Kinetic Model Kits of China continues its relentless release of new-tool kits with the F-5A Freedom Fighter in 1/48 scale. The extensive decal sheet has 16 — yes, count ’em — 16 individual color schemes for Greek, Canadian, Dutch, Norwegian, South Vietnamese, and U.S. Air Force aircraft. Wow!
By Step 2, you must choose your variant. I would advise carefully studying the instructions and highlighting points that pertain. Not following my own advice, I made a couple of boo-boos — but this was certainly not the fault of the kit!
One odd thing: The molding of the instrument panel looks like a “double exposure,” with raised “shadows” of the instruments slightly offset from the intended detail. This made painting rather interesting. In the end, it looked OK. Still, strange.
The rest of the cockpit is well represented. There is room for embellishment of detail, though, such as a seat harness.
Construction continued with few problems that couldn’t be overcome by dry-fitting and trimming. Be careful with the small, square parts E13-14 and E23-24, as they can sit below the surrounding surfaces.
There was a substantial mismatch in the rear fuselage parts, leaving a large gap at the base of the tailfin’s trailing edge. Also, I had to trim excess plastic from the afterburner plate (Part D27).
Surface detail is all well represented, if a little on the heavy side. However, the engraved panel lines are receptive to a wash.
Along with the several variants you can build, there are options for display. The canopy can be mounted either open or closed; the open option is solid and secure. (There were some odd molding flaws in my kit’s windscreen and canopy, though.) You also may mount the leading- and trailing-edge flaps and ailerons either neutral or drooped. Tabs are molded on the parts that are removed or left in place, depending on which position you choose. Simple, easy, and clever!
Full-length engine air intakes are included. However, partly because of the way the intakes are molded and the breakdown of parts, building the forward fuselage/rear fuselage/leading-edge extensions may be tricky. But there are strategic, well-conceived tabs that virtually guarantee a perfect fit.
Because of the way the wingtip tanks are molded, you end up with two left-handed tanks! This is because there is an airfoil-shaped recess for the wingtip molded into one half. But both tanks are made from the same parts, so you have to mount one of them upside down. I applied a good amount of thin plastic cement to the recess, pushed the tank onto the wingtip, and used tape to keep pressure on it until it had dried.
The leading and trailing edges of the wings and tail planes were disappointing, with the tail planes’ leading edges two scale inches thick! Not terribly aerodynamic.
I chose the South Vietnamese “Skoshi Tiger” scheme and used the kit’s weaponry: two Mk.82 low-drag general purpose bombs and two 19-shot rocket pods. In addition to the tip tanks, there are two different centerline tanks, wing tanks, and wingtip missile rails for two AIM-9s. I used Testors Model Master and Humbrol enamels sprayed freehand for the Southeast Asia color scheme. The Cartograf decals performed wonderfully.
There have been other kits of the F-5A in 1/48 scale by companies such as Classic Airframes, Testors, and Fujimi, but the Kinetic kit gives the best balance of detail to price and ease of construction. I would love to build another half dozen of these for the many colorful schemes. I also wish there were more hours in the day.
Note: A version of this review appeared in the July 2013 FineScale Modeler.