They say that “Nothing succeeds like success”, and to a large part, that can be said to be true of many important aircraft types, too. Think of some of the world’s most famous aircraft; the versions that are most familiar are often those that have been developed based on earlier successful, if not world-beating, models. The P-51D and P-47D are excellent examples, and the F-15E and new model Su-27/30/35 certainly bear this out.
Interestingly enough, this can even apply to more radical changes. A perfect example is the F9F8 Cougar, basically a swept-wing version of the Panther, and of course the MiG-17, which was in many ways a MiG-15 with more wing sweep and an afterburner. (Sure, it’s not quite that simple, but that’s basically the gist of the story). Another perfect example, although taken in the opposite direction, is the Su-17/20/22 “Fitter” family. This group of sturdy and powerful attackers was descended from one of Sukhoi’s earliest successes, the popular and widely-used Su-7 “Fitter”.
What do I mean by “opposite direction”? Well, whereas most of the 1950s-era successes focused on adding wing sweep, the Su-17 succeeded by taking it away, at least for some of the time. The Su-17 was the first swing wing (or Variable Geometry, VG) aircraft produced in the USSR, and was both evolutionary and ground-breaking all at once. To rectify the horrifyingly terrible takeoff and landing speed issues of the original Fitter, it was proposed to add a swing wing to the plane; with the outer sections of the wings swept to minimum, they plane used less fuel and runway for takeoff and landing speed was reduced. Range was also greatly extended. It was a great success, and the 1960’s-era VG Fitters proved to be durable and powerful warplanes, somewhat equivalent to the A-7 Corsair II, albeit with higher flight performance.
Given that the Su-17, as the new fighter-bomber was called, has been in service with a wide variety of air forces and seen its share of combat, it’s no surprise that it has been kitted a few times. There is a very nice looking kit of the ultimate variant, the Su-17M4, available from Bilek/Italeri, and there is also and Su-22 UM3 from the same company. Both of those look excellent, however, at least here in Canada, I’ve never seen the Bilek/Italeri two-seater.
Well, thank goodness for Hobbycraft! (Yes, I just wrote that. Snowballs are now safe in the underworld!) Yes, Canada’s own obscure and often-maligned Chinese kit maker (Figure that out!) also produced a 1/72 Su-22U! Now, I know what you’re all thinking. “That’s odd, usually Hobbycraft does Canadian subjects.” That’s true, but they also did a lot of other stuff. Some was very clearly ripped-off ancient Hasegawa material (Cough… MiG-25, MiG-29… Cough), but some was not. The Su-22U appears to be an original mould, too; if it was a copy of the Bilek, it would be more detailed and have full weapons!
So, what’s it like, this most unlikely kit from this somewhat questionable source of sprue? Well, let’s find out!
Like many Hobbycraft boxes from the 1980’s, the Fitter is in an “average”-sized top loading box that has a glossy grey non-picture area and a large illustration on the front. The box is actually pretty solid, and that surprised me given the rather dodgy first impression that the artwork gives.
Alas, box art is not something that Hobbycraft was known for. Given that neither was fit, I guess this isn’t a surprise. Just like with their CF-100 kit, the Su-22U box art has an oddly “fake”-looking picture on the front. We’re presented with a simple side elevation of an Su-22U climbing through a cloudy sky. Unlike a lot of other model planes, there’s no sense of action or excitement, just a day’s work of teaching the next generation the basics of handling their charge. The thing is, that’s perfectly okay. It’s a trainer, even if it is capable of carrying weapons, and there’s technically nothing wrong with the illustration being sedate.
However, for some reason, the illustration looks funny, or odd. I think it’s because it’s so heavily airbrushed. The sky with its many dark and light patches on the clouds is actually extremely artistic, and, on its own, would be a very nice piece of art. The Su, for that matter, is also well rendered, although the lines on the cammo seem a bit too soft. I think that’s the problem. The plane doesn’t seem to fit with the background; it’s like a bad Photoshop job, but before Photoshop! The superposition of the fuzzy airbrushed cammo on the solidly drawn plane which is then superimposed on a very heavily airbrushed cloud bank tends to tug on the eyes. It’s like it’s out of focus, but you know it isn’t. I want to like it, but the wording just kills it.
Using green lettering against the grey background is a bad choice. So too, is the use of “Suchoi” to call out the plane’s maker. Um… no. That’s a fail: 5% off for spelling right there. Things only get better on the side of the box for most Hobbycrafts; here, terrible translations of the plane’s history can be found. These are usually comically terrible, but oddly, on the Su, their pretty good! The grammar’s fine and it even points out that the two-seater only had one cannon! Accurate and readable; kudos to Hobbycraft on that one.
Popping the top on this kit you are greeted with a single bag containing two and a half sprues of light grey-beige plastic and one clear sprue with the canopy on it. Unfortunately, the canopy is not separated at all from the rest of the sprues, so there’s a good chance for damage/scratching to occur. However, the canopy seems to be very tough, and mine isn’t scratched at all. Also, the Su-22U has a very heavily framed canopy, so there’s actually less “glass” area than it looks like.
