The Douglas AD Skyraider was an impressive airplane, one that saw service far beyond expectations, but in an increasingly jet age, it needed a replacement. Douglas turned to Ed Heinemann to design the aircraft. The result was the A4D Skyhawk, a diminutive aircraft that actually came in at half the weight stipulated in the Navy contract. This was achieved by simplifying the airframe as much as possible, such as eliminating folding wings and careful positioning of the landing gear. The simplicity made the A-4 a very popular subject for export, as it could operate from smaller carriers and air fields.
The A-4 proved itself in combat several times, both in the US Navy and abroad. The Skyhawk arrived in the Navy just as the conflict in Southeast Asia was heating up, and the A-4 performed well in the skies over Vietnam. Heading west a bit, the Skyhawk was quite popular in Israel, taking part in several conflicts with that nation over the years. A-4s also saw combat in the southern hemisphere, when Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982, and Kuwaiti Skyhawks flew combat missions when Iraq invaded their country in 1991. The Skyhawk continues to be flown today, with several ex-Kuwaiti A-4s operating from Brazil's aircraft carrier.
Trumpeter's new 1/32 A-4 Skyhawk kit is not the first time this plane has been done in this scale. Hasegawa did one many years ago, and it is still available, but Trumpeter's new kit is bound to provide better detailing and, hopefully, easier assembly. The kit comes molded in the typical light gray plastic, with recessed panel lines throughout. For those following the history of Trumpeter panel line scribing, these are much finer than earlier releases, with minimal rivet work. There are several interesting options in the kit, and the decal sheet provides markings for three aircraft.
With any 1/32 kit, my attention (and often times, the instruction's focus) turns immediately to the cockpit. This kit has a main tub, separate rear bulkhead, and separate instrument panel. The seat is made up from six plastic pieces, with separate photoetch belts and lower pull handle. Overall, the detail is adequate, but far below what one would expect in a 1/32 kit. The detailing, in fact, is more in tune with what I'd expect in a good 1/72 model. Granted, it is better than what's in the Hasegawa kit, but for an open cockpit, this will need to be replaced.
Still working on the fuselage interior, this kit comes with a rather impressive engine setup. This includes the front intake going into the engine face, a main engine body made up from six pieces, and a two-piece exhaust pipe. This makes for a pretty good start for someone wanting to display their Skyhawk with the engine exposed. Other fuselage details include open hatches on both sides of the nose. While a nice addition, personally I would have preferred to see this extra effort put forth in providing a highly detailed cockpit.
Fuselage breakdown, due to potential future releases and the included engine, has separate front and rear halves. The rear fuselage incorporates the vertical fin, while the forward fuselage has separate three-part intakes that mesh up with the internal intake body. The kit comes with the avionics hump as a separate piece, and plenty of separate add-on details such as scoops, vents, and antenna blades. The canopy is nicely done and very clear, with photoetch mirrors included.
Moving on to the flying surfaces, Trumpeter has a mixed bag here. First, the good: this kit is the first one I have seen that actually allows you to position the all-moving stabilizer. The Skyhawk had both elevators and an all-moving tail. The large fairing between the stabilizer and the vertical fin actually moved with the stabilizer, and this kit has that separate, allowing the modeler to position the stabilizer assembly as they wish. Separate elevators provide even greater flexibility. Not necessarily a flying surface, the air brakes are very nicely done, with plastic main pieces getting photoetch interior faces. This allows for the multi-level detail that is apparent on the A-4 airbrakes to be accurately captured.
While on the tail end, though, we come to the bad: the rudder is nicely done and separate, but only part of it is separate. The rudder actually goes all the way to the top of the fin, but the kit has a rudder that ends at the top rib. The rest of the rudder is molded in with the vertical fin, and there appears to be a bit of a gap at that point. To make this correct, the modeler will need to cut that top portion off of the fin and glue it onto the rudder pieces, adding a bit of plastic card at the top to fair it in properly.
Moving on to the wings, these are pretty good across the board. The wheel wells are separate and include the gun bays. There is a one-piece lower wing and separate upper halves, with separate slats, flaps, and ailerons. The flaps come in two modes, down and up, with separate hinge pieces provided so there is no fiddling around to go one way or the other. The landing gear is another mixed bag, with nicely detailed main gear provided in both metal and plastic, with separate vinyl tires for the main wheels. The nose gear strut is done as one piece, including the nose wheel, which is overly simplistic on a kit this size. I would have much rather seen a separate nose wheel, as the solid fork running into the tire & wheel stands out too much in this scale.
For underwing stores, this kit comes with quite a bit. For those familiar with other 1960s-era Trumpeter kits, these weapons will undoubtedly look familiar. The kit comes with the M117 bombs with odd-shaped fins, good looking Mk 82 Snakeyes, anemic looking Mk 82 slicks, decent AGM-65 Mavericks, AGM-45 Shrikes, and AGM-12 Bullpups. The kit also comes with the too-thin multiple ejector racks (MERs) and triple ejector racks (TERs). Loaded up with bombs, the proportions won't be as apparent as if you built it with naked racks, so if you use these kit racks, fill 'em with Mk 82 Snakeyes. Finally, there's the ubiquitous A-4 drop tanks, and these are well done. Personally, I would have liked to have seen some rocket pods included, but I am sure we will see plenty of aftermarket weapons sets showing up for these kits.
For markings, the kit comes with three US Navy options: two in the standard gull gray & white and the third in a three-color wraparound camouflage. The first option is an A-4E from VA -72 off the USS Independence in 1964. This plane has a blue rudder and AG tail codes. The second option is an A-4E from VA-212 off the USS Hancock, again in 1964. This plane has the VA-212 unit emblem large on the intake. Finally, the three-color camouflaged Skyhawk is from VF-43 and is the well known 151118, tail code AD.
While the decals are nicely printed and have good registration, all three schemes have some rather unfortunate problems. First up, the two gull gray and white schemes both have the large star and bar national insignia, and in this kit the blue of that star and bar is way too light. The rest of the markings are workable, although the yellow might be a bit too pale, leaning more towards a light lemon yellow rather than an insignia yellow. For the low-viz scheme, again the problem is with the national insignia. These have the wrong proportions, with the center bar being far too skinny, as well as the outline. With some careful masking, though, this can be an easy fix, as it is black.
Overall, this kit is a bit of a mixed bag. It has some excellent surface detailing, some of the best I've seen in a Trumpeter kit. The attention to detail in areas like the speed brakes and the stabilizer is admirable, but then that is let down by the overly sparse cockpit detailing and simplistic nose gear molding. Even so, while more expensive than the Hasegawa kit, I still think this would be the better option for those looking for a 1/32 Skyhawk. My thanks to Stevens International for the review sample.