1/72 Italeri Northrop F-5E Tiger II

by Tom Choy


  Malaysian National Day 2004 


My dad used to be in the Royal Engineers Corp back when the Royal Malaysian Armed Forces started out, so I was your typical army kid with the little toy M-16 that made a machine-gun sound when you pulled the trigger (I later learned that if you dropped it just once, the rattling mechanism would break). After a couple of years of being assigned here and there he was finally promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and given a cushy desk job over at Sungai Besi Airbase, which had also had a cool golf course and officer's club. Needless to say we got to hang out there a lot. Anyway he started me off on modeling, though he had never anticipated how it would mutate into an obsessive hobby that would consume much of my free time. It helped that living near the airbase gave me an opportunity to see a few planes whoosing around while it was still active.

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With Merdeka Day around the corner, I thought I'd do my part with my fellow Malaysians and send in a little article. I've never done a TUDM (that stands for Tentera Udara Di-Raja Malaysia, by the way, or Royal Malaysian Air Force) bird before, and so I basically stumbled my way through this project. Fortunately I had the help of some great Malaysian modelers, namely Tom Ng and Mr B (is that Brian Parameswaran?).

I used the Italeri F-5E kit, widely regarded to be the most accurate 1/72 F-5E in the market today (and I think it's still the only one). It's a little dated, with slight flash here and there, with raised panel lines, but a pretty detailed cockpit (though without a rear bulkhead - I hope the pilot doesn't drop his keys in there!). The only real gripe I had with the cockpit was that the ejection seat was molded in halves, leaving a significant seam in the middle. A couple of days later I figured out that I could cover up the seam by adding a set of seatbelts made out of masking tape. You can see the difference the belts made in the inset on Picture 8.

I decided that the kit needed to be rescribed, because an initial test fit showed that I would be losing a lot of surface detail as I put the kit together. I wasn't looking forward to it as my experience with rescribing was limited to replacing lost panel lines, and not complete rescribes. That alone took about three weeks with lots of labelling tape, CA glue, a lot of mistakes and redos. The fact that the model would also be in silver paint left very little room for error, and it got to the point where I was very tempted to give up on several occasions. It also didn't help that the model kept getting into accidents, losing a gun barrel and a nose gear panel in the process. I would find out later, to my chagrin, that Trumpeter reboxed this kit with recessed panel lines.

The decals were out of the box, with the markings of FM2207, one of the more well-known Malaysian Tigers. They were slightly thicker than the usual Italeri and it took a lot of persuading with Solvaset to get the decals to lay down properly. Along the way I put the intake decals in the wrong position, and also accidentally destroyed a few. A quick call to Testor's and their great customer service folks rushed me two new sets within a week.

I painted the kit using Testor's Metalizer Aluminum paint, which had a great laquer look to it once you sealed it up. Since I would be weathering it with oils later, I used Future as a sealer instead of the usual Metalizer sealer. The natural metal portion of the engines were painted with Alclad Aluminum.

Finally, the missiles from the kit looked rather odd to me, so I swiped a set of AIM-9Js from a Hasegawa F-16 kit. A quick comparison shows that the Italeri samples were too wide. 

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Well, here it is. This project took about five weeks, and I'm glad it's over. It's definitely one of the most challenging projects I've had in a while. I think I'll do a TUDM F-18 next year. Have a great Merdeka day folks!


Photos and text by Tom Choy