F-4 Phantom II is more than a legend. In aviation area it is a major milestone in terms of aerodynamic concepts, operational experience /pilot-rio co-existence/, production standards, export goals and many more. It was designed in the 50s and it is still used today. In a matter of fact, USAF retired its last operational Phantoms just around New Year in December 2016. Greeks and Turks still use it very widely, with Turkish Air Force F-4 2020 version exercising combat missions in Syria against PKK and ISIS.
In modeling, F-4 Phantom is pretty much the same titan of existence. There are many of them, in every possible scale popular among the companies, with new toolings being issued every year or so. Latest one – Airfix British Air Force Phantom in 72nd scale was just announced at the Telford Scale Model World 2016. There are several tables dedicated only to F-4 Phantom Builders, with SIGs /Special Interest Groups/ in almost every club possible present at the big shows. Especially in US. There are couple hundred F-4 Phantoms at each show. And if you wonder why, well the jet is a pure legend. That is why.
Here, we are going to take a closer look at the most recent 48th scale tooling – Zoukei-Mura F-4J Phantom II. It came couple of years after the Academy Phantom, which is now considered the best in the business. It has better dimensions compared to Hasegawa, which is second-best and probably the most popular 48th scale Phantom on the market today. There are others, but mentioning those two above we pretty much kill instantaneously all the competition in 48th scale. Up until Zoukei-Mura entered the scene.
Unlike most of the companies out there who put 14+ to the age deck for their models, Zoukei-Mura added 15+ to theirs. Maybe that was done for several reasons, like sharper parts compared to others for example. Besides the more serious appearance, we have a thick and very nicely executed box. The boxart represents a falling MiG-17, shot down by an F-4J Phantom, a nice SWS /Super Wing Series/ logo and clearly visible 1/48 scale marking. Maybe 1/32 is brewing. Who knows?
The box itself compares only to Meng Model boxes nowadays. Rest are left behind. On the sides we have clear pictures on how the Phantom looks built. But make no mistake: this is not Revell’s lame looking completed models which scream : “Plastic toy!” from every photo, seen on every Revell box. On Zoukei-Mura’s box everything is up to the latest standards. Maybe even setting new ones. There are fragments of the American flag, which completes the picture, giving you the feel of “Made in USA” which is what Phantom stands for.
The quality of the top is superb and for the bottom, one must add only it is sturdy and thick. Serious business. I am mentioning that, since Rockin’ Rhino from Eduard /a comparable kit for those who hasn’t seen it/ has somewhat flimsy bottom and thin top, which for such a set hidden inside is a bit of a let down. Here we have no such thing. Zoukei-Mura’s F-4 box is a gem!
The clear plastic parts:
First plastic that I checked out was the clear parts. Of course, DN Models mask set is a must for such a kit. The clear parts here are very good. We have two sets of canopies. One piece and separated one. The closed one is cool idea, since sometimes the alignment of the separate parts does not show perfect streamline. Zoukei-Mura thought of that obviously. The other one – with the separate parts – looks thinner than Eduard/Academy one, more glass-like looking, but for some reason I felt it to be not so clear. Maybe that was done on purpose and if I haven’t mentioned that probably nobody would’ve noted when checking out a build Zoukei F-4. But I think this should be mentioned. Other than that, everything with the clear material is up to the highest standards. Rivets, lines, thickness – great stuff here!
The gray plastic parts:
I am gonna go chaotic here and share what I saw in the order I first saw it. But before that I gotta say few words about the plastic. I have no idea where they got it but Zoukei-Mura gave us a wonderful material. It is Softer than Tamiya and Hasegawa, but it is thicker and more sturdy compared to MiniArt. It flexes just enough, keeping its shape right afterwords. Everything on it has deep /enough/ engravings, clearly visible and perfectly molded.
First impression that I got from the Zoukei-Mura’s new F-4J were the engines. Although they are to remain hidden inside, we have clear depictions on most of the cables, with little left for aftermarket or scratch add-ons. The parts are attached to the sprues in a way that prevents you from damaging them while removing and for very easy sanding.
On the same sprue we have clean and smooth air ducts, flexible /I checked since I have my doubts about fitting of course!/, gear struts and nozzles. The struts are also left with some margin for superdetailing but nothing major. Have in mind that Zoukei-Mura will offer metal substitute for that. Even with that, they made them with superb quality from plastic.
Nozzles are something that needs improvement. Sorry Zoukei, but I must add here that they are somewhat thick-ish on the feathers, which Eduard eliminated as a flaw with Academy kit, providing resin ones in Rockin’ Rhino set. Maybe Zoukei-Mura are about to make an aftermarket set for it but I am only speculating here. They are not bad per se, only thicker.
Next thing I checked was the nose. As far as I learned from some fellow rivet-counters /from which I try to stay aside!/ this is the best nose in the business. Nothing beats it in 48th scale. Again – cleverly attached to the sprue, it represents the nice shape and hopefully size of the F-4J distinctive feature.
Alongside with it we have slats that are quite nice, which were also checked for flexibility /and passed the test/. Intake plates, which are, in my opinion, one of the highest points of this kit. They have the smallest holes on them, molded with amazing precision. When I first set my eye on them, I thought that Academy and Hasegawa were wonderful, but the “WOW!” factor here blew me away. Delicate, executed with finesse and seems like they are pretty darn close to the original. Wow! Nothing more to say.
Then we have pylons with great riveting as well, clear panels lines and so on. Weapons, which probably are good enough OOB, but I am sure that resin companies are already out there, scanning for victims of their own. Although, if you want to go and compete in OOTB category, probably these here will do just fine.
