Saturday, August 12

Review: ResKit 1/32nd scale RAAF F-111C Escape Module (32-0002) + Crew (32-0004)

Having served in the RAAF, Gary was naturally interested in ResKit's new 1/32nd scale F-111 cockpit modules & pilots. Today he gives us his in-depth review of what comes in these kits, & his thoughts about them See more in his review...

F-111C "Pig" Escape Pod (Crew Module) Royal Australian Air Force
1/32nd scale
3D Printed parts
Plastic, resin, paint masks, photo-etch, decals & raised printed cockpit decals included in the kit.

1/32nd scale
3D Printed figures (x2)

The Subject: The F-111 Crew Escape Module & pilots
The development of the high-speed F-111 aircraft caused the need for an improved egress system. The ejectable crew module was designed to meet this need. The system provides maximum protection for the crewmembers throughout the aircraft performance envelope and includes capabilities for safe ejections at maximum speed and altitude as well as at zero altitude and 50 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS). The module is self-righting, watertight, has flotation provisions, and provides protection for the crewmembers from environmental hazards met on land or water. A side-by-side crew arrangement facilitates safe and effective performance and allows crewmembers to work together and aid one another in performing mission tasks while still maintaining their forward visibility, which is an important factor in high-speed, low-level flights.

Pretty much all you need to know about the escape module is in this great video...
The crew module, when jettisoned, had to be watertight, self-righting, floating and provide protection for the crew members from environment hazards on land or water. When crew action the jettisoning, a single large parachute reduces speed for the descent and on landing, an airbag system cushions the impact. It could also serve as a survival shelter for the crew until a rescue could be mounted.

F-111 Crew Module on display at the Caboolture Warplane Museum.

The new sets from Reskit:
Reskit has made a complete cockpit for the 1/48th scale F-111 in the past. Resin and #D decals in those smaller kits have now made way for this, the larger 1/32nd scale kit with the whole enchilada. Not only resin, but many other parts we will go through one by one...
RESKIT is a Ukrainian manufacturer of resin products for modelers. The company was founded in 2015 in Kyiv, Ukraine. One of the subjects that Reskit has tackled previously is a super detailed F-111 cockpit/escape module in 1/48th scale, designed for both the Academy and Hobby Boss kits. They have now taken that work to a new level by releasing the F-111 escape module as a standalone model in 1/32nd scale.

Their initial release was the capsule for the F-111A and more recently they have released this second special edition RSK32-0002 F-111C "Pig" Escape Pod (Crew Module) Royal Australian Air Force which comes complete with a 1/32nd scale Kangaroo. To accompany the escape module Reskit have also released a pair of 3D printed crew figures in set RSF32-004 RAAF F-111 pilots sitting in seats.

During my time in the RAAF I never worked on the F-111 (I was a Mirage and F/A-18 man) but I have to say it was probably my favourite in terms of its sleek and menacing shape and I just loved the early three tone SEA camo scheme.

The main kit retails for US$119 and the seated crew figures US$26.50, so they are not cheap, however I hope that by the time you reach the end of my review you will agree that what you get for the money is actually pretty good value.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the F-111 and B-1A introduced the method of jettisoning the entire cockpit as a means of crew escape. The crew remains strapped in the cabin, unencumbered by a parachute harness, while 27,000 lbf (120 kN) of thrust from rockets accelerates the module away from the rest of the aircraft.
 A single, large parachute retards the descent of the capsule.
On landing, an airbag system cushions the impact. In the event of a water landing the airbag acts as a flotation device. Additional airbags could be activated to right the capsule in the event of a water landing (similar to the Apollo Command Module), or an additional airbag could be selected for auxiliary flotation. 
With a movement of a pin at the base of the pilot's control stick, a bilge pump could be activated and extra air pumped into the airbags. For the F-111 escape capsule, following a successful landing on land or water, it could serve as a survival shelter for the crew until a rescue could be mounted.

