Box art picture of the sprues picture of the decals

Academy F-4J of VMFA-115

Project start 2018-02-25

This is one of those newfangled almost-snap-tites, almost-moulded-in-colour affairs, and while I can easily do without yet another Phantom, I want to find out what these things are made off, so to speak. Also, I want to see how this looks in bare plastic, to the extent that it doesn't get in the way of producing an accurate model, do I shot some rattlecan varnish over everything to act as primer.
I'm hoping fit will be somewhere near the Bandai kits based on the same principles; if not, I'm in for one heck of a fight. I have found a set of markings that has the entire plane in the same colour, so that should help; only one trip to the paintshop for airbrushing, with spot painting with the hairy stick.

As said, this kit is a semi-snaptite, and pretends to work well enough without paint. The fit and such have yet to prove themselves, but the colours, sadly, will not satisfy anyone with the slightest notion of what a high visibility Navy Phantom looks like. They couldn't mess up the white, of course, and there's a lot of that, and the black is fine too, but the grey and metallic are pants. The metallic is hard to distinguish from black (anyone remember when most kits were nasty grey metallic plastic), and the grey is very greenish, pretty much the standard Academy material, which is fine, but cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called gull grey. Serious paint work will be needed.
The plastic has fine but limited detail on it, certainly adequate for a basic kit. There a compromises to the snap-tite nature of the model that will send the AMS crowd running for the hills screaming, and that will raise eyebrows on the rest of us. Not unexpected, but I think Bandai does a better job of this. Bandai don't do Phantoms though ;-) Oddly, there are also features to the plastic that only the new tool Airfix has as well, so in that respect it is a rather advanced kit. Full engine intakes are provided, as are auxiliary doors next to the undercarriage (the most recent Fujimis also had those). Separate airbrakes are also nice. No posable control surfaces though.
The kit comes with both decals and stickers for Showtime100, and the decals at least seem perfectly workable and comprehensive. I'm not even going to consider the stickers, I grew out of that forty years ago. Adequate or not, the decals will not come into play here, as the associated paint work is too complex to pull of in a single day (three colours, meaning two passes with masking tape, meaning thoroughly dry previous paints, meaning three consecutive weekends at the fastest). I've found a Superscale sheet languishing in the disposal pile that has two overall gull grey Phantoms of either VMFA-115 of VMFA-333, which I intend to use, assuming the model looks worthy after painting.

2018-02-25 11:44
Some parts that really have to be white weren't, so this build started with firing up the airbrush. For the record: it's fleeping cold out there..
The sprue gates on the two-part main wheels spilled over to the joining surfaces. Nothing an old hand will have trouble with, but if these kits are intended for beginners, this is not a good thing. Stangely, the main wheel wells are completely bare, except for a few ejector marks, which I left in to break up the surface.

2018-02-25 12:40
This is no beginner's kit. I've been playing with the (otherwise lovely) air intakes, and they took rather more effort to get the parts to join up than should be expected of a beginner. Parts should fit, not have to be made to fit. Again, nothing a more experienced builder will have trouble with, but those would prefer a model without the snip-tite artifacts.
Although I've dealt with the fit issues, the air intakes are as yet unassembled, since they will have to be painted on the inside before assembly makes that impossible. Back to the paintshop it is..

2018-02-25 14:08
I've built up the office, mostly without cement, and so far without the benefit of any paint. It looks adequate for the intended purpose, but I'll be adding some paint here none the less.

painted cockpit

2018-02-25 16:30
It's not very visible in the pictures, but the office was dirtied up a bit with a wash, details were picked out with a bit of rough drybrushing, and the headrests were painted.
The fuselage is now closed up, and it's beginning to be recognisable as a Phantom. Unfortunately, the HUD took off somewhere during all this, and has been very elusive since. I blobbed over the hole in the console, rather than spend the rest of the week looking for it.
Since I had olive green on my brush anyway, I also painted up the bombs.

