Manufacturer: Testor, 620 Buckbee St., Rockford, IL 61104, 815-962-6654.
Kit: No. 5640
Comments: Screw-and-glue assembly; 8 primed die-cast metal parts with 50 unpainted plastic details, 4 vinyl tires, 9 machine screws, and decals.
Pros: Decent landing gear and wells, overall airframe shapes are good, fine decals.
Cons: Warped castings, soft external details, cockpit has poor detail, weapons are inaccurately shaped, assembly screws are too much alike.
Is die-cast metal the future of our hobby? It seems to be headed that way, especially in the automotive realm. But aircraft? Collection Armour, a Chinese/Italian company, produces pre-finished and assembled aircraft models in 1/48 and 1/100 scales, and an unfinished version of its 1/48 scale F-18 is the basis of Testor's new kit.
So what's different about a die-cast metal kit? The first thing you'll notice is the weight. If you are used to plastic kits, the two pounds two ounces of the Testor kit will come as a shock. The strong alloy will resist rough handling, making the finished model a candidate for young playful hands. Small, finely-threaded machine screws hold the upper and lower halves of the fuselage together (the wings and horizontal stabilizers are molded into the upper half), and the cast metal landing gear to the airframe.
I figured the parts would just clank together, but one of the fuselage halves was warped and left a good 1/4" gap at the tail end (when I aligned the nose). In addition to this bow, there was also a bit of twist, so when the screws (placed along the centerline) were tightened, I still had a prominent gap on one side of the tail end.
I was impressed with the level of detail achieved on the cast-metal landing gear struts and inside the wheel wells - nearly as good as a standard plastic kit. But the plastic detail parts (cockpit interior, underwing tanks, weapons, pylons, gear-bay doors, and canopy) lacked detail - the canopy even lacked framing. The weapons, including Sidewinders, AMRAAMs, and smart bombs, are inaccurately shaped; I left them off.
I supposed that the spirit of the die-cast "kit" is to build it quickly and without fuss, so I ignored the prominent seams between the major components, and did nothing to fix the poor fit of the shallow (1/8") intakes. As you might suspect, the recessed panel detail is overstated when compared with an injection-molded plastic kit in the same scale. I had trouble fitting the vinyl tires onto the plastic wheels; I had to clean off the four sprue stub extensions that run to the edge of the rims and then heat the tires with a hair dryer to make them pliable.
The main landing gear struts fit into square holes in the wheel bays. Each is secured with a machine screw driven from inside the fuselage. The screws shown in the diagram in the instructions differ in length and thread pitch, but when you get the screws in hand, they all look almost alike. Two of the shortest screws are supposed to hold the main gear struts, but with the screws driven as far as they could go, the struts still flopped around in their mounts. I backed the screws out, ground off a couple of millimeters, then was able to tighten them properly.
The metal parts come already primed in smooth light gray, but you still have to paint the model. I used Testor Model Master Light and Dark Ghost Gray enamels for the typical F-18 camouflage scheme, and had to study my references to determine the location of the canopy bow frame.
The best part of the kit is the excellent decal sheet of the stunning "Chippy Ho!" flagship of VFA-195 onboard the USS Independence in 1995. They are well printed even though the eagle's-head motif on the nose is "toned" with tiny dots and overly yellow. They went on fine and responded to Micro Sol.
There were a couple of miscues in the instructions: the bottom color is called out as Dark Ghost Gray in the bottom view, but the proper Light Ghost Gray is shown in the three other views. Also, the long green "Chippy Ho!" stripes on the fuselage are shown too far back on the built-up model; they should start right at the front ends of the wing leading-edge extensions.
After about 20 hours, I have a pretty striking model of an F-18. Regular readers of this magazine will probably find the level of detail disappointing, and beginners won't find relief when it comes to painting and decaling. That said, it makes a sturdy model, almost strong enough to withstand hard "one-wire" landings on the kitchen table!