This article is about the Hasegawa’s 1/72 scale model of the RF-4C Phantom II fighter jet. It took six years for me to build this model. All because along the way I lost my mojo. It wasn’t after a few false starts that I could finally put this project to a close.
About the RF-4C Phantom II
The F-4 Phantom II was (and probably still is) an aviation celebrity. A star among the biggest names in modern flight. It is probably one of the most famous military jet from the Western hemisphere. You can read all about the history and background of the F-4s here. The model aircraft I am writing about is the Photo-recon version. The main purpose of this type is to take photographic reconnaissance, as part of the tactical reconnaissance combat operations. More about the ‘Photo-Phantoms’ here.
An early, uncamouflaged U.S. Air Force McDonnell RF-4C-22-MC Phantom II (s/n 64-1054) in a protective revetment. The first RF-4Cs deployed to Southeast Asia with the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in the fall of 1965. The 16th TRS was assigned to the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon, Vietnam. The RF-4C 64-1054 was lost after bing hit by ground fire on 19/20 August 1966. Source National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 140113-F-DW547-031
If you are looking for more info about the McDonnell-built aircraft, don’t worry, the Internet is littered with articles, photos, and videos of the Phantom II. If you are an older bloke like me, then it’s the same likeliness with books and magazines too. Plentiful and so many to choose from!
How this Project Started…
This kit started off as a gift from a buddy, Riza Irawan, who visited Japan in 2011. This is not my first Hasegawa kit. But it is my first working on a premium 1/72 scale Hasegawa. The kit’s serial is 00791: It has more parts, more options, and finer details. It was definitely above what I had been accustomed as I had so far built older and simpler 1/72 Hasegawa kits.
As much as I was impressed, there were areas that I thought needed upgrades, notably the ejection seat, cockpit, and exhaust cans. I had the idea to include a photo-etched (PE) cockpit set, resin seats and exhaust cans into the project but got only the first two.
How did I get Here?
The images don’t tell much, but as I let everyone know, I struggled to complete this project. It took me almost 100 hours – spanning 6 years – to put this project to a close. It was on my bench one time, and back to the “shelf of doom” the next. More on the shelf than on my bench.
Why? Sick and tired fixing my own sh*t. I was sloppy: construction, aligning parts, gluing. Just shoddy work. I spent a considerable amount of time fixing ‘preventable’ mistakes. eventually, I had to fill, sand and re-scribe those parts. It was so many that I completely lost track on almost about everything. This filling-and-sanding work repeated itself like that over and over again. At one point I practically lost all interest, obviously. The kit remained in the box for years until 2018 came along.
RF-4C Phantom II Variants
One important step before I snipped that first part from the sprue is to decide on a variant. The RF-4Cs had a long military career. They were subject to systems improvements. That means you will find different sub-variants of the basic aircraft. Mostly very subtle like difference in the number and location of antennas, bumps, or sensors.
The kit provides you with the option to build an early version of the RF-4C or later variants with Euro I and Hill II camouflages. This is evident in the build and marking options. However, Hasegawa went cheap. The decal sheet did not provide any option other than the early version USAF-standard gull-grey-and-white scheme.
That means I had to choose the build option for the early RF-4C, unless I have an after-market decal sheet for later models. Actually,I have a Two-Bobs decal for USAF RF-4C in Euro 1 wraparounds scheme (No-Guns Shoguns No. 72-048) but I am saving this for a future build.
I suspected that Hasegawa made the instruction sheet in that way (as with their sprues too) so that they can reuse it under different boxes. It make sense from a production point-of-view. But I did feel conned as my expectation was different.
Eduard’s Cockpit Colored PE
I was spellbound at the results of colored photo etch (PE) cockpit sets from Eduard (item No. FE-340). I was amazed on the photo-etch level of detail and good fit. It looked perfect in 1/72 scale. Mind you, back then (2002) this was something new for me. Spending extra dollars for a detail upgrade was considered extravagant and wasteful. Not anymore!
The kit’s plastic surfaces were cleaned and painted accordingly with Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black for the front instrument panels and grey (forgot what it was) for the rest of the interior. I have to admit that the color did not match those on the PE (many years later I learned why). Once all of the interior parts have dried, it was a matter of prepping the PE bits to make sure it fits well once I started gluing the pieces in place.
The whole gluing process was rather straight forward (I wasn’t expecting any drama, obviously). I placed the PE fret on the sticky side of a piece of masking tape to prevent parts from ‘flying’ onto the carpet monster. Then I cut the parts out using a sharp blade. I trimmed any parts that was protruding. Then it was preparing the plastic surface for gluing. I used regular CA glue but in retrospect I should have used a more jelly-like CA.
Clear Plastic Treatment
I am always very cautious about clear plastic parts. For me, there is no room for error for clear parts. It’s like the ‘make or break’ situation. you can always patch up a broken or chipped plastic parts, but you can’t do that on a clear plastic canopy.
