Tamicat / AMKat Buildoff: Build Result

Tamicat / AMKat Buildoff: Build Result

Tamiya’s F-14 is a joy to build.  AMK’s should not have been released.  Even on parole.

I have spent some time debating how to present this buildoff write-up.  On one hand, I want to offer you as objective as possible look at the highs and lows of each kit.  On the other hand, I want you to share the Lovecraftian descent into madness that this entailed.

This post attempts to do both.  The first section functions as a build log, compiled from my various Facebook posts both at the Man vs Kit page and on the Scale Modellers’ Critique Group.  It remains in a stream of consciousness form, showing the reactions I had while building the two kits side by side, and includes photos to illustrate some of the issues.  The second part aims to be as objective as possible and written with the benefit of hindsight and about six weeks to reflect on the experience.

Note that where not specified, the kit with the lighter plastic is the Tamiya, and the darker plastic is AMK.

 

1)    Build log

Cockpits

Neither kit consistently delivers the best detail in the cockpit. Tamiya has nicer sidewalls and control columns, while AMK’s instrument and side panels are more detailed.

AMK on the left, Tamiya on the right

I was disappointed that Tamiya didn’t provide their typically lovely instrument decals. They do provide both lit and unlit decals for the screens, but nothing for the dials. AMK do provide some, though you really need to cut them up to fit the different elevations across the panel.  They make a difference and are very nice.

Tamiya on the left, AMK on the right

The seats fully bear out my suspicion that the Tamiya would build more easily while the AMK would have more detail at the cost of fussy construction. The AMK seats are about a 12-part construction, compared to six for the Tamiya. They do have lovely detail, though a lot of it isn’t going to be visible as it’s mostly around the back.

AMK at top, Tamiya at bottom. Note pull handles!

Also, after saying the AMK cockpit looked big: their seats are bigger too. I don’t know which is more correct but there is a definite difference, so be aware of that if you’re planning to get aftermarket seats for this kit.

Tamiya cockpit with sidewalls attached

Other than the Eduard seatbelts (which reminded me just how much more I like the HGW fabric ones) I made one extra addition to the kit, which is the twisted yellow / black ejection seat pull handle. I saw these made a few years back and remembered them looking a lot nicer than plain yellow or the colour photoetch ones. They were surprisingly simple to make so I might do a quick tutorial on them in a few days, definitely a trick worth knowing.

The twisted string for the pull handles

Finally, attaching the cockpit sidewalls. The Tamiya ones fit perfectly and are a thing of beauty and grace.  The AMK ones… aren’t.

The AMK cockpit sidewall fit

This looked so bad that I did a fast test fit of the cockpit into the single piece nose, just to check that it would slide in with them this shoddily aligned. It does, so at least they seem to have built in some tolerance for this rather dreadful part.  I was quite shocked by this level of fit at this early stage.  Oh you sweet summer child…

The two nose sections closed-up (or slotted-in, in AMK’s case). AMK at top, Tamiya at bottom.

The difference in the seats is small, but you notice it when they are side by side. If you put the Tamiya seat into the AMK cockpit they look small, and the AMK ones don’t quite fit the Tamiya cockpit.

 

Nose gear bays

The gear bays are very similar. Both are simple box construction and go together easily. The AMK has slightly nicer detail with the little rivets, but the Tamiya is already putting a solid foundation for the nose gear which will be very useful. Tamiya is the lighter plastic.

Tamiya at left, AMK at right

 

Main fuselage section

Oh dear.  AMK made this main fuselage section rather complex and the engineering doesn’t really help.  You have to assemble this house of cards where everything leans on everything else, and it’s only a few steps down the line that you might realise that something wasn’t quite in position.  Note the problem below in closing the fuselage – see how one side has a problem?  I think I got one part slightly out of alignment at this point.  Doesn’t help that the top and bottom fuselage pop together tightly, making test-fitting difficult.  Interesting to note that in the photo below, the assemblies don’t look that different.  However the Tamiya has every piece held securely in a slot, whereas AMK has each piece supported by other pieces across the gear bays and intakes.

Tamiya at left, AMK at bottom

I probably made some slight misalignment in the wheel well, where the four parts just wouldn’t sit together nicely, and that’s ended up pushing the entire front portion out of alignment.

“How does the AMKat’s upper fuselage fit?”

*shrug* “Doesn’t”.

Looking back, it was interesting that the problem was more pronounced on one side than the other.  That suggests either that there was an internal impingement, which is possible as those house of cards gear bays are right at that point, or that the fuselage hadn’t been pressed together properly.  This is actually not as silly as it sounds: the top and bottom parts join with (as I recall, about two months later) four pins which slot into tubes.  Now this fit is exceptionally tight, and while sanding one filled join I did get a loud snapping noise followed by the rear part (near the wing) looking considerably more svelte than it had a moment earlier.  Possibly the front-right of these posts had jammed short of being fully inserted?  I was reluctant to test-fit the part and in fact had not intended to finally fit the two halves when I did.  The left side popped in and I couldn’t pull them apart.  So it is possible that this was the issue.  If you’re building the kit, I would suggest trying to loosen that join by maybe sanding the pins a little.  Just shave a small amount off the diameter so they pop in and out more easily. 

