Started: Apr 2020
Finished: Apr 2020
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The Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, is the world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft. It is designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near front-line combat zones. It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases. The U.S. Marine Corps' F-35B aircraft reached initial operational capability (IOC) on July 31, 2015, and as of January 2017, a squadron of F-35Bs is permanently based at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.
The F-35B STOVL operation is made possible through the Rolls-Royce patented shaft-driven LiftFan® propulsion system and an engine that can swivel 90 degrees when in short takeoff/vertical landing mode. Because of the LiftFan®, the STOVL variant has a smaller internal weapon bay and less internal fuel capacity than the F-35A. It uses the probe-and-drogue method of aerial refueling.
F-35B aircraft have been delivered to the U.S. Marines and the UK. U.S. STOVL aircraft are stationed at the first operational F-35B base, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, where F-35B training is taking place. The first UK F-35Bs are located at RAF 17 Squadron, Edwards AFB, California, where operational testing is being conducted. The Italian Air Force will also operate the F-35B. [source: f35.com]
Following on from their original 2013 release of the F-35A in 1/72, Italeri have recently released a new tooled kit of the F-35B STOVL variant.
Italeri are entering a fairly crowded field of existing F-35B kits in 1/72 with Hasegawa, Fujumi and Academy already having very nice kits in market. In recent years I have found Italeri to be very hit and miss with new releases and so approached this build with mixed feelings.
This new kit has very few parts in common with the original 2013 tooling due mainly to the need for completely new fuselage parts to accommodate the unique F-35B design. Italeri have added a generous selection of weapons and a nice bomb trolley to the new kit.
The interior of the actual F-35B is very complicated with the addition of a forward lift fan and several doors on both top and bottom. Italeri accurately reproduce all the intake trunking, drive shaft and variable thrust engine nozzle at the rear. Both options for the rear nozzle position are provided and all doors can be displayed open or closed. The clear canopy part is pre-tinted in a smokey yellow color which looked pretty accurate to my eye and was an appreciated addition as it saved one extra step in the build.
To date there are three confirmed operators of the F-35B variant (USMC, RAF and Aviazione Navale) and Italeri provide decals for each along with common stencils.
The decal sheet is fairly small and printed in Italy (but not by Cartograph like so many other kit manufacturers these days). I did not end up using very many of the decals in my build but those I did performed well with Micro Set and Sol solutions.
The F-35 is fitted with the Martin Baker Mk16 ejection seat and the included Italeri kit seat looks pretty close. I added the seat pan pull handle from copper wire and the belts are actually decals (provided in the kit). Rather than use the belt decals like normal I did not put them in water but instead used a new blade to cut them out of the sheet, including the backing paper. I used a black pen to color the white paper on the side and back of the belt and then super glued them to the seat. I think this gives a more realistic "sit" of the belts over the cushions. Of course replacement PE belts would look nicer.
This photo of a USMC F-35B is one of the best I could find that shows the cockpit interior, in particular the parts that are grey and black. Italeri is a bit vague on where each color should go so I prefer to rely on my own research in such cases.
The F-35 cockpit is by design very simple. Even though I planned to display the model on static display I opted to use the kit decal for the main display as it added a little bit of color and interest to the otherwise bland cockpit.
As I was researching the exterior surface detail for the F-35 I noticed that on the port side of the cockpit there are no panels or ribbing as provided by Italeri. In the same spot on the opposite (starboard) side the F-35B does indeed have a door for the extendable refueling probe. It was a simple task to sand down the raised ribbing and fill the recessed panels with putty.
I made no additional effort to spruce up the cockpit as I was more than satisfied with the kit provided parts. The main color used was Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black.
Unlike their 2013 F-35A tooling, this time around Italeri have provided us a full set of intake trunking (which is much more complicated on the F-35B). Always looking for ways to make my life easier I decided that joining the main halves of the intake now would allow me far better access to sand the centerline seam, which would be quite visible on the finished model.
The interior centerline seam was comfortably eliminated now because the forward intake parts were not installed until later.
