For decades, the F-14 Tomcat has been a favorite among scale modelers, aviation enthusiasts, and aviators. There have been to date nearly 400 different issues of F-14 kits from 1:144 to 1:32 scale. Quality and accuracy of the kits varied, from early Airfix and Matchbox products to the “classics” by Testors, Monogram, and Revell. Generally, the best F-14 in 1:48 scale was often thought to be the Hasegawa family of Tomcats that came out in 1988, though they are infamous for construction glitches and ill-fitting parts. Hobby Boss launched a more modern tooled and designed F-14 family in 2010 but were plagued by rather misshapen intakes and some grossly inaccurate surface details. In 2016, Tamiya stepped into the ring with a new-tool F-14 in 1:48 scale, and in 2018, they followed up with a kit of the ultimate Tomcat – the F-14D. Here’s our take on this hotly anticipated kit.
The Grumman F-14 Tomcat hardly needs an introduction, achieving fame through its 32 years of active duty and appearances in motion pictures such as Top Gun. Tomcats played central roles in both relatively limited actions from Grenada to Lebanon and from Operations FREQUENT WIND to IRAQI FREEDOM.
Grumman manufactured 712 Tomcats between 1970 and 1992 across three major variants. The final version of the F-14 Tomcat was the D-model, and it was the most capable Tomcat ever developed. The origin of the -D goes back to the early 1980s after a decade of significant troubles with the Pratt and Whitney TF-30 engine. The TF-30 was originally intended to only power the 12 pre-production F-14s, but delays with the F401 engine, politics, and budgetary constraints led to all F-14As receiving the TF-30. It was a poor powerplant-airframe combination. The TF-30 was infamous for being underpowered, prone to compressor stalls especially at high AoAs, and suffered multiple catastrophic failures involving thrown compressor blades that claimed many jets and aircrews. Some F-14A pilots stated they flew the throttles instead of the airplane.
In 1981, the propulsion testbed airframe (the No. 7 preproduction F-14 that the Navy had bailed to Grumman) was taken out of storage to evaluate GE’s F101 DFE powerplant. It was a successful program but the F101 engine was not adopted. In 1984, the General Electric F110 GE-400 was tested in No. 7, and this led to contracts for the F-14A(Plus) and F-14D awarded later that year. The Tomcat finally had the engines it always needed. Beyond the fact that the F110 engine lacked virtually all of the TF-30’s weaknesses, an F110-powered F-14 could accelerate from Mach 0.9 to Mach 2.0 in 90 seconds. The engine also conferred greater fuel efficiency, greater range, more loiter time, and ease of maintenance.
The F-14A(Plus) (later re-designated F-14B) was essentially a re-engined F-14A that was an interim step towards the next major planned evolutionary development of the Tomcat. The F-14D represented in many ways a reinvention of the core architecture of the Tomcat particularly from an avionics systems perspective. It was called the Super Tomcat especially at Grumman, but at some point the Navy dropped “Super” from the official designation.
The “eyes” of the F-14D jet were the digital APG-71 radar with a range of up to 400 nautical miles that worked in concert with a chin pod combining a television camera and infrared search and track system (TCS/IRSTS) that independently allowed for identification of targets up to 100 miles away. The “brains” of the F-14D were a pair of digital AYK-14 Standard Airborne Computers that processed all the radar data, prioritized targets, managed the stores, and selected the weapons firing sequence. The Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) provided a passive, jam-proof datalink where one “user” could share everything it saw to another fighter. The F-14D’s cockpit was updated with multifunction displays, a combined glass heads-up display, and Mk. 14 Naval Aircrew Common Ejection Seats (NACES).
Externally, the F-14D carried over the NACA-style gun gas purge vents on the nose first introduced on the F-14A(Plus). The extendible glove vanes were deleted, as they were rated as only marginally aerodynamically effective (though there is debate about that observation). The empty space in the wing glove box leading edge was then fitted with the ALR-45 and ALR-67 radar warning receivers (the AN/ALQ-165 Airborne Self-Protection Jammer [ASPJ] was planned but never integrated). Chaff and flares were carried in the ALE-39 dispensers in the boat tail, and later, more chaff was added in the LAU-168 BOL Sidewinder missile rail.
