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F-35A Lightning II Kit

Italeri 1/32 F-35A Lightning II Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review March 2017 Manufacturer Italeri
Subject F-35A Lightning II Scale 1/32
Kit Number 2506 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros Nice details and options Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $119.99

First Look

F-35A Lightning II Kit
F-35A Lightning II Kit
F-35A Lightning II Kit
F-35A Lightning II Kit
F-35A Lightning II Kit
F-35A Lightning II Kit
F-35A Lightning II Kit
F-35A Lightning II Kit

Much has been written about the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II program over the years. Critics are quick to point out that it isn't a true fighter as it is not as maneuverable as the F-22 Raptor nor does it have the payload of many of its predecessors. If we look back in time to the 1970s, the F-15 Eagle was developed as the ultimate dogfighter that ushered in a new era of air superiority. The F-16 Fighting Falcon was acquired to serve as a low-cost strike fighter, but over the years, the F-16 evolved into a robust mutli-role platform. On the heels of the F-22 Raptor which ushered in a somewhat brief period of air dominance, the F-35 was acquired to serve in a similar capacity as the F-16. You may have read that the F-35 is still deficient in capabilities as it is still experiencing developmental challenges. The F-16 also had massive developmental problems where it failed many of its operational tests, but the senior Air Force staff saw the aircraft's potential and carried on with its production and deployment.

The F-16s were first deployed to Hill AFB and the aircraft gained the nickname 'lawn dart' for the crashes that happened in those early days. The early F100 engines suffered a stagnation stall problem which was an issue with the F-15, but at least it could return to base on one engine, not so with the F-16. The F-16 fleet was grounded for a period of time before the engine problems were sorted out. Other issues were similarly addressed and the F-16 Block 15 OCU represented the first Vipers that had many of the problems resolved. When new capabilities were incorporated into the F-16 design, the F-16C Block 25 entered service with an upgraded P&W F100 engine while an alternative engine from General Electric, the F110, entered the Viper production line with the Block 30. Over 30 years have passed since the beginning of the F-16C's history and today the F-35A coming online to replace the Viper.

The F-35A is indeed having some challenges, but like the F-16, the senior Air Force leaders see the potential in this new platform. What is different with the F-35? It is low-observable like the F-22, so the aircraft can operate stealthily in areas where Vipers and Super Hornets would be easily targeted by air defenses. The F-35 has integrated sensors which provide a significant capability for acquiring, tracking, and engaging targets, and unlike all previous aircraft, the pilot can literally see through the floor of their cockpit. Thanks to the evolution of precision-guided munitions, the F-35 doesn't require large bomb loads to neutralize a target. The F-117 only carried two laser-guided bombs but the F-35 can carry other types of guided munitions in high-threat environments. In lower threat regions, the F-35 can also carry external loads where stealth isn't needed. One criticism that you also see about the F-35 is its lack of maneuverability. The F-35's flight controls are software-based as are the F-16, F-22, and F-117, and all of these aircraft had their flight envelopes gradually expanded. Remember how the F-22's maneuvering capabilities were kept quiet for many years after its entry into service? As the F-35 continues to mature, you'll see it expanding its own envelope. What will be interesting to see is if the F-16 VISTA and F-16 LOAN tests will eventually allow the nozzle of the F-35's F135 engine to implement thrust vectoring as the Chinese J-20 (based on the F-35) has already implemented their own thrust vectoring.

Italeri has released their 1/32 F-35A Lightning II kit and will be appearing on store shelves around the globe soon (if not already there). The kit is molded in light gray styrene and presented on six parts trees plus upper and lower fuselage halves, one tree of transparent yellow/gold parts, and one fret of photo-etched details (duplicate parts tree not shown). As with their other recent 1/32 scale releases like the F-104s and the Mirage III, this kit is nicely engineered and has some nice detailing and options. Among the features and options in this kit:

  • Detailed ejection seat w/photo-etched pilot restraints
  • Detailed cockpit
  • Positionable canopy
  • Positionable boarding ladder and access door
  • Detailed weapons bays
  • Weapons bay doors can be positioned open or closed
  • Positionable ventral engine access panel
  • Detailed F135 engine in areas that can be seen
  • Detailed wheel wells
  • Weighted wheels
  • Landing gear can be posed up or down
  • Positionable leading edge and trailing edge flaps (see note below)
  • Positionable rudders
  • Positionable air refueling doors
  • Optional external pylons

The F135 engine has some nice details including the control modules that can be visible from under the aircraft. The kit has a ventral panel that can be left off to reveal the engine details. This part is 5E in Step 22, but here is where one of the few errors in the instructions appear. The 5E label is pointing to the starboard weapons bay door and the line that shows where 5E is supposed to be mounted is almost invisible.

Like the F-16, the F-35's leading edge flaps remain up on the ground. Unlike aircraft like the F-16, the F-35's stabilators also remain locked at neutral (do not droop) when powered down. The only control surfaces that droop with the power removed are the trailing edge flaperons.

The kit provides some weapons options including:

  • 2 x GBU-31 2000lb JDAM
  • 2 x AIM-120C AMRAAM
  • 2 x AIM-9X Sidewinder

If you opt for the external pylons, you'll have to provide your own external stores as there are only the two JDAMs in the box and six empty stations (four pylons and two interal racks) to load. The AIM-9Xs are provided for the outboard stations and the AIM-120Cs mount inside the weapons bays.

Markings are provided for six subjects on two large decal sheets:

  • F-35A, 11-5027, 33 FW, USAF, Eglin AFB, 2015
  • F-35A, 09-5007, 422 TES, USAF, Nellis AFB, 2016
  • F-35A, 32-01/MM7332, 32 Stormo/13 Gruppo, AMI, Amendola AB, Italy, 2017
  • F-35A, A35-002, 61 TES, RAAF, Williamtown AB, Australia, 2016
  • F-35A, F-001, RNLAF, Leeuwarden AB, Holland, 2016
  • F-35A, 901, IAF, 2016

You'll find a few ejector pin marks in a few areas that will need to be mitigated including inside the weapons bays though there are thankfully few of them.

The exterior of the aircraft has molded radar-absorbent materials (RAM) on the surfaces like F-22 and F-35 kits from other manufacturers. Like the other examples, the thickness of the RAM is out of scale/proportion to the full-scale aircraft but these can be cleaned up with some careful sanding. Unlike ANY other kit of the F-22 or F-35, Italeri provides clear masks which are cut to match the sawtooth RAM boundaries so you can easily paint these per the instructions. Actually, you paint the RAM color, mask the areas, then paint the base color. Nice!

While the instructions identify the basic colors used on the airframe, you can refer to my own photo walk around of the first kit subject, 11-5027, to see there are other subtle shades on the surface of the aircraft which will make the appearance of the model less monotonous. You can also see how the RAM details are virtually flush with the surrounding airframe surfaces.

Years ago, Lindberg Models had shown the prototype of a 1/32 F-35A model which was supposed to be under development before that company went under and was eventually absorbed by Round 2 Models. Now Italeri has stepped forward with their own F-35A kit and based upon the other F-35s I've built to date in 1/72 and 1/48, this kit is easily the best F-35 kit in any scale. I hope that Italeri will produce the F-35B and F-35C as well!

My sincere thanks to Italeri for this review sample!

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