REVIEW: G.I. JOE SKYSTRIKER XP-21F COMBAT JET
First introduced in 1983, the SkyStriker XP-14F Combat Jet was the first airplane to make its way into the G.I. Joe line, and was easily the largest vehicle to date, and would remain so for a couple of years. 1984's WHALE Hovercraft would come close, but it would really take the USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier -- ironically enough -- to finally dwarf the SkyStriker.
Now, I'm not saying there aren't other cool planes in the G.I. Joe line. Certainly there are. The Cobra Rattler is well-regarded, as is the Cobra Night Raven, the Conquest X-30, and others. Heck, I've found that the USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier looks better with several Storm Eagles set up on its deck. The SkyStriker is just a little too big for the Carrier, appearance-wise.
But ultimately, the single best-known airplane in the G.I. Joe's retinue of amazing vehicles is most certainly the SkyStriker. And given its size, and modern toy prices and retailer shelf-space considerations, I don't think anyone really expected it to return.
The SkyStriker was released in 1983, and hung around for a couple of years. I will never forget seeing well over a hundred (yes, I counted them) SkyStrikers lining the entire top shelf of a local retailer's action figure aisle around the Christmas season in 1985. By December 26, every last one of them had sold. They were all gone, and that was the last year for the SkyStriker, as well.
The SkyStriker returned in 1989 as part of the Toys "R" Us exclusive Night Force line. Toys "R" Us really got my attention that year by releasing three of my favorite vehicles -- the SkyStriker, the APC, and the Cobra Moray -- into the Night Force line, with new color schemes and new names. The SkyStriker ended up with the rather debatable name of "Night Boomer", but that was only because a different vehicle had taken the name "Night Striker" the year before.
That was the last time the SkyStriker was released in the United States. It saw some international production, but it never again appeared in the American market. Other planes have. There are numerous variations of the Rattler and the Conquest, including fairly recent ones. But never the SkyStriker. The general consensus in the fan community was that the plane was simply too large to be affordable to either the retailers or the collectors. You'll notice that the Night Raven hasn't reappeared, either, nor has the Phantom X-19, both massive planes.
But, Hasbro decided to bring back the SkyStriker for the 30th Anniversary of the Real American Hero series!
On a strictly personal note, I was overjoyed. You see, I no longer have my original SkyStriker. Some years after I purchased the plane, and years before I was aware of any sort of collecting community and certainly years before cyberspace, the SkyStriker that I purchased developed an odd problem, once I have heard about affecting other SkyStrikers. The clear vinyl labels used to decorate the plane built up some sort of sticky black residue around their edges. Unfortunately, my rather inept attempt to clean this residue off only served to damage both the labels and the plane itself, and that, tragically, was pretty much the end of my SkyStriker.
Of course, by the time this happened, the SkyStriker was well off the market, and by the time I had any sort of access to the collecting community, the price of a "new" -- that is, unopened SkyStriker, was prohibitive to say the least. It still is. And while some of the international counterparts were more affordable, their markings were not identical. I do own a Funskool SkyStriker from India, and it's a very capable plane, but -- it's just not the same.
I don't think I can ever expect to own an original SkyStriker again, and even if I were to find one in my price range, who's to say that the labels didn't deteriorate even just on their backings, never mind on the plane? What happened with my original SkyStriker is something I have long regretted.
While the new SkyStriker is not precisely like the original, it is, nevertheless, a Hasbro-produced SkyStriker that is part of the ongoing G.I. Joe action figure line. In other words, as far as I'm concerned -- hey, close enough, y'know?
Additionally, the new SkyStriker gives more recent fans of G.I. Joe an opportunity to own a modern version of easily THE most iconic aircraft in the entire 30-year history of the line, something many such fans probably never expected to be able to accomplish, and at an affordable price. And, bottom line -- what the heck, it's a darn cool plane for anyone to enjoy.
The SkyStriker has been given a slightly new name. Its original name was the SKYSTRIKER XP-14F COMBAT JET. This is because the SkyStriker is based very closely on the F-14, a real-life military fighter plane. The F-14 was a mainstay of the military for a long time, and was popular enough to be featured in at least two movies that I can think of -- "Top Gun" and "Final Countdown" -- the latter of which I highly recommend as a very cool military/science-fiction movie.
However, the F-14, since the days of the original SkyStriker which bore its likeness and a version of its designation, has been retired from active service in the American military. It was retired in 2006.
