Time brings change. It’s inevitable. Those that can keep up with the changes survive, and those that can’t, well… they don’t. It’s as true throughout the history of aviation as it is for everything else. There’s a reason something outdated is called a “dinosaur”, right? When it comes to aircraft types, there are a few that enjoyed their day, but have since faded from prominence, and in some cases have more or less disappeared completely.
The Army Co-Operation aircraft has evolved into the Forward Air Controller-Airborne (FAC-A) and is now quite different from its WWII self. Other types are gone completely; there’s just no need for transport gliders at this point in history, and the torpedo bomber is pretty much extinct too. One class of aircraft that has also faded away, perhaps surprisingly, is the pure interceptor. With the rise of the manned bomber, and the massive raids by the RAF and USAAF in WWII, the need for fast accelerating, fast climbing, short range point-defense aircraft reached a fever pitch. Germany, with the Me-163 Komet rocket interceptor showed the great lengths that air forces would have to go to in order to counter the threat of massed bombers.
After the war, with the dawn of the Jet Age, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the ever-increasing performance of bomber aircraft on both sides of the Iron Curtain, the perceived need for interceptors became a mania. East and West both struggled to create “ultimate interceptors”; super-fast, high-flying lawn darts of aircraft that could reach out and stop an enemy’s nuclear-equipped bomber fleets before they could inflict damage. On the Western side, aircraft like the F-101B, F-104 and the “Deltas” of the F-102/F-106 family typified this type of aircraft. In the East, the shape of interceptors was even more varied, with everything from the diminutive MiG-21 to the massive Tu-28P, and the super-fast MiG-25. Somewhere in the middle of all this, though was a family of Sukhoi deltas.
The Sukhoi deltas have been somewhat lost to time. The first of them, the Su-9 and Su-11 “Fishpot” family, were akin to giant, rather unrefined, MiG-21s. They were quite fast, but they were little more than huge engines with vestigial wings. Strap the triangle from your school geometry set to a chunk of broomstick, and you’re pretty much there. Their weakness lay primarily in their inability to field bigger radars. This is where the Yak-25 “Flashlight” and Yak-28 “Firebar” (one of the all-time sexiest Russian planes in my opinion) had an advantage. They had a solid nose and wing-mounted podded engines, compared to smaller diameter intake centrebody of the “Fishpots”.
However, a new development was at hand, and the next Sukhoi interceptor was a twin-engined delta with a huge conical nose cone for a powerful radar. This was the Su-15 and it was introduced into service in 1965. It wasn’t the longest-legged interceptor (the Yak-28 outranged it), but it was fast, as well it should have been; it more or less exemplifies the “Throw something and it will fly, throw something harder and it will fly faster” school of thought. The “Flagon”, as NATO dubbed the new Soviet interceptor, could achieve about Mach 1.8, and carried two AA-3 “Anab” (K-8) missiles, while final versions could haul up to four missiles.
The Flagon was not really an exercise in finesse. Rather, it was more an example of aeronautical brutality-in-action, with fairly basic aerodynamics, little-to-no application of the “area rule” and a shape more like what a little kid would draw than what you might expect a team of experienced engineers to create. It had huge, rectangular intakes, a pure delta wing and a cone for a nose. You can likely make one out of Lego and be pretty accurate. However, it went fast and carried a big radar, and that was what was being asked of it.
Improved versions (“Flagon D”) used a cranked-arrow wing (like the Chinese F-7MG) to improve handling and takeoff/landing performance, while the Su-15TM “Flagon F” had new engines and a more powerful radar. It was also designed to carry gun pods and AA-8 (R-60) “Aphid” dogfighting missiles. This was all in an attempt to have the Flagon deal with the threat of low-flying cruise missles that became an issue as the ‘70s progressed. It didn’t really work; the big Sukhoi was never really going to be knocking AGM-86s out of the air…
To go with this improved interceptor, a new trainer, with limited combat capability, was introduced. This was the Su-15UM, known as the “Flagon G”. This has all the improvements of the “F” but without the radar, limiting it to the use of gun pods and IR missiles. The last of the Flagons made were of this model.
For a long time, the Flagon was very mysterious to the West. It was never exported, and this gave it an aura of importance that outshone its actual capabilities. Because it was never seen outside of the USSR (and even then it was only rarely seen in “client states”) it was not something that attracted a lot of attention from model makers. In the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the word “MiG” was the layman’s word for a Soviet fighter, and the Sukhoi product stayed comfortably in the shadows, except when it was shooting down airliners. This seems to have been its stock-in-trade, actually, but that’s another story.
