Last November, we reviewed the Brickmania F-4C Phantom II Jet custom kit, and designer Cody Osell is back again with the massive 1033 F-14 Tomcat Supersonic Air Superiority Interceptor. The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is one of the most iconic Cold War jet fighters, featured in movies like Top Gun and The Final Countdown. The Brickmania kit includes 1,607 LEGO pieces and two custom-printed minifigures with accessories. We’ll also be taking a look at the NAS Miramar Action Pack add-on that includes four more custom minifigures.
The packaging, instructions, and sticker sheet
Brickmania kits come in standard cardboard packaging with glossy printed wrappers that highlight part counts, minifigs, and so on — nothing particularly new here. Meanwhile, the minifigure add-on comes in a large blister pack, with the minifigures themselves safely packaged in separate zipper bags.
All the parts come in unnumbered bags, though the parts are generally sorted well enough that putting them in a large tray or two with compartments should be enough to find parts easily as you build. That said, Brickmania does also sometimes separate groups of parts by module, as they’ve done with the monumental B-17 Flying Fortress custom LEGO kit we also reviewed last year.
Like large official LEGO sets, the instruction booklet and sticker sheet are shipped together in their own wrapper, ensuring they’re not damaged in transit.
The first page of the instruction booklet includes an overview of the real-life fighter’s service record and specs. The second page does something we haven’t seen in other Brickmania sets: A parts list to build a color-swapped variant of the default model. Throughout the rest of the booklet, color-coded steps provide alternate instructions for replacing the black elements with gray, enabling you to build an all-gray F-14 from the 80’s and later (like the ones featured in Top Gun).
Brickmania prints their own custom stickers, and the stickers are printed on a material that makes them a bit easier to apply and remove in cases when you need to reposition them. This sticker sheet includes a number of alternate designs for the tail art in particular — you can use the realistic skull and crossbones to match the livery of the famous VF-84 “Jolly Rogers” squadron or Felix the Cat for the VFA-31 “Tomcatters.” Personally, I love the option to use a LEGO skull and crossbones from the classic LEGO Pirates theme of the 1980’s.
We’ve said before, and it bears repeating, that building custom kits from third-party companies like Brickmania feels like building the best of the kinds of custom LEGO models by adult builders that we feature here on The Brothers Brick everyday. This F-14 is no different. The build uses hundreds of curved slopes to achieve the striking curves of the jet, while a complex interior mechanism enables the variable-sweep wings to change their configuration.
The cockpit and nose cone in particular use studs-out construction to achieve the subtle curves and angles of the real-life plane. Notice the stepped construction and sloped 2×4 black tile that further contribute to the shaping.
Although most of the colorful details on the plane are achieved with stickers, the cockpit includes five custom-printed elements — two seatbacks with ejector handles, two control panels, and the HUD projector screen. The set also includes a printed silver cheese slope for the charred area next to the M61 Vulcan cannon’s gun port.
As cramped as the cockpit looks, both the pilot and radar intercept officer (RIO) fit comfortably within the fuselage’s skin.
The build for the plane itself concludes with four missiles slung on pods attached to the wing sleeves.
Although Brickmania sells a separate Aircraft Stand for its modern jet fighters, the F-14 is considerably larger than earlier jets like the F-4 and contemporary jets like the F-16C Fighting Falcon. As a result, this kit includes its own stand, with four Technic pins that fit into the underside of the aircraft, holding it at a rakish angle.
Applying the stickers is the last step in the process, with a single page that uses callouts to indicate where the numbered stickers should be applied.
Official LEGO stickers are invariably sized to be slightly smaller than any surface to which you’re supposed to apply them. This is not always the case with Brickmania’s stickers — in some cases, they overhang their intended surface slightly. For example, even if I had applied the cockpit’s forward windscreen sticker flush with the bottom of the trans-blue panel, the curved top of the sticker would still have stuck out over the two trans-clear cheese slopes.
Another issue with the Brickmania stickers is that they don’t have the same “clutch” (to repurpose a LEGO term) that LEGO stickers and decals do. This is often an advantage, allowing you to remove and reposition stickers when you make a mistake. But when the part of a sticker that extends across a step is too small or if it’s applied to a curved surface, the stickers have a tendency to peel off, as is the case with the sticker for the walkway next to the RIO’s position.
These issues aside, the stickers add dramatic flair to the finished model — the “vagabonds” strips and the tail art especially.
