Monday, May 11

Construction Review: 72nd scale F-35B Lightning II STOVL from Italeri

Recently Italeri released a newly tooled kit of the F-35B STOVL Lightning II in 72nd scale to much fanfare - but what is the kit like? We gave ours to Gary Wickham to make in a build review for you so you can see just what can come out of the kit in skilled hands...

Construction Review: F-35B Lightning II STOVL 
From Italeri 

Kit No #1425
1/72nd scale
Started: April 2020
Finished: April 2020
Product Link on the Italeri Website
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 refuelling.
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.

KIT OVERVIEW - Italeri 1:72 F-35B Lightning II STOVL (1425)
Following on from their original 2013 release of the F-35A in 1/72, Italeri has recently released a newly 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 the 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 has 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 reproduced all the intake trunking, driveshaft 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 colour 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.
BUILDING - Italeri 1:72 F-35B Lightning II STOVL (1425)
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 colour 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 colour 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 colour 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 refuelling 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 colour used was Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Black
Unlike their 2013 F-35A tooling, this time around Italeri have provided us with 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 slotted. 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 driveshaft 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 moulded 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 panelling installed etc. I toyed with the idea of sanding away some of the RAM panelling 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 lacquer, it 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.
Join us next week as Gary paints the exterior, completes further details and finishes this kit...

The next part of this build:
Gary Wickham

Thank you to Italeri for sending this kit to us to build and review.
If you like Gary's work then please do go to his website for a whole lot more of that...
Appendix - Instructions of this kit.