A quick test fit of the intakes to the lower fuselage resulted in a very snug fit. I was starting to get a good feeling about this Italeri release, perhaps this would be one of their "hits".
Much like the intake trunking Italeri includes a full P&W F135 engine with appropriate bulkheads to ensure a solid fit and alignment with the other internal parts.
For the F-35B a vertical lift fan (not engine) was installed in the forward fuselage. The fan is driven by means of a shaft that runs from the engine through the intake ducting. On the top is the fan intake and on the bottom are the variable outlet vane louvres.
Looking down on the assembled interior we can see the drive shaft running through the middle of the intake. Full credit to Italeri here as everything clicks into place with just enough alignment pins.
On the underside we can just see the bottom of the lift fan through the adjustable louvre's. I did consider for a microsecond to replace the louvre's with thinner card (to be more in scale) but decided against it as I did not want to drag out the build.
With all the interior sub-assemblies complete I applied some white paint to the fuselage interior as once assembled these areas would be impossible to paint properly. The cockpit tub and main wheel wells have been glued into place as well.
To better allow me to drop the engine into place I earlier extended the mounting holes on the bulkhead to be slots. This meant I could now slide the bulkhead (and engine) into place vertically making life much easier. I did not bother to paint the body of the engine as it will not be seen.
A final shot of the completed interior, including the top face of the vertical lift fan (finished in Alclad ALC-101 Aluminum). Don't forget (like I almost did) to install the drive shaft into the trunking before applying glue. The small blocks of white plastic card in the nose are to fill a couple of small gaps and ensure a better alignment of the main parts.
The rear nozzle of the F-35B is designed to rotate through 90 degrees when transitioning from horizontal to vertical flight. The nozzle is quite a complicated piece of machinery, covered with piping and wires in most photos I have seen.
Having turned a blind eye to many of the other areas of this model where I could enhance the detail I decided that the nozzle really did need a bit of attention. The large seam down the middle and the poor effort at the surface piping left me a bit underwhelmed.
Copper wire of different gauges was used to simulate the piping. The surface detail on the body of the nozzle is all raised so on the lower segment I sanded this all off and used a 1mm rivet wheel to reproduce. For about an hour's effort I felt this was a much better representation of the real nozzle.
Italeri includes a nicely detailed weapons bay, which is molded as part of the lower fuselage. I did not wish to display the bay open but included this photo to show what you get in the kit.
Closing the doors to the weapons bay left me with a problem. A noticeable gap (about 1mm) was present on both sides. I would need to deal with this somehow, more on that later.
At this point in the build needed to make a decision about what the final model would look like. During my searching I had come across several photos of the F-35 assembly lines and really liked the look of the "naked" aircraft covered in nothing but green primer. Another advantage of this option was that at this point most of the surface rivet and fasteners are still quite visible adding more interest to the model. Once I had compiled enough photos I set about creating what surface detail I could.
Part of my challenge in converting this model to a naked assembly airframe was that Italeri had designed it to be a finished aircraft, complete with all RAM paneling installed etc. I toyed with the idea of sanding away some of the RAM paneling but in the end thought better of it. Adding the rivet and fastener detail would be enough to make the model look the part. Using photos as a reference I laid out the rivet lines and then used my Galaxy Tools 0.65mm rivet wheel.
Further searching revealed a number of good quality photos of the Lockheed Martin assembly plant and I was able to piece together a good understanding of where the airframe sections are joined, what RAM panels are installed and painted grey etc.
After a bit of work the surface detail was complete. I used a dark wash to check the rivets before moving on.
The fuselage halves could now be joined. Based on photos I determined that some of the "panel lines" on the model were not accurate and used Tamiya Basic Putty to remove them. A small gap (on both sides of the forward fuselage) was also filled with some Evergreen strip. The rest of the fuselage join was gap free and cleaned up as normal.
Here you can see the rivet detail I added to the sections around the lift fan. For white these days I like to MRP White as it covers very well (even over black) and being a laquer is very tough for subsequent layers.
