I have no doubt that the appearance of the F-35A on Japanese air base ramps will have triggered Tamiya to consider this machine, local access helping turn that tentative plan into a reality.
I think that’s it’s fairly safe to say that no modern aircraft splits opinion quite like the F-35 Lightning II. From those technical gurus that bemoan its abilities, thorough accountancy experts questioning the value of such an expensive programme, on to aeronautical enthusiasts who clash over its looks (I’m very much in the it’s cool camp, especially when it’s flown in ‘Beast Mode’) the world of the Lightning II seems only united in one thing: its disunity. So when the news broke earlier today on the Tamiya USA Blog that a new kit was to be released and from no other company than Tamiya, I hunkered down and waited for the inevitable brickbats to fly as the news was shared throughout the modelling world.
Though I could discuss the entire F-35 programme within this Friday night update, I am neither qualified or interested enough to give it a go (frankly, this took me long enough to pen, so adding in actual, technical data on the real machine, really would have been a step too far!). What I am qualified to do – if only in my own head – is discuss the news of this new kit (the second Lightning II kit to hit this year) and perhaps offer a few thoughts on what we can expect from it when online news, is replaced with cardboard boxes and plastic parts.
I have to say that it came as something of a shock to see them look at this aircraft until I remembered that the JASDF operate them and then the fog began to clear, if only slightly. Over the years, Tamiya has not exactly overwhelmed the modelling world with modern jets that have recently entered service. Their attention has often been rather more historical in focus, but it’s not entirely unheard of if not a little unusual, for then to dip their toes into pools of the more up to date. One thing they have done though on a regular basis is look at home grown systems, or machines from elsewhere that have been used by the Japanese military and replicate them, accordingly. Just look at Tamiya’s catalogue and you will see that they have plenty of kits in their armour/vehicle ranges (1/48, 1/35 and 1/16) that depict machines that are currently on strength with Japanese forces. So swapping wheels and tracks for wings and jet pipes, is hardly a leap, especially when their need to feed the home market is their main aim.
I have no doubt that the appearance of the F-35A on Japanese air base ramps will have triggered Tamiya to consider this machine, local access helping turn that tentative plan into a reality. More likely though was a realisation once again, that this subject would appeal to their all-important home market, sales being bolstered by its use elsewhere around the globe. Like it not, that has always been a driver for Japanese model kit manufactures, so when this ubiquitous aircraft entered service with the JASDF, they had Japanese modellers covered, as did they, enthusiasts around the world who wanted their air force F-35s in miniature. Simply put, modellers like to build aircraft in the colours of their country’s military, so releasing one that’s this numerous (at least in the long-term) is as sensible today as F-16 kit releases were at the start of the 80s. Would they have considered the F-35 without it entering service with the JASDF? Maybe. Did this push the decision along? Without doubt…
Releasing the Alpha model is a sensible course of action because it allows that Japanese type to be modelled, first and foremost. But there is more to it than that: this variant is the most numerous with air forces around the world and that gives it reach, increasing the revenue that Tamiya will make from each sale. Sure, we have the MENG kit, as do we, the superb Italeri Bravo variant that modellers, already keen to model this aircraft, will have bought and built. But this is a Tamiya release. That gives it kudos. That generates excitement. That almost guarantees a successful release.
When the kit arrives, it will be interesting to see how it compares to those extant offerings already on hobby shop shelves. Having seen how Italeri broke their superb kit down (I genuinely think it’s the best so far seen of this aircraft in miniature) I’m eager to see if Tamiya improve their ideas and the levels of detail. Recent releases from Tamiya have revealed that their designers are not shy when it comes to the development of very clever solutions to the replication of very complex shapes and I see this kit being no different. It will therefore be interesting to see how such a complex machine and one that is frankly smooth as silk, is replicated in miniature and how that replica, is constructed from a basic set of plastic parts. I’m also keen to see how the RAM panels, those most contentious of surface details, are depicted on the surface of this new kit: smooth as in Hasegawa’s 1/72 family, or raised as in every other kit…
I don’t expect Tamiya’s imminent F-35A to be universally welcomed, but I do expect it to be very popular. It will sit nicely alongside the superb Italeri F-35B that was released earlier this year, as will it the slightly older MENG package. It will be more expensive than both of its predecessors I’m sure (despite the fact that Italeri’s is north of 70 quid) which places it within luxury kit territory similar to their Phantom and F-14 kits. That said, with the features that Tamiya have seemingly announced as part of this new Lightning kit, I foresee it once again being value for money if as I suspect it is crammed with detail, is accurate and is easy to build. Time will tell if one, or all of these initial impressions, comes to pass.
See you next time.
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