F-111C "Pig" Escape Pod (Crew Module) Royal Australian Air Force
1/32nd scale
3D Printed parts
Plastic, resin, paint masks, photo-etch, decals & raised printed cockpit decals included in the kit.
Reskit are well known for their excellent resin castings and this F-111C kit is a mix of traditional cast resin (for the larger parts) and newer 3D printed resin for the smaller more complex parts, such as the seats. As with any resin parts you are going to have to use a razor saw to separate the parts from the casting blocks.
All the parts in this kit are cleanly cast/printed with no blemishes found on my parts. The tiniest amount of flash is visible but you could literally clean that up with your finger tip. In 1/32 the assembled capsule is roughly 15cm (6") in length, so a decent size.
The kit is designed to allow you to chose between a capsule that been "ejected" with many of the panels missing or as an intact capsule which has not been ejected. If you were really clever you could design and include your own flotation cushions which would be very cool.
The surface on the exterior surfaces is excellent with panel line and rivet detail sharp and precise. All the interior detail is also provided because this will be visible on the finished model, especially if you use the supplied stand.
The cockpit rear bulkhead has both an inside and outside part provided in the kit. The ribbed surface detail is excellent as is the wiring harnesses.
An interesting cutaway of the escape module shows all the critical components needed to facilitate the ejection of this large part of the aircraft safely.
The F-111 is a large aircraft and the cockpit, which seated both crew "side by side" is equally large. The front shroud and cockpit floor and nicely detailed and all the parts seem to be of an accurate scale thickness.
The RAAF's fleet of General Dynamic's F-111 bombers was retired after 37 years as the mainstay of Australia’s long-range strike capability. A six ship formation overflew Brisbane and the Gold Coast before returning to mount a display over Amberley, while a solo aircraft performed a 'dump and burn' routine. A8-125 fittingly marked the end of the F-111 era as the last to touch down.
The bottom of the capsule is also provided and in the center is a locating hole for the optional stand. All these exterior faces had to be designed and added to the kit so that it could be displayed outside the fuselage.
 As can be seen the detail and sharpness of the resin casting is first rate.
The kit is designed to allow both options for the canopy doors to be displayed open of closed. To support these options, Reskit has included alternate parts where this makes sense, such as two center consoles. 
The canopy door frames are cast in resin but all the clear parts (such as the windows and windshield) are provided in normal clear injection molded plastic. I'm very glad they did this as clear resin, especially parts this large, would almost certainly be subject to blemishes which would be very distracting.
All the smallest parts have been 3D printed rather than cast by Reskit. Like many aftermarket companies, Reskit have been switching progressively to 3D printed parts in their sets where it makes sense to do so.
A key feature of any cockpit are of course the seats. In the case of the F-111 these were not ejectable and so look simpler than the typical modern jet we would be used to. 

As is now familiar on 3D parts, the two seats are surrounded by a protective cage which we simply cut away.
The seats are very well rendered with subtle creasing on the cushions and the belts appear to be hanging naturally. I like that the Reskit designers have taken the extra effort to make each seat unique with small changes to belt positions. It's worth mentioning that when I was removing the protective cage I found the resin to very easy to work with and I'd not expect any problems when it comes to removing the print supports from the seat parts themselves.
As shown in this color photo of a USAF F-111, the cockpit interior was painted in the pretty standard Dark Gull Gray (FS36231). Reskit includes full color callouts in the assembly instructions using both FS (Federal Standard) and Gunze/Mr Hobby model paints numbers. There is a host of small details in this photo which modellers could choose to add to their model, such as the RBF safety tag on the overhead console and the various placards/labels found on the "hit n run" survival kit behind the pilots headrest.
For some time now Reskit has been producing their own 3D Decals under the "Kelik" brand. These are similar technology as found in the Quinta/Red Fox and Eduard SPACE sets. These have become hugely popular with modellers as they are superior to previous options like photo-etch. After some analysis/comparison of the panel layout included in this F-111C kit it appears to be representative of a very early RAAF F-111C such as they would have looked shortly after delivery, circa late 1970's.
This actually creates a bit of a problem because as we will see later in the review, the rest of the kit, in particular the exterior marking and paint options, are designed for a very late (circa 2010) aircraft. You see, by the time the RAAF retired the F-111C, the cockpit had been upgraded several times (PaveTack and AUP) and looked very different to the F-111A style analog cockpit which was originally delivered and which the Reskit IP seems to be based on.

A couple of comparison photos of an early F-111A analog cockpit and the final RAAF AUP style cockpit with upgraded digital (MFD) displays and enhanced WSO display/shroud. Reskit have not provided us an IP that is representative of a late post AUP cockpit and this will mean the included exterior decal and paint option don't match. To overcome this issue, I intend to paint the exterior in the earlier SEA three tone camo scheme (which I much prefer over the later Gunship Gray lo viz colors anyway) and then use a set of Hi-Viz decals from the Reskit F-111A kit. In this way I believe I will achieve a more accurate match between the interior IP layout and the exterior colors/markings.
Not all parts are suitable for casting in resin or even 3D printing. Typically parts meant to represent sheet metal are best provided in photo-etch brass. Reskit also include a set of pre-cut paint masks for the windshield (G1) only (both inside and out). Why they didn't make masks for the canopy door clear parts (G2/G3) is a bit of a mystery to me.
As a bonus for this RAAF specific boxing, Reskit has included a 1:32 scale Kangaroo complete with his own HGU-55P flight helmet. This is a nice addition and will add that little uniqueness to the final model display.

