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Not to date myself too much here, but if memory recalls correctly, the very first plastic model airplane I ever owned was a Hawk P-84, built for me by my father in the summer of 1948 (I can date this because my sister was a brand-new baby then). As I recall, it didn't last long, since I was only a toddler; when I ran around "flying" it, I tripped and learned early that plastic models are fragile - fortunately it cost the grand sum of 49 cents. I went on to build several of the Hawk/Testor re-releases and updates of this kit over the years - including one with scratchbuilt cockpit and modified tip tanks that now sits in the Planes of Fame Museum - but in the fifty years since then, the only other 1/48 injection-molded Thunderjet released was the Battle-Axe kit of a few years ago, which was over-priced and under-quality, to say the very least. The only other possibility was the Karo-As vacuform. Fortunately, Tamiya has now come to the rescue for those of us who like the jets of the immediate post-war and Korean era. This F-84G sets a new standard for a company known for well-engineered, accurate 1/48 aircraft models.
Two things about this kit are really good: first is a cockpit tub detailed well enough that Willy Peeters at KMC told me, "We took a look at it and decided not to make a cast resin cockpit." The other is the open gunbay in the nose. On the nice-to-have but not-really-necessary front, the lowered fowler flaps are a nice touch, but I have yet to find a photograph of a Thunderjet sitting on the ramp with its flaps down. This is a situation like the recent Skyraider with its open dive brakes and dropped flaps: a nice touch that would never be, and modellers will likely use the option in droves. This to me is part of the argument about how much "reality" is real in a model, like the Spitfires with KMC flaps lowered despite the fact that - during the war - any Spit pilot caught leaving the flaps down after touchdown was subject to a fine of fifty pounds for endangering the engine (the lowered flaps blocked the cooling exhaust from the radiators). Mustangs with lowered flaps, Corsairs with lowered flaps, yes; these others, not really. I know when I make the Thunderbirds airplane from the upcoming Cutting Edge decal sheet, I will close the gunbay and raise the flaps.
There have been numerous complaints that the one thing about the kit that is truly dreadful are the overly-thick decals. Tamiya did have a contract at one time with Scalemaster to provide Invisi-clear decals for their P-51 series, and I wish they had kept with that when they moved on to their recent releases such as the He-219, Skyray and Skyraider. These kit decals are thick. However, I used Micro-Sol (the red-lettered bottle) and the decals snuggled down with a minimum of hassle. These Tamiya decals do have a tendency to stick faster than the modeler might wish, and my solution to that is to cover the surface with water, position the decal, blot lightly with tissue, then apply the Micro-Sol liberally and be prepared to do it several more times until the process is over.
The ejection seat is acceptable, but is the one really weak part of an otherwise excellent kit. Fortunately, the F-84 used the same seat as the F-86 (or at least close enough that the details don't show up in 1/48), and KMC makes a good cast-resin seat which they sell separate from their F-86 cockpit set. I strongly advise anyone to get this, since it will make the finished project outstanding. On this model, I used the kit seat and applied the decal seatbelts to masking tape covered with white glue; when dry, I cut them free and set them into the seat so that they stand a bit "proud." It looks much more realistic than applying the decal belts directly to the seat.
With a kit this good, there is not much other detail to add, other than the finish. I decided to go all the way with a multi-hued natural metal finish, using my newly-acquired skills with SnJ metallizer paint. I used the SnJ aluminum for the basic finish because it can be masked over with impunity, as opposed to the Testor's Model Master product. I decided to test Scott Bell's statement that SnJ can be successfully masked over after only an hour's drying time and found it to be true, though I use low-tack drafting tape exclusively, and so cannot say that one could achieve the same result with high-tack masking tape. I masked-off the upper and lower center sections of the wings and horizontal stabilizers, added a bit ot Model Master tinting semi-gloss white to grey-out the aluminum, and shot that.
Once all that was dry, I masked off the section of the fuselage immediately forward of the leading edge of the wing while masking over several of the smaller panels inside this area to keep the original color, and the after fuselage from the break line, and the panels on the upper wing immediately above the inner pylons. I then shot these areas with Model Master non-buffing Aluminum, since from color photographs it seemed to be the right shade; this required sealer, which gives the flattened look of natural metal exposed to sunlight. Afterwards I masked the section of the rear fuselage immediately ahead of the exhaust and shot it with Model Master Magnesium. The result is a four-color natural metal finish that looks much more "alive" than a monochromatic silver finish. The process was time-consuming but worth the effort, and I will likely repeat it on the other Thunderjets that will make their way into my collection.
In finishing the cockpit canopy, I masked off the clear canopy and the lower frame, shot the bracing frames with semi-gloss tinting white; when that was dry I masked the strips, then shot the interior (black) color on the frame, topping that with SnJ aluminum. It's an involved process, but the result is realistic.
This is another Tamiya "shake 'n' bake" kit that will allow a modeller with average skills to add a model to their collection they will be proud to show off to others, and that is a good thing. It matches the standard set with Tamiya's F4U-1 for a nicely-detailed cockpit interior. I hope Pro-Modeler's upcoming F-84E/G is comparable, but I fear that even if it is better and more accurate, it will suffer the fate of Accurate Miniatures' P-51B/C, which had the misfortune to come out a year after the Tamiya P-51B. Bill Bosworth from A-M argues that having two kits of the same airplane on the market does not "offer modellers a choice," but rather kills one of the releases and deters companies from the US$150-200,000 investment it takes to develop and cut a mold for a new model, and that is a very valid point. Tamiya could just as well have put their efforts into a really good Banshee, or a definitive Panther, or an totally-accurate F-80, to the same commercial result. I personally hope this F-84 signals a trend, and that we will see more of the first and second-generation jets from back when the designers didn't know yet what "worked" and airplanes still had individual character, unlike the Sukhoi F-16s or the Lockheed Su-27s of today.
Photos of this models are at the page Tamiya model by Tom Cleaver.