6 March 2016

F3D-2 Skyknight - Sword Model Kit Review

1. Introduction
Aircraft: Douglas F3D-2 Skyknight
Model kit manufacturer / country: Sword / Czech Republic
Scale: 1:72
Catalogue number: 72074
Release time: 2013

Basic information on the F3D-2 Skyknight is available in Wikipedia (link) and will not be repeated here.

2. Kit
2.1. Box
The box is a typical awkward side-opener, of moderate size (30 x 20 x 4 cm) and of soft cardboard (therefore, not particularly sturdy).

2.2. Instruction
Instruction is printed in on three black & white A4 sheets. Guidance on building and painting is clear enough. A typical review writer will lament the lack of references to model paint numbers and corresponding FS codes, but I believe that he who lacks this type of information should first obtain it from a reliable source and only then start thinking about building an accurate model kit.

2.3. Plastic Parts
There is no way around it. What we get in this box is NOT a model of the U.S. Navy / U.S. Marine Corps F3D-2 operational night fighter. It is a model of a one-of-kind testbed operated by Raytheon for the U.S. Army to conduct some electronics tests (several airframes were passed to Raytheon, including BuNo 124598, 124630, 125807, 127043 and 127074).

This scale model kit was released in 2013. The Internet is here, with options to search for information and to order books at your fingertips. How on Earth Sword came to ignore more than a hundred historical photographs and at least two good books (Squadron Signal's and Steve Ginter's) that clearly explain the very few variations that the Skyknight has actually came in?... How blind one should be to close one's eyes on hundreds of historical photographs and instead pick a one-of-kind testbed as a basis for manufacturing a scale model kit?

Coming to the point. The Sword kit's port and starboard fuselage halves possess prominent bulges that should not be there at all. Those bulges are instrumentation fairings; they belong to the Raytheon's test airframes and must not be present on operational Skyknights. Sure, a modeller can (and must) sand those fairings off. But this will take time and effort (no, this is not "very easy", as some of the reviewers suggest), and would ruin the delicate panel lines. The fact in itself is extremely disappointing.
Here are some historical photographs that show the "clean" fuselage valid for all operational Skyknights (including EF-10B): linklink, link.
And here is a photograph of a preserved ex-Raytheon BuNo 124630 with fake markings and the offending fairing in place: link.

A number of other issues should be listed:
1) The shape of engine air intakes on a real Skyknight is very intricate. It is simplified in the kit, and sanding will be required in some very awkward places. Fences that run between the fuselage and intake channels on a real aircraft have to be scratch-built as they are not present in the kit.
2) On a real Skyknight, the way the forward part of the canopy is integrated with the fuselage is very intricate. This area is inaccurate in the kit, as the clearly seen arched joint lines between the fuselage and the canopy of the real aircraft are not discernible in the kit.
3) Troughs for port and starboard pairs of guns are too close together in the kit.
4) The kit's cockpit interior is austere. This is unfortunate, as on a real Skyknight quite a lot of the cockpit is clearly seen through the bulbous canopy, including dashboard, pilots seats and canopy structure beams. On the one hand, some well-respected manufacturers (Hasegawa, for instance) continue producing model kits with practically no interior details to speak of. On the other hand, Sword themselves has recently released kits with excellent out-of-the-box interior which includes multiple resin and photoetched parts – these are their F2H-2 Banshee and T2V-1 Seastar products.
5) The wheels are accurate, but the tyres sadly lack tread pattern.
6) Wheel bay interior and landing gear door interior details are present but much simplified – see walk-around, reference [4].
7) Flap hinges are missing, whereas on a real aircraft they are very prominent (two per flap).
8) Small juts on ailerons outboard from trim tabs are missing.
9) Rudder hinge line has no depth at all; it is not so on a real Skyknight.
10) Horizontal stabilizer trim tab actuators are missing.
11) Raised rectangular panels are present on the horizontal stabilizer which are not found on operational Skyknights (another legacy of copying a Raytheon testbed, I presume).
12) The way to glue the wings to the fuselage that the manual suggests is simply unworkable. The resulting joint will no doubt be fragile. It would be advisable to devise and install metal reinforcing rods.

2.4. Clear Items
The kit's canopy is designed to be assembled from three parts, which requires some care. The forward edge of the canopy does not align well with the respective bulges on the fuselage, but it is just as well since the said bulges are themselves not entirely accurate.
Alas, as it is customary with practically all kits in the 1:72 scale, there are no clear parts to imitate wingtip navigation lights and position lights. Incidentally, Sword has already broken this trend with their F9F-8P Cougar and T-28C Trojan kits where clear navigation lights are present.

3. Decal
There are 5 decal options provided:
A) USMC. BuNo 124620 / WF15. VMF(N)-513, Pyeongtaek (K-6), Korea, 1953.
B) USMC. BuNo unknown / WF23. VMF(N)-513, Korea, 1953.
C) USMC. BuNo 124615 / WF8. VMF(N)-513, Pyeongtaek (K-6), Korea, 1955.
D) U.S. Navy. BuNo 127022 / NA603. VC-4, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42), 1952.
E) U.S. Navy. BuNo 127072 / T402. VF-14, USS Intrepid (CV-11), 1954.

