Not to date myself too much here, but if memory
recalls correctly, the very first plastic model airplane I ever owned
was a Hawk P-84, built for me by my father in the summer of 1948 (I
can date this because my sister was a brand-new baby then). As I recall,
it didn't last long, since I was only a toddler; when I ran around "flying" it,
I tripped and learned early that plastic models are fragile - fortunately
it cost the grand sum of 49 cents. I went on to build several of the
Hawk/Testor re-releases and updates of this kit over the years - including
one with scratchbuilt cockpit and modified tip tanks that now sits
in the Planes of Fame Museum - but in the fifty years since then, the
only other 1/48 injection-molded Thunderjet released was the Battle-Axe
kit of a few years ago, which was over-priced and under-quality, to
say the very least. The only other possibility was the Karo-As vacuform.
Fortunately, Tamiya has now come to the rescue for those of us who
like the jets of the immediate post-war and Korean era. This F-84G
sets a new standard for a company known for well-engineered, accurate
1/48 aircraft models.
Two things about this kit are really good: first
is a cockpit tub detailed well enough that Willy Peeters at KMC told
me, "We took a look at it and decided not to make a cast resin
cockpit." The other is the open gunbay in the nose. On the nice-to-have
but not-really-necessary front, the lowered fowler flaps are a nice
touch, but I have yet to find a photograph of a Thunderjet sitting
on the ramp with its flaps down. This is a situation like the recent
Skyraider with its open dive brakes and dropped flaps: a nice touch that
would never be, and modellers will likely use the option in droves.
This to me is part of the argument about how much "reality" is
real in a model, like the Spitfires with KMC flaps lowered despite
the fact that - during the war - any Spit pilot caught leaving the
flaps down after touchdown was subject to a fine of fifty pounds for
endangering the engine (the lowered flaps blocked the cooling exhaust
from the radiators). Mustangs with lowered flaps, Corsairs with lowered
flaps, yes; these others, not really. I know when I make the Thunderbirds
airplane from the upcoming Cutting Edge decal sheet, I will close the
gunbay and raise the flaps.
There have been numerous complaints that the one
thing about the kit that is truly dreadful are the overly-thick decals.
Tamiya did have a contract at one time with Scalemaster to provide
Invisi-clear decals for their P-51 series, and I wish they had kept
with that when they moved on to their recent releases such as the He-219,
Skyray and Skyraider. These kit decals are thick. However, I used Micro-Sol
(the red-lettered bottle) and the decals snuggled down with a minimum
of hassle. These Tamiya decals do have a tendency to stick faster than
the modeler might wish, and my solution to that is to cover the surface
with water, position the decal, blot lightly with tissue, then apply
the Micro-Sol liberally and be prepared to do it several more times
until the process is over.
The ejection seat is acceptable, but is the one really
weak part of an otherwise excellent kit.
Fortunately, the F-84 used the same seat as the F-86
(or at least close enough that the details don't show up in 1/48), and KMC
makes a good cast-resin seat which they sell separate from their F-86 cockpit
set. I strongly advise anyone to get this, since it will make the finished
project outstanding. On this model, I used the kit seat and applied the decal
seatbelts to masking tape covered with white glue; when dry, I cut them free
and set them into the seat so that they stand a bit "proud." It looks
much more realistic than applying the decal belts directly to the seat.
With a kit this good, there is not much
other detail to add, other than the finish. I decided to go all the
way with a multi-hued natural metal finish, using my newly-acquired
skills with SnJ metallizer paint. I used the SnJ aluminum for the basic
finish because it can be masked over with impunity, as opposed to the
Testor's Model Master product. I decided to test Scott Bell's statement
that SnJ can be successfully masked over after only an hour's drying
time and found it to be true, though I use low-tack drafting tape exclusively,
and so cannot say that one could achieve the same result with high-tack
masking tape. I masked-off the upper and lower center sections of the
wings and horizontal stabilizers, added a bit ot Model Master tinting
semi-gloss white to grey-out the aluminum, and shot that.
Once all that was dry, I masked off
the section of the fuselage immediately forward of the leading edge
of the wing while masking over several of the smaller panels inside
this area to keep the original color, and the after fuselage from the
break line, and the panels on the upper wing immediately above the
inner pylons. I then shot these areas with Model Master non-buffing
Aluminum, since from color photographs it seemed to be the right shade;
this required sealer, which gives the flattened look of natural metal
exposed to sunlight. Afterwards I masked the section of the rear fuselage
immediately ahead of the exhaust and shot it with Model Master Magnesium.
The result is a four-color natural metal finish that looks much more "alive" than
a monochromatic silver finish. The process was time-consuming but worth
the effort, and I will likely repeat it on the other Thunderjets that
will make their way into my collection.
In finishing the cockpit canopy, I masked
off the clear canopy and the lower frame, shot the bracing frames with
semi-gloss tinting white; when that was dry I masked the strips, then
shot the interior (black) color on the frame, topping that with SnJ
aluminum. It's an involved process, but the result is realistic.
This is another Tamiya "shake 'n'
bake" kit that will allow a modeller with average skills to add
a model to their collection they will be proud to show off to others,
and that is a good thing. It matches the standard set with Tamiya's
F4U-1 for a nicely-detailed cockpit interior.
I hope Pro-Modeler's upcoming F-84E/G is comparable, but I fear that
even if it is better and more accurate, it will suffer the fate of
Accurate Miniatures' P-51B/C, which had the misfortune to come out
a year after the Tamiya P-51B. Bill Bosworth from A-M argues that having
two kits of the same airplane on the market does not "offer modellers
a choice," but rather kills one of the releases and deters companies
from the US$150-200,000 investment it takes to develop and cut a mold
for a new model, and that is a very valid point. Tamiya could just
as well have put their efforts into a really good Banshee, or a definitive
Panther, or an totally-accurate F-80, to the same commercial result.
I personally hope this F-84 signals a trend, and that we will see more
of the first and second-generation jets from back when the designers
didn't know yet what "worked" and airplanes still had individual
character, unlike the Sukhoi F-16s or the Lockheed Su-27s of today.