable Academy kit a go: a really attractive Aardvark will emerge!

Happy Modeling!

Spiros Pendedekas

26 March 2024

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