by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Brief background Sweden's Saab JAS-39 Gripen lightweight multi-role fighter is one of the most attractive and cost-effective fighters to emerge at the end of the 20th century. Combining high agility with Mach 2 performance, while claiming lower unit and operating costs than many of its rivals, the Gripen has proved quite successful in the export market. 235 Gripens have been built so far in single- and two-seat variants, serving with five air forces, plus Britain's Empire Test Pilots' School.
A further development, the Gripen NG (JAS-39E/F or "Super Gripen") has been approved, offering improved performance and equipment, with construction of pre-delivery aircraft now underway. The Gripen NG is planned to enter service in 2018.
The kitKitty Hawk's Gripen arrives in one of the company's now familiar deep and compact top opening boxes, with the larger sprues "folded in half" to fit. Each is sealed in an individual bag, while the etched parts and decals are protected by clear film. The kit comprises:
287 x pale grey styrene parts
11 x clear parts
16 x etched brass parts
The moulding is generally very nice. The main parts are quite thick, but they feature some very delicate engraved panel lines and other surface detail. There's a slight step evident on the fuselage of the sample kit where a drop-in mould has been used. Unfortunately, this doesn't follow a panel line, so you may need to do a little re-scribing to tidy up where a couple of engraved lines cross the join. As with other Kitty Hawk kits, there are a few moulding "pips" on the surface. Presumably, these are to aid removal from the moulds, but I've not come across them on kits from other manufacturers. Some of the sprue gates are pretty hefty and they extend onto the mating surfaces here and there, so careful removal and clean-up will be the order of the day. I spotted one of two small sink marks on the heavier mouldings, although nothing serious, but there are plenty of ejector pin marks, a number of which need levelling before assembly can commence.
Test fitWith the main airframe parts cleaned up, a dry assembly is pretty encouraging. To allow for future two-seaters, the fuselage is split into fore and aft sections, but everything is warp-free in the sample kit, and the locating pins give a good solid fit. I found the mating surfaces slightly rounded so, while the fit between the front and rear fuselage parts is actually pretty good, you are still left with a noticeable seam that you'll probably want to fill to tie in with the kit's delicate panel lines. The wings clip together very solidly, but the one-piece lower span includes a large chunk of the belly of the beast and has a tendency to flex. This may be less of an issue once the wheel wells are in place, but I can foresee a little test-fitting and trimming being required. All control surfaces and the leading edge slats are separate parts.
A few detailsThe cockpit comprises some 20 parts. The digital instrument panel comes with very well printed decals for the multi-function screens which should look good with a drop of varnish to "glaze" them. The 5-part ejector seat is supplied with a simple 1-piece etched harness - perhaps a little basic, but all too many kits still don't include a harness at all...
The nose gear is good and sturdy, but the instructions would have you attach it before fitting its well into the nose - which is rather asking for it to take a knock during later assembly. I'll leave it off until the airframe is assembled and the seams are taken care of. Likewise the main gear, which has quite neatly detailed wells that should respond nicely to careful painting and highlighting. The wheels are un-weighted and have quite nicely moulded hubs
Kitty Hawk give the option to display the nose radar, and this features some very delicately moulded details. The instructions indicate the kit is a tail sitter and that weight should be added in the nose cone. However, there looks to be room in front of the cockpit tub to squeeze a fair amount in if you want to leave off the nose and display the radar.
A 6-part engine has some neatly moulded detail on its exterior walls, but it'll be totally hidden away once the fuselage halves are joined so I wouldn't go overboard painting and weathering it. You'll need to clean off some of the hefty ejector pins before fitting a rather nice photo etched interior liner. The exhaust does look very clumsy, but the thickness isn't actually far off, so don't be tempted to thin it down to a knife-edge. The problem is the real thing is made up of individual overlapping petals, something a solid-moulded item can't really portray effectively. I see Aires already have a resin aftermarket alternative available, and it looks a huge improvement.
The jet intakes open straight into the fuselage with no interior trunking, so it may be worth blanking them off to avoid an unrealistic see-through look from certain angles.
Both the airbrakes and refuelling probe are designs to be displayed open. I haven't found many shots of the Gripen on the ground with them deployed, so it would be wise to check references to see if it's appropriate.
The kit's transparencies are beautifully clear. The moulded line on the top of the canopy is visible in photos of the real thing, although the kit version may be a tad heavy. The canopy features details such as etched rear-view mirrors and an interior support frame. To pose it open a small etched exterior tab is included, which is a novel idea and should be unobtrusive if not true to the original.
Kitty Hawk supply a quite phenomenal weapons fit-out for 5 x pylons, plus wingtip racks. The bulk of the items are taken from their Mirage F1, so a few items will be headed for the spares box. Those indicated for use on Gripen are:
Python IV – air-to-air missile
AGM-65 – air-to-ground missile
GBU-12 – laser-guided 500lb bomb
AIM-120 - air-to-air missile
DWS-39 – stand-off submunitions dispenser
AIM-9M - air-to-air missile
RBS-15 - air-to-ground / anti-shipping missile
IRIS-T - air-to-air missile
A load-out chart shows which weapons can be carried on the seven hardpoints, and a set of stencil markings is provided, along with a full-colour painting guide.
Instructions and decalsThe assembly guide is well drawn and straightforward to follow, but I did find the recommended sequence rather illogical in places, adding fragile details before the main airframe is complete. Experienced modellers will no doubt plan their own sequence, taking care of the main sections before adding smaller parts. Colours are keyed to most details throughout assembly, and these are Gunze Sangyo.
Decals are included for four colour schemes:
A. Test aircraft 39A in Swedish Air Force markings.
B. "9237" in Czech markings sporting a spectacular tiger tail motif.
C. "30" in Hungarian Air Force colours.
D. "11" in South Airfrican Air Force markings.
The decals look pretty good, printed on two sheets - one gloss finished the other matt. I've been rather hard on the decals included with Kitty Hawk's recent releases for being dot-printed, so it's a relief to find that the main (glossy) sheet that bears the grey low-viz insignia is conventionally screen-printed. Admittedly, there's a slighter register problem where rectangular yellow bands for the missiles are printed over white to give the colour depth - but that's hardly a big deal as they'll be simple to trim down or replace.
The second sheet is dot-printed, but this is understandable as I can't see any other way of reproducing the stunning sepia-toned tail artwork and the digital instrument displays. In fact, the dots seem much finer than on previous Kitty Hawk sheets, but I still have preferred to see the South African and Hungarian national insignia screen-printed.
ConclusionKitty Hawk's Gripen is a very nice kit. As with most of this series it's not a "shake the box and it'll build itself" model - the fuselage breakdown sees to that, but with a bit of care you'll have a Scandinavian beauty on your shelf.
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