The F-4 Phantom II is possibly the most-important aircraft of the post-WW2 era built on this side of the Iron Curtain. Fighter, fighter-bomber, recce and ECM specialist with the "Wild Weasel" anti-SAM effort, the Phantom did it all it would seem.
Developed in the 1950s and entering US service in 1960, the plane flew missions for all three branches of US service during and after the War in Vietnam, largely replaced the Mirage III in the Israeli Defense Force (where it soldiered-on past 2000), and was a staple in the Bundeswehr's Luftwaffe, along with ten other countries, including the RAF, Turkey and Greece (where the last Phantoms were recently retired). Iranian Phantom IIs were dispatched to bomb ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq in late 2014.
Tamiya released four Phantom II kits in 1/32nd scale in the late 1990s, including two F-4J versions that could be built either as in USN or USMC service. But not only are these kits showing their age (in terms of current levels of detailing and accuracy), there has never been a B version released. The F-4B was an important variant used by the US Navy in the early years of the Vietnam War. Indeed, both the first sortie in the war and the first air kill were accomplished by F-4Bs. Upgraded to the F-4N, the Phantom II was flown by the USMC when promised Tomcats were diverted to Fleet service. Even now the aircraft is seeing service as a pilot-less drone for training.
So it's a huge addition to the hobby now that GT Resin
, a relatively new resin manufacturer, has just released a comprehensive conversion set that will transform Tamiya's F-4J kits (either USMC or Navy version) into an F-4B or F-4N (distinguished mostly by ECM protuberances). GT Resin
bases the conversion on the J kits because of differences between USN/USMC components and those on USAF jets. The set can be ordered with or without a complete cockpit (including both the Mk.5 and Mk.7 ejection seats), and has exhaust chambers and nozzles, along with all the bells and whistles needed to create an accurate B or N.
is a cottage industry, so the pieces come in Ziploc baggies and plain white cardboard boxes without fancy graphics. Every effort has been made to put the money into the product, and the result is a set of approximately 85 pieces in gray resin. The major components are:
1.) Thin wing kit:
includes the wheel wells, doors, spoiler and speed brakes while still using the kit landing gear
2.) Signature B/N tail fin caps:
plain ALQ-126, APR-24 snub nose, APR-30
3.) Complete Main gear wheel bays
4.) Nose cone with IRST:
APR-30 "hook," Apr-25 "shoe horn," and ALQ-126
5.) Early Tail Cone/Parapack Door:
with RHAW antennas
6.) Complete Exhaust Trim with Vent
7.) AN/ALQ-51/100 ECM small nodes:
AN/ALQ-126 ECM of 1 small, 3 large are included in the F-4J Tamiya kits
8.) GT Resin J-79 short exhaust
9.) AMS RESIN PRODUCTS wheels/tires:
complete with Goodyear logo and sidewall details
10.) One-Piece Cockpit tub:
installs the same way as the kit tub
11.) Detailed instruments & dash coaming:
will depict jets from Early “B to Late “N”
12.) Pilot Control Stick & Throttles"
along with RIO instrument panels, radar joystick, and radar control panel (compatible with the IFF bay used by the USN and included in Tamiya kit)
13.) Both MK5 and MK7 Ejection Seats:
complete with belts
14.) Detailed Side Walls:
lacks only wires & hoses
Detailed color instructions for each step of the conversion process.
The existence of this set is reason enough to celebrate, since the only other means for building an F-4B was a long out-of-print Cutting Edge set. Those sets are more appropriate for collectors, due to the astronomical prices now commonplace for most Cutting Edge products on eBay and elsewhere.
But I should say right up-front that this conversion set is NOT for the novice modeler. If you have never cut up a kit before, or worked with extensive amounts of resin, this probably isn't the ideal starting point, both because of the high price of the set ($155), as well as its many pieces. One piece of good news: GT Resin
fully backs your purchase; if you break one of the pieces, they will replace it for the cost of shipping. If you break it a second time, they will provide it at cost, rather than requiring a complete set to be bought.
However, if you're comfortable with a razor saw and CA glue, the excellence of the parts here will invite you to jump right in.
One of the advantages of the set (aside from having the only F-4B in this scale) is GT Resin's
careful research with some of the leading Phantom experts in and out of the hobby. In addition, the company has used a meticulous thinking-through of the build process. For example, the Cutting Edge conversion set used two parts for the wheel wells, requiring the modeler to align them (tricky on a good day). GT Resin
has combined the two pieces into a single wheel well bay, avoiding the potential for misalignment. That sort of clear thinking helps to make a complex conversion less stressful.
