Started: Aug 2015
Finished: Feb 2016
Link to Gallery
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is a supersonic, twin-engine, two-seat, variable-sweep wing fighter aircraft. The Tomcat was developed for the United States Navy's Naval Fighter Experimental (VFX) program following the collapse of the F-111B project. The F-14 was the first of the American teen-series fighters, which were designed incorporating the experience of air combat against MiG fighters during the Vietnam War.
The F-14 first flew in December 1970 and made its first deployment in 1974 with the U.S. Navy aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65), replacing the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. The F-14 served as the U.S. Navy's primary maritime air superiority fighter, fleet defence interceptor and tactical aerial reconnaissance platform. In the 1990s, it added the Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) pod system and began performing precision ground-attack missions.
The Tomcat was retired from the U.S. Navy's active fleet on 22 September 2006, having been supplanted by the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The F-14 remains in service with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, having been exported to Iran in 1976, when the U.S. had amicable diplomatic relations with Iran.
The F-14D Super Tomcat (source: wikipedia.org)
The final variant of the F-14 was the F-14D Super Tomcat. The F-14D variant was first delivered in 1991. The original TF-30 engines were replaced with GE F110-400 engines, similar to the F-14B. The F-14D also included newer digital avionics systems including a glass cockpit and replaced the AWG-9 with the newer AN/APG-71 radar. Other systems included the Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ), Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS), SJU-17(V) Naval Aircrew Common Ejection Seats (NACES) and Infra-red search and track (IRST).
Although the F-14D was to be the definitive version of the Tomcat, not all fleet units received the D variant. In 1989, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney refused to approve the purchase of any more F-14D model aircraft for $50 million each and pushed for a $25 million modernization of the F-14 fleet instead. Congress decided not to shut production down and funded 55 aircraft as part of a compromise. A total of 37 new aircraft were completed, and 18 F-14A models were upgraded to D-models, designated F-14D(R) for rebuild. An upgrade to the F-14D's computer software to allow AIM-120 AMRAAM missile capability was planned but was later terminated
While upgrades had kept the F-14 competitive with modern fighter aircraft technology, Cheney called the F-14 1960s technology. Despite an appeal from the Secretary of the Navy for at least 132 F-14Ds and some aggressive proposals from Grumman for a replacement, Cheney planned to replace the F-14 with a fighter that was not manufactured by Grumman. Cheney called the F-14 a "jobs program", and when the F-14 was cancelled, an estimated 80,000 jobs of Grumman employees, subcontractors, or support personnel were affected. Starting in 2005, some F-14Ds received the ROVER III upgrade.
The 2015 FineMolds 1:72 F-14D is the first all-new-tool Tomcat from a Japanese maker in over two decades and is a very good one. The kit sprues are only available when purchased in conjunction with the Japanese Model Graphix magazine over three consecutive monthly issues. If you also want the optional weapons sprue then you will need to puchase the July 15 "Scale Aviation" magazine issue as well
Model Graphix is described by HLJ as "Japan's most well-rounded hobby magazine, full of articles on all modelling genres including aircraft, figures, science fiction, cars, ships, and more. Excellent photography throughout." All text is in Japanese. FineMolds has a history of partnering with Model Graphix to release aircraft kits spread across multiple issues and in some cases these models are exclusive to the magazine subscribers and are not offered alone as a separate standalone kit.
Shipped with each magazine issue is a thin sturdy cardboard box that contains selected sprues. The kit has been broken down and supplied with each magazine issue in such a way to allow builders to work on each sub assembly while waiting for the next instalment. The assembly instructions are provided in the magazine pages (with English translations included)Model Graphix is described by HLJ as "Japan's most well-rounded hobby magazine, full of articles on all modelling genres including aircraft, figures, science fiction, cars, ships, and more. Excellent photography throughout." All text is in Japanese. FineMolds has a history of partnering with Model Graphix to release aircraft kits spread across multiple issues and in some cases these models are exclusive to the magazine subscribers and are not offered alone as a separate standalone kit.
Shipped with each magazine issue is a thin sturdy cardboard box that contains selected sprues. The kit has been broken down and supplied with each magazine issue in such a way to allow builders to work on each sub assembly while waiting for the next instalment. The assembly instructions are provided in the magazine pages (with English translations included)
The fit of the kit is superb, something that FineMolds is well renowned for with their sci-fi kits. The level of detail provided in this 1:72 model puts many 1:48 and even some 1:32 kits to shame. If FineMolds ever scales this up to 1:48 or beyond it would be a license to print money. Some folks won't appreciate the open access panels as they prefer to model their aircraft clean, but this has not worried me as I chose to model it with everything open to take maximum advantage of all the extra goodies provided. I was a bit disappointed with the inclusion of only one paint/marking scheme provided with the kit, more so because that one option did not interest me at all.
Construction begins as usual with the cockpit. One of the changes between the A/B and D model Tomcats was an upgrade to the ejection seats. The earlier A/B F-14's used a MB GRU-7A seat whilst the F-14D was fitted with the MB-14 NACES seat. The seats provided by FineMolds are quite detailed with the only thing missing being the harness.
Wherever possible I like to use a resin replacement seat for my models. I looked thru the spare seat box and found a couple of seats from True Details that had belts and more realistic cushions moulded in. When I compared the kit and resin seats side by side it was obvious hat the head box of the TD resin part was considerably smaller than the kit seat and after consulting reference photos decided that the kit seat was a better match than the TD item
Having decided to stick with the kit seats I needed to build some harnesses. For this task I used some lead foil straps and small plastic card for the buckles. One of the advantages of making your own belts is that you can position them independently so they don't look like identical to each other.