The first production F-14D was delivered to the Navy in March 1990, but by then, the future of the F-14 was already doomed. The Navy wanted at least 130 new build F-14Ds and around 400 F-14As and A(Plus)s remanufactured as Ds. A long and complex political battle ended with then-SECDEF Cheney outright cancelling the F-14D in the FY 1992 budget. He called it a “jobs program” and shifted the F-14D budget to the development of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. As a result, only 37 new-build F-14Ds were produced along with 18 remanufactured A-models brought up to D-standards. The end of the F-14 production line also marked the end of the Grumman as an airframe builder.
The F-14D went into service in 1992 and was upgraded incrementally over time, first with air-to-ground capability, then the LANTRIN targeting pod, digital TARPS, and expanded air-to-ground capability with laser-guided munitions, and the big PTID display in the back seat. In 2001, GPS-guided JDAM munitions started to be cleared on the jet. The ROVER data downlink system was also deployed in 2005. The last Tomcats were the F-14Ds of VF-31, and the Tomcatters retired their last F-14 on 22 Sept 2006 at NAS Oceana. Arguably, the F-14 was at the pinnacle of its capability, but it had been technologically superseded by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The F-14D will always be remembered for its great promise and for its 16 years of service to the United States.
Tamiya’s new tool F-14D comes in a sturdy box with just enough room for all the parts. Seventeen gray injection-molded sprues hold 455 plastic parts. Thirteen clear parts come on two clear sprues. Self-adhesive painting masks for the windscreen, canopy, and intakes are also included. Two decal sheets cover the markings for four F-14Ds along with airframe and missile stencils (including landing gear data placards). The instruction booklet is accompanied by a foldout booklet that summarizes the F-14D’s history and loadout configurations in Japanese, English, German, and French. A double-sided full-color painting and decal placement guide is also included for the following jets represented on the primary decal sheet:
- F-14D BuNo 164602, VF-213 Black Lions CAG bird, USS THEODORE ROOSEVLET, March 2006
- F-14D BuNo 164302, VF-101 Grim Reapers, NAS Oceana, September 2004
- F-14D BuNo 163894, VF-2 Bounty Hunters CAG bird, USS CONSTELLATION, May 2003
- F-14D BuNo 163904, VF-11 Red Rippers CAG bird, USS CARL VINSON, 1995
Strengths: All of the accolades that were deservedly bestowed upon the 1:48 scale Tamiya F-14A apply here (see our review HERE https://www.detailandscale.com/scale-model-reviews/tamiya-grumman-f-14a-tomcat-148-scale. But to recap:
You’ve got a scale modeler’s kit here. The Tamiya Tomcat features excellent molding, elegantly restrained and scale recessed panel line and fastener/rivet detail, and a high fidelity of very accurate detail in cockpit, ejection seats, intake ramps, engine exhaust nozzles, and missiles. It is very size and shape accurate. The attendant depth of research that Tamiya devoted to this kit is very clear. The various shortcomings of both the venerable Hasegawa kit and more recent Hobby Boss kit have not been repeated in the Tamiya F-14. These include strategic and well-thought out locating tabs for the rear of the intakes, the forward fuselage to mid-fuselage joint design, and the one-piece boat tail, accurate fastener and rivet details throughout the airframe, flap hinges, and correct spoiler geometry are all accurately represented here.
My test fitting of the nose/forward fuselage halves, upper and lower fuselages, wings, and intake assemblies revealed an airtight fit. We’re talking literally seamless fits that require no filler.
The cockpit is quite good and I am impressed with the various things that Tamiya has chosen to do a little differently regarding the parts breakdown of this kit. Such features include the armature that the wings slip over to help ensure proper dihedral and left-right wing alignment, the single-piece radome and forward fuselage halves, and the drop-in, single-piece cockpit sills and rear decking. Also, the forward windscreen is molded as part of a larger extended fairing that includes the sides and front of the upper nose. This eliminates the often tedious and risky prospect of gluing, fairing in, and seam-filling of the windscreen’s edges that long plagued builders of Hasegawa F-14s. The in-flight refueling probe can also be positioned extended or retracted.
