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1/32 Revell F-4E Cockpit Part 1 of 4  

by Pierre Greutert

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This article is about scratch-building an illuminated cockpit for the Revell kit F-4E (1/32). I divided the full article into 4 installments, so I could go into some details and describe them as closely as possible.

- Part 1: Building the front cockpit: design of the cockpit panels, adding lights.

- Part 2: Completing the front cockpit: the instrument panel, the HUD.

- Part 3: Building the rear cockpit: side console panels. Dry fit of the cockpit tub.

- Part 4: Completing the rear cockpit: the Instrument panel. Final details and adjustments. 

DESIGN OF SIDE PANELS

I wanted this project to capitalize on my experience acquired by building the A380 (1/144), fully illuminated with fiber optics (FO). The Phantom F-4E had to receive the best possible cockpit, which meant building everything from scratch. I had a 1/32 Revell model in my stash, which would just be fine for this purpose. I decided to build a Hellenic Air Force (HAF) F-4E “Peace Icarus”, featuring the latest Avionics Upgrade Program (AUP). This allowed me to build an upgraded cockpit into the mighty Phantom, with all the bells and whistles pertaining to modern fighters technology.

I started the project by snapping together the kit’s original cockpit parts. A little Blue Tack here and there helped to keep the parts together. I had two Tamiya pilots in my spare box, so I sat them into the Revell cockpit.

From this point on I started designing the cockpit side consoles and instrument panels. I used a cheap 2D design computer program to draw various copies in order to “right size” the new parts. I checked this by cutting the “blue prints” and Blue-Tacking them onto the kit cockpit tub.

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The front instrument panel was checked with the pilot sitting in the seat. Finally I test-closed the cockpit side walls with all the new cardstock parts taped in place. Note the green squares on the panels: these are the place where the Multi Function Displays (MFD) would fit.

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How did I design the panels? I used a mix of references: cockpit layouts from the “Dash 1” (technical manual) and pictures from the actual AUP cockpit. The design happened to be quite complicated, so I needed a more robust CAD program. I learnt AutoCAD from scratch, which slowed down my progress pace quite a bit. It took me 2-3 months to become familiar with the program’s extensive features and draw the cockpit layouts. But the result was well worth the effort, as you will see later on.

Below is a copy of an original “Dash 1” layout, and two screen shots showing the level of detail I could achieve on my design: realistic instruments, readable stencils, etc Later in the articles I will show you that you can even check the frequency settings on the COM / NAV panels.

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My workbench at that time of the project wasn’t covered with the usual modeling tools. Instead there was a computer, scanner and plenty of space covered with reference material.

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The computer screen displays an excerpt of a front side panel. I printed the design on my inkjet printer (Epson 890 Photo), on matte photo cardstock paper. To check the accuracy of the printouts, I used various magnifying glasses (8-10x). Of course music was a welcome companion during these periods of highly concentrated brainwork.

BUILDING THE SIDE PANELS & ADDING LIGHT

I started by drilling the holes through a copy of a side panel. The holes would receive the FOs, plugged in from below, and trimmed to bring light – where required - just under the printed side panel. Sort of “back-light” paper panel. I wanted to illuminate instrument dials and various control lamps.

 

You can find more detailed information on this particular step in my articles about the A380. 

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The font cockpit, with its right hand side panel completed shows how the FOs run from the underside of the panel to the light source, a regular white LED, powered with a 9V battery. On the finished model, the power source will be external, so I do not have to care about providing an access panel to change the battery inside of the model.

The FOs are glued with 2-component epoxy. It looks like an Alien nest, but the only one who drooled over the cockpit is me. And I am my no way an Alien

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I cut out each sub-panel and glued them individually over the FOs with Microscale Crystal Clear. This provided a realistic 3D look and feel to the assembly. A dry fit with the kit’s seat and Tamiya pilot shows that everything is progressing well. Note that on the two pictures below, I still use the kit’s original front instrument panel. It was soon to be changed for a better, custom-etched brass panel.

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Adding the switches and knobs was the natural next step. I made the switches with short bits of soft wire, by pinching one end with pliers.  In addition to this step, the cockpit received some extra detailing of the rear wall. I also added the “Data Case” box to the rear right side of the cockpit. A little weathering and the “front office” started looking right.

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THE FRONT INSTRUMENT PANEL

It was time to start the front instrument panel construction. Again I designed it with AutoCAD, printed it on cardstock to have the various sub-panels and instrument dial faces. The same design would serve as a template to etch the panel.

To make the etching easier I created several layers in my AutoCAD drawing, one to carry only the main panel, others for the black sub-panels, and others for the instruments themselves. So by hiding the unnecessary layers I was able to print only the main instrument panel for the etch process. 

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On the lightbox is the etching master, printed on a sheet of transparent foil. In the background is the same print, with different layers activated, on cardstock. The second photo shows the etched brass sheet against the cardstock print.

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I cut out the various brass parts and folded them on a “Hold and Fold” tool.  On the tool is the front instrument panel. The last photo shows the pilot, sitting in front of his brand-new brass instrument panel. His right hand is supposed to hold the control stick, not a beer

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The first steps in the construction of the scratch-built cockpit were completed at a slow pace between September 2004 and January 2005.

The next article will tell you how I populated the front instrument panel with actually illuminated instruments.

Pierre

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Photos and text © by Pierre Greutert

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