The kit also comes with clear, color instructions that walk modelers through the conversion process. To help this process, each step refers to a specific page or pages from Danny Cormans' fabulous book Uncovering the US Navy F-4 B/J/N/S Phantom
published by DACO. I can't imagine building a Navy or USMC Phantom without this resource, no matter what the scale of the kit.
The most-challenging aspect of the B conversion is backdating the F-4J's wings. Most of the resin pieces will drop into the Tamiya kit with little or no modification, but the wheel wells are where the conversion gets to one of the more-important changes needed by the Tamiya F-4J kit. The F-4B sported thin, high-pressure tires intended for carrier deck landings, while the later J version had thicker, low-pressure tires to soften landings on concrete runways. The wings of the J model have a major bulge along the fuselage portion of the top, and a small ridge aft of the wheel bay on the bottom of the wing. The GT Resin
solution is to remove a section of the kit wing top (cutting template provided), and replace it with a resin tetrahedron. If the styrene is removed carefully according to the template, the replacement part should slip in with a minimum of filling. Be careful to use the correct cutting template for the wing you're working on, as the two sides are slightly different.
When the Phantom II was designed, its creators envisioned a world of MACH-2 supersonic combat where air-to-air Sparrow missiles would replace the machine gun dogfights of WW2. Pilots would regret this in Vietnam, where the speed of the dogfights slowed down to sub-sonic, and more-conventional assets like a Vulcan gun resulted in a rethinking of the design. The Phantom's familiar bulbous nose (prompting the nickname "Rhino") was intended to house Westinghouse APQ-72 targeting radar, and a Texas Instruments AAA-4 IRST (infra-red search and track) chin pod was mounted beneath it. There were actually three different IRST chin pods used, and GT Resin
has included them all. Depending on the airframe you're building, you won't need anything else. Same for the ECM pods on the tip of the vertical stabilizer: the kit includes three options.
The Phantom II was originally powered by General Electric J79 GE-8 engines, with the distinctive "short" burner cans (which also left dangerous trails of exhaust smoke at sub-sonic speeds). They're reproduced in the set beautifully, with fine detailing of the "turkey feathers" and intricate detailing of the afterburner chambers. They go together easily, and then you glue on the kit fans and cone array. While you'll still want several of Eduard's PE sets for any build, the expense and hassle of upgrading the Tamiya cans is avoided, and the GT Resin
cans are also the correct size, unlike those in the kit.
Another area where this set impressed me is the cockpit. The conversion is available both with and without the F-4B "office," yet I definitely recommend getting the full array. GT Resin
has left none of the "hard" details out, including the equipment along the cockpit walls (where many upgrades leave off). The only items left to modelers are cabling and oxygen hoses. Both the Mark 5 and Mark 7 ejection seats are included, allowing purchasers to have both seat options on-hand, depending on the particular aircraft they're building. The extra seat set will be a welcome addition to the spares box, too. The grab handles at the top of the seats are not included, but you can use the kit parts (which aren't bad) or else scratch-build your own from copper wire.
Eduard's Brassin sub-brand of resin wheels sell some excellent replacement tires for the vinyl ones that come with the Tamiya kits; however, the B had slightly thinner tires, which are nicely-rendered here without large pour plugs on the bottom. They of course have a hexagonal notch and will mount right to the Tamiya metal main landing gear pieces.
Most of the items in the conversion are straightforward and easy to figure out. As pointedf out above, the trickiest area will certainly be the need to cut up the top of the wings and substitute a resin replacement panel. But otherwise the kit makes few outrageous demands on modelers, and the results will mean another major variant on the Phantom II will be available in 1/32nd scale. Can a Wild Weasel version be far behind?
While this set isn't for the faint-hearted, it is simply loaded with detail and a joy to have. For those who love the "Double Ugly" or "Rhino" in a B variant, this is the way to go. I strongly recommend you secure a detailed reference book in case you have questions about the pieces and where (or how) they go. My choice is by Danny Cormans:
Uncovering the US Navy F-4 B/J/N/S Phantom
And it's important to quote GT Resin's
warranty for those of us who have messed up a part:
We stand behind our stuff 100%. If you break a part or screw something up, I will send out free replacements, you just pay the shipping. Break it again and you pay for the part and the shipping. The thing I don’t want to happen is to have someone left in the middle of a build faced with the only option of having to buy a complete second kit because they broke or lost a part. I am being sincere in that we started this company to serve the modelers and provide what they want at the best price possible.
Sounds good to me.
Thanks to GT Resin for providing this review sample. Be sure to mention you saw it reviewed on Aeroscale when ordering.