Sunday, October 30

Hands-on review: Kinetic's new CF-104 Starfighter kit in 48th scale

Gary Wickham has taken considerable effort to compare and contrast Kinetic's new CF-104 Starfighter kit in 48th scale to the real thing. See what he thought when he dry-fitted the kit together in his excellent review...
Hands-on review: Canadair CF-104 Starfighter
From Kinetic 
Kit No: K48127
1/48th scale
37.2cm long, 16.2cm wingspan
Photo-etched parts
Decals for four aircraft (in three colour schemes) in the box
Price: $ 40USD from Hobbylink Japan
The Canadair CF-104 Starfighter (CF-111, CL-90) was a modified version of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter supersonic fighter aircraft built under licence in Canada by Canadair. It was primarily used as a ground attack aircraft, despite being designed as an interceptor. It served with the RCAF and later the Canadian Armed Forces until it was replaced by the McDonnell Douglas CF-118 Hornet.
Although basically similar to the F-104G, the CF-104 was optimized for the nuclear strike/reconnaissance role, fitted with R-24A NASARR equipment dedicated to the air-to-ground mode only as well as having provision for a ventral reconnaissance pod equipped with four Vinten cameras. Other differences included retaining the removable refuelling probe, initial deletion of the fuselage-mounted 20 mm (.79 in) M61A1 cannon (replaced by an additional fuel cell) and the main undercarriage members being fitted with longer-stroke liquid springs and larger tires.
The first flight of a Canadian-built CF-104 (s/n 12701) occurred on 26 May 1961. The Canadair CF-104 production was 200 aircraft with an additional 140 F-104Gs produced for Lockheed. Eight CF-104 squadrons were originally stationed in Europe as part of Canada's NATO commitment. This was reduced to six in 1967, with a further reduction to three squadrons in 1970. Up to 1971, this included a nuclear strike role that would see Canadian aircraft armed with US-supplied nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict with Warsaw Pact forces.
Over the course of the aircraft's lifespan in service, some 110 were lost to accidents, earning the CF-104 the nickname of "Widowmaker" or "Lawn Dart" in the air force. In the late 1970s, the New Fighter Aircraft program was launched to find a suitable replacement for the CF-104, as well as the McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo and the Canadair CF-5. The winner of the competition was the CF-18 Hornet, which began to replace the CF-104 in 1982. All of the CF-104s were retired from service by the Canadian Forces by 1987, with most of the remaining aircraft given to Turkey.

KIT OVERVIEW - Kinetic 1:48 CF-104 Starfighter (K48127)
Kinetic have released the CF-104 as the 9th boxing in their 2019 tooled F-104 Starfighter family. The Starfighters are part of the "Kinetic Gold" series of kits which was introduced when they opened their new manufacturing facilities in 2017, featuring all new toolings being designed and produced under the Gold engineering system. The Kinetic Gold branding is to help consumers know when a kit utilises the new generation of product technology. From a modellers point of view the Gold kits feature much improved surface details (panel lines and rivets are noticeably sharper), improved engineering design resulting in better overall fit and ease of assembly, Cartograph decals are standard and often the decal design and artwork is done via a collaboration with experts.
Markings for four aircraft (in three colour schemes) are provided in the box, these cover the full lifespan of the CF-104 in Canadian service including the changes in exterior finish as the CF-104 switched roles.
The kit includes a small photo-etch fret containing seat belts, the shell ejection chute for the 20mm M61 Vulcan cannon, wing tips cover plates and a ventral centreline pylon cover plate. Its good to manufacturers using sheet brass where it is appropriate and not for things (like circular hydraulic lines) where it makes no sense.
The CF-104 kit includes decals designed by Crossdelta and printed by Cartograph. Stencils are included for the main airframe, pylons, and weapons. The style and size of the roundels, in particular the maple leaf, changed over time and this is reflected in the decals. As you would expect, the printing is sharp with good color registration and even the tiniest of stencils are readable.