Now – for the new F-14D-specific parts. How did Tamiya do? To me, I think they nailed it the F-14D. New here are newly tooled vertical stabilizers on Sprue D, the entirety of Sprues N and M, the two sets of Sprue P, and the addition of two sets of Sprue S attached to the left side of Sprue E.
First, let’s start with the cockpit differences. Tamiya represents well the pilot and RIO’s instrument panel (though see below). I found their attention to detail to be well done. The F-14D was manufactured with the traditional TID (Tactical Information Display; the big round radar screen in the back seat). This worked fine in the pre-LANTIRN days, but the addition of the targeting pod required a new display. In the mid-late 1990s, the Tomcat received the PTID (Programmable Tactical Information Display; the big square multifunction screen in the back seat). Parts for both TID and PTID screens are provided, and if you’re doing markings option D (VF-11 CAG jet from 1995), the instructions correctly indicate use of the TID. The RIO’s GPS display and LANTIRN pod hand controller are included, too (used on markings options A and B). There’s also a self-adhesive applique “sticker” part used to simulate the reinforcement plate that was eventually installed surrounding the RIO’s boarding ladder step.
The Mk. 14 ejection seats look good, right down to the different-sized canopy breakers on the pilot and RIO’s seats. Sprue S also has pilot and RIO figures wearing 2000s-era flight gear, so don’t use the figures on Sprue E with their 1970s/80s gear. The decal sheet includes warning stencils for the seats and helmet markings for the aircrews.
Externally, the TCS/IRSTS chin pod looks great, just as the NACA gun gas purge vents do. The GPS dome and antenna configuration on the spine all look fine. While they are similar to the F-14A, specific F-14D style main wheel hubs are located on Sprue P. The F110 engine nozzle parts are quite respectable (but see my minor nitpick below). The fin-cap stiffeners on the retooled vertical stabilizers also look just right.
The external stores in the Tamiya F-14D kit are awesome. You get two AIM-54s (not four as in their F-14A kit), two AIM-9L/Ms, four AIM-7Fs, four GBU-12s, two GBU-16s, and two GBU-31 JDAMs. For pods, you get one AN/AAQ-25 LANTIRN pod, a TARPS pod, and one AN/ALQ-167 EW pod. The instructions and the multi-lingual background sheet break down possible loadouts by era/markings options to include the air-to-air, TARPS (but see below), and often asymmetrical loadouts seen on the air-to-ground configured F-14Ds.
You have a choice of traditional LAU-7 AIM-9 rails or the BOL chaff-dispensing versions. The BRU-32 bomb racks are molded integrally into the ADU-703 Phoenix missile pylon adapter, and they slip right into the AIM-54 pallet parts. There’s also an extra lower half of Station 8B (starboard glove pylon) specifically tooled to take the LANTIRN pod. The TARPS pod looks great, and as a nice touch, the interior cameras are provided. It’s the nicest TARPS pod out there in 1:48 scale.
The decals appear to have been printed in-house by Tamiya, and they’re beautiful. The VF-213 retirement CAG bird scheme is particularly stunning. I remember vividly seeing the same VF-101 scheme first-hand in 2004, and it went down as one my favorite Tomcat schemes of all time. Perfectly in register, the print quality is vibrant and captures some very intricate designs. Carrier film looks thin, but to my eye is just a little thicker and a bit more flat-sheened than with Cartograf decals (just as point of comparison). Carrier film is precisely laid down on the edges of the printed ink.
Beside the four airplanes, the decals cover all manner of airframe stenciling, the F110 engine exhausts (each engine nozzle is a single piece for ease of assembly), all the ordinance, pods, instrument display screens, ejection seat warning stencils, and even aircrew helmet art. There’s also an interesting approach adopted for the carbon fiber engine shroud. Most unconventionally, the sheet provides a very finely stippled set of two-dimensional decals to represent the low-relief three-dimensional texture of the carbon fiber shroud surface material. At first I was a bit dubious about this approach, but after looking at these decals carefully, I think it should work quite well.