Only more recently, with the Flagon well-and-truly retired and with more access being made available to outside sources, have decent Flagon kits come to be produced. These are the Trumpeter series of Flagons, and they are quite nice, I’ve heard. However, there was a maker long before Trumpeter showed up that tried to provide the modelling public with something to satisfy their hunger for Flagons. That company was Pioneer2, from Turkey. They made several variants, including the final “UM” version with the nicer-looking ogival radome and cranked-arrow wing.
Now you know that, as sure as a Flagon will try to kill a Boeing, I will always gravitate to the crappy version of a kit. Years ago, I had the chance to purchase the Pioneer2 “Flagon G”, and took it. It cost me $10, and it seemed like a good deal compared to the rather pricey Trumpeters. Besides, I like a challenge, and I hadn’t seen any Trumpy two-holers in 1/72 at that point in time. I really wanted a two-seater, so a cheap two-seater beat out anything else going.
So, let’s take a look, then, shall we, at just what was available before Trumpeter threw its hat into the ring and gave us modern renditions of this somewhat mysterious and secretive aircraft. Strap in, this is going to be rough…
I gotta give Pioneer 2 credit – they stick to a theme when it comes to their boxes. That theme is fairly thin cardboard, end-opening boxes that are primarily a dirty “school bus yellow” on the sides and have a painting for box art. Every single Pioneer 2 I have does this, and it’s actually pretty cool, because they stand out on a shelf. I do so hate endoopening boxes, but that’s why I keep the iron-strong box bottoms of my old Heller kits; they act as trays for the parts once the kit is being built!
The box art on the “Flagon G” is not all that exciting. You get the aforementioned trainer cruising sedately along against some light clouds. It’s not exciting at all, but there’s a bit of smoke from the engines (Of course there is!) and the plane has nice panel detail and colour variation. Since all Su-15UMs were natural metal, this helps to break up the monotony. Interestingly, the plane only has the two outer pylons occupied, and no tanks are shown (despite the fact that are almost always carried). It’s a simple but effective illustration of what you are buying, but it doesn’t evoke a lot of emotion. If I hadn’t wanted that specific subject, I sure wouldn’t have been sucked into buying it for the box art!
The back of the box has a single full-colour paint plan. It’s for a Russian machine, “98 Red”. No idea what era, or base or anything else though; that information is apparently classified. Not classified, though, is the fact that this kit is made in Turkey. Looking at the panel lines in the drawing, I was starting to think that the “made in” wasn’t necessary, and that just “Turkey” would have sufficed. The panel lines don’t match any three-view that I have seen…
The side of the box shows a side elevation of the “Flagon G” with the gear down, and it tells you that you don’t get paint or cement with the kit. It also mentions that it is suitable for those over 9 years old.
One thing that dates this kit is the actual name they give the plane. If you’ve noticed, I have always referred to the various “Flagon”s as Su-15s. However, the box calls it an Su-21G “Flagon”. This is a mix-up of a mix-up. Originally, NATO thought that the new cranked-wing version were called “Su-21”, and the final trainer was known as the “Flagon G”, as I mentioned. So, Pioneer 2’s research department dropped their collective Scrabble Tiles and we ended up with an Su-21G “Flagon”- sans suffixe. Most people know that Russian trainer variants have a U in their name somewhere, but this seems to have escaped the folks at Pioneer 2.
In a “Monkey’s Paw” kind of way, the Pioneer 2 Flagon does give you exactly what you asked for. However, like Homer’s sandwich, this one could be considered “a little dry”. The model comes on three sprues of a beige-y blueish kinda grey-like plastic. It might be best described as “duck egg blue”, but I’d laugh my butt off if turkey eggs were the same colour. (Note: Turkey eggs are off-white with speckles; I’m sure Pioneer could have pulled it off if they wanted to. Weak…)
One sprue contains most of the fuselage, while the other two contain the rest of the craft. The intakes are separated in a way that will be all-too-familiar to those who’ve built a Phantom, and the entire rear-end, with the engine nozzles moulded in, is also a separate piece. There are not a lot of pieces in the kit. There are some weird engineering choices, though. One is that the central pan of the fuselage is part of the lower wing assembly. This is good on one hand, because it will ensure the wings are straight; however, you then have to have faith that this part will fit in properly. Another weird choice was to mould the engine nozzles into the rear segment, since this precludes any attempt to seriously detail them.
As for detail, it is, as I said, exactly what you asked for. The paint plan didn’t line, and the spurious surface detail is reproduced exactly. There are no correct panels along the spine/top of the plane, nor are there inspection panels in the wings. The few Ram Air intakes are all moulded in, and have no breather holes in them. The landing gear bays resemble Matchbox’s finest, being shallow bays with so little detail that a wind-polished ice sheet looks lumpy in comparison. The gear legs are there, and they have some variations in diameter, including what I think is an oleo chunk.