2018-02-25 17:05
Not all that pleased with the kit. I've had to make way too many shape corrections, and fit between the main parts is nowhere near tight enough to be able to make do without cement. Academy also appear to have given exactly no thought to how the intakes were supposed to be moved into place, with some mutually obstructive locking tabs, one of which I had to file off in the end. It can't be built without resorting to our usual tricks and glue, and the snap-tite connections for the various small bits will put of many more demanding builders. It tries to be two things, and ends up being neither.

2018-02-25 17:45
I've had to hit some of the joins with filler. Inevitably, this will take time to cure before I can continue. Things are looking grim

2018-02-25 19:45
Another bit of ugliness revealed itself: the sidewinders and associated rails are useless. The rails are too thick to fit between the wings of the missiles, and the way they are supposed to be attached to each other is just weird: parts of the rails are moulded as part of the missiles, and these bits are supposed to slot into the rest of the rails. Not happening. No winders for this bird. I hope I'll be able to attach the MERs and bombs, but even those are optional as far as I'm concerned.

unpainted model

2018-02-25 21:25
I've gotten it to the point where it should be heading for the paintshop, but alas, this is as far as things will go today. Masking is going to complex, and therefore time consuming. No way to get that finished before about 10pm. The airbrush doesn't work without pressure, and pressure doesn't happen without running the compressor. The VERY LOUD compressor. I'm not anti-social enough to run that bugger, most likely multiple times, after 10pm, so my unofficial blitz attempt ends here in failure.
Am I the only one who thinks this doesn't even approximate a USN paint scheme?
I will, of course, continue to hammer this into a Phantom, but this won't be finished until next weekend, when I can find some longer blocks of bench time again.

2018-03-02 13:30
Since the bare plastic model doesn't look all that brilliant, and also because even the 'burn iron' isn't everywhere it should be and in some places it shouldn't, I'm officially abandoning the the plan to use unpainted plastic in many places. The fact that this saves me from an amount of nasty masking tape gymnastics around the wheel wells has nothing to do with the decision, of course. I'll just blast the bugger overall gull grey, and mask the appropriate areas later when putting the white back in the wells and the metallics around the tail pipes.

2018-03-02 16:30
This is going to take some doing. The colour difference between the various pieces now turns against me; gull grey over medium green or black is rather different from gull grey over white. I'll have to build up many layers until the effects of the colours underneath are completely gone. Good thing I have plenty of paint. Not so good that every run with the airbrush involves freezing my bits off

2018-03-02 18:50
After four (or is it five) coats on the under side, with about half of the last one thrown over the top side, ol' Spook is beginning to turn grey.
I've just about had enough near-hypothermia experiences and airbrush cleaning shifts for today, so further painting is deferred until tomorrow. The very obvious colour difference between the tanks and pylons and the upper surfaces should give an indication how much more is needed before this becomes uniform.
So far I've been using a bit of leftover Xtracrylics, but even though it lasted much longer than I'd expected, the end is probably near. Once it runs out, I'll switch to Humbrol acrylics. I'm not particularly worried about slight differences in colour between the two; even if they are noticably different, I can sweep a quick coat of Humbrol over the undersides, and call the inevitable colour gradients a feature..
On the downside, this coat of grey paint is revealing some imperfections in fit, but so far, I've seen nothing that will cause too much distress.

2018-03-02 19:00
One good thing about this snap-tite business though: it makes it dead easy to rip off the starbord wing tank when you realise the star-and-bar insignia passes under it..

2018-03-03 16:50
I'm giving the grey my stamp of approval.
I've put on a layer of rattlecan varnish, as protection and basecoat for the decals which will soon follow, which is now drying. I'd best keep my paws off the airframe until tomorrow. Until then, I'll play around with the missiles, undercarriage, and what seems like a million doors.

