F-15E Tamiya 1/32 Bunker Buster review

by Milan Mitev

The inbox review of one of the largest large scale planes from the 90`s:

F-15E Strike Eagle from Tamiya

This kit is a second edition of the original kit release from `93, which matches the “after” Desert Storm period. There is no doubt that F-15E played a main role for that time and was on top of the list with the best scale model planes. Indeed, I have no impressions for the premier release of the kit in `93, nor for this kit from about a decade later (2004).

Until I opened the box just about another decade later – nowadays. It was full of sprues of plastic and weights about a kilogram or so. This is my first experience with such a large scale plane and it really is spectacular. The kit is exclusively provided by Mitko with the fellow mentions that I really need to build this kit. By now (mid-2016) this is just the inbox review of this kit. The box is a stiff cardboard box with a phenomenal box art, depicting F15E with the iconic-themed loadout of the Bunker Buster on a clear blue sky. So let`s take a cup of coffee and let`s get started:

Review of this F-15E Tamiya kit

One of the main advantages of the “Bunker Buster” is that almost every sprue is separately packed in an individual transparent bag, which ensures a better prevention from scratches, bent or broken parts. The quality of the plastic (apart from the detailing) is very good. The most of the parts are thick, which is I suppose normal for such a large scale plane, but the details are not lacking too. There are absolutely contrasting parts – from large and thick spacious pieces with just a couple of panel lines and rivets, to small delicate parts with so many details that they will make you keep staring at them for minutes.

The Tamiya`s plastic quality was recommended by Mitko as a benchmark, and there is no doubt about it. There are plenty of build-in inner struts at the key spots to ensure greater stability and support for such a huge scale model kit. Most of the holes where you screw the screws for better support are flat and not threaded, which means that even the largest parts fit sturdy and solid.

The plastic parts have magnificent details, but there are never enough. The good thing is that it is not “quite”, but just soft plastic so you can easily edit the details with rivets, panel lines or other shapes. There are 9 main part trees – some of them are x2 or x3. Some are small and fit vertically in the box, but others cover the full dimensions of the box. There is an additional bag with a special small transparent box for the metal parts (the three landing gears). The organization of the plastic sprues is easy to understand – they are mentioned from A to H with large letters on the labels of each sprue. Another great advantage is that everything matches flawlessly – if you follow the instructions and if you have to find part “F36”, for example – it is on the right sprue tree where it should be. An interesting approach was the packing of the seats – in separate bags and each on its own individual sprue, like they were detached from the main sprue tree.

The clear parts are beautiful and numerous as well. The canopy is just a standard transparent canopy as expected, which needs your extra attention as usual. Except that this is my first encounter with such a large scale plane and the canopy looks much bigger, than expected. It has a big seamline in the middle that have to be sanded and polished.

The paper parts are quite numerous too – instructions and decal sheets. The instructions look like a magazine with over a dozen pages, a comprehensive explanation of what to do, step-by-step pictures, suggested color schemes, etc. There is another couple of pages of a separate manual, which concerns exclusively the “Bunker Buster” loadout. While for the decal sheets – they are a complete encyclopedia for not one, two, or three, but for whole 7 different airframes.

You can really choose what`s your favorite piece of history from Operation “Desert Storm”. The decals are well sandwiched in rice paper for better protection. Indeed, check out the next lines, because the variety of decals is one of the many things that make this kit unique.

