11 May 2015

U.S. Navy Air-to-Air Missiles - Model Kits Review

1. Introduction
An aircraft model kit box does not always contain all the weapons that a modeller would like to equip the resulting model with. This is a well known fact, and another fact is that out of the box weapons are not always excellent in terms of detail and accuracy. For many long years the only aftermarket aircraft weapon sets available on the market have been those made by Hasegawa as part of their "Aircraft Weapons" series that was launched in 1987. There was simply nothing else if you wanted additional weapons for your aircraft model.

In 2014, the dam burst: several manufacturers have released a wealth of aftermarket missile sets. Eduard is offering AIM-9B, D and M/L Sidewinders, AIM-7E and M Sparrows, AIM-54 Phoenix, AGM-12B and C Bullpups, AGM-45 Shrike, AGM-78 Standard ARM and AGM-88 HARM. Attack Squadron has released AIM-9X Sidewinder, AGM-45 Shrike and AGM-88 HARM. And finally, North Star Models is here with their AIM-54 Phoenix and AGM-65 Maverick.

Reviewing all missile kits would be an enormous task. So in this article I focus on air-to-air missiles in service with the U.S. Navy since the early 1950s and until the late 1970s. Some relevant aftermarket items are compared against out of the box weapons and checked for accuracy.

2. AAM-N-2 Sparrow I

2.1. Application
The Sparrow I has seen a rather brief period of service with the U.S. Navy. These are the aircraft that carried this missile operationally:
 - F3D-1M & -2M Skyknight   [ ~1954 ]
 - F7U-3M Cutlass                [ ~1956 ]
 - F3H-2M Demon                 [ ~1956 ]
Year of operational capability of this missile with a particular aircraft type is given in square brackets.

2.2. Kits
As of May 2015, there are no aftermarket sets for this particular missile and only three model kits of aircraft that did carry it operationally: Fujimi's F7U-3M Cutlass (# 27012), Sword's F3D-2 Skyknight (# 72074) and Emhar's F3H-2 Demon (# 3001). Of this, only Fujimi's F7U-3M contain Sparrow I missiles. One of those is shown on my photos.

Sources like [2] and [3] do not agree in terms of dimensions of the actual missile. Below, I list data from sources [2] and [3] converted to the 1:72 scale as well as measurements of the Fujimi's item:
                 | Source [2] | Source [3] | Fujimi kit
Length       | 51.9mm     | 52.9mm    | 47.0mm
Wingspan  | 13.0mm     | 12.7mm    | 12.0mm
Diameter   | 2.8mm       | 2.8mm      | 2.4mm

Basing on this data as well as on the analysis of the available historical photographs (see source [3] for detailed photos) this is the assessment of the kit item:
 - At least 5mm shorter than it should be, with wingspan and diameter also slightly smaller than necessary.
 - Prominent fairings (most probably wiring conduits) that run along the missile body from wing leading edge to the tail end are missing.
 - Small diamond-shaped wing root fairings are missing.
 - No details in the exhaust area.

2.3. Painting & Markings
Source [3] states that operational AAM-N-2 missiles were painted black. Black is a rather peculiar colour for a missile, and one would think that Sea Blue, the Navy's standard overall colour of the time, should have been more appropriate. But so far I have only seen black & white historical photos (example) of operational Sparrow I's, therefore I cannot be sure in my suspicions.

As for those missiles used during the development stage and by non-operational units (such as VX-4), there seem to have been at least two rather elaborate paint schemes:
a) Day-glo Red body, wings and fins. Nose section and longitudinal fairings painted flat black, wide black bands aft of wing and fins. Silver (natural metal) needle point. See photo.
b) Day-glo Red wings and fins. Flat black body with silver (natural metal) needle point. Proximity fuse areas painted white. Aft of proximity fuse area, wide olive drab band with yellow borders. Black stencilling on the olive drab band and white stencilling on flat black body aft of the band. See photo.

2.4. Conclusion
Correcting the kit item would require some major surgery; I would wait for an aftermarket Sparrow I to appear.

2.5. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Sparrow in Wikipedia: link
[2] More details (including dimensions) on designation-systems.netlink
[3] Very useful notes on Sparrow I by Tommy H. Thomason: link

3. AIM-9B & D Sidewinder

3.1. Application
The Navy's first Sidewinder, the AIM-9B, was operationally carried by the following aircraft types:
- FJ-3M, -4 & -4B Fury  [ 1956 on FJ-3M ]
- F9F-8 Cougar             [ 1957 ]
- F3H-2N & -2 Demon    [ 1957 ]
- F4D-1 Skyray             [ 1957 ]
- F2H-3 & -4 Banshee    [ ~1959 ]
- F11F-1 Tiger               [ 1957 or 1958 ]
- F-8 Crusader              [ 1957 or 1958 ]
- A-4 Skyhawk              [ 1960 or earlier]
- F-4 Phantom II            [ 1960 ]
- A-7 Corsair II              [ 1967 ]
Year of operational capability of this missile with a particular aircraft type is given in square brackets.