The fuselage is two halves – as usual – and the top is a separate piece of plastic, covering the seam on the back of the Phantom. This is not a new engineering decision when it comes down to F-4 and I doubt that is Zoukei-Mura’s idea, but it is implemented well and I must give them that. There is superb lines and rivets of several kinds, which breaks the monotone look we know from many other kits. Different size rivets is a must nowadays.
The thing I consider a flaw here is the heavy duty plates just behind the nozzles. Zoukei-Mura made them from two parts – actually continuation of the fuselage halves. In Academy, we have the smartest decision possible – made from one piece of plastic, attached to the fuselage. If you wonder why, I’ll tell ya: painting those with metalizers, especially Alclad2 paints is a breeze, if we have one piece of plastic. If, on the other hand we have two, then we have seams eventually and they are hard to cover and hide. There are ways of course, but why? Why waste a day just filling the gap in between those with super glue, sand like a psychopath and then and only then spray the metallic paint? I found that useless complication.
My oh My! What a cockpit tub we have here! Very close to a resin one, I must tell ya! I would never change that with an aftermarket set. It has everything one might want from a Phantom command center. The deck is very neat, with almost everything visible and almost no room for superdetailing. The gauges are 3D and as good as you can get in 48th scale. Very very impressed by that.
Seats are also superb. You can think of getting a resin ones, but with a few hours extra work on those and some scratch building skills, you can easily forget about whatever resin or photo-etch substitute. Honestly – there is no need what so ever.
Back to the other parts:
Stabilizers are the other think that hit me when I first saw it: they are riveted perfectly, thin and delicate. The slats that are on the real thing are replicated almost flawlessly here. So thin! Trust me when I say so: so darn thin! I still cannot tell about alignment but I trust in Japanese precision.
Then the wings which are engineered pretty much as we have them on Academy kit, with similar qualities, maybe a bit thinner and the curves a bit subtle. At first one must thing – they are the same. But most likely not. They have a certain level of finesse that we are lacking when we check out other brands. Truth is, that even with slightest ideas, these parts are better in general. Somewhere with a lot, somewhere with little, but they are superior to any F-4 issued so far. And not in that scale. In any scale.
That wraps my comments about the plastic. Now let’s move on to
We have thick-ish book. Black and white, with thorough description. The overall look is inferior compared to Meng Model and Eduard booklets, however it is better than Tamiya and depending on one’s opinion, lack of colors and complications might make it better even than those two mentioned above.
The overall look of the assembly steps is some mix between Tamiya and Revell. I love Tamiya instructions, but I don’t really like Revell. Good thing here is that probably the picture sizes and arrangements remind me of Revell. They do not look bad at all though. What I like here is the color advisory, the way that all things are shown and the lack of useless languages that we see on Meng and some others. English is perfectly fine to be the sole language, and what the heck – let’s have Japanese too. But that is all I think we should have. And there we have it here. Pretty simple and effective. In the effort to make their product better are more competitive, a lot of companies overcrowd their instructions and in the end we get a mess in which is easy to miss something. So, good job here too Zoukei-Mura!
The Color scheme:
Yep, you saw that right. One scheme. Single. With a large sheet A3 in size, color depictions from both sides of it. But only one Scheme. The one seen on the box. Why Zoukei, why? This is torture.
But hey, on the Eduard repacks we have many schemes and only one kit to apply on. Why Eduard, why??
You get my point.
The decals are Cartograf, same as on Rockin’ Rhino. A huge sheet, A4 in size. Pretty neat. Mostly black colors, so the colorful Phantoms which were usual for the era are not present. Otherwise everything is great.
But again. Only one option…eh.
Super Wing Series are not the most famous amongst modelers but they are one of the best. SWS are for those who have overcome the urge of buying new kits constantly and exchanged the quantity for quality. And this kit is absolute king in the scale and absolute emperor in F-4 theme. So far, F-16 and P-47 in 48th scale were the best kits in 48th scale. I can tell you from first hand. Maybe new MiG-31 from AMK is also in Top 3. But not anymore. We have new leader in that scale. From what I’ve seen in my modeling life, this 48th scale kit is the best in business. There is nothing that compares to that in 48th scale. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
As for F-4 Phantom lovers, such as myself – hey guys, I’ve built F-4s in 72nd, 48th and 32nd scales and in different options. No better Phantom that this. Yes, not even in 32nd scale. If you go for size, yes. But size is not everything fellas! Quality provided by Zoukei-Mura is high end. One of a kind.
Of course, they left a margin for improvement. Providing additional sets. Like decals /only one option OOB??! Come one ZM!/,like metal landing gear struts or weighted tires /that is something useful for sure/, PE cockpit parts /not really an upgrade but a downgrade if you ask me/ and paint sets. The latter one is with Vallejo paints, so honestly – No, thank you! But still, Zoukei-Mura though about it.
We have let downs too. We don’t have perfect nozzles here. We don’t have one piece part of the Alclad2s behind the nozzles. We have decent but not perfect instructions, only one color scheme, no masks for the canopy. But OOTB this is still the best choice.
Even compared with Rockin’ Rhino /if you wonder why I compare it with that constantly, well it is pretty much the same jet with same decal manufacturer going for the same era/, this is still better. And we have two companies combining efforts: Eduard and Academy, with two types of add-ons: photo-etch and resin there, while on the other hand we have a single company with a pure OOTB kit.
So yeah, this beats the Eduard repack as well. Compared just to Academy without the resin nozzles, seats and wheels, no way – Zoukei is far far far better.
338 parts, one sale from Christmas 2016, available from Zoukei-Mura’s website. The newest F-4 Phantom tooling.
By far the best. And probably for years to come.
Hands down to Zoukei-Mura. Dethroned my favorite brand Tamiya with a single swing.
Thank you Zoukei-Mura, Thank you Japan!
Check out the DN Models mask set designed for this wonderful kit.