1/72 Fujimi A-4C

by Murph on Sept 29 2003

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THE AIRCRAFT 

Like so many other aircraft of the 1950's,  the A-4 was created  to  deliver  nuclear weapons.  It was intended to penetrate at low altitude and pop up to deliver one of the early nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal such as the Mk 12, but fortunately it never had to carry out that mission.  The A-4 also had another similarity to other 50's aircraft (like the F-104 and HS Gnat) in that it was a reaction against the increasing cost, complexity, and weight of tactical aircraft being designed at the time.  The A-4 eventually went on to become an excellent conventional light attack aircraft, gaining along the way more avionics, more weapons, and new engines.  Through all of that it never lost the superb handling that made it such a delight to fly , and it still serves to this day in some air forces; albeit, in a greatly more capable form.  The A-4 had a long combat history in U.S. use, starting with the Lebanon crisis of 1958, and reaching its peak during the Vietnam War. Several different types of A-4 served during that war stretching from the A-4B to the A-4F.  The A-4C variant was originally proposed with a different engine and more sophisticated avionics, but engine delays and cost over runs resulted in a scaling back of the program.  In the end the A-4 kept the J-65 engine (the last of the U.S. new build series to do so), but added an autopilot, low altitude bombing system, and terrain avoidance radar to give it a limited all weather capability.  It was during the Vietnam conflict on May 1, 1967 that one VA-76 A-4 pilot achieved fame (later duplicated by the Israelis), when he shot down a MiG-17 that had attacked him, using Zuni air to ground rockets.  The following link to an A-4 site provides the full story:  http://www.skyhawk.org/2K/join.htm  The markings on this aircraft were rather plain (see ARC's A-4 Walk around for pictures), and later the squadron changed to much flashier markings including a stylized MiG-17 silhouette on the fuselage sides.  These later markings are the ones that Fujimi kitted, and I used; although, they are not for the aircraft that achieved the kill.  http://www.skyhawk.org/2K/join.htm  The markings on this aircraft were rather plain (see ARC's A-4 Walk around for pictures), and later the squadron changed to much flashier markings including a stylized MiG-17 silhouette on the fuselage sides.  These later markings are the ones that Fujimi kitted, and I used; although, they are not for the aircraft that achieved the kill. 

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THE MODEL

  In 1/72 the best option, by far, for modeling an A-4 is the Fujimi series.  They have crisply molded detail, accurate shapes, and cover most, but not all, of the variants produced.  The  only problems that I've seen with them is due to the modular construction to allow for the various sub types.  This leads to some fit problems, and some minor inaccuracies.  Their A-4C "Spirits" kit is molded in white plastic and includes nice, if somewhat thick decals.  As always I started at the cockpit and made some modifications here; although, not too many, since it was to have a closed canopy.  I scribed the "quilted" fabric installed on the sidewalls and used an instrument panel decal from Modeldecal sheet # 21.  The kit decal has an all black background, while the real thing (and the Modeldecal one) has black instruments on a gray panel.  I also replaced the kit seat with the much better True details Escapac seat.  This meant some slight modifications had to be made to the headrest.  The seat and the cockpit in general, were painted with Polly Scale Dark Gull Gray (FS#36231), gloss coated with Future then decaled, given a wash with Tamiya # X-19 Smoke, and finally matte coated with Polly Scale Matte finish.  The nose and cockpit section of the kit are a separate section, so this was then assembled after some lead fishing weights were installed.  While waiting for these various items to dry I was also working on the rear fuselage.  I elected not to paint the intake trunking, since the plastic was already white, and installed the trunking and engine compressor (painted a suitable dark metallic gray) into the fuselage.  The rear fuselage section was then assembled, and the wings added. The wings give the option of dropped flaps, by cutting them out and gluing them back on in the deployed position.  When doing so the landing gear fairing on the flaps needs to be beveled to allow them to sit at the proper angle, and the "trench" from this fairing on the flap's inner surfaces needs to be filled in (in this case with Tamiya putty).  The area under the leading edge slats requires quite a bit of sanding to hide the seam, and one needs to be careful while doing that to avoid breaking off the actuators. A hole had to be drilled on the fuselage port side, to simulate the oil vent for the engine.  I also replaced the kit arresting hook (which comes molded as part of a fuselage half) with stretched sprue.  Mine was warped, and there was no way it wouldn't have broken when cleaning up the fuselage seams. The front fuselage section was then added with no major fit problems.  The intakes then followed, and I feel these fit better than the intakes on their A-4M kit, mainly because they have a flatter shape.  The speed brakes (in closed position), landing gear, gear doors, pylons and centerline external tank, along with the canopy and small bits were all added, and the kit was ready for painting after some rescribing.

