Everyone likes to build a sharp-looking model. As a relatively new model builder, I’m usually happy just with showing an improvement over my previous effort. I tend to shy away from popular kits chock full of hundreds of details, or a dozen different optional configurations. Instead, I gravitate toward kits that I can reasonably build without the finished product screaming out my amateur status. I also like to try new techniques and stretch my skills a bit… and, oh by the way, the kit needs to be relatively cheap so that if I totally screw it all up, I won’t feel like I flushed a big chunk of my modeling budget. Not a whole lot to ask, right?
This little F-84G Thunderjet dressed in a mid-1950’s USAF Thunderbirds scheme caught my eye recently, on sale from Squadron for less than eight bucks. The early Thunderbird aircraft sported a natural-metal finish and colorful markings, so I knew that this kit would give my unrefined airbrush and decaling skills a workout. And, let’s face it, the price was definitely right. Out came the credit card, and soon the FedEx lady delivered a box to my door. I tore it open in anticipation, and…. no F-84. Staring back at me was a Tamiya 1/48 De Havilland Mosquito Mk. VI instead.
I called up the folks at Squadron, and to their credit, they were quick to fix the error. They shipped my missing kit that same day, and strongly insisted that I hang on to the Mosquito, a $36 kit. I was impressed and grateful. (That’s what painter Bob Ross referred to as a “happy accident”… Ed.)
My Thunderjet finally arrived yesterday. The first thing I noticed upon opening the box is that the kit includes a clear plastic display stand. A nice touch, and not something you see very often. The other dozen or so clear parts are in their own separate little bag, and the rest of the good stuff is spread across a pair of sprues. A set of Cartograf decals and the instruction booklet complete the kit.
The most striking and unique thing about this kit is the color of the plastic: it’s molded in a bright shiny silver, instead of the usual light grey. I’m not sure why Tamiya went this route, unless they were trying to save a beginner (like me!) from having to paint the model. Of course, any filling or sanding will leave you with no choice in the matter. I have to admit, when I saw the kit advertised as having an “aluminum-plated finish,” I went, “Uhh, okay….” I thought it sounded a little hokey. I’ve changed my mind. Every little detail (both good and bad) pops out like crazy on these shiny parts. I’m always frustrated by kits that are molded in dark-colored plastic because every feature of the parts just seems to disappear unless you have very bright, stark lighting. That certainly isn’t a problem here. Not that it will matter once the model is painted, but during construction it’ll make life a little easier.
All told, there are just over 70 parts. There is minimal flash, just a speck here and there. There are only a couple of ejector-pin marks that will be visible on the finished model, on the landing gear struts. The parts are finely molded, with the most impressive detail, at least to my eye, being the series of small scoops and vents on the fuselage sides. Sometimes I’m not happy with how tiny ducts and NACA scoops are represented, but these look great. The trailing edges of the flying surfaces–wings, horizontal stabilizers, and rudder–are all acceptably thin. The intake on the nose is also quite thin, but maintains a nice rounded leading edge. There is lots and lots of rivet detail, almost to the point where it looks a little too busy to me, but that’s a subjective measurement on my part.
Tamiya’s “Thunderbirds” release is the same kit as their other 1/72 F-84G, so it includes a lot of parts that won’t be used: drop tanks, bombs, and the gun bay. The kit retains the molded-in pylons on the lower wing surfaces as well, but this isn’t a problem, since early Thunderbird aircraft were very close to stock combat planes and kept their pylons and empty gun ports. The directions make only passing mention as to which parts are unnecessary, so check before you discard anything.
The cockpit is not real long on detail, but it’s certainly not bad, either. The cockpit tub builds up in eight pieces, and the canopy adds another four. Decals are provided for the seatbelts and instrument panel. For the super detail-oriented out there, Aires offers resin cockpit and wheel well upgrades.
The canopy is quite clear, and can be posed open or closed. There is a lot of framing on this canopy: masking it will probably make you think you’re building a WWII bomber! There is one circular section of framing that looks particularly tricky. I purchased a set of Eduard vinyl masks along with this kit, and now that I see the canopy, I’m glad I did.
On to the decals. This is definitely a decal-intensive kit. All of the scalloped T-bird markings are decals, and you’ll need to make them conform to some complicated compound surfaces, like the wingtip fuel tanks. Markings are provided for 1953 (the Thunderbirds’ inaugural season) and 1954, when the team’s now-familiar logo first appeared on the planes. The directions show markings for two aircraft, but the decal sheet includes six sets of aircraft serial numbers, and twelve pilot nameplates. A little research will be necessary to match them up correctly. The decals are printed quite nicely, and even tiny bits of text are crisp.
I’m really looking forward to building this aircraft. My overall impression is that this is a simple enough kit for a beginner to tackle, while an experienced builder ought to find some nice detail to fuss over. It certainly has the potential to build up into a wonderful model: spend some time on the metal finish, get those decals on straight, and it’ll look great. It’s hard to beat having a nice shiny Thunderbird on your shelf!
Kevin Johnson is a former Marine and recent college graduate living in southern Michigan, where he serves as a flight instructor at Lansing Community College. A relative newcomer to the modeling world, he has been building for about a year. When he’s not flying real airplanes or making a mess learning to build plastic ones, he can be found off in a corner, sipping coffee with his nose in a book.