Academy 1/32 F/A-18C Hornet

Model, Text and Photos by Bob Derham


Today I received my 1/32 Academy Hornet compliments of Roll Models and it is a fantastic kit!! I just started carefully extracting each of the plastic bags and examining what was present. And there is a lot as most of you know with nearly 900 pieces and enough weapons to load up this Hornet for a number of sorties. The decal sheets are great and a separate sheet is provided so that the weapons can be marked appropriately. I then decided to scan the instruction sheet to determine the sequence in which to build the model. For the most part, I will probably follow the steps as noted, but there is some work that can be done while waiting for some of the subassemblies to dry. Where to start?? As with most kits of this nature, it seemed logical to build up the cockpit section first. And this is the first part of the assembly as presented in the instructions.

I extracted the sprues I needed to build up the ejection seat and the cockpit itself and set about my task. Since I was planning to make seat belts from Waldron Models Seat Belt Buckles and cloth tape, I removed the molded on belts and buckles from the seat using a riffler file and sandpaper; I left the ones on the headrest as these are covered by the new tape belts. I built up the portion of the seat that is painted flat back and then brush painted the assembly flat black with Tamiya acrylics. The section that needs to be decaled was painted gloss black and after the decal was applied and dried, I used Model Master acrylic clear flat to take the shine off. To bring out the frame details, I used Model Master battleship gray darkened with flat black and dry brushed the raised framework and other details on the seat frame. The remaining components were painted as per the instructions using Model Master and Tamiya acrylics and the seat was completed except for the belts. I did find a few of the pieces fit very tight (G11, G19, G20) and needed some trimming to get them to fit properly. I cut the belt material using a very sharp # 11 X-Acto blade from Johnson and Johnson cloth tape after painting it olive drab. I use this as the texture is an excellent representation of the actual belts. Waldron buckles were added to the belts which were then glued into place. The belts are complex near the headrest; therefore, I used photos from "Walk-Around, The F-18 Hornet", from Squadron Signal Publications as a reference. This was especially useful in simulating the retracting mechanism.

The instrument panel was built next and I did run into a slight problem here. I placed the flat panel decals on P/N 25 and let them set overnight. While they were drying, I painted the instrument panel dark ghost gray followed by flat black in the designated areas (after the first color dried) and let it dry. I dry brushed the details including switches, dials and instrument faces following the color guide in the instructions and photos from "Walk-Around, The F-18 Hornet". I then dry brushed the instrument faces with light ghost gray to bring out the details on them. This procedure was repeated for the side panels in the cockpit. The throttle and stick were glued together and painted flat black. Once again, I used battleship gray darkened to bring out the raised portions of the parts. The stick was also dry brushed as noted in the instructions. When I came back to the flat panel displays, the decals simply came off the surface! "How do I fix this problem??" along with some choice adjectives came to my mind. The solution- I dipped the decals in Future and reapplied them to the part and let them dry. I then dipped the whole part in Future, let it dry and glued it in place. The clear parts were snapped into the instrument panel and the subassemblies were glued into the cockpit tub. The instrument panel and cockpit are shown below.

To complete the forward portion of the fuselage, it was necessary to paint and construct the nose gear wheel well. I sprayed the sections with Model Master Acrylic Gloss White, let the first coat dry, and shot a second coat. After 24 hours, I painted the details and set the pieces aside to dry. While they were drying, I built up the nose gear and shot it with gloss white, applying two coats to get coverage. I constructed the nose gear wheel well, glued it to the cockpit tub, and then to the left fuselage half as shown in the instructions. The fuselage halves were then glued together using plastic cement. I used sufficient cement to create a bead at the seams that needed to be invisible. Once dry, it was simply a matter of sanding and a bit of rescribing where needed. The only place that was of concern was behind the wheel well as the remaining joins would be covered with other parts. One of the nice things about building this kit is that the majority of joint lines are at actual seam lines thus eliminating the need to fill, sand and scribe. This assembly, shown on the right was then set aside. I did not attach the nose gear as suggested in the instructions as I felt it would be in the way during subsequent assemblies and was susceptible to damage.

The engine intakes were painted gloss white and the exhausts metallic gray. Intake turbine blades were painted silver and the exhaust blades metallic gray. The engine was then assembled as shown in step number 7 of the instructions. Parts C11 were glued in place and the engine glued into part A2. The next step was tricky as dry fitting part A1 to A2 showed that the parts did not line up perfectly mainly because of the length that needs to be glued at one time. There are also three screws to put in place that help hold the two halve together. I applied plastic cement to A2 and then carefully placed A1 in position and lined up the seams as best I could. I used clamps to help hold the parts together and inserted the screws being careful to keep alignment. Once dry, some filling and sanding was required, but parts C5 and C6 will cover up a fair portion of the seam if positioned horizontally.

