1/32 Trumpeter A-4E Skyhawk
by Steve Long
A product of the Douglas aircraft companies legendary designer Ed Heinemann and selected as a replacement for another Douglas classic, the AD-1 Skyraider, the A-4 Skyhawk became one of the most successful attack aircraft in history. Conceived at a time when new naval aircraft were characterised by their complexity, the A-4 broke away from the accepted rule with its design philosophy of low cost light weight and compact size giving it a capability of high sortie rates and the ability to absorb considerable battle damage.
The A-4’s career saw a production run of 2959 aircraft spanning from the A-4A to the A-4M. It served with the forces of Australia, Argentina Brazil Israel Indonesia Kuwait New Zealand Singapore and the United States.
Its combat history saw it in operation over the sky’s of South East Asia, the Middle East and the South Atlantic. It still flies today in the hands of Argentina Brazil and some civilian operators.
The A-4 has been well served in kit form with kits in all the major scales. While in 1/72 the stand out has been the Fujimi series and in 1/48 the superb Hasegawa family the 32nd scale modeller has only had the venerable Hasegawa kit to choose from. While accurate in outline well detailed it has raised detail and is getting long in the tooth.
Trumpeters have come to the rescue for those wanting to add an updated large scale “Scooter” to the collection.
Opening the box reveals 16 individually wrapped and crisply moulded sprues. A separate box contains three clear sprues, a small sheet of photo etch and the main gear legs cast in metal.
The box top states there are 470+ parts and I shall take their word for it.
Test fitting the major assemblies together shows Trumpeter have captured the shape of the original quite well. The surface detail is delicate and well defined. I'm happy to say there is no sign of the dreaded "Rivet divets" that have been seen on many Trumpeter kits. The instructions are in Trumpeters usual style with numerous (and incorrect) colour call outs. As always check your references first.
Construction begins in the cockpit. A one piece tub assembles to a rear bulkhead. A clear instrument panel and instrument decals are included. The entire assembly then fits to the single piece nose gear well. Surprisingly in this scale, the side consoles are devoid of usable detail and the throttle quadrant is missing. The instrument panel's biggest issue is the undersize AJB-3A all attitude indicator (Artificial horizon) and indicator for the APG-53 radar. This throws off the look of the entire panel. The weapons selector panel at the base of the main panel is to tapered and missing most of the switches etc.
Aries make a replacement cockpit though it appears to have the same instrument panel issues. I intend to use the Avionix (Formerly Black Box) cockpit set. This is meant for the Hasegawa kit but does appear to fit into the Trumpeter fuselage.
The ejection seat is supplied in 5 plastic parts to which etched belts and ejection handles are fitted. It builds up to a nice representation of the ESCAPAC seat, though the etch belts are a bit undernourished.
Moving to the next stage see's the assembly of the main gear legs and wheels. Rubber tyres are fitted to two parts hubs. There is a choice of metal or plastic gear legs both have superb detail. Both sets of gear legs appear to be about 5 millimetres to high. This will throw off the sit of the finished kit loosing the characteristic nose high sit of the original. Several aftermarket releases have addressed this issue. As if to make up for the too tall struts, the supplied main wheels are 2 millimetres to small in diameter. True details make replacements.
Next we move to the engine assembly. The J-52 P8A assembles from 16 parts and includes the intake duct work and tail pipe. The detail is a bit basic but gives a very good base to work on. The supplied engine mounts are inaccurate having large trusses on either side of the center pin. These can be trimmed with a razor saw to give a more accurate look.
Fuselage assembly follows. Trumpeter gives the option to have the rear fuselage separated to show off the engine and open avionics bays in the nose. These weren't left open unless the aircraft was undergoing maintenance and as the detail is a bit soft I would leave them closed. Unfortunately Trumpeter has not captured the correct shape of the doors, missing the rounded corners entirely.
Another issue popping up here is the size of the intakes. Trumpeter has followed the same route as Hasegawa’s 48th scale kits in using three part intakes. This is most useful for painting but Trumpeter has made the intake lip far too thin. AIMS resin has released a set of replacement intakes or you can scrounge a set of the Hasegawa kit.
The next step fits out the upper fuselage and the builder is given the choice of fitting the avionics hump or not. It has been stated previously that the E model did not have a hump and the F did, true the E did not leave the factory with a hump but many were retro fitted with them in service along with spoiler’s nose and wheel steering. Another case of check your references first.
The hump may be a bit to squared off on top, to me it looks like it may be from an A-4M. Given that Trumpeter has announced a "Mike" for release this may be a common component between the two kits. Most A-4's had a fatigue meter mounted on the inner face of the port engine access door (Part E30) The engine cooling inlets for each side of the fuselage are separate parts and look the part when fitted.
The instrument panel glare shield (Part A6) has the chaff dispenser counter moulded in place, this needs to be removed if the aircraft modelled wasn't fitted with it. The gun sight has etched bracket which is a nice touch. The pitot and temp probes are nicely detailed but are shown mounted incorrectly for an E. Both should be in front of the windshield on either side of the rain removal fairing.
