by: Tim Hatton [ ]
Originally published on:
BackgroundGeneral Dynamics keen to use research from a proposed supersonic airliner decided to apply the results into a fighter programme named SCAMP [Supersonic Cruise and Manoeuvring Program]. The objective of the programme which resulted in the F-16XL was to explore innovative wing planform and cambers to provide more efficient supersonic cruise performance and manoeuvrability. The program initially was to be funded by the manufacturer until USAF agreed to cooperate on the programme. The Air Force provided two FSD [Full Scale Development] airframes for modification into a single seat and a twin seat F-16XL. The fuselage length was increased by 42 cm, but the most striking change was the wing shape. Described as a cranked-arrow delta, the wing was 120% larger than the original FSD wing. Extensive use of carbon composite material led to some impressive weight savings and increased performance. Internal fuel capacity was increased by 82% and the increased wing area meant that 27 store stations could be fitted. The handling of the F-16XL was reportedly quite different from that of the standard F-16, offering a much smoother ride at high speeds and low altitudes.
In March 1981, the USAF announced the Enhanced Tactical Fighter program to procure a replacement for the F-111 Aardvark. The concept envisioned an aircraft capable of launching deep interdiction missions without requiring additional fighter escort or jamming support. General Dynamics submitted the F-16XL, while McDonnell Douglas submitted the F-15E. The F-15E was basically an F-15D two-seat trainer with the back-seat station modified for its ground-attack role. It soon became apparent that the F-15E was becoming the firm favourite. The F-16XL had major structural and aerodynamic differences from the original F-16. As such, the XL would have required much more time and effort plus the expense of developing a new design. Even though the range of the F-16XL was impressive, the use of conformal tanks on the F-15E extended its range significantly.
Additionally, the Strike Eagle offered engine redundancy, useful for any aircraft whose mission involves operating deep within enemy territory. The F-15E had the advantage of “super cruise” or the ability to fly at supersonic speeds without employing reheat. Not having a huge infra-red signal was another distinct advantage when operating in hostile skies. Unfortunately the XL could not super cruise at the time. There was huge political clout behind the F-15E programme and a keenness to keep the production line at St Louis open. So with the advantages offered with the F-15E there was little surprise that in February 1984, the USAF awarded the ETF contract to McDonnell Douglas. The two F-16XLs were returned to the Air Force and placed in storage at Edwards Air Force Base.
In 1989 NASA employed the XL’s for Advanced Supersonic Airflow Testing. The left wing of one was modified to test and demonstrate the effects of laminar flow. Millions of tiny holes were laser cut into the new titanium section on the wing surface. The two seat XL actually achieved super cruise after being fitted with a General Electric F110-129 engine. The aircraft were also involved in testing sonic boom characteristics, take-off performance, and engine noise, for NASA's civil transport program. They are now both retired and in storage.
The Kit.It’s worth pointing out that Skunkmodels is actually a sister company of Kinetic Models from Hong Kong. So it will come as no surprise that you may recognise some of the sprues in the box if you already have a Kinetic Models F-16.
The box is literally bursting with the content; some of the parts had almost pushed through the box lid. All the sprues are bagged individually or in groups of twos and threes and the clear parts are individually bagged. On inspection I do seem to have acquired two extra sprues that may account for bursting box. Thankfully Skunkmodels has not tried to adapt any existing Kinetic F-16 airframe for this kit. The upper and lower halves of the fuselage and wings are new mouldings and look most impressive. For a second or two they suggest that this might be a quick build, but the other 280 parts suggest otherwise. Never the less the execution of the fuselage and wings is impressive with minimal sprue attachment points. The quality of the plastic surface seems much improved compared to earlier releases that I have seen. There is a little flash here and there that will need cleaning up.
The cockpit is made up from seven grey plastic parts and one clear part. The cockpit tub and the separate instrument panel have moulded detail, but it is rather soft in nature. The six part Aces II seat is a fair representation of the real thing. You will need to fabricate or buy a seat harness as none is included.