Surprisingly, the accuracy of decals is slightly better than average.
Variant A:
1) Decals for this variant appear to be accurate. There's just one thing: do not heed the instruction manual and do not apply the wing code and modex to the top starboard wing. All available historical photographs of VMF(N)-513 Skynights show that the top starboard wing as well as the bottom port wing are devoid of any markings.
2) A note regarding all VMF(N)-513 Skynights: careful research is required to ensure that the size of the national insignia is appropriate for the BuNo that you are modelling. The stars and bars of at least two different sizes can be seen on the squadron's aircraft.

Variant B:
I could only find one historical photograph of the WF23 in supposedly red markings: it is black & white, grainy, and only a part of the aircraft is actually visible. To me this means that there is simply not enough information to attempt modelling this particular aircraft, regardless of its MiG Killer status. Period.

Variant C:
I could only find one historical photograph of the WF8. Only part of the aircraft is visible, and there is no indication that it's BuNo is 124615. Same verdict as for Variant B.

Variant D:
3) "603" modex for the top starboard wing is too small on the decal. According to a historical photograph of BuNo 127022 the wing modex is as tall as 70% of the wing "NA" code letters, whereas on the decal it is only 58%.
4) Small "603" modex that according to a historical photograph is present on drop tanks is actually included on the decal but not mentioned in the instruction manual.

Variant E:
5) Decal for the wing code reads "ATG", whereas historical photograph shows that only the "T" was actually present on the top starboard wing. Otherwise decals for this variant appear to be accurate.

4. Alternatives & Aftermarket
For a very long time there was only one F3D Skyknight model in the 1:72 scale available on the market, the one from Matchbox (# PK-134). For a kit released in 1988, it was very good; from today's viewpoint it has only nostalgic value. One aftermarket item existed: a vacu-formed canopy that comes inside the set # 4 manufactured by Falcon.

The appearance of the Sword's modern kit has brought us some more aftermarket. As of March 2016, the list is as follows:

1) Resin cockpit from Pavla (# 72124). Note that although this set contains excellent detail for everything that is below the windowsill, no items are provided to detail the canopy structure which is highly visible on real Skyknights.

2) Small photoetched detail set from RES-IM / Eduard (# 72030) that contains very useful pre-painted instrument panels.

3) Resin air brake set from Pavla (# 72166). Modellers should remember that air brakes are designed to be used when an aircraft is airborne. Air brakes were never left open on a stationary operational F3D-2 aircraft. This piece of aftermarket does not remedy any of the kit's shortcomings but will only result in more kits being built in a historically inaccurate configuration.

4) Aftermarket decal from PrintScale (# 72087). Even a very brief glance on this decal shows the U.S. national insignia that are bright blue instead of Insignia Blue, plus a set of absolutely inaccurate letters and digits for the VMCJ-1 variant (just look at how the "5" and the "RM" appear on the Print Scale's decal and then look at historical photographs - like this one - of some real VMCJ-1 EF-10Bs). This is only fit for a waste basket.
It is curios to see how PrintScale, after producing dozens of decals for different U.S. Navy / Marines subjects through several years, makes the same mistakes with every new decal. Their USN / USMC subject decals invariably use historically inaccurate fonts, with letters and digits apparently taken from some standardized ready-made font / typeface, in many cases considerably different from what all of us can see on perfectly available historical photographs.

5. Conclusion
 - Very good quality of molding, smooth surface, very fine panel lines.
 - Decal with unusually few inaccuracies.
 - Fair price (~$16 at the manufacturer's site).
 - A number of noticeable inaccuracies, including: canopy-to-fuselage joint shape; gun troughs positions; Raytheon's instrumentation fairings inapplicable for operational Skyknights.
 - Simplified air intake shape, wheel bay interior and landing gear door interior details.
 - Lack of detail: cockpit interior; tyre tread; various small items missing (flap hinges, trim tab actuators, rudder hinge); no clear parts to imitate navigation lights.

The Sword's kit is surely an improvement over the old one from Matchbox. However, Sword has raised the bar rather high recently and I have expected them to do better both in terms of accuracy and detail. 

6. Reference Data
[1] Douglas F3D Skyknight in Action | Aircraft in Action Series # 10229 | Squadron/Signal Publications, 2012
[2] Douglas F3D Skyknight | Naval Fighters Series # 4 | Ginter Books, 1982
[3] Basic information on the F3D Skyknight in Wikipedia: link
[4] A good photo walk-around: link
My advice is to be careful when looking at photo walk-arounds of museum exhibits. Those in the USS Intrepid Museum and the Flying Leathernecks Museum are ex-Raytheon airframes. They carry a number of modifications not applicable to operational Skyknights.