So in order to avoid any cracks when separating them from the sprue gates, I used a Hasegawa Tri-Tool photo-etch mini saw. The saw helped me severe the clear canopies from the sprue gates by sawing off rather than clipping off the clear parts. This tool helped me significantly reduce the chance of damaging (breaking or cracking) the delicate plastic.
Once I completed the clean-up, I dipped them in Future Floor Polish to make them more shiny. This method is not something you have to do all the time. Its not mandatory. But I did anyway out of my lack of knowledge at that time. I masked the clear canopy using Tamiya masking tape and left the whole set aside in a plastic container.
Main Fuselage Construction
The construction of the fuselage and wing was next. I would highly recommend that you use slow-curing cement to give you a bit more time to micro-arrange the bond. At this scale, I didn’t expect any of the flaps, ailerons, or speed brakes as separate sets. This kinda speed the construction up, but gives you less option to show things off.
Here are a list if things you should look out for in the building phase.
- RF-4Cs do not have a HUD. So keep the ones from the Eduard PE set some where safe for another variant.
- Protruding antennas and probes. I broke the fuel vent mast and vowed to fix the pitot tube at the very last stage of the build.
- Exhaust cans, vertical stabilizers. Keep them last so you can paint them easier.
- Intake trunks joints. Use epoxy putty or sprue-goo to smoothed the joint with the main fuselage.
Being six years as a shelf queen and the fact that many things went wrong from the very beginning, I had expected that I would do a lot of filling and re-scribing of lost panel lines.
The Nose Section
The RF-4s have a set of cameras in place of weapons or advance avionics. Take a look at the image above. In this model, the camera look like a crooked pipe. There was not much to see when the two halves were put together. So I painted the interior and parts XF-1 Flat Black. I filled parts of the empty interior with fishing lead as nose weight.
The floor of the nose section is made of clear plastic. Hasegawa gave me two variant options: early or late. I goofed it up on my first attempt. I glued the late version of the floor and not the early one. For that mistake, it lost so much time and energy just correcting it. I literally had to rip it off and installed the correct version. refilled and re-sanded the ugly seam lines.
I lost 99 percent of the panel lines, including the ones that marked the windows for the camera’s optics. There was no option other than that I had to do a total re-scribe of the whole area. good reference photos were essential.
Resin Ejection Seat
Earlier I mentioned that I was using Quickboost MB.7 resin seats. Using these resin pieces are much of an improvement over the plastic one that I got from the kit. The level of detail is really amazing and includes all the harness and cabling. All I need to do is to properly prime and paint them.
It is critically important that you always have to test fit any resin products (including seats and cockpit sets) before you do any painting. Don’t expect that any resin products will fit like a glove.
I decided to spice up the area behind the pilot’s ejection seat. This area was empty, void of any details. Surely, the optics was not good. To make the area busy, I Added bits of copper wires, and styrene tubes and rods.
There was a lot of gizmo-logy as I just wanted to give it a good busy look rather than aiming for accuracy. if it looks busy, then I am happy!
Primer for Painting
Once I glued the clear plastic canopies in place, its was time to give the model another layer of primer. if the previous primer was for the sole purpose of finding imperfection, this time around is for the paint. My primer of choice was Mr. Surfacer 1500 black.
Even as I primed the surface, I found some areas that I had to improve because of small cracks, imperfect filling, or rough sanding. So it’s normal for me to have to prime a model several times at different or same areas before I sprayed the fist color.
Paints and Choice of Decals
The choice of decals gave me no option other than the ‘USAF TAC light gull grey – white’ scheme. The problem was that I wanted a dirty, sooty, and weathered aircraft. Sadly, these TAC jets were kept sparkling clean – contributed by its brand-new aircraft status.
That being said, the only way I could get off the hook (doing a gull grey while weathered) was to depict a bird that participated in a war. Obviously Vietnam would be great. I’d really like to go ahead with that idea but I don’t like to assume.
In the pursuit for information, it turns out that the USAF sent a few of these new RF-4Cs to Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon (now Ho Chi Min City). They were not the first fast-jet recce unit however; as there were some RF-101 Voodoos who had done this dangerous recon work. Their famous motto was “Alone, Unarmed, Unafraid”, which is also the title of this video.
An image of a weathered grey-white RF-4C in a pen and a video showing perhaps the same aircraft showed that these new jets were operational. Albeit only briefly, I assumed they did flew several missions (perhaps up north) with their TAC colors before they were painted the definitive SEA camouflage.
I started painting the model with metallic, like I use to do in the past. For some of you (and myself included), painting metallic is always a PITA. It requires a lot of thought and planning so that when executed, the results will come out just the way you wanted it to be.