I honestly have no idea whether this will work, but having seen several other people have the same fit issue, I suspect there is something preventing that part from closing.

Also, you can just see the gap along the engine tunnel cover.  It was another nice idea that would have been great had it fitted, but it doesn’t.  It leaves a millimetre of so gap along the fuselage side on both sides, and along the inside as well.  All of which need to be filled while being the inside of a corner, which is rather hard to sand well.

As closed as the front left fuselage would go. Ironically it was the front right that would give more trouble later in the build. On the right you can just see the gap along the engine trunk cover.

The problem is that the engineering is incompetent. Strong word, but I think it’s justified by a complete lack of effort to help the user make it go together. The “only noticing a problem downstream” is a big problem for me. I’ve built plenty of complex kits, but only AMK’s have seemed perfectly fine until you get to another bit which exposes a problem.

Closing the fuselage. Progressive clamping and a lot of force required to get anything closed.

The back closes up much more easily… a mere two clamps needed.  When using decent solvents like TET, it’s rare that you have to clamp at all.

Clamping the rear fuselage. Only one each side! Not pictured: the Tamiya kit just slotted together perfectly, so I forgot to photograph it.

Do I need to mention that the Tamiya just pops together and waits patiently to be glued?

Also, remember how my first impressions stated that the joins inside the intakes looked odd, but at least they would be covered?  They aren’t covered, and they don’t sit well.  Further also: remember how I said those full-length covers over the engine trunks are a great idea if they fit well.  They don’t.

The inside of the intakes. This is the result of all those unsupported pieces which all have to fit perfectly.

One thing I’ll say at this point is that I also really disliked the AMK MiG-31 while building the fuselage internals. The fit was worse on this one, but in both cases, they have been unnecessarily fragile, fussy, and complex.  Yet I ended up really loving that kit by the time I was done with it.  So, while this step is a pain, I’m certainly not writing it off just yet.

A curious detail worth mentioning here: at this point I received a few comments from people saying that they had built the kit with no issues, as well as from people saying they had some of the exact same issues.  At this time it is unclear whether there is some inconsistency in the moulding (leading to warping, perhaps), or as I suspect, a particularly unforgiving bit of assembly that has caught multiple people out. 

Also worth noting: upon speaking to a those who had no issues, I noticed that several clarified that they had indeed encountered the same phenomena, but do not consider these to be issues as they were able to work around them.  I don’t share this opinion: a problem is a problem whether you fix it or not.  However I felt this was worth including as people could get confused.

 

Forward fuselage join

Attaching the forward fuselage.  Tamicat…

It just slotted in like this. No movement, no fettling. Perfection.

 

The engineering and fit is just excellent.

…and AMKat.

No movement. It really, really doesn’t want to fit any other way. Maybe that means the underneath lines up nicely?

 

Oh. Never mind.

 

I don’t intend to bash AMK. It just keeps happening, because even Kittyhawk would be ashamed to release this rubbish.  See that join on the afterburner chamber?  See how the edges are rounded?  How is anyone supposed to fix this?  Can you imagine the reaction of IPMS judges with their little torches?

 

Really?
If you think you know how to fix that seam while keeping the ridged surface intact, please explain.

 

I think the nose and fuselage were made by different people. Everything is fine on the nose. The fuselage is a nightmare. Wings are nice. It’s the same problem I noticed on the MiG-31.

 

Attaching the canopy

Just as I thought I was finished, I couldn’t get the canopy to close.

My first thought was that the seats were stopping it from dropping into place.  You may recall that I had that issue with the Trumpeter MiG-17, but that was with an aftermarket seat which was too tall for the cockpit.  This was with kit seats.

Further, it’s not like the kit doesn’t offer a closed canopy option.  In fact, a very early step has you select this and remove the actuator from the rear of the cockpit if picking a closed canopy option.  You are therefore stuck with your choice.

Thinking it was the seats, I noted that there was no obvious place to shave the seats, as they sit on a little box moulded into the floor.  It would be possible to cut it with sprue cutters or a microchisel, but far from easy.

At this point I was quite stuck when I looked at the alternative canopy.  This is a strange piece where the frame and glass are separate.  I hadn’t really considered it as I had heard others say that the glass was too short, but I tried it and was very happy.  The glass just clicked perfectly into place and though the frame needed a small amount of sanding it did fit reasonably well.

 

Landing gear

The Tamiya landing gear attach very easily.  You get big, solid attachment points which slot positively into big recesses and fit nicely.