While this was drying, I painted part H3 which goes behind the ejection seat flat black. Again, I used a dark gray to dry brush raised portions to bring out details and give depth. Since I wanted to build the Hornet with folded wings, I decided I would go ahead and prepare the wings at this time. I jumped to step 36 and completed steps 36 and 37. As long as you follow the instructions and remove the blue shaded areas only, the task is relatively easy. When you are cutting the wings and slats, use a very sharp number 11 X-Acto blade and make several cuts along the lines. Some of the cut lines are very short so go slowly and in these cases, simply put light pressure on the blade to get through the plastic. I cleaned up the parts using files and sandpaper then glued the pieces together with plastic cement; again, I used enough glue to yield a bead of melted plastic from the seams which were sanded three days later. When you use this technique, I find it is best to let the parts set for at least three days to allow the plastic to harden completely. The surface may appear hard very quickly, but underneath takes longer to cure. The pictures below show the wing surgery and the addition of the wingfold to the inboard and outboard wings.

The instructions now suggest gluing the wings (in this case the non folded part) to the forward assembly, adding all the flaps and slats and placing the wing fold in place. I decided to alter the process as I wanted to add the forward assembly first so that wings were not in the way and I did not plan to add the "extras" until near the end of assembly so that I could paint them separately. This makes painting the fuselage easier as well since the number of nooks and crannies is reduced.

I dry fit the halves and the fit was very good and along a natural seam line. As you attach the forward section to the rear, you will need to spread the rear fuselage opening slightly. I attached the halves together using super glue and some minor sanding was done to smooth the seam but not eliminate it. The wings were attached and this step went very smoothly and no filling or sanding was needed. Parts A3 and A4 were now glued into place using super glue. I did find that a little additional gluing was needed to get a good fit. Dry fit ahead of time to see where the gaps may be so that you can place pressure as needed to get a good fit. I did some very light sanding to complete the task. The two formation lights (B38) were now glued into their positions. I left the folded portion of the wing off to avoid accidentally hitting it and to again make painting easier. In effect, I was using a modular approach for the painting. Part H1 was glued into place (don't forget to open the holes for parts B19 like I did!) after the forward and rear fuselage halves were glued together and the panel behind the pilot's seat was painted and installed (this goes over the open pit that will be, I suspect, the pit for the two seat version). Parts B16 and E13 were attached to the fuselage to complete the forward portion except for the nose cone. I decided to display my Hornet with the nose closed; therefore, I glued B25 and B24 in place, dry fit the nose and made adjustments to get a good fit. The nose cone was then glued into place. Figure 9 shows the partial completion of the fuselage and Figure 10 shows the completed fuselage.

Figure 9
Figure 10

Since they would need time to set, I glued the slaps, slats, and vertical fin halves together using plastic cement. I then glued J27 in place and moved to step 11. I constructed the intake splitters leaving J65 off as I did not want to get gray paint on it when I painted the model. The braces on the splitters are another tricky part since if you glue them in place and let them dry, they may be in the wrong position. I used plastic cement, glued them to the splitter, inserted one holding it in place to make sure the braces were aligned properly. If not, I could remove the splitter, make a small adjustment and recheck. Once correct, I let them dry. I hand painted the area on the fuselage behind the splitters, the intake lip interior, and the back of the splitters since these areas would be difficult to airbrush. The contact with the fuselage by parts J21 and J22 is not flush; therefore, I used an applicator and applied super glue to the part where it should contact the fuselage, and held it until it cured. This corrected the problem and the fit was good enough that no filling or sanding was required. I now attached the intake lips which required a little work as dry fitting showed imperfect alignement with the fuselage. I sanded and dry fit until I was satisfied then super glued the lips into place. Figures 11 and 12 show the intake lips and splitters after attachment to the fuselage.

figure 11
figure 12

The LEX's were the next part to glue in place after gluing the two pieces together. Instalation of the LEX's is a little tricky because of the long length involved. Don't try to glue the whole thing at once; go in steps so that you can insure a tight fit against the fuselage. First, glue the LEX's to the base near the wing then slowly place super glue between the LEX and fuselage at points along the length, hold in place to dry. Probably two to three points will do the trick and finish with the front of the LEX. Test where to place the glue by holding the LEX and seeing how it closes the gap. After the tacking of these points, you can flow some super glue into the seam using a fine applicator and allowing capillary action to draw the glue in.

