Monday, January 29

Gary's Construction Guide - Meng Models 48th scale Lockheed Martin F-35A JSF Lightning II Pt.I: Cockpit & Pilot

For those of you wanting to know how Gary Wickham is going with his build of Meng's new F-35A Lightning II in 48th scale today's your day" See how he works his usual magic to get the cockpit and pilots sorted in today's article.

Construction Guide - Lockheed Martin F-35A JSF Lightning II
Pt.I: Cockpit & Pilot
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 ground attack and air defence missions
For my build of the 1:48 Meng F-35A kit I wanted to portray a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F-35A which meant that I would need to source decals from outside the box. Having served in the RAAF for 9 years back in the 1980's when we received our first F/A-18A's I am following along with interest as this new strike fighter enters Australian service.
The F-35A Lightning II will provide for Australia's future air combat and strike needs. Australia has committed to 72 F-35A aircraft for three operational squadrons at RAAF Base Williamtown (3Sqn & 77Sqn) and RAAF Base Tindal (75Sqn), and a training squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown (2OCU). In the future, a fourth operational squadron will be considered for RAAF Base Amberley, for a total of 100 F-35A aircraft. The first F-35A aircraft is scheduled to be accepted into Australian service in 2018 and the first squadron, Number 3 Squadron, will be operational in 2021. All 72 aircraft are expected to be fully operational by 2023.

GENERAL THOUGHTS - Meng F-35A Lightning II (LS-007)
Meng are not the first to release an F-35A in 1:48 with Kittyhawk having released their entire family (A, B and C) of F-35's several years ago. At the time that KH released their kits, I jumped straight in to build a USMC B model. Suffice to say that I still have not finished that model as the KH kit was one of their first releases and had some 'issues'. So it was with some anticipation (having just finished the excellent Meng 1:48 P-51D) that I awaited the Meng F-35A release.

Once I had the kit in my hot little hands I did a quick box review and concluded that Meng had pretty much nailed it once again.
Of course, no kit is perfect (do people even still expect kits to be perfect?) and during my build, I have added some detail, sourced some aftermarket decals and picked up some aftermarket goodies to make my build that much more enjoyable.
Ronin Decals RAAF 2OCU F-35A delivery Scheme 1/48 (RDS-037)
Ronin Decals RAAF 3SQN F-35A delivery Scheme 1/48 (RDS-139)
Galaxy Models F-35A Lightning II Masks 1/48 (D48003)

At the time of writing, there were also a number of other aftermarket sets either available or planned for the Meng kit. I won't be using any of these sets as I plan to build my model in flight (yes another pole sitter) but include them here for completeness:
True Details F-35 Wheels Set 1/48 (48203)
Eduard F-35A Lightning II Mask Set 1/48 (EDEX567)
Eduard F-35A Lightning II Full Detail Set 1/48 (ED49864)
Eduard F-35A Lightning II ZOOM Detail Set 1/48 (EDFE864)
Eduard F-35A Lightning II Seatbelts STEEL 1/48 (EDFE865)
IsraDecal F-35A RAM Panel Decals 1/48 (IAF104)

When most people think about the new F-35 they seem to focus on its 'stealth' characteristics and many of the scale models I have seen built (in all three scales) tend to show the aircraft in a totally clean 'stealthy' configuration. Always looking for something a bit different in my modelling projects I was attracted to building an F-35 in an Air Superiority configuration or what has been called "Beast Mode".
In such a configuration the aircraft essentially becomes a bomb truck with little or no concern for low observability or 'stealth'. Meng provides all the appropriate external pylons for each wing (3 per side) onto which ordinance can be fitted. You can of course also model the main weapons bay open which allows for a lot of missiles and bombs to be carried in total. According to the specs around 22,000 lbs whilst still allowing for a combat radius of 1,390kms.

