There's been talk as to whether or not this 1:72 HobbyBoss F9F-2 is a scaled down version of the 1:48 Trumpeter F9F-2, well I've compared it with the Trumpeter kit and I must say that there are similarities but there are also differences.
The box art is very similar, both companies showing a Panther on finals with undercarriage, full flaps and arrester hooks deployed with canopies open. Both aircraft are portrayed from the port, nose angle and looking up at the aircraft as it's on approach, in possibly an evening setting, certainly not a Koike Shigeo, but still quite dramatic.
Inside the box the breakdown of the kits are quite similar, the Trumpeter kit however has full riveting, the HobbyBoss kit has restrained riveting, the Trumpeter Panther has deployable airbrakes the HobbyBoss has closed fixed airbrakes. The Trumpeter kit has a nose gun bay that can be displayed open, the HobbyBoss kit doesn't and the Trumpeter Panther has folding wings whereas the HobbyBoss kit hasn't.
So there we have it, I leave it to your good selves to make your own minds up about whether the HobbyBoss kit is a scaled down Trumpeter kit or not but at the end of the day does it really matter?
Inside the box there are three grey plastic sprues of 90 pieces, the panel lines are crisp and consistent with restrained riveting, each housed in it's own plastic bag, the clear sprue of 5 pieces, also housed in a plastic bag but and this is really neat, the canopy is further protected in a close covering of a thin foam material. Other kit producers please note. The canopy is very clear and really quite thin, also on the sprue is windows that betray a recon version, making the F9F-2P (now released), a great possibility. You are offered two colour choices, one a USN machine of VF123, "The Blue Racers" and an Argentinean Naval aircraft, both very attractive. One thing to mention is that the sprue attaches the fuselage and wings on the mating edges, this caused me some problems eliminating a gap on the leading edge of one of the wings, probably my lack of skill, so the juries out on this issue.
Before construction starts, a bit of filling has to ensue. On both fuselage halves, just in front of the vertical stabiliser, there is a NACA duct and a blow in-panel, these are applicable to the F9-5 and have to be filled and sanded, no great shakes. The four cannon in the nose look a bit anaemic, so I drilled them out and replaced them with fine brass tubing.
The construction starts in the normal way with the cockpit, which is very well detailed, I added a throttle to the port console and an undercarriage selection lever to the instrument panel, which incidentally has the instruments represented as indentations to which you can either paint or use the decal provided. I punched out all the individual instrument decals and inserted them onto the panel. I also added extra detail to the rear cockpit bulkhead. The ejector seat is a simple affair, as was the original Grumman seat, I just added Tamiya tape for the straps and fine lead wire for the buckles. As a point of interest, the pilots had such faith in these new fangled ejector seats that the majority, when they found themselves in trouble, preferred to stay with the aircraft and ditch it rather than eject to safety.
Before the fuselage can be closed up, the nose wheel well, with undercarriage leg attached, making it somewhat fragile during the build and guess what? I managed to complete the build without snapping it off, right until the end when, as I attached the nose wheel I snapped the undercarriage leg, sods law. The leg has the spring suspension unit moulded on the starboard side, this should be on the port side, I shaved it off and scratch built it on the port side. I also added two towing eyes to the top of the leg and added some extra detail into the nose wheel well. The jet exhaust and arrester hook have to be fitted. A word of caution here with regards the colour callouts for the undercarriage bays, the instructions state that white should be used, this is probably correct for the Argentinean aircraft but not for USN aircraft, this should be interior green as the US didn't start painting the undercarriage bays of their aircraft white until I believe 1954 and only when the aircraft went to a shore base for a major overhaul. Also the undercarriage legs on the Panther were painted either dark sea blue or aluminium, as a result of enquiries I found that VF123, were painted aluminium. Don't forget to add weight to the nose as it's not mentioned in the instructions, there is however, shown in step 4, a mysterious pole (part A11), that is just aft of the main undercarriage, I haven't seen it in any photos of Panthers at rest or for that matter airborne and can only surmise that this is supposed to represent some kind of trestle. I disregarded it.
