The Lawn Dart that Flies Right Off the Ground: FROG’s 1:72 F-16C Block 52

The F-16 is a most successful aircraft, but it’s always left me a little meh. Maybe it’s the gray-on-gray-on-gray paint schemes, or the somewhat generic planform, or just its sheer ubiquity. My bias even led me to turn my nose up at the many nice presentation schemes (although I have all the decals, for some reason!). In spite of my unreasonable bigotry, I decided that it would be nice to add a Nellis-based Lawn Dart to my collection – after all, the IPMS Nationals are in Las Vegas in two years, and it might be fun to have an entry at the show from the neighborhood! And late last year, I was near Phoenix for work, right in the flight path of Luke AFB. The F-35s were interesting, but the F-16s were really cool. The seed was planted.

Building a model of an F-16 leads you down something of a rabbit hole. If you want to build an accurate model, you have to understand the history and nomenclature of the little fighter. It’s not enough to know that your kit is an F-16C – whether it’s a Block 25, 30, 32, 40, 42, 50, 52 or 50/52 plus is vital to know if you hope to have an accurate representation of the real deal. The block numbers mostly pertain to the engine, and the engine determines the intake shape and size. Blocks 25, 32, 42, and 52 used variants of the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine with the original smaller intake; the 30, 40 and 50 used the General Electric F110 engine with larger air intakes. There are differences around the exhaust nozzle as well. Essentially, if you want to build a GE-engined plane from a Pratt & Whitney -engined kit, or vice versa, you will make your life very difficult.

There are more differences as well. In the early 2000s, a number of jets were put through the Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP), which aimed to standardize the cockpit layouts and capabilities of the F-16C fleet. These enabled the planes to carry LANTIRN, Litening and the Lockheed-Martin Sniper XR Advanced FLIR pods. Because standardization means something different in the military than anywhere else, some CCIP F-16Cs also received a NATO standard Link-16 Data Link, an electronic horizontal situational indicator and the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System.

All of this was news to me when a friend handed me the Frog 1:72 F-16C. Yes, I said Frog – an entity in Asia is reviving the brand and one of their first kits is a re-boxing of the Academy F-16C in Singaporean markings. This kit, for those of you keeping score, is a Block 52 and can be built as a CCIP aircraft, with the four air-to-air interrogator antenna ahead of the windscreen.

The somewhat uninspired top of the Frog boxing of the Academy F-16.

The kit features very refined recessed panel lines, a ton of parts for the landing gear, a full complement of tanks and ordnance, the canopy has the correct bubble shape, and the model fits together spectacularly. On the down side, the model has some shape errors that will drive Viper nuts… well, nuts. The nose is too narrow and pointy, and the aft side strakes (where the flaperons go in back) are flat, rather than angled 10 degrees like the real thing. The clear parts are provided with a gold tint, which would be accurate for early Block 52s, but later aircraft went to a clear canopy when night-vision goggles were adopted.

An aside: if you’re going to build an F-16, you really need a copy of Danny Coreman’s Uncovering the F-16A/B/C/D Fighting Falcon. This book came out in 2002, and it’s expensive on the secondary market – $80-$120 is not unusual. My suggestion is to get the Japanese version of the book – I picked up mine for $30 with shipping from Japan. The text is in Japanese, but all the photos are in English!

Domo arigato, Mr. Discount F-16 bible.

I started with the cockpit. Aires makes a neat front office for the F-16C, with a tub, sidewalls, ejection seat, instrument panel and instrument shroud, plus a lot of photoetched parts that would be added at the end of the build, like the HUD and ejection seat details. Be forewarned: in order to use this set, you’ll need to cut away the kit instrument shroud and modify the rear cockpit, and do so without instructions. Caution is the watchword – slipping up will mean a lot of gruesome remedial work. With lots of such work under my belt, I knew to go slowly and to use small files to sneak up on the right shapes. You get no extra points for speed in this part of modeling!

Once the rear section of the new tub fit into the enlarged opening in the back of the upper kit cockpit, I sanded the bottom of the tub to get sufficient clearance for the fuselage upper and lower halves to close. This meant a lot of sanding – as in, the area under the ejection seat was completely sanded away. This was just enough to obtain a good fit.

