The prototype Douglas A-4 Skyhawk made its first flight in June 1954; this aircraft's 50th anniversary is not far away. Although phased out of U. S. service a few years ago (TA-4Js were the last variant operated by the U.S. Navy), the Skyhawk continues to operate on active duty with several national air arms, including Brazil, Singapore, and Israel.
Designer Ed Heinemann's simple, small, and lightweight Skyhawk was the antithesis of the ever more complex and heavier naval carrier-based aircraft of the 1950s and 60s. The versatile Skyhawk succeeded in many roles: attack, tanking, training, observation, and adversary. With the Blue Angels, it was also a superb air show performer. Highly regarded by pilots and ground crew alike, the Skyhawk was affectionately referred to as the Scooter or Tinkertoy. This aircraft is certainly one of the classics of naval aviation.
Hasegawa's 1/48th A-4E/F Skyhawk was released in late 2000, so I can call it a 21st century kit. And it was worth the wait. The usual excellent engraved panel lines and fasteners, careful attention to accuracy and detail, and optional position parts (airbrakes, flaps, canopy) are present. Even the air intake inner trunking with an engine face is provided. This kit is engineered to allow early or late model A-4Es to be constructed with the various antenna configurations and with the dorsal avionics hump either present or not. An A-4F can also be built, although not the late model "SuperFox" version of the F unless you use aftermarket parts. A pair of drop tanks and three pylons are also provided.
A nice touch is the boarding ladder, which can be attached to the left forward fuselage. Another option is the forward wing root insert panels--with or without guns. A choice of straight or cranked refueling probes is also provided. The decals are for two squadrons in the traditional gull gray and white color scheme--VA-22 and VA-192--and are very useable except that the red is simply too dark.
A surprising bugaboo in my kit was the presence of a noticeable air bubble deep inside the clear landing light and another one in the clear left wing tip light. I hope that this is fluke that is not repeated in other kits of the production run.
Because the kit is designed to produce multiple versions with various separate optional parts, it is not a fast or easy project to build. But the patient modeler will be well rewarded.
The fit of the parts was generally good, although I had trouble getting a smooth fit with the forward wing root inserts, parts D6 and D7. (I used these parts since I wanted to build an unarmed adversary Skyhawk). Probably the worst fit was with the chaff/flare dispenser panel located in the bottom of the rear fuselage--this required considerablefilling and sanding to make it blend into the fuselage properly. (There is actually a choice of three of these panels provided in the kit, so check your references carefully for the particular Skyhawk that you are building). When installed, the small dorsal bleed air vent panel (Part A 11) required some careful filling and sanding, as did the rear of the nose wheel well.
Two more items worth pointing out are the poor fit of the rear and main segments of the drop tanks (which I did not use on my model) and the slight step formed by the jet exhaust nozzle, as it is smaller in diameter than the rear fuselage.
I chose to replace the kit air intakes with seamless resin intakes from Cutting Edge. These look great and are very helpful, although I found that they were not an exact fit and required a little filling and sanding to blend them into the fuselage. I also replaced the kit's ejection seat with the excellent resin ESCAPAC seat from Cutting Edge. Speaking of the cockpit, I was pleased that the kit comes with sidewall detail - Hasegawa convincingly reproduced even the quilted texture effect.
I made the piston for the canopy jack because it was not present in the kit. A real canopy cannot defy gravity when it is raised--an actuator piston both raises and holds the canopy up. (I wish that the model companies would realize this!) I also made a face curtain pull ring from wire and added brake lines, a tail-mounted pitot tube made from a steel needle, and a tiny replacement rear TACAN antenna made from sheet styrene.
I "armed" my Skyhawk with an AN/APX-95 data relay pod from the Hasegawa Weapons Set D. This is the pod that records and transmits to ground stations data on the aircraft's movements and simulated weapons fire. It is frequently seen on aircraft operating in the training ranges. For the Skyhawk, this pod has a complicated 3-part mount. The centerline pylon for the fuselage and the sidewinder pylon that touches the pod are provided in the kit. I had to scratch-build the small middle pylon (with lugs) that fits in between the other two pylons.
My A-4E Skyhawk, Red 32, wears one of the many colorful paint schemes of adversary squadron VF-126 during the 1980s. I used Testors Model Master enamels for the colors, which are Sand FS 33531, Brown FS 30219, and Gray FS 36495. I lightened the brown slightly with a bit of white and used the other two colors straight from the bottle. The tiger stripes were masked with combinations of frisket film and masking tape.
There is some controversy over the exact colors and color patterns for this aircraft. I used a 1988 color photo published in the Hook magazine, Winter 1992, as a reference. The information in the Two Bobs decal sheet 48-018 and from researcher/modeler David Aungst was also most helpful.
There are several errors on the Two Bobs decal sheet 48-018 that I used for this model. The squadron designation should read VF-126, not VA-126. Also, some of the decals are too large. I was able to trim the oversized rescue arrow and warning rectangle, but others could not be reduced in size.
I highlighted all panel lines with colored pencils. Since I wanted a clean aircraft, I did not weather the model except to apply a few chalk smudges on the underside. I added a light oil and Turpenoid wash to the wheel wells/doors and some areas of the landing gear. . I carefully trimmed the clear film away from the decals and applied them to the bare paint with Solvaset and blotting. This is my usual method, as I do not like using clear gloss coats. (I do use spot applications of clear gloss--Polly Scale or Testors Acyrl--to hide the clear film of small decals like stencils that cannot be trimmed). A Polly Scale clear flat coat was then applied to blend the decals and pencil lines into the painted finish. In this case, I also applied a light coat of Gunze clear flat to the model to give it a slight sheen.
Aside from the tedious masking job, I enjoyed this project and now I have an adversary aircraft to threaten my other jets on the model shelf. I hope to see a TA-4J from Hasegawa as they expand their family of 1/48th Skyhawk kits.
For general references on the Skyhawk, I found that my color slide collection was useful, along with Detail & Scale Vol. 32, the A-4 Skyhawk, and Squadron's A-4 Skyhawk In Action.