The main part of the seat which will be visible on the finished model is the head box. A simple trick to remove join seams on parts that would be tricky to sand is to cover them with plasticard. I used that technique on the back of the head box and added some other small sections to make it look busy.
With the seats dealt with it was time to dry fit the cockpit and forward fuselage halves. This revealed no problems with fit at all (in fact it was an excellent fit all round). One thing I did notice was that the moulded plastic parts used to represent the front and rear shroud over the instrument panels did not look at all convincing. On the real Tomcat these have canvas covers which I wanted to do something about, but that would come later.
The kit instrument panel raised detail is excellent. FineMolds provides the option of using single piece decals for the IPs and side consoles which is the way I ended up going rather than hand paint them
Test fitting with the seats in place convinced me that putting any extra detailing effort into the cockpit would be wasted as in 1:72 very little of it would be visible with the seats (and eventually canopy) in place.
As I was in a dry fitting mood I continue to assemble the rear fuselage sections with small pieces if Tamiya tape holding it all together. Every piece and sub section literally clicked together with no gaps worthy of mention being present.
The wings and elevators are designed to enable you to attach them at any time in the build. I dry fitted them early on and then left them aside during painting, decaling and weathering to allow much easier access to the fuselage sides.
An overall shot of the main parts of the kit together (if only with tape). The spine is provided with two options, one open as you see here and the other closed
I was now happy with the overall fit of the kit and had a much clearer idea of my planned assembly sequence. Returning now to the instructions I began work on assembling and painting the cockpit proper. Note the assembly sequences run from right to left, remembering that these were designed for Japanese speaking modellers who read in the opposite direction to us english speakers
One advantage of a smaller scale like 1:72 is that many of the assemblies can be moulded as single parts. The cockpit tub is one such item that in a larger scale would consist of several parts. FineMolds have engineered the kit so that mould seams and ejection pin marks for the most part are on surfaces that will be hidden on the finished model.
When painting flat parts like cockpit panels or access doors I like to hold them in place with some tape folded over onto itself (basically making it double sided). Its quick and easy and means you don't have to worry about handling the parts while painting
There is other work needed to the forward fuselage interior before we add the cockpit sub assembly. If you plan to display all the gun, refuelling probe and avionics panels closed then steps 7 & 8 can be skipped
Always interested in trying something new, I decided to test out some of the MiG Ammo paints and washes designed for 'US Modern Cockpits'. The cockpit interior was primed with black followed by a couple of light coats of MiG-205 Acrylic Color thinned with Gunze Mr Color Leveling Thinner. The paint flowed nicely thru the airbrush and covered well allowing me enough control to get some variation over the black undercoat.
Relevant parts of the cockpit were next hand painted in black (well Vallejo 70.862 Grey Black actually as I always find pure Black to be quite overpowering for scale models).
Once the base painting was complete a quick gloss clear was applied followed by the assorted side and instrument panel decals. These were softened with generous amounts of Micro Sol which encouraged them to settle into the raised detail. Left to dry overnight the whole cockpit was then flat coated as you see the result here. I think the decals are a good option in 1:72 and do a far better job of showing the detail than my dodgy hand painting could ever achieve.
The seats were base coated with Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black (again I avoid using pure black) and then the seat cushions and belts hand painted with Vallejo paints. I wanted to simulate some wear and grime on the cushions and had recently read an article on using Vallejo Glaze medium to turn their paints into a wash. This turned out to be an easy way to add subtle shading to the otherwise monochrome seat and I was quite happy with the result. The seat frames and cockpit edges were lightly dry brushed with my favourite Model Master Chrome Silver to show some wear and tear.
Before the completed cockpit can be glued into the forward fuselage we need to complete interior painting of the gun and ammunition drum bays. The rear of these bays is formed by parts attached to the nose wheel well on the bottom of the cockpit tub so you can't really leave it till after things are all sealed up. I hand painted the ammo drum using Citadel Metaliser paints and the gun with gun metal. A light wash and dry brushing was all that was needed to finalise these areas.
With all the prep work complete a quick double check of the assembly instructions showed I was good to proceed with gluing the fuselage halves. Step 11 was next and I decided to do some extra work to the canvas cover on the RIO's shroud as this is a very visible and distinctive feature of the F-14
Plastic model manufacturers always struggle with realistically re-producing cloth and cushions. So it was with the FineMolds provided canvas cover for the shroud covering. I needed some workable putty that could be rolled into thin sheets and applied to the shroud and give a more convincing canvas look. Magic Scuplt is designed for that job and here you can see I rolled it flat, using plain talc powder to stop it sticking to the cutting board. It took a few goes to get the effect I was after but I think it adds a great deal of interest (and realism) to this area behind the front seat.
Here we see the forward fuselage joined with the front and rear shrouds in place. Also notice that I have applied a base coat of white to the radar compartment bulkhead. This will be detail painted and then masked prior to main painting
To finish off the forward fuselage we need to add the single piece base plate. Be sure to determine before gluing what weapon load-out you intend so that you can pre drill the appropriate holes.