The SkyStriker's new name is - SKY STRIKER XP-21F. At the very least, 21 is a higher number than 14. I did a little research, and indeed, the F-21 is a newer model plane than the F-14, and it is still in service today. However, there's very little resemblance between an F-14 and an F-21, apart from the fact that both are fighter planes. Nevertheless, I can understand Hasbro wanting to make the new SkyStriker seem a bit more up to date.
Oddly enough, over the course of my research, I made a slightly peculiar discovery. The popular Japanese anime series Macross uses a couple of fighter craft, the VF-21 and the YF-21, that do have a slight resemblance to F-14's. Certainly they look more like F-14's than they do F-21's. However, I suspect that any comparison between a Macross fighter and the G.I. Joe SkyStriker's new designation is entirely coincidental.
One of the first thing I noticed when I came across the new SkyStriker was the box size. It was distinctly smaller than the original SkyStriker. I suspect this may have helped sell the item to the retailers, who tend to be rather reluctant to take on especially large items these days, but it did leave me wondering how in the world an entire SkyStriker could be crammed into this box? As far as I had been able to determine from various reports, the changes between the original SkyStriker and the new edition were relatively minimal, and mostly cosmetic. I hadn't heard anything that the new SkyStriker would be dramatically smaller than the original.
And it's not. It has, however, undergone a certain amount of re-engineering in order to allow it to fit in a smaller box. Hasbro has done this before, with some smaller vehicles, with the commencement of the 25th Anniversary line. In some instances, vehicles have been entirely redone, such as the Water Moccasin into the Sting Raider. Although both vehicles are clearly related, the Sting Raider is a somewhat larger and more detailed vehicle. Similarly, the RAM Motorcycle received a number of tweaks, enough so that significant portions of the vehicle had to be remade and remolded from scratch.
I suspect this is what has been done with the SkyStriker. After all this time, I'd find myself wondering where, or even if, the original molds might be, or whether they'd even be in usable condition. To that end, I believe the SkyStriker has been almost entirely redone, but certainly with an eye to matching the original. In fact, the only significant overall structural change in the finished plane is the cockpit, which had to be redone to accommodate the slightly larger modern-style G.I. Joe figures. I'll deal more with that over the course of the review.
For the most part, the alterations to the new SkyStriker are in order to accommodate a smaller package, and really only involve some additional assembly steps. The original SkyStriker came almost fully assembled. A few parts, such as the tail fins and missiles, had to be attached, and along with an extensive labeling job, the plane was basically ready to go.
The new SkyStriker needs a little more work, but it's nothing that can't be handled easily. The plane has a main body, which contains the mechanism that raises and lowers the landing gear, and allows the "swing-wing" feature to function. The front cockpit section of the plane needs to be snapped into the main body, and the wings need to be snapped into the sides. These are not steps that had to be taken with the original. However, redesigning the SkyStriker in this way most certainly allowed the box size to be drastically reduced.
Anyone experienced with the original SkyStriker immediately notices a few differences. For starters, the tail fins are black. Now this is interesting, because early photos of the original SkyStriker show it as having black tail fins. However, when the plane itself came out, the tail fins were the same slightly off-white as the rest of the plane. Personally, I always thought black tail fins would look pretty cool, and I am pleased that the SkyStriker has finally received them this time around.
Speaking of color, as I said, the original SkyStriker was an off-white. The new SkyStriker is distinctly darker, more of a light gray. To what degree this was done to really visibly distinguish the original SkyStriker from the new one, I can't say. Nor am I certain how necessary it would have been on that basis, as there are certainly enough other mild but definite differences between the two to readily distinguish them. This is not a complaint, however. The light gray actually makes the new SkyStriker look more realistic in a way -- not to malign the original color scheme in any sense, of course.
Before I deal with assembly, I want to deal with the labels, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, and I'm pretty much writing this review as I go along with the assembly and labeling of the plane, upon studying the placement of the labels, it really looks to be as though a lot of the labels would be much easier to place BEFORE the plane is fully assembled. There's no shortage of labels on the wings, for example. Now, would you rather assemble the plane, and then have to label the wings trying to balance the entire plane in the process, or would you rather take the wings individually, label them, and THEN attach them to the plane? Which sounds easier? Which sounds like it would produce more accurate results if you're able to compare the wings side by side instead of on either side of a plane?
The labels provided are extensive, and include quite a few options. Along with a full set of classic-inspired labels, there are a number of modern alternatives. For instance, it is possible to use the original Skystriker emblem on the tail fins of the plane. It is also possible to put emblems in place that represent Capt. Ace specifically, drawn as a series of playing cards with the words "Aces High" below them; Shipwreck; drawn as an oval with a graphic of a killer whale firing a missile; Flint, drawn as a skull wearing a beret with two crossed pistols below the skull; and Snake-Eyes, drawn as two dice with a stylized version of the Arashikage Ninja Clan emblem.
