recon-phantom-3-vani-bannerRF-4C Phantom II by Italeri

1/72 scale
Kit No. 682
Cost: $20.00
Decals: Two versions – U.S. Air Force RF-4C of 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, Bergstrom AFB, Texas (no date given); Nevada Air National Guard RF-4C of 152nd Tactical Reconnaissance Group, Reno, Nevada
Comments:  Raised and engraved panel lines; Cockpit features detailed seats, control yokes, raised detail on instrument panels, and multi-part canopy; External stores consist of belly and wing tanks only; Optional position landing gear; Option for RF-4C or RF-4E engine exhaust nozzles
Advantages: Simple straightforward construction, excellent fit with exception of engine nozzles
Drawbacks: Engine nozzles have poor fit and require two-part expoxy; Kit decals bear an abundance of carrier film, aftermarket decals strongly recommended

History

recon-phamtom-10In the early 1960’s, the United States Air Force recognized the need for improved tactical reconnaissance aircraft to reinforce the RF-101 Voodoo’s then in service.  This was partly motivated by the fact that the Navy’s RF-8 Crusader had completely outclassed the RF-101 during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, particularly in the low-level reconnaissance role.  Determined to end this unacceptable state of affairs, the Air Force chose a modification of the F-4C fighter as its new reconnaissance platform. The RF-4C development program began in 1962, and the first production aircraft made its initial flight on May 18, 1964.

A total of 505 RF-4Cs were ordered by the Air Force.  The RF-4C can carry a variety of cameras in three different stations in its nose section.  It can take photos at both high and low altitude, day or night. The RF-4C carries no offensive armament, although during the latter years of its service some were fitted with four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles for defense on pylons inboard of its recon-phantom-pp-1wing tanks.  The first unit to fly the RF-4C operationally was the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron.  In October 1965 the 16th TRS deployed to Southeast Asia to provide photographic reconnaissance of the growing conflict in South Vietnam.  Since then, RF-4Cs have been involved in reconnaissance missions all over the world, including Cuba, Iran, and the Desert Shield/Storm operation in Iraq in 1990-1991.  The U.S. Air Force retired all of its RF-4Cs by 1995.

Technical Notes:

Armament: None. Some RF-4’s were later equipped with 4 sidewinder missiles
Engines: Two General Electric J-79-GE-15s of 17,000 lbs. thrust each with afterburner
Maximum speed: 1,384 mph or Mach 1.8
Cruising speed: 575 mph
Range: 1,632 miles without aerial refueling
Service ceiling: 55,200 ft.
Span: 38 ft. 5 in.
Length: 62 ft. 10 in.
Height: 16 ft. 6 in.
Crew: 2

recon-phantom-2The Kit

The RF-4C is molded in dark olive drab and consists of 73 parts, including 6 in clear plastic for the camera ports, which are to be cemented into the RF-4C’s modified, elongated nose section.  The cockpit is fairly detailed, with separate seats, control yokes, recon-phantom-pp-2and raised detail on the main instrument panels, as well as on the side panels.  Curiously, decals for the main instrument panels are also provided.  The seats each feature ejection pull handles, which form a part fitting onto the top of each seat — this is notable because many F-4 kits omit this detail from the ejection seats.  There is also an option for RF-4C engine exhaust nozzles, as well as nozzles for the RF-4E, which are noticeably larger.

A pleasant surprise is the option for extended or retracted recon-phantom-7landing gear, since the Phantom in the view of many is a more attractive aircraft in flight.  A small amount of sanding of the landing gear doors may be necessary to ensure a proper fit if you want to depict the doors in the closed position, but they do not present any real difficulties and are well detailed inside and out.  In addition to the pylons for the drop tanks, there is an option for additional pylons inboard of the underwing tanks (with different pylons for the RF-4C and RF-4E versions), that may be used if you wish to have the payload include Sidewinder missiles, as were carried by some later versions of the recon Phantoms.  But, note that no missles are provided with this kit, these will have to be aftermarket or cannabalized from some other kit.  The instructions are clear at every stage and offer good four-view illustrations of both versions of the RF-4C for which markings are provided.

recon-phantom-4aConstruction

recon-phantom-pp-1aThe fit of this kit is above average and caused no real challenges with the exception of the engine nozzles, which did not fit securely into the rear fuselage and had to be cemented in with two-part epoxy.  The cockpit assembled easily, although modelers should double-check the rear ejection seat to ensure that it fits securely in position in the rear of the cockpit tub, as my example had a tendency to rattle loose.  As always, care must be taken with all clear plastic parts, particularly the six parts for the camera ports, to prevent glue smears when they are cemented into position.

recon-phantom-1The camera bay section of the nose has no internal bulkhead of any kind, and if you leave these windows unpainted or untreated it will be possible to see from one side of the nose, clear out the other side, which is not an accurate rendition of the actual aircraft.  I painted the interior of the camera bay ports flat black, and once the paint dried, cemented small sections cut from sheet plastic over each window on the inside of the nose to ensure that they remained in place.