Like most parts on this model the base plate is a snap fit with no gap or alignment problems to deal with. During my dry fitting stage earlier on I noticed that where the forward and main fuselage met the plates on the bottom did not line up perfectly. A very simple fix to this problem was to glue some small Evergreen sections on the overlap to give the two parts something to align to
Another view of the rear section of the forward fuselage showing again those alignment tabs I added. All cockpit areas have now been painted Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black and will later be weathered with washes and dry-brushing
No matter how well prepared you think you are, something almost always catches you out. In this case I had forgotten to add any nose weight before gluing the fuselage together. Now it may not have been needed at all but I didn't want to risk her being a tail sitter and so I worked out that I could slightly expand the hole under the forward shroud to allow me to drop in (and glue with two part epoxy) some small lead sinkers. In all I was able to fit in about 3 sinkers which was more than enough to keep her on the nose-wheel. Problem solved.
The nose-wheel well is nicely detailed with adequate ribbing and pipe detail for my taste. The chin pod can be added at this point as its painted the same colour as the fuselage. I have painted the rear part of the wheel well in black primer which will be followed with the white top coat. I almost never spray white over anything but black these days. I find white can be too bright / stark unless you tone it down with a dark primer.
With work on the nose progressing nicely it was time to focus on the very opposite end of the model. The exhaust tube and afterburner rings are assembled and then sandwiched between the fuselage top and bottom later on.
The interior of the exhaust tube on most modern engines is made from a ceramic material. When new (and for quite some time after) it has a white finish. The rear of the engine and afterburner rings are painted simple black with a small amount of dry brushing to lift the detail. I just noticed as I was looking at the photo here that I put parts B8 on incorrectly as they should be reversed. Thankfully once the engines are sealed up even if you have a torch to look down into them you probably would not notice this mistake.
To prepare the fuselage main parts for assembly we need to add the main wheel well sidewalls and the rear beaver tail. I suggest leaving the arrestor hook off for now (part D24) as it will only get in the way when masking and painting the airbrake interiors (assuming like me you plan to have them open). Once again take careful note of which holes you need to drill in step 5. Virtually all F-14D's will need the yellow holes drilled to accommodate the shoulder pylons and if like me you intend to attach the Phoenix pylons then also pre-drill all the green holes now.
At first glance the breakdown of the fuselage looks overly complicated, however once you start to assemble them you realise that its all very logical and because the fit is so good the whole thing clicks together requiring only a small amount of thin liquid glue to hold it all in place
I have started to use black as a primer a lot more lately. I find it provides the best base for top coats like white or in this case red for the airbrake interiors. The exhaust tube one piece assembly is now lightly glued together. Be sure to avoid placing the liquid glue too near the join lest it seep through and upset the paint on the inside.
The main wheel wells have been primed with black and then a couple of light coats of decanted Tamiya White Primer (my new favourite white paint) applied. In this case the black base coat helps to give depth to the moulded in detail.
Once the top and bottom fuselage parts have been secured we can add the side sections, parts D14 & D15. I found these were probably the trickiest parts in the whole kit to get aligned properly as they having mating surfaces which attach to the top, bottom and front sections of the rest of the fuselage
A top view of the mated rear fuselage sections. I have removed the black primer over-spray (using a light abrasive) from around the air-brake well. I decided to leave off the wing sweep airbags at this point so I could paint them separately.
Next step is to paint and assemble the intake trunking. FineMolds provide us with a full set of intakes and a nicely detailed compressor face to simulate the front of the engines. Normally we spend a lot of time trying to avoid things like seams on the intake trunking but in this case (based on my dry fitting earlier) I decided that spending a huge amount on time and effort on trying to sand a 1:72 scale intake was not something I was up for.
The intake trunks are normally always painted white on modern jets (at least US jets). As mentioned above I realised that the seam would still be there but I reasoned that as it was so far down in the fuselage that no-one (not even those with a tiny mirror and light) would be able to see it. So each side of the intake trunk was painted (Tamiya White Primer) and carefully glued so as not to damage the paint (thus making a mess that would be visible)
With both intakes assembled next we need to attach them into the engine nacelle housing. This is literally a click fit with virtually no gap left. The F-14 has a fairly complex variable ramp system which sits just inside the front of each intake. Like most supersonic jets such a system allows for control to slow the air entering the intake (and hence the engine) and is designed to change the geometry (shape) of the intake as the aircraft speed varies. FineMolds faithfully provides separate pieces for the ramps which allows us to display them in any position we desire.
Checking reference photos I realised that the demarcation of the intake white and the exterior grey was not straight (like on most aircraft) but on an angle.
To make it easier to mask this area I left off the bleed air assembly and lower ramp (part E18 & E6) which allowed me access to the intake interior to lay out the masking tape. For tricky areas like this I work with small strips of Tamiya tape laying them in place with needle nose tweezers. Once you have the demarcations masked you can back-fill to protect from over-spray.
With the work on the underside mostly complete now, a quick flip of the model and I installed a support beam from Evergreen rod. The plan was for this support to act as a brace for some separators I had thought would be needed for the bottom fuselage section. In the end this was a precaution that was not needed but I decided to show it here anyway as an example of how builds can change as you progress and a reminder that you need to always plan ahead and remain flexible in your approach.
Not normally a huge fan of having too many open panels on my models my first inclination was to use the closed spine option on this kit. After thinking about it a bit more I decided that this was after all a review build and that I should endeavour to show as much of what the kit had to offer as I could. An open spine would also give me more options for my planned flight deck display base. A quick internet search revealed (as it so often does) the ideal shot of an F-14 with the spine open and so I had my color reference for painting.
