Longevity is all relative. Compared to some insects, humans live almost forever. Of course, compared to some giant trees, our lives are just blinks of an eye, or maybe rustles of a branch to be more appropriate. When it comes to military aircraft, history has shown that some types seem to have much longer lives than others, and that they’re getting longer! This is especially true of fighters.
In World War I, new fighters were introduced with a frequency that is nearly disorienting by today’s standards. As technology and even basic aerodynamic theory progressed, new ideas were quickly embraced and since the machines were relatively simple (just wood, wire and fabric) new ones could be designed and implemented with great speed. Of course, that meant that what was today’s “Fokker Scourge” would be tomorrow’s “duck in a shooting gallery”. Even between the wars, when fighter development slowed somewhat, this type of aircraft was still the one that changed most often.
World War II kicked the development of the fighter into top gear, and in the six years of global conflict the very shape and nature of the “fighter” became the watchpoint for a country’s technological advancement and capacity. By the end of the war, even the basics of propulsion had changed, and the jet engine quickly rendered the piston engined thoroughbreds of only a year or two earlier almost obsolete overnight. Certainly, the piston-engined fighter was an endangered species in the air forces of the world’s major powers.
The truly amazing thing is that, despite the cost and complexity of jet fighters, and it’s accelerating magnitude in the post war years, the longevity of early jets was almost laughably bad. It was almost like a redo of WWI, with new jet fighters taking to the skies with frightening regularity, and with such leaps and bounds of capabilities that each new plane seemed to consign its forebears (and even near contemporaries) to the dustbin as it entered squadron service.
It took some time for the development of the jet fighter to plateau, to reach a point of equilibrium where new fighters took longer to develop simply because the leaps and bounds were no longer able to be made. This was around the early 1960s, and the advent of US jets like the F-8, F-105 and the nigh-immortal F-4 pointed to a generation of jet fighters that would be “there to stay”, as it were. So, then, you’d be forgiven for thinking that by this point, most of the early jets would be gone; unable to match the new planes’ power, speed and carrying capacity. Well, you’d be largely right.
However, there are always exceptions, and one marked example was the Grumman TF-9J Cougar. This two seat trainer was based on the single-seat Cougar, itself a swept wing derivative of the rightfully famous, but by then far outclassed, F9F Panther of Korean War fame. The fighter variant of the Cougar was a plainly transonic and transitional machine, a good update to a design that had reached the limits of what it could do. However, it was never going to be in the US Navy’s inventory for long, such was the pace of development at the time it was introduced.
The two-seater, though, commonly referred to as the “Twogar”, had a phenomenally long life with the Navy. It served as the service’s advanced trainer all the way up until the mid ‘70s when it was finally replaced with the TA-4F Skyhawk. Acting as an advanced trainer, while conferring a long life on the Twogar, more or less dictated that it would life a life of peace. Indeed, no single seat F-9s ever saw any action. However, there came a time at which the Twogar swapped its high-vis orange-and-white training livery for period Marines combat paint scheme of grey top and white bottom. These planes were shifted from Carrier Landing Practice for Forward Air Control (Airborne), or FAC(A), with two Marines’ Headquarters and Maintenance Squadrons(H&MS) in Vietnam. These two squadrons, H&MS 11 and H&MS 13 took the Cougar to war over the A Shau valley in an attempt to stem the flow of weapons and personnel coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Despite the fact that the Marines were using two-seater jets for FAC(A) months before the USAF started using the two-seat F-100 in the same role, the dangerous work of the Marines Twogars is almost unknown. Thankfully, several model companies have taken up the torch, and there are now two kits of the ‘Nam-era Twogars available to help redress this situation. One is the Kitty Hawk 1/48 TF-9J, the other is the 1/72 Sword.
Given my penchant for loving 2-seaters, it’s no surprise I was very excited to learn that finally we were getting kits of the beautiful TF-9J. I’ve always thought the single-seat Cougars were very ugly, but that the Twogars corrected everything wrong, and the result was a plane that I have always wanted to build. I decided, unsurprisingly, to wait for the Sword kit, since I do prefer 1/72 planes for matters of room-taken-up-on display. Also, I’d heard some distressing things about the Kitty Hawk, including about a seam on the cockpit canopy that ran full length and required polishing out. I sure wasn’t going to pay a premium for something even my crappy old kits don’t require. (It’s bad when Farpros and Matchboxes are outshining new “super kits” in any way, shape or form!)
So, when I had a chance to grab the Sword 1/72 Twogar in full ‘Nam warpaint, I took it. Actually, I special-ordered it from a shop two hours away, that’s how badly I wanted it! Of course, like all “shiny new things” it did end up in my stash, and just recently I was bitten by the urge to get it out and get it underway. So, let’s see how Sword treats the last subsonic Grumman, shall we?