Before painting the exterior of the fuselage, I painted the main gear wells. I masked around the main gear wheel wells and shot them with two coats of gloss white then let the paint dry for twenty four hours. I removed the masking tape and painted the details of the wheel wells and let them dry before proceeding (Figure 13). The fuselage was prepped for painting by masking the cockpit and main gear wells using Tamiya masking tape and inserting foam into the nose well and the intake interiors. The fuselage was now ready for painting. Figures 14 and 15 show the masking after the fuselage was painted.

Figure 13
Figure 14
Figure 15

I prepared the exhaust nozzles, pylons, and other attachments that would be painted light ghost gray so that I could paint all the parts at one time. The exhaust nozzles were glued together and painted gloss white inside and set aside for later. The interior of the landing gear well covers were shot with gloss white and set aside to dry in preparation for painting the exterior portion of the covers. The pylons, tailhook assembly, LTD/SCAM, FLIR, wing tip pylons and fuel tank were all assembled and set aside to dry. The fuselage mounts for the TINS and FLIR were glued to the fuselage and allowed to dry. Once everything had dried, the parts were sanded and preped for painting. I was now ready to airbrush the fuselage and the subassemblies that would later be attached to the fuselage.

I started by painting more then half of the fusleage bottom and sides and the wing undersides with Aeromaster enamel light ghost gray. I set this aside to dry since I could not handle it to paint the forward portion until it dried. The underwing pylons, LTD/SCAM, FLIR, fuel tank, wing tip pylons, and landing gear covers were all shot with light ghost gray (Aeromaster enamel). By this time, the back half of the fuslage was dry and I sprayed the forward part of the fuselage insuring that I covered the top of the nose cone as shown in the painting diagram. The underside of the elevators, flaps and slats were also shot with the same paint to complete the painting session. Twenty four hours latter, I completed the painting by repeating the process using Aeromaster dark ghost gray enamel on the topside of the fuselage and wings following the diagram again and the topside of the elevators, salts and flaps. The vertical stabilizers were also shot with dark ghost gray paint as well.

The last thing that needed to be done was painting the front of the nosecone radome tan. To mask for this, I used teflon pipe seal tape as I found it would stretch and conform to the conical contour of the nose. I sprayed Tamiya radome tan onto the nose and removed the tape. Success!

Everything was allowed to dry for twenty four hours and then I highlighted the engraved panel lines on all parts using a drafting pencil and a number 2 lead. This process is very easy: place the lead point in the panel line and simply draw it along the line. The engraved line acts as a guide. If the pencil slips out of the guide, erase the mark and continue. The main thing is to keep the point sharp as you proceed. Once completed, I brushed on two coats of Future to the fuselage and any part that would be taking decals. Allow about two hours between coats and twenty four hours before you apply decals to the parts. At this point, I glued parts J65 into the intakes. Before applying the selected decal scheme that I wanted, I painted all the "bulges" on the fuselage and vertical stabilizers gloss white, let them dry, then applied the standard stencils to the fuselage, bulges ("do not paint" decals) and all parts of the aircraft yet to be glued into place(slats, flaps, folded wing section, etc.).

At this point while allowing the stencil decals to dry, I built up the main landing gear. The assembly is straight forward here but be careful as many of the parts are small and could easily be gobbled up by your floor or carpeting if dropped! When I cut the small parts from the sprues, I placed them on a piece of cloth such that the would not go flying off into never, never land. Once built, I filed and sanded to smooth out any rough spots then airbrushed them with acrylic gloss white. After the first coat, I applied a second coat to get good coverage. I set the gear aside for twenty four hours after which I apllied the decals and weathered the landing gear. I then added the wheels (which had been painted gloss white as well) and tires to the gear. In my case I decided to use the rubber tires that were included with the kit. Now all the landing gear was complete and ready to add once masking was removed from the plane. Figures 16 and 17 show the completed landing gear.