COLOURS & MARKINGS - Kinetic 1:48 CF-104 Starfighter (K48127)
The first scheme (for aircraft 845 and 799) is overall natural metal, with white wing tops. Operational machines like 12845 had white horizontal stabilizer (top and bottom) whilst Canadian-based trainers like 12799 had red. Underside of the wings and radome was grey 501-109 (similar to Boeing Gray); antenna patch behind cockpit was brownish-grey fibreglass colour. Although not specifically called out in the Kinetic instructions, these early CF-104s used in the Nuclear Strike Role as part of Canada's commitment to NATO, had the the 20mm M61A1 Vulcan cannon removed in favour of an extra internal fuel tank. The gun port was faired over and Kinetic provide this optional part as B70 in Step 13.
As part of Canada's commitment to NATO, American B28 thermonuclear gravity bombs equipped six Europe-based CF-104 squadrons during the 1960s. These squadrons, known as the RCAF Nuclear Strike Force, were trained to deliver the B-28 from the CF-104 in a laydown delivery technique during which the bomb's descent to the target is slowed by parachute so that it lands on the ground without detonating. The bomb then detonates by timer some time later. Laydown delivery requires the weapon to be reinforced so that it can survive the force of impact.
Laydown modes are used to make weapon delivery survivable by aircraft flying at low level. Low-altitude delivery helps hide the aircraft from surface-to-air missiles. The ground burst detonation of a laydown delivered weapon is used to increase the effect of the weapon's blast on built-up targets such as submarine pens, or to transmit a shock wave through the ground to attack deeply buried targets. An attack of this type produces large amounts of radioactive fallout.
The second scheme is representative of the CF-104 when its nuclear strike role was exchanged for low level strike. Operational aircraft received a camouflage paint scheme of overall green 503- 322, a colour which seemed to span the range from dark olive green to dark green. 
Radome and antenna patch were still grey. Markings sizes were generally reduced. With the change of mission, the CF-104 fleet had the M61A1 20mm Vulcan cannon reinstalled. For this scheme, I would recommend that you use the open gun port (part #B71) on the forward port fuselage at Step 13.
The final scheme worn by the CF-104 was a variegated camouflage with low visibility markings, and both operational and training aircraft were painted in this manner. 
The colours comprised green 503-301 (similar to FS 34064, shown as the darker shade here) and grey 501-302 (FS 36118) over light grey 101-327 (FS xxxxx). The topside colours had a tight over-spray and the top/bottom dividing line was straight.

HANDS ON - Kinetic 1:48 CF-104 Starfighter (K48127)
When time permits, I like to get properly "hands-on" with my reviews. Inspecting sprues can only take you so far and I really don't get the feel for a kit until I start putting it together. For this review, I'm going to use a 'dry build' approach so that you can see how the kit is engineered and how well it goes together.