mostly painted model

2018-03-04 17:45
I painted up the steel and burn metal bits with the hairy stick, just to see if I could. I'm happy with the result, but I'm not entirely sure this was any faster than masking and airbrushing; the Vallejo steel didn't like the surface it was being applied to, and took forever to build up an even coat.
The wheel wells were also done by hand. Hardly perfect, but white is always a disasterous colour to deal with. The picture clearly shows the rather bold connector tabs the snap-tite nature of the kit requires for all the doors. Everywhere else the tabs and slots could have been ignored, and the model built like any other, but here there's no escape. Depending on the degree to which they will remain visible once all the doors are in place, this will make the difference between an oddly engineered but good model, or an expensive toy.
I chose to put the decals on before completing the undercarriage, as I feared the extra parts would just get very vulnerably in the way. Decals take time to work, so I'll be slowing down even further from here on, although I may well get some small steps done in the coming week's evenings. I hope to be able to do a clean finish on Friday, and then dirty the poor thing up viciously next Sunday.


2018-03-05 20:40
I've fiddled together the undercarriage. This is where snap-tite really fails. Fit is too tight to safely fit the parts, and all connecting tabs are too long. I "only" broke the connectors of one of the airbrakes, but in general way too much force must be applied to very fragile parts, sometimes at dangerous and awkward angles. The front wheels don't point directly to the front, but it won't get any better. In the fairly bare main wheel wells, the connecting sockets are painfully visible. A little sad, really; this would all have looked so much nicer without all the snappery.
Still, the Phantom is standing on it's own three feet, and aside from the weapons and burner cans, construction is complete. The weapons won't go on until the very end, after I finish decaling and weathering (we want good, clean hits, after all).

2018-03-07 22:05
The decals are on and drying. A few passes with solvent are next, and then the "clean" state is done.
The canopy will be unmasked and the frames painted as the very last step. It needs protection from the elements (AKA me) for as long as possible..

weathering chalks

2018-03-09 11:40
Right then, this is how I got the Phantom dirty..
I don't do special, expensive weathering powders and such, just some ground up pastel chalk. Get a few of those little sticks at the nearest artist's supplies store, they cost me all of a euro each. Scrape your chose colours over some medium sandpaper, et voila, your very own weathering powder. Don't try to be all too scientific here; dirt is unpredictable, relish the chaos. I found the light grey stick to be too faint when I hit the lower surfaces with it, so I switched to a darker mix of the three sticks shown for the top.
The brush is just big and soft, and (I suspect this will prove important over time) kept absolutely dry. It never touches anything but the powders. I want to apply powder, not paste..
The actual weathering is dead easy. Just brush on the chalk dust onto the model until it looks grubby. If you think you overdid it in some area, brush it off again. It's just dry powder you're moving around. Be very careful at this stage; you won't see the actual effect until the fixative coat of varnish is on, and by then it's too late to change anything. The kicker is, the varnish not only fixes the powder in place, but also brings out it's colour quite a bit. What seems like a modest dusting before varnish can turn into "covered in a decade of muck" in seconds. Better to put on too little, and apply another helping after the varnish is dry.
Close inspection after this shows that I went overboard on the right side of the fuselage around the cockpit, and almost completely missed a few other areas. The latter I can fix, the former I'm stuck with..

2018-03-09 12:24
I hit the underside with some of the darker mixture, and dealt with some spots that came away too clean in the first pass. I hit the left side cockpit area a little harder than I'd have liked, to balance against the right side. It's not perfect, but I like where the dirt went.
I'll leave it to sit for a while, and then it's just a matter of dealing with the canopy, burner cans, and weapons.

2018-03-11 11:45
The work has actually been finished since Friday, but I never got down to taking a nice picture of it until now ..
The result is less than it could have been, due to my insistence on building it as close to the snap-tite formula as seemed feasable. For this kit, that really isn't an option. Apart from some unavoidable artifacts in the undercarriage, and the silly sidewinder rails, it actually is quite a nice kit. Then again, the Hasegawa has it's own problems, as does the Fujimi. It's pretty much a case of which set of issues you prefer to deal with.
My plan to do this as a quasi-blitz failed utterly, of course, but at just over two weeks total time, this was still a very quick build for me, and I'm quite happy with how it all turned out.

finished model

Finishing materials:

Motip primer overall
Xtracrylics 1137 overall
Micro Sol on decals
ground chalk weathering
Purity Seal overall

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