Were you to ask me what my favourite modern fighter is, the answer is a resounding, THE PHANTOM….
I have been a Phantom Phreak since the heady psychedelic days of the Sixties and a war occurring in a country that no-one had heard of until then.
Vietnam gave rise to many things, first and most unlikely it as it ultimately would seem, the defeat of a major power, America, by a ragtag group of little guys in black pyjamas, the Republic of North Vietnam. It gave rise to the resistance of youth in America – HELL NO WE WON’T GO! Groups like Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Buffalo Springfield, Ritchie Havens and Bob Dylan gave voice to the anti-war feeling, and two iconic symbols of Vietnam were forged – The Huey and the Phantom.
The RF-4B arose for a US Navy requirement for a recce version of its fleet defence fighter, the Phantom. Working via the USMC an initial total of 12 were delivered, based on the similar USAF RF-4C. Eventually 46 airframes would be delivered. Like the RF-4C, the RF-4B was unarmed and the fighter’s radar equipped nose was replaced by a 4 feet 8 and 7/8ths inch long extended nose carrying forward view and high and low altitude cameras. For night and bad weather operations, AN/APQ-102 SLAR as well as AN/AAD-4 infrared recon gear were used
Two ALE-29A/B chaff/flare dispensers were installed, one on each side of the aircraft above the rear fuselage. For night photography, it was fitted with photo flash flares which were ejected as needed.
The RF-4B like its RF-4C cousin flew without any armament and its Sparrow bays were faired over. Inner pylons were originally fitted but in fact very rarely carried.
The RSO, Reconnaissance Systems Operator occupied the rear cockpit but in this case the rear cockpit had lost the dual flying ability of other Phantom variants but what it had gained was the ability to process its films in flight and eject the canisters to commanders on the battlefield. The Marine bird also had the advantage of being able to train her cameras in flight, unlike the RF-4C.
During the period that the RF-4B operated, it carried some of the most colourful markings in the Service, but by the end of its career it had assume the drab tactical greys that were taking over. Although there were stunners to be seen such as 7347 with her bright green and golden tail, and 7351 in her all gloss black retirement scheme.
Operators were originally VMCJ-2 and -3 in 1965 and in 1966 VMCJ-1 replaced their RF-8A Crusaders with RF-4Bs, and these 3 squadrons were eventually unified as VMPF-3, till its decommissioning in August 1990
During the Vietnam Conflict, 3 RF-4b’s were lost to AAA fire and 1 to an operational accident
Hasegawa RF-4B : The Build
In 1/48th the Hasegawa kits of the Phantom have until recently set the standard for Phantom kits. Only recently have they been surpassed by the kits issued by Academy, but the Academy range is fairly limited at this stage and if you want to do Photo Spook, your choice falls squarely on Hasegawa, as they do both a USAF RF-4C and a USMC RF-4B. I have both kits in my stash but the more colourful Marine bird appealed more at this moment, so that is what I am going to share with you.
The kit builds pretty standardly with the build starting in the cockpit. Normally I do not go overboard on the cockpit as it all seems to be a bit self-defeating as the moment that you close it all up, all that lovely detail vanishes forever down a deep dark hole that only a ghost might find. Maybe it’s the Virgo in me, I don’t know….
But the Phantom with its large spread of canopy has always been an exception. And as it happens I had on hand an Eduard pre-painted cockpit photo etch set and set of Aires as well as Verlinden bang seats.
Firstly the raised detail on the instrument panels were carefully filed away and replaced by the gorgeous Eduard photo etch. These are made up of a sandwich of printed panels carefully attached using gloss varnish. This was done for the both the pilot’s and RSO’s panels. I then turned my attention to the consoles on either side of the two operator’s seats. The familiar procedure of filing away all the detail and in this case superglueing the photo etched panels was followed. Next I moved onto the ejection seats and as said before having a choice of both Aires and Verlinden. To me the Aires seemed to be the better detailed ones, so I went with them. The actual seats were beautifully cast in resin with the belts in photo etch and despite my initial misgivings, the photo etch seat belts on the Martin Bakers worked really well. Nothing to do with the product, I must confess not to being the greatest fan of photo etch in the word, far preferring resin.
