Monday, February 26

Construction Guide: Meng's 48th scale Lockheed Martin F-35A Pt.III: Canopy, Weapons & Sealing the Deal.

Today we offer the third part of the construction guide of Meng Models 48th scale Lockheed Martin F-35A from our man Gary Wickham. He works on the colours of the canopy, the weapons pylons, weapon bays and ordinance and he seals the kit up ready to paint in today's build...

Construction Guide - Lockheed Martin F-35A JSF Lightning II
Pt.III: Canopy, Weapons & sealing the deal.From Meng Models
Product No# LS-007
1:48th Scale
Product Link on the Meng Website
In-Boxed: Gary examines Meng's new 48th scale Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II
Pt.I: Cockpit & Pilot
Pt.II: Bodywork & plumbing
Pt.III: Canopy, Weapons & sealing the deal.

Today Pt.III: Canopy, Weapons & sealing the deal.

Meng has allowed for the forward opening canopy of the F-35 to be displayed in the open or closed position, and on this kit the interior framing is provided (part C25) as is the canopy explosive detonation chord moulded onto the inside of the clear canopy part (H1).
The kit provided canopy is moulded in clear plastic with no attempt by Meng to replicate the tinting found on the real F-35.

In keeping with most other modern US fighter canopies, the F-35's massive canopy is treated with tinting and is quite distinctive on photos of the real thing. I have used 'clear' paints before to apply a tinting to canopies via airbrushing and was happy to use the same technique again here.
Most model paint manufacturers include at least a handful of 'clear' colours in their range and most aircraft modellers will end up using them for navigation lights etc. Using the same paints on a canopy is a little bit different in that you will want to airbrush the tinted paint onto the canopy rather than dip or brush paint it on. For the F-35 tinting, I chose (after some experimentation) a mixture of Tamiya X19 Smoke and X24 Yellow. The ratio I settled on was 10 drops of Smoke to one drop Yellow. To thin the paint for airbrushing I used Tamiya's own Lacquer thinner (you could use their own Acrylic thinner) as I find this makes the paint dry quicker and with a harder shell. I applied three very light misted coats over the outside of the canopy (which had been cleaned thoroughly) and then placed it in an airtight container to dry.
When the tinting was dry (leave for a couple of days to be sure) I set to work on the inside by masking the 'det cord' which Meng provide raised on the interior. Small strips of Tamiya tape were used for the masking. If you trust your hand painting skills more then I trust mine you could probably avoid all this masking.
The cord was sprayed with some Mr Paint Primer (light grey) as I wanted to be sure the paint adhered to the shiny surface of the clear canopy. When the tape was removed the Det Cord was now far more visible from both the inside and outside than previously.
If you plan to load up your F-35 with external weapons then Meng has you covered as they provide a full set of pylons.
In terms of weapons provided in the box you get:
- AIM-120C AAMRAM x 2
- GBU-53 SDB (Small Diameter Bomb) x 8
- BRU-61 SDB Pallet x 2

This weapon combination is designed to fit in the internal weapon bays so any ordinance you plan to load onto those external pylons will need to be sourced elsewhere.

Installing the pylons is easy as all you need to do is remember to drill out the locating holes prior to gluing the wings together. The fit of the pylons to the wing is very good so I plan to leave them off during main painting and attach at the very end.
So if we have to source our external weapons load-out the first step is to determine what weapons are appropriate now (or in the future) for an RAAF F-35A. 
I compiled the load-out diagram below based on research into what ordinance the RAAF already have in use (mostly on our Super Hornets) and what we have requested to procure from the US (eg we have ordered 3900 x GBU-53 SDB's). I want to stress that this load-out is just an educated guess by me to try and make my F-35 look as mean as possible.
To fill up my F-35 I sourced the extra weapons I needed as follows:
- AIM-9X Sidewinder (Meng SPS-043 US Short-Range AA Missiles Set)
- GBU-31-V3 2000lb JDAM (Meng SPS-045 US Satellite Guided Bombs Set)
- GBU-54 500lb JDAM (Meng SPS-045 US Satellite Guided Bombs Set)
- AGM-154 JSOW (SkunkModels 48006 US/NATO Modern Weapons Set)
- GBU-12 500lb Paveway II LGB (Hasegawa X48-8 Aircraft Weapons D - US Smart Bombs & Target Pods)
- BRU-57 Multiple Carriage Bomb Rack (Eduard Brassin 648 358)