The finished model
Although incredibly iconic thanks to its appearance in classic 1980’s American movies like Top Gun, the F-14 Tomcat never saw the intense wartime service with the US Navy that its predecessor the F-4 Phantom II did during the Vietnam War and its successor the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet has in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. Ironically, the F-14 did see intense air-to-air combat during the 1980s with the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, thanks to a delivery of dozens of F-14s to the Shah of Iran prior to the 1979 Revolution. Iranian F-14s allegedly downed more than 160 Iraqi aircraft, including dozens of Soviet-made MiGs. This Brickmania kit sports the color scheme of early F-14s in US Navy service, matching the black sections, “vagabonds” fuselage strip, and skull and crossbones on the tails of the VF-84 “Jolly Rogers” fighter squadron aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
The jet features a number of working features, most notably the variable-geometry wings, which can be swept back fully for supersonic flight (don’t try to get your LEGO F-14 to actually fly at Mach 2.34 as we suspect it will fly apart). The wings can also be extended for lower-speed flight (though we also don’t recommend throwing your F-14, since that will likely have similar results).
Cranking a small gear in the jet’s tail connects to a long, reinforced Technic axle that moves a pusher mechanism inside the central fuselage, which in turn connects to a pair of 1×8 tiles on hinges, which slide back and forth inside the wings to extend or retract them. It’s brilliant, and works flawlessly.
The tail section also includes several more functional features — the speedbrake flips up, and the arrestor hook flips down. The all-moving tailerons or stabilators rotate on Technic friction pins so you can position them as you like.
The wings also have moveable flaps, though they wouldn’t be used at high speeds.
The landing gear aren’t quite as functional, however. The instructions include steps for removing and stowing them, but they don’t retract on their own — you have to remove the wheels, flip the struts up, and stow the wheels manually before closing the flaps. But once you do, the jet looks even more sleek on its stand.
Despite their removability, the landing gear are also sturdy enough for the heavy aircraft to stand on them on a flat surface.
Overall, the shaping, details, functionality, and livery from custom stickers all come together in a fantastically detailed, incredibly sturdy LEGO F-14 Tomcat that you wouldn’t want to face in the air. I also appreciate that the Brickmania team chose to produce their kit in late 70’s ~ early 80’s “Jolly Rogers” squadron livery, which is much more interesting to look at as a model than the flat gray livery of later jets. Of course, you can always choose to build your all-gray Top Gun version with the alternate parts list and instructions.
See lots more photos of the finished model in the gallery at the end of this article.
The Brickmania F-14 kit itself comes with two identical minifigures representing the pilot and the Radar Intercept Officer (RIO). Brickmania custom-prints their minifigs in-house, and this is the first kit we’ve reviewed that also features custom accessories produced by Brickmania — previously, they’ve relied on third-party military accessories from makers such as Brickarms and Minifig Cat. As a result, this is the first kit in a long time that appears to be created 100% in-house (aside from the original LEGO bricks, of course).
I’ve noted previously my personal preference for pad printing, which produces flat designs essentially indistinguishable from official LEGO products, such as the custom minifigs and accessories from Citizen Brick. However, the digital printing method that Brickmania uses does have a number of advantages, including the ability to print three dimensionally off of the surface of the underlying LEGO. This works well to create textures like straps and belts on military uniforms, but we’re particularly impressed with the oxygen masks printed on the minifigs’ heads. (We’ll come back to the new custom helmets after we look at a larger sample of them with the add-on minifig pack.) The glare on the visor is actually printed right onto the head and isn’t just from our photography setup — a fun detail.
The cleverly titled NAS Miramar Action Pack (For F-14 Tomcat) includes four more custom minifigs that complement the custom jet kit. This add-on kit is priced at $125 (we’ll address price in our conclusions later). As we noted earlier, the minifigs come in their own blister pack with an insert, and the minifigs themselves are packaged in their own small bags inside.
Anyone who’s seen Top Gun will of course immediately recognize the four protagonists from the movie. Left to right in the photo below, the ill-fated LTJG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (played by Anthony Edwards of ER fame), LTJG Ron “Slider” Kerner (played by Rick Rossovich), LT Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (played by Tom Cruise), and the inimitable LT Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (played by Val Kilmer).