The box, like most Swords I’ve encountered, is an end-opening affair (boo!) made from normal weight cardboard. The entire front of the box is illustration, with text superimposed. The text for the Sword name is fairly small, in the top left corner, and the scale is prominent, but no larger, up in the right. The black and white text is very stark and stands out, especially against the rather pale colours of the box art.
The subject of the kit, a TF-9J of H&MS 13, is shown pulling up and apparently banking, somewhere over Vietnam. In the background is a very muted, washed out jungle scene, and there’s a river of some kind in there as well. The jet is rendered in full, normal contrast, and is “fully dressed” for war with two four-shot Zuni pods and a little shark mouth. This particular aircraft, 147384, is quite famous, and most searches for “Twogar in Vietnam” will quickly yield pictures of it taking off on a sortie.
The Twogar is well rendered, but there’s a very sterile feel to the whole scene. This is very much what one expects on newer model boxes, and the art has a definitely “digital” feel to it, despite there being a signature with it. The drawing is clean, and almost too-sharply defined against the muted background. The detail in the drawing is both great and subtle, but the whole thing is very static looking. There are no vortices on the wingtips (despite the humidity of the Vietnamese climate), no smoke from the exhaust, no nothing to indicate motion. Even the control surfaces aren’t deflected, so I don’t know how the plane is banking like it is.
Who knows… maybe Cougars didn’t generate vortices nor have smokey engines? Even if that’s the case, the whole art looks very much technically competent but emotionally stunted. The Kittyhawk kit shows a jet glow in the Twogar’s engine nozzle; even if it’s not right, it still has that emotional impact that creates excitement for the subject. Sadly, the Sword box art just doesn’t cry out to me. Add to this that the whole plane is very clean, except for the smoke from the guns, and it just looks jarring. Most of the Twogars in ‘Nam were hard-worked in a very unforgiving environment. This led to them being pretty beaten up looking most of the time. Unless this thing just rolled out of a wash job, the cleanliness of paint doesn’t match the scene depicted. In fact, if I didn’t have a thing for two-seaters, I doubt I’d have been enticed to pick it up on the strength of box art alone. I don’t think the overly pale background does it any favours, either. Let’s face it, in real life, there’s just not that much difference in contrast. The beautiful work on the Aichi Laura from Fujimi proves that art that’s a little more cartoony, but more consistent, can really have a much bigger impact.
Art aside, there’s another interesting thing on the box; this plane can be either a Vietnam FAC(A) or a Blue Angels machine, according to the label! Flipping the box over proves this true, as there are two full-colour side views of the Twogar, one in grey/white and the other in Blue Angels blue and yellow! You want to talk about opposite ends of the spectrum?!
In the box there are two and a third sprues of medium grey-blue plastic and one clear rack for the necessary transparencies. The first two solid sprues contain the parts for the actual aircraft, and the extra third-of-a-sprue is the four-shot Zuni pods, which according to the August 2020 article in Combat Aircraft Journal, was the preferred weapons loadout for H&MS 13, while H&MS 11 preferred 2.75” podded rockets.
There are also a pair of resin seats. This is the only Resin/PE in the set, and I’m at a bit of a loss as to why they’re the only bits of resin in the box. However, I do have a couple of other Swords and at least one of them has a resin cockpit chunk, so maybe that’s how Sword does it? Regardless, I wouldn’t say they’re outstandingly detailed for resin, but they’re passable, and you’re unlikely to be able to seem of them once the plane is buttoned up anyways. The cockpit detail is pretty good for this scale, with moulded instrument panels and side console detail. I know people like to go whole-hog with cockpits, and that’s fine if that’s what floats your boat, but for me, as long as I see shapes of seats and there’s a floor, I’m good (I guess that’s too many Farpro kits, eh?) and this one exceeds that standard handily!
The Sword Twogar is pretty much the antithesis of the Kitty Hawk 1/48, in that it’s a fairly simple kit. It isn’t designed to build a busload of variants, and it isn’t designed to have folding wings and all that other stuff that can really complicate a model. In fact, I’d say this kit is very much a hybrid of a Hasegawa and a Matchbox. It has fine, almost soft, recessed panel lines, but only a few fiddly pieces. It’s better than, say, the Matchbox Hunter Trainer, since it does actually have an intake trunking system, but it’s simple; just halves that then bolt into the upper wing root. There’s an engine exhaust pipe and rudimentary turbine detail on a wall, but you don’t have to bother building half a friggin’ engine to get there.
Overall, the impression is one of a typical short-run kit; there’s clearly a desire for quality and detail that’s mitigated by cost and capability concerns. That doesn’t mean this kit doesn’t look fun; it does! For someone like me, who never intends to shrink himself down and fly the model away, being short on unseen internal detail is great. It makes the build simpler and the kit more fun! If you wanted to add more, I’m sure you could just go crazy.