The Phantom II exhaust area is almost exclusively covered in metal. To keep it simple, I used a Mr. Color GX2 Ueno Black for my glossy black base , followed up by a coat of Alclad 101 Aluminum lacquer. After I left it for a few hours, I sprayed different shades of metallic colors from AK XtremeMetal including AK480 Dark Aluminum, AK482 Duraluminum, AK484 Burnt Metal, AK485 Pale Burnt Metal, AK486 Jet Exhaust. How do I know which paints to use? I always have my photo references ready.
Painting the Fuselage
Then i followed up painting the lower part with XF-2 Flat White. The upper fuselage was given Mr. Color 325 Grey. For the squidgy lines that borders the upper grey and the lower white, I used Blue-tack. I made a thin worm-like form and simply placed it on the model and then sprayed the area.
Every other masking job i relied on Tamiya’s yellow masking tape. There were a few more. The leading edges of the wings, horizontal stabilizers, and intakes were painted Mr. Color No.8 Silver. The anti-glare panels were XF-1 Flat Black. The radome, upper flaps and ailerons XF-2 Flat White.
At this stage, other parts of the model were also painted, like the wheel bay doors, landing gear structs, and tires. To help paint the metal hub of the tires, I simply masked the rubber part (the black colored part) with a template and spray XF-2 through the middle, just like this 23 second video.
From photos and videos of operational RF-4Cs in Vietnam, I don’t see a lot of variation of underwing stores except for a pair of ECM pods and drop tanks. To source the ALQ-87 pods that I wanted, I went for the Hasegawa Aircraft Weapons Set IV.
I had to make some small modifications to the pylons using sheet styrene so that I could attach the ECM pods. The details of the pods are exquisite. These Weapon Set kits are really worth the purchase.
The kit’s fuel tanks are not bad. They have some details on them and the panel lines are recessed which was super helpful.
The decal could have been better, if not because my undoing. For 6 years i left the decals in the box. Unprotected from the humid tropical weather. At first, they look good on the sheet with perfect colors. Even after all those years. They were in register too.
But once I dipped them in water, it was apparent that they have stiffened over the years and had lost their flexibility. They have gone fragile to the extent that they break with the slightest mishandling. A section of the fuselage’s ‘star and bars’ crumbled into small pieces when I tried to slide it onto the surface.
A piece of stencil shattered because I left it in the warm water five seconds too many. Multi-colored decals fared worse compared to single colored decals, such as stencils. You get the picture.
Despite the crumbling nature of the decals, I wanted to use the original pieces as many as possible. Many of them were still good, albeit the need to be extra cautious when going through the whole process (cutting, dipping, rinsing, applying). This is particularly true for single-colored decals like the stencils, compared to multi-colored one, like the star-and-bars.
Broken decals: The fix
My approach to fix the broken decals is to patch it up with either using extra decal sheets or by airbrushing missing parts.
The other way is to airbrush the broken parts. I have made a 70 second video here. I used this method to fix multi-colored decals and those that do not have any spare decals. It needs a bit of work and prep, but the result is worth the effort.
Panel Lines Washing
I used mainly Tamiya Panel Line Accent Color or PLA for short – to accentuate the panel lines. This process is popularly known as ‘washing’. PLA comes in 3 bottles: black, grey, and brown. None of them are useful in their original colors. For me, the black is too dark and the grey and brown shades are too light.
I never use pure black for my washes. It just doesn’t look natural. So usually I would mix the content of the bottles together in a small saucer or tin cup to get the right shade that I wanted. Depending on the surface color of the model, I usually aimed for a rather grayish dark to really dark, dirty brown ‘sludge’.
The PLA bottles are enamels. So if I need to thin them down, I use Tamiya enamel thinner, Zippo lighter fluid, or ACE white spirit. All three of them work well. I don’t like to brush all the sludge onto the kit’s surface either. Instead, I keep them tight closely to the panel lines that I am working on. hence the fine tip brush.
Weathering the Model
I can easily claim that I am done. But as you know, I am not interested in a clean-built. I get more kick out of making weathered models. I just feel there is more challenge in doing so, as the need to do extra research and the need to replicated the effects of weathering into a 1/72 model.
The main focus of the weathering will be to recreate oil stains, soot, grime, and bleach effect. I used a variety of tools and materials. For the oil leaks and grimes, I used Ammo MIG or AK weathering products. Again, thinned down using Zippo lighter fluid. As for tools, I have been using this excellent Artool FX for a while and it helped me make random patterns with some stunning results. I have made a short 22 second video how to use it here.
For some of the grimes and streaks, I used Tamiya weathering master. its quite effective. I usually wet the tip of my brush before I pick up the compacted pigment. I even used a regular drawing 4B pencil to create streaks on the underside of the exhaust area.
This is where I finally added the small bits that I could have knocked out if I were to install them earlier in the build. They include installing the wheel bay doors, various antennas, air data probe, clear plastic canopies, exhaust cans, ejection seats, drop tanks and ECM pods. Last but not least, before I peeled-off any remaining masking tape, was to give the model a good spray of Mr. Hobby Super Clear flat (decanted).