PAINTING AND DECALING 

    Following masking of the canopy with Tamiya tape Polly Scale Reefer White was applied to the fuselage and control surfaces.  This was the first time I used this paint after seeing several people recommend it.  Personally, after using both, I still prefer Model Master Flat White enamel.  The control surfaces were masked off, and Gunze Sangyo Light Gull Gray (FS#16440) was applied to the upper surfaces. This was followed up with Tamiya # X-7 Red on the inner flap and slat surfaces. I did not paint the edges of the gear doors red, as the few pictures of VA-76 aircraft I could find in these markings, mainly the old Squadron Signal A-4 In Action book showed them without the red edges. Future was then sprayed as a gloss coat and left to dry for 24 hours.  The decals were a mix of Super Scale's A-4 sheet # 72-430, for the national insignia, rescue markings, and stenciling.  Spare black decals were used for the data placards on the landing gear struts. The actual unit markings were supplied by the kit decal sheet.  I used Micro Scales Micro Sol on the the Super Scale decals, but the kit ones required the use of stronger Solvaset.  Two oddities should be pointed out regarding the kit decals.  The national insignia on the port side of the aircraft has the top of the star misaligned; that is intentional.  There was an access panel that was evidently under the national insignia that was removed and replaced, leaving the top of the star out of alignment.  I elected not to reproduce that, since at one point the star was in proper configuration.  The other is the lack of an aircraft type "A-4C" on the tail, accompanying the aircraft BuNo.  I was unable to find any pictures to confirm this, so I left it as per the kit instructions.  The walkways are the kit decals, but these were sprayed with Gunze Dark Gull Gray (FS#36321), since photos I could find showed them in gray, not black.  Once the decaling was finished another coat of Future was applied to seal the decals.  Pictures that I can find of this squadron's aircraft show them to be relatively clean, so I used artists charcoal brushed onto the panel lines.  Since the finish was still glossy, most of the charcoal did not stick, which was what I wanted.  The wheel wells received a wash of Tamiya Smoke and Tamiya #XF-40 Flat brown.  Polly Scale Matte coat was then applied to finish.

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FINISHING 

     While working on the kit itself I had also been working on the AGM-12B Bullpup missiles.  These are provided with the kit, but I elected to use the ones from Hasegawa's Weapons Set IV, since they are more accurate.  The molding ridges were sanded off and they were painted white then clear coated (Future again).  The appropriate brown and yellow stripes were applied along with some stenciling and Future applied once more.  The missiles were then given a final coat of Model Master Matte Finish which is really semi-gloss.  The wheels were added at this point, with the tires painted in Tamiya Flat Black # XF-4, then the nozzle finished in Rub 'n Buff.  The position lights were also painted, and the upper anti-collision beacon, which had disappeared during sanding, was added from the Czech Master Navigation Light set.  The landing light on the right, main gear door came from a Hasegawa F-111 kit.  Finally the small pitot tubes and windshield wiper were added and painted; these were all made from plastic card and stretched sprue.  The Fujimi kit is a terrific reproduction of the A-4 with few vices in its assembly, and are, by far, the best versions of the A-4 in 1/72 scale.

Murph

Photos and text by Murph