For some reason there was an extra clear plastic sprue included with my sample. Unfortunately both canopies have severe cracks and stress marks in the clear plastic. I suspect the canopies have been crushed because of the number of sprues in the box. As a result they are unusable. Fortunately I have a spare set from a Kinetic F-16N kit. Skunkmodels have promised to send me a new clear sprue in the post. The canopy is made up from two parts and can be modelled open as well as closed. The bubble nature of the canopy is captured quite well, but there is a significant raised mould line on top running the length of the main canopy that will need to be removed. You do need to carefully glue an additional canopy frame made from grey plastic to the inside of the main canopy. The HUD is a single clear plastic part that’s misidentified in the construction guide as ‘Z13’ when it is actually ‘E5’ on the sprue. Even more confusing is that it is on sprue ‘XE’ according to the parts map in the instructions.
The fuselage and wing really is the ace in the hole of this kit. The radome, air intake, vertical tail and wing control surfaces are separate. The upper and lower halves feature some fine recessed detail. The panel lines are maybe a shade too wide, but it should look fine under a few coats of paint. The speed brakes are attached, but can be removed if you want to display them open and show of the basic internal detail. The separate control surfaces are each one piece; the trailing edges have static wicks moulded in, but they look way too thick. Thankfully the static wicks are not attached to the sprues as was the case with some of the earlier F-16 releases from Kinetic. The control surfaces have a number of tabs attached to them for a positive fix into the edges of the wing. Ingeniously there are alternate tabs set at two different angles so you can display the control surfaces in two positions. You simply trim of the tabs you don’t need. The only disappointing thing is the number of holes pre-formed on the under surfaces for the pylons. If you want to display a clean aircraft, which the NASA aircraft generally was, then you are faced with around thirty small holes to fill. The minimal amount of panel lines on the wing means there is little chance of eradicating any recessed detail. The join of the forward part of the wing is on the under surface just aft of the leading edge. I suspect the join will need some attention to make it look similar to the other panel lines. The gun cover is a separate part attached to the upper left wing.
The vertical tail is a made up from eight main parts and a few smaller bulges and an intake. Previous Kinetic releases of the early F-16’s have featured incorrect overly wide dorsal, so Skunkmodels have bit the bullet and produced much better defined dorsal. There are two options for the rear of the parachute pack/sensor housing, but I suspect part C38 is the correct one. As with the wing control surfaces, the one piece rudder has oversized static wicks moulded onto it. The radome is in two parts and the shape looks pretty good.
The air duct is made up from six parts including the primary compression blades. The main undercarriage bay has some decent detail and is moulded on one piece of the duct. The components for the duct look similar to the parts from previous Kinetic F-16 kits. If that is the case then from past experience the duct will go together very well. In fact a previous Kinetic F-16 I had, large ejector towers that had to be removed from the inner surfaces. There is a little distortion with this release on the inner surfaces from the detail of the undercarriage and a few minor recessed ejector marks. The outer fairing of the duct and the lip of the intake are separate parts. Again from past experience the fit of the fairing around the duct itself will need some work to close it up. The whole unit once complete fits very well into the lower fuselage.
Engine detail includes the primary compressor, rear turbine, afterburner matrix, a two part jet pipe and two part nozzle. Detail is generally fair and most modellers will be pleased with it, but the structure of the afterburner matrix is very heavy. The interior of the jet pipe has ribbed detail moulded into it.
The main undercarriage bay is pretty well detailed, but there is scope for much more detailing. It is made up from around thirteen parts not including the parts for the main gear. The front undercarriage bay is formed on the forward part of the air duct and has more basic detail. The plastic tyres are all two piece with separate hubs. Hub detail looks rather sharp and well defined. The inner gear door detail looks rather good too, but there is some slight shrinkage in the plastic on the outer skin. A few swipes with a sanding stick should sort it out. The main undercarriage legs look too thin; they depict the light style legs, which is correct for the F-16XL. The actuating gear looks fine, but some of the casting holes will need a little cleaning up.
