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Academy 1/48 Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk


By Michael Benolkin




You've no-doubt read a great deal about the development and operational history of the F-117. Built by the Skunkworks of Lockheed, the F-117 was designed to be 'invisible' to the (then) current and anticipated adversary air defense radars. Quite simply, the aircraft was designed to penetrate the enemy's air defenses, knock out key targets that would render portions of those sir defenses useless, and open a corridor for the rest of the strike aircraft to use. The F-117 flaunted its stealth capability over the skies of Iraq during Desert Storm.

Given the facets (numerous flat sections) that form the fuselage and wings, the F-117 is anything but a natural flying machine. As with most of the current generation of combat aircraft, the F-117 is unstable in the air. The flight control computers are all that stand between controlled flight and a flat spin.

You'll recall the crash of the F-22 prototype at Edwards where the aircraft had a software glitch that amplified a pilot-induced oscillation (PIO)? A similar incident occurred in the early days of the F-117 as well. The F-117 entered a PIO on takeoff, rolled over on its back and flew into the ground. The pilot never had a chance to eject. As a testament to the rugged construction of the F-117, however, the pilot survived the crash!

The F-117 program maintained a pretty good lid on its existence for many years, mostly due to flying the aircraft at night and away from populated areas. It was operated out of the Tonopah, Nevada airfield, away from all of the UFO watchers that surround other parts of the Nevada desert. As with any operational program, eventually someone sees it, and sometime later, someone gets a photo. Eventually the Department of Defense began to acknowledge the existence of the F-117, but kept it out of public sight until after Desert Storm.

As one might expect, not many of our allies had heard of the F-117, much less seen one. During Desert Shield, a Saudi commander of a HAWK missile battery that covered part of the Saudi-Iraqi border spotted something unusual. He had stepped out for some fresh air while his contractor performed some tests on his radar equipment. When the Saudi commander saw a black silhouette approaching along the Iraqi border, he ran inside to acquire the target on radar. No target. He ran out to confirm the target. The black silhouette was almost abeam the HAWK battery. Back inside - no target. The poor contractor got an earful about the effectiveness of his radar and service!

The Kit

Academy released their 1/48 F-117A recently, though we had an opportunity to get a first look at in at the Chicago Hobby Show last year. Packaged similarly as the Tamiya F-117, the Academy kit appears to have more in common with the Pro Modeler F-117A kit. For instance, the ruddevators are fixed, as are the ailerons, while the Tamiya kit featured positionable flight control surfaces. The weapons bay is an integral part of the Academy lower fuselage half, whereas it was a separate piece in the Tamiya offering. What is interesting is that there are some notable similarities in the white-molded weapons and weapons bay parts between the Academy and Tamiya kits. This is a real plus, as the weapons bay in the Tamiya kit was the best of show, so the Academy offering will provide a similar level of detail.

Back to the basics. With the exception of the aforementioned weapons bay parts, the kit is molded in black plastic. To their credit, Academy tried to accurately represent the gold tint in the F-117A's canopy, so they molded the transparent parts in a golden-orange. I believe that when the canopy frame is painted black, you'll get a good representation, though the tint is a tad too dark. Unfortunately, the HUD combining glass is also the same orange, but this is easily rectified from spare parts.

The level of detailing throughout the kit is rather nice, right down to the headrest-mounted pitot booms on the ACES II ejection seat. You will need to add a restraint harness (seatbelts) to the ACES seat, however.

On the plus side, the kit includes separate radar reflector modules (parts C31/C32) for the sides of the fuselage. These are used on the real aircraft so that air traffic control can 'see' the stealth during peacetime training and cross-country flights. Unfortunately, there are locating holes on the sides of the fuselage that will need to get plugged should you choose to build your machine in a combat configuration. The kit also includes a rotating beacon (part E8) that will also need to be left off if you're going to model a combat configuration machine.

The decals are nicely printed and include one of the first kit-supplied examples of 'nose art', in this case 'The Toxic Avenger.' The grey color in my example are too green, so I'd suggest using all of the non-grey markings and stenciling and obtain an F-117 sheet from Superscale.


Overall, I am quite impressed with this kit. With the exception of the decals, (easily solved) this kit is very buildable and possesses the level of detail to be a contest winner. If you are looking for the positionable flight controls, buy the Tamiya kit at several times the cost of the Academy kit. However, if you are looking for the best 1/48 F-117 at a reasonable price, this is it.

My sincere thanks to MRC for this review sample!

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