The cockpit is cemented into a short of tray which forms the underside of the nose section, and that tray is cemented to the fuselage.  This results in a horizontal seam along the nose from the area below the cockpit all the way forward to the nose section containing the camera bays. This seam was hidden with putty and sanding, and was not as much work as it first appeared to be.

Italeri's RF-4C, released in 1989, offered a simple yet accurate kit of the Recon Phantom in 1/72 scale, complementing the Hasegawa and Esci versions.

Italeri’s RF-4C, released in 1989, offered a simple yet accurate kit of the Recon Phantom in 1/72 scale, complementing the Hasegawa and Esci versions.

The intakes are large and well-formed but required a bit of care.  Before cementing them together I airbrushed their interiors gloss white, then laid down a coat of clear gloss over the white sections.  I then cemented the intakes together, and cemented them to the fuselage.  A great deal of work followed with puttying and sanding to hide the vertical seam where the intake meets the fuselage, involving Squadron white putty, Mr. Surfacer 500, and small amounts of Zap-a-Gap.  The fit of the wings was very good, and required no puttying along the wing’s upper surface where it meets the fuselage.  The rear stabilators fit extremely well and securely into the tail section, needing no real adjustments or support while the glue dried, which is unusual in Phantom kits.  It is advisable to wait until the latest possible stage of construction to attach these parts, given the required masking of the tail section to paint the metallic parts and all the handling of the kit that goes with it.  The fit of the multi-part canopy was superb, so much so that I will look for this feature in all future Phantom projects.

This photo highlights the extensive puttying, sanding, painting and re-painting that were needed to get the intake seams into presentable shape.

This photo highlights the extensive puttying, sanding, painting and re-painting that were needed to get the intake seams into presentable shape.

Painting

recon-phantom-5The RF-4C was airbrushed in Model Master enamels, a flat two-tone scheme of Gunship Grey and Neutral Grey as called for in the instructions.  The camera ports were painted Humbrol MetalCote with a small brush, allowed to dry, then masked and airbrushed heavily with successive coats of Smoke, a Tamiya acrylic.  The tail section and engine nozzles were airbrushed in Model Master Titanium, a buffing metallizer color.  Although much of the kit bears raised panel lines, there are engraved lines for the control surfaces on the wings, and for some of the details on the landing gear and elsewhere along the underside of the airframe — all of which were treated to a wash with MIG Productions Dark Wash, highly recommended if you want a quick, effective alternative to mixing your own washes.

Decals

Here the Phantom is in its final painting stages, with the nose masked and the cockpit protected from overspray by Blu Tack.

Here the Phantom is in its final painting stages, with the nose masked and the cockpit protected from overspray by Blu Tack.

The decals required careful trimming, as they all had the jagged edges that have a tendency to resist decal solvent’s effect of making them lay nice and flat along the surface of a model.  But their chief defect was that each one of them had more milky white carrier film than I have ever seen on the back of any decal, which was surprising given that they were Scalemaster markings, which in this modeler’s experience are not known for such problems. This film had be rubbed off with the fingers or on a piece of cloth I keep handy for such emergencies, and easily doubled the time it took to apply the markings.

recon-phantom-9The decals were thin and fortunately strong enough to withstand the necessary “cleaning” prior to application, but modelers would be better off giving them a pass an finding an aftermarket set if at all possible.  Also, as is standard, the finished kit was prepped with Future prior to and following the application of the decals.  But when I airbrushed on a thin coating of Micro Flat to bring down the high gloss somewhat, this had the effect of making the markings appear extra flat and highlighted their outlines so that they no longer looked painted on, but looked like, well, decals.  Luckily much of this fake look was eliminated with another thin coating of Future, but again, the kit decals should be avoided as sub-standard.

Conclusion

This is a great kit of the recon version of the Phantom, fairly well detailed right out of the box, that avoids some of the construction headaches that can be encountered with Phantoms from other manufacturers.  Aside from a narrowly avoided misadventure with the kit decals, this kit is highly recommended.

recon-phantom-8References

  • Blue Moon Over Cuba: Aerial Reconnaissance during the Cuban Missile Crisis – by Captain William B. Ecker USN (ret.) and Kenneth V. Jack Copyright 2012 by Osprey Publishing;  Oxford (United Kingdom)
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force – www.nationalmuseum.af.mil
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