Everything was suitably painted as called out in my references, Vallejo acrylics being my paint of choice for any and all brush painting needed. Umm, yes I do confess to being rather old fashioned in this respect and brush painting detail, rather than doing laborious masking and then airbrushing the tiniest part. My weapons of choice when I paint are my airbrushes, a Paasche, a Badger and good sable brushes.
Anyway moving along once the cockpit is assembled it is glued onto the front wheel well roof and Hasegawa kindly point out location pins and ridges that need removing for this particular model.
Oh, make sure that you do not fit the control stick in the backseater’s cockpit as it was removed in these planes. Also fill any necessary holes.
Moving on you need to fit your desired camera suite into the elongated nose of the Photo Phantom. Because there are a number of windows and apertures allowing the cameras to shoot through the airframe I find it best to paint the interior of the camera bay from the bulkhead of the cockpit forward matt black, again Vallejo was my weapon of choice. My selection of cameras were an oblique KS-87 forward looking, two side oblique KS-87 and a downward looking KA-55. I applied some Eduard photo etch for the lenses on each camera. You also need to choose the forward section of the lower fuselage as the profile of the nose varied during the production life of the RF-4B.
Now the fun part comes and you get to join the fuselage halves followed by fitting the intakes. Fuselage fit has always been pretty good but oh dear, the intakes are so problematical, and the less said about the inner intakes the better. Simply, do not waste time and energy unless you have access to a set of seamless intakes which I do not. Go straight to FOD covers it’s going to save you a major amount of pain. Also the intakes stand proud of the rest of the airframe so a fair bit fettling will be needed to ensure a decent fit here. Some general antennae on the fuselage were removed as they were not needed for this version.
So now she is looking like a long shark like Phantom, but with no apparent means of flight so we need to add some wings to her. The first task was to shave off some detail on both upper wings, again not relevant in our case. Sanding end rescribing of some lost detail was the next order of service with a quick spray of grey primer to check my work. Following this , any final clean-up done, I moved on and attached the wings to the assembled fuselage. To my delight the fit was pretty good with only minor filling needed. Next I added the ECM cable ducts on the shoulders of the intakes, and I really thought a better indication than Mark 1 Eyeball was needed to locate them. But there you go. At this point the stabilators are to be added but Hasegawa’s fittings are so fragile at the best of time that this is a dumb move. Sure enough even despite adding them at the end of the build I have succeeded in breaking off the starboard one a few times. On my next Phantom build I will definitely join both with a brass rod.
Basically, while on the point, as far as I am concerned the greatest 3 faults with any Hasegawa Phantom, and I say this with respect as I love these kits, are: intakes are awful, stabilators fragile and difficult to align and if the canopies are assembled in the open position are fragile beyond belief.
Now these birds flew alone and unarmed and so the inner pylons were very rarely fitted and so more detail needs removing where the pylon would attach to the wing. That’s the last of the surgery needed, but we still have the problem of the Sparrow bays. Luckily Hasegawa do supply the forward Sparrow bay fairings as a one piece moulding which fits around the wheel well snugly and the rear ones are separate for port and starboard and fit flush into the bays.
Armament or rather non-armament dealt with, our relevant lower camera nose panels are added, after first masking and painting the interiors black as detailed above with the rest of the camera nose. Right now Hasegawa would have you add the forward and main undercarriage units, doors and fittings as well the speed brakes and their actuating pistons. A surer recipe for disaster I have not come across, so these units were put aside later. They would ultimately be fitted after all painting, decaling and weathering was done. For once sanity rules in my head.
Final assembly consisted of her load and it was really a simple choice, 1 x 600 gallon drop tank on the centre line and 2 x 370 gal drop tanks on the outboard pylons
So there we one of the cleanest Phantoms I have ever built in terms of loadout. I must admit she does look good and that nose is so different from anything I have built before.
