Monday, July 31, 2017

Videoaviation 1/32 USAF GBU-38 Review

The GBU-38 was first dropped on an enemy combatant in September of 2004 in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Known as a JDAM, or Joint Direct Attack Munition, the weapon consists of a Mk-82 500 lb bomb body fitted with a guidance kit and GPS receiver making it far more accurate than its unmodified iron predecessors.

Despite the GBU-38's success and widespread use by the US Air Force and US Navy since the early days of OIF and then in Operation Enduring Freedom, they have remained elusive to modelers in the large scale world of 1/32 until recently. Though they may come kitted in plastic with the purchase of a modern aircraft kit, there are only several manufacturers who are currently producing them in resin for the aftermarket. Surprisingly enough, this group does not include Eduard Model Accessories whose current inventory lacks the GBU-38 in any scale.

Enter Videoaviation. They have only been in the game for several years and while not as well established in the aftermarket yet, they are making splashes with products that everyone else is over looking, to include the GBU-38. It is my first experience with Videoaviation and the opportunity to review a promising young company who is building a favorable output of large scale aircraft ordnance was not something I could pass up.
Let's take a look at their JDAMs.

What do you get?

One package of the little JDAMs contains enough parts to create eight complete GBU-38s. That is almost enough to load one pylon on a B-52. At 10 Euros a pop, or roughly $11.73, its a steal especially considering the Wolfpack set of six bombs sells for around $18 and they do not look nearly as good. Even Eduard tends to sell ordnance in packs of only four to six pieces so this is good bang for your buck.

The Paper Work...

If you have never put resin together before, the instructions may let you down. There is no indication of parts placement on the single card stock sheet other than for the GPS antenna and DSU-33 proximity sensor. But it isn't difficult to figure out that each section must be freed from its respective pour block and glued in a manner that reflects the imagery provided. The card does provide guidance for placing decals and color call outs. The only issue I see is that it refers to the DSU-33 as glossy black when they can also be yellowish tan. The majority that I have seen are not black but it is probably the difference between older and newer versions.

Black DSU-33 mounted to a Mk-82.

Plethora of DSU-33s mounted to GBU-38s.

The decals are crisp and legible and there are two for each munition - a yellow stencil for the bomb body and a white sticker for the tail kit. When compared to the real thing, not much more is needed.

The yellow stencils are clearly visible on these GBU-38s which specify the bomb type, mod number, and serial number among other things.

Notice the white sticker which contains information relevant to the tail kit including version and serial number.

Each one is printed legibly but I'm curious to see how well they lay down. Its a question I'll answer in the final build review in a few days.

The Parts...

The main components of the kit.

The bombs are finely molded in a cream colored if that matters. The aerosurfaces of the forward strake assembly on the bomb body are molded on and you must be careful when handling each munition as the fins are paper thin and might crack under a clumsy finger. Ask me how I know. Never the less, a fine representation of the real thing.
The DSU-33s and the GPS antennas are molded flush to the pour block so after removing them a little sanding is required to eliminate the extra resin. 
Three blocks contain the bomb lugs. It is a nice option to include the lugs as separate pieces in case a modeler wants to hang his munitions from an aircraft or display them on a trailer or Y-stand as part of a diorama. They are tiny so be sure to have a steady grip. Even if you are a klutz, the kit provides two extra lugs should one go sailing across the room. 
The tail kits are another area you must use soft hands. The fins are thin, nearly translucent, and have some flash that must be removed. Otherwise, they are detailed and fairly accurate.


The resin is soft and cuts easily with a razor saw but as you can see there are no tabs to properly align the two sections. Some sanding was necessary on both ends to ensure each was level, or as level as they could be, before eyeballing the alignment by using the two lug holes and the cable connector on the tail kit.

Alignment can be tricky here....

I was afraid the lugs were going to be an issue but they were quite simply removed with a sharp blade. Just don't sneeze...

They sit firmly in the holes already in the bomb body. A little glue and forget about 'em. But keep in mind that they are fragile, too. I waited until I was done handling the bomb before I attached them.
The hardest part of the entire process was the GPS antenna. It is a small piece so removing it from the block was difficult and then you must sand the excess resin away to ensure the join is level. It attaches to the rear of the tail kit, again without the aid of any locator pins or tabs so making sure it's flush around the entire edge is imperative before the CA dries.
All in all, though, it was a quick build. It did not require that I break out the trusty Dremel tool as some other aftermarket sets do. However, if you want additional strength to the join, drilling out a hole in the bomb body and adding a dowel could be beneficial. 

Assembled GBU-38.

The finished product is accurate and despite the simple join, well aligned. The only thing I did not like was the GPS antenna. Quite honestly, it could have been manufactured as part of the tail kit with only a minimal loss of detail (four screw holes). I will be the first to tell you that I am a lazy modeler who quite often will not go out of his way to use power tools, jigs or other innovations to ensure the greatest possible outcome. Its a shortcoming, I know. But if I was able to assemble these with no additional work other than what my basic modeling skills can conjure then it is a kit that I will certainly celebrate.

Is it the bomb you're looking for?

Videoaviation smartly provides two versions of the GBU-38 in their offering, one with a DSU-33 sensor and another with a standard iron nose cap. They also include bomb lugs for the savvy modeler looking to display their ordnance as a diorama or stand alone piece. They have either molded or engraved every essential detail of a GBU-38. Don't believe me? Let's compare the resin to the real thing.

The resin bombs match the real thing, down to the lugs, initiator located between the lugs (albeit the engraving is light and difficult to see), the aerosurfaces which include the aluminum straps, and the brass ring just aft of the nose plug.

The tail section includes the 1760 cable connector and engraved fuse access panel. The only real discrepancy is having the prominent bolt heads engraved rather than raised.

The details are right. The shape is right. Though Wolfpack also provides two options for the nose, they do not include the lugs and fall short in comparison overall. Don't believe me? Look for yourself.

Wolfpack GBU-38s. Photo from Sprue Brothers Models.

Granted the Wolfpack offering is molded as one piece which avoids any alignment difficulty but you can see they lack the same level of detail in the Videoaviation set. The only other alternative would be Golden Dragon, but considering they can't even put the right bomb on their packaging I wouldn't take them seriously. 
As some one who works with USAF ordnance on an intimate level, I can tell you that these have the look and feel of a GBU-38. While they are not perfect, they come pretty close. Furthermore, this isn't just an endorsement based on the fact that there is nothing better on the market. Videoaviation is a small company with fewer resources and staff than a heavy hitter like Eduard, however, this set has shown that Videoaviation can compete and do so at a price point way under the competition. These GBU-38s are right on target and I'm excited to see what else will be coming down range.

Let me know what you think of this set! Sound off in the comments below!