by: Michael Satin [ ]
BackgroundIn the 1950s and early 60s Israeli Air Force camouflage was based on a quasi-rule that top of the line fighters were left in bare metal or a silver finish and other aircraft were painted in a blue and brown over light gray scheme. This changed after the Six Day War in June 1967. After that, all IAF aircraft received a new, four color scheme of brown (FS 30219), sand (FS 33531) and green (FS 34227) over light blue (FS 35622). A-4s, F-4s, C-130s, Mirages, Neshers and most Kfirs were painted in these colors as were most IAF helicopters and other assets. With the arrival of the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon in the early Ď80s, things changed.
The F-15s retained their American paint scheme and just received new Israeli markings, but the F-16, regarded as more of a dual role aircraft (air to air and air to ground) got a new paint scheme consisting of the standard Israeli brown (30219) and sand (33531), but with a new green (FS 34424, very similar to RAF WWII Sky Type S) over the original U.S. light compass ghost gray (FS 36375). The radoms of Israeli F-16s were medium gray (FS 36270). The F-16 scheme shapes have stayed very similar throughout Israelís relationship with the aircraft, from the 1980 acquisition of the F-16A/B, named Netz or Hawk in Israel, through the addition of the F-16C/D Barak (Lightning) and up to the recent F-16I Sufa (Storm). Itís interesting to note that at least some of very first F-16As acquired by Israel, the ones that bombed the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981, are still in front line service after more than 30 years. Not bad!
The four color Israeli camouflage scheme is a bit complicated, and I for one have spent long hours at my bench with my reference propped up in front of me free-hand airbrushing the colors on. I have to admit that my normal procedure is to have to spray each color at least twice to get the correct pattern and fix any overspray. Israeli schemes have a soft edge, but not wide, so itís a bit tricky to get the right spread.
In an effort to make this process easier for the modeler, Jís Work modeling products out of China have produced four sets of 1/48 scale paint masks for Israeli F-16s, one for the F-16A, others for the F-16C, D and I. Upon first seeing Rowanís preview my initial thought was that it was a great idea but I wondered how they would deal with the hard-edge mask/soft-edge camo issue. Hopefully there would be something in the instructions.
The Masks ArriveWhen I received sets PPA5003 for the F-16A and PPA5006 for the F-16I from James Bella of Armorama (thanks James!), I eagerly opened them up to have a look. What I first saw were nice two view color profiles of the aircraft and small color photo illustrations for how to use the masks. The masks themselves are pre-cut on sheets of kabuki tape material, perhaps a bit thicker than Eduard masks but still quite thin and flexible. Each mask is marked with a B, S, or G to show what color it covers and one of the B masks has a star apparently to show that it is to be applied first to help place the others as one goes along. From what I could understand from the instructions (the English is not too great and a bit hard to follow) youíre supposed to paint brown first, then apply the B masks, paint green and apply the G masks (using liquid masking agent, not supplied, to seal between the masks) and paint sand. S masks are also supplied, apparently if you want to vary the recommended painting order. As it turns out, itís a good thing they are. Warning: Hereís where the disillusionment sets in.
I was disappointed to find that the instructions say nothing about soft edge Israeli camouflage or how to achieve it. (A good tip, for those interested, is to run a piece of thread under the masks about a half to a full mm in from the edge to keep the tape edges off the surface, thus getting a soft edge but not too wide.) Of course, in this scale that soft edge is probably not that noticeable and a lot of modelers will be happy to stick with the hard edge the masks provide in order to make the painting job more manageable. If that was the only problem, I could play that off, but it was just the first issue I found.
No recommended kits are called out for the masks to be used with. I know there are Kinetic, Italeri, Academy and Hasegawa kits out there for the F-16A and Kinetic and Hasegawa kits for the F-16I but the mask sets do not mention which kit to use. This may be because theyíll fit them all, but it would be nice to have a list of possibilities. In addition the Israelis have made constant upgrades and modifications to the basic F-16 airframes, some quite visible, but none of these are mentioned. More discouraging, the color call-out for the camouflage are ďBrownĒ, ďSandĒ and ďGreenĒ. No Federal Standard or other color system designations, no model paint company numbers or names, no color help for the modeler at all save the basic name. And nothing at all about the bottom color, wingtip missile rails or radome. For the newcomer to Israeli aircraft or someone without their own references, a trip to your local internet is necessary for that information.
F-16A Set PPA5003As my plan was to use the masks on a Hasegawa F-16A, I examined this set first. I started by comparing the drawings on the instruction sheet to my references, which consist mainly of the excellent products from IsraDecal, in this case Aircraft of the Israeli Air Force #2 on the F-16A/B Netz (three view drawings shown here) as well as their decal sheet IAF-47 for the same aircraft. Both the book and decal instructions have excellent color drawings but I made sure to compare them with photographs in the book as well. As far as I can see, IsraDecalís drawings are spot on. (A special thank you here to Ra'anan Weiss of IsraDecal for permission to use his illustrations!)
The same cannot be said for Jís Work. As can be seen in the illustrations attached to this review, the masks have several shape errors, especially around the cockpit and spine but on the wings as well. They missed a semi-circular green area on the starboard side beneath the rear canopy altogether in the instructions. That area actually is cut-out in the mask. But the big problem is that the color call outs in the instructions are almost completely wrong.