There are also labels with names on them for the designated pilot. Obviously, if you're so inclined -- and can afford them -- you can buy multiple SkyStrikers and designate them to different pilots with different labels on the tail fins and different pilot name labels -- although I for one would question the wisdom of letting Shipwreck fly a large fighter jet. The man is trouble enough in a boat.
There are other variant labels. One can place traditional air force type emblems on the wings -- a circle with a star in it and red and white stripes to the side -- or the current G.I. Joe emblem, the shield-like shape with the star and stripes behind it. There are other stripings that can be done in one of two ways, mostly on the wings and around the cockpit, either red and blue, or gold and black.
It's very cool to have these options, and for you, whatever your personal preference might be, please go right on ahead with it. But for me -- there was no question whatsoever. As far as I'm concerned, this plane corrects a roughly 25-year mistake I made when I irreparably damaged my original SkyStriker. It's getting labeled as close to the original as possible.
The labels, options notwithstanding, are extensive, especially the "No Step" ones that go on the wings. Believe me, this is made a lot less difficult by labeling the wings first before assembly. It's still pretty tedious, but you can break it up by labeling a wing and then labeling some other part of the SkyStriker for a little while.
One thing that impresses me, and I'm sure we can thank computer technology for this, is that most of the various warning and instruction labels are actually legible this time around. This has been the case with G.I. Joe vehicles for a few years now, and now the SkyStriker can finally benefit from it. Oh, you'll likely give yourself eyestrain trying to read some of this very fine print, but it is apparently, at least, that it says something, and it's certainly a modern step up from the labels of many of the original vehicles, which in the 1980's featured just several straight lines drawn out to represent some sort of text.
Now, the text is really there. For instance, some very small labels that are placed near the landing gear read: After launch lockdown check these panels for stratospheric stress. Leading edges are hot after flight. Use heat guards when removing aft." All that on a label measuring 1/2" x 1/4", and including a black triangle emblem.
A few of the labels do have to wait until the plane is fully assembled, and I'll admit that mine is an unconventional approach to begin with. These labels include the striping along the side of the canopy and on the tops of the wings. These labels extend back beyond the assembly sections of their respective parts. I found the wing labels surprisingly easy to align, the canopy labels only slightly less so. Honestly, the trickiest of the labels is the curved one that fits across the front of the canopy.
Assembly is not difficult at all. It really just amounts to inserting the front of the aircraft into the main body, and then attaching the various wings. I do strongly recommend making sure that the wing mounts are in the "open" position before attaching the wings, and keeping a thumb on the switch to make sure they stay open. It's a very tight "snap" to attach the wings.
Once fully assembled and labeled, the SkyStriker is truly a wonder to behold. Although not a precise duplicate of the original, it most assuredly carries the spirit of it, and there is also no question that it is a LARGE plane. One can readily see why it became so legendary so quickly. This was in the days before the USS Flagg, or before such massive modern toys as the Star Wars Millennium Falcon or the AT-AT. The SkyStriker is 22" in length -- that's just shy of two feet, and with wings at full extension, it has a wingspan of slightly over 21".
The new gray color does nothing to diminish the impact of this plane. In fact, it's such a "cool" shade of gray that if anything, it makes it that much more impressive because it looks a bit more realistic. What it doesn't especially look like is a toy. It looks like a plane -- period. When Hasbro first conceived of the SkyStriker, they weren't looking to stylize anything. They wanted to duplicate a real-life fighter plane as closely as possible, and with the exception of very slightly enlarging the cockpit relative to the rest of the plane just so the SkyStriker wouldn't be THREE feet long or something, they certainly accomplished this objective. There is nothing especially fanciful about the SkyStriker, and as such, it looks like it means business, and I have to say that I am overjoyed to have it back in my collection, and Hasbro has done a truly excellent job with its return.
Now let's consider the pilot that comes with the SkyStriker. His official name is Capt. Ace, an extension, I would suspect due to legalities, of the original character's name, which was simply ACE. The original Ace that came with the original SkyStriker back in 1983 had a very interesting uniform design. Whereas the SkyStriker itself was an entirely plausible design. Ace's was hardly that of a modern-day military fighter pilot, then or now, for that matter. Rather, his uniform, the same sort of off-white as the aircraft itself, looked more like it was about one step removed from an astronaut uniform. Personally, I rather liked it, and still do, as well as the dark gray version that came out in 1998, but I would just as readily admit that it wasn't exactly standard issue for a pilot.
