Flagon G Update 1: Take It In, (Almost) Throw It Out

They say that nothing good comes easy. Of course, they’re wrong. It should be “easily”. (After all, “easy” needs to be an ADVERB modifying “comes”, and thus needs to be in the “ly” form to be correct.) However, the apparent ignorance of grammar aside, the kernel of wisdom is, like so many other old saws and deeply-ingrained idioms, both well-proven and almost always correct. No decathlete gets up in the morning one day suddenly proficient at all of his or her events, and we all know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Modelling is no different. It’s only through constant practice, and the regular application of hard-won and skills, that it gets easier.

Aiding this greatly in the last couple of decades has been technology. Model making companies are, contrary to the regular predictions of doom and gloom, constantly investing in new tech; new kits with heretofore unrealizable levels of detail and precision are the outcome. Long gone, now, are the days when a modeller had to hew a semi-decent replica from rough plastic parts. Now people have the luxury of pre-coloured photoetch instrument panels and injection moulds that are light years beyond anything even imagined during modelling’s apparent “Golden Age”, those decades in the past.

That’s not technology! However, bad seams and terrible fit with dubious surface detail is Golden Age stuff if I’ve ever seen it!

But technology only helps if you use it. Sometimes, there’s a lure to going back to basics, and trying to make something out of, if not nothing, then very little. Think of it like living on a space colony, and then deciding to rough it, caveman-style, every now and then. Some people love going “old school”, and others don’t. For me, there’s a definite draw to making the primitive look good enough to at least sit on the same shelf with kits that are decades newer. You can check out my Farpro Shiun and FROG Ta-152H among others for details!

I have something of a perverse streak, I guess. Being an Engineer, I try to get the best of of whatever I’m given. That’s why I have a deep love of MPC Cars and Matchbox aircraft. However, it’s not just Matchbox that knows how to make primitive airplane kits. There are a great number of older, lesser-known or short-run makers whose offerings make those from the House of Lesney look like masterworks. Then, there’s the Pioneer2 Su-21 Flagon G. It looks like it’s somewhere in the middle. But, it’s not. Not really.

If you want to know what I thought of this kit before I tried building it, check out the Out of Box review.

Simple Brutality:

I bought the Flagon because it was an obscure maker’s kit of an obscure Russian two-seater. I’d not then heard of Pioneer or Pioneer2, so long ago was it that I got this model. However, since buying it, I’ve learned that those names are to be feared, or at least given a wide berth on the modelling bench. Still, I’ve built one of their Luft ’46 kits, the Me P.1111, and while simple, it was fine. I figured the kvetching I was hearing was just noise from those folks in their Ivory Towers, immersed in their Wingnut Wings and Zhoukei-Mura kits that were casting self-aggrandizing aspersions on lesser beings.

Nope.

There was a reason that many of my modelling compatriots turned pale and wrinkled their brows when I mentioned Pioneer kits. It was a very good reason, as you’ll see…

I wanted to build the Pioneer2 Flagon because I was in the mood for something simple. I wanted to try to use rattle can Aluminum to simulate more expensive “metal” paints, and I figured that, with the simplicity of construction on the Flagon, it would be more of a painting exercise than anything. Sure, I expected that fit would be dodgy, but no worse, I figured, than some of the old Matchboxes I’ve put together (like the Mirage IIIB or the Hunter T.66). Those were all putty-eaters that needed work too. I made the mistake of asking “How bad can it be?” In a protractedly painful and Monkey’s Paw-like session of building, I found out.

The orange is melted sprue that I had to use as filler on the very large gaps and steps in the fuselage. There’s a lot of it, and it’s going to take even more to finish the job.

To be fair, the Flagon is simple. There’s not much that can go wrong. However, if it can go wrong, it did. It’s as if Murphy himself had made the moulds for this heavy chunk of curiously soapstone-like plastic. Let’s get one thing straight; the fit on this kit is awful. It’s not old A-Model bad, but it’s a darned close second. While the parts generally fit together, they really don’t meet where they should. It’s like playing Jenga with bricks that are all slightly different in thickness: sure, they’ll kinda fit, but you KNOW something is going to go south every time to try and add something new to the stack.

I started with the cockpit, and painted it with a light coat of Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Gunship Grey over the Rustoleum Grey Primer I used as a base. Since there’s literally nothing to the cockpit except floor and seats, this wasn’t too time consuming. No need to worry about superdetailing things like instrument panels, side consoles, control sticks or gunsights! No, this model eschews all that, and really, once it’s together, I doubt you’ll be able to tell. I don’t mind sparse internal detail, because I hate wasting time on the unseen. 

One unseen bit that’s important, though, is the noseweight. The Flagon is a “butt dragger” (like so many old K-Cars), with a pronounced nose-high sit on the ground. I’m sure this is to try and give the less-than-lift-generating cranked delta wing a bit of extra incidence on the takeoff run. This, and the massive amount of rear overhang (distance between the rear landing gear and back of the plane) dictate a healthy dose of noseweight. Thankfully, the very long nose has a lot of room, and I used it all. I filled it with Bird shot, and then glued the fuselage together.