Figure 16
Figure 17

The decals that I decided to use were those for the All American Bug as I just could not resist this colorful layout. It just seems that so many aircraft carry such uninteresting Lo-Viz schemes, that it is nice to see something more colorful! Since the Flag around the nose of the aircraft looked to be the most difficult decal to apply (it comes in two pieces), I figured I would tackle that one first and get it done. Turns out this is definitely not straight forward and requires patience and a fair amount of finicky adjusting. I soaked the largest of the two pieces in water until the decal was sliding easily off the backing and proceeded to apply to the plane as close to where it belonged, gently removing the backing and letting the decal adhere to the conical structure. I figured once there, I could wiggle the decal into its final resting spot. Wrong!! I found that the decals once on the Figure 18model's surface did not move well at all. Adding copious amounts of water to loosen the decal's grip on the surface helped some, but it was a real struggle to get the decal exactly where I wanted it to insure the edges met properly. I finally got it in an acceptable position, but I did tear the decal a bit and ended up with some wrinkles even after applying MicroSol and letting it sit and dry. It does not look bad and I figured the tears and wrinkles look like normal wear on the aircraft. The second part was I little easier as it did not have the wavy trailing edges of the flag, but I could not get it to perfectly abut the first decal and the edge of the Radome Tan porton of the nose cone. I snuggled it up to my satisfaction, MicroSoled it and moved on to apply the remaining decals which were much easier to deal with (but even these exhibited the same challenge when trying to move them into location and the best soluton was adding water, pressing out the water once in place, and then adding the MicroSol so that they would settle in). To handle the slight gap between the two nose cone decals, I simply prepared blue paint that matched the decal color (using blue and white then mixing until I got a match) and then painted where the gaps between the decals existed. Figure 18 is a close up of the nose cone and the decal plus corrective paint application.

Once the decals were completed, I set the assemblies aside for twenty four hours before air brushing the final flat clear coat to the fuselage and other sub assemblies. During this time, I built up the weapons I wanted to attach to my Bug (2 JDAM's, 1 GBU-24, 1 HARM, centerline fuel tank, and the two wingtip sidewinders). The weapons were painted, highligted with the drafting pencil, and coated with Future once dry. After the Future was dry, decals were applied to the weapons. Again, I found the decals difficult to apply with the stripes very inflexible until a fair amount of MicroSol was applied. They simply did not want to curve and adhere to the weapon surfaces as the backing was removed; they remained straight until application of the MicroSol.

With the weapons decaled, I now airbrushed the fuselage, attachments, subassemblies and weapons (except the HARM which is gloss white) with Model Master Acrylic Flat Clear to seal the decals in place as well as to attain the appropriate appearance of the aircraft. Once dry, I attached the tail hook assembly, weathered the underside of the aircraft (Figure 19) and removed all masking materials in preparation for final assembly. Figures 20-24 show some of the fuselage and some subassemblies after final preparation for final assembly.

figure 19
Figure 20
Figure 21
Figure 22
Figure 23
Figure 24

I had a few more things to paint and finish before final assembly and proceeded to attack those elements. The antennas were painted and decaled per instructions and the other fuselage attachments were completed as well. The gear doors were nearly complete but needed the final touch of the flat red paint around the edges. I used Tamiya flat red acrylic and a very fine brush to accomplish this task. With all components complete it was time to put them all together.

The first step was attaching the landing gear. The nose gear is tricky since it is not designed to be installed at this stage but during construction of the front fuselage half. To insert the nose gear, I angled the main strut 90 degrees from its natural alignment, slid the strut in and carefully rotated it back to its proper position. However, the tabs on the rear support do not clear the fuselage opening requiring that the tabs be trimmed slightly. Once in place, this does not show and is a minor correction. The main gear was attached and actuating rods for all the gear were glued in place as well. The landing gear doors and accompanying actuating gear were now super glued into place.

I now painted the clear parts, let them dry, and attached them to the fuselage and vertical stabilizers. I find the best way to do this is paint the back of the parts with transparent paints. Don't forget the lights that go on the outside flap hinge.

The pylons and weapons were super glued in place and the horizontal and vertical stabilizers were added. The wings were glued in place after the pylon and sidewinder missles were attached. The cockpit was completed by adding the HUD to the hood and attaching the hood to the front of the cockpit. To complete the assembly, I glued the front canopy piece in place and then placed the rear canopy in the open position. The canopy had been prepared previously by dipping in Future, drying for two days, masking, and then painting. For the canopy, I shot flat black on the frame first (this is the interior color) followed by dark ghost gray. Once dry the masking tape was removed and the canopy attached to the fuselage as noted. The aircraft was slightly weathered on the upper portion to complete the project. Figures 25-33 show several aspects of the finished model and Figure 34 is a side view of the completed Hornet.

Figure 25 Figure 26 Figure 27
Figure 28 Figure 29 Figure 30
Figure 31 Figure 32 Figure 33

My thanks to Roll Models for providing the kit for this review. I thoroughly enjoyed building the Academy 1/32 F-18A and with a little effort, a great looking model results. I highly recommend this kit.

Figure 34

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I'm sorry, but since the review has been published that product appears to have gone out of production.