by: Bill Cross [ ]
introductionOne of the areas that usually gets overlooked in aircraft models is the armaments. Oh, I don’t mean the planes don’t come with bombs and missiles, just that they’re both more afterthoughts than the focus of the designers. Details can get fudged or left off, and markings are often spare or missing entirely from the decal sheet. So a new set of air-to-air missiles from Trumpeter in 1/32nd scale that treats the weapons as minor masterpieces in their own right should thrill jet builders everywhere.
Air-to-air missiles (AAMs) have been around as long as aircraft have fought in warfare. But initially they were little more than elaborate fireworks intended to shoot down helium-filled (and therefore flammable) Zeppelins and observation balloons. They were simply too inaccurate to shoot down anything fast-moving. Machine guns dominated the dog-fights of both World Wars. Rockets were used, but in more limited roles, mostly against shipping, tanks and other stationary (or slow-moving) targets. It was the coincidence of jet engines and infrared technology after WW II that revived the fortunes of the air-to-air missile as an effective combat weapon. Heat-seeking sensors allowed pilots to shoot down planes that were often faster than machine guns (F-104 prototypes shot themselves down). As missiles got smarter and more maneuverable, the machine gun was relegated to the ground attack role that missiles once had.
Since the end of WW 2, combatants have been attacking one another from longer and longer distances thanks to advances in avionics that have made on-board computers small and powerful enough to take over the hunt from the airplane. Today’s AAM can be fired with the target over the horizon, and with fighters dog-fighting at or above the speed of sound, sophisticated missiles do the dirty work with more and more authority. Guidance systems, including “painting” the target with a laser marker (either from the firing aircraft or even a spotter on the ground) have resulted in “fire & forget” missiles deadlier than the biplane pilots of WW I could ever have imagined.
The AAM has also become more specialized, with larger ones intended to knock down strategic bombers—oops, the world has changed and the strategic bomber is now a museum piece. But during the 1970s and 80s, most of the world was still preparing to re-fight WW II on steroids, so big bombers required big missiles. Now the more recent versions are intended to stop cruise missiles, though the sheer numbers of them make a defense based on large missiles look, well, misguided. Other AAMs like the Sidewinder and its more-nimble descendents are ready to handle any supersonic interceptor—oops, the world has changed for them, too. Not many supersonic interceptors threatening the peace. But as long as nations build jet fighters, other nations will build AAMs to shoot them down.
Most jet airplane kits today include a good assortment of armaments. But Trumpeter has released two sets of add-on armaments for 1/32nd scale kits that should delight those of you who believe as I do that you can’t be too rich or too well-armed: air-to-air missiles and a set of bombs. The complimentary sets are designed to up-gun Trumpeter kits or enhance other makers’ offerings.
the kitThe set of air-to-air missiles includes:
27 sprues of light gray plastic
3 sprues of clear plastic
2 sheets of decals
Painting & marking guide sheet
4 page instruction booklet
the reviewThe mix has a nice selection of current and “classic,” including two variants of the AIM-54 “Phoenix” long-range missile intended for the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat: the AIM-54A and the 54C intended to combat cruise missiles. The AIM-7 “Sparrow” and AIM-9 (better known as the “Sidewinder”) shorter-range missiles have been staples of the US and its allies for decades (and in the case of the Sidewinder, inadvertently its enemies). The Sidewinder was, of course, the first successful air-to-air heat-seeking missile, and was a staple of US air combat weaponry from the 1940s through today’s AIM-9X. A dud that failed to explode when a Taiwanese pilot attempted to shoot down a Chinese MIG-17 in the late 1950s provided a “university course” in missile technology to the Soviet Union who reverse-engineered their own version from the captured weapon.
The Sparrow was the first BVR (Beyond Visual Range) air-to-air missile (AAM), and was developed in the 1950s, seeing service until the late 1990s. It has been replaced by today’s AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (or AMRAAM, pronounced “am-ram”). The 120 is also a BVR (Beyond Visual Range) air-to-air missile that can be launched and then left to do its work (“fire & forget”). Often called “the Slammer” in the Air Force, the 120 is the main armament of the F-22 Raptor.
The set also includes the “pod” guidance systems, LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) and The AN/ASQ-228 (Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared ATFLIR) that use a variety of laser, night vision and infrared sensors to make these missiles so deadly. There is even a LGTR practice missile that should be painted blue for “inert target.”
One feature I didn’t like about the set is it limits your options by trying to be inclusive. The selection covers a wide range of years (mid-90s to the present), so it doesn’t really allow you to “load up” a plane with ordnance. My other criticism of the set would be the missiles themselves aren’t very complex in the building: for the most part, two halves are glued together and some fins get placed on (though most of the time, the fins are molded onto the body). While these missiles are designed to be aerodynamic and sleek, an opportunity for finer detailing was lost.
The molding is crisp for the most part and absent is the usual Trumpeter problem of knock-out holes in obvious places. There’s almost no flash, and the fit is generally very good. One area to watch out for it’s the seam alignment of the various missile bodies: there is a tendency in some of them to develop gaps at the front or rear end. A judicious use of clamps or tape should overcome most of these issues.
Painting & DecalsOne of the most-attractive features about the set is the generous sheet of stenciling decals. When you’re dealing with 1/32nd scale, you need all the various markings, warnings and codes that bring these weapons to life. Too often manufacturers leave off the stenciling as if you could get away without these markings in this large size. I hate to tell them, but someone with good eyesight can probably read some of the placards, so let’s have none of that skimping!
The painting is straightforward and fairly basic, though the colors called-out on the painting & marking guide don’t always match those indicated (e.g., Tamiya RLM Gray when the Model Master color is “duck egg blue”?). Presumably the painting guide of the aircraft you mount these weapons on will sort all that out.
conclusionThis set and its companion should be a delight to builders of 1/32nd scale US jets, and is a fun build in its own right.
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