Sunday, July 16

In-Boxed: Gary gets to grips with Meng's new 48th scale Lockheed Martin F-35A JSF Lightning II

Pretty interesting - this new kit from Meng. This new  F-35  kit in 48th scale has caused some opinions already - so we thought to get to what it is really like then who better to take a look and build it than our man Gary. Today he gets to examining the box and then dry-fitting the components before his build for us in the coming weeks. See what he thinks so far...

In-Boxed: Lockheed Martin F-35A JSF Lightning II
From Meng Models
Product No# LS-007
Scale: 1:48th
Product Link

Articles in this build
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighters. This fifth-generation combat aircraft is designed to perform a ground attack and air defence missions. It has three main models:
-F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant
-F-35B short takeoff and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant
-F-35C carrier-based Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR)
On 31 July 2015, the United States Marines declared ready for deployment the first squadron of F-35B fighters after intensive testing. On 2 August 2016, the U.S. Air Force declared its first squadron of F-35A fighters combat-ready. [source:]

A 5th Generation fighter has advanced stealth, exceptional agility and maneuverability, sensor and information fusion, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. 5th Generation technology provides greater survivability, situational awareness, and effectiveness for pilots, as well as improved readiness and lower support costs. As a true 5th Generation fighter, the F-35 has stealth designed in as part of the aircraft from the beginning.
The F-35 and the F-22 are the world's two premier fighters, but there are some differences between the aircraft. The F-35 is optimized to be a multirole fighter, with the ability to perform air-to-air, air-to-ground and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. While the F-22 is superior to the F-35 in air-to-air missions, the F-35's air-to-air capability is superior to all other fighters. The F-35 is better than any other fighter aircraft, including the F-22, for air-to-ground strike missions.[source:]

The F-35 is designed with the entire battlespace in mind, bringing new flexibility and capability to the United States and its allies. Reliance on any single capability - electronic attack, stealth, etc. - is not sufficient for success and survivability in the future. Missions traditionally performed by specialized aircraft - air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes, electronic attack, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance - can now be executed by a squadron of F-35s [source:]

GENERAL THOUGHTS - Meng 1:48 F-35A Lightning II (LS-007)

Having recently built the excellent Meng 1:48 P-51D kit I was very pleased when I heard they had a new tooled F-35 JSF coming. 
Australia is one of several partner nations who has participated in the JSF program since the beginning. Our RAAF has 72 F-35A's on order and whether you love or hate the aircraft, it will play a significant role in the future modern military air landscape, so a model in my preferred scale was very welcome.

By the time the kit arrived here in Australia there had already been plenty of photos and even reviews of the kit on the internet (we rarely get kits first down-under). As I normally do with a new kit I am interested in, I read with interest the thoughts and comments of those who had seen the kit up close.

By and large, the feedback was positive with the main concern centring around the prominence of the RAM panelling.

This caught my attention because the RAM panels are very distinctive on the F-35 (and F-22 before it) and if these are not well done then it would detract from the model in general.
Not too surprisingly it was the RAM surface detail that I first looked at when I cracked the seal on the box. The RAM panels are prominent on the fuselage top and bottom and when you compare the scale thickness of the Meng kit and what the RAM panels look like on the real aircraft I would have to say the kit panels do look overscale. How much this bothers you is entirely subjective, for my part, I plan to lightly sand the more pronounced panels to try and tone them down and bring them back to a better scale representation.
-Turning my attention to the kit contents, in general, I was pleased to see Meng have included: 
-A full weapons bay and a limited selection of weapons (GBU-53 SDB & AIM-120C AMRAAM) 
-External wing pylons, should you wish to fully load up your model 
-Full intake Trunking optional parts to allow the elevators to be positioned deflected (10 degrees) or neutral 
-Optional closed wheel well doors and the seemingly obligatory photo-etch fret 
-Cartograf printed decals with two schemes (Hill AFB & Eglin AFB) 
-Twenty (20) page assembly guide and colour double-sided painting/decaling guide
Meng has chosen a dark grey plastic which felt oily when handling the parts during dry fitting. I strongly suggest you wash the sprues in warm soapy water to ensure your selected paint adhere's well to this plastic.

