If nothing worthwhile ever comes easily, then does that automatically mean that something difficult was, by default, worth all the effort? I’m sure those who’ve pushed themselves to run marathons, climb mountains and overcome real adversity would say “Yes!”. To those people, I offer my admiration and I can see exactly where you’re coming from. Sadly, though, this positive take on things doesn’t always translate. Sometimes the end results of a lot of hard work can be spectacularly pedestrian; in these cases, it’s hard to justify all the work that went into them.
The annals of aviation history are full of “good enoughs” that, despite tonnes of work, only end up being passably functional aircraft. Some good examples can be found in the early jet age, when low powered engines and increasing complexity often combined to create aircraft that flew, but that was about it. Great examples of this are the Supermarine Attacker, Vought Pirate and MiG-9. (Yes, I do have kits of all of them, just haven’t reviewed them all yet!). There are others, like the Supermarine Swift that just sucked from the get-go, and took all kinds of efforts just to make them barely acceptable for service.
There are other examples in which an overly narrow focus on one aspect or mission created an aircraft that was so specialized that it was largely useless as tactics and weapons changed around it. The Cold War Interceptor family of ultra-fast, missile-toting anti-bomber aircraft are a perfect example of this. As the focus shifted to ICBMs and the bomber threat turned to the menace of low-flying cruise missiles, a lot of these aircraft because almost totally redundant. Even great interceptors like the F-106 and MiG-25 were rendered largely “surplus to requirements”, and those lesser interceptors that were there to back them up were certainly only taking up space by that point.
One such “second string” interceptor was the Su-15 “Flagon”. The Flagon was the heavy-interceptor family that complemented MiG’s shorter-ranged MiG-21 and -23, and replaced the Yak-28 family. It was not big on refinement or weapons capacity or turning or much else. It went fast, it went straight and it shot at big airplanes. For that reason, the Flagon is rather infamous; it was involved in a number of airliner shootdowns. Given that the Flagon could barely bring down lumbering civilian jets loping along and being generally very accommodating to interception, it’s no surprise that when the threats started to go low-level nuclear strikers and cruise missiles that the Flagon’s time was up.
Still, it saw service for a long time, and since it was a fairly “hot ship”, it required a two-seat conversion type. In the great Flagon tradition, this wasn’t an exercise in finesse, either. The Flagon trainer had horrible back seat visibility (a function of many Russian conversion trainers until recently), no radar and was pretty much there to teach pilots how not to crash. The final version, the Su-15UM “Flagon G” was a better aircraft that could haul IR guided missiles, but it was still a limited type.
Given my love of two-seaters, and my affinity for losers (cars and planes, it seems) it’s not a surprise that I grabbed a Flagon G when I had the chance. However, the one I picked up was the Pioneer2 version and it has proven to be… troublesome. For the history behind this little monster, check out the links below:
With the airframe all built up (well, as much as it’s going to get, anyway), it was off to primering. I used decanted Rustoleum Grey Primer cut with some lacquer thinner. Once the plane was done and all that patchwork and putty was covered over, things didn’t look so bad. I almost began to feel there was hope for this thing yet. There were a few touch ups needed on filling, but by and large, I was ready to move on. I decided that this was a good time to double-check the weapons on this thing.
The Flagon G could mount four weapons pylons, an improvement over its earlier two-seat brethren. This kit comes with four missiles and two pairs of pylons. Because these things have ENORMOUS mounting pegs, I figured that it would be super-easy to mount them after painting, making the job easier. Now, I know it’s illogical, but I thought that the pylons on this kit would be okay. I have no idea why. I mean, nothing else has been right, but still… you gotta hope. Well, like 400m races at the Summer Olympics, my hopes were dashed; and how!
I test fitted the pylons. The inner ones aren’t a bad fit; there’s a bit more filling and sanding needed but not much. However, these things fit seamlessly compared to the outer pylons. I don’t even know what to say, because I can’t repeat here (on a semi-family-friendly site) the utterances that escaped me upon test fitting these total hunks of absolute garbage. The outer pylons are so wrong that there’s no good way to make them right. They are far too tall, they don’t fit the wing curvature, and worse than that, they protrude well past the leading edge! Just wow… nice job, Pioneer2!
Thankfully, pictures on the internet show a number of Flagon Gs with only the two inner pylons mounted. Taking this as a hint from the universe that I should just cut my losses, I filled in the holes in the wings for the outer pylons. I got the inner ones integrated nicely, and they were solid enough I didn’t think there’d be any worry about them breaking off during the rest of the build.
Before getting the fuselage painted, I had to do the exposed burnished metal that surrounds the Flagon’s jet pipes. I used Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Jet Exhaust for this. Once it was done, I used a blue metallic wash I made from Jacquard pigments to give the inner “turkey feathers” (which aren’t very detailed nor overly correct) a “heated” look. I then washed everything with a light coat of Citadel Nuln Oil. I’ve said it lots before; a slight wash with a darker colour really brings the MMA metallic colours to life.