Moving quickly now final painting I still needed to deal with that gap in the weapon bay doors. Turning once again to 0.25mm Evergreen strip I cut this to size (basically enough to cover the underlying gap). The trickiest part was to scribe a line down the middle of the strip. If you look carefully you'll see its a bit wonky in places. Masking of intakes and other assorted holes was handled with packing foam and Tamiya tape.
Blu-Tack is one material I use at least once on every model I build. More often than not it's as a flexible paint mask as seen here over the business end of the engine.
For the overall painting scheme I settled on these two photos of the first F-35B rollout. I was attracted by the mix of white and green primers (not often seen). For parts of the airframe I could not see I made an "educated guess" :)
As a general rule it's best to start your painting with the lightest color. After priming the whole model with Mr Finishing Surfacer 1500 and applied a couple of thin layers of MRP-4 White.
The white was now masked and MRP-191 US NON CHROMATE EPOXY PRIMER applied over the remainder of the airframe. It's very fortunate that MRP have this color available as I think it would be fairly tricky to match.
I was very happy with how the rivet detail showed up under paint (you never really know until then). I very much like the MRP Acrylic Lacquer paints as they are so easy to airbrush and give a perfectly smooth finish. Note that I also left the finish a bit blotchy to try and match the photos of the real thing.
Here is a photo of one of the first Italian F-35B's. There is no white primer on this airframe but it does give a much better idea of the painting of the lower fuselage and vertical fins
Now the fun part began ... masking, masking and yet more masking. When I built my 1/48 Meng F-35A I had the benefit of some pre-cut masks from Galaxy Models, but no such luxury for this 1/72 kit :(
Most of the smaller RAM panels, control surfaces and other assorted panels were painted in Mr Color C-305 Gunship Gray. Note that I did not attempt to mask off all the areas to be painted in one pass. This would have done my head in trying to cut tape to all those intricate angles. I broke the task up into 2 hour chunks and tackled one section each evening. That way I did not burn out trying to mask the whole thing in one go. After all this hobby is meant to be fun and relaxing !!
One tool that I continue to enjoy finding uses for is the Silhouette cutter. To help make some masks for each of the petals on the exhaust nozzle I created the design in the computer and used the Silhouette cutter to duplicate it exactly. A great way to make your own precision masks
Of course hand masking is still the best way to handle most modelling jobs. The Italeri canopy has the detonation cord molded into the clear plastic. On the real aircraft this is quite visible as light grey. Being raised on the inside of the canopy meant masking was not hard. Italeri did however omit the interior frame of the canopy and so I simply masked this and painted in black. Note this frame is only on the inside of the canopy.
Skipping forward a couple of weeks (each night doing a bit more masking) and I finally completed the task. Much patience was needed but in the end I wore it down. The bottom of the fuselage certainly was the most effort with many odd and tricky angled edges. Needless to say I used a lot of Tamiya masking tape !
With the painting now complete I applied a very light wash (Medium Grey) to the rivet and RAM panel details. This was not to create a weathered effect but simply to add some depth to the model surface. Other last minute painting task were also completed like navigation lights.
As I was wrapping up the painting it occurred to me that one very large advantage of this paint scheme was the lack of decaling. The only decals I ended up applying were the formation lights on the vertical tails and fuselage sides. It also feels a bit odd leaving a model this clean but its right for the subject.
The kit undercarriage is nicely detailed and all I did was to hand paint the included hydraulic lines and apply a light wash to make the raised details pop.
Of course all those doors had to be painted and then attached to the model. Italeri have provided very good alignment holes so when you install the doors they fit snugly and easily. Thank You
Below you will find a selection of photos of the finished model. I used a mirror base to try and capture the detail of both the top and bottom in same photo.
This is a very solid effort by Italeri. The fit of the kit is great, the inclusions such as full interior, tinted canopy, weapons and even a bomb trolley all add up to good value.
For the most part the detailing and accuracy also seems spot on. I'd be quite happy if they scaled this guy up to 1/48 as the only game in town in that scale right now is KittyHawk.
I mentioned at the start that I have found Italeri kits to be very "hit and miss". Having now built this one I can definitely conclude its a hit.