The F-4 Phantom II became the classic multi-roll warplane of the 1960s and served not only the Navy but the Marines, Air Force and over 11 other countries well into the 1990s. Solid, fast, and reliable the Phantom was an excellent weapons platform carrying a variety of air to air and air to ground missiles, bombs, anti-radar weapons, cameras, and (in an era when the gun was supposed to be obsolete) a 20mm Vulcan cannon. It was a huge success in every role it took on.
The Phantom entered service with the U.S. Navy as the F4H-1 at the end of 1960, being re-designated F-4B in 1962 when the Defense Department did away with separate Navy/Air Force aircraft numbering systems.
When the Air Force indicated an interest in the aircraft, it was numbered F-110 (soon changed to F-4C) and entered service in 1962. The Air Force envisioned the Phantom as a multi-roll aircraft from the start and the increase in weight which would be required to allow it to carry bombs resulted in a beefed up undercarriage. This necessitated bulges in the upper wing and gear doors which weren’t present on the Navy version. It didn’t take long before the Navy started requesting performance updates and increased capacity on their Phantoms as well, requiring McDonnell to work the changes introduced on the F-4C/D versions into a new design for the fleet, including not only the stronger gear and wing bulges but upgraded J79-GE-10 engines with increased thrust and larger afterburners and more powerful radar for air-to-air combat. Also needed was better performance around the boat, and slats were added to the horizontal tailplanes. The new version was known as the F-4J and production commenced in mid-1966.
Academy introduced its 1/48 McDonnell F-4B Phantom II in 2012 to high praise, Andy Applebee’s review of that kit can be found
Hints of things to come could be found on the weapons trees as many of them weren’t used by the F-4B, as well as on sprue H, which included slatted and un-slatted tailplanes, and sprue L with different panels for the front and rear cockpits. In 2013, the F-4C was released and it quickly became apparent that more Phantoms were on the way. This time you could tell from the engraved writing inside the bulged upper wing panel which says “C/D/J”. It was no big surprise, then, when the F-4J “Jolly Rogers” kit began to appear on the shelves late last year.
Like their previous releases, the kit is fully engraved with nice cockpit detail, full intake trunks, and good afterburner cans. It also includes a variety of missiles and bombs as well as an AN/ALQ-118(V) pod and a gun pod that you won’t be using here but could save for other projects. On the (somewhat) downside, as with the earlier kit only one decal option is really offered; though with this release there are two possible aircraft from VF-84 in 1972, one with a white radome and the other with a tan one. Also, there are still no instrument decals or seat harnesses. Nevertheless, this is a very nice kit of the always popular Lead Sled, so let’s have a look at it!
The fuselage is the same as the previous B and C kits. It is a one piece upper part with good panel engraving and inserts for the different Air Force/Navy refueling systems. It’s a good looking moulding and I understand that the inserts fit well. It continues to be moulded in light gray.
The first lettered sprue is Sprue C, moulded in white, and includes parts for the lower wing/fuselage, ailerons, and gear doors and interior walls for the main gear bays. Detail is nicely engraved and the walls for the gear bays are well done. There are inserts for the interior of the open speed brake wells but none for the open engine equipment bay cooling doors. There are also holes for the catapult bridle hooks which detail appears later on sprue I; these would obviously be faired over on Air Force versions. This is the same sprue as in the F-4C kit.
Here are the tops of the wings in light gray. These include the bulges for the C, D, and J models as indicated above but not the inner wing slats as on later E versions. While the detail outside is very nice, missing is any detail for the roofs of the main gear wells on the inside of the wing. This is unfortunate, especially considering the effort that went into the walls of those wells. These are the same parts as in the F-4C release.
On this white sprue we find various bits including the intake trunks, forward fuselage underside, centerline drop tank, various landing gear parts and aforementioned ECM and gun pods. Watch out here (as well as on other sprues) as there are several optional parts for other versions of the Phantom and you want to be sure to use the right ones. The instructions call them out, but pay attention. Also seen here is a quite nice if somewhat generic standing pilot figure. This sprue has been the same in all Academy Phantom releases so far.
This light gray sprue includes some more miscellaneous parts including the outer wing panels, exteriors of the main intakes and intake ramps, radomes, several vertical tail tips, basic cockpit tub, cockpit bulkheads and so forth. All very nicely done, including the starboard side panel for the rear cockpit that covers where the refueling probe goes on the Navy birds. The pieces for the probe panels are here as well. As this sprue has also been in all the Academy F-4 kits to date, it also includes a number of parts you won’t use for this version. Again, pay attention (gasp!) to the instructions.
Here we come across the tail feathers, including the base vertical stabilizer and two styles of horizontal stabs; slatted and unslatted. Again, use the slatted for the J. Nice detail again though I’ve heard muttering that the bare metal areas aren’t quite shaped right. They look nice enough for me; you can make up your own mind. This is another sprue in all of the F-4 kits and is moulded in white.
This sprue is a Navy only sprue as includes the pylons. This is the same sprue as on the B model, the C used sprue J which isn’t included in this kit. Also on this sprue are the bridle hooks mentioned above; again, Navy only. Containing only underside parts, this one is white.
This is a black moulded sprue that has been in all of the releases and includes seats, cockpit side consoles and main gear tires. Note that since this is one of the generic sprues, it includes both the thinner B tires and the wider C and J items. Be sure you use the bigger ones (K23 and 25) here. The side consoles have nice raised detail but no throttles.