The payload provided with this kit includes:
-2 x AIM -9M Sidewinders.
-2 x AIM -9X Sidewinders.
-2 x AIM-20B AMRAAM.
-2 x AIM-20C AMRAAM.
-2 x AGM-65 Maverick.
-2 x GBU-12 Paveway II.
-2 x GBU-24 Paveway III.
-2 x GBU-31 JDAM.
-2 x CBU-87 Mine.
-2 x Mk 82 GP bombs.
-12 x Mk 82 Snake Eye.
-1 x AN/ANQ-13 LARTIN Pod.
-1 x AN/ANQ-14 LARTIN Pod.
-2 x 300 gallon centre line fuel tank.
-2 x 370 gallon wing fuel tank.
Whether the F-16XL totted all these weapons is open to question. This wealth of ordinance is normally found in the contents of most Kinetic F-16. The AIM-20’s will need the fins on one side removing to fit under the aircraft. The position of the forward AIM-20 looks very vague indeed. There are no location holes to aid their fitting. The NASA aircraft did not generally carry any ordinance, but did have the missile rails attached on the wing tips. Occasionally there was what looks like AIM-9’s or dummies fitted to the wing tips. There is plenty of photographic evidence out there showing various combinations of ordinance on the F-16XL. So they are well worth checking out before mounting any weapons.
Paint schemes include two real world as well as three fictional ones. The prototype and the NASA finishes are very attractive in themselves. The other schemes are complete flight of fancy depicting the F-16XL in service. The four grey finish of the fourth option is a scheme that the two seat F-16XL sported at one time. Skunkmodels provide paint references using six paint companies: Ammo Mig, Humbrol, Italeri, Tamiya, Mr Color [GSI Creos] and Vallejo as well as providing FS reference numbers. Which I think covers most paints used by modelers.
 F-16XL Prototype scheme, 1982 [actual]
 F-16XL NASA, 1993 [actual]
 F-16XL 75th FS, 23rd Wing “Flying Tigers”, USAF, 1995 [fictional]
 F-16XL 16th Weapons Squadron, 57th Wing, USAF [fictional]
 F-16XL Tayset [Squadron] 101, Israeli Defence Force [fictional]
Another paint scheme you might consider that’s not included: is the pre painted prototype. That’s well worth Googling.
The decals look superb in quality. The larger sheet has decals for the airframe whilst the smaller sheet is for the ordinance. The ghost canopy[?] on scheme four and the red stripes on the rudder of scheme five are produced as a decal. There are numerous stencils to add to the airframe. Decals are printed by Cartograf and designed by Crossdelta and the quality is first class, even the text in the smallest font size is legible.
A 24 page A4 instruction booklet will hopefully guide you through the building and finishing. All diagrams are black line drawings with grey shaded painting instructions. Do check with your references when attaching some of the parts were there are optional parts. Also as already pointed out the part numbers on the instruction guide don’t always correspond to the part number on the sprue. The instruction guide includes a parts map, painting and decal placement, location of external stores and paint scheme. Each scheme is covered on two pages with upper and lower plan views as well as two side views.
Conclusions.Out of the box this will build into a fine replica of the F-16XL. As with most kits some refining of the kit parts will result in an eye catching model. I’m sure this release will find its way on quite a few exhibition tables towards the end of the year. This is a very good effort from Skunkmodels . The overall shape looks good and detail will please the majority of modelers. There is a small arsenal of ordinance included which will swell your spares drawer. The cracked canopy is a real disappointment though. Just be aware also that the instructions have the Kinetic Models habit of miss-numbering a few parts. The model has certainly peaked my interest in the type, one that I have to say I know little about. There is some fascinating Youtube footage of the F-16XL in flight and discussions about its merits.
Please tell vendors and retailers that you saw this model here - on AeroScale.