However, Ace is a well-established enough character in the concept that he has had multiple figures over the years, in both the original and newsculpt line, and even a couple of 12" incarnations. Many of these have outfitted the figure in more standard-looking pilot uniforms, and the newest Capt. Ace here is certainly no exception. That in no way minimizes the figure relative to his original ancestor, since modern-day fighter pilots have no shortage of high-tech equipment as part of their uniforms.
The headsculpt of Ace is excellent. It's a superb modern rendition of the original. Ace has rather short-cut brown hair, and fairly straightforward features. I am impressed that the paint job is exceptionally neatly done, especially the eyes and eyebrows, which can be tricky at times.
The bulk of Ace's uniform is a light green-gray in color, with plenty of sculpted padding and even some sections, such as the fancy, even futuristic shoulder pads, that look almost armored. Ace is wearing a separately-attached harness around his neck and chest that looks like it could serve as a flotation collar, and a second attachment around his waist that I suspect is a parachute. He also has some thin straps that wrap around his waist and then loop around his lower legs. This isn't the first time I've seen this sort of thing on modern pilots (and for that matter, X-Wing pilots in Star Wars), and I have to confess I honestly have no idea what purpose they serve. They look like they'd snag on just about everything.
Ace has a small holster attached to his lower left leg, alongside his boot. This accommodates a small black pistol that he comes with, that is in a small plastic bag that also includes part of the plane parts, as well as Ace's helmet and display base. This is an extremely small pistol that is easily overlooked. Make sure you retrieve it before disposing of any of the packaging, and if you can't wedge it into Ace's holster to your satisfaction, put it in a Ziploc bag. Otherwise, I can pretty well guarantee that it will vanish into your carpet or some other obscure location in your home.
While Ace's uniform may be more "standard issue" than his original outfit, there is the matter of his new helmet. I'm not sure what to make of this thing. It looks like something out of "Alien" or "Space:1999" or some such. The rear of the helmet is black, and heavily ridged, and the visor is massive, transparent yellow, with what look like some sort of jutting -- I don't know what they are -- along the sides. I have no idea how realistic this helmet might be relative to what military fighter pilots are actually using, but in my opinion, it's a pretty weird piece of work. Also has a small tank attached to it by way of a short length of hose.
Ace stands just slightly over 4" in height, which is certainly taller than the 3-3/4" of the original figures. And the original SkyStriker cockpit was a little cramped even for them. As such, the cockpit of the plane has been completely redone. Rather than a two-seater plane, it's now a single-seat. And the seat is brand new, with significantly more detail than before, as is the rest of the cockpit. It lacks the working parachutes of the original SkyStriker seats, but it looks as though Ace himself is wearing a parachute, so we'll let that one slide. I may have a rather reserved opinion about the modern style of G.I. Joe figures as compared to their predecessors, but I will say that the new SkyStriker cockpit is a very impressive piece of work.
The new character file cards for the 30th Anniversary line, while not as informative as the original file cards, are at least more informative than the file cards have been for a couple of years now. Ace's file card reads as follows:
Capt. Ace would rather fly than do anything else. He was a civilian pilot in Alaska, then worked as a stunt pilot before joining the Air Force to become a combat pilot. He has an uncanny skill with any kind of aircraft and an equally uncanny gift as a poker player. He can coax the most out of any plane and almost always holds the winning hand in a game, without even cheating.
I'm rather glad they kept Ace's poker connection on the file card after all these years. Supposedly, that was more the basis of his code-name, as opposed to his skill as a pilot, which nevertheless had to be considerable if he was going to be flying the Joe Team's finest.
So, what's my final word here? Well, really, what do you think? I finally have the SkyStriker back in my collection. It may not be precisely like the original, but I'm more than happy with it, and am truly delighted to have it "back", as such. I was among those who honestly never expected Hasbro to bring the SkyStriker back, and was happily stunned when they announced that they were.
If you're a longtime G.I. Joe fan who for whatever reason no longer has his SkyStriker, here's your chance to return it to your collection. If you do have your original, this is still an extremely cool and impressive return, and it will make a very impressive addition to your collection. If you're a somewhat newer collector and have heard about the SkyStriker over the years, but always figured that you'd never be able to own one for whatever reason, here's your chance. This is truly a magnificent aircraft, and I can assure you that you will enjoy it, and the Captain Ace figure is a superb pilot for it.
The G.I. JOE SKYSTRIKER XP-21F COMBAT JET with CAPTAIN ACE most definitely has my very highest recommendation!