Miscellaneous/extras (included) in the box that make this kit unique

  • The decals: you can make 7 different planes (airframes) from this Tamiya kit, as follow:
  • 89-0471 is from the “Chiefs” Squadron and it features the huge “SJ” marking on the vertical stabilizers;
  • 88-1698 is from the “Rocketeers” Squadron and also features the same “SJ” marking on the vertical stabilizers;
  • 89-1528 is from the “Eagles” Squadron and also features the same “SJ” marking on the vertical stabilizers;
  • 89-0489 is another airframe from the “Chiefs” Squadron that features the huge “SJ” marking on the vertical stabilizers;
  • 87-0201 is another airframe from the “Rocketeers” Squadron that features the same “SJ” marking on the vertical stabilizers;
  • 87-0170 is an airframe from the “Bold Tigers” Squadron and features the huge “MO” marking on the vertical stabilizers;
  • 91-0308 is an airframe from the “Madhatters” Squadron and features the huge “LN” marking on the vertical stabilizers.
  • The metal parts: although only three for the nose/main landing gears, they are perfectly manufactured – in white metal that is hard enough to support this scale model, as well as soft enough to be easily sanded, polished, engraved, etc.
  • The rubber parts: they are also just three rubber pieces – for the tires. So, they are real rubber tires! They have tiny “flash”-like center indentations that you have to get rid of, but they are soft, very cohesive, labeled, recessed… just perfect. Plus, there is a small cordage (string) that you may wonder what`s that and indeed – it`s not part of the aircraft. It is provided to imitate the real strings of the wheel shocks if you display the Bunker Buster in a diorama.
  • Bombs in the Bunker Buster set: beside from the AIM-120 AMRAAM and the GBU-31 and the massive drop tanks, which are all provided, you also get the real deal – the GBU-28 Bunker Buster, the GBU-15 and the AGM-130 guided bombs.

They are so big that if you put them together on the Strike Eagle it really looks like Bunker Buster.

  • Extensive weaponry set: it features all that is needed for almost all the possible loadouts of F-15E from Operation Desert Storm. That`s what really makes this Tamiya kit a small plastic piece of history in a huge heavy box.

There is just about everything as for the armament – cluster bombs, guided bombs, dumb bombs, air-to-air missiles, and they all are numerous from a type. And of course – the iconic Navigation and Targeting Pods are featured in this kit.

  • A main ladder and a second smaller ladder: they are somewhere within the plastic sprues and provide you with plenty of possibilities to jazz-up your diorama. The figures of the pilots are also advantageous – there are different opts to display the pilot and the officer.
  • The scale in terms of dimensions: this scale model is really huge in 1/32 – it measures some 24 inches x 16 inches and will really become a magnet for attention.
  • The screwdriver and the screws: they are separately packed in a small transparent bag, as well as include 8 different types of screws! Some are tiny and almost invisible, but others are quite big, or at least they look so. In all cases, they ensure a much sturdier assembly of this F15E kit.
  • Built-in small pins for some panels in the form of individual plastic parts: this is a quite surprising benefit, allowing you to make some panels movable just by click-fitting and with some minor adjustments.

For example – there are opts to make the radar dish visible, the canopy can move and the intakes too. This is absolutely stunning and is provided by the Tamiya kit alone.

  • Impeccable fit of the separate panels if chosen to display closed: with a little bit of sanding and smoothing exercises – all the individual panels blend flush and equal with the rest of the fuselage.

Yet a little bit of adjustments/edits might be needed for the most persistent panels.

  • Countless options for scratch-built improvements: F-15E normally is a big plane and respectively there is plenty of free space inside this large scale plane. You can add wiring, plumbing, lights and electronics, sounds, movable parts with RC servos, and more. It`s limited by your imagination.
  • A sheet of decals with plenty of “REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT” tags. If you prefer not to use all of them for this scale model, then you will have plenty of spare “RBF” tags for other 1/32 kits.

Advises how to choose which exactly scale model to assemble from the 7 proposed airframes, because they all are magnificent

One of the biggest dilemmas when you have to choose from so much similar airframes is “Which one?” and next are a few hints (factors) that helped me in this challenge:

