In the mid-1970s, both the French Air Force [Armée de l'Air] and Navy [Aéronavale] had a requirement (the Navy's being rather more pressing) to find a new generation of fighter principally to replace the Sepecat Jaguars and Aéronavale F-8 Crusaders. Their requirements were similar enough to be merged into one project. In 1983, France awarded Dassault a contract for two Avion de Combat expérimental (ACX) demonstrators. European nations, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom agreed to jointly develop a new fighter in the early 1980s. However, disagreement over the fighter's size and project leadership led France and the other nations to split in 1985. France developed the smaller Rafale, while the other nations developed what would later be named the Eurofighter Typhoon.
The Rafale A technology demonstrator was rolled out in late 1985 and made it's maiden flight on 4 July 1986. The SNECMA M88 engine was being developed and was not considered sufficiently mature for the initial trials programme, so the demonstrator flew with General Electric F404-GE-400 after burning turbofans as used on the F/A-18 Hornet. Production orders were placed in 1988.
Further testing continued, including carrier touch-and-go landings and test-flying early M88 engines, before the Rafale A was retired in 1994. Though the Rafale A and British Aerospace EAP were broadly comparable, when the first Eurofighter made its maiden flight in March 1994, pre-series Rafales had been flight-testing for three years, including carrier trials. Rafale C01, Rafale M01, and Rafale B01 first flew in May 1991, December 1991, and April 1993 respectively.
Three versions of Rafale were in the initial production order:
Rafale C (Chasseur) Single-seat fighter for the AdA (Armée de l'Air, French Air Force)
Rafale B (Biplace) Two-seat fighter for the AdA
Rafale M (Marine) Single-seat carrier fighter for the Aéronavale.
Initially the Rafale B was to be just a trainer, but Gulf War and Kosovo experience showed that a second crew member is invaluable on strike and reconnaissance missions, and therefore more Rafale Bs were ordered, replacing some Rafale Cs. 60% of the Rafales built will be two seaters. The navy investigated a naval version of the two-seat version. However, no production or prototypes was built. The Armee de l'Air received its first three Rafale Bs (to F2 standards) in late December 2004. They went to the Centre d'Expériences Aériennes Militaires (CEAM) at Mont-de-Marsan for operational evaluation and associated pilot conversion training. Although not a true stealth aircraft, the Rafale has reduced radar signature according to Dassault, while most of the stealth design features are classified, extensive use of composite materials and serrated panel lines on the trailing edges of the wings and canards help to reduce the radar cross section.
Top opening box, with a rugged tray, that should survive most postal trips. The fuselage and wings are cleverly clamped to the lower part of the box by card inserts. The front of the model is protected by a thin film of foam. All the parts are bagged and the smaller bags are taped to the inside of the lower box. Excellent.
Inside there are five light grey sprues and one transparent sprue. All parts are numbered on the sprues. There is a well laid out exploded view instruction sheet. Paint references are a bit patchy, the colour of the undercarriage bays are found on the marking and painting sheet, not in the instruction. No idea what the interior colour of the intakes are.
Markings and painting guide is in colour There are three sets of decals, the tiger motifs are on a larger sheet. More on these later.
The representation of the MB Mk16 ejector seats is not great. They look like bang seats, but not the Mk16's. Each ejector seat is made up from 4 pieces. Fair amount of detail, but there are no straps. Cockpit itself is made from 9 pieces. Cockpit is made up of a tub for the pilot and navigator, side consoles are moulded into the tub. There are also 2 instrument panels, 2 rudder pedals, hood for the rear instrument panel, additional monitor for the navigator and a transparent piece of plastic to represent the pilots HUD. I am not sure whether there are rudder pedals in the rear position of a Rafale B. You have the option of using decals or paint to represent the instruments, switches and screens, the choice is yours. There are low relief features on the instrument panels and side consoles to aid dry brushing to bring out the detail. If you are using decals it's probably a good idea to sand the low relief detail down.
At first glance looking into the box, I thought the whole fuselage and wing surfaces had been moulded as one. Wow this is a great leap forward, but no. The fuselage and wings are split horizontally, but the two halves are not attached to sprues. Second thoughts were that this seems to be nothing like Hobby Bosses Rafale C that Rowan reviewed, see here
. It's a complety new moulding, although some of the sub assemblies look familiar. This is a massive leap forward compared to the older offerings, where the wings and fuselage were separate. Panel and rivet detail are very nicely done. The zig-zag panel lines that are supposed to reduce the radar signature are also well done. The wing tip missile rails are moulded onto the upper wing. The ailerons are moulded integrally onto the upper wing, while the flaps are moulded into the lower wing. You need to decide early what your model is going to carry in the way of weapons and fuel tanks as holes need to be drilled in the lower wing. There are pre-drilled holes for the aileron actuator pods. On the lower wing surface there are a number of tiny moulded pins to aid the location of pylons.
The fuselage spine aft of the navigators station up to the leading edge of the tail is separate, probably to allow more than one version to be depicted. On the spine just behind the navigators position there are a couple of gaps, where two separately moulded vents are attached.
