Sunday, September 8, 2013

Recently Completed: Hasegawa 1:72 F-16CJ (Block 50) Fighting Falcon

I don’t often build 1:72nd scale any more, partially to do with eyesight and dexterity issues, but perhaps mostly because of a certain dissatisfaction with the result I can get at this scale. I had the same trouble half my life ago, doing my very best and not being really happy with the result, and moving up a notch seemed to largely fix the issues by changing the ratio of minimum detail resolution to the overall product.

Nevertheless, from time to time, when I fancy a simple or quick build, I’ll still open a 1:72 – good quality, of course – and see what I can do with my current skill set. The issue of resolution is still there, and I’m probably well above the standard I was not happy with long ago, but the same sort of dissatisfaction still creeps in.

In the box, Hasegawa’s F-16 series, tooled in the 1990s and updated thereafter, is a sweet kit, with plenty of options. To model the later variant there are numerous extra parts, intake, exhaust, landing gear, weapons (yes, there’s a full suite in the box, a change from Hasegawa’s usual marketing strategy), no less than three pilot figures with separate right arms, plus decals for two choices. The instructions are Hasegawa standard, but pack a lot of information into a small space, and at times they could do with scrap-views to clarify how small parts locate and align (sometimes I referred to Academy’s plans for where stencil data was supposed to go).

Construction was straightforward, needing a little filler here and there. The limitations of turning out new variants from old moulds account for a few problems, while scale itself accounts for others. The seat looks nothing like an ACES II and I ordered up True Details’ resin version – only to find the resin had more holes than an Aero bar. In the end I chose to use the kit seat, which might not have looked like an ACES II but neither did it look like a cinder block. Tape harness was the only addition.

Main construction was generally good, though some seams were persnickety. And the F-16 is simply a difficult shape, with difficult details. The intake throat, with its internal support vane, needing to be painted inside before assembly, is tricky. The landing gear is imprecise and finicky, and how it can end up with the main wheels off-true when the struts are fixed in alignment by double locator holes I simply don’t know. The warload I painted and decaled first and set aside to be added last, a good move as it broke down the job into manageable lots.

I used Model Master Acryls for the four main shades of grey, plus Tamiya white, gunmetal, silver etc. Some parts of the paintjob I simplified in the name of sanity, the intake has a medium grey swatch above it that would be difficult to mask at 1:48th scale, and I did not even attempt it, nor did I try painting the darker shade across the white of the intake lip.

The decals looked great on the sheet but they silvered somewhat against a sealed finish and reacted very badly to Microscale chemistry, wrinkling up and staying that way. I can also say the coloured stripes around the missiles are among the least cooperative, most frustrating decals I have ever had to use.

Given the complex contours the kit captures so pleasingly, I was surprised to find that the simple underwing pylons were shapes rather different from the underside of the wing to which they attach. Not in many years have I prayed for superglue to do its thing, after all refinements to technique, forward thinking and skill have done theirs, and I am less inclined to blame the scale than the company. In an age of CAD-CAM, this sort of mismatch should not be so pronounced.

What else could go wrong? Very little, but when a canopy is designed with an open option, it never fits quite right when closed, and given the poor seat and decal instruments closed was always the better (and simpler) option. I used Eduard’s mask set, and the canopy outlines were reasonably good, but the wheel hub masks did not fit very well. Perhaps painting the tyres first and using the negative masks would work better, but here and there the manual touch-ups after spraying were so poor (such as one side of the nose wheel) you would be forgiven for thinking no masks were used at all.

The finished aircraft looks like an F-16 and is impressive from a distance, but the landing gear and warload are painfully fragile. This is a kit for the seasoned 1:72nd scale builder or for the hobbyist with plenty of time to invest and a knack for getting small parts to cooperate. Despite my acknowledged AMS, a time came when I just had to say enough is enough, I want this project off my bench.

It’s my first F-16 since I was about 13 years old, and superior in every meaningful way to that vintage Revell outing, but my next Falcon will be in 1:48th scale, probably Academy’s offering, which will hopefully be large enough for glue to hold and error factors to be small.