The canopy and tailplanes come next. The canopy is beautifully clear and has the compass and clock as separate parts. Two PE mirrors complete the canopy.
The empennage has separate control surfaces but oddly Trumpeter has moulded the top of the rudder with the fin. This can be easily removed and fitted to the top of the rudder. The tail planes have the end fairing moulded separately. This is a most welcome feature as the tailplane is motored into the nose down position before shut down to allow access to the elevator manual disconnect. Unfortunately Trumpeter has not left the fin open under the fairing and the modeller will be forced to cut this area open. There are a lot of photographic references of this area available on the net, www.skyhawk.org being the most useful.
The wings have detailed gear wells and the forward engine access (or "hell hole") doors can be left open to display the Colt 20mm cannons and their magazines. Both doors have a separate panel for the ground starter but this should be on the starboard door only.
Separate slats, flaps and spoilers are included. Trumpeter has made the same mistake as almost every other Skyhawk kit in that they have moulded a step where the slat meets the wing upper surface. This is not present on the prototype but can easily be removed with a light filing and some wet n dry.
Most A-4E's were retrofitted with lift spoilers in later life so depending on what era you intend to model, it would be prudent to check your references first to see if you’re intended subject had spoilers installed. To model a non spoiler equipped aircraft simply delete kit parts E11 & E28.
The vortex generators on the upper surface of the wing are overdone but this is more of a limitation of moulding these parts in plastic than any fault of the manufacturer. The approach light in the leading edge of the port wing features a clear cover but no light detail inside. This can be easily fixed with a small drill and some clear red and green paint.
The speed brakes can be mounted in the open position. PE parts detail the inner faces of the brakes. The speed brakes are not often left open on the ground.
Next the underside is fitted out. Trumpeter have done well here with the various antennas and drains etc all included. Chaff dispensers are included for both the fore and aft positions but only one should be fitted, not two as indicated on the instructions.
The undercarriage is now fitted. Trumpeter has moulded the nose wheel integral with the strut as was done with the 1/48th scale Hasegawa kit. Not good in 48th, just plain daft in this scale. I believe SAC has a replacement available. A shrink strut and nose wheel anti shimmy damper are fitted to the leg.
The gear doors are nicely detailed, the nose gear door has optional PE hinges. The main gear doors feature separate landing lights and junction boxes. The landing light was only fitted to the starboard gear door so you get a spare! The arrestor hook is a single piece, it is missing part of the hold back unit and the hook itself is undersize.
The final stages of assembly deal with the myriad of weapons choices that Trumpeter has given the modeller. I believe the only real choices here are the MK-82 and MK-82 Snakeyes and the MK-117 bombs. The AGM-12 may also be used. The rest of the included weapons are not correct for this variant but will be a most welcome addition to the spares box. The various weapons are nicely detailed though the MK-82's are a bit under nourished.
Two Aero 1-D 300 gallon drop tanks are supplied with separate tails. This enables the tank to be fitted to either the centre line or wing racks. The tanks are well detailed but as with the Hasegawa kit has the access covers on the sides mounted proud of the tank. Trumpeter has made the same mistake as Hasegawa in showing the inspection panels on the drops as a raised panel. In reality they are flush mounted. Sand them off and rescribe the prototype has these mounted flush. The weapons racks have fine detail and include separate sway braces.
Four Multiple ejector rack's and four Triple ejector racks' allow all this ironmongery to be mounted to the airframe. The last page of the instructions gives a somewhat overly optimistic loading chart. Although the Skyhawks lifting capacity is legendary six Mark eighty two's or three MK-117's on the outer pylon is a bit much.
The weights for each rack from the NAVAIR Pilots Handbook are; Stations 1 & 5 500pounds, Stations 2 & 4 1200 pounds and 3575 on the centreline.
The decal sheets give the options for three aircraft:
- A-4E Bu number 1499993 of VA-72 squadron, USS Independence 1964.
- A-4E Bu number 150131 of VA-212 squadron, USS Hancock 1964
- A-4E AD.320 Bu number 151118 VF-43.
Both in the standard USN scheme of light gull grey and white A-4E Bu number 151118 of VF-43 in 3 tone aggressor scheme.
The decals are very well printed on 3 sheets and in perfect register. The majority of the airframe stencilling is quite legible. The insignia blue on the national markings may be a bit light for some. An additional decal sheet is included for all the various stencils and data placards for the weapons.
Trumpeters big A-4 is a vast improvement over its older competition but is let down by sloppily researched areas of the prototype, the cockpit, landing gear and intakes being the stand outs. Given the price of the kit plus the required outlay in aftermarket, building an accurate Scooter is an expensive proposition. The only option of rescribing and detailing the 30+ year old Hasegawa kit make this a viable alternative. The surface detail on Trumpeters offering is superb. An “F” and “M” version have recently been released.
I recommend this kit.
Review sample courtesy of me.