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Academy 1/72 scale F-35A Lightning II

Kit:12507 // Scale:1/72 // Price:$39
Excellent detail, especially in the cockpit; wide choice of weapons; extensive color guide for 11 different paint brands; easy construction
Masking the panel lines; inflexible decals
Injection-molded, 110 parts, decals

As the Lockheed Martin F-35A proliferates, so do the plastic models. Academy’s 1/72 scale release closely follows the Italeri kit and precedes the forthcoming Hasegawa F-35A.

Like the real machine, this kit is state of the art, with crisp surface detail and finely molded detail in the cockpit, weapon bays, and wheel wells. Surprisingly, Academy’s kit has four colors of plastic (black, dark gray, gray-green, and white); all roughly correspond to the colors of the aircraft. You can choose markings for one of three U.S. Air Force aircraft, all sporting the unique F-35 finish.

Instructions are straightforward and easy to follow, and the excellent fit and engineering make construction a breeze — hardly any filler is needed. To facilitate painting, I didn’t attach the exhaust cone, horizontal, or vertical stabilizers until later in the build. Though it isn’t mentioned in the instructions, I added ballast in the nose. I also enhanced the ejection seat with harnesses made from tape. Doors on the weapons bay fit great, but I wanted to display the model with a full load of external stores — so, I closed the nicely detailed bay and moved the bombs to the wing pylons. The closed canopy completes this look.

The biggest challenge is painting the Federal Standard 36231 gray outlines around many panels on the fuselage and wings. I’m not sure, but I guess this paint has something to do with the stealthiness of the aircraft. Paul Boyer, in his review of the Italeri F-35A (FSM March 2014), masked these areas with foil and then removed the excess from the model. I tried a different tack and cut numerous thin strips of blue masking tape to form rectangles, triangles, and squares to cover these areas. (My approach took 10 hours; Paul’s, less than half that.) The lines and zigzags differ on individual aircraft and from the painting guide, so check your references.

After spraying the recommended gray shades with Gunze Sangyo paints, I removed the FS36231 masking, only to find the contrast with the FS36118 area was minimal. Reluctant to minimize 10 hours of masking work, I added dark sea gray to the gunship gray (about 1:3) and repainted the model. Academy suggests adding 10 percent silver to the grays to achieve the metallic sheen. I didn’t have luck with that approach, so I sprayed the model with a highly diluted coat of Testors Model Master Metalizer dark anodonic gray. Much better! However, subsequent coats of gloss drastically muted the effect. I should have sprayed one or two more layers of the Metalizer.

I did have problems with some decals. Decals placed on flat surfaces worked fine, but the white patches on the fuselage spine and the markings on the curved surfaces of the weapons would not conform to the contours. After trying progressively stronger setting solutions, I finally “glued” them down with Pledge FloorCare Multi-Surface (PFM) and applied pressure with a toothpick until they dried. Nothing I did helped the decals for the smaller-diameter weapons. Finally, the decal guide doesn’t show locations of many stencils. However, photos on the Internet indicate where to put them.

Despite the glitchy decals, this is a wonderful kit that accurately captures the look of the F-35A and has the added bonus of external stores. Beginners should have no problems building it, although all that masking will be a challenge. My effort took 39 hours.

This kit would be a great addition to any collection of modern fighters. I hope Academy releases the other versions of the Lightning II.

Note: A version of this review appeared in the September 2014 FineScale Modeler.


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