Caracal Decals CD72025 1/72 Brazilian Navy AF-1 (A-4M) Skyhawk Decals
By John Lanning
Matthew Bittner provided an “in-box” review of these decals earlier, but this review is for the actual use of the sheet.
A little bit of history of the Skyhawk in Brazil. These Skyhawks were former Kuwaiti Air Force A-4KU aircraft that survived the 1991 Gulf War. All 23 survivors of the war, 20 A-4KU and 3 TA-4KU airframes, were sold to the Brazilian Navy in 1997 for $70 million. They were the last Skyhawks produced (delivered to Kuwait beginning in 1977) and had low airframe hours at the time of the sale. After arrival in Sept. 1998, the Skyhawks were re-christened as the AF-1 Falcoes, the TA-4KUs became AF-1As, and began temporary operations from the carrier Minas Gerais before the former French carrier Foch was purchased, modified and brought into service as the São Paulo in 2003. The AF-1s operate as the only carrier-borne fixed wing aircraft operated by the Brazilian Navy. They are still in service, and 12 single-seaters are being upgraded as the AF-1B.
Earlier in 2014, the Brazilian Navy celebrated 15 years of Skyhawk operations with one aircraft painted in a special scheme. This scheme is the basis of the Caracal sheet, along with the markings for two standard line birds (only one N-1017 is listed, but serials for a two-seater N-1021 are included). They were designed to be used with the Fujimi A-4KU and easier to find A-4M/OA-4M kits. I suspect that they can also be used for the Italeri and Matchbox A-4M kits, though some trimming and test fitting may be required.
There are some small modifications that will be needed to get the A-4M into AF-1 specs, including removing the vertical stabilizer mounted electronics pods (for the TA-4KU (AF-1A) version, N-1021, the pod stays on), removing the nose blisters and the hump-mounted antenna needs to be replaced. The instructions include detail drawings for the fin strakes and antenna that can be used as templates.
The decals themselves were printed by Cartograf, which has a reputation for high quality decals. The decals are in excellent register, with great color, but while applying them, I noticed that the yellow tail flashes, hawk’s heads and 15 ANOS decals were a little thick, but they responded well to MicroSet/MicroSol, the rest of the decals didn’t need to be treated, and went down well. The FS36118 dark grey on the hawks head blended well with Testors Model Master Gunship Grey, and the FS36320 medium grey blends well with Model Master Dark Ghost Grey enamels, specially when varnished in gloss colors (I used Future for the gloss finish).
On the left hand side of the cockpit, the hawk’s head decal will need to be cut in order to get it over the refueling probe pipe, but two pieces are provided to help blend in the cut. Here was one slight problem with the sizing of the decals. The hawk feathers that are applied to the avionics hump appear to be too small, I corrected that by just painting it in. I didn’t do any weathering on the aircraft because I wanted the “just out of the paint barn” look.
These decals were good to work with, and the Skyhawk looks great. The instructions also include a link to pictures of the three aircraft covered by this sheet.
I would highly recommend these decals, specially to the Skyhawk lovers out there, or those who enjoy building Latin American aviation. The few small problems encountered can be easily remedied by any modeler with standard experience. Thanks to Caracal Decals for the review sheet, and myself for digging out the Fujimi kit.