During the cold war, the USSR and the West were constantly looking to one up each other, politically, militarily and technologically. One area in which the West was clearly superior was the development and deployment of VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) combat aircraft. The British Kestrel and it’s Harrier progeny have long stood as the benchmark against which other ‘jump jets’ are measured.
The Soviet answer to the Harrier family was the development of the Yak-38 shipboard V/STOL (Verticcal/Short Take Off and Landing) ‘fighter’. The prototype was completed in April 1970, and the first production machines went to sea abord the Kiev in July, 1976 (the month I was born, incidentally). The machine marked the dawn of Soviet naval airpower, and was the cause of some consternation in the West.
However, the Forger, as it is known, is a fairly limited machine, and in service it has proven to be significantly less capable than the Harrier family. One of the plane’s main limitations is that much of the vertical lift component is provided by a pair of small lift jets in the forward fuselage. These don’t run during wingborne flight, but do add to the weight and size of the plane.
The Forger, unlike the Harrier, was not exported to any other country (although the Ukraine did get some examples after the breakup of the Soviet Union) and did not seen any real combat action. However, four aircraft were apparently sent to Afghanistan in May 1980 as part of the “Romb” (sometimes reported as “Romb-1”) series of combat trials. The trials were meant to simulate real battle, and although the goal was not to engage in combat, apparently the planes could be called upon if required.
The Romb aircraft proved to be largely ineffective, due to the hot and high environment, and were unable to carry more than a pair of bombs. In fact, they couldn’t fly after 05:00 hours due to their lack of installed thrust! Clearly, the Forger was not an aircraft designed for the same roles as the Harrier.
I recently discovered that I have a love of short-winged, somewhat useless, strike fighters. This includes the Yak-38, Mitsubishi F-1/T-2 and a couple of others. Given the performance of the Forgers during the Romb exercise, I figured it couldn’t get much more useless than that! Thus, I decided that I would build a Forger to reflect this little-known episode in aviation history.
The Revell Forger is actually a rebox of the Korean kit made by ACE. It is both a pretty good and a pretty bad model.
On the good side, it has nicely recessed panel lines, and it comes with a surprising array of weapons. You get tanks, bombs, rocket pods, four AA-8s and the pylons for them. In addition, the lift jet intake faces are nicely detailed, and there’s even a main engine included! (This is odd, since you cannot possibly see it once the model is done.) The landing gear aren’t great, but they’re acceptable, and it seems like most of the dielectric areials are in the right spot.
On the bad side, there’s next to no cockpit detail. Also, there are major shape and orientation problems. The exhausts, both the nozzle and their troughs, are the wrong shape, and the tail planes are at the wrong incidence. Also, the fences by the lift jet intakes are in the wrong spot (too far back), there are no auxiliary suck-in doors on the main intakes and the gear doors are totally wrong.
There’s some flash on the kit, and there’s also some issue with swirls in the plastic. You get two sprues of blue-grey plastic and one clear sprue for the cockpit canopy. There’s a very limited decal sheet too, which, apart from the red stars, is nearly useless. The hockey stick aerial on the dorsal spine is moulded in, and is actually not bad thickness wise. However, it breaks off constantly, and I eventually gave up on it. The intakes do not pass through (the stop at a wall about ½” back from the inlet lip), and the ram air inlets don’t have a noticeable inlet carved into them.
Building the Forger
This is a very simple, basic kit. The horizontal stabilizers are one piece, and there’s only two pieces to each wing, the main part and a small part that fits into the underside and carries the pylon mounting holes. The fuselage is in top/bottom halves, and before assembling them it is necessary to put in the cockpit (such as it is) and the lift jet assemblies.
The lift jets are three pieces each, and have nicely detailed fans. However, they have no rear/bottom exhaust. Thus, I had to drill out the bottoms of the engines to make them look at least half decent. Also, the lift engines don’t fit into their openings well. The openings are too big, and the engines just flop around. Thus, I had to cut a small strip of thin styrene and glue it in place as a collar. I then sanded down, little by little, the collar until it fit snugly around the taper at the top of the engines.
It’s also necessary to put a few extra pieces of sheet styrene in to create a cockpit bulkhead behind the seat and close off the lift jet exhaust bay. The exhaust grating and lift jets must be put in before the halves of the airplane are glued together, so get ready for some interesting masking! As far as the rest of the plane goes, there’s not a lot to this kit. The fin and stabilizers are one piece, and they and the wings just fit onto the body. The seat and control stick can be added afterwards, so there’s not a problem there.
No nose weight is mentioned, and none is technically required, but this model is quite close to being neutrally stable, so a few pieces of shot in the nose wouldn’t hurt! The landing gear are simple, except for the nose wheel, where the designers decided to separate the two pieces of the front wheel yoke. Well, I lost the one small piece because you have to glue it on AFTER the wheel goes in! Oh well, it still looks fine.