This one is also black and includes the Navy instrument panels and a couple of side consoles. The panels are nicely detailed and include some dial detail by way of raised moulding. These are different than the panels on sprues M and N (not included here) for the Air Force versions. Nice work Academy!
This is another black sprue and has bits for the back of the bird, including the keel behind the engines as well as the afterburner cans. This one is in all the kits so includes the early shorter burners as well as the later longer ones. Be sure to use the longer ones here.
Here we have the clear sprue with the canopies, windscreen and various lenses and covers. While nicely done, the canopies do have the faint mould line running down the middle that makes so many people angry as they’re difficult to get rid of without ruining the part. These are the first F-4 kits I’ve seen with these and, as I don’t believe Phantom canopies are bulged, I’m not sure why Academy has them. Not the end of the world but be aware.
This white sprue is a busy one as it includes all the Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles for all the versions so far (and more to come). There are five different varieties of AIM-9s and two of these sprues included for a total of 4 each. Just be sure to consult your references for which to use on what version. Academy calls for AIM-9D/G/H infrared guided missiles here which I believe would be correct for Navy birds. There are also 4 Sparrows. Lots of extra ‘winders for the spares box!
Here we find the ground pounder devices as well as wing drop tanks and seated pilots and main wheels. The bombs look like good old Mk.83 low drag 1000 lb. iron bombs and can be mounted on triple and multiple ejector racks. Again, the early and late wheels are both included here so be careful which ones you use (hint: Q29 and 30).
The decals, while limited to two aircraft both from VF-84 Jolly Rogers from U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1972, look very nice on the sheet and are very comprehensive, with lots of stencils for the airframe, weapons and pylons. How the white will look over the black tail remains to be seen. Needless to say, there are a lot of aftermarket options for the F-4J out there, if the skull and crossbones ain’t your thing (they are mine!) Separate canopy rail names are included for 211 (the white nosed bird) but not for 212. You will need to paint the tips of the tail and wings yellow, but that won’t be too hard and will certainly look better than decals.
Instructions are in the typical Academy style and have 15 pretty clear drawn and shaded steps start to finish. While they include color call-outs the colors are only identified by numbers which refer to a chart on the first page. The chart has lists for Humbrol, GSI Creos, Lifecolour, Testors/Modelmaster, Revell and Vallejo paints. You might want to photo copy this to have by your side when building. Also included is a separate sheet with four weapons load-out options and a full color decal/painting sheet.
While Hasegawa has been the big dog in the 1/48 F-4 world until now, Academy has really given them a run for their money. The Hasegawa F-4B and C kits had raised panel lines, so Academy pretty much had them there; but the Hasegawa F-4J had scribed lines on par (if somewhat softer) than Academy’s. Additionally, Hasegawa released a Jolly Rogers box at one point which I have. So which should you choose? I’ve included some comparison shots to possibly help out.
One picture shows the Hasegawa and Academy cockpit parts (minus seats) laid out. You can see that the Academy kit has more parts and I think the detail is more refined and enhanced. Neither is really outstanding in the detail department, but I think Academy has the edge. Neither kit has seat harnesses, something that’s always sort of chapped my hide. How hard would this be guys?
Another shot compares the other end of the bird; the afterburners. Academy clearly scores here with detail inside the nozzles and cans that Hasegawa doesn’t have and better detail on the outside of the nozzles, even if they are still moulded in the full open position.
.As mentioned above, Academy doesn’t have any detail on the main gear well roofs while Hasegawa does have some light raised detail. The walls of Hasegawa’s wells, however, are plain while Academy is much better.
I also show comparisons of the fuselages. The single piece Academy fuselage is well moulded and obviously won’t have a seem along the top. It also doesn’t have the formation “slime” lights moulded on as Hasegawa (incorrectly) does. Dimensions appear to be very close with slightly more delicate renderings of the cockpit dividers on the Academy kit. All Hasegawa Phantoms have blanked off intakes while Academy had full trunking and engine fronts. Overall, as with the other parts, note that the detail is sharper on the Academy kit, no surprise given that the Hasegawa molds are a good 30 years old by now.
Weapons, of course, are no contest. The Jolly Rogers boxing of Hasegawa’s F-4J does have AIM-7s and 9s, as well as tanks, but most releases don’t. Academy have a very good selection. No problem here.
In the decal department Hasegawa scores by having more than one subject, but Academy is a lot more comprehensive and sharper and the white is white rather than the dreaded Hasegawa ivory color.
Which should you choose? Well, Hasegawa’s offering of the basic F-4J (the special release is long gone) retails for about $50-60. Academy’s F-4J is $75. Both can be had cheaper. Is Academy worth the higher cost? I believe so, for the better and more complete detail and cleaner mouldings, but it’s up to the individual what’s more important. The Hasegawa kits aren’t obsolete by any means, but their age is showing.
The Academy F-4J continues their dominance in the 1/48 Phantom market. This is an excellent kit with only a few let-downs (no panel decals, no throttle, no seat harnesses, and no main gear well roof detail). Detail overall is excellent and from what I’ve heard fit is as well. I would definitely recommend this kit. Bring on the E!
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Highs: Excellent, sharp scribed detail (raised where appropriate), full intakes, good afterburners, appropriate changes for F-4J version, good weapons options, good looking and comprehensive decalsLows: No instrument decals, no throttles, no seat harnesses, no main gear roof detail, basically one decal option.Verdict: The #1 choice in 1/48 scale Phantoms, Academy is set to continue releasing the whole family. Can we wait a year for the next one?