Subsequent Navy Sidewinder variants included:
 - The radar-homing AIM-9C. Although it did become operational, it was a rarity. To the best of my knowledge, it is not kitted.
 - The improved AIM-9D, introduced in 1965-1966 and easily distinguished from the B variant by its pointed nose. It was used operationally by Crusaders, Phantoms, Corsairs and probably by Skyhawks still assigned to VSF fighter squadrons.
 - The slightly longer AIM-9G (1970) and improved, although externally identical, AIM-9H (1972). These variants saw service with such types as F-8, F-4, A-7 and F-14.
AIM-9L and all later Sidewinders are beyond the scope of this article.

3.2. Kits
I've picked a number of "representative" plastic Sidewinders from my collection of U.S. Navy jet model kits and compared them with the recent resin sets made by Eduard Brassin. On the picture below the samples are numbered as follows:
 1) Hasegawa F9F-8 Cougar kit # 01619
 2) Hasegawa F11F-1 Tiger kit # 00601
 3) Fujimi A-7E Corsair kit # F9
 4) Tamiya F4D-1 Skyray kit # 41
 5) Eduard AIM-9B set # 672036 (contains 4 missiles, $6.90 per set)
 6) Italeri F-14A Tomcat kit # 128
 7) Academy F-8E Crusader kit # 1615
 8) Eduard AIM-9D set # 672043 (contains 4 missiles, $6.90 per set)

As you can see, the older plastic Sidewinders are hopeless. Wing and canard planforms on exhibits # 1, 2, 3 and 4 are all incorrect (interestingly, they are all different, even the two items made by Hasegawa), so the question of wings and canards being too thick (0.7mm) does not really arise. From those out-of-the-box Sidewinders that I have in my collection, the one made by Academy (item # 7) is the most accurate, but still its wings and canards are way too thick and the raised "panel lines" are a bit too grotesque.

Eduard's item compares to this very favourably. Canards are photo-etched and main wings are very thin (0.3mm) resin. Their planforms are accurate, and even the Sidewinder's trademark rollerons are faithfully represented. Photo-etched parts add detail to the rocket motor exhaust area and separate resin parts are provided to imitate protective caps for the seeker heads. These caps are an extremely useful addition: if your model shows an aircraft that is not yet preparing for takeoff with the pilot in the cockpit, then the extremely delicate IR heads of Sidewinders must (yes, must!) be covered by protective caps.

3.3. Painting & Markings
No Sidewinder-containing aircraft model kit that I have seen comes with decals for said Sidewinders. You are supposed to paint the bands and the stencilling yourself. Instructions in older kits just tell you to paint the missiles white overall; in newer kits, instructions suggest more accurate paint schemes.

Eduard's set contains finely printed decals and a good painting and markings diagram. It aligns very well with what we see on historical photographs (example), and the only thing that I'd add is that the AIM-9B's rollerons should be natural metal, not white.

3.4. Conclusion
Now we have excellent AIM-9B and -9D far surpassing out-of-the-box items. Thank you, Eduard!

3.5. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Sidewinder in Wikipedia: link
[2] More details (including dimensions) on designation-systems.net: link
[3] Very good photos of a preserved AIM-9B: linklink

4. AIM-7 Sparrow III

4.1. Application
Aircraft that carried the Sparrow III operationally include:
 - F3H-2 Demon       [ 1958 ]
 - F-4 Phantom II      [ 1960 ]
 - F-14 Tomcat         [ 1974 ]
 - F/A-18 Hornet       [ 1983 ]
Year of operational capability of this missile with a particular aircraft type is given in square brackets.

The sources that I have seen do not mention the existence of any external differences between the C, E and F variants, except the statement that the E-2 variant had "clipped wings". The AIM-7M variant has entered production in 1982 and is out of scope of my article.