About the only thing I’m sure people will gripe about are the mid-wing fences. Being that they’re styrene, they are likely too thick compared to the real things. However, having tried to deal with PE fences on other planes, I much prefer a bit of thickness to the chance of them breaking off all the time! As for landing gear detail, it’s fairly minimal, and not overly fine. The scissor links on the main gears are filled-in, which is great for rigidity but may look a bit “off” when done. You can try to cut the webbing out, or you can give the gear a wash and hope nobody notices. The wheel bays are of the type that are closed as much as possible until they have to open for retraction, so most of the bays are closed off, leaving only a bit of ribbing as visible detail.
There are some prominent seam lines on the main gear legs and a few other pieces, but this is to be expected on a kit of this type. The big concern is the complete lack of locating pins on the fuselage and wings. This means extra care will be needed for alignment; I’d suggest making a few sheet styrene locators for the fuselage, and it might be best to glue the lower wing/fuselage pan into place before putting on the upper wings; it might help with alignment, or highlighting a lack of therein, allowing you to fix it before it’s too late!
The transparencies look good, and there’s even the separate internal windscreen that goes in front of the rear seat! Unlike the larger kit of this plane, there’s no seam down the centre of the canopy, either! The frames aren’t particularly fine, though; they’re very much more like a Matchbox than a more modern kit. However, I’m just glad the canopy is injected and not Vac-formed. (A lot of my recent acquisitions have Vac-formed canopies… sigh…) there are clear navigation and landing lights that I fear are too small to be anything but a poor fit and a nuisance to either emplace or just avoid losing! I’d glue them in and just fair them into the wing during the build, then foil and paint them afterwards.
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions are nice. They come in a little booklet with a short history of the plane on the cover and a reproduction of the art at the top. There is a parts inventory on the first page, and the entire plane is assembled in 19 steps. The drawings are black-and-white line drawings, and are crisp and clear. Sadly, while they look really good, the instructions, at least at first glance, do have some areas where they aren’t clear as to what they mean. This usually comes when there are options, such as in Step 11, where they show you cutting off a chuck of the rocket pod pylon while then showing the entire unit bolting into the pod!
I’m assuming that in this case, they mean to cut it off when you’re not using the pod, but that should be made a lot clearer. They also say that the other stores pylons are optional, but if you don’t use them, then there are going to be holes in the wings that you’ll have to fill in. Oddly, there are three pylons per wing, but only the outer two have through-drilled holes. The others are just depressions at the wing root. They’re pronounced enough you’d still have to fill them, so I don’t know why they aren’t drilled through. Just a quirk of the show, I guess! There are two full-colour, four-view, paint and decal plans at the back of the book, one for each variety. This shows colours and decal placement.
As for the decals, they come on a blue sheet and include major markings and stencils. There are a goodly number of stencils, too, so those who love that kind of thing shouldn’t need to dig around for extras. The decals are colourful and in-register, with good apparent colour density. They’re printed by Techmod, and although I’ve never used their decals, these look good. I am hopeful that the white is good and opaque, although that is much more of a concern for the Blue Angels livery than the FAC(A) I intend to build. There are also a good number of stencils, so if those are your thing, you likely will have enough to satisfy given that this plane isn’t all that large!
Unlike the Revell Germany decals for the Matchbox Spitfire XVI which are godawful pieces of garbage, I mean matte-finished, the Twogar’s decals are nice and shiny. There are no huge areas of decal film either; see that yellow arrow? Yeah, the inside of that IS NOT decal film. There’s only a tiny bit around each decal, although the spaces between letters are film. Still, I anticipate that they should work pretty nicely, and as long as you have a good gloss coat for them to go on, I don’t anticipate a lot of issues with silvering.
While the Cougar might have been little more than a flash in the pan with frontline squadrons, its two-seat progeny went on to be one of the classic naval aircraft of the jet era. It was also the only version to go to war, and its nice that there are now a couple of models to honour the brave souls who flew what was already an outdated machine right into the mouth of the enemy.
The Sword Twogar is a nice, if not typically short-run, kit. It has good surface detail and interior detail, but with caveats; the external panel lines, while recessed, are soft, and the internal detail won’t be enough for the “cockpit mafia”. Still, it is overall simple enough that even fairly inexperienced modellers should be able to give it a go. It’s not overly fiddly, and it doesn’t get Zvezda Mig-29SM– cute with unnecessary engineering.
It’s not for beginners; the lack of location and the general nature of short-run kits combine to make this one a bit challenging, but I don’t see it being outside the realm of most modellers. It follows simple principles and eschews unnecessary gimmicks to give a good, honest model of a cool-looking and little-known airplane.
If you’re a fan of the Vietnam conflict, Naval air power, early jets or just love a good two-seater (Who doesn’t?) I can say that the Sword Twogar looks like a kit you want in your stash. If you can still get one or come across it, I suggest picking it up. It’ll take some work, but it’ll reinforce the basics and should come out looking pretty nice.