There is a TON of sanding required on this kit. The halves of the body don’t match very well, nor do the intakes. The nose piece doesn’t have the marking for the radome marked in, so it is necessary to mask and etch this in, not easy given the small, tapering contours of the nose. I went through a lot of primer and putty re-etching and sanding this model until it really looked like it was one piece.
Painting and Finishing
Nearly every Forger you see is in the Dark Blue/Gloss Green scheme normally seen on early planes. There are a few variations, though. One is a two tone grey scheme, and the other, from the A-Model instructions is a bizarre Silver/Green tiger stripe. (WTF?) However, there is also a special scheme for Romb aircraft!
According to the A-Model instruction sheet, the Romb planes were in four tone Green-Dark Green-Tan-Brown. However, I’ve never seen a photo of this scheme on this plane, and the scan of the instructions I had was too poor to discern what colours went where. This was when I broke out my Russia’s Top Guns book, and started looking at other planes of the era. I came across an Afghan puppet government paintjob used on Su-25s. Now, the Frogfoot was tested at the same time as the Forger was in Afghanistan, so I got to thinking….
I must admit that the paint on the Su-25 was very attractive. It was a Sand-Grey Beige-Green that I’ve never seen on any other plane before. I decided I’d go with that, with a light blue underside.
NOTE: Since I built this kit, I have actually seen drawings from a Russian book on the Yak-38 featuring the Romb aircraft; they were mostly the sandy beige colour with some dark green and darker brown. Still, this is a plausable scheme, and is closer than the 4-colour cammo suggested by A-Model!
I used a slightly modified Testors Model Master Acrylic Tan for the base, and Testors MM Acrylic Medium Green for the green. The greyish beige was covered by an old Testors MM Acrylic Gull Grey. This paint was hell to work with: it went on rough, dried like a carpet and when sanded was terrible mottled. However, once glossed, it did seem to unify, colour-wise.
I airbrushed a few coats of the tan on, and then handbrushed a few coats because I knew I’d need the thickness for sanding later. The green and gull grey were both hand painted, and then painstakingly touched up for hours using a toothpick.
When all the topside cammo was on, I masked the cheat lines with Tamiya tape and hand painted the rest of the underside. Hand painting allowed me to quickly cover any of the cammo that had slopped onto what would be the underside. The only flaw in this approach was it made the cheat line very physically noticable – there was litterally a step between the topside and underside paints! A little sanding and some heavy gloss coat, however, took care of this.
When all the paint was dry, I used a filed down mechanical pencil to do the panel lines. I decided against aging the machine, although I’m sure it would have been plenty beaten-looking sitting out on a ramp in Afghanistan. I used the red stars from the kit decals, but the rest of the kit decals were pretty much useless. Interestingly enough, the decals look like they are based on a drawing of the Forger from the early 1980’s (1982, maybe?) “Russian Air Power” book by Gunston. In there, there’s a drawing of an all blue Forger “Yellow 10”, with big red arrows by the intakes, including an all red splitter plate; this is exactly how the kit was supposed to be painted decalled! There were no warning decals of any kind, but I had some good ones left over from my Revell Mi-28 Havoc.
I flat coated the entire airplane in Gunze H-20 Flat Clear, which dries beautifully dead-nuts flat. I then attached the landing gear, as well as their doors. This was a bit of a pain. The doors are very, very thick, and are not only poorly detailed, they’re also designed to fit on WRONG! The instructions don’t have them going on in the right place. It was a bit of a squeeze to get them into the proper orientation, and then hold them there for gluing. I also lost the stabilizer arm for the front wheel, so now, instead of a true fork, there’s a one-sided arm. Can’t win them all…
For a weapons load, I used the rocket pods and bombs that accompanied the kit. I would have liked to have used tanks, but I’m pretty sure that there was no way in hell that a Romb Forger could have lifted the fuel load. In fact, the planes couldn’t lift even the modest weapons load I gave them! This loadout left me with four AA-8s and two AS-7s, so my Russian weapons stockpile grew a bit in the process.
This is not the best Forger kit around, but it is most likely the cheapest. It has a modest level of detail once assembled, and does give the impression of at least being Forger-like. Unfortunatley, the kit does not fit well at all, and I found it was impossible to perfectly align the wings. This pretty much prevents the kit from being a show winner, but then again I doubt it ever was.
I really like the final result I got on the paint job, and a number of people have told me it looks like I airbrushed it, even though I did do the cammo by hand. It was a long and painstaking process, but I had fun with it, and that’s the main objective.
This would be a good kit for a beginner who’s not worried about seams and precision, and it makes a good workout for those who are getting tired of shake-and-bake wunderkits. (Don’t most of my modelling choices fit in this category?) This is a bad kit for those bent on winning competitions or looking for a definitive Forger for their collection.
Regardless of how you look at it, though, this kit is an interesting piece of an interesting, if not altogether pedestrian, aircraft. Of course, it’s a short-winged strike fighter, so I liked it already.