History: Here is a review of Italeri's recent release of the 1:48 EA-18G Growler which is the electronic warfare version of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The EA-18G Growler entered fleet operational service in June 2008 with VAQ-129 Vikings at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington, USA. During the first deployments of the Growler, it quickly established itself as the best aircraft for the job with updated avionics and new capabilities.
As far as model kits available today, there are only two manufacturers and two very different styles of presentation in both versions. I will highlight the differences a little later.
The kit: This is Italeri's fourth encarnation of the Super Hornet/Growler saga and they have been playing catch up for a long time after their initial release of the Super Hornet kits as they have presented many accuracy and fit issues. They remoulded their original Super Hornet in order to delete the dorsal spine airbrake found on the Legacy Hornet, which was a little more accepted by the modelling community but it still represents a preproduction Super Hornet. They then re-released the kit again and boxed it as an EA-18G Growler in 2005. At the time the Growler was only in development stages therefore it only represented a preproduction NEF-18G version using a preproduction Super Hornet. On this occasion I am pleasently surprised. It is clear that the kit is a new run and there is no presence of flash or deformed parts and the ejection pin marks appear to be in places that will be hidden from view. The whole kit is however a re-release of Italeri's remoulded F/A-18F Super Hornet with the neccesery additions to turn it into an EA-18G Growler. All parts feature recessed panel lines which for some may appear too deep but can be well presented with some artistic weathering. External detail is very good as the many vents and ports are well executed and this is certainly true for the gun gas vents under the nose area which is not accurate for the Growler. Both main landing gear and nose landing gear bays feature some really nice detail with structural frames and wiring depicted quite nicely. Cockpit detail however is does not exist because all of the instrument panels are depicted as decals however the detail on the decals would certainly pass muster with the canopy closed. The ejector seats have some nice detail on them however some modellers may choose to replace them with some aftermarket options.
What I was most interested in, is the changes that have been made to this kit given that box clearly says "New Mould" on it. Italeri have done it finally...I think!! Looking through the parts, many of the changes have been featured on a new sprue which include the new bard stack ECS exhausts now seen on new Super Hornets and Growlers. It also includes many of the lumps and bumps which make up the Growler package. Other Growler specific parts have been included in the main sprues for the wings and they have finally included a part for the IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) pizza box antenna which features on the nose infront of the cockpit. This has been omitted from all previous Italeri Hornet examples and is the one reason why they have been playing catch up. As for the cockpit, they have included a new part for the Advanced Crew Station instrument panel which is taller and more boxy than previous Block 1 Hornets.
A nice array of external stores is included in the kit, however the load out is basic for the Growler anyway. You get 3 x external fuel tanks (2 for the inboard wing mounts, 1 for the centre fuselage mount), 3 x pods representing the AN/ALQ-99 noise jamming pods (2 for the middle wing mounts, 1 for the centre fuselage mount), 2 x ALQ-218 wingtip jamming pods, 2 x AIM-7 Sparrow missiles however these should be AGM-88 HARM anti rader missiles and finally you get two AIM-9M heat seeking missles however these should now be AIM-9X missiles with the smaller stabilising fins. The standard load for a Growler consists of 3 x AN/ALQ-99 jamming pods, 2 X External fuel tanks, 2 x AGM-88 Anti radar missiles, 2 x ALQ-218 wingtip pods and possibly 2 x AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles for self defence. As with most military aircraft there can always be changes to the loads but the Growlers changes often only apply to the amount of jamming pods or external fuel tanks carried.
The new included decal sheet is huge to say the least. It features four hi viz schemes from the first three squadrons to be outfitted with the new Growler. The fourth scheme is two tone blue aircraft from VAQ-129 painted specially for the US Naval Centennial celebrations. Th range of stencil data is also quite vast and very well printed. The overall quality of the decals is very nice and they are not very thick at all. Although not printed anywhere on the box or on the decal sheet, I would suspect that Cartograph may have had a hand in the printing of them as they seem to work a lot recently with Italeri among other manufacturers.
It is very clear that Italeri have made an effort to produce a very worthy EA-18G Growler and Super Hornet kit by adding the new features and including some parts that should have been there in the first place to depict either version. I certainly think that it is a very buildable kit for anyone regardless of skill level and would look good in any of the four hi viz schemes included in the decal sheet. As for accuracy and detail, the kit is up against some very stiff competition with the release of the Hasegawa 1:48 EA-18G Growler. Hasegawa certainly lead the market when it comes to accuracy and detail however I consider that kit to be in the advanced modellers skill range as they have got it pretty much spot on. Italeri's offering is much more subtle and less intimidating out of the box. It falls very short in the accuracy department as the cockpit lets it down slightly due to lack of detail. There are some ECM antennas on the nose of the Growler which are not featured, the included missiles are wrong, the gun gas vents under the nose are still moulded on the fuselage which should be deleted, each landing gear leg is in two halfs possing problems with seem lines and finally there is a cranked fairing on the leading edge wing slats which is unique to the Growler which is not included in this kit but is present in the Hasegawa offering. These issues are however minor and the advanced modeller can certainly take care of these no problem but even those who do not enter in to the full on accuracy detail arena can still produce a very nice looking model from the kit. Overall a very commendable effort by Italeri and a very nice addition to anyones model collection