Getting the rear part of the Aires cockpit to fit the Academy fuselage required work, but it eventually went where it was supposed to.

To make mounting the instrument shroud and panel easy, I added a shelf from styrene strip. When the time came to mount the shroud, it was a breeze to glue the shroud to this styrene shelf instead of trying to stick the edge of the shroud to the edge of the forward cockpit. More mating surface meant easier modeling.

All the detail parts were painted and detailed, then drybrushed. The ejection seat was painted, too, but it was left out until later to make masking easier. The photoetched rudder pedals were added, and I applied the tiny instrument films and photoetched panels to the resin instrument panel. I painted the multifunction displays silver, then Tamiya clear green. The sidewalls were added to the cockpit, and then everything was set aside.

A peek over the pilot’s shoulder at the rather small instrument panel.

The nose wheel bay is molded into the bottom of the lower inner intake trunk. The trunk halves fit spectacularly well; I glued them together, then sprayed them and the wheel bay flat white. Then I turned my attention to the wheel bay, adding hoses and cabling with lengths of .2mm and .4mm lead wire. Many of the cables in the wheel bay were silver – so the wire could be used unpainted – while others were black. I discovered that passing the wire across a black Sharpie colored them efficiently and permanently, and a shot of Testors Dullcote removed the gloss shine. A wash made from Future, black ink and a few drops of water popped all the detail out.

Dressed up with wires and hoses, the nose gear bay is ready to be installed into the intake housing.

I’d really wanted to make a Block 50, so I sourced CMK’s undercarriage kit, which included the larger intake. Unfortunately, the intake part lacked the wedge splitter that holds the intake away from the lower fuselage, and there’s no way to add it from the kit parts. The main gear bay in the CMK set, however, is worthwhile; I painted it white and gave it a wash, then went to town with wires and styrene rod and strip to re-create the nightmarishly busy bays revealed in Coremans’ book. The final result was worth a few hours of work!

…Then, a whole mess of other was added with lead wire, styrene strip and rod, and careful painting.

The intake parts – two sides and the top, with the wedge splitter – were carefully assembled. The front of the intake is a separate part; I painted it radome gray before adding it to the intake. On the real jet, the inner lip of the intake is gray. Since the trunk parts mated so perfectly inside the intake, all I needed to do was add a brace in the intake, made from .010 by .030 styrene strip, slide the trunk into the intake, and glue it in place. Any minute gap where the trunk and the intake lip join is visually obscured by the white/gray interface.

The intake, with its internal brace and white/gray paint demarkation

The main gear well was carefully added to the fuselage, followed by the intake. I found there was a slight gap between the intake sides and the fuselage mounting points, so I added small wedges of styrene inside the intake, pushing against the trunking. These pushed the outer sides of the intake out just far enough to get a good join. A slight step between the fuselage and the intake was sanded away without undue effort.

Wolfpack makes an update for the F-16C Block 40 that happened to include an improved resin nose. I sourced one of these and carefully cut it from its pour plug, leaving a convenient peg at the back of the radome that would make mounting easier. Then I took my motor tool and a cutoff wheel and removed the nose from both the top and bottom fuselage halves, a nerve-wracking exercise. Once the majority of the nose was gone, I taped the fuselage halves together and sanded the nose back to exactly the right point to get a good fit and a perfect sit for the radome, restoring some of the curves of the nose.

Someone thought using a motor tool to remove the nose was a joke. Does it look like I am joking? DOES IT?

I added the cockpit tub and instrument panel shroud to the upper fuselage half with CA glue. While I was at it, I added the Gatling gun insert to the upper fuselage; the fit was a little sloppy, but two applications of Mr. Surfacer 500 filled in the seams nicely.

I joined the upper and lower fuselage halves with CA glue, adding small amounts of CA with the end of a copper wire and working my way from nose to tail. The aft of the fuselage had areas that needed to be sanded down with some enthusiasm, but these were flat, making the job easy. The forward fuselage, with its complex curves and shapes, fit beautifully.

Top and bottom halves together, with the intake in place.

The belly, with the intake seam eradicated. The fit of the nose was quite good.

Next time: on to the tail, wings, nose and pylons!