by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundInitially known as the F-5G, the F-20 Tigershark was a company-funded project offering an 80% increase in thrust for a minimum weight penalty. First flying in August 1982, and capable of 1,320 mph above 36,000 ft, the F-20 competed in the bid to replace the USAF's aging fleet of F-4s and F-106s. A fourth prototype was under construction in a fully operational configuration when the decision to purchase an upgraded F-16 was announced in 1986, resulting in Northrop ceasing development of the Tigershark.
Kitmaker Editor, Fred Boucher, was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of the F-20 and talk to Darrell Cornell, Northrop's chief test pilot about the prevailing view at the time of USAF requirements:
"Darrell Cornell told me why USAF did not buy F-20 over the F-16. He told me that as fantastic as F-20 was, that USAF was organized and equipped to fight the Soviets, and when the Ruskies started WWIII, "The Big Show" would be in Europe; Europe is IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) 80% of the time; F-20 was superior or equal to F-16 out to 66% of F-16s range but thereafter, F-16 was superior in range/speed/warload. And to compensate for 66% of F-16's range would, even in the age of IRBM or Su-24 threat, require F-20 to base too close to FEBA."
The KitFreedom Model’s Tigershark comes in a very attractive and sturdy top-opening box. It had clearly taken a bit of a battering in the post, but it had done its job admirably and all the contents arrived intact.
The kit comprises:
196 x grey styrene parts
8 x clear styrene parts
20 x poly-caps
10 x etched metal parts
Decals for 3 primary colour schemes, plus a bonus sheet of “what-if” national insignia
I’ve not seen Freedom Model’s initial release, the X-47B, first-hand, but our company contact informed me prior to sending the Tigershark that the new kit features improved moulding and detail, so I was very keen to see it. The immediate impression is very favourable, and the parts have unmistakably been produced by the same company that mould Kitty Hawk kits. Even a “trademark” folded-over sprue is present.
So, in common with recent KH kits, the Tigershark boasts some very neat exterior detail, with delicate engraved panel lines and embossed rivets and fasteners. Purists may feel the rivets should be filled (especially for immaculately finished prototypes), but you could argue that of most modern mainstream kits - and the exterior finish will certainly respond well to weathering if you choose to build an in-service “what if” subject. Like them or not, embossed rivets are firmly in vogue nowadays.
I’ve found just one faint sink mark on the sample, so full marks to the engineers for upping their game on that score. You probably won’t be surprised, though, to learn there are some ejector pin marks to clean up - although even these seem reduced.
Test FitThe kit is clearly designed to allow for a follow-up two-seater, and has been designed with a separate nose section which entails a rather awkward joint behind the cockpit. There’s a noticeable triangular gap at an angle in the joint that almost looks deliberate, but I can’t see anything similar in photos (and, indeed, the boxtop image shows a smooth surface at that point), so I’ll fill it.
The rear fuselage and wings clip together very neatly, while the vertical tail slots in with no trouble and the stabilisers attach with single pins and can be pivoted if you wish. Basically, once the nose if grafted on, the kit promises to be a straightforward build.
A Few DetailsThe cockpit is assembled from 9 parts. The side console detail is simple but adequate, and there's a nicely moulded instrument panel. Freedom Models include decals for the panel and consoles, which oddly aren’t mentioned in the instructions. The decals will provide useful additional detail - I'll cut out and apply some items individually to get the best of both worlds with moulded raised details and printed instrument faces. There's a neatly moulded 3-part ejection seat, but no harness is provided. That’s something of a missed opportunity when the kit includes an etched fret, and it's the only thing missing from quite a respectable “office” for this scale.
The insides of the nose halves sport detailed access panels, but there’s no option to open them in this release (and, indeed, nothing to go behind them), so perhaps a future boxing will have a detailed gun and avionics bay.
The jet intakes feature trunking that should extend plenty deep enough to prevent a “see through” look from the front, and a blanking plate with afterburner detail does the same for the exhaust.
One novel point is the inclusion of poly-caps behind the wing pylon locating holes. This means you can reconfigure the ordnance load as you wish, with an added bonus of negating the chance of spoiling the exterior finish with cement.
Construction then continues nicely logically by completing the basic airframe before turning to easily damaged details like the landing gear. The nosegear is a little unusual in giving a choice of legs - one more compressed than the other. Freedom Models also allow you to model the nosewheel cover open or closed, and provide reference small photos. Similarly, the mainwheel doors can be modelled fully open to reveal the neatly detailed wells, or partly closed. The maingear legs are dressed up with etched parts that must be folded to shape, while the un-weighted wheels sport nicely detailed hubs.
The clear parts are well moulded, and the canopy can be built closed or open - rather in the manner of a Thunderstreak with a large jack behind the ejector seat lifting the whole rear section up. A neat touch is the inclusion of an etched frame with grab handles and rear-view mirrors.
Construction continues with the ordnance, which includes quite a comprehensive variety for the single and dual-launcher pylons that's based on an F-5 loadout:
2 x 150 gallon drop tanks
1 x 275 gallon drop tank
The missiles' fins look nice and thin, but those on the 150 gallon drop tanks are a bit hefty, so you may want to replace them with plastic card. There's a useful chart showing which stores go where and, of course, you can change the loadout as you wish, thanks to the push-fit pylons.
A final touch is the inclusion of a boarding ladder, which is a nice addition if you're planning a vignette. No pilot figure is provided, but there are plenty of suitable aftermarket options to pose next to the completed kit.
Instructions & DecalsThe construction guide is very clearly illustrated across 8 stages as a large fold-out sheet. As noted above, the sequence is logical - a welcome sign that it's been thought through by modellers, rather than being simply for the convenience of the graphic designer. Colour matches for Gunze Sangyo paints are keyed to most assemblies.
Decals are provided for the three F-20 prototypes in a variety of colour schemes, ranging from all-black, through grey camouflage, to the 1st prototype's spectacular pin-striped 1983 Paris Airshow paint job.
Also included is a bonus sheet of national markings for "what-if" options. Among others, there are German, Japanese, British, Canadian, Australian, Turkish, South Korean and Taiwanese markings - but you need to be aware that the sheet only offers partial markings - e.g. the RAF option has just four roundels and no fin flashes. Still, it's a bonus sheet, so one can hardly complain.
The decals appear to be very nice quality, being thin and crisply printed with sharp registration. What is slightly odd is that some items are glossier than others on the sample sheets, but that may resolve itself once they're applied (most modellers these days will probably apply a final top coat over them anyway).
ConclusionI'm impressed by Freedom Models' Tigershark, and it looks like it'll be a pretty straightforward build. Whether you go for the historical schemes or indulge in a bit of "what if" modelling, the result should be very impressive. It's suitable for modellers of pretty much all levels of experience, although beginners might be advised to leave out the etched mirrors etc., for fear of damaging the canopy.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.