Mig-29SMT Update: More Work Than it Ought To Be

One of the overarching concepts in weapons design, especially so for the Russian/Soviet side of things, is what most of us know as the “KISS” principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. While some of what we in the West were told about Soviet weapons’ crudeness was untrue, it is undeniable that most Soviet war machines definitely adhered to the KISS principle whenever it was possible. Even advanced aircraft like the MiG-25 bore the hallmarks of the State’s preference for simple brute force over finesse. Wanna go faster? Use bigger engines! Wanna not get jammed? Use a bigger, more powerful radar and literally burn your way through!  There’s a lot to be said for this approach.

This idea of ensuring ease of use and utility through clever simplicity is, as it turns out, also a good thing to do for model kits. Matchbox may be the ultimate champion of this philosophy, but look how well it worked out for them. They created rafts of simple, enjoyable kits that appealed based on their odd subject matter. Sure, they’re not high-art, but they’re cheap and easy to work on! However, as time has gone on, modellers have demanded ever-higher levels of sophistication. Sadly, this can have an unfortunate effect on the price and complexity of kits, and not always for reasons of pure necessity.

While common sense may cry out “KISS!”,  it seems that the  folks at Zvezda didn’t listen. The Mig-29 SMT is a perfect testimony to this. While I have been eagerly awaiting a chance to get my hands on the “hunchback” Fulcrum, I must admit that it’s a bit of a handful. The SMT is, while well-engineered, also quite over-engineered for what you get. There are several examples of this on the kit, but the first one I encountered was the intake system.

Breathe In… Rage Out:

There have been many kits of the Mig-29. Long ago, I built the Hobbycraft knock-off of the Hasegawa MiG-29 Fulcrum A. I also have the original kit, although unbuilt. In those kits, and indeed I’d expect in most kits of the Fulcrum, the intake trunks come moulded to the underside of the fuselage, which is split in a top/bottom manner. Well, on this kit, the fuselage is still split top/bottom, but the intake trunks are separate. This is to allow for a compressor face to be installed, as well as for the intakes’ front ramps to be separate, detailed pieces. It also gives a “roof” to the intakes, which is great. While a bit extravagant, it does give a better model of the intake than any I’ve seen. This, on its own, deserves, praise.

The MMA Aluminum and Nuln Oil wash on the compressor faces look good, as do the intake roofs. So do the gear bays. However, this is only half the story…

However, there is a problem. Even though this layout would seem like a good plan, there’s something inherent in the execution that fails. The weak point is with the intake trunks themselves. They are in two pieces each. “Okay, we’re modellers… what’s the the issue? We glue stuff all the time!” Sure, that’s fine, but, for some weird reason, the folks at Zvezda have made this unnecessarily difficult. For reasons that are clear only to the designer, the intake trunks are NOT split down the middle!

The seam is on one of the “corners” (rounded bottom edge) of the intake trunk, and there are no locating pins for these pieces! My first impression, which proved to be correct, was that this was going to make the intakes difficult to deal with. In fact, that’s being a bit too kind. It made what should have been a simple task into a major pain in the patoot! First you have to position the ‘big half’ in place on the plane, and then lean the other piece up against it. Once this ridiculously unstable styrene lean-to is in place, you can apply your choice of liquid cement (I used Plast-i-Weld liquid cement). This is critical; you need a very thin, fast flowing liquid so that capillary action can do its thing without you having to apply much force. Of course, if you screw this up, you end up with a collapsed intake and glue everywhere. This “tack weld” approach at least somewhat worked, and at gave me enough holding force that I could then remove the intake trunk and glue it together “offline”. I didn’t want to glue them in place on the airframe, since they need sanding and painting inside.

You can see the weird seam line, and a glue fingerprint, on this intake after the “tack weld” has dried. Bad, bad system…

Sadly, but not surprisingly, given their weird layout, the fit on the intakes was poor. I needed a lot of putty, and even some Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Flat White paint to get the job done. I use the white paint as a crack-filler after puttying, since it doesn’t shrink and is chemically neutral. After much sanding, both inside and out, I got the intakes looking good. However, this also required a lot of rescribing, since much fine detail was lost during the process. Thus, I was going through a sand/scribe cycle for quite some time to get things done. This just doesn’t bode too well for the rest of the kit…

This shows the two intakes finished up. The light colours are Tamiya putty and MMA Flat White used to fill in and touch up all the issues.