1/32nd scale
3D Printed figures (x2)
To accompany the F-111C RAAF Escape Module, Reskit has also produced an optional set of 3D printed seated crew figures in RSF32-0004. The figures represent the pilot and WSO (Weapons System Officer or Wizzo) and come complete with the seat and harnesses. Two sets of arms and heads (mask on and mask off) are also included as well as a small decal sheet, with appropriate RAAF arm patches and magazine artwork. The set retails for US$26.50.
As you would imagine, assembly is very simple after you decide on which head and arm options you plan to go with.
An interesting photo of a RAAF F-111 pilot disembarking from aircraft A8-146. During the long service life of the F-111 with the RAAF the crew used two different helmets over the years. This photo is interesting because the pilot is wearing the older HGU-26P helmet but is carrying a newer HGU-55P helmet. I can only assume this was during a period when the old helmets were being phased out and he was doing some testing with his new unit.
As we have come to expect from modern 3D printers the quality and clarity of the print is amazing. You will need to be extra careful when removing the myriad of supports but thankfully they will all be on the bottom of the finished part and not visible. If possible I would be leaving the head and arms off to make painting a bit easier.
No color callouts are provided by Reskit for painting, however it's fairly easy to locate color photos of actual Australian F-111 crew. For the most part the flight suits used by the RAAF are identical to the USAF/RAF of the same period. 
These particular photos also highlight that moustaches were a big thing back in the day with RAAF crew :)
When it comes to figures, its the faces that make or break them. Reskit has managed to produce some quite realistic faces and with proper painting these will look great. 
The helmets provided are the HGU-55P which would only be appropriate for mid/late crews of the F-111 in RAAF service.
A quick comparison with the real thing shows that Reskit have pretty well nailed it in terms of accuracy for the HGU-55P.
 The fine detail on the oxygen mask and clip is also apparent here, really showing what is possible with 3D printing.
Nice attention to detail on the various arm options with the flight suit sleeves being shown as rolled up back past the gloves. The inclusion of a watch on the left wrist is also well done highlighting that Reskit have done their homework.
One of the "cheeky" options that Reskit have included is for the WSO to be reading a magazine. I wonder where they could have gotten the idea to make it a Penthouse issue :)
Two super tiny decal sheets are included, one for the crew arm patches and the other for that magazine cover !!

COLORS & MARKINGS - ResKit 1:32 RAAF F-111C Escape Module (32-0002) + Crew (32-0004)
A single color and marking option is provided in the kit. It appears that Reskit has (sensibly) picked aircraft A8-125 as it was during the retirement of the F-111 from RAAF service in 2010. The only thing that I would question is their choice of color for the main grey. My research shows that our F-111 fleet was painted in Gunship Gray (FS36118) whereas Reskit have indicated to use Medium Grey (FS36270)
RAAF F-111C A8-125 is an excellent choice as the subject aircraft for this kit. It is historically significant being the first F-111 to arrive at RAAF Amberley QLD in 1973 and after the flying display at the F-111 retirement ceremony in 2010 (some 37 years later) was the last to land making it the world's last flying F-111. A8-125 is currently in store at RAAF Museum, Point Cook.
The included decal sheet seems to be well printed and as you can see the clarity and readability of the decals is excellent. The only error I picked up is with the spelling of the name of one of the crew members. It should be SQNLDR Craig Whiting and not Whizing. Certainly nothing major and an honest typo would be my guess. Out of interest a "whiting" is a type of fish, hence his callsign.

CONCLUSION - ResKit 1/32nd scale RAAF F-111C Escape Module (32-0002) + Crew (32-0004)
Another excellent release from Reskit who have well and truly established themselves at the top of the hill in the aircraft aftermarket space.

My only reservation about this kit is the apparent mismatch between the included 3D instrument panel layout (for a very early F-111C) and the exterior paint/marking options (for a very late F-111C).
If I had to guess I suspect that Reskit used a very slightly modified IP from their initial F-111A kit and assumed it would be accurate for the RAAF F-111C's throughout their service life. Unfortunately this was not the case and it would have been better if they provided an updated post AUP instrument panel. In this way everything in the kit would have lined up properly.

Other than that I think it's an cleverly unusual subject and one that I hope is a good seller for them. I personally would love to see them do a series of larger scale "stand alone" cockpits. Maybe scale them all up to 1/24th scale or larger.

Gary Wickham

You can see more of this kit and purchase these if you like them directly from the Res-Kit Website...
You can see more of Gary's model making on his website

ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS - ResKit 1:32 RAAF F-111C Escape Module (32-0002) + Crew (32-0004)