I masked the engine area, and proceeded to paint the nose cone and fin-top dielectric panel in Tamiya XF-5 Flat Green. Once these were dry, I glossed them with a couple coats of Alclad Aqua Gloss and sanded them smooth before one more gloss coat. I also painted the gear bays in Gunship Grey, although it was barely different from the Rustoleum primer that was on there. I gave the gear bays a wash of Nuln Oil too, and a light glossing to protect them from masking. With everything dry, I filled he wheel bays (such as they are) with Silly Putty and used Tamiya tape for the nose and fin-top fairing.
Many Cold War Soviet aircraft which considerable export success. I love this, since it means there are all kinds of weird and “exotic” cammo schemes you can put Russian planes in. Usually. Even if they weren’t widespread, though, most Russian planes have at least a couple of alternate users. However, given the importance of the Su-15 to the defence of the Motherland, it was not exported. (It could also be that other air forces couldn’t afford to pay for a jet with such limited utility…) However, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine did inherit a number of them, which the kept in service for a while. At least, they were in service long enough to get Ukrainian roundels and the national Trident Shield on their tails.
Thus, there isn’t a lot of choice when it comes to Flagon G paint schemes. You can have them in any colour you want, so long as it’s bare metal. I personally haven’t done a lot with bare metal, or NMF (natural metal finish) aircraft. In fact, I avoid them as a matter of course. I built my MiG-19 in NMF, but I’ve never been that pleased with it. The paint was too metallic looking. I did, however, come across a different method for getting a metal-like finish on another project, the RM Models Ki-61 Bubbletop. I had ended up making the finish a bit too matte, and I wanted to try it again.
I figured that, if it messed up, I hadn’t lost much with this bird. (Well, except time and sanity, but they’re cheap, right?) Granted, I could go and spend a fortune on Alclad metal shades and/or AK Metals, but I find them too delicate for my ham-fisted approach to modelling, and they don’t gloss well. I need something that will allow me to gloss it so I can decal this little beast. So, I went back to the method I used on the Bubbletop, and that was to use decanted Rustoleum Metallic Aluminum.
If you’re thinking: “Didn’t you just say the MiG was too metallic? Now you’re using something called METALLIC Aluminum? Are you nuts??” then you’re not alone. However, Rustoleum sucks at naming paints. The Metallic Aluminum isn’t; when you decant it and shoot it straight (or with a tiny bit of lacquer thinner), it comes out looking like a sheet of aluminum. The “metallic” in the name doesn’t mean “flecked” or “glittery” (like it normally does) but “looking like metal” (which is actually what it means… go figure). With two medium weight coats of this paint on, the end result is a plane that does, indeed, look like it’s bare metal. It’s actually really shocking.
Given that the Rustoleum shoots so nicely, covers so well and costs far less than more expensive “hobby-brand” metal paints, I can recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want to do all the finesse work of a normal NMF. Of course, most people will, but I don’t. So, if you’re like me, and want something metal-like fast, then this stuff ROCKS. It’s also amazing because it dries very quickly in a 45°C dehydrator, and it’s TOUGH. Unlike Alclads that blacken if you touch them, you can roughly handle the Rustoleum until the cows come home, and it’s just as good as when you started. If only they made a good Chrome, Molotow would be out of business.
After the Metal:
All that’s different about the Ukrainian aircraft are the national markings. I have an Art Model Mig-23U that comes with some ridiculous number of alternate markings (making its exorbitant price somewhat tolerable), and in there were a set of Ukrainian roundels and shields. I first Aqua Glossed the whole plane twice, and used 3600 grit sanding cloth to take off the high spots. Another coat of Aqua Gloss then got me ready for decalling. Unfortunately, and as expected, the application of the gloss coat deadened the “glow” of the metal paint. This always happens, even with Molotow Chrome; there’s no way around it. Thankfully, the Aqua Gloss has the least detrimental effect, but it is still pronounced.
The decals went on very nicely, but they weren’t asked to do much; just sit on flat surfaces. I didn’t have proper serials for the intakes, but just went with what I had. In the spirit of this build, good enough was plenty. With the decals on, the plane was given one more thick coat of Aqua Gloss and it was ready for the next step.
You’re forgiven for thinking that, with the NMF part done, that’d be it. However, that’s not the case. The Flagon, being all shiny metal, would be rather hard to fly in the sunlight due to glinting, so there are sizable anti-glare patches on the plane. Not only is there the “traditional” black patch in front of the cockpit, but there are additional black patches on the tops of the intakes. I wanted to do the anti-glare areas last so they would only get the light satin coating I was intending for the final finish, and thus, I hoped, stay rather matte.