I’ll admit there was a certain delight in not worrying about complex intake trunking and other internal detail, like on the Mig-29SMT, but just as that kit is too far to the complex to be fun, the Flagon swings too far to the “stone age” to really be truly enjoyable. I found this out not only when I put the fuselage halves together, but also when I installed the underfuselage pan with the lower wings in it. I really don’t know why Pioneer2 went this route; simple butt-joint wings would have been a lot easier for a builder, but maybe it was to ensure level wings when built? Anyway, “thanks, I guess” is all I can say. As expected, the fit of this major part was pretty much a “can’t”. The pan did fit in, but the steps in the fuselage, both vertically and horizontally, promised lots of pain later.

This weirdly colour adjusted image allows you to see all the little bubbles that were in the orange melted sprue I used. I filled it with MMA Flat White and sanded it out. Look at all the filler needed, and all those little holes that got filled in with the white. Yowza!

Increasing the pain were the top wing skins. Although they did fit, by and large, acceptably, there was the inevitable gap between the intake sides and the top surfaces. Nothing a good dose of Perfect Plastic Putty couldn’t handle, though.  At this point, I decided to take the wing-mounted Pitot out of the equation, and simply broke it off. I’d almost done it a number of times already, and I figured I could add it on at the end. (If I felt like it, that is. Hint… I don’t.) At this point, I added the engine nozzles, and found more fit issues.

Grind-Core:

Sanding this thing is not an option. I had to grind it. It was more like sanding something from high school wood shop, than actually sanding a model. Firstly, the plastic is odd, very thick, and reminds me of stuff that AA-Model (the Chinese company, not a misspelling of A-Model…) uses. This doesn’t know “subtlety”; it knows gut loads of putty, liquified plastic (glue + sprue melted together to form a paste), white paint and coarse sand paper. If you’re not going to go to guns with this thing, don’t show up. Don’t bring 500 grit paper to a 200 grit fight. If you have bad elbows, turn away. If you don’t, you will when you’re done!

This is grinding it, baby! Multiple layers of putty, melted sprue and white paint are needed, and it all has to be sanded smooth. Next stop: Arthritis-ville!

I found I had to do a lot of sanding, grinding, puttying and contouring just to get the very basic pieces of this thing to fit. On the box, the side view is bad; it shows the plane having a straight underside and sitting level. The level, as I’ve said, is wrong. However, so is the straight bottom. I’m not sure about the real thing, but this one has a very noticeable bulge aft of the wing. It’s like some kind of weird airplane-booty. There’s no flattening it out, just blending it in. Same thing with the step in front of the wing pan – this needs a lot of work to get to mate up with the fuselage. The fit along the main seam is no better, and I used a lot of putty and white paint to fill all the gaps and depressions on this kit. Yes, there are also depressions, and not just from the builder!

A Different Angle on Things:

One of the most unique aspects of the Flagon’s relatively simplistic geometry is the intakes. While they  look like ‘60s-era rectangular air-suckers, as found on the Phantom, CF-105 Arrow and MiG-23/27 family, they aren’t quite the same. The difference is that they sit at a noticeable angle to the fuselage. Whereas most intakes of this type sit vertically, the Flagon’s take on a very Raptor-like “boat hull” shape. Now, it’s not as pronounced as on an F-22, but it’s definitely there, and it’s definitely noticeable, especially from head-on.

This is how it SHOULD look. Shocking that it didn’t come out of the box that way…

This was something that wasn’t known about the Flagon family until the Cold War ended and we could get a good look at the plane “in the flesh”, so-to-speak. Clearly, the folks at Pioneer2 didn’t know this either, for while the newer Trumpeter kits capture this unique feature, their kit does not. Not at all. The Flagon-G (and all it’s family members, I assume) has perfectly vertical intakes. Sigh…

I have looked up a couple of builds of this kit, and have found that there are many other things wrong with it. There are numerous ram-air inlets that are apparently wrong, and there are missing aerials, etc. However, I can live with all of that. I don’t even really care, to be honest. Rivet-counters will care, and the Pioneer2 kit will never win an accuracy contest unless you want to invest far more time and money than I’m willing to. But the intake slant… that’s a major issue. It is, in fact, a trademark of the aircraft and the one thing I was excited to see take shape.

Thus, like so much else on this kit, the intakes became a case of “You want it done right? Do it yourself!”. I started by thanking Pioneer2 for making the plastic so thick. In this case, it saved me. The inside wall of the intake has to be sanded at an angle in order to get the intake to sit right, and having a lot of material in the thick wall makes it possible to do this and not sand through! However, just that isn’t enough. I also had to add tilt to the small standoff bodies that keep the intakes off the side of the fuselage and out of the sluggish boundary layer.