The base color (Tamiya XF4 Yellow Green) was airbrushed and the piping / cabling was hand painted with Vallejo. A light wash has been applied to further accentuate the cable bundles and give a worn, grimy appearance to the whole area
The surface detail on this kit is some of the best I have ever seen in 1:72. I assume its intentional that some of the panels on the fuselage have a different texture as shown in this photo. As usual I lightly scribed each of the panel lines in preparation for the eventual panel washing after painting. In the end I was glad I did this as I ended up applying many coats of paint so that little extra depth and sharpness to the panel lines came in handy.
With the intake sub assemblies complete and masked up it's time to mate them to the lower fuselage. I decided not to attach the engine exhausts at this point preferring to leave to the very end.
I primed the interior of the intakes in black as a way to give me some tonal variations when I finally laid down the colour coat. I used thin liquid glue (pure M.E.K. in most cases) to attach the parts and had to be careful to avoid damaging the applied paint too much. This photo also gives a good view of the join between the forward and rear fuselage sections. Those small plastic alignment tabs I added earlier now served their purpose by making sure the two surfaces aligned with each perfectly with no resulting step
The ventral fins were attached and each needed a small amount of Milliput around the base to blend them into the engine nacelles. I also have attached the Phoenix mounting rails to the channel in between the engines. By OIF the Phoenix had been retired but the Tomcats still used the rails to carry LGBs and JDAMS.
Turning now to the undercarriage, I started with the nose gear. Some of these parts are very small in 1:72 (well at least for my eyes) so take your time and use your favourite liquid glue.
The landing light is provided in clear plastic but I normally prefer to just paint these over and then paint the lens in silver. In larger scales you can also use the very handy PE lens faces from someone like Eduard but in 1:72 some silver paint is adequate I have found.
As with all the white areas on this model I base coated the nose gear with black and then applied a couple of light coats of Tamiya White Primer. For the chrome finish on the oleo strut I will use Bare Metal self adhesive foil.
Now is the time to assemble the chin pod and gear doors. Again take note that the assembly sequence runs from right to left as this was designed primarily for a Japanese audience.
One surprise (and let me tell you there are not many with this kit) was the large ejection pin marks on the interior of the nose gear doors. These were however easily dealt with by some garden variety Tamiya Basic Grey putty.
Steps 12-14 deal with the assembly of the main landing gear. I much prefer to assemble as much of any sub-assembly as possible before applying paint. In this case I wanted to glue the main strut to the support brace.
The best way to ensure I had the parts at the correct angle before gluing was to insert them into their corresponding mounting hole in the wheel well. Tape is used to hold everything correctly aligned and then liquid glue applied to the join and allowed to dry in place. This method ensures that the completed gear assembly (after painting etc) will have no problems being fitted at the very end of the build.
This photo I took of an F-14A onboard the USS Kittyhawk during here visit to Australia back in 2002 shows clearly the parts of the main gear. I chose not to worry about adding the piping and cabling visible here but would almost certainly do so in a larger scale.
Once assembled the whole unit is painted with a black base and Tamiya White Primer. Small details like the exposed hydraulic struts will be hand painted later prior to weathering.
Though not mentioned in the FineMolds instructions, even a cursory review of F-14 photos in the wild will reveal that the forward pane of the windshield is coated in a transparent tinted finish. The easiest way to reproduce this on the model is to use a clear paint which is always best to airbrush. Masking is therefore required so that only the appropriate panel is covered. Thin strips of Tamiya tape can be made to curve around just about anything I have found and so the gentle curves on this part did not provide much of a challenge.
Here we see the finished windshield glued in place (with thin super glue). I applied two light coats of Tamiya X28 Clear Green to get the result shown here. You need to proceed slowly when using clear colours as its easy to get heavy handed and end up with too dark a result. With these paints I find that "less is more".
A good shot of the mostly finished forward fuselage and cockpit. All that remains here is to begin the masking process. I was happy with my decision to use the kit supplied decals for the cockpit panels as I think they look very effective at this scale.
Turning next to the canopy and it's time to decide if you want to display it open or closed because different canopy framing parts are provided depending on which way you go as per step 24.
After studying some F-14 reference photos I decided that the model really needed some rear view mirrors on the canopy frame. The quickest way to scratch build these (as I did not have any PE sets in 1:72) was from some 10 thou card strips cut to length and the ends rounded off. Working in such close proximity to the canopy clear parts with glue makes me nervous and so I chose to use CA glue to attach the mirrors. I considered using a less aggressive glue like PVA but was not convinced it had the strength to do the job (and it takes forever to dry to a point with any strength)
As my canopy was going to be displayed in the open position I needed to mask and paint the interior framing. I see so many models where people take the shortcut of painting the interior color on the outside of the clear part, which I think is fine if you plan to close the canopy but not if the canopy is open. Ultimately its upto each modeler to decide whats best for their model but its little things like this that help you step up the finish of your overall model and who needs to take shortcuts in our hobby
Whilst I was in a masking mood (when are you ever in a masking mood !!) I flipped the canopy over and did the exterior masking as well.
As with the nose of the model, FineMolds gives us the option to open or close the airbrakes on the top/bottom of the beaver tail. As I was planning a maintenance display I figured that everything open was the best option.
There is quite a bit preparation needed to the rear area before we can start painting. Wherever practical I very much like to add as much as possible to an aircraft model before painting. I also like to leave off things like exhaust nozzles, undercarriage legs and generally anything else that could be damaged due to careless handling (yes I too am careless from time to time). In the case of the FineMolds F-14 after some test fitting I determined that I could safely attach the outboard fairings that cover part of the engine exhaust assembly. I very rarely stick to the manufacturers assembly sequence preferring to decide for myself the most logical sequence to make my life easier further down the track.