4.2. Kits
As with Sidewinders, I've picked a number of "representative" plastic Sparrows from my collection and compared them with the recent resin set from Eduard Brassin. On the picture below the samples are numbered as follows:
 1) Emhar F3H-2 Demon kit # 3001
 2) Hasegawa F/A-18C Hornet kit # 00438 / D8
 3) Italeri F-14A Tomcat kit # 128
 4) Fujimi F/A-18C Hornet kit # 72157 / F46
 5) Eduard AIM-7E set # 672030 (contains 4 missiles, $8.90 per set)

Unfortunately, each one of the older plastic Sparrows (items # 1, 2 & 3) is basically a pointed cylinder with 8 flat triangular shapes stuck to it, although Hasegawa attempted to add a hint of volume to wings and tailfins. Fujimi (item # 4) has tried to offer something more sophisticated but botched up the job by introducing "panel lines" to wings and tailfins and inaccurate box-like wing root fairings.

The shape of the real Sparrow III is more sophisticated; in particular, the following features are clearly seen:
 - 3 prominent wiring conduits running along the missile body.
 - Diamond-shaped wing root fairings as well as more box-like tailfin root fairings.
 - Lozenge cross-section of wings and tailfins.
 - Rocket motor well (usually kept closed on Sparrows held in storage).

All these features are very well represented in the Eduard's set. Rocket motor well should have been a bit deeper, but this is easily corrected.

4.3. Painting & Markings
The only decent out-of-the-box decals for Sparrow missiles that I have seen are those included into the Academy's F/A-18C kit (not covered by this review as it presumably offers newer AIM-7M or -7P Sparrows). Other Sparrow-containing boxes that I have just leave the fashioning of coloured bands and stencilling to you.

The Eduard's set contains accurate decals and adequate painting & markings instructions

These instructions could benefit if the following facts are listed there:
 - Two blue bands on the missile body mark an inert round. Yellow and red bands indicate a fully live round – live warhead and live rocket motor.
 - White missile body with light grey nosecone is a paint scheme that was applied to Sparrows up to approximately mid-1980s (examples: link, link). In later years Sparrows were painted light grey with white nose cones and dark grey wings and tailfins (examples: linklink).
 - Markings suggested by Eduard are only applicable for the 1970s and early 1980s: throughout the 1960s Sparrows sported serial numbers painted in very large block letters close to the nosecone (see example), and later Sparrows painted in light gray seem to have much more of small letter stencilling on their bodies (see example) than available on the Eduard's decal sheet.

4.4. Conclusion
Just as their Sidewinders, Eduard's Sparrow set surpasses all out-of-the-box items in accuracy and details. Modellers, however, are advised to do their own research in regards to painting and markings, and to base this research on historical photographs (and not on those taken in museums).

4.5. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Sparrow in Wikipedia: link
[2] More details (including dimensions) - link and link

5. AIM-54 Phoenix

5.1. Application
Only one type of aircraft has carried the Phoenix operationally, and that is of course the F-14 Tomcat. Two production versions of the Phoenix, AIM-54A and C, have no external differences and therefore can be considered identical from a modeller's point of view.

5.2. Kits
The best Tomcat kit, the one from Hasegawa, comes weaponless (as is Hasegawa's practice with some of their aircraft kits), so the only plastic Phoenixes that I have are the ones from an elderly Italeri's kit. They are generally accurate shapewise but do not offer anything in the way of detail.

The new resin set manufactured by NorthStar Models (# 72032) replicates the surface detail of the real Phoenix missile very well. The issue is with the wings and tailfins: they are too thick (0.8mm for wing leading edge and trailing edge, 0.7mm for tailfins), as thick as the Italeri's plastic. For more realistic appearance tailfins should have been photo-etched metal while resin wing parts should have been made thinner: looking at the Eduard's Sidewinder we know that it is technically feasible.

5.3. Painting & Markings
NSM's set includes finely printed and accurate decals, but provides no advice on painting the missiles. So here it comes:
 - Four blue bands on the missile body mark an inert round. Two yellow and two red bands indicate a fully live round – live warhead and live rocket motor.
 - Up to the early 1990s AIM-54's were painted Insignia White (FS37875) with Light Ghost Grey (FS36375) nosecones. In later years the paint scheme was reversed and Phoenixes became grey with white nosecones. Regardless of the time period, rocket motor well was dull red with a flat black ring around it.

5.4. Conclusion
NorthStar Models has produced a very good item for your Tomcat model. However, the competing set from Eduard Brassin (# 672029) may prove to be even better while being less expensive ($8.90 vs. the NSM's $12.75).

5.5. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Phoenix in Wikipedia: link
[2] More details (including dimensions): link
[3] Some excellent collections of F-14 Tomcat photos in Wikipedia that show you the painting and markings of operational Phoenixes: linklinklink