AMK’s are worth looking a bit more closely at.  They are definitely finer, and I would say they capture the real thing better.  However, they are also really difficult to align properly.  The actuators lack solid attachment points on either the fuselage, gear legs, or gear bays.  The gear doors are not moulded with the hinges attached.  Instead, AMK provide the hinges separately in order to provide the detail of the hinge castings.  This is a recipe for disaster even if the kit provides very positive attachments for both ends of the hinges, but this one provides very little.  Fiddly and also very fragile.

 

2)    Objective assessment

 

The Tamiya kit is more suited to my modelling preferences.

 

I didn’t set out to bash the AMK kit.  No, really.  On opening the boxes, I expected to massively prefer it to the Tamiya, and indeed hoped I would (at that price, I would happily have bought another).  The AMK looked to have better detail, really interesting engineering, and even more interesting paint schemes.

It’s just that it was so incompetently engineered that I was embarrassed to be constantly writing about how awful it was.  Every construction step I hoped would turn the corner, just like the MiG-31 did, and present something wonderful that would make all the struggles worthwhile.  Instead, each step presented a new and interesting way of lowering my opinions even further.

If you look back to my in-box pre-build, you’ll notice that I identified many great-looking points about the AMK kit, with the proviso of, “if they go together well”.  Unfortunately, almost every one of these failed to go together well.  There are even a few parts which were plainly copied from the Tamiya kit (like the separate leading edges on the intakes), where Tamiya had split them out and had them fit perfectly.  AMK had the same thing, and often there seemed to be no reason for it except “because Tamiya did it”, but AMK didn’t make them fit well.

That isn’t to say that the kit is terrible.  It’s fiddly, unforgiving and a nightmare in places, but for the money it gives you a very detailed F-14.  In places it is actually excellent: I love the way they offer two separate wing sets for flaps closed or open, and the three different parts to choose a wing angle.  This is super-solid, easy to work with, and almost guarantees a perfect finish.  Truly excellent, and it shows what the company can do.  I also find the canopy frame-and-glass-insert option fascinating.  Not only does it allow the canopy to be moulded without a seam, it also just clicked into place and gives a great way to realistically paint the frame.  I could see this becoming a big thing.  (Note however that while it worked perfectly for me, others have reported the glass being too short.)

You also get a tonne of armaments which allow you to represent most of the loadouts carried by the F-14D (the exception being non-JDAM bombs, which according to crews were carried), and these are really nice indeed.  Excellent schemes representing a range of airframes from one-offs and CAG planes to regular line aircraft.  A kit that has enough detail to not really need any aftermarket (I added Eduard belts but it does provide a set).  All for around £60 which is really very reasonable.

The problem is that AMK didn’t design a great kit.  They designed a great CAD file, but it fell apart when that CAD was split out into kit parts.  The kit’s long gestation really didn’t help.  Different parts feel like they were made by different people who weren’t communicating.  The nose and wings are superb.  But the nose doesn’t fit the fuselage.  Whoever designed the afterburner chamber must have trusted to the closed exhaust to hide the massive seams.  The cockpit has lovely detail but incompetent fit.  And the less said about the fiddly, locating-points-what-are-they misery of the landing gear, the better.  Then the final kick in the nuts delivered by the canopy that simply doesn’t fit.

I think that AMK’s marketing set this kit up for a fall.  Instead of making reasonable promises and over-delivering, they made brash, hyped-up promises and then delivered a very detailed kit that falls short on most other measures.  At least in my opinion.

 

The Tamiya kit is everything I expect from a modern Tamiya release in 1/48.  Excellent fit, very nice detail and a complete joy to build.  I used a tiny bit of filler to address the join across the nose section, and that was it for the whole kit.

However, the Tamiya kit contains enough annoyances that I really hoped the AMK would overcome its difficult gestation and prove that this kind of engineering isn’t magic.  One is the lack of instrument decals for the panel.  That’s the sort of simple detail that should have been easy to include, and indeed which usually is on Tamiya kits.  Another which I know annoys many people who aren’t me is that you don’t get a choice of open flaps.  True, that would conflict with the adjustable wing, but it would have been simple enough to include an optional blocking brace to fix it open.  I suspect the problem there is cost: this is already an expensive kit and adding more options would have increased that price even further.  Finally, there is the occasionally weak detail, especially in the gear bays, which is very important to some modellers.  All of these are reasons why I really wanted the AMK to be great, as it answers all of these.

 

Is there an area where the AMK is better?  Not by my preferences.  If there is anything, it would be the detail.  Unfortunately, even here I would say that it doesn’t have “better” detail than the Tamiya.  It does have “more” detail, but that comes as deeper, broader panel lines and rivet holes which don’t look as true to life as the very restrained ones on the Tamiya kit.

 

Tamiya 1/48 F-14 final photos

 

AMK 1/48 F-14 final photos

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