A retractable foot step is supplied (part B11), it's located just forward and below the port air intake, however it's closed position is marked with a recessed line in the shape of a rectangular box and nothing else. So it was out with the Micro Chisel (marvellous bit of kit) and a trench was chiselled into the location that equated to the bottom of the step, I also had to drill a hole to the right hand side of this newly formed trench to accept the end of the step, job done. After the fuselage was joined, with the minimum amount of filler, we turn to the wings. The wings are composed of three pieces, two upper halves and a complete lower section, so the correct dihedral is guaranteed. The jet intakes are glued onto the lower section at this time. This isn't clearly shown in the instructions, don't commit to glue until you are absolutely sure how the intakes fit. They do however fit very well and the join between the wing and the front of the intake can be filled to leave a seamless join. I blanked off the rear of the intake so no light can be seen at the end of the tunnel, I don't think that this was really necessary.
If you wish to display the aircraft carrying ordnance then now's the time to time to open the holes for the pylons, for reasons best known to HobbyBoss, the holes for the HVARs are square, this doesn't really cause a problem, it's just a nuisance, seeing that the inboard pylon for the 500lb. bombs are normal round holes. You also have to open the hole for the pitot under the starboard wing, again it's square. I wasn't originally going to have the model with any ordnance, as I like to show the clean lines of aircraft whenever I can, however I saw a painting of Panthers taking off on a mission carrying 500lb. bombs and HVARs and they looked just right, so the holes were opened up to accommodate the 500lb. bombs and the HVARs.
The lower wing section is then glued to the lower fuselage, the upper wing sections are then glued to the lower wing section, without a hint of filler being required for the fuselage to wing joint, the fit is that good. However I had a gap on the leading edge of the port wing, which as I explained earlier was probably down to me and for some unexplained reason took an age to fill.
Next I fitted the tailplanes, again no filler was required and no problems were encountered. I next glued the wingtip fuel tanks together and used some Mr. Surfacer 500 to get rid of the seam which ran around the circumference of the tanks. Before the tanks were fitted to the wingtips a little re-profiling of the wingtip is required. Originally the Panther was designed without the wingtip tanks and the wingtips were curved, when it was decided to add the tanks the curve to the rear of the wing where it butts up to the tank is still visible, this is not shown on the model, so out with the sanding sticks and a gentle curve is made to the rear of the wingtip, again no great shakes. The wingtip tanks were then attached to the ends of the wings and the Panther is beginning to look like a Panther.
We are now getting close to adding colour to the model but before that I added a gunsight to the instrument panel coaming. This is very prominent on the real aircraft but HobbyBoss's rendition of the gunsight is just a platform. I obtained a Quickboost set of K-14 gunsights, which I believe the USN designated the Mk. 8 gunsight, painted it up, fitted it with its reflex glass and attached it to the platform that I previously mentioned. I then attached the windscreen to the fuselage. Using Mr. Surfacer 500 I blended the windscreen into the fuselage to give it that seamless appearance as opposed to something that is just stuck on, which in some cases is correct but with this aircraft wouldn't be.
Now onto the colouring in. I masked off the cockpit area with Tamiya tape and using an Eduard mask for the windscreen, sprayed the windscreen matt black for the interior. Then using Alclad grey primer (I just love Alclad products, so easy to use), I sprayed the complete airframe. Next I splayed the leading edges of the wings, tailplanes, vertical fin and front of the wingtip tanks with Alclad Aluminium. These aluminium coloured leading edges were then masked of, including the engine air intakes and I sprayed the airframe with Mr. Hobby H55 Midnight Blue. When the blue had cured I removed the masking tape and all was well. I then masked off the main undercarriage wheel wells and sprayed them US Interior Green, using what was left of some of my AeroMaster paints. A couple of coats of Klear were then applied, I put some washes into the wheel wells but before I applied the decals, I had to attend to the airbrakes that are located aft (note the naval term) of the nose wheel. These airbrakes are of the perforated kind, the interior bay of which is painted red. For this I used Vallejo Red, I used the tip of a cocktail stick and carefully put a tiny drop of red into the holes of the airbrake, any excess I wiped off with Vallejo thinner.
The decals worked really well, they are thin and very opaque, the midnight blue does not show through the white and there was no silvering. Not much to say here really.
I wanted the aircraft to look used, the midnight blue is supposed to be a gloss colour, however the harsh conditions that these aircraft operated in, in Korea, soon removed this gloss appearance. In fact I've seen photos of Panthers coming back for recovery looking more like WWII Japanese aircraft, showing as much bare metal as paint. I didn't want the model to look that bad, so I brushed onto all the panel lines Pro Modeller Sand, after about half an hour I wiped off the excess which left the model looking slightly dirty and used. Then I sprayed the airframe with Alclad Klear Cote Light Sheen, didn't I say that I just love this stuff. This left a finish that was not matt but just had a hint of its previous gloss finish and by varying the amount of Alclad that I sprayed on different panels gave different sheen values, which helped with the overall look of the model.