As can be seen in the IsraDecal drawing, the colors across the starboard wing from tip to root are green, brown, sand, brown, and green. The Jís Work drawing shows brown, sand, green, brown, and sand. This carries over to the letters printed on the masks. I can understand looking at photos and possibly mixing up sand and green, they are very close to one another in some washed-out color and black-and-white pictures. But confusing brown and sand?! Iím sorry but thereís no good excuse for this. If you are new to the IAF and just want to build an Israeli F-16 without all the research, references, etc., youíre going to be completely off the mark if you rely on these paint masks and their instructions.
As far as I was able, I also compared the actual masks themselves to my references. They seem to conform to the Jís Work drawings and are thus, unfortunately, also wrong except for the above referenced semi-circular area on the starboard side, which is there on the mask but not on the drawings.
F-16I Set PPA5006The above is especially interesting when one compares the F-16A instructions (by the way, the side view on the A sheet is of a two-seater B. No real biggie, but distracting) to the drawings on the Jís Work F-16I masks. The F-16I product reproduces shapes that are much closer to correct and the colors are in the correct places (though again, no indications of specific color designations.) Given that the basic schemes of the F-16A and I are the same (with minor variations due to the airframe differences) I canít quite understand why the A sheet is so wrong.
Given that the F-16I is the set most modelers will be interested in, this is good news. It would just have been nice to say the same about the F-16A. A quick look at the F-16C and D sets in Rowanís preview seems to indicate that they are more like the F-16I set then the A set, happily. Actually, I think the F-16C set could probably be used on the A with very little modification.
Some general issuesAnother issue I have with both sheets is the lack of help in placement of the masks themselves. The masks have no placement labels printed on them, just color letters (B, S, and G). You need to compare the shapes of the masks to the shapes on the drawings in the instructions and go from there. Given that there are obvious differences between the shape of the masks and the shape of the drawings due to the masks having to go over a three dimensional surface, that comparison can be tricky. Especially, again, where the drawing has a shape wrong and the mask has it right(er). You can sort of tell what goes where since the masks are laid out in an F-16 plan form. Sort of. The area around the cockpit is on a second, smaller sheet with the tail and you have to figure that out yourself. It would have been nice if the individual masks had numbers on them keyed to numbers on the drawings, but Jís Work didnít do that. This issue carries over to the F-16I though they did include labels for separate CFT (conformal fuel tanks) masks. The written instructions with photos are generic and the same for both the F-16A and F-16I sheets.
As noted above, I had originally planned to build a Hasegawa F-16A and use the masks to paint it, but upon examination of the product that idea went out the window. I do have a half-build Kinetic F-16I and a cursory examination of the masks to the model show they look like theyíll fit, though the wing masks do not have separate pieces for the flaps and slats which are separate on the model. And I canít quite figure out what masks cover the forward fuselage areas, they appear to be on separate sheets and donít seem to match the drawings.
Finally, the drawings only have an overhead and port side view of the aircraft. With an F-16 this isnít a major problem since the shape of the airplane is such that the sides are visible from overhead anyway, but it doesnít allow for any information on the scheme for the starboard side of the tail. In addition one major change to Israeli F-16 camouflage over the years has been the introduction of large squadron insignia on the tail in the 1990s. These insignia have prompted a lot of changes to the camo colors on the tail as background to the new illustrations. This is not mentioned or catered for at all in the Jís Work products.
In conclusionWell. Combine this review with my write-up of the Dragon 1/48 Lunar Module a few months back and people are going to start to think I have it in for the Chinese. This isnít true; Iíve built a number of Dragon, Trumpeter, HobbyBoss and other models over the years and really enjoyed them. But Iíve been encouraged to call Ďem as I see Ďem and the Jís Work F-16 paint masks leave me underwhelmed at best. If you really want to build a quick and dirty 1/48 Israeli F-16 without the hassle of free-hand airbrushed camouflage, these masks can be helpful, particularly if youíre doing an F-16I. The shapes, while off in a number of places, are not so far off that it doesnít resemble the real thing. The reversed color call outs in the F-16A set can be corrected by careful comparison with the illustrations here or photographs on line. But you shouldnít have to.
Israel has had F-16s for over 30 years. Even for the security conscious Israel Defense Forces, the way the aircraft look is hardly a secret. The fact that the colors and shapes on the F-16I sheet are much more correct (and it looks like the C and D are as well) shows that Jís Work really had no excuse for the frankly sloppy job they did on the F-16A. While the product is probably aimed at a newer modeler who doesnít want to deal with tricky airbrushing, the frustration of trying to figure out which mask goes where and understanding the minimal instructions might rule them out as well.
I cannot recommend this product for the F-16A though the F-16I set is really much better. While I thank James Bella and Rowan Baylis for making these masks available to me for review, Iím going to stick with my old fashioned free-hand method. Better luck next time Jís Work! The RAF in WWII used big rubber mats as masks to paint their Hurricanes and Spitfires as well as other aircraft, a perfect place for these kinds of masks.
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