  • I noticed that 2 of the airframes (with the decals on a small separate sheet) are a little bit different from the other 5 airframes. The 5 airframes are F-15E and are all based in Seymour Johnson AFB. One of the two “different” F-15E is based in Idaho, in Mountain Home AFB, while the second “different” F-15E is based really quite away – in Lakenheath RAF, UK. Perhaps this is the reason why these two models have different markings on the tails, while the other five F-15E`s all have the “SJ” marking. I like one of the SJ`s.
  • The time frame that I`ve stuck in from quite some time – the Desert Shield, the Desert Storm and the Gulf War periods. Actually, they encompass a period of just about a year – from 1990 to 1991, when Iraq with its word`s Number 4 army invaded Kuwait. The “Rocketeers” Squadron was with some of the first F-15E Strike Eagle jets to deploy in the region, while F-15E from the “Chiefs” Squadron were the first to seek and destroy SCUD vehicles in western Iraq. So, if you listen to your alter ego and narcissism, you should choose to build an airframe from one of the two squadrons – the “Chiefs” or the “Rocketeers”.
  • Keep in mind that for that time almost all the F15E`s (in the kit) were newly manufactured – in 1987, 1988 and 1989. They were in their full swing, the targeting and the navigation pods were the tools that made the night missions successful, as well as low-terrain monitoring and the precise targeting possible. Nevertheless, there is one imperfection in this Tamiya kit and it is that if you choose to make a Bunker Buster airframe with the AGM 130 and the GBU-15 guided bombs, then you will have to scratch build an entire Data Link Pod if you follow the realm. The Data Link Pod is not provided in the box of the kit, whilst it is needed for these two bombs, because they are basically the same – guided or rocket-guided bombs with TV and/or IR seekers, which require steering data from the Data Link Pod. But this is only if you follow a strict realism or if you don`t want to scratch-build something like a simple cylinder with just two cones on both sides.
  • Of course, your own preferences about the Wing & Squadron insignias. The forms and colors are coalescent and contrasting at once, as well as bright and beautiful. The stylized patches are with clean lines and shapes, and however the “Chiefs” Squadron looks to me a little more majestic.
  • The overall paint scheme of this F-15E Strike Eagle scale model is basically identical with the other F-15E jets – darker greyish, which minimal bluish tones and nuances. This paint scheme was dedicated especially for the night missions that F-15E had to perform during Desert Storm. Only one of the two drop tanks was painted in a lighter greyish scheme for some missions. Another factor is the weathering – the older airframes from `87 -`88 are plausible to wear a bit heavier weathering than the airframes from `89. The airframe from the “Madhatters” Squadron was produced even later. I have already build F-15C and with no heavy weathering, so I plan to make this F-15E different – a little bit more stained and weathered.

The only 2 cons about this kit at first glance

 As with everything outstanding come the issues that appear in just a couple of places:

  • The panel lines on the upper main part of the fuselage – they are slightly on the heavier side, i.e. larger and deeper than in the real F-15E.

“Fortunately” – this issue refers only to the top part of the main fuselage and I hope that I will manage to cancel the depth of the panel lines with riveting and heavier weathering.

  • The enormous weight of the kit sprues – it caused some exceptional pressure in the box onto some sprues with rugged parts.

“Fortunately” – it caused minor indentations only onto the tips of the cones of the two round parts with the first stages of the compressors of the jet engines. All other vulnerable parts are well protected with sheets of “sponge” tape.

Further hints on how I plan the assembly

The preferred airframe that I plan for the assembly is from the “Chiefs” Squadron: 89-0471. It has beautiful insignias, because they are contrasting and unobtrusive, and that`s the plane that I can find more reference photos. All the movable things I will try to make movable/retractable, i.e. the nose cone, the panel near the nose cone, the intakes, the canopy, the landing gears… I envision the plane standing on a tall pylon and on a heavy-duty base to support the enormous weight of this large scale plane. This is for an “in-flight” mode when everything is retracted and closed to reveal the splendid silhouette of F-15E. When everything is opened, the model could be displayed as stand-alone F-15E like for a “landed” mode. I hope that with some extra help and advices from Mitko, yet this will be my first try for 1/32 scale model, the plane will become an even greater masterpiece. Other improvements that I may try are of course – a lot of plumbing and wiring, which for this scale I may try to make more realistic and not just some plumbing and wiring. Perhaps the added scratch build parts will be countless again. There should be added some inner struts and supports. They are enough by the kit itself, but always more is better, because this large scale plane will be handled during the opening and the closing of all these movable doors, gears, hinges.

That`s from me for this inbox review. Perhaps I missed something in the review of the kit, but that`s for me that made the greatest first impression. Thanks, stay on orbit for updates, happy modeling, and bye bye.