Here you can see the original, vertical, boundary layer standoff. This will give you a perfectly vertical, and perfectly wrong, intake alignment.

These are also moulded with a vertical edge, so I added a strip of sheet styrene to the top edge and then began grinding the new standoff at an angle. Eventually, I ended up sanding off the bottom of the standoffs and barely touching the top strip. When I mated up the heavily sanded intake, I was amazed at how good it looked. Of course, all of this was done by “feel”; this kit is not good enough to bother measuring things on. Thus, I repeated the process on the second side (I worked the Left side first, then the Right), and amazingly got something very, very close! Granted, it looks a mess, but you can’t see it once you put everything together!

Looking at the other side, after some work, you can see the remains of a bit of sheet styrene I used as a shim up at the top. Note that the standoff has been ground down to fuselage thickness at the bottom.
This closeup shows the “shim” and the “down to nothing” sanding on the standoff plate. It’s a mess, but it does manage to give the intake a tilt!

I painted the back walls of the intake in MMA Aircraft Interior Black (AIB) to simulate a hole, and then glued on the intakes. Their already poor fit was only dramatically worsened by the surgery, and the fit was nearly non-existent, as you can imagine! Here again, the thick plastic of the Pioneer2 abomination (Uh, I mean kit…) came to the rescue. Since the corners no longer met, there was a lot of material “sticking out” that had to be ground off the intakes. Any civilized kit would have sanded right through, but the Pioneer2 held strong.

You can see the lower corner “sticking out” despite the melted sprue I’ve poured over the corner. Lots of work ahead on this sanding job…

I used a lot of putty, MMA Flat White and liquid plastic to get the intakes fared in. The real things have a bit of a twist to them and I was pleased to see the same effect on my kit. I had to rescribe the auxiliary suck-in doors a bit more than I’d like to, in order to retain them. There was a real threat of going through the plastic on that job, but once more the gross thickness of the Pioneer2 saved me! Eventually, the intakes were properly integrated, and I have to say that, despite being a “by hook or by crook” job, I think it looks pretty good, and amazingly symmetrical, if I do say so myself. Is it perfect? Probably not. Is it good enough? Heck yeah!

Getting Some Tail:

While the intakes are a travesty, there’s a lot wrong with the back end of the Flagon too! The vertical tail, while massive, doesn’t fit very well at all. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of sand-and-test-fit that went on to try and create a mating curvature that would give me some gluing surface to use! After about an hour or so of fiddling with it, I did get the tail to go on rather well. It’s one of the better moulded parts, although I did have to rescribe it to make sure it survived sanding in place. I used some more Perfect Plastic Putty to fair it in, and was impressed how little effort that part took. To keep the putty from getting wet and dissolving during the sanding that was still to come, I covered it with a layer of MMA flat white; this worked wonderfully!

The horizontal stabilizers are not very good. They have several problems, the most egregious and apparent were the many sink marks that can be found on both sides of both tailplanes. These were filled with acetone-thinned Tamiya putty, and then white-painted over before sanding to take any shrinkage into account. The amount of “bondo” needed to create a flat tailplane really is a testament to the marginal quality of the kit. Still, the balance weights that project so flimsily from the leading edges managed to survive this ordeal.

Again, the weird colour alteration really helps the putty show up. These areas of the fins had depressions in them, and they were puttied and whited over to make them look right.

Attaching the tailplanes reveals more of this kits penchant for incorrect orthagonality. If it wasn’t apparent with the vertical intake trunks, the completely horizontal tailplanes should pretty much paint it orange and put a string of Christmas lights on it. If you look at a real Su-15, you’ll notice that the tailplanes aren’t horizontal at all. Rather, they have a noticeable anhedral, sloping gently downwards like an F-16’s rear-end control surfaces. So, that has to be fixed.

I did this as simply as I could. I put the tailplane in place, and reefed downwards on it. Once it was where I wanted it, I put some Plast-i-Weld (the Alpha Abrasives version of ProWeld, and totally awesome glue) on the seam and held it in place. One thing is nice; the Pioneer2 plastic does respond well to my glue, and in no time the tailplane was secure. I did the same for the other side, and “Voila!”, another problem solved.

Looking at my reference material once more, I noticed the “balance horns” (for lack of a better term) were also not mounted such that they protruded straight from the wing. No… that would be too easy! The balances actually bend upwards in a backwards “Z” pattern, and the tips are higher than where they attach to the tailplane. Oh, come on… I don’t know who to be more disappointed in; Sukhoi for using such an obviously poor afterthought of a system, or Pioneer2 for getting it so wrong. At this point, I decided to cut my losses, and just lopped the darned things off. I knew they were going to break anyway, so why fight it?

Next time: I should be able to get this thing finished pretty easily (Knock on wood!) now that the airframe is built up!

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