Main wheel wells are moulded separately and have good level of detail. Not much is going to be seen as it would appear that fifty percent of the gear doors remain closed until the wheel are cycled. The nose wheel bay is contained within a separately moulded lower fuselage, which is directly beneath the cockpits. Again the detail in the bay is good, but as with the main gear the doors are mostly closed so very little will be seen once the front gear is attached. There is a sizable piece of sprue between the gap where the front gear goes, which will need careful removing to avoid damaging the fuselage.
Tail is moulded as one piece and has a positive locating tab that inserts into the fuselage. The forward canards are moulded in one piece and are linked by an integrally moulded piece of plastic, so that if you choose not to glue them in place, you can move the canards together.
Each air inlet comes in two pieces. There are some mould marks on the inside surfaces that may need filling. The splutter plate on the air intake could do with thinning a bit. There is no representation of ducting or the primary compressor turbine. Also there does not appear to be anything to block seeing into the interior. The jet pipe and flame holder are nicely moulded, on a par with resin castings. The complete assembly for the rear part of the engines is made up from five pieces. There is representation of the ribbing in the jet pipe and the flame holder is also moulded within each jet pipe. Jet pipes are moulded in one piece so there are no irritating seam lines. The only detail lacking is the petal mechanism. I do like the representation of the sheet of thermal protection for the rear ECM fairing that sits just between the two jet pipes. Not bad. There is also a separate arrestor hook.
Nose cone is moulded separately and is exceedingly pointed, just like the real thing. There is also a separate non retractable refueling probe. Nose gear is nicely moulded and the whole unit including doors is made up from six pieces. Each of the two small nose wheels are moulded in one piece. Main gear is made up of twelve parts including the doors. The wheels are made from two pieces.
Canopy comes in two parts and is thin and clear. You have the option of displaying the canopy open. The canopy of the Rafale opens to the right and there are two tabs moulded into the canopy to create a strong positive join. There is a transparent blast screen between the two crew positions and a additional piece to fit inside the canopy.
Overall shape looks pretty good to my eyes, Hobby Boss have captured the complex shape of the front part of the aircraft very nicely. There are some minor quibbles in some areas, such as the shape of the ECM unit on the fin is a bit too flat. The wing missile rails don't have the pronounced dip in respect to the airframe that the real thing has. Also the faired over cannon is depicted inaccurately. These quibbles are not deal breakers in my opinion.
A little explanation about the weapons depicted in this kit:
The MBDA MICA [Missile d’interception et de combat aérien, “Interception and Aerial Combat Missile”] is an air to air multi-target, all weather, fire and forget short and medium-range missile system. Depending on the variant, MICA is guided to its target by either an active radar homing seeker (MICA RF, also commonly known as MICA EM) or an imaging infra-red homing seeker (MICA IR). Both seekers are designed to filter out counter-measures such as chaff and decoy flares. A thrust vector control unit fitted to the rocket motor increases the missile's agility. MICA is designed to be capable of "lock-on after launch," meaning the missile can be launched at targets which its seeker can not yet detect.
The Apache was the first cruise missile to enter service in the Armée de l'Air and was first fielded in 2001. powered by a single turbojet, 100 missiles were delivered between 2001 and 2004. The MBDA Apache is a French developed air-launched anti-runway missile. The Apache's effect is obtained by dispersal of 10 cluster sub munitions.
Hobby Boss have provided a interesting choice here. There are four MICA missiles, but the really cool weapons are the two Apaches runway denial cruise missiles. The MICA missiles come in two parts and you have the choice of noses for the active radar homing seeker or an imaging infra-red homing seeker. The missiles can be placed in six different positions. The Apaches are made up from eight parts and are hung under the wing. Also included are two Sidewinder type missiles that go on the missile rails on the wing tips. When I see the Rafales flying over the area where I live they generally carry fuel tanks. There are two types included with this kit. Two 1250 litre tanks for the wings and two 2000 litre tanks. As far as I can tell only one 2000 litre tank is carried under the fuselage.
Markings and Painting.
Two options, and what options they are:
French Air Force, 330-EE, 2006 Nato Tiger Meet.
French Air Force & evaluation unit, 330-EC, 'Eye of the Tiger'.
Both schemes are pretty remarkable, but the second option 'Eye of the Tiger' is very eye catching. The only obvious problem is having such large areas of decals to adhere properly to the surface of the model. Hobby Boss have sensibly decided to produce the decals in parts to make the problem of fit less of a problem. The tiger stripe motif covers the whole of the upper and vertical surfaces of the aircraft 'Eye of the Tiger' and is created using 10 decals in total. Option one only uses six decals in comparison.
The other two smaller decal sheets provide national insignia and stencils.
Nice to see Hobby Boss bracketing the major paint manufacturers in regards to colour calls. They use Mr Hobby, Vallejo, Model Master, Tamiya and Humbrol. FS colour references would have been a good idea, but that's nit picking. Overall colour is sky grey.
I like this model a lot. The Rafale is a beautiful aircraft and I think Hobby Boss have done a great job representing it. Yes there are a few niggles about it, but isn't there with many kits? Highly recommended.