All four minifigs are custom-printed on every element, including their arms and the backs of their legs. Each of them carries their flight helmets so you can swap their heads and helmets onto the default pilot and RIO’s bodies from the F-14 kit. Maverick wears his iconic bomber jacket with patches from all over the world, while Iceman wears a flight suit that’s more detailed than the version on the two minifigs included with the F-14.
Meanwhile, Goose and Slider are ready for a day playing volleyball at the beach (though I don’t recall them wearing their helmets in that scene…). Goose wears board shorts with a T-shirt featuring his squadron logo, while Slider wears gray sweatpants to show off his ripped physique. The attention to detail on these less well-known characters is incredible — Slider’s hand and ankle are wrapped in the beach volleyball scene, and that’s accurately captured with a white hand and bit of white bandaging on the minifig’s left leg.
Finally, the packaging insert includes a complete sticker sheet for recreating the look of the F-14 Tomcats featured in the film, assuming you follow the all-gray alternate instructions in the main set’s instruction booklet.
We’ve always been impressed with the high quality of custom accessories from BrickArms, and we were similarly impressed with the quality of the Minifig Cat accessories included with the pilots in the F-4 Phantom kit we reviewed last year. However, there are a number of issues with the helmets that Brickmania has produced in-house for this set. First, the plastic doesn’t appear to have had enough dye injected, leaving the helmets semi-translucent. Second, the helmets have virtually no clutch, and simply fall off the minifigs’ heads. Neither of these issues is much of a problem when you’ve put the helmets on the minifigs and placed them in the F-14’s cockpit (you can’t see the translucency and the cockpit canopy keeps the helmets in place). But these issues make the new accessories feel really cheap, which is definitely counter to the overall “premium” feel of the rest of the product.
Conclusions & recommendation
Quality issues with the custom components produced in-house (stickers and helmets) certainly detract from what might otherwise be an absolutely perfect custom LEGO kit. At $725 for the massive F-14 Tomcat and $125 for the four minifigs in the NAS Miramar add-on, words like “cheap” shouldn’t appear alongside a total cost of $850. Let’s be clear, though: The Brickmania F-14 Tomcat and the custom minifigs are both utterly fantastic — the Tomcat is stunning, and seeing the hyper-serious naval aviators from Top Gun reduced to chunky minifig form is frankly hilarious. It’s just disappointing that minor but highly visible details like the stickers and helmets don’t meet the same high bar set by the Tomcat especially.
Do these issues affect our recommendation? Actually, no. The $725 price tag for the Tomcat covers not just the 1,600 LEGO bricks that Brickmania sources on the secondary market like the rest of us, but also their design staff, custom printing (both stickers and custom-printed LEGO elements), packaging, and so on. I’ve argued in every Brickmania review that it’s a fair price for what you’re getting, even if it’s not something everyone is going to be willing to spend their LEGO money on.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel we can quite say the same for the $125 NAS Miramar add-on minifigure pack. For better and for worse, $20-25 has become a fairly standardized price for custom-printed minifigs, regardless of printing style. It’s also a fairly well-known fact (about which I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong) among custom LEGO enthusiasts that digital printing tends to cost less than LEGO-like pad printing. So for $125, you get four fully custom-printed LEGO minifigs, plus custom Brickmania helmets with some quality issues, plus a single sticker sheet. The math doesn’t quite add up.
Having known Brickmania CEO Dan Siskind for over a decade, I’m confident that his team will work out these kinds of quality issues in the long run. And at the same time, they’re genuinely minor (if highly visible) issues that don’t really detract significantly from the actual finished product. Finally, if price is the primary concern, Brickmania runs fairly frequent storewide sales that knock off 10-20% from any given price. Combine that with the annual Brickmania Elite frequent buyer program (which typically costs $50 for a permanent 10% discount), and you’ll likely find a window when you can pick up a huge set like this for as little as $522 instead of the full price of $725 (sticker price minus 10% for Elite minus another 20% for any given sale).
For me personally, despite the F-4 Phantom II being my favorite jet fighter, and despite minor quality concerns with helmets and stickers, this might actually be my favorite Brickmania custom kit so far.
Don’t miss our previous reviews of Brickmania airplanes:
- Brickmania 1031 F-4C Phantom II Supersonic Jet Intercepter
- Brickmania 2183 B-17G Flying Fortress WWII Heavy Bomber
Brickmania is a Premier Sponsor of The Brothers Brick and sent The Brothers Brick a copy of this set for review. However, advertisers have no influence over editorial content and providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.