Tomcats that have been converted to Bombcats or Strikecats are capable of carrying unguided and guided bombs loaded on BRU-32 bomb racks. The BRU's with dual ejector pistons are fitted into the original Phoenix weapon pallets by means of ADU-703 adapters. When the pallets are fitted the AIM-7 Sparrow launch wells are covered. By this stage of the build I had a clear idea in my mind of how I planned to display the finished model on a carrier deck undergoing maintenance. This meant that I could not realistically attach ordnance to the jet so the weapon pallets would remain empty.
Small details like the wheel well interiors are now painted to allow me to mask these along with the other interior sections prior to main painting. All white areas on the model were base coated with black and then finished with Tamiya White Primer.
FineMolds gives us a choice of two spines, one closed up and the other open. Worth noting is the footnote in step 3 that tells you to glue the glove vanes in the closed position. This is needed because the F-14D had the glove vanes removed completely so be sure to fill and sand join on these parts. The fact that these parts are even provided separately does make me wonder if FineMolds plans to release an A/B Tomcat kit in the future?
The open spine interior detail is very nice with cabling, piping and actuating rods all included. I chose to add some plasticard behind the detail parts to help give the panel some depth. All parts were hand painted with Vallejo acrylics.
Construction now moved ahead quite quickly with the tails and other airframe bits and bobs being added. I rely quite a lot on Milliput putty to help close up small gaps. Milliput allows me to fill gaps that aren't bad enough to warrant complete filling with CA and subsequent re-scribing.
Given the amount of extra detail FineMolds provides in this kit its a bit of a surprise that they didn't go the distance and give us separate flaps and slats on the wings. I personally was not too phased about this as I always planned in having my F-14s wings swept anyway
I really don't understand why the wings were designed with the F11 & F16 inserts. Perhaps on A/B Tomcats this part of the wing was different but whatever the reason it leaves us with a seam that needs to be removed completely. This is an ideal example of using CA glue as a filler
To allow the model to be displayed with the wings open or swept, FineMolds provides two alternate sets of air bags to cater for the inflated (open) and deflated (swept) wing positions
I appreciated the simple wing pivot point which allowed me to attach the wing after the model is completed. Its a basic tongue and groove design that self-aligns and fits like a glove. Attention to these small details helps to make this model stand out from the crowd.
A closeup shot of the top of the fuselage with the wings temporarily fitted in the half swept position. I always like to go over the surface of the model prior to painting with my Tamiya Scriber and lightly (very lightly) sharpen up each panel line (and rivet using a sharp needle point). This helps reassure me that when it comes time later on that my panel wash will be sharp and crisp. Its extra work for sure, but from experience it yields results and that's more important to me.
Flipping the model 180 degrees onto its back affords us a good clear view of the belly. You can tell from the visible runs of yellow Milliput that there were several small seam gaps that needed some attention. The front interior of the engine intakes are painted the same color as the fuselage on F-14's. I have primed this area in black (as shown here) and it will be painted at the same time as the rest of the exterior undersides. Be sure to plan ahead and pre-drill the mounting holes for the drop tanks and shoulder pylons.
The underside of the beaver tail and engine nacelles. I decided to leave the arrestor hook off to make it easier to mask the airbrak well. Note again the presence of Milliput on the base of the ventral fins.
Construction of the model is now primarily complete. Next step will be to commence the detail masking in preparation for exterior painting.
By this stage of the project I was beginning to plan out the display base for the model. I already have an assortment of resin and plastic US Navy deck drew figures and tractors but they are all from the usual suspects (Verlinden, Fujimi etc) and after a couple of similar projects they all start to look the same. Whilst searching for something new I came across reedoak.com which offered a respectable collection of 3D printed figures, which just happen to include some US Navy deck crew in interesting poses. Under extreme magnification you can see the layers that are part of the "printing" process. They look quite pronounced in these photos but let me assure you that with the naked eye you cannot see any of this. I have inlcuded four photos of the figures so you can judge for yourself their quality.
My preferred weapon of chose for masking is Tamiya tape. I use this tape for 99.9% of masking on my models, cutting it to shape and thickness to ensure if conforms to the job at hand. The fuselage spine bay is a very simple masking exercise as it's all straight lines but it does show to good effect the basic concept of mask the edges first then fill the center. You will find I use these method time and time again on just about any masking task.
When using Tamiya tape to mask curves (like on this windshield) you need to cut into very thin stripes to allow it to conform to the curves. When the curve becomes too tight for the tape to lay flat you can switch to cutting the tape to shape or pick a vinyl based tape (such as the new Tamiya tape for curves) which is capable of stretching far more than the normal Kabuki yellow Tamiya tape.
Tamiya tape is great stuff but not a cure all. I also like to use liquid masking agent (in this case Vallejo) to cover those complex shapes that you just can't get tape to cover reliably. Liquid mask is also very good at ensuring the tape stays where is should as you work on the model.
For masking awkward shapes, like circles, grab yourself a circular drawing template from the newsagent or a photo-etch circular scribing template. Lay the tape down on a piece of glass or ceramic bathroom tile and with a fresh blade use the circular template to cut out your mask. You don't need to get the diameter perfect each time as you can use multiple sections to mask just about any curve
Thin strips and pieces of Tamiya tape have once again been used to mask the airbrake interior. Note I have been experiementing with 3M painters tape (which is blue) and used here to cover the engine exhausts..