Painting decaling and weathering.
As usual I start my painting process by giving the model an overall in luke warm water mixed with a mild detergent to get rid of the oily residues from mould release agent, touching, fine particles from sanding and that oh-so bothersome airborne dust and hair particles. If available, a wipe with an anti-static cloth also helps tremendously.
Now I turned to my favourite primer, Tamiya’s Fine Grey Primer and applied it all over the airframe. It was then set aside to cure, while I commenced work on the subsidiary bits, such as undercarriage, wheels, speed brakes and droptanks.
The next day the primed model was checked for any flaws and any found were corrected and reprimed again, until I was satisfied.
Moving on, I rubbed the primed surfaces down with Micro Mesh, going progressively finer till the surfaces felt as smooth as glass. By the way this process is repeated between each coat of paint.
Time to paint! And now a sea change occurred, I reached for my dwindling stock of apolitically correct enamels. First up was the metallic areas under the tail, and here I used Humbrol Polished Steel. With enamels I like to leave a curing time of at least 48 hours or more before masking the sprayed areas with Tamiya Kibuki tape. Once this was done, I hauled out my remnants of the excellent Modelmaster range and used Insignia White on the under surfaces and designated upper surfaces. One of the joys of Modelmaster enamels is that they are manufactured to the degree of mattness, semigloss or glossness of the real life paint. That really appeals to me
Again after the required waiting period all the relevant white areas were masked off, in preparation for airbrushing the upper surfaces in Modelmaster Gull Grey. The model was now set aside once more until the enamels had cured completely and the radome tip was masked as was the anti-glare panel and both were sprayed black. Last part to receive the paint treatment was the vertical tail and rudder and here Modelmaster RLM 83 with about 10per cent Gloss Yellow added.
I left the model alone for about a week and then came back and sprayed to coats of Future, till a glossy, mirror like finish was achieved.
I must admit that I turned out to be pretty disappointed with Hasegawa’s decals as they proved surprisingly fragile, something that I had not experienced with decals from this manufacturer before. And the second thing that happened and turned into a major source of frustration and a desire at times to call it quits, is that I experienced a lot of “silvering” and that this should happen despite the use of good old Future is beyond me. Perhaps the decals were somehow to blame, as I used my proven methods of glossing as well as the equally proven Microsol/Microset system.
Anyway, many cups of very, very strong coffee and lots of setting solution and some sailor like language later, I had it all looking good.
As regards weathering all the pictures that I came across showed them pretty clean but I do like them a little bit tatty, so I reached for my favourite panel wash, Flory’s panel wash, but alas merely a drop remained and as I am half a world away from the nearest source, I made a quick trip to my nearest hobby shop to pick up a bottle each of Tamiya’s black and brown panel washes. And while they worked well enough and I achieved the amount of tattiness I desired, I still missed the more familiar product. While wiping the wash off with a lightly thinner soaked cloth, I wiped in a front to back direction, engraining some of the wash in the finish. When dried, this motion had imparted a slight dullness to the finish which pleased me no end.
Final attention was to weather the metallic tail areas and where Humbrol Metalcote had been applied I reached for graphite powder, rubbing it in gently to show different wear. Dirty fingers, but very effective.
At this point the afterburner cans were added and now disaster struck! My gorgeous resin cans would not fit. Shows you fit and check and triple check every part don’t take anything for granted. Running out of time, and kicking myself I resorted to the kit cans and while a million light years away from the aftermarket product, they managed to do a decent enough job after being painted with a new Tamiya colour to me, Burnt Iron.
So you live and learn. Well the cans will go into my next F-4B so all is not lost.
The last parts of the build were rushing up and the undercarriage units were fitted as well as the catapult hooks and all sundry, fragile detail that had been saved and put aside.
I have to be quite honest when my Photo Spook stood on her legs for the first time I was totally thrilled to bits.