Kit No. 1610
Decals: Two versions, both Peoples’ Liberation Army Air Force (China)
Comments: Engraved panel lines and flush rivets; highly detailed multi-role fighter
The F-8II (NATO codename: Finback-B) is a single-set, twin-engine, supersonic fighter developed by Shenyang-based 601 Aircraft Design Institute and Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC). Developed from the J-8 (Finback-A) fighter, an interceptor designed to counter high-altitude Soviet bombers, the F-8II’s redesigned forward fuselage and upgraded avionics make it an all-weather multi-role fighter with both air-to-air combat and surface attack capabilities.
Shenyang designed the F-8II to have good aerodynamic performance at transonic speeds and in medium-low altitudes. The Peoples’ Liberation Army also required ‘beyond-visual-range’ (BVR) air combat capability using the radar-homing medium-range air-to-air missile (MRAAM), as well as ground attack capability. Shenyang’s improved version of the J-8 has extensive structural and system modifications, with the original nose air inlet moved to the sides of the fuselage to provide space for a larger radar. The original two WP-7 turbojet engines were replaced by the new WP-13AII, and a new fire-control radars give it extended range. It can carry semi-active radar -homing MRAAM and air-to-ground rockets, but developing the beyond visual range technology to complement the MRAAM has been problematic. There is an autopilot to enhance its all-weather interception and ground attack abilities.
The first F-8II prototype was completed in March 1984, and was test flown for the first time on 12 June. Although the design was reportedly finalized at the conclusion of the test flight program in October 1988, the F-8II’s entry into front-line service was delayed due to persistent problems with the aircraft’s avionics, and slow progress in developing the semi-active radar-homing MRAAM to provide the desired beyond visual range offensive capability. To date, the basic variant F-8II can only carry the infrared-homing short-range AAM for visual range combat.
In 1986 the Reagan administration agreed to help the PLAAF modernise its J-8II fighter under the ‘Peace Pearl’ cooperation program, intended to jointly counter the threat of the Soviet Union. Under the agreement, Grumman Aircraft was to help Shenyang upgrade 55 J-8II fighters with a $502 million modernization package including the Westinghouse AN/APG-66(V) radar, 1553B MIL-STD data bus, fire-control computer, head-up display (HUD), cockpit multifunctional displays (MFD), navigation system, and ejection seat. This advanced avionics package may have resolved the deficiencies in the J-8II’s beyond visual range capability, but this program and several others were cancelled in 1989 due to the arms embargo imposed on China by the U.S. in the aftermath of the June 1989 Tiananmen Square incident.
To date, the Chinese government will only acknowledge that a small number of F-8II’s are in service with the PLAAF and the Chinese Navy. This may well be the case, given the type’s extensive growing pains at various stages of its development. However, if its beyond visual range capability is ever perfected, it will be an even more formidable air-to-air interceptor.
Trumpeter’s F-8II Finback-B is molded in grey and consists of 122 parts on five sprues. It has engraved panel lines and flush rivet detail. The instructions are large and well laid out, offering excellent guidance on placement of certain parts, their only deficiency being that they contain no history on the plane whatsoever. There are four air-to-air PL-8AAM missiles as armament, and the landing gear are well-detailed. There is a nice color print showing decal placement for two PLAAF aircraft, but if it contains any unit information, it is written in Chinese (probably Cantonese).
The decals include films for the instrument panels in the cockpit, including those on the side walls — a unique feature in my experience. There is molded detail on the upper most portion of the main instrument panel — which the main panel decal will cover, although it may need the help of decal solvent. The decals appear to be thin, with true color and in register — with the exception of the instrument panel decals which look as though they bleed a bit.
This is a richly detailed kit of China’s partially successful effort at a truly multi-role interceptor and strike aircraft. Overall one comes away with the impression of a meticulously detailed kit. Highly recommended.