You will also find the masking set to be very handy. Not only does it cover masking for the windscreen and canopy saving time and energy making your own, the masking set also includes masks for the intake interiors, too. Nice! Yet, these are not pre-cut masks, so you have to take care of that on your own.
Weaknesses: There are only a few critiques that can be considered for this superlative kit. I like building options and positionable control surfaces. Just as with the F-14A edition of the kit, the wings are single upper and lower halves with retracted slats and flaps and there’s no option to extend/drop them. The same applies to the molded-in upper and lower speed brakes. These elements of the kit may remind you as to how the older Monogram, Revell, and Academy F-14s were designed. So, if you wish to build your F-14 with the wings either swept back or motored forward in a clean configuration – you’re all set. This is your F-14 in 1:48 scale. If you want to build a “dirty Turkey,” you can (1) build a lesser kit; (2) steal the wings from a Hasegawa F-14 (I’ve not tried it, but I do hear they fit just fine in the Tamiya Tomcat), or; (3) get a set of cast resin F-14 wings from KASL Hobby.
While the cockpit is really outstanding for an injection molded kit, many finer switch details and positions seem a little simplified and the instrument faces are lacking detail. The throttles are molded contiguous to the cockpit tub and are pretty inaccurate in terms of shape. The rear cockpit decking is devoid of detail (there’s a fair amount going on back there by the canopy hinge). Also, the gear well walls are nearly totally devoid of the extensive plumbing and wiring details along with the very prominent rivets that, for better or worse, other 1:48 scale kits have tried to represent. In that respect, Tamiya gives the modeler an option to work in those details themselves.
Regarding decals and markings: the ejection seats do not have any molded-on shoulder harnesses or lap belts, but they are provided as decals. I’m not a huge fan of decal belts, but these work fine as decal belts. Also note there’s a weapons loadout described for Markings Option B (the VF-101 jet), but VF-101 was the RAG. In their role in training new pilots and RIOs, they didn’t go to war and only very rarely did they carry live rounds of any kind. VF-101 jets would nearly always fly with training rounds filled with concrete ballast. Also, while it’s great that the AN/ALQ-167 is included, it’s not appropriate for TARPS-equipped F-14Ds. They WERE used on the F-14A and B for extra protection during TARPS sorties, but the standard onboard ECM gear in the F-14D superseded use of the “Bullwinkle” pod.
Ultra-Tomcat minutia: the inflatable wing sweep airbags aft of the wing are nicely represented and are the first in any scale to correctly represent the grommets and screws on the upper edges of the bag’s cover. However, those extend down to the side edges of the bag, and those small details are missing here. The inboard aft main gear well wall (inboard of where the main landing gear attaches to the plane) curves quite noticeably inward following the contour of the roof of the intake trunk. The Tamiya gear well wall recognizes that contour, but it curves in more like a dimple – Tamiya had the right idea, just not nearly enough. It’s nice to see that the canopy hooks are represented on the insides of the canopy, but they’re foreshortened and don’t extend below the edge of the rail as they do on the jet. Also, in looking at the AIM-54 stencils, the same SERNO (or serial number marking) is repeated for all the AIM-54s. Each missile had a unique identifying SERNO tied to each missile’s unique targeting frequency, so they should all be different.
Markings option A (the VF-213 CAG jet) would have had the ROVER system installed as depicted in the kit. Externally, the ROVER system involved a small antenna protruding from the aft-forward surface of the starboard forward AIM-54 pallet (Station 6). A Google image search will provide all the references you need. Yet, the ROVER antenna does not seem to be in the kit, but it is elementary to scratchbuild one.
Lastly, do keep a vigilant eye out for ejection pin markings on various parts, such as inside surfaces of landing gear doors and the bottom of the intake trunking.