Tamiya F-4S Phantom

By Sean McDermott

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I have always been a huge fan of the Phantom and I wanted to build a 1/32 scale kit of the F-4S. I am one of those model builders in the minority who does not like the colorful artwork of the Navy Phantoms in the 1960s and '70s. I prefer the low-viz schemes. The problem is, there are no decals in existence for the F-4S in the official tactical gray scheme in this scale. I do not possess the equipment or the ability to make my own decals. Therefore, I had to improvise. I wanted to build a model that depicts one of the last fleet Navy Phantom squadrons that operated off the USS Midway in the mid 1980s. I chose an F-4S assigned to VF-161 back in 1984. To accomplish this, I cut out the outline of the solid red lightning bolt from the CAM VF-161 F-4S decal sheet using a straight edge and an X-acto knife. For the lettering, stenciling and the stars-and bars, I cannibalized a couple of F-14 and F/A-18 decal sheets from CAM and Two-Bobs. I had to cut and piece them back together to get what I needed. That took a lot longer than I thought it would.

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To convert Tamiya's F-4J into a slatted wing F-4S, I chose the conversion set offered by (the now extinct) Cutting Edge. This set is complete with the VTAS for the front canopy and a full-size template of the reinforcement strap for the undersize of the wing. I purchased the F-4J cockpit set by Black Box. However, I was too scared to cut the rear portion of the cockpit out and chose to use just the side walls and ejection seats. I just knew I would mess that up. I ended up detailing the cockpit with some scratch-built bits and the color photo-etched cockpit detail set from Eduard.

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I only used the outer wings from the Cutting Edge conversion set. I corrected the shape of the inboard wings slats with styrene strips and epoxy putty rather than using the resin replacements. The slat actuators came from the Revell F-4E kit. They were much easier to use than the ones from Cutting Edge. Plus, I wanted to display the model with the slats in the retracted position. The resin wing fences that came with the conversion looked too short, so I made longer ones from styrene. Also, the panel lines on the resin replacement wings were incorrect, so I filled them in and rescribed them. The hinge fairings on the resin wings did not line up with those on the kit wing hinge. To correct this, I cut the hinge and hinge fairings off of the kit outer wings and the resin replacement wings. I then glued the kit hinge and hinge fairings on to the resin replacement wings to get a perfect alignment.

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I did not like the way the main landing gear struts attached to the model. So, I did a simple correction. I removed the kit attachment point and replaced it with tube styrene that was the same diameter as the landing gear strut. I then glued the strut to the styrene tubing. It was simple and looked whole lot better than what the kit had. I dressed up the landing gear bays with styrene and used stretched sprue to represent hydraulic lines. I also used the F-4 Phantom placards to give a little extra detail. The oleo strut locks on the landing gear were made from coffee straws painted red.

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The official Navy tactical gray scheme for the F-4S calls for FS 36375 (Light Ghost Gray) for the underside, FS 36320 (Dark Ghost Gray) for the sides and FS 35237 (Medium Gray) for the upper surfaces. I chose Model Masters Enamels, matching the FS numbers. The Medium Gray from Model Masters did not look right. So, I mixed my own color using the only reference photo of the actual plane that I had. I airbrushed the colors using my trusty old Paasche H single-action airbrush. I added a little white to each color and "dusted" the model with the lightened mixture, focusing on the centers of each panel. In some places I dusted too much and had to come back and spray the base coat over again to touch things up. I sprayed the model with several coats of Model Masters Acrylic Gloss in preparation for the decals and a wash. To accentuate the panel line, I used an oil wash mixture of Paynes Gray and Burnt Umber thinned with mineral spirits. After this dried I sprayed the entire model with Polly Scale acrylic dull coat. I completed the weathering by applying pastel chalks in the panel lines to represent dirt and grime.

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The bare metal sections were sprayed with varying shades of Model Masters Metalizers Titanium and Magnesium. Before painting the bare metal sections, I applied a coat of Tamiya gloss white acrylic to the areas. This hides scratches and the paints buff to a better shine. The exhaust nozzles, which came from Aires and are beautifully detailed, were sprayed with Gun Metal and Exhaust

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Finally, I dressed up the kit Sparrow missiles with decals from Two Bobs. Wow, do those decals make a difference. I used Two Bobs Sidewinder decals to dress up the Cutting Edge AIM-9L/M's. Again, what a huge difference these decals make. The intake covers came from CAM. I purchased a set of resin intakes from Cutting Edge when this kit was near completion…too late for the F-4S.

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This model took about six months to complete and is the second Tamiya Phantom I have built. Although the Tamiya kits are not perfect, they can still be built into really nice models with a little bit of effort.

© 2008 Sean McDermott

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This article was published on Wednesday, July 20 2011; Last modified on Saturday, May 14 2016