FIT TEST - Meng 1:48 F-35A Lightning II (LS-007)

The general fit of the kit is extremely good (much like their previous P-51D). As I was dry fitting the part together I came across no areas where the sub-assemblies did not simply slot together with little or no gap. I guess we are becoming more accustomed to this level of quality in the age of CAD tooling but it is still worth mentioning because it does make modelling projects that little more enjoyable (at least to me).
Being a stealth aircraft you should not have any seams or joins (ie panel lines) on the airframe skin that are not covered by RAM panelling. This means that on the model where Meng have engineered the kit with joints (eg wing to the fuselage or vertical/horizontal tail surfaces) you will need to completely eliminate any seams. This will be pretty straight forward on the wing joins, but it will be more complex on the vertical tails as the seams cut directly over top of the RAM panelling.
 A better solution would have been for them to design the two vertical tail halves to join along a natural RAM panel join. Kittyhawk did exactly the same thing on their F-35 kits which make me wonder if there is some limitation here in the plastic moulding process?

The internal sub-assemblies (intake trunking, weapons bay, wheel bays, cockpit and exhaust) all fit with a reassuring click. Meng has done a good job of providing positive alignment tabs on the fuselage top and bottom to make getting every to sit where its needed. 
Given the streamlined design of the F-35 and the way that Meng has engineered the top and bottom fuselage halves as single pieces the parts count for making this model is quite low and it only took me an afternoon to cut out, clean up and tape together the whole airframe including the internal bays. You could build this model very quickly, which would give you more time for all that RAM panel masking (gulp).

COLOUR & MARKINGS - Meng 1:48 F-35A Lightning II (LS-007)
Meng provides two marking options in the box, both of which are for USAF F-35A aircraft. I personally would have liked to see a couple of non-USAF options thrown in for some of the other F-35A partner countries like Australia, Italy, Japan, or the Netherlands. Since getting this boxing Meng has announced a Japanese version of the F-35.
The Meng paint callouts reference two brands; Meng (AK Interactive Acrylic) and Acrysion (Gunze). Meng has been a partner with AK Interactive for a while now and seems to jointly release Meng branded paints to coincide with the model releases. I had a quick search for the two main Meng/AK paints listed for the main F-35 Greys (MC-350 and MC-351) and could not find them anywhere (even on the AK or Meng websites). This seems like poor coordination between them because the kit has been out for a little while now.
I had never heard of Acrysion and was surprised to find it's yet another range of paint marketed by GSI (Gunze Sangyo). I found a cross reference chart which gave equivalent numbers in the Mr Color lacquer range: N82=C31 and N83=C32. I have those bottles in Mr Color and I wonder if the C32/N83 grey is not too dark for an F-35.
Meng (like Kittyhawk and Hasegawa before them) have completely side stepped the 'Have Glass V' finish of the F-35. The "Have Glass 5th Generation" paint is the evolution of the original Have Glass RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) technology which is made by mixing microscopic metal grains that can degrade the radar signature of the aircraft. It's what gives the F-35 (F-22 and many USAF F-16's) that distinctive metal sheen to the paint finish. The underlying "Camouflage Grey" colour is equivalent to Federal Standard FS36170.
Have Glass has traditionally been devilishly hard to reproduce on a scale model. Recently a number of model paint makers have taken up the "Have Glass" challenge and released FS36170 Camouflage Grey paints but only a handful (Mr Paint, True Earth etc) have tried to tackle the metallic sheen via a clear coat. I plan to use the Mr Paint combination as part of my build, so more on that later.
The relatively small Cartograf printed decal sheet provides lo viz markings for both aircraft, safety stencilling and formation lights and glass cockpit symbology. Also included are decals for the box provided weapons (GBU-53 and AIM-120C).
I have found lo-viz decals to be a tricky beast because if you use the wrong shade of grey paint (even by a little) they can all but disappear when applied to the model (the ultimate in low visibility). My apprehension here with the chosen Meng decal colours is that they have probably designed them to contrast with their own brand (ie AK Interactive) acrylic paint which I suspect not many modellers will end up actually using.

Meng has already announced the next boxing of this kit (LS-008) which will have JASDF markings allowing modellers to depict one of Japans eventual 42 F-35's which are being made under license at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Komaki South plant.