It was easiest to mask the plane by first masking these areas with Tamiya tape and the putting the rest of the plane in a bag. I taped the bag to the existing masking and while it looked funny, it sure worked! I sprayed on MMA Aircraft Interior black. When I unmasked, there were the usual runs and masking failures, but to my dismay, the nose patch I created didn’t look very good at all in outline. I decided to go right back to the basics, and using a toothpick I carefully painted the rough edges smooth, and with a #0 brush, contoured the front of the patch to be the correct “bullet” shape. This, again, is why I love MMA paints. If this was a Tamiya paint, the results would have been terrible. However, you can almost always count on MMA paints to be the same colour when airbrushed or hand brushed!
I sanded down the anti-glare patches and then applied one light coat of “Slick Satin” to the entire airplane. This is a mix of Delta Ceramcoat Urethane Indoor/Outdoor Varnish with Future to give a high, but not glossy, shine. I wanted the plane to look a bit oxidized, but still metal-like. I expected the relatively flat black to absorb this coat and stay quite matte; that’s what I’ve seen before. Of course, it didn’t quite work out here, but again… it was good enough.
At this point, I attached the seats and canopy, glued on the gear and the gear doors and was relieved to find that the plane actually has the correct “butt-heavy” stance. I guess the moulders were better than the guys drawing the box art. Yay? I glued the nose pitot tube on and decided on two things: 1.) I wasn’t going to bother with the missiles, since Ukrainian planes are never seen with them, and 2.) I wasn’t going to piddlefart around with the other sticky-outy bits. I didn’t even bother to try to find replacements for the wing pitot or the tail anti-flutter masses.
The bird was done, for whatever it was worth. It looked vaguely like an Su-15UM, was kinda silvery and the green radome looked killer. It was time to wrap this nightmare up!
Bitter But Liberating:
If you’re thinking “Wow… why did he bother?”, then I can’t answer you easily. I thought this many times. After so much sanding, filling, rescribing and correcting major, obvious shape and accuracy issues, I honestly felt like writing the Flagon off. After all, even with all this hard work, I was still going to end up with a largely inaccurate model when it came down to the finer details (and, you know, panel lines). So, why not just chalk it up to experience and build something better?
Well, the answer is that I made a liberating decision when I hit this point. I decided that I’d rather just finish it, as is, so I could have a semi-decent, still-recognizable model on my display shelf, than give up. Sure, it’s not likely to win any contests, and the rivet counters are going to eat it alive. But, for me, I know it’s a Flagon G, and that’s a pretty cool thing in and of itself.
You can sit back there and think: “Oh, he’s just justifying…” but the truth is this model made me realize what my modelling goals are, and made me remember why I got into this hobby. I got into it because when I was a kid, I always wanted a “toy” of things I thought were cool. However, there are many things that don’t get made into toys. But, many of them do get made into models. As I got older, I realized I could have a “toy” of so much cool stuff if I was willing to build it myself. So, my goal was to build up a mini-museum of things I thought were cool, and surround myself with them. I always want to do the best I can on something, but if it means I stop enjoying it (like with the Trimotor), then what’s the point? So, that’s why I decided to move ahead despite imperfections and to stop obsessing on every detail, even fairly major ones. I think that may be this kit’s biggest impact. It brought me to a precipice. I can walk along the edge of quality and madness, or I can plunge over into the abyss. For me, something this far-gone right out of the box wasn’t worth the effort to make perfect.
I built it. I like it. It looks fine on display. I learned some stuff, and got to push my skills a bit. Mission accomplished!
The folks at Pioneer2 created a real sleeper. It looked like an innocently simple model kit, albeit with dubious surface detailing and little in the way of finesse. What it actually is, though, is a putty- and time-eating monster that will always have another major issue just around the corner. It’s a savagely brutish kit, and it comes from a dimension where “fit and finish” gives way to “Throwing fits… I’m finished!”
This kit is fine for beginners who won’t care about the accuracy of the result or some exposed seams. It’s an awesome trainer for the basics, because you can grind on it forever and not wear through the plastic. It’s okay for smaller hands because if you break the pitot tubes off, who cares. Heck, I’ve written for magazines and I broke them off. This kit is not for the faint of heart, those who want a quick project (shoot… so much for that thought) or those who demand, or even plaintively ask for, any kind of accuracy.
I can’t recommend it to those who take modelling too seriously. It’ll grey your hair and then knock it from your head like so much snow in a winter wind. However, I can still recommend it to people like me. Are you up for a challenge that won’t reflect the amount of time and effort you put into it? Can you overcome the fact that despite your efforts, the end result won’t be as accurate as other kits right out of the box? Do you want a project that you can go to town with PE, blueprints, and aftermarket weapons, should you choose to go all the way? If so, then grab one of these!
Just like the real Flagon, this one is a kit that, I think, will remain in the shadows for a long time, and then just kind of get forgotten about. It’s not a great fate, but it’s fitting. For me it’s going front and centre in a display, just so I can show the world that I actually fought through to the end. It’s a bad kit of an operationally limited, late-run aircraft whose time had come before it was built. You can say the same thing about this kit, too, I guess. In short, building Pioneer2 Flagons is like Pimpin’: it ain’t easy.