Now onto the bits and bobs, the undercarriage, weapons and cockpit canopy. The undercarriage struts are moulded with the hydraulic brake lines, very commendable but unfortunately due to the limitations of the moulding process this hasn't quite worked out for HobbyBoss. The hydraulic lines are very prominent on the Panther, with three lines coming from the strut into the brake callipers. These three are flexible hoses and extend to the rear of the callipers, in a bowed fashion, quite some way. This slack is necessary for when the aircraft becomes airborne and the oleos become extended. These lines are moulded onto the strut but are webbed, so the effect is not what we want. You could try and cut the webbing from inside the brake lines (the hydraulic brake lines would still be over scale though) but I decided to cut them off altogether and reinstate them using fine lead wire, which gives a far more pleasing result
I then fitted the tailskid, HobbyBoss give a choice of either lowered or raised. With the Panther when the undercarriage was lowered, this automatically lowered the tailskid, so undercart down, tailskid down.
Next came the weapons, I started off by removing all the flights from the HVARs, they have a scale thickness of about three and a half inches. I replaced them with thin plastic sheet, which looks more acceptable. The 500lb. bombs were replaced by True Detail items as once again the flights on the kits bombs were too thick and I didn't feel that my skill levels would run to building the flights for the bombs. After priming the weapons (that is with paint and not... well you know what I mean), I sprayed the noses a yellow colour to indicate live weapons, then masked off a thin ring around the nose and then sprayed the weapons olive drab. After attaching the weapons to the underside of the wings and allowing the glue to cure, I attached ignition wires to the rear of the HVARs into the wings and arming wires to the top front of the bombs at the point of the fuses and into the bomb pylons. I used fine copper wire for this.
Finally the canopy. I added extra detail to the area behind the seat, there's a hydraulic ram and some associated wiring and then came the canopy itself, which I wanted to display open. I also at this time scratch built a kidney shaped rear view mirror. I faced it with Bare-Metal ultra chrome foil for that mirrored look and fitted it inside the wind screen. The canopy in the kit is composed of two parts, the clear canopy itself and a base to the canopy, which moves with the canopy as it is opened or closed. The base of the canopy has a lug on its underside which fits into a hole in the area just behind the pilot's seat, in effect the canopy on the model should be displayed closed, even though there is a separate windscreen and canopy. Because I had decided to model the aircraft with the canopy open I had already filled the hole while I detailed the area behind the seat. I then cut off the lug at the bottom of the canopy base. The canopy and its interior had already been masked and painted and it was just a matter of attaching it to the airframe when I found a photo of the actual aircraft I was modelling. Joy of joys, aren't we always banging on about good reference material, well in this instance, no. The Panthers canopy can come in four varieties, plain as depicted by HobbyBoss (incorrectly as it turned out), or with a white beading between the canopy frame and glass, or with a silver grey bracing frame on the inside of the canopy about two thirds back from the front or finally a combination of the lot. I'm sure you know which variety of canopy the photo showed, yes the one with them all. I felt that I wasn't up to painting a fine white line around the frame, so I cheated (no cheats only winners, right?) and used fine white decal stripes obtainable from Fantasy Printshop, a great product with hardly any carrier film, job done. The bracing bar was a little more involved in that it was internal and I had to make sure that it was placed correctly with respect to position and making sure that it was square. I achieved this by using a piece of Dymo tape which had been cut into a thin strip and placed in position on the outside of the canopy in the correct position. Then using this as a guide and cheating again by using Fantasy Printshop stripe set silver, I used the relevant thickness decal stripe and carefully fitted it inside the canopy, lining the decal up against the Dymo tape on the outside. The canopy was then plunged into a bath of Klear (both the windscreen and canopy had already received the Klear treatment), the excess taken off with a paper towel, allowed to dry and then the canopy was fixed in the open position on the airframe. Model finished.
So all in all what do I think of this kit? A really nice kit, a very good model can be produced out of the box by a beginner and an excellent model can be produced if you want to go the extra mile. If HobbyBoss aren't quite knocking on the front door of Mr. and Mrs. Tamigawa at the moment, they most certainly are marching up the front garden path.