The wings have pre-drilled holes for the four pylons, but alas, no body pylons are provided. In addition, the four missiles look simple, but there’s not a lot of work in them – gluing on the two huge missing fins won’t present a challenge. The tires are, of course, unweighted, and the gear doors are as thick and featureless as you’ve likely come to expect. It really is very much in the spirit of Matchbox, and you know what, I’m okay with that!
The cockpit is another story. While I may not like doing cockpits much, they should be there. On this thing, there’s: a floor and two seats. If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, don’t make any plans. That’s all there is. No instrument panels, no control sticks, no side consoles, no gunsights, no nothing. This takes minimalism to a whole new level, and it reminds me of the interiors in my Farpro kits, like the Saiun and Shiun. If you’re a super detailer, you can go nuts in here, and I think there are some aftermarket sets for the kit, too. However, if you wanted that kind of detail, you should have just bought the Trumpeter – it can be this bad, can it? I hope not…
Overall, the plastic quality seems nice enough, although it is quite hard and sharp. The detail isn’t super-crisp and will need rescribing to even it out. Still, the size/depth of the lines is better than those kits visited by the “Matchbox trencher”. The lack of cockpit is less of a problem when you look at the canopy. This “clear” piece is very thick and distorted, and while the odd window shapes are generally correct, there are no lines to indicate where the canopy would open. So, any detailing you do in the cockpit will require surgery to open up the canopy. This is when a modeller will have to make his/her own judgement call: is it worth the work? I don’t think so, personally.
Instructions and Decals:
Given that the kit is so simple, it’s no surprise that the instructions are too. They’re printed on a pretty small, thrice-folded piece of thin paper. The ‘front page’ gives a history of the plane, and does encourage you to “collect ‘em all” when it comes to the Pioneer 2 Flagon family. I am pretty glad I didn’t do that, but time and building will tell, I suppose.
The drawings are simple line drawings; no fancy CAD or 3-D rendering here! They are fairly clear, though, and the low part count should keep things simple enough. There are few things to worry about, though. One is that you need nose weight. The real Su-15 suffers from a significant amount of “ass drag” (like weakly-sprung second generation F-bodies, and all K-Cars), and I’m sure this kit will want to go onto its but without counterweight. The question is: how much? Well, I can’t say, and Pioneer 2 didn’t say, so it’s up to you! My money is on filling the large radome to the hilt with birdshot. That should do it.
Another potential problem isn’t so obvious: How do you hold this thing to paint it? Most jets have engine nozzles you put in afterwards, so you can do the whole “stick up the butt” thing for holding onto the kit during airbrushing. Not this guy! With his shallowly blanked-off exhausts, you’re out of options. This is one to be worked out later, but it bears thinking about. You can build it wheels up or down, but there’s no stand, so if you’re going for flight-mode, you better have some way to support it already in mind!
The decals are about as minimalistic as the rest of the kit. They are six red stars and two red 98s. That’s it. It eschews complexities like stencils, the yellow markings on the intake splitters, anti-glare patches or, well, anything else! If you want to add some realism, scope out what the Trumpeter has for stencils and then raid your spare decals for Russian stencils and apply accordingly.
The Sukhoi Su-15UM “Flagon G” is not the pinnacle of the aircraft-builder’s art. A rather brutishly simple single-mindedness oozes from its design, and it is more of a tool than a piece of finished sculpture. It is the proverbial plowshare beaten into a sword; deadly but unrefined. I can’t help but think that, while the Pioneer 2 kit isn’t likely the best replica, it does somehow capture this essence. Now, is that good? Likely not…
I can say that this kit looks perfect for a beginner. I doubt it’s very accurate based on what I’ve seen, and its simple construction and mostly-large pieces will help novice hands to get something together quickly and with minimum fuss. I hope. I’ve got a feeling that fit is not going to be this thing’s big selling point, so if you’re someone who expects a kit to work with you, and not against you, you’re probably not the target audience for this model. If you have a beginner who doesn’t want to produce perfection, but just practice the basics, then this is definitely a great kit. It’s rough and ready, and other than the pitot tubes and tailplane balances (which are very delicate), it should stand up to some ham-fisted handling okay.
I’m not convinced that I was better off buying this than the Trumpeter. I think it’s going to be a challenge to make it look half-decent, though, and that I DO like. Usually. Time will tell, I suppose.
In the end, this is a somewhat esoteric kit of a somewhat esoteric subject. That means there’s likely some inaccuracies and issues, but hey, what’s life for if not to flex your muscles a bit, right? If you want “shake and bake”, you’re in the wrong spot. If you want “hack and slash”, though, maybe this kit’s got what you need.