Bottom line up front: This kit is good. The vast majority of the kit is crisply molded with little flash and goes together exactly like it should. There a few minor instances where molding of the fine detail was a problem, and an instance or two where the fit and engineering is tricky. The end result is a very impressive little F-35, but one that required some more than basic skills/tools.
THE BUILD: My intent of the unvarnished feature is not to provide the reader with a comprehensive build guide but to give a quick reference of the overall quality and build-ability of the kit. To do this requires limiting myself to using only basic tools and skills. No paint, no filler, nothing hidden or corrected.
The instructions are roughly 18 steps across 16 pages of a nice glossy finish staple bound pamphlet. The diagrams are clean and clear and generally easy to follow. Right away the builder has to choose between the “clean” in-flight version, or the vertical take off and landing configuration. Several of the steps are bifurcated using different parts for the different orientations of the nozzle, slats, flaps, tail surfaces, gear, weapons bay. and the canopy can be built open or closed. The kit can be built in the Lightning II’s so called “beast mode” with up to three wing pylons a side to accompany the internally carried stores. and to flesh this out it includes multiple weapons options including the GBU-12, GBU 31(v)3, GBU-38, AIM-9x, AIM-120C and an external gun pod.
After a review of the instructions, I decided that I am going to build the kit in the landing configuration with the canopy open and no wing pylons or external payload. Upon inspecting the parts in the bags, I noted that about half a dozen parts had fallen off the trees and were loose. This always frustrates me, but all the parts were ultimately accounted for.
My first impression of the kit plastic begins with Step 1’s assembly of the lower fuselage half and the gear/payload bay. I was very impressed with the crisp molding, impressive detail (for the scale) and lack of troublesome flash on these parts. The insert for the payload bay fits almost snap-tite snug to the lower fuselage and has a good firm positive fit.
Step 2 has four sub-steps and requires building up some of the engine and duct work, including the lift fan and drive shaft. Fit here is interesting and my parts B2 and B1 did not come with molded in location pins or holes as is shown on the instructions. Part B18 has the drive shaft and mine was bent, but that was an easy fix later. Sub steps 3 and 4 are essentially mating complex curves to complex curves but it works out surprisingly well (just test fit until you are comfortable with it).
Step 3, like 2, has sub steps but here is the first real place where the builder must chose between the “flight type” or “vertical take-off or landing” nozzle configuration. The latter is turned 90 degrees in the vertical from the former. I was extremely impressed by the molded in detail of the nozzle, but also saddened that Academy decided to destroy some of that with sprue connection points that obliterate some of it. There is a considerable seam inside the nozzle duct work that will be exceptionally difficult to clean up in the nozzle down position and my theory is that perhaps trying to sleeve the nozzle with some sort of tubing would work better than trying to sand out those seams. Your guess is as good as mine, assuming you think anyone will be inspecting that part of your build.
Step 4 is simply mounting the inlet and nozzle sub assemblies into the bottom of the fuselage. Fit here is a great positive location for the inlets, but there will be a sizable seam to be dealt with, and the nozzle assembly fit without any trouble.
Step 5 has 7 sub steps and begins with building up the multi part ejection seat and cockpit tub. I strongly suggest that you do not install the seat, controls, or instrument panel, until step 6. Detail here is adequate for the scale and decals with some good detail painting will make a nice little office (also seat belts, but you’ll have to source them from the aftermarket). After you’ve installed the nose wheel bay and lift fan outlet to lower nose part B-25 (it’s called B-25 but mine was actually located in the bag with the weapons sprues, and not on the B sprue). After those parts are situated, install the cockpit tub (without the seat, controls, or instrument panel) on top of them. Then, this lower fuselage assembly slides then snaps into place with the rear bottom fuselage half. Fit here was again snap tight, and positive.
Now we move to step 6. BEWARE: HERE BE DRAGONS. This step is where the builder closes the richly detailed top fuselage/wing to the beautiful bottom fuselage/wing. From the inlet back the fit was excellent. Except for the wing joint I don’t think any gap filler will be required, and there only very little. However, from the inlet forward, along both sides of the nose was a significant gap. I had to cut off the mounting pins, and apply inward pressure on the bottom fuselage half, while simultaneously applying upward pressure, to close this gap. It is important to note that If you had installed the cockpit detail parts it is highly likely you would have broken off some if not all of them applying the pressure to close the nose (ask me how I know). I ended up having to use a glue looper and super thin CA to hold the nose closed and in alignment. This took patience, dexterity, and an extra set of hands that I didn’t have, as the shape of the nose makes getting a grip on the model slippery.
Step 7 are the wing control surfaces for the vertical take off and landing configuration, but if you have chosen the in flight option, you won’t deal with those surfaces until step 15 for some reason. The parts here fit well and needed only minor clean up to install.
Step 8 is the landing gear. These are beautifully molded and appropriately delicate (the nose gear appears that it would do with some stiffening, and a metal set might be worth the investment). The instructions appear to have you assemble the complex gear and then put them in place. I would suggest building them in situ, taking care to get alignment of the multiple parts correct.
Steps 9 and 10 are all of the doors and opening surfaces for vertical take off and landing configuration. These are all well detailed, but some have some ejector pin marks that will need to be carefully dealt with on the interior surfaces. A couple of mine had some odd places where the thin plastic was bent and damaged. Some of these had good sturdy fit, needing only some alignment while the glue dried. Others used a maddening set of tiny nubs on the interior door skin to align the doors. A picture here is necessary to explain, and one needs to take great care to not cut or sand those off in step one.
As I was not planning on any of the stores being present in “Beast Mode”, I skipped step 11 and only added the internal stores in step 12. Here is another trick. The rails for the air to ground weapons have three pins, but the weapons only have two holes. The middle pin needs to be removed or the weapons won’t fit. Again, this is something that could be easily dealt with back in step 1, and I have no clue how Academy missed that. I also neglected to take pictures of any of that, so you’ll just have to trust me (assuming Academy didn’t correct this issue in the kit you are holding.
Step 13 are the tail surfaces. These fit superbly with very minimal clean up. I opted for the vertical take off configuration and with a little glue the angled stabilators were solidly attached and looked the part. The vertical tail fit exactly like it should.
Steps 15-17 are all of the closed doors and in flight control surfaces, plus the clear sensor array cover. The clear cover fit very well in my example. The last step is the canopy. The internal canopy frame is a nice look and fits perfectly. Gluing wasn’t an issue and I just let a tiny bit of Tamiya extra thin flow through the joint. Here is where I would suggest finishing out the cockpit detailing as it is all accessible and now in no danger of being destroyed. Attaching the canopy in the open position took a bit of patience (and I think parts D25 and 26 are reversed in the instructions) but it just takes some patient fitting to understand how it all goes together and an easy touch with more Tamiya extra thin. Sadly, the carpet monster ate not one, but both of my pitot probes (B25). Perhaps he will be satiated on my next build.
Finally, I should point out that the decal sheet is expansive and seems to have decals that are for all of the surface color striping (I’m at a loss for the proper term). If those fit as well as they look, this will be a very nice touch and save the modeler a great deal of masking and painting to get that important detail.
In sum, this really is a great looking kit in the box. Except for a few areas where the fit was surprisingly bad (and there is room here to question the builder, or this specific kit, as being somehow subpar), the build was quick and enjoyable. Anyone who can deal with the seam issue, can deal with the modicum of clean up that would be required after the nose joints are correctly aligned. I will certainly have to revisit this kit for my future collection of new tool 1/72 jets that I am accumulating much faster than my storage will allow.