Cleverly released at the same time as the first boxing of their F-35A kit, Meng has provided us with three (3) new sets of 1/48 modern aircraft weapons, many of which are planned to be fitted to the F-35 in the confined space of the internal weapons bay. I will be using several of the weapons from these sets in my build, so we will get a close up look at them later.
The other challenge that will be faced by anyone building an F-35 is matching the exterior paint colours. You might think this sounds easy after all several model paint manufacturers have already released colours in their range which are meant to match the new Camouflage Grey (FS36170) designated in FS-595 as the F-35 paint. In my testing of those 'out of the bottle' F-35 paints, I have not found one that matches to my satisfaction the photos of real F-35's in the wild. Of course, having said that the pesky 'Have Glass' finish applied to the F-35 also means that the perceived colour of the paint can change dramatically as the lighting and camera angle changes. All in all, this makes getting a realistic paint match to a real-world F-35 very challenging indeed and as with most modelling tasks, we will almost certainly have to be satisfied with a compromise.

Building the Meng F-35A Lightning II (LS-007)
The Martin-Baker US16E Ejection Seat is a further development of the Mk16 range that has already been successful with the T-6 Texan II, Eurofighter Typhoon, NASA T-38N and USAF T-38 upgrade programmes and other numerous aircraft platforms around the world.
Meng has provided a seat which looks to be accurate and I only felt the need to add minimal detailing to tidy up the headrest and add an O2 bottle to the rear. As I am adding a pilot figure the photo etch harness will not be used.

Having a model in flight requires a pilot. Meng provides us with no pilot option so I raided one of my Kittyhawk F-35's and set to work on him with putty and copper wire. I was pleasantly surprised that the pilot figure fitted the Meng seat almost perfectly and all I had to do was some minor surgery on his arms and wrists to get them aligned with the Meng HOTAS controls. The oxygen hose was replaced with coiled copper wire, various belts/straps made from lead wire & Tamiya tape and assorted packs and pockets from Magic Sculpt putty.
The cockpit tub of the F-35 is very clean compared to just about any other modern fighter you care to name. Most if not all the cables and pipes that no doubt run along the fuselage are tucked away out of sight. The main screen (you'd hardly call it an instrument panel) is a single color touchscreen MFD and so requires very little in the way of detail painting.

After consulting a handful of reference photos I realised that Mengs 'all black' painting guide for the cockpit was not correct as the main part of the tub is, in fact, a pretty standard Grey with the upper cockpit sills and shroud being in black (as normal).
Here are a couple of good photos that show enough of the cockpit tub (fore and aft of the seat) for us to make educated guesses to fill in the blanks. I painted the main tub using FS36231 Dark Gull Grey from Mr Paint. Also, note the bright green oxygen bottle just visible on the back of the seat. This is not provided by Meng so some basic scratch building will help you out here if you want to use the kit seat.
Whilst I could not find any clear photos showing just what equipment was present on the shelf behind the seat I did see enough to allow me to make an educated guess and so some basic scratch-built box and cabling resulted. A little adjustment work was needed to get the seat and pilot with controls to drop fit into the tub, but once in place, he looked right at home.
The tub, seat and pilot was now offered up to the fuselage for a test fit. The front shroud and IP was dropped in from the top and it all reassuringly clicked into place.
The painting was fairly quick and easy as the seat and upper cockpit is all black (Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black). The pilot's flight suit, gloves, helmet and mask were hand painted using Vallejo acrylic paints. A very subtle dry brush was applied to the seat, cockpit and shroud to lift the raised detail. You might be wondering where the HUD is, well the F-35 sends all critical flight information directly to the pilot's Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) thereby rendering an external HUD unnecessary.

Some pictures of four angles of the pilot at his station...
If you plan to build your F-35 on the ground but would like to display a suitable pilot standing by then here are a couple of clear photos of the very nice figure from Plus Model ( I'll be using this guy in a future F-35 build.
Just before we move on from the cockpit and crew here are a couple of photos to help when you paint and detail your figures.

Gary Wickham

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