"This IS Your Father's Tomcat!"

1/72 Scale Iranian F-14A

By Matt Lee

Iranian F-14As/ Source: www.warisboring.com  © IRIAF

Iranian F-14As/ Source: www.warisboring.com  ©IRIAF

One of the first movies I recall watching as a kid was Top Gun, and it’s what sparked a lifelong interest in military aviation.  My parents were kind enough to foster this, and in 1989, my dad built and gave me my first model airplane, a 1/72 ESCI/ERTL F-14A in VF-41 “Fast Eagle 102” markings.  It was one of my prized possessions, and I remember many imaginary dogfights in which the Tomcat and my five-year-old self single-handedly held off Libyans, Russians, aliens, and other “bad guys” from 1980s action movies.  Together, we splashed make-believe MiGs between homework assignments and flew low-and-fast over the family dog almost every night.  As I grew up and left home, the Tomcat still held a place of honour on my bookshelf, but sadly, was lost some time in the early 2000s as my parents cleaned out my room to make way for a guest room.

Fast forward to late 2016, and I was starting to build models again after a 15-year absence. I always knew I’d wanted to build the same kit by dad built for me, but I’d never really given it any serious thought. I did know that it would make a great gift for my dad, and with the holidays approaching, I was able to run down a copy of the same mold, albeit with different markings. Finding the right kit took some time, as the original ESCI/ERTL mold is also sold under the AMT brand. This particular Tomcat is a 1991 AMT version, though the box and instructions date it back to 1987.

I also had some Model Master and Tamiya spray can paints left over from a previous IDF F-16A Netz build, so I thought it would be great to challenge myself by building a camouflage Iranian Tomcat. After picking up Print Scale IRIAF/IIAF F-14A decals, it was time to start the build. Having previously purchased and built some of Modern Hobbies’ 1/72 JHMCS-wearing modern pilots (for a Super Hornet build), I knew that I wanted MH resin accessories for the cockpit. Luckily, the 1980s-1990s pilot set includes a Vietnam-era APH-6-type helmet, which was perfect for the IRIAF, which has continued to use 1970s-vintage flight equipment on their F-14 and F-5 fleets due to sanctions. I also ordered a set of Modern Hobbies’ GRU-7 seats to go with the pilots.

During test-fitting, I noticed immediately that there were fit and finish problems: the nose section did not align with the fuselage, the top and bottom halves of the fuselage had huge gaps, the intakes would not fit, and the canopy was too tall and the wrong shape.  At this point, I knew the project would be fairly time-consuming.  I also knew that the detailed aircrew and ejection seats were the perfect opportunities to really spruce up the cockpit to draw attention away from some of the most awkward parts of the aircraft.

After painting and fitting the pilots to the seats, I found that this visually solved the problem the kit has with its canopy height, and despite flaws in the canopy shape, makes the aircraft look “busier” and does a good job of drawing attention toward the cockpit. Having built other resin and even a couple of metal 1/72 aircrew sets, what sets Modern Hobbies’ products apart is the attention to detail, the modularity of the designs, and the quality and thought that goes into their products. The pilots and seats were outstanding, fit perfectly, and are superbly accurate.

I kept modifications and improvements to a minimum.  In addition to the pilots and ejection seats, I simplified the internal wing-sweep mechanism by adding rubber O-rings, serving as retainers to control the wing sweep.  I built a custom in-flight refuelling bay with a probe, as the bay door was deleted on Iranian Tomcats. Other than that, the kit is all stock!

I had the chance to present this to my dad as a late Christmas gift just before the new year, and he was amazed at the cockpit detail, and the innovations in custom resin parts and decal sets since he built my original Tomcat. We both agree that the hobby has moved by leaps and bounds in the last two decades, driven in no small part by technology, but also through the continued improvements in techniques that our fellow modellers post online. Many thanks to Modern Hobbies for continuing to produce excellent accessories, and for providing the centrepiece for this (now 30-year old!) kit.


*The ESCI/ERTL F-14A model kit has since been re-boxed and distributed by AMT/ Round2 available here.


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In-flight or wheels down?

How do you display your model aircraft?

www.modern-hobbies.com-displaying models-1-72nd scale jets-model display stands-in flight models-wheels down display-dioramas-model photography-A-7E-US Navy.jpg

For scale modelers, like many other artists, we take pride in completing a project.  After dozens, or in some cases, thousands of hours our masterpiece is finished and we desire to share our efforts with the world.  How our models are displayed is important and each modeler has their individual preference in how it is presented.  Often times the choice of display is dependent on subject, era or pure creativity.  Whichever the choice, the modeler has his or her idea of why and the best way to share their work.  In asserting much creative freedom in scale modeling, thankfully, anything goes!

Wheels down
For many years, until recent I had always endeavored to build my 1/72 scale modern jets and helicopters in a parked, or a 'wheels down' configuration.  I'd place the finished model on a shelf and invite admirers to revel as I grinned from ear to ear.  The reason for this was an effort to duplicate how I saw the model depicted on the kit box or how they appeared at an airshow.  Building the model wheels down was a great opportunity to depict the aircraft refueling, opening panels with the ground crew figures doing maintenance.  And also showing off the hard work of a detailed cockpit.

(A-7 Corsair II VA-82 Marauders) ©2014 www.militaryminiatureshq.com

In 2004, things changed for me.  Born simply out of the desire for a simpler build and variety, I tried my hand at an in-flight display.  Initially, I had no idea how I was going to arrive at a design I was happy with.  So, after an exhaustive Google search for examples, I was surprised to find so few.  It was a clear indication that modelers typically displayed their model's wheels down.  Fair enough.  I sketched out a custom design and went to work creating it.  I would need a weighted base so the model would not tip over unexpectedly.  A stand and a way to insert it into the model securely in an attractive pose.  The base was constructed of thick styrene and its final shape sanded smooth.  For the stand, I settled on a polished brass rod.  A square rod is preferred, as this would prevent the model from spinning should it get accidentally knocked.  To mount the model on the stand, I inserted a matching styrene square tube prior to finishing to accept the stand.  This facilitated a re-sequencing of the build so that the last thing to do was simply place the finished model on the stand.  Check out the photos below.

Let um fly
Displaying my model aircraft in-flight has been a welcome change.  It has successfully simplified and shortened my build time, allowed me to place a scale pilot in the cockpit and I can better appreciate the eloquent lines of these modern marvels of aviation.  I also love to photograph my model aircraft.  With them modeled in-flight, I can create very realistic simulated flight scenes.  For example, to compliment the historical significance of the aircraft.  The same goes, of course for models build wheels down.  We've all had the pleasure of pouring over some truly excellent dioramas at model shows and via the web.  The craftsmanship involved in both types of displays can cause one to do a double-take.

What do you prefer?  Share your preference in how you like to display your model aircraft.  It's our art, and anything goes!