A trick to cut down your masking work is to use tape to mask the edges and then fill the interior with liquid masking agent or wet tissue paper, foam or even Blu Tac.
With all the interior masking complete its time to load up the airbrush.
My favourite primers these days are Alclad II Grey Primer/Micro Filler and more recently the Tamiya Grey Primer which only comes in a pressure can. Now I don't use pressure cans and so decant the primer for use in my airbrush. This decanted paint can be safely stored in a air tight bottle for several months and thinned with Tamiyas own Lacquer thinner when you need to airbrush it. The Tamiya primer dries quickly to a silky smooth finish which adheres very well to the plastic.
Once your primer is dry be sure to go over the entire model looking very closely for any blemishes that need your attention prior to commencing the final painting stage. Take your time and check all the nooks and crannies as gaps and seams have a habit of hiding themselves in the most awkward place.
When masking your model don't be afraid to try different material to use as a paint mask. Here you can see I have used some packing foam in the nose wheel well to quickly (and effectively) protect the area from overspray. Use thin strips of tape along the edges to get a sharp demarcation but feel free to fill in the center with just about anything that will keep paint out.
F-14's were painted with several different standard schemes during their service career. The aircraft which I wanted to model (as used during OIF) was finished in the standard 3 tone 'TPS' (Tactical Paint Scheme). Whilst the aircraft may look like this when it leaves the paint shop it does not take long for the three tone effect to be lost due to grime & fading and being covered in repairs and touch ups on the carrier.
Gunze Mr Color paints are my current favourite and one of their features I appreciate on most builds is the very wide range of pre-tinted FS colors. Not surprisingly the standard US Navy greys are provided to be used straight out of the bottle and map to the real FS colors as follows:
As I mentioned eariler, the one thing that disapointed me about the Finemolds kit was the single choice of markings on the decal sheet. Luckily I am a bit of a bower bird when it comes to accumulating interesting decal sheets and in particular have been a long time collector of TwoBobs. It did not take me too long to settle on sheet 72-026 which has a wide range of Tomcats from VF-31 that saw active service in OIF on the USS Abraham Lincoln. The lo viz TPS painted F-14s were exactly what I was after for this project.
When painting a subject that will be finished in a light color (like the greys on the F-14) I prefer to start with a dark undercoat. Normally I use a black undercoat but on this occasion I opted for a very dark grey instead (Tamiya XF63 German Grey). At this point I have already applied the lightest of the three greys, that being FS36375 (C308) on the undersides. A bit of overlap with the upper surfaces is not a bad idea as this gives us something to mask over.
The reason for undercoating with a dark color should become apparent with this photo. By applying the grey in thin coats you can start to get some shading variations in the finish right from the start. Weathering the paint on a model is never a simple single step but rather a series of small incremental steps that when added together gives (hopefully) the desired result.
The underside of the wings perhaps show this effect even more so. We are intentionally trying to avoid a solid grey paint coverage here. It might look a bit odd or overdone at this stage but by the time we add more color, dedals, panel washes etc this effect will be toned down quite considerably (trust me !!)
With the undersides dry we move onto the next grey FS 36320 (C307) which is applied to the fuselage sides and vertical tails. I rely a lot on Blu Tack for my masking needs when it comes to reproducing variable soft edges in tricky places. I'd like to say I'm good enough to freehand these type of demarcations but thats just not the case I'm afraid. Roll the Blu Tack into a thin sausage and gently apply it to the model surface then back fill with tape to prevent overspray
More Blu Tack is used to quickly mask off the nose. The trick to getting a soft edge is to not push the sausage down onto the model surface too heavily. You only want a small part of the Blu Tack actually touching the surface.
With the C307 applied (again in thin coats) we remove the masks. You can just see the demarcation between the two greys which is mostly what its like on the real F-14 with the '3 tone' scheme often ending up looking like a single shade of grey. This photo also shows off very nicely the superb surface detail present on the FineMolds kit. Its just begging for a panel wash to make it pop.
The last of the three greys is applied only to the very top of the fuselage and wings/tails. For sharp demarcations leave the Blu Tack in the drawer and just use tape. Again backfill to prevent overspray. I like to cut the tape into small sections as it gives me more precise control when applying it to the model surface to help ensure a perfect fit over odd shapes.
Masking off the tightly tapered fuselage sides required some very thin strips of Tamiya tape to achieve that sharp point. For masking leading edges of wings use a thin strip to get your edge and then backfill with larger pieces.
To avoid any overspray the vertical tails have been masked, again a thin strip down the bottom to get that perfect demarcation with larger (less precise) pieces to backfill. I see many modellers use cheaper tape for their masking but I learnt a long time ago that nothing works better than Tamiya tape and so its what I choose to stick with.
The final grey FS35237 (C337) has now been applied. The mottling effect is less pronounced with this darkest of the greys but its still there even if your eyes can't immediately see it standing out. In fact subtle is probably better anyway as we don't want any one part of the weathering process to scream at us.
Right now the finish looks like its fresh out of the paint shop, not at all what I am looking for but we need to look ahead to what it will look like with the steps yet to come. Often thats the hardest thing to do when you lack experience in model making, trusting that things will work out as you apply more layers. Its not something you can learn from a book (or a website) but only thru the school of hard knocks. Right now you can quite clearly see the difference in the two upper greys but as with the real aircraft its my intention to lessen that with subsequent paint and weathering.