The More Things Change…

Unfortunately, it’s not just the intakes that make life difficult on this model. Another part of the kit that’s over-engineered is the nose. Normally, the nose is just part of the front of the plane. However, there are separate left and right halves that fit into recesses around the cockpit tub. This has probably been done to allow for the integration of different nose sections, minimizing the cost of retooling different variants (as seen by basing this kit on an older Mig-29 variant). The problem is, once again, that the fit of the nose pieces isn’t perfect, so more sanding and scribing than I’d have thought is needed to bring things in line.

Look at this weird, and overly complicated nose geometry! Having that body panel missing means lots of work ahead!

Before gluing in the cockpit and putting the upper and lower body halves together, I added a lot of lead shot behind the seat. this still puts it near the front landing gear, but the weird nose assembly made me doubt if I could get enough lead in there just using the nose cone and bit in front of the cockpit. Once this was in and the CA used to hold in in place was dry, then it was off to the races.

Here you can see the shot behind the seat. Note, too, the “roof” detail for the gear bays. That’s at least nice!

This same problem affects the wingtips. Normally, the wings just come as halves, root to tip. However, on this kit, the tips are separate. The reason is, once again, to allow for various versions from one main mould. Get ready for it: the fit is once again a bit dodgy, and there’s a good amount of finagling needed to get things looking right! Having purchased a number of Hasegawa Valkyries, I get why companies want to maximize their mould usage. The thing is, the Valks are much better engineered than this Mig; for the Elint Seeker/Super Ostrich they give you different wings. Zvezda should have followed suit.

It might look like a carrier plane with the wings folded, but this is how the SMT looks before you finish the wings. More sanding, filling and scribing for only Zvezda’s connvenience.

One thing I noticed on this kit, since I was doing so much rescribing, was how thin the plastic was. Great care is needed when rescribing, especially on the horizontal tailplanes; these are so thin it is easily possible to bend the corners or etch right through them! Granted, they are nice and “scale thin”, but this lack of durability is a bit disturbing. Gimme a slightly over-thick Matchbox tailplane any day; at least it’s a bit more robust!

With all this sanding and scribing going on, mistakes are bound to be made, and I am certainly not immune to them! I used the MMA White trick on lots of “miscues” from my rescribing efforts. These show up well as white lines on the grey plastic, and the picture below really hightlights just how much of the kit I had to really “work” on to get the thing built and ready for primer!

Not all this complication, though, is bad. One part that is very complicated on this kit, but that is all the better for it, are the landing gear bays. The main bays are built out of several different components, and their “roof” is in the top half of the fuselage. Detail is excellent, and this kit really, truly captures the complication of the main gear bays on this aircraft. The number of doors on there is excessive, but true to real life. The gear themselves are fairly basic, in comparison, consisting of a single leg, although the same is not true of the front landing gear leg. This is a very complex affair, and even has separate parts for the nosewheel shimmy dampers or something similar to them!

Before anything else, the intakes were finished, primed with Rustoleum Grey Primer, and painted with MMA Dark Ghost Grey. I chose the Dark Ghost because it seems to match the colour scheme I wanted to use.  I also painted the landing gear bays in this colour; unlike western planes, the Mig doesn’t have white gear bays! I then flat coated the interior of the intakes with Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Matte Urethane Varnish, and gave them a semi-gloss finish on top of that.  I washed the landing gear bays with a home-made concoction of water, a drop of Future and some MMA Gunship grey. This is less stark than black, but picks up the detail in the bays very well. I then used Silly Putty to mask the gear bays, and foam to cover the intakes.

With the gear bays and intakes protected, the SMT’s ready for primer. Not all the putty and white paint on this bird; no Shake ‘n’ Bake here!

I also painted the cockpit with Dark Ghost and gave it a wash of Citadel “Nuln Oil” gaming wash, after, of course, I had put the various decals on for the instrument panels and console panels.

I must admit that I didn’t expect to have to ‘build’ this much of the kit when I saw it just in the box. It looks like an excellent kit, and it’s good, but this fetish for weird over-engineering is a bit offputting. Still, I’m hoping the worst of the unnecessary stuff is over, and I can get on with paint and finishing! It’s a good thing I love my lumpy fighters, otherwise, I think I might have abandoned this midway through the intake fiasco!

 

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