by: Tim Hatton [ ]
Latest release from Afterburner Decals is “the Slugger”, or to use their Naval designation VF-103. Afterburner Decals have chose the period between 1986 to 1995, during which “the Sluggers” flew the F-14A, F-14 and the F-14B. During this period VF-103 flew a combat cruise during Desert Storm, while attached to AW-17 on the USS Saratoga. There are 12 options and there are enough stencils for 2 aircraft. Decals are printed by Cartograf and they are sized for the Hasegawa kit.
VF-103, the "Sluggers", were activated in 1952 as an F4U Corsair squadron. After a few years flying the F9F Cougar, VF-103 was one of the first squadrons to transition to the F-8 Crusader. Before moving onto F-14's “the Sluggers” flew F-4 Phantom II for almost two decades.
VF-103, along with VF-74, took the Tomcat to sea in August 1990. When Kuwait was invaded by Iraq the same month, the Saratoga was in the Mediterranean and soon joined the Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Red Sea. When the war started in January 1991, VF-103 conducted fighter escort for the air wing’s strike packages, reconnaissance and bomb damage assessment and combat air patrols. On the fourth day of the war, while on an escort mission, a VF-103 F-14A was shot down by what is believed to be an SA-2 'Guideline' SAM. After ejecting from his aircraft, the RIO, Lieutenant Larry Slade, was captured by Iraqi troops and held in Baghdad as a POW until the end of the war. The pilot, Lieutenant Devon Jones, was able to evade capture and, after eight hours deep in enemy territory, was rescued by USAF Special Forces. One of the subjects of this decal sheet is the F-14A that was shot down
On October 1, 1995, VF-84 was disbanded bringing an end to the “Jolly Rogers”. Not wanting the “Jolly Rogers” insignia to fade away, VF-103 requested to do away with their "Slugger" moniker and adopt the “Jolly Rogers” name and insignia. Also in 1995, VF-103 conducted the fleet feasibility testing of the Air Force's LANTIRN targeting pod in a rapid prototyping initiative that led to adoption of the LANTIRN for the Tomcat community. When they deployed with Enterprise in the summer of 1996, VF-103 became the first Tomcat squadron to introduce the LANTIRN targeting pod to operational service. The LANTIRN radically improved the F-14's strike capabilities by providing an autonomous precision strike capability.
The original VF-103 squadron insignia was the cloverleaf, and the aircraft tail fins had a horizontal yellow arrow outlined in black. Later a stylised aircraft darting through the leaf was added, along with a baseball bat. The baseball stemmed from an early skipper who often carried one with him. In 1991, VF-103's aircraft used the squadron insignia for tail-art, in place of the bold arrow.
Included with this release in a resealable plastic bag are:
2 x decal sheet, one is A4 in size containing the majority of the markings. The smaller sheet has crew names, modex numbers and stencils.
7 x A4 coloured profiles and plan views. There are four A4 profiles of the port side of the aircraft. There are three A4 upper and lower plan views of the F-14A, F-14 and the F-14B.
2 x A4 black and white stencil guide. One sheet has stencil placement guide for the LANTIRN pod and pylon fitted to the “FLIR Cat”.
Options included with this release are:
F-14A 162706, VF-103 CO, 1988.
F-14A 160896, VF-103, 1986.
F-14A 161156, VF-103, 1988.
F-14A 162921, CVW-17 CAG, Desert Storm.
F-14A 163219, VF-103 CO, Desert Storm.
F-14A TARPS 161430, VF-103, Desert Storm.
F-14B 162921, CVW-17 CAG, 1992.
F-14B 163219, VF-103 CO, 1993.
F-14B 161601, VF-103, 1993.
F-14B 162921, CVW-17 CAG, 1995.
F-14B 161873, VF-103 XO, 1995.
F-14B 161608, VF-103, FLIR Cat, 1995
There are three types of tail markings: the traditional clover leaf with the arrow flying through it backed by a baseball bat. The horizontal arrow and the arrow pointing downwards. The FLIR Cat has a great bit of nose art, featuring a cat holding a lantern while sitting astride a Laser guided bomb a la Major Kong from the film “Doctor Strangelove” It's great to see some nose art on a modern jet
There is even a decal to save you the job of painting the stripes on the tail hook.
One problem I had, not with the decals, but with the coloured paint scheme for the upper and lower plan views of the F-14B, was the colour design of the sheet. The background to the sheet has tonal variations which make the identification of the paint shades difficult. The sheets are very attractive, but a plain light background would be more helpful. On the subject of paint schemes Afterburner have in their selection of aircraft picked out some interesting variations in the look of the F-14. There are Tomcats with just gull gray overall, Tomcats with two tone greys and Tomcats with three tone greys. I particularly liked the inclusion of the F-14A  with the radome tan coloured nose. 162706 is the most colourful aircraft in this release, with it's radome as already mentioned, yellow arrow on the tail, red warning marks on the air intakes and full coloured national insignia. Watch out for subtle differences between each aircraft. For example F-14A  has the AN/ALR-45 antennae on the tail that was not generally standard kit on the F-14A. It also emphasises the care and attention to detail that make Afterburner Decals one of the best in the business.
Quality of the print by Cartograf is stunning. Decals are glossy with a minimum amount of carrier film. All the written stencils are sharp and legible. Even some of the smallest stencils are reproduced faithfully, the silver or metallic coloured “gas vent purge” stencil found on the port side fuselage below the pilots position. is one example. The individual stencil guide is very useful inclusion in simplifying the positioning of the stencils. There are enough stencils for two aircraft, but there is nothing to stop the modeler from using the kits stencils to be able to utilise even more of the above markings.
This is the 14th decal sheet I have reviewed from Afterburner Decals and I am still very excited about their releases. The projects they find always seem to hit the mark. They can inspire you to dig out a suitable kit from the stash to decorate with their decals, or they will have you starting a search of the shops on the Internet for the particular kit that will go with the decals. Either way you will be planning your next build using this outstanding product. Everyone should have a Tomcat on their flight line. Definitely recommended. Nice one Afterburner.