A conversation with a friend, noticing the shape of the Tamiya F-117 Nighthawk on my workbench, was typical for the issues surrounding this plane since years.
“Wow” he said, “I didn’t know that you are building science fiction subjects as well”. “I am not”, I replied, “This is an American fighter, err, bomber, well sort of”.
He looked at me in disbelief, certainly when I added that this “thing” was already thirty years old, on the brink of retirement and would be replaced by a much more conventional looking aircraft (F-22). Indeed, the Nighthawk does not seem to fit within any category. You can’t call it a fighter, despite its “F” designation because it has no air-to-air capabilities, not even a gun. You could say that it is a bomber but then, only 2 bombs… what kind of a bomber is that?
In fact, the Nighthawk is the first of a new breed, the stealth, meaning that it is specially designed to remain “invisible” to radar, infra-red and, in its black livery, even to the human eye (at least at night). Its key purpose is to penetrate hostile areas and destroy the core enemy radar and anti-aircraft defence systems, thus opening the skies for more conventional fighters and bombers.
But enough of this, if you want to learn more on this plane I recommend that you follow the link below.
the Tamiya kit itself
I got this kit as a present when recovering from a, rather serious, accident a couple of years ago. I had never seen its bulky box before and honestly the first impression was not entirely positive as one could almost buy two 1/48 scale kits for the 73 euro price tag attached to this one.
Finally, I got myself to paying a bit more attention to the inside of the box. My reluctance melted faster than the icecaps. I found two (upper and underside) huge fuselage-wing pieces, perfectly moulded with lots of detail and perfectly fitting. These two pieces alone already confirmed that Tamiya masters high precision moulding and had designed the parts in such a way that the seam lines are naturally hidden. It was clear from the outset that I would not need a lot of putty for this one.
The 4 large probes on the nose of the plane are moulded directly onto the upper half fuselage and protected by a solid section of sprue. This comes in very handy, not only avoiding that the probes are damaged during building but also to hang the model drying after painting.
I further found two large frames with black parts, two smaller ones with white parts and a frame with tinted clear parts. This tinting is quite important because also the glass sections of the real bird are tinted by a metal (gold?) coating.
Also included: masking tape placed on a background with the shape of the windows printed on. This tape is not pre-cut, you have to do some careful work here because the masking tape is rather thin and cutting the saw blade-shaped sections out is not straightforward.
Before cutting out the mask I scanned and printed the sheet onto normal Tamiya masking tape (placed on a background of labels). I used this extra set of masks for the inside of the canopy. Hence, I could paint both sides of the canopy which gives a much more realistic result.
The kit even includes a weight and pieces to fix it on the inside of the fuselage to avoid having a tail-sitter.
The decals provided looked just perfect.
With the clear instruction sheet at hand, the kit went together in a breeze and it is with some embarrassment that I nevertheless raise some criticism.
As said earlier, the kit comes with white moulded parts. These are mainly the two GBU-27A Paveway bombs and a number of parts of the plane itself which need a white finish.
The error is that not "all" the parts needing a white finish are moulded in white and not all the parts needing black finish are in black plastic. This means that some parts are bright white already before airbrushing and it was pretty difficult to achieve an equally white finish on the black parts. The end result is not entirely realistic. I think that it would be better to mould everything in black. If I would have to do this again, I might consider giving the white parts a black coat before painting it all white (but maybe I am just mad).
I finished the plane in matt Humbrol enamel (yes, black paint) and applied several layers of future before and after putting on the decals.
The bigger decals gave me a headache. These things are so tender that they tear apart at the smallest attempt to move them around once they stick to the surface of the model. Also, these decals release a "milky" substance when wet which can leave a white residue after drying. This is definitively not something that you want on a black surface. I changed tactics leaving the decals sufficiently long in the water until they floated freely from the background and this helped a lot.
Further, I found two pieces in the box that I could not figure out what they were there for. I could easily guess where they could fit on the fuselage but the instructions gave no clue whatsoever if this guess was correct. Photo's found on the internet gave no solution either until I read that for safe peace time flying extra parts could be added to the plane to make it visible on radar screens.
The instructions also ignore the red light which is so prominent on many photos of the underside of the fuselage. However, the clear parts frame contains two (?) extra "lights" that can be used for this purpose. You only need a calculated guess where this thing has to go.
The ejection seat is detailed but without any reference to the seatbelts. I guess that Tamiya assumes that everyone will gladly spend another 10 euro on aftermarket seatbelts but I am of the kind who wants 70 euro kits to be complete.
On the other hand, a plane like that without seatbelts isn’t very nice and I decided to finally bring an old idea to practice. If this idea flies I will later come back with a small article how I solved the seat harness problem.
These few shortcomings, also partly related to my own skills, don't change my overall impression. This expensive kit gives plenty of value for money and can certainly be recommended for fans of modern airplanes.
After all this work I have a model on display that I am proud of, be it a bit too glossy because of the future finish. I added some Hobby Color flat base to future and applied this unevenly over the surface. The result is still black but with the surface does show various shades which seems more realistic to me than plain gloss black.
Finally, I do not feel bad for not applying any weathering on a plane of which the spotless condition of its surface is conditional to its main, if not only, advantage in the battlefield - that is to remain stealth, invisible to radar. Besides, I have seen photo’s of mechanics wearing special, hospital-like, covers over their shoes when working on the F-117 which is sufficient as a demonstration of the care taken with it.
Placing this odd bird in a display cabinet next to more conventional models underlines again how special (and big) this airplane really is. Somewhere it seems out of place, looking more like a Star Wars prop than a thirty-year-old airplane. It is a "proof of concept" that demonstrated, by surviving many dangerous real-world "first day of the conflict" missions, the importance of stealth technology.
For those that underestimate the sheer size of the Nighthawk I included a few pictures of it besides a model of a Phantom. One version of this notorious and large two-seater performed for a long-time the role of wild-weasel, getting behind enemy lines to destroy air defences and core installations.
What specially appeals to me is that today, thirty years after its first flight and at the time of its retirement, the plane is still surrounded with mystery and secrecy and is protected from preying eyes as if it were a black diamond. One could almost assume that the stealth technology used for the Nighthawk is, once known, relatively easy to copy. Would this be the real reason for its retirement instead of the official reasons of "high maintenance cost" and the "appearance of the F-22"?
It seems in any case strange that the US Air force, expressing devastation that it will only receive 183 instead of the requested 381 F-22 fighters, retires 30(?) planes that could replace/assist the ultra-expensive F-22 in some of its most difficult missions.
Or would it be that a single role airplane is by default considered as being outdated in the age of multi-role, omni-role fighters. The recent grounding of the F-15, after an accident whereby one of these fighters fell apart in mid-air due to metal fatigue, could change the whole picture.
Well, I don't know but time will tell... maybe.
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