To make sure everything fits the way it should I assembled the weapons and pylons followed by a complete dry fit. I did this at an early stage to allow me to make any necessary adjustments or corrections before committing to glue and paint.
Meng has released three new modern US weapon sets to coincide with the release of their F-35 kits. As you will see from the close-up photos of my build the weapon parts are extremely well detailed and provide us with several types of ordinance only previously available in resin.
The F-35's outer most pylon is suitable only for use by AA missiles such as the AIM-9X and AIM-120 AAMRAM. I wanted to use an asymmetric load configuration (it just looks way more interesting) and really like the BRU-57 Double Adapter rack. With this in mind on the port wing I placed the larger GBU-31 2000lb JDAM on the inner pylon (higher weight capacity?) whilst the two 500lb GBU-12's and BRU-57 occupied the centre pylon.
On the starboard wing, I decided to put a BRU-61 pallet loaded with 4 x GBU-53 SDB's. These would most likely be carried in the internal bays but I wanted to get them out on the wing so the detail could be appreciated. An AIM-9X on the wing tip and the two GBU-54's (with BRU-57 adapter) on the centre pylon to balance things out.
This left only the internal weapon bays and I had seen photos (including one of an RAAF bird) loaded with the AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon. The second SDB pallet belonged in the other weapon bay and so my load-out tweaking was done.
Included in the box are two full sets (8 in total) of GBU-53 SDB's and their BRU-61 pallets (4 bombs per pallet)
I felt that the plastic mounting pins provided were not really secure enough to give the sub-assembly any real strength and so I did my usual trick of supplementing with brass pins.

This photo gives a good breakdown of the extra work I did to the pylon and weapons to give them more secure locating pins. The brass sway braces were sourced from my spares drawer (Reheat from memory). I always pin weapons as it allows me to sort out any alignment issues (nothing more distracting than a crooked bomb) early on.
The dry fit assembly of the full stack shows how the bombs fit to the pallet adapter and how the adapter fits to the pylon. The included reference photo is not an F-35 but in fact an F-15E Strike Eagle, however, it does show the spacing of the bombs, adapter and pylon very nicely.
Here we see the Meng GBU-54's together with their allocated BRU-57 rack. The Eduard Brassin BRU-57 is a work of art and it has so much detail it is almost a shame to attach the bombs. Notice the bombs are pinned to the rack and the rack to the pylon.
Depending on what doors you have open, now is the time to assemble them. For me, I only needed the weapons bay doors as the undercarriage was retracted.
Be wary of the incorrect labelling for the inner weapons bay doors in the Meng instructions at step 24 as it's a bit misleading (see the highlighted handwritten corrections I made).

The inner doors have the mounting point for the internal AIM-120C missiles. The missile adapter pylon is located between the two middle hinges for the door so when you are gluing on the hinges have your pylon handy to dry fit between them to make sure the spacing is correct as the glue dries.
Test fitting of the doors revealed no problems and these will now be set aside until final assembly. I also just noticed that this photo revealed that I missed sanding off the seem on one of the hinges (shhh, don't tell anyone).
The large outer weapon bay doors are also supported by several heavy hinges.
The hinges are connected by a rod which Meng provides as part F11. After fitting F11 to the hinges I decided that the plastic rod would look more convincing in brass and so replaced this part on both doors.

The outer doors carry no missiles and are just fairly plain. I'll apply a light wash to give a bit of interest to the otherwise flat looking surface. I'm also happy that it looks like I managed to clean up all these hinges without leaving any seams behind !!
A test dry fit shows everything to be ship shape. The brass rod has been hand painted with Citadel Mithril Silver.
With construction all but complete it's time to get serious about painting and markings. At the start of this build, I had planned to use markings for one of the very first F-35A's delivered to the RAAF. A35-001 and A35-002 have been assigned to No 2OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) and I obtained the decals for these aircraft from Ronin Graphics, one of our excellent local decal manufacturers here in Australia. These decals are hand silk screen printed, meticulously researched and include all the stencilling. Happy with my choice it then turned out, before I got to the painting stage, that the RAAF took delivery of our 3rd and 4th aircraft (A35-003 and A35-004) which have been assigned to No 3 Squadron, the first of our actual operational squadrons to be equipped. Ronin Graphics were again super quick off the mark and had the new decals ready within weeks. I figured as I was planning to show a fully armed aircraft that 3 Sqn markings would be more 'realistic' than a 2OCU training bird.
There is not really a lot of differences between the paint schemes of F-35's, regardless of what country you end up depicting. One thing that has been noticed recently is that newer aircraft coming off the production line have RAM panelling that is far more subdued where the paint colour almost matches the rest of the airframe. Ronin Graphics have noted this and updated their 3Sqn paint guide accordingly. If you build one of the first two 2OCU aircraft they still have the lighter coloured RAM panels all over. One other thing worth mentioning for those planning to build an RAAF aircraft, the Kangaroos on the roundels always face forward.
Next step will be to complete final masking and then begin the painting process. Here are some photos of the fully assembled model ready to be masked.
Speaking of painting, Meng has kindly supplied us with one of their new double action airbrushes. I have written a separate review on this and a couple of other new tools from Meng but the timing was ideal as I'll also take it for a spin when painting my F-35. Stay tuned for more ...
Gary Wickham

Many thanks to Meng Models for the review kit. Stay tuned for more of this build to follow very shortly.