A better shot of the undersides with the wings in place. Much to be done here as the F-14 gets very grotty down low (like most modern jets). With all the base paint work done its time to start degrading this nice finish :)
Of course the main airframe is not the only thing that needs to be painted. Alcald II metaliser paints are still my go-to option and here I have based coated the exhaust with Aluminium and a light coat of Pale Burnt Metal. The masking has been applied prior to painting the small square sections in Steel which represent the inner part of the variable nozzle mechanism. Note how I have used small bits of packing foam to protect the interior of the nozzle from overspray.
We now get to the bit of the painting that I really made up as I went along. I have read many other modelers "methods" for weathering TPS US Navy jets and I tried to borrow any of the ones that made sense and add in my own ideas as I progressed. The thing that occurred to me as I studied F-14 photos was how the paint patches and touchups seemed to result in the F-14 surface appearing to fade in exactly the opposite way to a normal aircraft. What I mean is that normally a panel fades in the middle and appears darker towards the edge (hence why many modelers use black to highlight the panel lines or edges of panels).
The F-14 seems to have darker shades of paint in the middle of panels and lighter on the edges, quite the reverse to normal. I believe this is because when they remove a panel and re-attach it for maintenance they apply fresh touch up paint over the join. This touch up paint is newer and looks lighter than the older dirty paint. Anyway ... this is why my first shot was to go over the edges of the panels with a lightened grey as shown here.
The result of the first pass was too stark a contract between the light and dark sections. I addressed this by toning down the lighter patches but overspraying the whole surface with a very heavily thinned mix of the base grey. You can see the effect is still there (lighter panel edges, darker centers) but it does not immediately jump out at you like before. With most things related to weathering my approach is "less is more".
At this point I decided that I need to apply the decals before doing any more paint work on the surface. Why? well the touchups on the real thing often times result in overspray and degradation of the aircraft markings as well (no they don't mask them off). I wanted to capture this on my model. A quick coat of Future gloss, the TwoBobs decals (printed by MicroScale) performed perfectly (as always).
One decal I did not use was the walkway on the top of each intake. These are actually a non-slip raised roughened finish on the real F-14 and so I decided that a better solution than decals was needed (even in 1/72). I masked up the top of the intake (using photos and the decals as a guide) and sprayed (at a low pressure) some Mr Surfacer 1000 which resulted in a slightly rough, raised panel once the masking was removed.
Using reference photos I went over the entire airframe and with a darker grey paint (Tamiya from memory) I spot painted access hatches and areas I figured would be subject to regular maintenance and hence touch up paint. The underside received quite a bit of attention in this step.
My decision to model aircraft 104 was completely arbitrary. I just liked the way the mission markings surrounded the modex number on the nose (not very scientific I guess). My patch up airbrush work continued freehand with a low pressure to minimise the over-spray (remembering this guy is pretty small in 1:72)
The last step in the weathering phase with my airbrush was to now once again go over all the touchups I had done in the darker grey with a even lighter grey. This was to give these final touchups a darker edge or shadow effect which I had observed on the real F-14. At this point I started to feel like I was getting somewhere as the overall effect was looking very much like what I had imagined in my minds eye (and yes I breathed a sigh of relief).
The overall "patchy" affect from another angle. The effect still looks overdone in these photos but remember with more weathering to come which will tone it down its best to be a bit over the top at this intermediate stage.
A final view of the finished paint work. Next up, panel wash time.
I've always made up my own panel wash, normally using Model Master enamel paints, but for this build I had some of the new (well new to me) MiG Ammo pre-mixed panel washes on hand. I picked one that looked closest to my beloved Burnt Umber and laid it down straight from the bottle with a small brush. The wash performed very nicely, much like any wash I would make up myself so I was quite happy. It may seem that I have used a lot of panel wash, probably more than is needed but that is intentional. I have found that when cleaning up the wash its often useful to have some of the grime stay on the surface adding yet another subtle layer of weathering. Its not an exact science and I normally feel my way thru each model.
After an hour or so to dry I wiped off the wash with a dry paper towel. Now normally after an hour the Model Master and white spirit mix I make myself will have dried to a point where I need some thinner to remove it cleanly. Not so the MiG Ammo wash as it was still quite 'mobile' at this stage which caught me initially off guard. Realising I did not need additional thinners to remove the excess wash I simply dropped back to using a dry cloth (and cotton buds) and I was able to get the effect I was after. It's worth noting for completeness that if you leave the MiG Wash more than 24hrs to dry that it does go off and harden more, to the point in fact that you need some thinners to remove it
Once the panel wash is all cleaned up from the surface I did a quick test fit of the wings and tail to see how it was looking. Its important to keep bring the seprate sub assemblies together to ensure the weathering effect is consistent across all the parts. Nothing worse than having the wings way cleaner than say the fuselage as this tends to ruin the illusion of the aircraft weathering as a whole. I was very happy with how it was looking at this stage.
The remaining masking was removed and the wing leading edges were painted Alclad Aluminium. The undersides were looking suitably beat up but not grimey enough just yet. A second round of oil washes was yet to come.
The nose required a few hand painted details including the tan colored AN/ALR-45 Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) blister on the wing glove leading edge and the natural metal plate ahead of the gun muzzle.
When I was studying photos of VF-31 Tomcats I noticed that the "black" markings on the wings (104) and tail (Felix) appeared quite faded (or not black at all). As the Twobobs decals were very much jet black my best option was to ever so lightly overspray them with grey, just enough to take the sting out of the black. The end result was much better and afterwards they looked less stark and almost a very dark gray.