As usual, the assembly begins in the cockpit and where better that the ejection seat. On the kit sprues you will find parts for both the Lockheed C2 seat and the Martin Baker Aircraft Mk. GQ-7(A). For the CF-104 you will be using the C2 seat and photo-etch seat belts.
The Kinetic seat is actually a pretty decent representation of the real C2 seat. As with most kit seats it suffers from unrealistic fabric and cushions and using brass for the belts is never as good as material that drops naturally. Here I have shown a comparison with a resin seat from Avionix (Black Box) and the kit seat. With a little bit of detailing and lead foil belts rather than PE brass, the kit seat could be easily bought up to par.
The cockpit tub is designed as a one piece part with a separate rear bulkhead. As its possible for two different seats to be used in this kit, the rails (parts C28/29) are provided as separate parts. For those who intend to use an alternate seat, this is welcome, as the aftermarket seats rarely come with ejection rails.
The detail on the cockpit consoles is extremely well defined and would put many 1/32 kits to shame. The kit seat slots perfectly into the two alignment holes on the tub floor and the IP and control stick are fitted last.
The raised detail on the main IP is again very sharp and would respond well to hand painting with decal dial faces. Unfortunately, it seems that Kinetic have not done their homework in regards to the CF-104 main IP layout. The thing that jumped out at me when comparing the kit to photos of actual CF-104s was the missing attitude indicator (artificial horizon) in the top center of the panel, this then led me to look more closely revealing quite a few differences.
If the incorrect layout really bothers you (and now that I've pointed it out, I'm sure it will) you can always opt to install an aftermarket panel like the one shown here from Quinta Studio. These guys care so much about details that they have produced two different sets for the Kinetic CF-104 kits, an Early set (shown here) and Late set.
Moving on from the cockpit, we jump all the way to the very rear with the engine exhaust. Assembly is pretty standard here, with the afterburner tube and ring included and the exhaust nozzle provided as a separate part. Kinetic would have you attach the nozzle to the tube now, but I would encourage you to skip that step until a little later on (I'll show you why shortly).
The parts are nicely molded, with some visible ejection pin marks on the inside of the tube, which thankfully won't be seen once closed up. The nozzle itself is passable for plastic but I'm sure more refined options are available in resin for the J79.
The CF-104 was powered by an axial-flow turbojet J79-OEL-7 which was a licensed production GE-7 manufactured by Orenda Engines in Canada. The J79 was used on the F-104 Starfighter, B-58 Hustler, F-4 Phantom II, A-5 Vigilante, IAI Kfir and SSM-N-9 Regulus II supersonic cruise missile. It was produced for more than 30 years. Over 17,000 J79s were built in the US, and under license in Belgium, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, and Japan.
The next sub-assembly needed before we can close up the fuselage is the nose wheel bay. Thankfully Kinetic have engineered this assembly such that the nose gear can be installed later in the build, rather than at this point which would make it susceptible to damage along the way (yes, it's one of my pet hates).
The molded in detail in the nose gear bay is very well done. It will take some careful hand painting to pick out those hydraulic lines or you can just cheat with a dark wash which frankly looks pretty convincing, at least to my eye.
The main wheel well likewise is brimming with included detail, much of which will be covered once the gear doors are installed. The F-104 was one of those aircraft on which the main gear doors were only ever open during gear traversal and closed at all other times (short of maintenance). The radome comprises two halves with a seam running down the full length on either side. Some careful sanding and re-instating of fasteners and panel lines is needed here, so have a gentle touch.
The fit of these parts is excellent, with only the smallest amount of liquid glue being needed to secure everything. It's also worth mentioning the Kinetic Gold series polystyrene plastic. I find it really easy to work with, being not too soft and not too hard, but just right (much like Goldilocks final choice of bed.) I realise it's only a small thing, but having good quality plastic to work with on a model is half the battle.
The radome of Canadair CF-104 Starfighter, RCAF (Serial No. 12701) is prepared for loading onto an RCAF Lockheed C-130B Hercules transport, for its ferry flight to Europe.
With the cockpit, main wheel well and exhaust ready its time to begin the process of buttoning up the fuselage. A generous amount of alignment pins are provided, and I found the two halves clicked together, with everything lining up as expected.
The cockpit sidewalls are molded onto the inner fuselage halves and as if to taunt me, Kinetic have decided to also mould onto the cockpit sill the tiny (aka fragile) canopy cartridge-actuated ejectors. These small parts scream "break me off" and I will be amazed if they are still attached by the time I finish my build, I hope you fair better. Also of note is the way that Kinetic has provided thin cutout lines (on the inside) which you can use if you plan to open up the gun bay or avionics bay. This is a great idea which I wish other manufacturers would use instead of opening those panels up and expecting you to close them (which never looks as good). If you do open them up then be sure to check out the Black Dog resin detail sets, designed specifically for the Kinetic F-104's. Just remember however that the CF-104's initially had the M61A1 cannon removed, so don't make that mistake.
I thank the modelling gods that Kinetic did not find it necessary to provide "full intake trunking and engine" in this kit. 99% of this time this ends up being a complete waste of effort for both the manufacturer and modeller. Notice that the exhaust is mount parallel to the top fuselage spine and not the lower skin. I spent several minutes trying to figure out why the locating pins would not lock in then I notice the little cutouts on the tail and the penny dropped. This is a good example where dry fitting is invaluable.