IN THE BOX - Meng 1:48 F-35A Lightning II (LS-007)
Rather than take you through a sprue by sprue tour of the kit contents, I've picked out some noteworthy items and summarised them here. First up let us look at the weapons. Meng provides us with a full set of wing pylons and weapon bay (note I didn't say bomb bay because the F-35 can carry much more than just bombs internally).
At this point in time, the F-35 program is still in the early stages of weapons testing and certification so most of what you could put in/on it is probably not actually deployable today, but let's just park that for the moment. Jump ahead a few years and the F-35 will be capable of carrying just about any suitable ordinance you like. 
With this in mind Meng has (cleverly) provided us with at least one weapon choice that has never been kitted in 1:48 (to my knowledge) before, the Raytheon GBU-53 Small Diameter Bomb, a 250 pounds (113 kg) class bomb that can identify and strike mobile targets from standoff distances (of beyond 40 miles) in all weather conditions. Each weapon bay on the F-35 is designed to accommodate 4 x GBU-53 and still leave room for an AIM-120 AMRAAM.

If you are looking for additional weapons to place on the wing pylons or weapons bay beyond those that come in the kit, shortly after this F-35 kit announcement, Meng followed up with three new 1:48 modern weapon sets:
- SPS-043 U.S. Short-range Air-to-air Missiles
- SPS-044 U.S. Long/Medium-range Air-to-air Missiles
- SPS-045 U.S. Satellite-guided Bombs
Most of the weapons that the F-35 is eventually meant to be able to carry are included in at least one of these weapon sets. I'll be taking a closer look at them in a future review (and including some on my F-35 build).

Beyond the main airframe parts (fuselage, tail, wings, canopy etc) the remainder of the parts consists of the usual suspects such as undercarriage, wheels, assorted doors (weapon and wheel bay). The following pictures are a representative assortment to show you the quality of the detail provided out of the box.
If I had to pick one thing (beyond the RAM panelling) that I wish Meng had done differently it would be their decision on where to have the vertical tail halves join seam. It would have been so much better to make two full halves to each vertical fin rather than have a horizontal seam running across the inside of the fin. I know from experience with the Kittyhawk kit that this is a bugger of a seam to remove due to the RAM panels it crosses over. The horizontal tails (elevators) likewise have join seams on their surface that must be removed but thankfully they do not cross any raised RAM panelling.
The exhaust nozzle of the F-35 must have been quite an engineering challenge for Lockheed Martin. Unlike the F-22 they could not just hide it deep inside the fuselage, it had to be external and even rotate on the F-35B. To do all that and still make it have a low radar signature would have been difficult. In the end, they arrived at a multi serrated design that makes for one of the more unique nozzles you will see. Meng has done a very nice job of capturing the complexity of the nozzle and once painted I think it will look spot on.
The external pylons are nicely detailed and as mentioned earlier if you want to model a 'non-stealthy' F-35 then you have the option (pre-marked drill holes included) to fit these to the wings. 
At first glance, the kit cockpit looks very plain and it's not until you compare it to the real thing that you understand why. The F-35 relies almost entirely on a massive glass screen for all readouts and switches. The side consoles are very simple and the cockpit in general very uncluttered, especially compared to what we are used to as jet modellers. The canopy frame will be needed if you plan to display the canopy open in its unusual (for US based aircraft a least) forward hinged position.
The F-35 canopy (like most modern fighter canopies) is treated to reduce radar reflections (much like the fuselage RAM panels) which give it a characteristic goldish tint. Modellers will need to figure out for themselves how to reproduce this as Meng provides the canopy (in fact all the clear parts) without any tinting. I've not seen any manufacturer try to pre-tint canopies since Hasegawa did it a few years back in some of their F-16 boxings. Meng has thankfully managed to mould the canopy without any seam, which will be welcome to those of us who dread sanding out canopy seams :)
Verdict - Meng 1:48 F-35A Lightning II (LS-007)
I'll admit that I'm a fan of the F-35 in all its variations. I have one each of the Kittyhawk kits and have done a lot of work on their F-35B in USMC markings. It's probably no surprise that this new Meng kit blows them away, hands down.

The Meng kit fits flawlessly, the Cartograph printed markings represent operational aircraft and the interior detail and provided weapons are spot on. I do feel the RAM panelling is over scale but expect I can tone it down with a minimum of fuss by lightly sanding.

To me, the biggest challenge to get this kit to look 'just right' will be in the painting and trying to achieve a convincing 'Have Glass V' finish. For that, I won't be relying on Meng.

Ever since I built Meng's 1:48 P-51D I have been eagerly waiting to see what they did next. Traditionally an armour company, Meng are quickly pushing into the aircraft space and once I've built this latest addition to their range I'll be once again keen to see what's next.

Gary Wickham

Many thanks to Meng Models for the review kit. Stay tuned for my build up shortly.
Appendix: Instruction Manual