It's always satisfying to get to this stage and see how all the prep work you put in has paid off with nice sharp panel lines and rivets. To some of you the panel lines may look too pronounced but remember that we have more weathering to come. For the next stage I needed to be sure I had an insurance policy against failure so I once more sealed everything with Future clear gloss. As you will see shortly I am very glad I did
Even though I was happy with the weathering effect to this point I wanted to try something a little new. I have used the salt masking technique before for both painting chipping and random paint discoloration. I wanted to see what that might come out like on the F-14 so out came the salt shaker. A healthy dose of salt was applied to the surface and left to dry
Once the salt was dry enough I loaded up the airbrush with a dark grey and somewhat randomly applied it over the salt mask. The general idea here is that the paint gets in between the salt crystals onto the models surface and gives a patchy random effect.
The main fuselage got the same treatment. As a precaution I used enamel paint which would allow me to easily remove it in the event I was not happy (remember that extra layer of Future gloss to protect the model?)
Once the paint was dry I simply washed off the salt under a warm tap in the kitchen. The result was, well it was not what I was after at all!!! I think the problem was the grey I used was too dark (too much contrast) and I applied it too heavily. Whatever the reason I was not happy with the end result
Unfortunately the wings did not look any better than the fuselage. All was not lost, I'd learnt a few things along the way and all I had to do was wipe the enamel paint off the model with a clean cloth dipped in thinners (white spirit). Within a few minutes it was all gone
With the failed salt coat cleaned up I was ready to move onto the flat coat followed by spot oil washes. My preferred flat is acrylic from Poly Scale (which I think you can't get anymore). It dries to a dead flat and sprays silky smooth. The flat coat made all that subtle shading I had layered on the wings and upper fuselage stand out now.
General surface grime was simulated with targeted oil washes (Raw Umber). Oil paint really is best for this step as you can blend it into the surface and keep layering it up until you get the desired effect. Use reference photos of the real aircraft to figure out where the dirt and oil accumulates and start there with your washes. Don't try to do it all in one step, be patient and apply thin coats letting them dry in between applications.
With the painting and weathering completed it was time to remove the final masking and start to assemble the final details like ejection seats.
I tend to work to a specific order when attaching all the final details. In general I start from the middle of the model and work outwards, the logic being that I don't have to try and reach past a delicate part later on to attach one in an awkward place on the model. The undercarriage is normally first, followed by doors and panels, next is antennae and finally canopys etc.
The pylons were attached after the main undercarriage and gear doors. At this stage I had also attached the exhaust nozzles and main airbrakes (between the vertical tails). It worth noting that I've had some feedback that the gold color on the exhaust petals is too bright and I'd have to agree. I'll keep that in mind when I get my hands on the new Tamiya 1:48 F-14 :)
Minor details are now finalised like hand painting the red fuel dump and dry-brushing some silver on the arrestor hook. The interior of the exhausts had previously received a smokey wash to simulate the staining found on the heat resistant ceramic petals.
The formation "slime" lights found on all modern military aircraft were provided by FineMolds as raised framing and decals for the interior. The drop tanks received extra grime washes to simulate the beating they take with fuel leaks. The white undercarriage was lightly washed with Daveys Gray oil paint as I find this works very well with light colors such as white. It does not over power the white and serves to accentuate the detail.
More detail parts to be added to the starboard nose include the pitot probes, the extended refuelling probe and AN/APG-71 radar assembly. An interesting factoid about the F-14 during OIF was that the maintenance crews removed the doors on the refuelling probe bay to avoid them being damaged (or dislodged) during refuelling. The chrome finish on the nose gear strut was achieved with Bare Metal foil attached after painting.
A final close up shot of the nose. Yet to be added are the seats, canopy, boarding ladder and radome. These were all left to the very end due to their fragile nature.
With everything now attached its time to take some happy snaps. I planned to display the model on a carrier deck and had one of the excellent Ushi Van Der Rosten pre-printed handy. The RBF tag visible here on the seat is from Eduard. It's one of the new HGW inspired series of cloth tags. These are truly excellent because you can bend and twist them to look and behave just like the real thing, so much better than PE alternatives.
It's amazing how much a good base adds to a model. The F-14 parked over a catapult blast deflector looks so much more realistic than it just sitting on a plain colored base.
In the end I decided to add the two sidewinders to the shoulder pylons with some scratch-built sensor covers. The AIM-9L/M provided in the FineMolds weapons sprue were nicely detailed and painted up well. The only thing missing from the model now was some deck crew figures and pilots.
To finish off this build report I'll leave you with a few photos of the end result. I downloaded an image from the internet I found of the real USS Abraham Lincoln flight deck and with some careful camera positioning and image cropping I think it makes for an interesting (realistic ?) background.
This really is an excellent kit from FineMolds. About the only thing extra they could have added to the sprues was an option for extended flaps and slats on the wings but I'm not going to beat them up over that in 1:72 scale. It's also a bit of a pity that you can't purchase the kit in a box but having said that I did find the Model Graphix magazines to be interesting even if I can't read Japanese :)
I would have preferred at least a couple of options for the decals (maybe one lo-viz and one hi-viz) but in the end the TwoBobs sheet provided what I was after. I will certainly be purchasing more of the ReedOak and ModelKasten figures for my upcoming builds. Overall I'd give this kit a 9/10 and recommend it without hesitation.