The main wheel well is likewise a drop in click fit, with literally no gap. It was at about this point that I started to see the Gold in the Kinetic Gold series. This model was a joy to assemble and work with.
The internet is a wonderful resource for modellers. If it can be photographed, then chances are you will find it somewhere out there. These two photos show us all we need to know about painting and weathering the tail end of our Starfighter.
You may remember that I suggested earlier that we delay attaching the exhaust nozzle until later, and here is why. That very visible seam on the tail centreline can quite easily be dealt with if the nozzle is not present, but would be virtually impossible to fill and sand if we followed the kits assembly sequence. Another example of why test fitting a kit reveals all sorts of things that looking at the sprues and manufacturers assembly instructions never would.
The fuselage halves are now assembled and held together (very comfortably) with 5 small pieces of tape. To better highlight the surface detailing I have applied a wash of Tamiya Black Panel Liner.
A quick comparison of surface detailing on the model and the real thing has me satisfied that there are no glaring errors. I'm not a 'lets sit it on top of a scale drawing' type modeller so unless it's really obvious you won't find me worrying about it too much. The one thing that did occur to me when looking at many, many photos of natural metal F-104s was just how visible the "flush" rivets were, even on brand new jets still in the factory. I'll be remembering this when I begin my real build.
I'm not sure if it's intentional but the way Kinetic has designed the lower fuselage "inserts" makes life much easy for the modeller. This area is covered with a myriad of panels that cross over the centreline, so not having to worry about a seam running the length of the lower fuselage is very welcome. Kinetic have designed the nose wheel bay as an insert with no seamwork needed, as everything is on a natural panel line. Same is true for the main wheel well cover and finally the arrestor hook recess panel at the rear.
I did not assemble it, but Kinetic does provide the parts for the NASARR all-weather radar should you wish to display the radome open. The equipment bay is quite well done and would only need some copper wire to spruce it up a bit. This equipment bay can be displayed open or closed, as you wish.
Radar Tech. Cpl. K. Hopkins inspects electrical equipment of a CF-104 Starfighter at 1 Wing Lahr, Germany. This public relations photo offers modellers an excellent view of the details found in the CF-104 equipment bay, located directly behind the cockpit.
To highlight just how good the fit is of this kit, here we see the nose wheel bay insert in place, with no glue. I had to look carefully again at my own photo to remind myself where the joins are, the fit is that clean.
The centerline fuselage panel that covers the main wheel is also a near perfect drop in fit. With each new part, my admiration for this quality of this Kinetic kit was growing.
The horizontal stabiliser on the F-104 is full cantilever structure which sits high atop the vertical tail, Kinetic has molded as a single part. The intakes are built up from three parts per side. Intakes are quite tricky parts to mould accurately due to the complex shapes used both inside and out. If this Kinetic kit was going to give an achilles heel, the intake geometry and fit would be it.
The fit and alignment (potentially a problem) of the large single piece horizontal stabiliser was perfect. A gap free friction fit with 100% alignment was achieved first go. When I attached the rudder, I let out a groan, fearing that Kinetic had left a massive gap at the bottom by mistake. However, when I consulted my F-104 bible, Uncovering the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter by Danny Coremans, I learned that "to avoid jamming of the rudder caused by heat expansion of the stainless plating, a rather big wedge is left between the lower fairing and the rudder". Another home run for Kinetic and their design team.
Time for the intakes, which thankfully Kinetic had not tried to fit with full trunking. Even though I was pretty sure that the interior seam and ejection pin marks would not be visible, it was against my modellers code not to do something with them prior to assembly, so a little Tamiya Basic Putty was applied.
I guess by now I was not really surprised that the fit of the intakes was flawless. The fixed supersonic shock cones mate equally well to the fuselage, as they do to the outer intake. Once each intake was offered up the fuselage, the rear vertical seam slotted into place with no perceptible gap. I really was falling in love with this kit.
The main gear is a relatively simple design which is hinged at the centerline with a single shock absorber. The Kinetic sprues include two sets of wheels and main gear doors which allow all variants of the F-104 to be built. I was pleasantly surprised to find the tyres were weighted, not something you often find on kit plastic wheels.
