by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Hobby Boss's new F/A-18A arrives in a large, very sturdy, top-opening box adorned with a rather uninspiring picture. Despite its size, the box is absolutely stuffed to the brim. The sprues are all individually bagged and the clear parts are further protected by a cardboard divider at one end of the box. The kit comprises:
235 x grey styrene parts on 8 sprues
10 x clear parts
Decals for 3 x colour schemes
First impressions are very good - surface detail is quite restrained, with neatly engraved panel lines. The wings and tail show some embossed rivets/fasteners which are almost certainly overscale for a modern smooth-finished aircraft, but they'll give the heavy-weathering brigade something to get to grips with. They aren't overdone with the "battleship look" we've seen on some recent offerings and, if you don't like them, they'll only take a few minutes to fill.
Moulding quality is generally excellent throughout - very crisp, with hardly a hint of flash in sight. I found just one shallowsink mark at the base of the port fin, with a faint "ghost" of nearby detail. Ejector pins have mostly been kept out of sight, but there are some to deal with on the inner faces of wheel-doors etc.
The way Hobby Boss have tackled the complex contours of the fuselage is interesting. The fuselage is split laterally, with the top half incorporating the upper wing panels. The bottom of the fuselage is split into 3 sections - the centre part showing very nicely detailed mainwheel-wells - with separate side parts forming the air intakes / fuselage sides. It makes a test fit a bit awkward, but I found a little filler will be needed under the LEX, while the side panels are a snug fit. Overall, the breakdown should work well, allowing the undercuts around the intakes to be moulded and no loss of panel detail on the fuselage sides. The nose is a separate section, split vertically, and forming the front wall of the nosewheel-well.
The wings are reasonably complex, with separate lower panels, leading edges and control surfaces. The combined fuselage / wing top surface features solid wing-tips and there's a joint line on the undersides, which doesn't coincide with the wing-fold on the full-sized aircraft. This should be pretty much hidden by a fairing, but one point I noticed was a tendency for the trailing edge to be slightly thinner than the solid wing-tips. This should be an easy fix with a sliver of styrene sheet.
A sure sign of more versions to come is the way the cockpit area is dealt with - the top decking comes as separate parts on their own sprue and, as if that wasn't a big enough clue, there are a pair of ejection seats included. Furthermore, the separate nose features a scribed searchlight for Australian Hornets, which the instructions indicate to fill. In fact the panel detail on the starboard nose seems more appropriate to an F/A-18C, according to Squadron's "In Action" on the type.
The two short antennae on the tail seem to match photos of early F/A-18As in the above book, but the kit also includes fences for the LEX, which don't appear to have been fitted to these aircraft, so check your references for the correct configuration.
Looking at some of the details, the cockpit consists of a one-piece tub, into which fit a six-part ejector seat, plus a nicely detailed instrument panel and a control column and throttle unit. The seat has moulded-on lap belts, but no shoulder harness. Detail on the side consoles is pretty good, but super-detailers with undoubtedly want to add a lot more and it's a safe bet that drop-in aftermarket sets will be hot on the heels of the kit's release.
As already stated, the mainwheel-wells really caught my eye when I opened the box - the detail is superb for an injection-moulded kit, with plenty of cabling and structure which should really repay careful painting and weathering with a wash. A really nice point is that there are no ejector pin marks to spoil the wheel-well. The gear-legs themselves are equally impressive, with separate actuating arms and details such as landing lamps - although, here, there are a couple of pin-marks to deal with. The wheels have good hub detail and the tyres are "un-weighted".
The exhausts are pretty basic, but feature nice deep jet-pipes and a blanking plate to avoid a "see through" look.
The canopy can be posed open and a nice touch is the inclusion of a boarding ladder. The canopy and windscreen are bulged like the originals and, inevitably in an injected kit, this means a mould-line to polish off - a small price to pay for the correct contours.
There's a comprehensive set of underwing stores provided:
2 x AIM-7
2 x AGM-88
2 x AGM-84E
6 x MK-82
2 x GBU-10
2 x JDAM
3 x Drop tanks
To make sense of what goes where, the instructions feature a very handy stores load-out diagram.
The assembly instructions are well drawn on a single fold-out sheet. They could be a bit clearer in places - e.g. sub-assemblies aren't numbered and occasionally too much is crammed into a single stage. Everything you need is there - but the assembly sequence isn't always very logical and I must admit I'll probably break from the recommended sequence to finish the basic airframe before adding details like the undercarriage and underwing stores. There's no indication as to whether any weight is needed in the nose to avoid a tail-sitter.
Mr. Hobby paint matches are quoted throughout the instructions and the colours for most parts are indicated as assembly progresses.
Painting and DecalsHobby Boss provide a full-colour painting guide for the three schemes offered:
1: F/A-18A, (No.163132) VMFA-451, "Dirty Dan"
2: F/A-18A, (No.161353) VX-4,1987
3: F/A-18A, (No.161939) VFA-25, 1984
Rather neat is a colour-guide for the ordnance. Both the aircraft and ordnance painting guides also include instructions for placing the comprehensive set of decal stencils included.
The decals themselves appear excellent; they are thin and glossy, printed in excellent register. There's a separate sheet of stencils for the underwing stores - there's a little "fringeing" on the yellow, but it's always the trickiest colour to print with good depth of colour and the fringe is where there's a white underlay. I must admit I've never had a chance to use HobbyBoss decals, so I've no idea how they react to setting solutions - a test with a spare item is the order of the day.
ConclusionI'd recommend you check your references for the configuration of antennae and LEX vanes etc., but Hobby Boss's new Hornet is a big impressive kit that should prove deservedly popular. It's priced competitively, being £7 cheaper than its rival from Hasegawa. As you know I'm not normally a modern jet fan, but the beast has even tempted me with a definite "build me!" quality that any aircraft modeller finds hard to resist.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.