The “half” sprue holds the two fuselage halves of the plane. Hobbycraft also made a single-seat Su-17/20/22 kit, and most of the parts are common between the two. Oddly, while the box makes a mention of the single cannon armament of the “U”, the model has two blast plates; one on each wing root! It’s hard to believe this mistake, since it’s a new fuselage and they could have easily read their own box copy for error checking! Now I know what Charlie Brown means when he says “Good grief…”
As for the kit itself, it is a very simple one, but it looks good. There are fully recessed panel lines throughout and there is no noticeable flash. The detailing is simple in the extreme; there’s no detail at all in the gear bays or on the cockpit sides or “armrests”, and the instrument panels have only very basic raised details that are hellishly generic. I noticed that beside one such panel, part C19, the spot for C20 is empty; it was never moulded. I assume it’s something for the single seater, since I don’t see it called out in the instructions anywhere.
Looking at the kit, it can best be described as a big Matchbox model. It has roughly the same amount of detail, same number of parts and many of the panel lines are very pronounced and exhibit more than a little lack of refinement in spots (like the wings). Oddly, there are also some places where the “trenches” are soft and seem to fade away. There are no smaller panels on the wings or tailplanes, and only the basics on the fuselage, so at least the level of detail is consistent across the model.
You do get some stores, namely the two fuselage tanks that the members of the Fitter family seem to clutch almost permanently to their belly pylons, as well as two missiles. I think they’re supposed to be AA-2 Atolls, but they look too short, and lack all accuracy. The tanks look nice enough, but the missiles are a flat-out failure. I have the Dragon 1/72 Russian Weapons sets, and I suggest them, or some other aftermarket, to add some fighting power to your Fitter if you want to go that route.
Instructions and Decals:
Since this is a simple kit, there’s not a lot to see in the instructions. They are straightforward and clear, and very basic, just like their subject. They are on a single sheet of paper that folds out rather largely. This unwieldiness isn’t really needed. For a kit this simple, a smaller sheet would have worked a lot better. All the instructions are on one side, and the other is a very basic painting and decalling plan. It’s in black and white, of course, and colour callouts are very general. There’s not a reference to any paint brand or FS numbers or any such thing. Nope, you get colour callouts like “Black” and “Light Grey”. Of course, it comes as no surprise that the often-overlooked bare metal patch under the rear fuselage is totally missed.
The instructions aren’t exactly unprofessional, and they aren’t literally hand drawn, but they give the impression of being of slightly less care and sophistication than many other brands’ building booklets. Still, I guess they get the job done, and that’s all you need. Test fitting is likely a good idea, since fit and finish of Hobbycraft kits is also often similar to Matchboxes; namely they’re vague notions, but not much more.
The decals, though… well, they suck. Hobbycraft is often derided as “Hobbycrap”. That’s not fair. This and some of their other kits are good, if not fantastic, models. They make interesting subjects and do so, by and large, in a competent manner. However, when it comes to decals, that ad hominem is truly, greatly, and honestly deserved. I’ve never seen a good Hobbycraft decal sheet, and this is no exception. Their decals DO look hand-drawn. There’s some kind of imprecision and general ‘slipshoditude’ about them that is both offensive and devilishly irksome at the same time. I’d go to the spares box for this kit, and burn these in an attempt to drive out any evil modelling spirits they might have attracted.
The Su-17/20/22 family of Fitters was an excellent source of combat power and a great export success for Sukhoi and the USSR. It was a numerous and well-liked plane with performance and warload making it equivalent in many ways to the Tornado, even if a bit less advanced. The trainers were important members of the family, and I’m very glad to get my hands on one in 1/72. I wish more companies would make trainers of their single-seat subjects. (Yo, Meng! I’m talking to you!! Where’s my TF-102?)
The Hobbycraft Su-22U is not a Tamigawa kit. It’s a simple, brutish kit with low but acceptable detail and a lower parts count than many new kits half its size. It is fairly primitive and will likely require some work to make it look half-arsed. However, it’s also, like it’s real life subject, likely to be a tough nut to wreck, and for this reason, it is a great kit for any modeller.
A beginner won’t be put off by excessive detail or fiddly bits; there’s enough here to practice the basics and not get bored, but also there’s not enough to overwhelm. There’s also less detail to lose when sanding the expectedly rough seams. For more experienced builders, the chance for superdetailing is cleanly and simply presented; there’s nowhere that won’t benefit from some extra work.
Overall, I like the look of this kit. Being a Matchbox fiend, I can appreciate the trenched good looks of the detailing and the Spartan-but-solid nature of the kit. I think it will build up well, and I would encourage any fan of Soviet aircraft or two-seat jets to get one when and if they can. It might not be the fanciest kit in the stash, but it looks like it’ll do the job well.