With the exception of a couple of visible ejection pin marks, the main gear assembly was trouble free. Once the glue was dry, I fitted each side into the wheel well holes, which resulted in a reassuring click as everything aligned nicely. As the CF-104 was based on the F-104G with larger wheels, the use of the bulged gear doors is specified.
If you have ever built an F-104 (in your favourite scale) you will know just how small the wings look. You could be forgiven for mistaking the wings for the tail on any other model. Kinetic provides all wing control surfaces (leading slat, trailing flap and aileron) as separate parts. The flaps can be secured (via locating tabs) in either the up or down positions.
By this stage, it was no surprise when the wings slid effortlessly into the fuselage slots, resulting in a gap free fit. The fit is, in fact, so good that I would seriously consider leaving them off for painting, which is something I almost never contemplate.
The F-104 employs a side hinged canopy. The equipment bay(s), behind the cockpit are likewise hinged on the port side. From my test fitting, the canopy can be displayed open or closed, however when open, no hinge or mounting mechanism is provided to ensure a strong connection with the fuselage. I'll most likely use some brass rod to give some strength in this area.
Generally a good fit all round, with one exception being those pesky canopy ejector cartridges that get in the way if you want to close the canopy. Only a small amount of force was needed to hold the canopy in place but it almost seems like Kinetic prefer to you display it open (which most people will do I expect).
Canadair CF-104 Starfighter (Serial No. 104774), with Captain Don Robinson going through a Pre-Flight Check in the cockpit, with No. 417 Tactical Fighter Squadron, CFB Cold Lake, Alberta, 1978. Don wears his 439 Sqn decorated helmet, is going through 20% RPM on the start sequence and his mission is to fly low-level route number 16. During the start sequence, the pilot uses his hand to signal the percent RPM to the tech as it winds up. In this photo, the blurred middle finger shows that the RPM has just achieved 20%. At 50% the signal to disconnect the external air is given and the engine winds up to speed under its own power. The pilot's route map with the number 16 is visible in the right forward windscreen. []
Last but not least are the stores, which in this case will be the 170g wingtip tanks and 195g under-wing pylon tanks. Kinetic does include a pair of AIM-9B Sidewinders on the sprue but to my knowledge these were not fitted to the Canadian CF-104s in service. The tanks are thoughtfully designed with separate tail fins and filler caps, which makes sanding the main seam a lot easier. Over the years, I have learnt to appreciate the little things that manufacturers do to make the model makers life that bit easier.
The all but completed tanks, with the main seamwork done. Note the asymmetrical tails fitted to the tip tanks and the pylons which will benefit from some rivet surface detail.
Speaking of pylon rivets, this photo will no doubt prove useful when I come to adding them. I wonder how many F-104 ground crew ever read all the warning placards covering the pylon, not many I bet. Thankfully, the Kinetic decal sheet includes these for both sides.
Just like the real F-104, the tip tanks have a recessed slot into which the wing tip slides, resulting in a solid and perfectly aligned fit. The small 'eyebrow' strake located just above the leading edge slat is designed to eliminate tank flutter and aids in a clean separation in case of jettisoning.
The mostly assembled (just needs glue and paint) Kinetic CF-104 looks every bit the part. I'm really keen to continue on with this build, so stay tuned.

CONCLUSION - Kinetic 1:48 CF-104 Starfighter (K48127)
I have to be honest and say that whilst I have collected (stashed) many Kinetic kits over the years, this is the first I've ever really had a proper look at one.

Even though I had heard many good things about the new Gold Series toolings, it's not until you get it in your hands that you can appreciate just how far Kinetic have come. This is one of the best tooled kits I have seen in recent years. Everything from the choice of plastic, quality decals, clever engineering, close to perfect fit tells me that Kinetic has arrived as one of the leading players in the scale modelling world.
If you are a fan of the F-104 you probably have a few Hasegawa kits stashed away, do yourself a favour and buy at least one of these new Kinetic kits, I can guarantee it won't be your last.

Wow, what a beautiful kit. Gold class by name, gold class by nature.

Gary Wickham

Many thanks to Kinetic Models for this review kit.
You can see more of Gary's Work on his Website & his Facebook page.

ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS Kinetic 1:48 CF-104 Starfighter (K48127)