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Tamyia's 1/48 scale F-117A is still one of the most accurate kits available.

Build Your Own Black Jet

By Guy Aceto
6/2/2016 • Aviation History Magazine

There have been Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk kits available in a variety of scales and shapes even before there was an F-117. The super-secret “stealth fighter” took many forms on hobby shop shelves before the Air Force finally released a grainy image of the airplane to the public in 1988. Our kit of choice is from Tamyia, which makes one of the better versions in 1/48th scale—nicely engineered, with good detail and easy-to-follow instructions.

The cockpit is a typical starting point, but before you dive in you need to address at least one issue: panel lines. One of the things that makes this ground-attack bomber stealthy is RAM, radar absorbent material, a coating applied to the jet’s exterior. RAM helps reduce the Nighthawk’s radar signature, and along with its faceted shape is critical in defeating enemy radars searching for the aircraft. RAM also covers up those panel lines, so that’s what you need to do too. After a little filling and sanding, you’ll be ready to move on to the build.

Sprue helps protect the four delicate pitot tubes.
Sprue helps protect the four delicate pitot tubes.

Straight from the box, Tamyia’s cockpit is good, but a resin ACES II seat and Eduard detail set add a little something extra. The cockpit “tub” fits nicely into the top half of the jet. The bomb bay and the landing gear wheel wells fit into spaces on the bottom half. Note that the fuselage is split top and bottom, which makes the seam the leading edge of the sharp tapered wing. It’s a great engineering solution. Once you look at the airplane, it all makes sense. The butterfly tail and flaperons are separate pieces, enabling you to accurately show the subtle droop that the jet exhibits on the ramp. There’s even an accurate version of the crew ladder, designed specifically for the F-117.

Much of the detail work comes in the cockpit and the bomb bay. Both areas will pop against the smooth black jet. Dials and gauges, the control stick, throttle and ejection seat all add tons of interest. The kit accurately reproduces the cavernous bomb bay and the two unique trapeze-like hardpoints that swing out to extend the weapon outside the F-117 and into the airstream during release. The kit comes with two 2,000-pound GBU-27 guided bombs, but in reality the trapeze was designed to accommodate almost any weapon in the inventory.

I chose to build a jet from the 7th Fighter Squadron, part of the 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, in New Mexico. The 7th was the training squadron for the wing. I opted to hang an SUU-20 pod full of practice bombs as the load out.

Paint the bottom half of the model flat black. Once the finished cockpit, bomb bay and wheel well subassemblies are in place, it’s time to put the fuselage halves together. Stuffing tissue into the glossy white weapons bay and gear wells will help mask these areas during painting.

At first glance, it seems like the F-117 would simply be painted black overall, but you can opt to get creative with this model. The linoleum-like RAM had to be removed before maintainers could work on sections of the jet, then carefully reapplied. Wherever that was done, the new RAM resulted in areas of slight color shifts—an effect that can easily be reproduced by masking and spraying sections. Alternating areas of matt and gloss varnish mimic that look. Consult your reference material to see which approach you’d like to follow.

Once the fuselage is together, the landing gear is in place and you’ve applied a nice coat of gloss varnish, you’re ready to apply the markings. The 7th Fighter Squadron, activated at Selfridge Field, Mich., in January 1941, became known as the “Screamin’ Demons” while flying combat missions over New Guinea during World War II. They adopted the “Bunyap,” a fierce Aboriginal demon, as their insignia. The unit transitioned to the Nighthawk in 1992, flying the Black Jet until they transitioned to the F-22. The 7th also trained pilots using T-38 Talons as chase planes. Instructors followed students as they put them through their paces in what amounted to an aerial classroom.

As the wing's 'schoolhouse,' instructors at the 7th Fighter Squadron used T-38 trainers to keep an eye on their students.
As the wing's 'schoolhouse,' instructors at the 7th Fighter Squadron used T-38 trainers to keep an eye on their students.

A set of aftermarket decals from Two Bobs Aviation Graphics, based in Texas, provides an excellent set of markings for the squadron commander’s aircraft, serial no. 81-0797, as it appeared during the silver anniversary ceremonies in 2006, when the stealth jets were finally retired from service at Holloman AFB.

After the markings are in place, spray on another clear coat to seal the decals. You can add a little weathering, fuel staining from the refueling port on the top of the jet and some minor streaking—as seen in the reference material—for additional detail. Once you load the ordnance and attach the canopy, your Nighthawk is ready to display.

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